Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Joy

Elliana Joy Houge
Denver, Colorado (2008)

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished! --Luke 1:45

He came!

And every year we celebrate Jesus Christ’s coming to earth over 2,000 years ago. A baby…a newborn…Our Savior of the world. Love came to show us what love really is. He healed the sick, comforted the lonely, cared for the uncared for, shattered prejudice, and stood up for justice. He made a way for us, all of us who believe, to know Him, love Him and one day, live with Him forever.

Mary was a young teenager when an angel appeared to her and told her she would carry a child—the Messiah. She hurried to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant at the time with John the Baptist. Elizabeth was an old woman; her time had passed. Or so she thought. But God can do anything. And in his grace and power He made it possible for a woman well passed child-bearing years to bear a child. He made a way for a virgin, Mary, to carry a baby, too. A miracle.

I love how radically good God is! He loves to surprise us in ways we could never have imagined.

Young Mary believed what the angel said to her that day. And it all came true. My friend, Tammy and her husband longed for a baby for years. After multitudes of test and surgeries it seemed that her dream of a child would never come true. So they started adoption procedures for a baby girl from China. And, lo and behold, she finally got pregnant! Tammy and Paul are the wonderfully delighted parents of almost-eight week old, Elliana Joy. Miracles still happen today. And yes, they are still looking to adopt a girl from China.

The angel told Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1: 37) I believe it. Do you?

Merry Christmas! May you have peace and deep, abiding joy—and Believe.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Preparing for Christmas

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. (John 12:46)

It’s coming—and soon. Yep, Christmas is just around the corner. Are you ready? Are you ready on the inside?

Most people have their “to do” lists of gifts to buy, baking, decorating, card sending, arranging for travel or overnight guests, and more. There’s the company party and the neighbors annual gathering, and oh—your five-year-old niece’s concert to attend, and your singles group potluck, and….Did I forget something? You can see the glazed look in the eyes of many shoppers as they scuttle from one store to the next looking for the perfect gift two days before the Big Day. Perhaps it’s the plethora of holiday treats that has others in high gear from the sugar overload. Christmas doesn’t just happen, they say, there’s a lot to do—planning, organizing, and setting up to make sure you are ready, prepared, for that special time.

Amidst the holiday bustle and rush, there is a still small voice that urges you to “prepare Him room.” You prepare everything else, how about your heart? Isaac Watts’ familiar carol admonishes us:

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let Earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room…”

Remember the holiday classic, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas?” The grumpy Grinch discovered a priceless lesson about Christmas. It isn’t about the stuff; it’s a heart attitude. “Christmas,” he learned, “doesn’t come from a store.” Despite the fact that this mean green man took all their gifts, decorations, bangles, and baubles, Christmas came anyways. And the Whos down in Who-ville were still joyful despite their lack! They gathered Christmas morning in a circle, holding hands and singing. Stuff or no stuff, they created community and celebrated!

In these last few days before Christmas, take some time to prepare your heart not just your home to receive the One who came to change everything. Some people light an Advent wreath to remember. Others read special books on the season or the Luke 1 account of how Jesus Christ came as a baby, an infant, to a cold, lonely place to save the world. I enjoy sitting by a warm fire or candles and listening to Christmas music to relax and remember.

Light came into darkness.
Love came to save.

Come, let us adore Him.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pounded for a Purpose

Surrender is one of those words you love to hate. On one hand it implies that you give in or give up. You admit defeat, usually by waving a large white flag like they do in the movies. But in real life, in my life, I am coming to love the word surrender. Perhaps because I better understand what it means.

First, you have to know to whom you are surrendering and why…and how the results can be infinitely good. I'm talking about surrendering to God. Laying down my plans, my agendas, and my will. Yeah, that stuff. It can be brutally hard to “give it to God” as they say. Prying away every finger from what you hold tightly is not easy.

Perhaps it’s a dream…you lay down wanting to get married, or have a child, or be in the career you always wanted. Perhaps it’s a bad habit or addiction that you want to get rid of, but it has a vice grip on your life.

I am learning that to surrender is to yield—like when you yield right of way on the road to a truck that is larger than your car so it doesn’t crush you. Knowing to whom you yield makes all the difference. The God I serve, God Almighty, is kind, loving, so much wiser than me. He is good. Knowing that He acts for my ultimate good and His greatest glory helps me to be able to defer to a higher purpose, a bigger plan. Father really does know best. And I can trust Him.

It took me a long time to learn that lesson. I’d often thought that things in my life were being “crushed,”or my hopes dashed because I had done something wrong. I had fallen out of His good graces. Or maybe He wasn’t really “good” after all. Maybe I had misplaced hope and it really was all up to me to make things happen.

But none of that is true.

The truth is sometimes things are crushed for a reason. Take the process of making bread. It all starts with tall stalks of wheat swaying in a field, most likely on the Kansas prairie. Mr. Farmer harvests the wheat and it gets crushed into flour. Surrender. Then Ms. Baker uses the wheat flour to make dough. She pounds it and lets it rise; pounds it and lets it rises again. Another crushing. But pounded for a purpose. She puts it in an excruciatingly hot oven and finally, after a very long journey: transformation. The delightful smell of fresh baked bread fills the room. And the crushed little heads of wheat finally know the purpose for which they were intended, and it is very good! Fresh baked bread, pass it around!

Here’s what Jesus himself said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”(John 6:35)

I am Wheat

I am wheat,
willowy, golden brown stalks
swaying gently in the breeze,
basking in the amber glow of twilight.
I live
because a seed first died --
a small, hard piece of potential
buried in the soil of opportunity
I thrive,
through summer storms and sunshine,
delighting the prairie.
Harvest time:
From kernels gathered and crushed,
flour becomes dough,
kneaded with skillful hands,
pounded for a purpose.
I wait
and wait to rise and bake,
for timing is essential.
I am a crusty loaf,
carrying the delightful aroma
of fresh baked bread to the world
for the One who said, “I am the bread of life.”

-- Jackie M. Johnson