December 26, 2013

Immanuel

Christmas. For some of us, this season fills us with childlike joy and excitement. The lights, parties, decorations, cookies, presents, family members…everything about Christmas energizes us and leaves us counting down the months until December. Maybe we don’t even wait until December…maybe we deck our halls in November. Heck, some of us wish we worked in Christmas Shops so we never had to go without the holiday!

And for the rest of us, this season is a stark reminder of all the ways we have failed and the fact that we are alone. Whether we have lost a family member, been harshly separated from one, or feel as though we have failed our families, we would rather close our eyes and fast-forward through this holiday that seems to be a vain attempt to mask the pain for a month. Reality sets in thirty days later reminding us of our failures and aloneness.

But maybe we have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. Sure, you’ve heard that before, haven’t you? “Let’s remember the reason for the season!” “Keep CHRIST in CHRISTmas!” We put up the nativity scenes, we read through Luke 2, we tell our children this is Jesus’ birthday, we say “Merry CHRISTmas!” and not “Happy Holidays!”. But has it all become so rote that we truly miss out on one of the most fundamental crux’s to our faith? Have our traditions and catchy phrases numbed us to something more?

Isaiah 9:6 says, “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.”

Go back in time with me…stand from afar and watch as Mary, who is full term now, tries to find a comfortable position on the donkey while she fights her contractions. You can see the pain written across her face. But this isn’t just the pain from the contractions…she has been ridiculed, doubted, and abandoned by her community due to this pregnancy. She’s young…under 20 years of age young. Get a glimpse of her thoughts…what kind of delivery will this be? What does a baby conceived by the Holy Spirit look like? Will Joseph be able to love this boy? Does he still love me because he wants to or because he has to now? Will we be good parents?

Watch Joseph’s face as he frantically looks for the smoothest part of the dusty dirt road while at the same time hopelessly searching for a suitable location for Mary to deliver. The past ten months have been nothing short of Hell for his reputation. But he loved Mary…he believed God…and he would love and raise this boy as well. He made his mind up months ago and he was determined to stay to the course.

Now, come with me into the stable, the most unlikely maternity ward. Listen to Mary scream as she starts to push. Hear Joseph console her. Watch as their son enters the world a takes his first breath. Joseph, an unfit midwife, runs to get water and whatever clean linens he can find. Mary, relieved the worse is over, takes a deep breath and clings to her son.

Do you see the look in her eyes as she stares at him for the first time? She knows that the baby she is holding was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She was told He was the Son of God, that He would save His people from their sins, that He, this tiny life whose fingers were wrapped around her one finger, whose very existence was dependent on her now, that He would be called “Immanuel, which means, God with us.”

Joseph runs back into stable with little pieces of cloth he got from the Inn next door…these linens were probably dish rags. No matter. He needed something with which to clean his son and make sure he was warm. His son. Funny how everything changes when you see that little person for the first time. This was his baby. Held by his wife. The ridicule and embarrassment seemed nothing to Joseph now.

He catches Mary’s eye and they both freeze. The enormity of what just happened is beginning to sink in. They can’t speak, because neither of them have the words. They don’t really know how this all happened, or what they are supposed to do now, or what their future is going to look like. All they know is that they have each other and this precious life, “Immanuel, God with us.” God with them.

Over the next 33 years, Mary would watch the most fascinating life that ever walked the face of the earth. She would see Him change water into wine, heal blind men, raise people from the dead, cast out demons, and feed thousands. She would watch as He graciously interacted with prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners, and lepers. She would hear Him condemn the righteous and religious. And then, she would see Him nailed to a cross. The same person she held in her arms that night in a stable, would have His arms outstretched on a Roman cross. Was this how it was supposed to end? This wasn’t what she signed up for. She thought the Messiah would come and establish His Kingdom. She thought she would be spared from heartache. What was God doing? Was she missing something? She had lost everything for Him. Her reputation, her family, her peace of mind…and now for what? How could God do this to her? How could He do this to her?

And then…three days later…everything changed.

Three days later, Mary saw her son. Oh, but He was no longer her son. No, now He was her Savior. And everything made sense. Her confusion, her pain, her aloneness, her isolation…all of it culminated in the moment she saw Him alive. She got it. She understood why her son, the Messiah, had to die.

So He could offer scandalous grace to those who do not deserve it. To those who truly believe they are too broken, too dirty, too wayward, too unreligious, too unworthy, too unacceptable.

To those who think God could never love them, Jesus Christ is God with Us and proved otherwise. Jesus Christ is the living proof that God desperately wants a relationship with you…with me.

But we fight Him. We fight the Savior of the world. We would rather try to convince Him that we aren’t worth it, while He holds open His outstretched, pierced hands and claims otherwise.

What are you waiting for? Why not give in to a love that has the power to heal you at your depths. Why not surrender to a peace that calms the raging storms within you. Why not?

What do you need this Christmas? I guess the better question is: Who do you need this Christmas? Do you need someone to guide you through a new season, someone to give you answers to the tough questions ahead, someone to tell you how to handle that difficult situation? Then you need a Wonderful Counselor.

Do you nee a miracle? Do you need strength to face another day? Are you not sure how to get around the obstacles in your path? You need a Mighty God.

Do you need to feel safe and secure again? Do you need a protector, a comforter, and encourager? Do you need to feel loved and unconditionally accepted? Then you need an Everlasting Father.

Maybe you need a Savior. Maybe you are at the end of your rope…you know there is a God, but you have no idea how to interact with Him or why He would even want to be with you. All you know is that this can’t be all there is to life. You are drowning in darkness and you see no escape. You need a Prince of Peace.

Jesus Christ came to earth as a baby, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross for YOU. He died because He wants a relationship with YOU and the only way to make that happen is to pay for your sins once and for all. He proved He was capable of that when He rose from the dead three days later. Call out to Him. Tell Him you believe! Tell Him He is your Savior. It is that easy! And rest in the presence of Immanuel, God with Us.

December 16, 2013

Mommy Grace

Real life...with kids.

I am not usually a very patient, gracious woman. Just speaking truth. I hate being tired: I don't function well when I am exhausted. I wear my heart my sleeve. I am hot-tempered, quick witted, and just generally a fast-paced, workaholic woman.

And then I had Brooke.

I'm just gonna tell you...I read all the books, interviewed lots of moms (yes, I literally did this), and took all the "quizzes" I could find to get ready for my little one. But nothing, I mean nothing, prepares you adequately for real life. You just have to take it in stride.

I love John 1:16:
For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
That's what mommy-life has been for me...receiving grace upon grace from Jesus.

The other day I was just struck by the fact that I am a patient, loving, gracious, slow-tempered mom the majority of the time. Listen, I am NOT tooting my own horn. PLEASE BELIEVE ME. All praise and glory goes to Jesus Who absolutely equips me every day to love my little girl the way He loves me.

But here's the real reason why I am writing this blog: I need to remember His grace upon grace. Another translation says "gift upon gift". Every day with my daughter is a gift. Even those hellish days when she transforms into another person while teething (some days I just want to tell molars where to go...and it's not Heaven). Or those days when she just refuses to listen. Or those days when I want to do something special with her in public and she ain't havin' it...and everyone stares. Every day is a gift. A gift to enjoy her. A gift to receive the grace Jesus offers when I just don't feel like I've got any more to give. A gift to believe in Christ's forgiveness when I fall short. A gift to lean into Him as my perfection when I fail. A gift to remember HE is my perfectly Heavenly Father and will guide me through the ups and downs of parenting. A gift.

Thank you Jesus for Your gifts of grace!

December 14, 2013

Old Idols

This isn't going to be a long post because my 13-month-old is sleeping and I still need to try to squeeze dusting and vacuuming into this kid-free-zone, but God just really spoke to my heart and as you know, the only way for me to process is by writing. So, here goes...

A few years ago, I heard a message by Matt Chandler on the passage of Scripture where Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12). He explained that he believed this "thorn" wasn't necessarily a physical ailment, but more like demonic oppression (different than possession)...perhaps an emotional or even personal problem that kept returning even after much prayer. I remember breaking down in tears. Even now as I type this, I am getting emotional. A few months prior to this message, I had been diagnosed with clinical depression...something this legalist didn't even believe was "biblical" let alone "godly". It rocked my world. I quickly got myself into some intense counselling and began seeing real healing and change take place. But bottom line is: Depression still kicks my butt even after this time. And I hate it.

Just recently I have been going through a rather rough bout of it. Honestly, I didn't even see it coming till it was too late. I used to be on it - I could sense the triggers and fight back. But I guess I have tried to persuade myself that it isn't as bad as it once was and I got lazy. Well, here's what I read this morning from Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian (highly suggest this book): 

"It wasn't my old life I wanted back; It was my old idols and God loved me too much to give them back to me".

Here's the thing: I have migrated back to my old idol of people pleasing...trying to suck acceptance and approval out of everyone I know. And I am exhausted. I have run around like a chicken with my head cut off doing everything in order to get noticed and to get love and praise (sounds pathetic). And without realizing it, instead of sucking out praise and love and acceptance from everyone else, I have been sucked dry. And that's when the depression comes flooding in.

So I am realizing this: When my depression hits hard, it is God's way of reminding me that what I am searching for isn't enough. Only He is.

"My grace is enough; it’s all you need.My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become."