A Christmas Hope

This past week, my Papa & I were asked to sing Christmas carols at a local assisted living home.  We accepted the invitation, and began to choose songs that we wanted to share.  He would play the mandolin, and we would both sing.  We thought how nice it would be to have my younger brother play his guitar with us, and thought he probably wouldn’t want to but we asked anyway.  You see, because my mom was such a support to Tyler & his music, he hasn’t really wanted to pick up his guitar since she passed away.  It was an absolutely delightful shock to me to hear that he wanted to play with us!  I was so happy!

We stood up in front of the older crowd of residents, barely having practiced singing together except for the five minutes prior, and began to sing.  My dad would tie in meanings of Christmas and thoughts from the carols we’d sing.  During one of the first songs, we sang something about the angels singing with us, or seeing us from afar.  At that moment, I imagined my mom crying in heaven, not with sadness but with delight, to see the three of us together, singing & playing music together.  I thought about how happy she would have been to hear us all together, and how pleased she would be that we didn’t pass on singing.

This all led to another thought….one of hope.  I wanted to have my mom with me so quick right then, pinching back tears that screamed to be set free from the confines of my eyes.  Yet in that same instant, the hope arose that I will see her again soon, and it is because of the birth that we were singing about that I could have that hope.  It was a future hope of a fulfilled promise.  A promise God revealed many thousands of years ago, that was brought to fulfillment through the birth of Christ.

Through the Spirit, Mary a humble girl said “yes” to doing God’s will, for waiting on Him to provide a miracle through her.  An unsettling situation to be sure, she waited with hope that God would be true to His word once again.  When Jesus was born a joy filled her & spilled out to each of us through the Son. We can have joy in the hope that His birth proclaims.  There is now a way for us to be joined to the Father.  What a thing to celebrate, what an act of love, bringing joyful hope to a people stirred with unrest.

His birth brought love to the world, joy to the heart, hope to the mind and peace to our soul.  Though some days we all feel unloved, discouraged, defeated & distressed, we can know that God LOVES us, and because of that love we can find JOY because God gave PEACE to our tormented souls, which reminds us of the HOPE that Christ’s birth brings.  So this Christmas, let’s celebrate, I mean REALLY celebrate, not only the birth of Christ, but everything that His birth represents!

Deep love, Deep hurt

The past few months, the thought of a deeper love equaling deeper hurt, has been on my mind.  This is not to say that deeper love inevitably hurts, or that you shouldn’t be willing to love deep, but that when you are vulnerable to deeply love, that same vulnerability opens yourself to be feel much more pain if & when you are hurt by something or someone.

This happens to us as people, but it also intrigues me in our love relationship with God. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)”And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”(1 John 4:16)

If God loved us THAT much, that He would give us His only son, that He would live in us, that God is synonymous with love in the way that if we love, we are in Him, that’s powerful.  That’s a deep love, that’s an amazing love. “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

So can you imagine with me then, that through God’s love for us, incomprehensibly deep & devoted, that when we hurt or when we turn from Him, either way….just think of how much He must hurt with us & for us. “In all their suffering he also suffered,…” (Isaiah 63:9) It says in the Bible how God suffers with us…and if the greater the love the greater the pain can be, I can only imagine that God suffers greatly over each & every one of us, longing for us to come near to Him, to dwell in Him, to be comforted by Him & to understand His love for us. He mourns with us, but doesn’t stay inactive…He comes after us.  Isaiah goes on to say “…and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years.”

Through all the years….forever, ….loving us deeply, holding us in our pain, hurting for us when we walk away, His love never fades. “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.” (Lamentations 3:22)  This gives me hope, confidence & full assurance that when I hurt, I am not alone. It also reminds me that as much as I am able to love, He is able to love more fully, more completely, more intimately than I will ever understand, and that through our doubt, questioning, longing for answers, that He loves us still.  Be confident in this: “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Not a moment too soon….

In the New Testament there are 290 references to the love of God, 290 times when God had declared His love for man. But in the same chapters and the same verses there are more than 1,300 references to the atonement, 1300 assurances that salvation can be had through the blood of Christ. —G. Franklin Allee

Abraham was a man tested by God. Over an over God came to him & asked him to go here or there, do this or that, say something or keep quiet. Abraham listened to God. He understood when it was truly God that was speaking and not just his own thoughts or the thoughts of those around him. Abraham wasn’t perfect however; he pushed forward with the said blessings of God by having a child with someone other than his wife, thinking that this child would be “the one” that God had promised. While God still protected this child, Abraham had clearly not waited for God to fulfill his promise. After a little while, God did come through for Abraham & Sarah, in blessing them with a son Isaac. In their old age, Sarah & Abraham love their little boy fiercely. They would have never guessed that this little boy would become the center of yet one more test of faith for them.

God spoke to Abraham and told him to sacrifice his son Isaac. If this was a message to me, about my own son, I probably would have hidden Isaac & tried to keep him safe…but Abraham didn’t do this. The Bible says that he immediately went out & made preparations for an altar & the three day trek to the mountain of the Lord. On the way up the mountain, Isaac humbly asked his father where the lamb for the alter was, to which Abraham responded that “the Lord will provide the lamb himself.”

I expect that he had great pain while saying this, trusting that God knew how the situation would end, and all the time Abraham following without understanding. It doesn’t say that Isaac struggled while his father tied him up & placed the boy on the alter. This surprises me, and says a lot to the relationship of trust Isaac had with his father! Just as Abraham raised his armed hand to slay his only son, the Angel of the Lord came to him & told Abraham that God had seen how he feared the Lord. Just then, Abraham noticed a Ram that was stuck in the bushes. God himself had provided the sacrifice of atonement.

…Faith obeys completely the Word of God. –Abraham trusted in God’s voice, and acted immediately.
…Faith surrenders the best to God, holding nothing back. –He surrendered his only son, the one he had prayed fervently for and had seen God provide.
…Faith waits on the Lord to provide all one’s needs. –Abraham knew that God would provide for him, whether through this son as a sacrifice or with something else. God had promised to make him a father of many nations, and Abraham trusted that whether it would be through Isaac or someone else, that God would bring that to pass.

“A true worshiper of God holds nothing back from God but obediently gives Him what He asks, trusting that He will provide. The key idea of the entire passage is summarized in the name Abraham gave to the place: Yahweh Yir’eh, The Lord will provide.”

It is hard to put your all onto the alter. To open up yourself completely to our God, though we should know deep down that He WILL provide. It is still difficult sometimes. A true test of God will ask you to do something that doesn’t make sense. It forces you to rely solely on him and not on your own power. I struggle to do this some days….and who am I kidding….most days I struggle with this. Simply in knowing that God will provide for me in EVERYTHING I need.

It is then that I remember that God has already provided a sacrifice for me, and that He has already provided all that I need. He has given me a new life, a clean slate, the forgiveness for my sins through the atonement His one and only son paid for me on the cross. Through trusting in Him, and even before I trusted in Him, He had given me and all of us forgiveness.

I loved this thought I read while studying about God as our sacrificial Lamb….”When does God meet our needs? Just when we have the need and not a minute before. When you bring your requests to the throne of grace, God answers with mercy and grace “in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Sometimes it looks like God waits until the last minute to send help, but that is only from our human point of view. God is never late.

Some of the Greatest People

These past few weeks, various conversations have been brought up in different circles, just about people of real substance, people who really stand up for conviction & have charisma like not so many in this world. It make me think about all the people I’ve known who’ve been like that. I don’t think everyone knows people who are outstanding characters like this, but I’ve known quite a few!

Here are a few of the people I’ve been blessed to have in my life: My Grandpa & Grandma…both of them were so stinking cool. My grandpa had unwavering faith, and a quiet wisdom that came out when you needed it, and was witty at just the right times. My grandma was a bit more feisty, but when times were tough she always told me how we just need to trust in God. My great Aunt Helen, though her memory is now failing, is someone who for the most part I’d like to be like. When I was little, I’d stand in awe at her china cabinet full of trinkets from her travels all over the world. She was a photographer, a traveler, an adventurer & was stubborn. Ha. She never had children of her own, but always made us feel special whenever we’d visit.

Some of my friends have shown me how to stand up against discrimination, for doctrine, with dignity, and through death. These are the people you want to speak into your life, the ones who apologetically live out a real faith, fully relying on God & open enough to share when they haven’t. Strong enough to admit defeat & humble enough to recognize others’ victories. If I could make one thing certain for you, it would be salvation, if I could ask for another, it’d be that you have someone to admire as a real life liver of the gospel & faith.

I hope that one day I can be that to someone. And may you too one day be in someone’s “greatest people” list!

Why Romania? Part 2

So what really is going on in my mind about all this? Well, recently, I’ve been challenged here and there, by “random” people who’ve taken risks & steps forward in their calling, despite the circumstances that surround them. Some of the risks are going out even when the money isn’t all there, or going to an unknown land without knowing the language, or making choices on what to stay home for or what to miss. It all comes down to what they value. What values more…financial security or trusting God’s provision? What values more…cultural know-how or hoping God will bring you just the right words? What values more…your social life or trusting that God might have another person He wants you to be with that day?

What matters to me, admittedly more on some days than others, is just how much God has blessed me, and how I can give away what I’ve been given. In my life, I have been given two parents who love me & care for me, four siblings from two completely different worlds & situations, a home that I can call my own, food to fill my fridge (and some that even rots), I’ve been raised in a family that is built on a strong Biblical foundation, and I’ve been blessed with people who’ve taught me the value of working hard and praying harder. And how will any of this matter unless it benefits someone else? If it ends with me, then it is truly wasted. It’s like an inheritance…unless there is an heir, what is the point to all the billions upon billions that one has saved or acquired? Who will it go to once the person is gone?

I want my earthly inheritance to be spent before it’s stockpiled…I hope to give it away, and to bless those who may never be encouraged to take a step of faith into a life they never dreamed of. In Psalms 68, it talks about putting the lonely in families. Well, I’ve been given a family, but others have not. They are the lonely, and they can be part of our family…my family…God’s family. The love, care & provision that I have been blessed with all my life, can be someone else’s if you or I care enough to share it with them. Sharing not only the practical things like food, shelter, & water, but God’s blessings of love, acceptance, forgiveness & encouragement.

Wherever I go, whoever I become, this is the person I want to be: I want to be someone who serves others, who cares about the people who are rejected from society, who is involved with missions, who goes wherever I’m needed to so I can meet a need, who seeks God first, who is unashamedly Christian, who gives all that I am to love on people & listen to them when they need it.

This is why….and this is how it will happen…loving God & loving people.