Monday, December 31, 2012

Recollections & Reflections of Light

"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:
they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,
upon them hath the light shined."
Isaiah 9:2
(KJV)

Things are quiet here this morning.

But, sounds still echo in our home...
hang in the air...
like soft, gentle whispers...
of the joy and comfort....
we felt yesterday....
when our house was full...
and not so quiet.


Banjo, guitars, dulcimers, mandolins, ukuleles,
even a psaltery...
voices rising in song....
laughter..
children running up and down our hall...
sounds of their merriment ringing with every step.

Aromas linger, too.
Broccoli casserole,
baked beans,
pork barbecue,
macaroni salad,
cookies,
cakes,
coffee.....
I catch the slightest waft of them and other good things...
as I walk through the stillness....
fondly recalling the moments.

Most of all, the light lingers.
I bask in its glory that illuminated our hearts...
and home....
throughout this Christmas season.

It was merry...
and bright.

Faith,
family, 
friends.
These fill and warm my heart...
with an unspeakable peace.

I am so blessed to have all three.

As I prayed this morning,
I worshiped...
the God Who is the giver of life...and light...
the God from Whom all blessings flow...
the God Who is kind, and generous, and good.
I thanked Him for bringing us through...
2012.

It has been a different year.
I am so glad we are still here.
For even through the hard times,
the seemingly impossible moments,
the unspeakable pain,
God's light remains,
life remains....
and is worth living.
Filled with new meaning...
and new mercies...
 every morning.

It's always sad to close a chapter.
To say good-bye.
To leave the past of the old year....
behind.

But we must.
 For we can never take hold of the new
while we are still clinging to the old.
We can never fully comprehend the "now"
until we let go of the"then".

We went and did some of our annual
"after-Christmas" shopping today.
We found some great bargains
and left the stores happy.
It made me feel that the season was still upon us...
and made me look forward to next Christmas.
We have made an early start...
and if we continue to pick up little things on sale
throughout the year,
we will be ready to face and spend another peaceful Christmas next year,
if God spares time and our lives...
and permits it to be.
I hope He does.

Even though we have missed Mom so terribly this year,
I can honestly say it has been one of the most peaceful
seasons I have ever experienced.
We enjoyed it so much,
in spite of our tears.
I believe God illuminated our darkness
by sending extra love our way...
from unexpected directions.

He reminded loving hearts...
that this would be a hurtful time for us,
and He worked through them
to convey His compassion.
To shine His light...
upon our death-shadowed path.

He is faithful that way...
to work through human instruments.

We all need to feel loved...
and cared about.
We all need a hug now and then.
We need to hear "I love you" often.

God sent His Son into this darkened world
to speak the language of love....
and light....
to all who crossed His path.

Jesus told His disciples in John 9:5,
"As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

As long as He was in the world,
He was.

He was entirely faithful.
Every second of His 33 1/2 years on earth...
He was true to His mission.
He never faltered...
never failed....
never veered off-course.

As the moment neared...
for His departure from earth....
He began to prepare the hearts and minds of His disciples...
letting them know that it would soon be up to them.
Soon the responsibility of "the light"....
would fall into their very human, extremely flawed hands.

Sometimes, I marvel at His plan.
I wonder if I would have chosen the same course.
Human beings?
With broken, checkered, sometimes downright shady pasts?

They had such dark sides.
Could they....
should they....
be entrusted with the light...
His light?
What if they let it go out?
What if they forgot...
all about the things He was teaching them?
What if their bend toward the darkness...
overpowered their desire to carry the torch?
What if they became weary in well doing...
when the going got rough?

He told them it would.
He warned them that they would suffer great persecution,
be forced to appear before authorities,
die painful deaths....
if they obeyed His bidding...
and became His beacons of light.

He never told them their cross would be light to carry.
That life would be easy for them.

Was His?

He was aware of every, single flaw in each one of their characters.
Peter's quick temper and outspoken, impulsive temperament....
his vehement intentions to defend the truth
only to cave at the slightest sign of pressure.
James' and John's strong indignation towards wrong
and their lack of tolerance for those less indignant.
Thomas' tendency to doubt.
Matthew's reputation.
Simon's fervent zeal.

Yet, He left His all-important work...
His mission to shine the light...
in the hands of eleven men...
humans....
mere mortals...
so capable of failure.
So prone to stray.
So flawed....and imperfect.

In Matthew 5:14, He spoke these words to them,
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid."

It was their turn.
If they dropped the ball,
the light would be forever extinguished...
never to shine upon the next generation.
If they refused...
to answer God's call....
the flame would go out.

Would you have trusted them?
With such a direly important task?
Would you have handed over the responsibility of the light...
to such as those?

Jesus made the choice to take upon Himself humanity...
to bring to us the light.

Jesus chose humanity to be the vessels...
to keep it burning after He was gone.

They were faithful in their generation.
They answered His call.
They were faithful emitters of His light.

What about now?

I have seen His light...
shining through those who have reached out....
shown love and kindness....
been the light to me...
in my darkness.

Cards,
phone calls,
letters,
emails,
gifts,
kind gestures....
all from sources of light.

His light has shone...
and continues to shine upon my path...
as I determinedly plod forward.

How welcome it is!
To a sad, groping heart!
Just the slightest word...
can illuminate and dispel the densest of gloom.

The torch is handed to us, my friend.
It is now our responsibility.
We must be His light...
to a sin-darkened world.
We must hate the crime,
and love the criminal.

Describing Jesus' entrance into the world,
John said this,
"And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

The darkness did not possess the ability to extinguish Jesus' light.
No matter how dark,
it could not put it out....
could not prevent it...
or its effect.

Our world has become darkened and blighted by evil.
Has it ever been more so?
Hate, cruelty, malice, ill-will...
all of it...
can be trumped by light...
shining from human sources...
flowing from human hearts.

He knows we are flawed.
He realizes we have issues.
He is aware of our pasts...
and how checkered some of them are.
He sees it all, and
guess what?
He has chosen us anyway.
He has entrusted the torch,
placed it in our hands,
to carry on...
in our day....
to be His disciples...
to see the light....
not to blend in...not to conform to the darkness of our surroundings...
but to become beacons and shining reflections...
of that light.

What would happen in 2013 
if each of us made the commitment
to be human emissaries of Jesus' light?

What if we took personal responsibility...
of being the light of the world?
What if the gravity of our commission became real to us?
What if we fully grasped our accountability?

What if when we spot hatred this year,
instead of trying to fight it with more hate,
we choose to trump it...
extinguish its blackness...
 with the light of love?
What if when we detect racism,
we determine to break the cycle...
embrace...
and uplift our brother?
What if when we discern a superior air,
we quench its ugly shadow...
with the light of a humble spirit?
What if we made the choice to become servants...
one to another...
as Jesus' did on the eve of His crucifixion...
as He humbly knelt...
and washed each of His disciples' feet?

The Master became the servant.
Who are we?
To not do likewise?

What if when we saw someone in need,
instead of looking the other way...
pretending it wasn't happening...
we reached out...
and we met that need?
What if when we discerned sadness in a stranger,
we smiled and
said "hello"?
What if we stooped...
to lift another's load?

We will never win anyone by looking down our noses...
or making them feel "less than".

This is not Jesus' way.
Are we His followers?

The light is in our hands.
What will we do with it?

No matter how strong the darkness,
it will never be more powerful than His light.

You are the light of the world, my friend.
So am I.
We have seen His light.
It has illuminated our darkness.
Now, it is our job to let it shine...
through us in the new year....
as never before.
To make a difference.
To be Jesus...
to all....
even those...
especially those....
who are different from us.

Enjoy His light...
bask in its glow...
be filled with its warmth...
then pass it on.
Let it shine.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tablecloth Memories

"Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
the Father of mercies, 
and the God of all comfort
Who comforteth us in all our tribulation..."
2 Corinthians 1:3,4
(KJV)

How was your Christmas?
I hope you had special moments...
with family, friends, and those you love the most.
I hope you made great memories....
that will last you the whole year through.
I hope when you look back on this Christmas,
it will be with the fondest, most cherished thoughts.

It's always sad when it's over.
We spend so much time,
expend so much energy,
build so much excitement...
that the day after...
well, it can be a pretty big letdown.

Not so, at our house.

Because a very special thing happens at our house every year.

On the day after we celebrate Jesus' birthday...
we celebrate Zachary's birthday!

I can't believe today he turned 12.
Twelve!
How could this be?
Where did the years go?
How quickly they have come and gone!

This year, we started Zach's birthday celebration early...
during the evening on Christmas Day.

I've always striven to make his birthday a completely separate event...
so he wouldn't feel cheated.  :-)

But, this year, it was his choice to combine the two.
Somehow, it just made it more bearable to him...
to start his birthday with more of his loved ones around him.
I consented...
to be honest,
I really wasn't up to a big shebang, either.
I have relived last Christmas...
his last birthday...
then imagined this Christmas...
and this birthday...
without Mom...
over and over and over....
only to feel completely overwhelmed...
and unequal to the task ahead of me...
to even face the two days.

So, after we finished our Christmas meal
and all of the dishes were washed and put away,
I switched gears...
and table cloths.
I took off the Christmas one,
and replaced it with the birthday one...
and I added the "Happy Birthday" banner 
under the "Merry Christmas" banner...
in our dining room.


Our birthday table cloth is unlike any other on earth.
I guarantee you will never find another one like it....
if you search the whole world over.

It is invaluable to me, 
though it didn't cost much when we bought it new...years ago.

It isn't unique because of the plastic material from which it is made,
nor is it unusual because of its design or color or print.

I'll tell you why it is so special.

On the tablecloth,
are names.
Signatures.
Words of well-wishers.
Followed by dates.
Written with permanent ink markers....
held by loving, caring hands...
over the past several years...
each time someone in our family or circle of friends 
has celebrated a birthday...around our table.  

We started the tradition years ago, 
and we continue to add to it.
We used to just sign and write messages in the balloons along the sides,
but now we have started signing it in the middle, 
because we were running out of balloons.  :-)


When I take it out of its usual storage spot...
in our kitchen cupboard...
and I look at all the names, dates, words...
I am taken back...
to so many moments...
so many occasions.

So many memories!

They flood my mind...
as I unfold it and spread it from one end of our table to the other.

Yesterday, as I looked down at the tablecloth...
on the end closest to where I was standing near Zach's chair...
it caught my eye.
In Mom's familiar handwriting, I read, "Mom 2-3-2012".
It serves as a stark reminder
that it was the very last time 
she signed or ever will sign that cloth.
She signed it just this year....
on Kevin's birthday.
Just a short distance away...
over to the left of Mom's signature...
I felt another stab of sadness as I spotted Dad's familiar scrawl,
"Dad 2-14-2000"...
it was the very last time he signed it...
or ever will.

The two signatures happened to fall right in front 
of Zachary's spot at the end of the table.
I pointed it out to some in the room.

We all shed our share of tears yesterday...
and had our moments....
missing her.

Seeing their handwriting there...near to us...
somehow brought a sense of comfort...
as if a part of them is still here.

I'm glad we started signing that tablecloth...
I'm glad we have held on to it all these years.

It wouldn't mean much to anyone else...
but it means the world to me.
There are so many memories attached.
I wouldn't trade it for anything.
I dread the day it rips or becomes unusable!
When it does, I'll store it away someplace safe...
and then, God willing, we'll start another one.

Life must go on.
Even when we are hurting.
We must cherish the memories,
relive the happy times,
find comfort in moments of reminiscing,
then we have to realize that to linger there too long is unhealthy.
To try to recapture something that is gone forever...
is unwise.

Life is happening all around us.
There are others who need us to be strong.
We must thank God for the time He allowed us to share with 
those who have gone on, then
we must go on....living...
until He calls us home to join them.

God is so faithful.
He knew how hard these first occasions would be...
without Mom.

So, He has sent us extra-special blessings....
one right after the other...
through little special reminders of His love....
through the dear, thoughtful deeds and kindnesses....
of those who care.

We are so blessed to have a caring Heavenly Father
Who knows exactly what we need....
when we need it.

Sometimes, we look ahead, 
and our hearts become so overwhelmed....
dreading the emotions,
wondering how we will ever get through the pain, 
when all along, God has it all worked out.
He has a plan....
to get us through the impossible....
to make bearable...the unbearable.

Many are hurting this holiday season.
Not every heart is merry.
There are many empty chairs.
Vacant spots.
Missing links...
in the family circle.

More than once yesterday,
my thoughts went to Connecticut....
to the parents who were unable to watch their darlings
open the gifts they had already bought for them...
on Christmas morning.
Too soon the candles of their little, precious lives
were violently and abruptly blown out...
snatched from the scene of life.
As we prayed and asked the blessing over our Christmas meal,
we begged God to comfort those families...
to be with them.

My thoughts often go to my dear cousin, Steve, 
who has had far more than his fair share of grief...
this year and in recent years.
To be honest, I can't imagine how he is putting one foot in front of the other...
other than the fact He is being under girded by God's everlasting arms.
He lost his 9 year old grand-daughter.
She was more like his daughter.
He raised her, cared for her, loved her...
as his very own.
Not too long after, he lost his mother.
They were very close.
Just a few short months ago, 
he lost his wife, the love of his life.
Now, just a few days before this Christmas,
he lost his daughter, Stephanie.
My heart breaks for him.
There is no human comfort...
that can heal his broken heart.
I think of him, and all I know to do is pray...
that somehow God will do what I do not know how to do.
That the God of all comfort will reach down and mend the broken pieces of his heart.
That He will know that God is love....
and His great, Father heart breaks...
right along with his.

If you are lonely,
if you are missing someone,
if death has touched your life this year,
my heart goes out to you, my friend.

I understand.
I can relate.
All of our circumstances are different,
but we share a common sorrow...
a common thread weaves through our individual places of pain.
I understand, and I can relate,
and we share a common bond...
but I can only go so far.
As much as I would like to make it all go away,
as much as it would thrill my heart to eliminate your grief,
I am so inadequate.
No amount of empathy...or sympathy...on my part will relieve your heartache.

Since I am so powerless to help,
do I leave you without hope?
Never!
Jesus loves you.
He sees you cry.
He hears your heart shatter...
time after time after time.
He isn't rushing you.
He applies no pressure...
no time restraints on the length of your grieving process.
He only wishes to hold you...
close to Him....
in His arms.

He is the only true Source of comfort.

There are many things readily available to ease the pain...
at least for the moment.
There are boundless options out there...to dull the senses...
to mask the root...
of the deep-seated sorrow.

But, as the old song says,
"Other friends may bless and comfort, 
Speak a kind and cheering word;
But the balm to heal the heartache,
Only Jesus can afford."

It's true.
Only Jesus can afford...
only He can provide...
what we really need.

His comfort is permanent.
It doesn't wear off after a few hours...
leaving you in a crashing, crushing whirlwind of despair.

The aftermath of His comfort is peace....
calm assurance...
that you are not alone.
That He is there.
That even though you must walk this lonely path,
you are accompanied by the most understanding of friends.
That He has walked this path ahead of you...
and He knows how you feel.

This is how you experience His love...
on the most intimate of all levels.
Those who trust Him through the grieving process
enter a realm of fellowship with Christ
unknown to and inexperienced by others.

Through my grief, I have come to know Christ better than I did before.
He has opened Himself to me...
revealed His love....
drawn me to Him....
in an unexplainable way.

There just are no words.

Recently, we attended a live re-enactment of 
the life of Jesus Christ...
from the time of Isaiah's prophecy...
to the time of His resurrection from the dead.

It lasted over two hours.
I was speechless.
Spellbound.
It was absolutely amazing.
The old, old story...
of Jesus and His love!
I never grow tired of seeing it,
hearing it,
being told about it...
I long to hear and learn all I can.
Mostly, I yearn to see...
into the hidden joys of salvation.

The pathway to many of those joys...
lies behind undesirable gates.

We don't want to suffer....
or grieve...
or cry.
Our flesh recoils from all things negative.
What we fail to realize is that behind the ugliness,
past the undesirable exterior...
lies the path to know Him better...
to experience His presence...
to enter levels of intimacy...
that are completely unknown to those who never walk 
through the valley.  

As I sat in the massive church auditorium,
watching the actors as they portrayed the life of Jesus Christ,
I cried...multiple times.
It affected me differently than it would have...say....
two years ago.

Oh, I would have been moved.
I would have more than likely cried...
but, it is different now.

My relationship with Him is different.
My walk with Him is different.
I am not the same.

Paths of unpleasantness have proven to be paths to peace...
for me.
He is so real to me.
Never has He walked so close...
to my side.
Never have I experienced the reality...
the nearness of His presence...
as I do right now.
It is not an emotion.
It is the most real reality...
I find no words.
There are no words.
To explain what Jesus means to me....
right now.
It is a deep-down sense of bond that I am completely helpless
to describe.
To say I know Him...
is the closest description I can unearth.

If the death of a loved one has cast its cruel shadow across your path...
if you are walking through the valley...
do not fear, my friend!
He is with you.
Allow Him to console you.
Turn to Him with your grief.
Run into His open arms.
Let Him soothe your inmost soul with His peace.
You will find something more precious than gold.
You will discover peace that passes all understanding.
You will walk out of your valley completely transformed.
Your relationship with Jesus will never be the same.

He is there.
Lean on Him.
Let Him fill your soul...
with His Spirit....
the Comforter!

A new year is approaching.
We do no injustice to the memories of our loved ones
to within ourselves determine to enjoy the new year ahead.
We are not forgetting them....
or forsaking them.
We must keep living.
They would want us to.

I cherish the tablecloth...
and so many other reminders of my parents.
I won't toss those reminders away.
But, I will not allow them to pull me back
to the point of hopelessness.
I will take comfort from them when I can...
I will relive the moments from time to time as reminders come across my path.
And I will move forward, by God's grace.
To embrace His love.
To accept His peace.
To walk in confidence...
that He is with me...
that I am better...and stronger...for having walked through the gate of sorrow...
that I am closer to Him for having experienced the undesirable.

I will look to the future...
to watching the tablecloth completely fill up....
with comments and signatures and names....
to life...
and all of God's goodness.

And I will rest assured that in the hard times...
He will be there...
in the most real and precious of ways.

If you are hurting,
please know that I care.
Jesus does, too.
Unlike me,
He can help you.

All you have to do is let Him.






Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry CHRISTmas!!

"Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, 
and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, 
To the only wise God our Saviour, 
be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever.  Amen."
Jude verse 25
(KJV)

I am SO glad Jesus came!
I am SO grateful for His presence in my life.
Today, I bow before Him....
with honor,
worship,
love,
adoration,
and praise.

I love Him with all the love my heart can hold.

As you bow your head today and thank Him for your presents...
I hope you praise Him most for His presence.

I hope you feel Him close to you today...
closer than ever.

He is here, my friend.
Emmanuel has come!
God is with us.
Even now.

From the Smith house...
to your house....
from my heart...
to yours....


have a blessed and Merry Christmas!!

Our love to all,
Kevin, Cheryl, and Zachary

Sunday, December 23, 2012

As A Little Child

"Verily I say unto you,
Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child,
he shall not enter therein."
Mark 10:15
(KJV)


Children are so innocent.
Their hearts are so unmarred....
by hatred...
prejudice...
and malice.

They see things so clearly.

Zachary has the wonderful ability of helping me 
see things the way they really are.
His simplified view of life is so refreshing.
He points out the things I miss.
His hopeful outlook makes everything....
even the slightest joys to which (I am ashamed to admit) 
I have become so jaded...
and the wonders of life that I long ago began to overlook...
completely worthwhile...again.

I dread the day he loses the clarity of vision 
that is available only to those who have yet to be changed...
by the harsh realities of our cruel world.

His heart is full of love.
He forgives quickly.
He possesses a healthy balance...
of wariness and trust.

Christmas is magical to him.
A time of wonder.
Complete joy.
Untold excitement.

He has been counting down the days for weeks.
"Guess how many more days, Mama?"
He asks me just about every night.
He can hardly wait.

As I watch him enjoy this cherished season,
I stop and ask myself,
"Why can't we all see Christmas through their eyes?
Why can't we view life...each other through their lens?"
Why can't we love, instead of hate,
give, instead of expect to receive,
learn, instead of think we already know it all,
accept God's gifts, without question?

Why can't we keep hope alive in our hearts....
look forward to the small joys....
treat each other peacefully...
with love and respect and sincerity?
Not only on Christmas,
but every day of the year.

There are blessings all around us.
As grown-ups, heavy-laden with responsibilities and care,
we so often overlook them.
Too often our focus is on what we have to do,
instead of for whom we are doing it.
We spin our wheels and dig deeper ruts,
only to miss the golden moments that are happening
right in front of us.

Children aren't that way.
They catch the things we so often allow to slip right by...
without our noticing.
They notice the most minute details.

They see a tiny ladybug on a large leaf
and ask us to slow down,
so they can take the time to pick it up.

They spot a pebble in a stream...just out of reach,
and they plead for just one more minute
 to retrieve and add it to their bag of rocks....
because there is something special about this one.

They look into the eyes of a lonely person walking past in Walmart,
and ask, "Mama, is it okay if I say hi to him?".

They watch the anguished expression on a stranger's face melt away
as they smile and say, "I'll be praying for you."

They don't worry about being politically correct.
They aren't afraid to say, "God bless you"....
or "Jesus loves you"
or....GASP!...."Merry Christmas!"...

To them, Christmas is Christmas.
It isn't complicated.
It isn't so hard to figure out.
We call President's Day,
well, President's Day.
We call Christmas...Christmas.

They aren't afraid of offending anyone by being kind.
Their intentions are always pure...
there are no hidden agendas...
or ulterior motives.

They possess no deceit.
They don't care if their friends are black, white, or somewhere in between.
They don't pre-judge because someone sounds different than they do.
They seem to possess an innate ability...
to see right through to the spirit...
of others...
without taking thought of what is on the outside.
They automatically get what it means to
"try the spirit",
without worrying about what they visibly see.
They really get what it means to be like Jesus.
They remind me of Him...
so pure...without a trace of guile.

One day, Jesus was spending time with His disciples.
They came to Him and asked Him a question.
"Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
Matthew 18:1

We read it, and we turn up our noses.
So pious are we.
How could they ask such a question?
Why were they so bent on competing....
with each other?
Why did they long to be exalted...
in the sight of others?
Why could't they see the light...
and the fact that we are all equally precious in His sight?

We read their question to our Lord,
and we feel a sense of disdain and are bothered.

Why, we would never ask such a thing of Him?
Would we?

Aren't we the same...
as the disciples?

Let's be honest.

Don't we strive with one another?
Don't we judge one another and feel spiritually superior...
to our brothers and sisters in Christ?
Aren't we prejudice...
against those who are branded...
with a "label" that is different than ours?
Don't we feel that our "label" trumps all others...
that "we" are greater in the Kingdom of Heaven...
than those who are "different" from us?
Do we really show Jesus' love...
to all of His disciples?
Or do we look at the outward appearance,
make spiritually prejudiced, self-righteous judgments,
then turn away in disgust...
feeling sanctimonious because we are so much "holier-than-them"?

Do we really think this pleases Jesus Christ?
Really???
Is it really Christ-childlike??
To act the way we do?

Just admit it.
We do.

Is our "Pharisee" air really going to make an unbeliever
want to become a believer?
Do we honestly think it will convince anyone,
sway anyone,
persuade anyone...
to become a Christian???

Why can't we look at each other as children do?
Why can't we look at each through a child's lens?
Aren't we all children....
of the Most High God?

Why the hate...
and prejudice...
and standoffish air?

Why do we have to ask questions...like....
what "group" are you with...or...
what is your denomination?

Who are "we" anyway???
Do we honestly think God is going to allow segregation in Heaven?
Will we be compartmentalized....
when we get there?
Will the dividing walls still stand?
Do we really believe that in the Father's house
the many mansions will be in sections....
based on our earthly "labels" and "distinctions"?
That when we get there, one of the books that are opened
will contain every man-made and dominated denomination, sect, creed, label, and group...
and we will be sent to our appropriate individualized, compartmentalized area
based on the name above the building in which we worshiped on earth?

Really?
Honestly?
Are we really this blind?

We turn up our spiritual noses...
when we read of the disciples' zeal...
to be greatest in God's Kingdom...
and all the while we possess the same inward ambition...
and we can't even see ourselves.

Jesus Christ's response??
To the absurdity of their loaded question?

I love Him so much!
I love His words!
They are power...and they are life.
Direct.
Straight to the point.
Just what we need.

Verse 2,
"And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them..."

A little child.
The perfect specimen.
To prove His point.
So unclouded their viewpoint...
so untainted their outlook...
so pure their heart.

Verse 3,
"And said, Verily I say unto you,
Except ye be converted,
and become as little children,
ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."

Converted?
Who...us, Lord???

B...bu...but, Lord, we are Your followers...
Your disciples...
Your people.
Conversion?
Doesn't that word implicate change??
Doesn't Your answer indicate we need it?
Need transformation?
Us?
How could this be possible?

They didn't realize that the very question they presented...
to Holiness personified...
exposed their own condition...
their own lack of holiness...
their own hypocrisy....
their own admission to guilt.

Verse 4,
"Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child,
the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

Aha!
Herein lies the perfect answer....
both to the disciples' question...
and to our problem.

We strive,
we bicker,
we disagree,
we walk around in a shroud of superiority...
and all the while we fail to see that
we will never enter...
we will never be a part...
of the Kingdom of Heaven,
let alone be the greatest in it,
as long as we fail to take the most important step....
unless we are humble...
unless we are converted...
unless we become as a little child.

This simple truth is completely lost to much of the modern church world.
Can you see the point Jesus was trying to make?

Our nature needs to be childlike.
As grown-ups, we lose it.
Life happens.
Vision becomes blurry...
dim....
blind.
We lose our innocence.
Hence, in our suspicion....
we render unearned and unmerited blame...
on everyone else.

Children don't do that.

In order to be like them...
there must be a conversion...
a transformation...
a change...
in the heart.
Back to the innocence...
the purity...
the love...
that is automatically present...
in the heart of a child.

After conversion,
our vision is corrected.
We realize God is the only Judge...
that it isn't our responsibility...
or our right...
to condemn another.
Things are simplified.

Verse 5,
"And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth Me."

How do we receive children?
Do they feel put off by us?
Unimportant?
Less than?
How do we receive other children of God?
When we come into contact,
are we loving?
Friendly?
Arms wide open?
Accepting?

Cold rebuke...
harsh attitudes...
unkind words...
belittling looks....
degrading glares...
a "holier-than-thou" spirit...
will never be a part of the peace, love, and forgiveness...
of which the Kingdom of God is made up.

It matters to Him, my friend.

There should be no competition.
No strife.
Just love.

If you love Jesus, you are my brother...
my sister.
We may not come from the same background,
we may not look the same,
we may be a different color,
you may worship Him under a different roof,
you may wear a different label,
but the blood that runs through your spiritual veins is the same 
as the blood that runs through mine...
does it not?

After all,
aren't we going to spend eternity together...
in the same place?
Will we hold each other at arm's length there?
Will we even have half a chance...
to get there?
With such attitudes...
mindsets...
prejudices??

The Answer to every question of life is still speaking....

Verse 6,
"But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me,
it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck,
and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

Whew!
Need I say more?
"whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me"?
A child.
A child of God.
It matters...
how they are treated.

God does not take kindly to the mistreatment of His children...
whatever their age, shape, size, nationality...
dare I say it....
denomination.
Who are you, anyway?
Who am I?
To take the judgment seat?
To take God's place...
as judge?

God takes the offenses inflicted upon His children very seriously.
Jesus said it would be better for the offender 
to die a horrible, drowning death...
than for him to go on living in such a state.

Could any words have been more powerful?
Could any response have been more profound?

We get the picture.
Don't we?

We better.

If we want to be great...
if we want to a part...
if we want to be in...
the Kingdom of Heaven.

This is the way it has to be.
There are no variations.
No loopholes.
No alternates.

Just childlike love.

That is what He seeks...
in each of our hearts...
this Christmas...
and every other day of the year.

Maybe we should make some New Years adjustments...
to our thought process...
to our outlook.

Maybe we should ask God to convert us.
Maybe we should stop asking, "Who, ME????",
and start saying,
"Yes, Lord.
Guilty as charged.
I cannot change myself...
anymore than the leopard can change his spots.
I am powerless.
I see my need, Lord.
I am wrong.
I am guilty.
I lay down my useless, filthy rags of self-righteousness.
I take off my Pharisee cloak...
I hand it over...to You...
never to put back on.
I don't want it, Lord.
It is ugly.
I abhor it.
I bow at Your feet.
I humble myself...
as a little child...
just like You said.
And I confess my sin...
my hypocrisy...
my belief that I am holier than others...
that I am superior to Your other children.
I relinquish my desire...
my ambition...
my foolish goal...
to be the greatest in Your Kingdom.
I want to be Your child.
Please forgive me, Father,
for I have sinned.
I acknowledge my wrongdoing.
I admit my guilt.
Please convert me...
to the person You want me to be.
I refuse to deny my spiritual need any longer.
I come to You, as a little child...
dependent...
helpless to help myself...
powerless to change...
broken and sorry.
I want to change.
I am willing.
In Jesus' name,
Amen."


Friday, December 21, 2012

The Greatest Gift

"And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, 
and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."
Luke 2:7
(KJV)

There's just something about Christmas.... 
and the days leading up to it....


that has a softening effect...
on even the hardest of hearts.
It is hard to remember that holy night...
God's first night on earth...in human form...
without feeling a sense of tenderness...
and overwhelming love.

Thirteen years ago, I was in labor....
on Christmas Day.
I ended up at the hospital on Christmas Eve,
only to be sent home later.
Late Christmas evening,
the pains became increasingly closer together,
so we headed back to the hospital.

This time, I was admitted.

My labor lasted all night....
attended by every creature comfort, including...
the use of a comfortable hospital bed,
being surrounded by the ones I love most,
a competent medical staff,
all of the modern conveniences,
and receiving care...and prayer from kind, caring hands and hearts.

The next morning at 10:32 am,
the sweetest Christmas gift I have ever been given,
ended up in my arms...
a wiggling,
round-faced,
precious little bundle...
screaming at the top of his lungs!

I had never before experienced love on that level.
A living, breathing, perfectly-healthy life...
sent straight from Heaven to earth...
right to Kevin and me...
to raise, love, and cherish.

The twelve and a half years we spent waiting for him
was well worth every minute...
at that moment....
and every moment since.

As I neared the time of my delivery that Christmas,
my thoughts were often upon Mary...
and Joseph...
and the vastly different circumstances of their baby's birth.

As Kevin drove me to the hospital
in our comfortable, heated car,
I thought of how Joseph must have felt...
traveling on foot, from Nazareth to Bethlehem...
being forced away from family and friends,
right at the time Mary...and he...needed them most,
by a decree from Ceasar Augustus that all of the world should be taxed.
"Could the timing of the taxation be any worse?"
he must have wondered....at least once.

Did he realize...
did he have the slightest inclination...
that the timing could not have been more perfect....
that the events were lining up in perfect succession 
to fulfill a centuries-long prophecy?

I can picture Joseph's gentleness in leading the beast of burden
that carried such precious cargo.
I can imagine how miserable Mary felt, 
as she endured the constant jarring of the bumpy ride.
Being great with child is not the most comfortable condition
under the best possible circumstances.
To be in that state and be forced to travel such a distance 
riding upon the back of an animal
provides little hope of comfort.

The circumstances surrounding Mary's trip to the place she would give birth
was worlds apart from my trip to the hospital
that Christmas night.

We don't know exactly how long it took them to make the journey.
The estimation of distance between the two cities in those days
was somewhere between 60 and 80 miles.

Did they take the straight path and have to pass through Samaria, 
enduring the generations-long stigma that existed between Jews and Samaritans?


Or did they take the roundabout route crossing over the Jordan River, 
avoiding Samaria and the possibility of unwanted conflict?
Did they travel alone?
Or did they join a caravan, which was common in those days?

There was danger of being robbed by bandits,
which made riding with a caravan a safer, wiser choice.
A caravan would not have been hard to find,
since the census was a demand that included all people in every region.
Depending upon Mary's ability to tolerate the journey,
in all probability,
it could easily have taken them at least a week to make the trip.
Some say it took five days.

However long it took,
whatever route they chose,
whether alone or with others,
the trip had to have been filled...
 with misery for Mary...
and apprehension for Joseph.

After all,
they were human...
just like us.

God's plan was unfolding before them....
only one step at a time.

They had no way of seeing the big picture....
the vastness of the miracle...
of which they were such an integral part.

I can only imagine the relief in Mary's heart
when she spotted the inn up ahead.
They had traveled far...
and long.
How she would love to find a place of comfort
to spend the night!
To rest her weary body,
so sore from the journey.
To relax her mind,
so tired and perplexed.
To sleep in a comfortable bed,
and prepare herself for what was ahead of her.

She watched as the kind, loving man
to whom she had given her heart,
to whose life she had permanently joined hers,
stood outside the inn door,
knocking...
hoping...
someone would soon answer and allow them to go inside.

How she loved him!
How she must have appreciated this dear, humble man...
who loved her so deeply in return.
What other man would have ever believed...
her near-unbelievable story?
Who else could have ever been so kind...
so empathetic...
to her situation?
What man would have risen to her defense so selflessly,
so determined to protect her honor?
How thankful she was for the choice God had made for her!
His nearness stilled her heart...
calmed her fears...
made her feel safe.

Her eyes were still upon him,
as he turned, dejectedly,
and walked back to tell her that there was simply no room.

Gone was her hope of rest...and comfort!
She knew her time was near.
Her body ached.

They were so alone!

Was this God's plan?
Had she misunderstood....
somewhere down the line?

Surely she never pictured it like this!

What would they do?

At last, they found a place....near the animals.
A lowly place.
On the sidelines.
With no fanfare.
Just the two of them.
No medical staff.
No concerned parents.
No doting grandparents.
No comfortable bed.
No waiting crib.

Just them.


Soon, they heard the first cry!
Of God in the flesh!
They were the first to hear!
His human voice!
His cry!
Their baby!
At last, the waiting was over!

Love filled her heart...
and the heart of Joseph.
He loved this baby boy...
as if He were his own....
ever conscious of the fact...
that He was not.

On that first holy night of Jesus' earthly life,
Mary and Joseph received the sweetest Gift...
they were ever given.

The Giver of life...
became the ultimate Gift.

The One Who is love...
became love personified.

I Corinthians 13:13 (NIV) says,
"And now these three remain:
faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of these is love."

Love is the greatest gift.
Mary saw it.
In the eyes of her Son,
on that holy night...
surrounded by animals,
far from home,
with only the man she loved...
and the tiny baby to whom she had just given birth.

His love warmed her heart for the next 33 1/2 years....
each time she looked at Him.
It sustained her as He looked down upon her 
from the cruel, rugged cross on which He hung.
When the pain of His suffering became nearly more than she could bear to watch,
it gave her courage to remain....
there at His feet....
knowing this was the only way...
for the whole world to ever experience...
that same gift of love.

It is what motivated Him to leave Heaven
and come to this sin-darkened world.
It is what kept Him on track when the devil
tempted Him severely...
to give up...
to forsake the cause....
to take the easy way out.

It is love beyond degree.
It cannot be measured.
It cannot be contained.
It cannot be exhausted.

No matter what you do.

No matter how hard you try to reject it.

It is your choice after all...
whether to accept or reject...
His love...
the most precious of all gifts.

It will remain near you...
like an unopened gift...
on Christmas morning.

In the darkest moments of your life,
when you feel all is lost,
and your heart breaks...
it is there to bind up your brokenness.

It transcends time.
It trumps all other forces.
It will never fail.

But, like an unopened Christmas gift,
you won't really know how great it is...
until you receive it....
until you open it.

Mary saw it...
in His eyes...
as she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes...
and placed Him in a manger....
He, the epitome of love itself.

You'll see it, too...
as you open your heart and accept His love....
the greatest of all gifts....
this Christmas.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Son Who Wasn't His

"And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, 
which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)  
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.  
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger;
because there was no room for them in the inn."
Luke 2:4-7
(KJV) 

We went on a Christmas-walk the other night with our friends.
It was a guided tour, and the old, old story was told to us
as we walked the path passing scene after scene 
of the Christmas story.

It was a wonderful time.

When we came to the scene of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus,
I told Zachary and his friend to walk over and stand by "Mary",
so I could get a picture.
Then, on an impulse, I said,
"Zach, go over and stand by "Joseph"
and let me get a picture."

After we finished, "Joseph" looked at Zach.
"Thanks for that." he said.
"You're the first person tonight who has wanted
his picture taken with "Joseph"."

I think a lot about Joseph at this time of year.
Of course, I think a lot about Mary and our precious Savior's birth.
But, I think about Joseph a lot, too.

He was the man in the shadows.
The one who never really received much recognition.
When we focus on Christmas every year,
he is a part of it, 
but somehow I never feel like we put as much thought
into him and the vitally important role he played 
in the life of our dear Lord 
as we should.

We don't know much about him or his life before he met Mary.
What we do know is that they had met
and were engaged to be married.

Mary was a virgin.
Joseph trusted that fact.
He trusted her.

I find it hard to imagine how he must have felt the day
she came to him and told him she was with child.
How could this be?
He had never shared intimacy with her.
He felt in his heart that she had never shared intimacy with any other man either.

Her story must have sounded incredulous to him.
How he must have longed to trust her!
Yet, as he listened to her relate the account of 
her visit with the angel, 
he must have wondered...
nothing like this had ever happened before!
How could this be?

His reaction to Mary's story speaks volumes
about the character of the man God chose to raise His Son.

Instead of turning from her,
instead of accusing her of betrayal,
instead of automatically thinking the worst,
Joseph's first impulse 
was to protect her.
To shield her...
from the stares...
the whispers....
the scorn....
the rebuke....
of those who would never understand.
To put her away...privately...
until after the baby was born.

Never mind his inner pain.
Never mind the fact he did not understand....
couldn't wrap his mind around the fact...
that Mary was expecting a child...
and they had never been intimate.

Matthew 1:19 says this, 
"Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, 
and not willing to make her a public example, 
was minded to put her away privily."

I hear no scathing rebuke.
No voiced suspicions.
No tongue-lashing.
No resistance.

Just humility.

I think Joseph must have been one of the must humble men
who ever walked the earth.
I see in him total selflessness.
He was engaged...
to this young woman...
and he was bound and determined to honor his betrothal to her...
at his own expense of ridicule,
even ex-communication....
if necessary.

He wasn't thinking of the self-righteousness of others.
He seemed indifferent to the possibility of their harsh reaction....
to his refusal to desert his beloved.

His concern was Mary....
and the baby she carried...
even though it wasn't his.

Do you see why God chose Joseph?

The man who would rear and bring up His Son would have to be willing
to lay aside his own life...
in order to raise....
 God in the flesh.
He would always take a backseat.
His needs would often be pushed aside, even denied.
He would find contentment in the mere watching of Mary's face...
as she stared into the newborn face...
of the Son Who wasn't his.

While Joseph thought about a plan,
while he gave diligent search to all options....
of hiding Mary away...
somewhere private...
something happened...
that would change his life forever.

Verses 20 & 21,
"But while he thought on these things, 
behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, 
saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife:  
for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.  
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus:  
for He shall save His people from their sins."


"Don't be afraid, Joseph!
Mary has done nothing wrong.
She is God's chosen.
So are you, Joseph!
Take her as your wife...
proceed with your plans, Joseph!
The Baby in her womb...
this Baby supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit...
will one day be your Savior, Joseph."

Oh, the words!
How they must have sank deep into his heart!
The awesome, heavy weight of the responsibility!
How it must have overwhelmed him...
at first.

Suddenly, the meaning to his life...
must have become crystal clear.
His very reason for existing...
to that point...
must have all made perfect sense.

They would do this together.
He would stay by her side.
He would love her...
and honor her...
and protect her.

There is within the heart of every man of honor
the impulse to rise to the occasion of a woman's need.

It is the way God created us...
as human beings.
A woman's fragility awakens masculinity
in a just man's heart.

Joseph was no different.
From that moment on,
his life's mission was to be her protector,
her shield,
her ally...
he didn't count the cost....
to himself.

It just didn't matter.
There was a greater cause...
a bigger plan.
And he intended with all his heart...
to follow it...
to be the man God sought and needed....
to fill this monumental role.

In verses 22 & 23, 
the angel went on to say,
"Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, 
which being interpreted is, God with us."

The reality fell over and upon Joseph...
with compelling force.

So, it was Mary!
She was the virgin of whom the prophet had spoken...
hundreds of years before.
She was the virgin whom God had chosen to carry and give birth to His Son...
the Messiah!
It was Joseph...himself!
Who would accompany her on this amazing journey...
of raising God's Son.

The Son Who wasn't his.

Verses 24 & 25,
"Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, 
and took unto him his wife:  
And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn Son:  
and he called His name Jesus."

I see no recoil...
from the challenge.
No questions of God...
and His perfect plan.
Though a million mysteries must have been presented to his mind....
as he wondered how he would ever rise to the occasion.
Though he must have felt a sense of terror....
when he considered the magnitude...
of what God had entrusted into his humble hands.

He got up.
He walked in obedience...
not trusting his own ability...
but completely dependent upon His.

He married Mary.
He became her protector,
her greatest defender,
her loyal comrade,
the most faithful of all husbands.

He was a humble man...
obedient to God's perfect plan.

He taught the Master Carpenter...
a carpenter's trade.


He devoted his life
to being a father...
to the Son Who wasn't his.

God couldn't have made a better choice.