Finding Comfort in Our Loss

Comfort, comfort my people … a few weeks ago one of my sisters-in-law suffered a debilitating stroke, our music minister from church passed away after a very long, excruciating battle with cancer, two of my friends from church lost their husbands to cancer. During the past year, five of my friends lost husbands, suddenly, without warning. I came to wonder how many times that sick feeling of loss would be multiplied and what could I do to comfort people I care about when the only thing that seemed possible was to pray.

Loss is real. Fear is constant for so many. This Christmas season magnifies the emptiness that has become the new normal for people who are going on without their soulmate. From my recent prayer journal pages – Please pray: My mom has dementia and I don’t know how much longer I can care for her. My son’s wife wants a divorce. My husband said Merry Christmas, he’s leaving me and our kids. I suffer from Lyme disease and am unbearably fatigued much of the time. My daughter needs an operation and has no health insurance. My spouse has just been admitted to hospice care. I have debilitating migraines and can’t get out of bed. My work schedule is ruining my chance for family vacation again. My son is making extremely poor choices and there is no dealing with him.

Isaiah 40:1 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.” Do you open an email, read a text, or see a post on Facebook and your heart is broken because your friend is riding out a storm and you can do nothing but pray? I often wonder if David was called a man after God’s own heart because he prayed often and recorded his prayers in the Psalms. Psalm 102:1 is just one where David’s endurance has dissolved “Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to you.”

Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever reach the end of your strength and say, “Lord, do you even see me here? Do you care that I’m exhausted from just too much? This is just too much.” God used David’s poems, songs, and reflections to comfort, comfort His people. Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Sometimes I do things backward. God should be my first choice, not my last resort. When I woke up this morning I heard the song in my mind “All is well. All is well.”  god-should-be-our-first-response That is such a comforting, heartwarming thought. Psalm 143:8 “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”

In chapter six of Matthew, there are descriptions of how to pray and even some guidelines for the attitude that’s pleasing to God. In Matthew 6:6 we read one option “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Does this mean before we can pray we have to find an empty room? Thankfully not! We are invited to pray anytime, anyplace, for any reason. We pray for shattered hearts to be healed Psalm 147:3 “He heals those who have a broken heart. He heals their sorrows.”

every-morning-psalm-143We pray for direction when lives have been turned upside down by turmoil; we ask for acceptance when we have to bear the consequences of decisions made outside our control. Our faith takes a beating, doesn’t it? In these times, acknowledge what God tells us in Isaiah 48:17 “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.”

When every ounce of energy we have left wants to shout, “Really God? Is this really the plan you have for me? How am I supposed to get through this one?” Let’s scan a few statements here in Jeremiah 10 … “No one is like you, Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power… God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.” This verse is key for today just as is was back then. Jeremiah 10:23 “Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.”

We have to go forward, move past the calamity, rise above the chaos, and clear out a lot of torn feelings all cluttering the path to joy. Remember happiness is circumstantial and sometimes our circumstances have no characteristics close to happiness. Joy comes from believing that God’s plan is for our ultimate good. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Before that next cup of coffee, before returning to the TV, before making that phone call, remember Psalm 6:9 “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.”

Comfort, comfort my People says your God. All is well. All is well.

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When is Christmas?

Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart. I read an article today that started out something like this. “There’s an old saying that it’s more blessed to give than to receive. I disagree with that … and then the author goes on to explain her point.”  The truth is, that old saying is a direct quote from Jesus as written in the book of Acts 20:35.  It is more blessed to give than to receive, and deep in our hearts we know giving is first an attitude of the heart. For some, a giving spirit seems to be part of their DNA, where others have to be reminded because it doesn’t come naturally to them.

We all know how to give from our possessions and give back of ourselves. We feel good when we have helped someone else feel good. Think about the last week. Without dwelling too intently on the subject, you can probably think of a number of things you have given away. At the grocery store you may have contributed to a food pantry. You said yes when the cashier at the dollar store asked if you would like to donate a toy to a military family. At the gas station maybe you dropped your change into a container where money is being collected for a community member who needs medical care. You baked and shared. You put in extra money when the offering plate was passed at church. You threw a few dollars into the Salvation Army Red Kettle, maybe more than once. Your list could be exhaustive – it could reflect your exhaustion with giving. So that’s why I don’t want to dwell on giving material things.   what-is-most-important-matthew-23-23

For now, set all that aside and think about giving that comes from the heart. Wait! Isn’t that what we were just discussing? Giving is an attitude of the heart. Yes, yes it is. But in all the giving of things we can touch and feel, God has something even more important for us to give. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus sternly spoke to people about being good about giving money away but they were failing miserably at giving justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Jesus leveled their attitudes and called them out for their motives. Early in the chapter, Jesus warns people about following leaders who had knowledge but were bad examples. Their motives were all messed up. There hearts were calloused and pride made them impenetrable to acts of justice or mercy or faithfulness. Jesus told the people, “Don’t forget what is most important. Justice, Mercy, and Faith.”

People have needs. People need each other. We are all people. Keep giving. Keep helping. Keep loving. In our giving and helping and loving from our abundance, let’s remember to share abundantly from our hearts with justice, mercy, and faith. Let’s think before we post or speak.  Listen at heart level, accept people for who they are, and be kind. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Smile. If you see someone without a smile, share yours. Be a friend. Tell someone they matter.

Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart.  This is a song I learned when my kids were very young. It touched my heart deeply then and I believe it today. Christmas is a date on the calendar, it’s a holiday many people claims as their favorite, it’s a season, it’s a story, it’s family, it’s friends – but Christmas is more than that. It’s the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the savior.  And Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart.  Listen here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXH2lvt5YMA

 

Advent Week 4Theme: Peace – Can you imagine holding a baby who came to be light in a dark world?

This scripture today is the conclusion of Advent readings. I don’t know how many of these scripture readings you’ve followed along with, if you’ve enjoyed them or learned anything new. 20151206_145745I know everyone says time flies and that’s what happened here. It’s been 4 full weeks of daily advent readings – what to do? Here’s my first thought no matter where we go from here.  Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Treat yourself to joy every day! 

So here we are at the end of advent reading about this beautiful experience of Simeon, a deeply spiritual man who had been promised that his life wouldn’t end until he had seen the Messiah. When he went to the temple where the baby Jesus was with his parents, Joseph and Mary, Simeon not only saw the Messiah, he held him in his arms. Can you imagine holding a baby you knew had come to be light in a dark world?

Luke 2:21-35 (The Message)

When the eighth day arrived, the day of circumcision, the child was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived. Then when the days stipulated by Moses for purification were complete, they took him up to Jerusalem to offer him to God as commanded in God’s Law: “Every male who opens the womb shall be a holy offering to God,” and also to sacrifice the “pair of doves or two young pigeons” prescribed in God’s Law.

In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God:

God, you can now release your servant;
release me in peace as you promised.
With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;
it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:
A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
and of glory for your people Israel.

Jesus’ father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words. Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother,

This child marks both the failure and
    the recovery of many in Israel,
A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
    the pain of a sword-thrust through you—
But the rejection will force honesty,
    as God reveals who they really are.

 

Send the season out with joy and en ergy – Hallelujah – presented by Mannheim Steamroller https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0pTBNkt9g4

Advent Week 4 Theme: Peace – Today, wise men and women still seek Jesus

From the day we decorate our Christmas tree, until they day we put the ornaments away, our tree is illuminated. The lights add an unmistakable calm to the room. I have to be transparent here. My husband told me he didn’t feel like taking the tree down last year so I jokingly told him to leave it up. Well needless to say, it never found its way back to the storage area.  I wondered what it would be like to keep the tree up all year just because of the peaceful ambiance it creates. The issue though is that the lights that were brand new burned out just after the new year started. It was a nice thought while it lasted. I never got as far as decorating it for every occurring holiday, but if it doesn’t leave the corner of the living room this year, that’s the only way to justify the presence of a tree in summer.  I expect the tree to be dismantled, the ornaments gently stored, the lights wrapped up awaiting the next holiday season, the favorite time of the year.Nght in Bethlemen 2012 k151

Today we visit the first villain in Jesus’ life. He wasn’t even two years old before a jealous king conspired to have him killed. Do you remember this part of the Christmas story? It’s the part that, if it were a movie, you’d be on the edge of your seat angry at the plot and urging, “Don’t tell Herod you found Jesus. Don’t be stupid. Don’t go back and reveal where Jesus is living. Don’t let harm come to him.” Herod was a wicked, jealous king. He had everything but it wasn’t enough. He didn’t want any boy baby growing up and taking over his throne. Even 2000 years ago, inflated egos were at the root of insanity. Fear of losing something that wasn’t rightfully his, caused Herod to act out of vain deceit. The wise men were onto him though and when they returned home they diverted to a different path so Herod couldn’t confront them.

We know how this part of the story ends. At age two, the life of Jesus was spared for a time. We’ve learned through the past four weeks that Jesus was sent to Earth by God, his father to be the sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world. Instead of the sacrifices of animals required to pay for sin in the Old Testament, Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice. That’s the Easter story that takes place another thirty years later. Matthew 27:32-65, Mark 15

We aren’t finished with Advent readings yet, but we’re winding down. Have you thought about the real reason Jesus came  to Earth? We love the Christmas story all about Faith, Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love. How does it impact your life today? What will you do with Jesus?

Today: Wise men still seek him.

Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem  and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

PEACE on Earth good will to men – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uIUDy0EZi0
Casting Crowns

 

Advent Week 4 Theme: Peace – It’s Christmas Day! Merry Christmas everyone

We have only a few days left of the Advent readings for this year. We all have traditions that we treasure: places we go, events we can’t miss, loved ones we visit, favorite things we bake.
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 I’ve enjoyed reading these scriptures the past four weeks and hope you’ve found joy in reading the historical Christmas story with me. I can’t believe this season is so quickly becoming history itself.

Before we put Christmas away entirely for this year, today’s Advent reading takes us back to revisit the favorite story that recounts the event from Mary and Joseph’s arrival in Bethlehem, to the visit by the shepherds after Jesus was born.

Luke 2:1-20 (The Message)

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

An Event for Everyone

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Mary Did You Know – Jordan Smith

 

Advent Week 4 Theme: Peace – the Joseph and Mary way

How many times have we been over the story of Joseph and how he found out that Mary was pregnant and he had to accept it, support her, and agree to be the Earthly father of Jesus? But how often do we consider the day after?
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Here is Joseph, sitting in a pile of hay beside his very young bride Mary who has just been through an unattended birth of a baby and he still has to go pay his taxes. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thinking how lucky he was that this baby was born in time for a tax deduction. What was he thinking? What happens now? What do I do with a wife and a baby? Wow! This changes everything! I need to get my faith on. This is the son of God entrusted to me. And scripture assures us that Joseph didn’t ditch and run.  He did exactly as God’s angel commanded him months earlier – stay with Mary, make her your wife, and name the baby Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25 (The Message)

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.

Joseph’s Song – Michael Card – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KT4VDAIaMwU

Advent Week 4 Theme: Peace – When do we get to the Christmas story?

Nght in Bethlemen 2012 k39I had no computer for two days and a misbehaving phone. I’m not sure I want to ditch technology as a long term solution to busyness, but having a phone that didn’t work right and a computer that perpetually fell asleep while I was using it – was – well, let’s say, an interesting experience. Let’s see …. where were we?

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve! If we were Mary and Joseph we would be traveling today. Maybe you’re traveling.  If you are, travel safely and whatever awaits you at your destination, I hope you find peace and joy.

The first thing I thought of today when I read the Advent scripture was , wait – what about the Christmas story?  The one that begins, and there were in the same country shepherds … then I settled down and realized, this is the Christmas story. God sent his son to be the light in a dark world. A special gift who had to leave the perfection of heaven to live in a chaotic world. God sent Jesus to the world with the message of hope, to bring joy, and deliverance. To all who believe in the true meaning of Christmas, who believe that Jesus is the reason for the season, eternal life with Jesus in heaven is guaranteed.  Shepherds abiding in the fields witnessed it firsthand, but the promise is forever.

Isaiah 9:2-7 (NIV)

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.  Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

How can it be this baby in my arms is the Son of God?  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BARVAg0gl6w Josephs’s Song, Michael Card