Archive | December 2012

Reflections of Christmas (December 25, 2009)

December 25th, 3:00 AM…for those of you who don’t know me well, I often write in the middle of the night.  My rational is that since I rarely have a chance to slow down, God messes with my sleep and uses my down-time to talk to me.  On this Christmas morning, my mind struggles to focus on one particular thing.  Mostly, I am thinking about the meaning of Christmas – the true meaning, Jesus’ birth.  But, since we’re nearing the end of December, I cannot help but reflect about my spiritual walk over this past year.  What makes me even more pensive is that we are approaching the one-year anniversary of this newsletter.  That means I’ve written eleven devotionals, but have they – have I – glorified God and inspired women in the process.

At the surface, it may seem like my thoughts are jumbled, but I submit to you, there is a definite connection between the Christmas story and our daily responsibilities as Christians.  As we embark on yet another year of our life on this Earth, let us remember the joy we feel because of Jesus’ birth, and the love of God the Father, who gave us the ultimate Christmas gift over 2000 years ago.  Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection are not mere events to consider twice a year, but really something that should be at the forefront of our thoughts every day!

That sounds great, but is that what we do?  Is that what I do?  Are sometimes my ideals simply words on a page that lack meaning and application in my life?  When someone looks at me, do they see God’s love, or do they see some self-centered woman who cannot seem to get things right for any appreciable amount of time?  Am I really progressing in my spiritual walk?  Is it that two-steps-forward-one-step-back type of maturity, or do I find myself sliding down the spiritual mountain?  I ask these questions to myself, but really, we should all consider where we are and where we’re going.  If we truly believe the Christmas story, we need to ask these questions, and, we need to be honest enough with ourselves to answer them, but without condemnation.

When I reflect over the year, I see a few shining moments where God’s love radiated from me, but I also see some moments where I must have been demon-possessed! I honestly relate to Paul when he writes, “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.  Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it (Romans 7:15-20).”

I have to include the whole text to help you appreciate my thought-process.  Paul has rehashed my entire spiritual journey in this passage, including the agonizing frustration that goes along with it.  I’ve had this identical conversation with God, even taking it to the point of yelling, begging, and crying over it.  I ask Him, “What’s wrong with me?  God, come on, please help me be consistent.  Help me show Your love; help me do the things I sincerely want to do.  Why is that the more I want to show You, the more I end up disappointing You, and myself?  Why?”

Paul was able to point out that our problem with not reaching our ideals is because of sin living in us.  I don’t know about you, but looking at the magnitude of sin in my life, Paul’s words alone are not too reassuring!  I mean, sure there’s been progress in reducing my sin, but it’s an incredibly slow process, like using an ice-pick to break up a glacier the size of Greenland.  It would be enough to overwhelm me if I had to tackle this problem on my own.  But, I am comforted to know that our sinful nature is overcome because of Jesus!

And, that brings us back to the Christmas story, the true meaning of Christmas… the birth of Jesus, who would later die to redeem us.  We are completely undeserving of His sacrifice, especially considering nothing is required for us to accept His ultimate gift.  For me, this puts everything in a different light.  I’m not just forcing a mere ‘thank you’ to be polite for a gift I didn’t want.  I am truly humbled by the magnificent gift that God has given me – a gift I didn’t even realize I needed for a large part of my life!  I want to grow spiritually; I want to share God’s love with everyone; I want to honor the amazing God who loves us unconditionally.  This doesn’t mean I will always get everything right, or even come close, but I can and will accept I am a work in progress and continue persevering towards to the goal.  This year, let’s make it a daily priority to remember what we’ve been given and put God first in everything that we do.  May you have joyful and blessed New Year!

“For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled in the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Advertisements

Christmas Night

And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11 ESV)

Ever since I was a little girl, it’s been hard for me to sleep on Christmas night. Back then, I was so excited about Santa coming and anxious about everything I was going to get! I would sneak downstairs and admire all of the presents that were under the tree, and wait, ever so impatiently, until I could wake my parents up to open my gifts!

Being a mom, that magical part of Christmas hasn’t gone away, as I definitely enjoy the genuine enthusiasm of my son as he looks forward to Christmas morning! The smiles, the hugs, his plans to wake up at 6am, the inability to wait before tearing into his gifts…. It’s completely priceless!

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a childlike excitement about Christmas, but for too long, this was all I saw. Presents, family, food, tradition… All very good things, all memorable, important parts of Christmas, but definitely not the centerpiece of the holiday season!

Looking back, something was always missing from my Christmas celebrations. While it was great to receive presents and spend time with family, there had to be more! I even went to church on Christmas Day almost every year, but that still wasn’t enough.

Although it took me a long time to figure it out, I now know that what was missing from my past Christmas celebrations was my personal, authentic relationship with Jesus Christ!

The birth of Jesus is more than a nice story… The nativity scene is more than a fancy decoration… God sending His Son to become man and later die for my sins is, by far, the best Christmas present imaginable! Receiving this gift – truly accepting God’s grace and mercy – is a life changing experience! This is what Christmas is all about!

At church tonight, our drama ministry presented two sketches about how many people see Christmas, and how it’s easy to get caught up in the gift-giving and family craziness that the holidays bring. In between the sketches, our choir sang beautiful Christmas carols that focused on the true meaning of Christmas. Our pastor tied everything together perfectly, connecting our modern Christmas existence with reality, which is only found in Jesus.

I was amazed at how everything fit together, and felt honored and blessed when a stranger approached me and told me that we completely depicted all of the pieces that Christmas brings and how she really enjoyed everything.

I love how God can use something so simple to show the world His love. I am truly humbled that He allows me to be a part of His plan!

I am even thrilled that my inability to sleep on this Christmas Eve is not caused by selfish thoughts of the presents I’m going to receive or what we’re going to eat for Christmas dinner.

Instead, I’m completely in awe of the presence of God in my life! I am incredibly grateful for the Holy Spirit slowly working in me. I am thankful for an amazing church family and the godly people in my life, who help me stay grounded in my faith!

My life is far from perfect, because I am far from perfect, but I still have complete joy because of Jesus! Even when life hurts, I can rejoice because I know I am forgiven and made free and will spend eternity in Christ’s presence!

I sincerely want everyone to be able to experience God’s love, and personally know Jesus! I pray that people who haven’t found what’s missing from their family celebrations will open their hearts and see the true meaning of Christmas… Jesus Christ!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 ESV)

Heart Purification

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8, ESV).

I posted on Facebook earlier that the K-Love verse of the day was Matthew 5:8, and that today’s lesson from my Aunt’s Max Lucado “Experiencing the Heart of Jesus” Bible study was on the Beatitudes. 

“Coincidences” like this tend to get me thinking….and the following paragraph from Lucado really got my brain going this morning:  “And though your heart isn’t perfect, it isn’t rotten.  And though you aren’t invincible, at least you’re plugged in.  And you can bet that he who made you knows just how to purify you – from the inside out.”

God knows how to purify you from the inside out… Why, yes, He does, even when you’re not looking for Him to!  In fact, God started working on my heart years before I was saved.   I believe this was necessary for me to fully embrace His love for me.

When I look back to the relationships and other experiences I had during college and graduate school, it was clear that my heart was non-existent.  I was closed to receiving love from others and tended to push people away when they tried to get too close.  The rational behind this could be a dissertation in itself, so I will spare you the details, but basically, I kept my heart safe, so no one could hurt me.  Instead of opening my heart to the possibility of things I didn’t understand, I hardened my heart, refusing to let anyone in.

Luckily, God slowly began softening my heart and planting seeds that would one day allow me to realize His love.

The major chisel to my hardened heart was the birth of my son.  I have learned so much about how to love by becoming a mother than from anything I have ever experienced.  Most people try to teach their children to love as they do; but, I can honestly say that my ability to love has resulted from my son teaching me!  I wish I could say that I learned the first time I held him in my arms, but like everything, it’s been a process.  Early on, I failed more often than I succeeded, but God gave me a wonderful boy, who always loved me in spite of my many imperfections as a mother.  I am grateful that my son and I are finally to a place where we can both learn from one another!

The next major chisel to my heart problem was the realization that my life was not where I wanted it to be.  I was still not a Christian, so I cannot really cite this verse as the basis for my change, but looking back, it makes perfect sense:   Get rid of the sins you have done, and get for yourselves a new heart and a new way of thinking (Ezekiel 18:31, NCV).

I knew some things in my life had to change, even before I knew I needed God.   Again, this is backwards thinking!   We should realize we need God, and allow Him to change us, but that’s not how it initially worked, likely because I did not have an understanding of God’s grace from my Catholic upbringing.  But, even though I was not seeking God, He was always chasing after me!

Slowly, my heart began to change, and I became open to loving other people and letting them into my heart.  However, as with anything new, it wasn’t a smooth process.  I ended up being manipulated and found myself in a dangerous situation.  But, despite the pain that resulted from my naïve heart, God used this experience to bring me to church, and by this point, my heart was ready to know Him.  Even though some people may not understand my feelings, I have absolutely no regrets, as this led me to learn about God’s amazing grace, Jesus’ unfailing love, and ultimately gave me eternal life!

To me, the most surprising thing is that afterwards, I did not go back to the “safety” of my hardened heart, as I would have expected, but rather I learned to trust God with my heart.  And, while the road has not always been smooth, and my humanness tends to complicate matters, I know I am headed in the direction that He desires for me. 

I’m being purified from the inside out, and as this is happening, I am able to see God more clearly.  Sounds like a win-win situation to me!

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).”

To Live is Christ, August 13, 2009

Philippians 1:21 “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”

Paul penned these words to articulate the importance of living life completely for Christ.  Paul, once a persecutor of Christians, spent his entire converted life enduring the same suffering he previously desired for others.  At the time of Paul’s letter to the Philippi church, Paul was imprisoned and conflicted regarding the direction his life should take.  For Paul, dying meant being with Christ, something he desired more than anything; but continuing his ministry meant bringing more people to Christ, his ultimate purpose.  Paul was crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), giving up complete control of his life – allowing Christ to live in him.

God uses many techniques to help people understand His direction.  One of them is through confirmation of many sources.  It never ceases to amaze me that God will point everything in His particular direction.  Unfortunately, for me, there has to be a lot of repetition before I finally catch on!  Lately, God has been directing me towards a better understanding of Paul’s ministry and a greater appreciation for Paul, himself.  The verses above have been recently discussed in church sermons, Sunday school, Christian books, and through songs on the radio.  To make matters even more clear, children’s Sunday school has focused on Paul for a while now – both his conversion and mission trips.  In the midst of this, my son was singing a song on his MP3 player that I wasn’t familiar with.  It turned out to the Apologetics song “I Love Apostle Paul” (sung to the tune of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll”).  So, it shouldn’t have surprised me that when the women’s ministry was discussing Bible studies for the fall, God led me to one of Beth Moore’s early studies.  It is appropriately named “To Live is Christ – The Life and Ministry of Paul”.  What better way to become closer to God than study His Word, and what a great way to study His Word by focusing on the apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament!

“To Live is Christ” is more than a history lesson about Paul – it provides amazing hope and encouragement for every woman.  Paul reminds us that God doesn’t care about our past; his mercy will overcome any sins we have committed.  If God will use a self-absorbed, persecutor of Christians, who allowed the law to become his god, then He wants to personally call each of us to be His disciple.  Paul was a passionate, unashamed man, who persevered through countless trials.   He was faithful to God despite the constant opposition he faced.  Everything in Paul’s life and ministry is as relevant today as it was during his lifetime.  There is so much to take from this study, including (but by no means limited to): raising Godly children, dealing with temptation and difficulty, witnessing to non-believers, Godly relationships and mentoring, and even how to avoid being long-winded (uh-oh).  I encourage you to commit to attending this awesome 12-week Beth Moore study on Sunday nights.  There will be surely something for everyone, in addition to the opportunity to fellowship and discuss scripture with other women!  What an inspiration to all women to learn about the man who gave his entire existence to God’s will after his conversion along the road to Damascus.  Paul demonstrates that God’s power can and will overcome human weakness, if we allow Him to take control of our lives.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  (Colossians 3:2-4)