Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hope Endured!

Well, in what seems like the blink of an eye, another year has gone by and one more is about to begin. This is traditionally the time to make resolutions. However, I don’t really feel like making any. It’s not that I don’t have goals, wishes, and desires for this year. Tops on the list are hoping the Holy Spirit grows His fruits in me to, at last, turn me into a good mother, wife, friend, sister and in-law, etc. Followed closely by the hope that God would give me a forgiving heart and help me walk closer to Him, and of course, the hope of losing weight! But I don’t want to “officially” make any new year’s resolutions for 2014. I’m just thankful I survived 2013! It’s funny, but that’s pretty much the same sentiment I felt at the end of 2012-beginning of 2013…This is what I wrote back then, as I meditated on the start of a new year:

Last night, as I was laying on the floor next to my younger son’s bed, waiting for his fever to break, staring at the over sized picture of Spiderman glued to the ceiling above his bed, the Lord gave me a word to ponder. The word was “hope.” So as I thought about it, “hoping” the backache I had from laying on the floor would go away as well as my son’s fever, I decided that “hope” was going to be my word for the year. 

Without hope we have nothing. Like the song says, “Everything rides on hope.” Regardless of the circumstances, hope must survive for without it we don’t survive. Hope comes from the Lord. Even though at times the troubles of this life seem overwhelming, hope helps us remember that the God we serve is, indeed, good all the time. Even though He sometimes makes us go through tough storms without commanding them to stop at once; hope reminds us that above the dark clouds, the sky is still blue, and that God delivers us through the storms He appoints for us. True hope keeps us focused on Christ and helps us overcome. I can’t even fathom a life without hope for it is not life at all. 

This morning, as I touched the face of my boy and realized that the fever had lowered, I know “hope” must be my “theme word” for 2013. My hope is in the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth as well as the Designer of the plan for my life, and it is a good plan - a perfect plan.

Reading these words I wrote a year ago caused me to pause for a minute. As I stand at the doorway of another year, I look back and realize that hope did indeed carry me through. Among several other difficult situations, this year I faced a really hard number of months due to a diagnosis of thyroid cancer in May. Tests, surgeries, and treatments have taken a toll on my emotional stability, but hope has remained in me each day. The Lord has showed me His face like never before in His Word and in the people He has surrounded me with to help me through this experience. I cannot be more thankful for His Love and Mercy in this trial. He has remained near and He has helped me realize that the plan He has for me is still a good plan.

His plans for each one of His children are all different. They all include a variety of events and circumstances which vary according to each season of our lives. Some of them are good, even great, and some of them are trying ones that we could do without from our human perspectives. Some plans include seasons of divorce, abuse, addiction, poverty, wealth, travels, beautiful homes, loneliness, abandonment, illness, brokenness, rejoicing... Mine includes thyroid cancer at this point. The plan, however, is still good. It is still better than anything I could have concocted on my own. It is perfect! And the reason it is perfect is because this plan includes me growing closer and closer to My Lord and Savior, and after all, that’s what a good plan is all about.

Tomorrow a new year will dawn on us.  What a great opportunity to think about the inspiration we want us to guide us on the days ahead.  I'll see you tomorrow, then, with the word  that I hope the Holy Spirit will use to keep me focused and carry me through in 2014.

Linking with: Titus2sDays

Monday, December 30, 2013

God's Provision

11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2: 10-11

Reading this familiar passage this year makes me think of God’s provision. He always knows exactly what we need and He provides it at the precise and perfect time. 

The Wise Men were sent by God to Jesus’ earthly home just in the nick of time. They came bearing gifts that would sustain and support the young family as they escaped to a new land and stayed there for a while,

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. Matthew 2: 13-15

The treasures presented by the Magi provided the resources needed for Mary and Joseph to escape and survive in Egypt with their precious son. Everything happened as it should have. All the detours of the Wise Men, the star-guided path, the stop at Herod’s palace, it was all part of the divine plan - 

And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Our Father knows what we need and He provides it right when we need it. Of course, sometimes it may seem to our finite eyes and understanding that things are all wrong and that the plan is falling apart. Our Most High, however, has it all under control at all times. The problem is that He is the only one who has seen the totality of what is to happen. He is the only one who has already been there and is watching it as if on replay. For us, as we are going through it, it seems messed up, fraying at the seams and, quite rightly sometimes, plain scary. 

The fact that some of our plans include uncomfortable and maybe even painful and frightening details doesn’t mean that the plan is flawed. Not at all. The plan is still perfect even in the midst of confusion and hard times. It is all part of it. And even though it may be difficult, we need to continue to be “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1: 6) And we are confident also because He promised,

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. Jeremiah 29:11

In this era of financial instability, natural disasters, health care issues, illness, loss, hardship and confusion, do you have a hard time trusting God’s provision? Do you have a hard time trusting his plan for you?

Linking with: Monday Musings

Friday, December 27, 2013

Pondering Things in Our Hearts

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 

This precious verse tucked in Luke 2: 19 reveals a great deal about the nature of Mary’s spirit. She was an inward person who “treasured” up all that happened to her simply because she was able to stop and ponder them in her heart.

The way I picture Mary is as a quiet woman of God who understood the gifts that were given to her more often than not, precisely because she allowed the Holy Spirit to help her digest them. Good AND bad, Mary took it all in as a blessing and for that she was blessed. Remember her statement when the Angel came to her and announced that she would carry God’s son in her womb. Regardless of the repercussions that accepting such a mission would have on her personally, from losing her reputation to the real possibility of even losing her life by stoning, after she listened to God’s messenger, she simply said:

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May your word to me be fulfilled." 
Then the angel left her. Luke 1: 38

She accepted the task in humility, and even though she was left utterly alone after such a proclamation, she went on. Later she would show her ability to express the meditations of her heart when, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, she was able to exhort the Lord’s name in her Magnificent song spoken to Elizabeth in Luke 1: 46-55.

We too are endowed with the same Holy Spirit-inspired-ability to stop and ponder. This capability can allow us to clearly see the divine nature and the eternal magnitude of God’s plan for us even in the most dire of circumstances. When we reflect and meditate on life’s unfolding course of events, we learn to treasure them with the same dignity and humility that Mary displayed. And we see what a treasure they really were/are.

Today, as we are on the way to closing out yet another year, we praise Him for all that the now faded days, weeks, and months brought to us. Good and bad, we take some time to ponder them and to pray that we recognize the hand of God helping us along the way. He never let go of our hand and He never will. He was Faithful and He will continue to be. He never abandoned us and nothing will ever separate us from His Love.

Do you dread pondering the past? Do you avoid thinking about what has happened to you, especially the bad? Are you able to see value in taking time to reflect on what is now behind? It’s not that we are to dwell on it, not at all: Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. (Isaiah 43: 18) But, do you see the importance of quieting our soul and meditating on God’s hand in our lives?

Linking with: Faithful Friday

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Morning After Christmas

Well, another Christmas has come and gone.  My goal for a stress-free season was not met 100% but looking back, I can proudly say that I only had a couple of meltdowns, but I'm blaming them on the fact that I am on my 5th day after stopping my thyroid medication in preparation for my treatment...All in all, however, our Christmas was pretty merry!  

Today marks our first December 26th that we wake up in our new house. Although the surroundings are different, some things are just the same...the kitchen is just as cluttered as it would have been in our old house. The kids are fighting over who gets to use the cool wiiU controller just as they would have at our old house.  And although I'm walking about feeling a bit blue and stressed out about the million things I have to do for work before the semester starts again...just like I would be at any other place, I have to admit that the familiarity of the feelings, sounds, sights and smells brings me comfort.  I am comforted by the memories.  

This is the morning to look back and remember the look on my sons' faces when they discovered the wonderful surprises under the tree.  It is the day to remember the delicious tastes of all the Christmas treats.  It is the moment to replay in my mind the outrageous conversations taken place around a table full of the Dieter Clan and the sounds of a house filled with young ones running around.

I also find myself remembering the joyful anticipation of Christmas Eve.  I specially think of the candle light service at our beloved church on the 24th. There is something just so beautiful and powerful about a church lit by the candles held in the hands of every member in attendance...it sticks in your mind and brightens your soul...

Scary times are approaching for me; but sitting here today among the bags full of torn out wrapping paper, empty boxes, Christmas lights and quarreling brothers reminds me that life has a way to move on.  Our Lord's plan is, indeed, perfect and He knows what He is doing...even if we have not the slightest idea : ). He works it all together for the good of those who love Him...and I sure love Him! So I continue to trust for He is Faithful even when I am not.

Light has entered into this dark world and the Spirit of the Lord does descend to dwell in us.  This truth becomes evident in our midst in the most simplest of ways.  In the end, the cookies, the cards, the presents, the decorations, the stress, it all fades away as we face the Light of the World who came to us when the time was full.

I pray that Christ has been re-born in your hearts this year.  I pray that the simplicity and humility of the conditions upon which our Savior was born 2000 years ago speak to you today and show you the way of what our lives should become.  I pray that we let the Light enter into our heart today so darkness dissipates and it turns bright again, just like the noon day. 

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.Luke 2: 10-14 KJ

Thursday, December 19, 2013

No Comfort and No Inn

…And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2: 7

If you have ever given birth, I don’t have to tell you about the incredible and completely indescribable experience that it is. Nothing can really compare to that moment when your child is born, especially your first one. I’ve only given birth once, and it was a baby boy, so of course, I can perfectly relate to Mary in that respect. I was, however, at a hospital facility with all the modern conveniences the first world can provide. My son’s “manger” was a meticulously sterilized bassinet and his “swaddling clothes” were a white baby blanket with blue stripes and a funny looking hat. All the comforts of modern living surrounded me, including a super-sized meal as reward for 16 hours of labor. I was starving! I had everything I could have possibly needed, even though my son, as much as I love him and consider him the king of my heart, was no King of the world.

Mary didn’t have any of it and she was carrying the King of Kings in her womb. She had nothing at all, not even a place to rest her tired body let alone to give birth. On that blessed night, Joseph and his bride were, by all standards, homeless. God found a way, however, to bring His Holy Son to this world. And it happened just the way He had intended it. It happened exactly according to plan. This humble entrance into the physical realm showed the world that nothing the world deems precious is really necessary. Nothing material can contain the Divine. Nothing man-made is required to receive The Lord. 

You don’t need to have given birth to realize Mary’s predicament on that night in Bethlehem. Lacking the most basic conveniences to bring a child to this world is nobody’s idea of a well-planned celebration of such a life-changing moment. But Mary and her presumably terribly frightened and frustrated husband survived by the Providence of the Most High. He kept watch over this chosen couple and walked them through such a challenging night, ushering them into a life filled with even greater challenges and heart-breaking events. Joseph and Mary did not have it easy from the very beginning, but, oh, the reward! Look what they got to be: The earthly parents of the Savior of Mankind - not too shabby, huh? I guess putting up with a bit of discomfort is not all together that bad after all if at the end of it we get Jesus.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  Romans 8:18

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

O Little Town...

 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, 
though you are small among the clans of Judah, 
out of you will come for me 
one who will be ruler over Israel, 
whose origins are from of old, 
from ancient times.” Micah 5:2

As someone who was born and raised in an "insignificant, little town" in the middle of one of the tiniest countries of Central America, I relate very much to this verse that foretold the birthplace of Jesus. I think of the way my own hometown used to be, small and sleepy, not much ever happening. It was the place where everyone knew your name. Today, however, the town where I grew up is surprising the nation as it has become a hub of commerce and a center of communication. It has surpassed all expectations as great things continue to develop in our once subdued town.

Likewise, little Bethlehem, a small town where the expectations were low and from where nobody really thought anything good would come, became the location of the most transcendental event to ever occur on this earth. The humble town hosted the humble birth of non other than the God Incarnate! Isn't this just another example of our Great God using the ordinary to accomplish something completely extraordinary?

Bethlehem, “The House of Bread,” turned by the plan of the Most High into the House of the Bread of Life (John 6: 35). It makes perfect sense!

When no one was watching but a bunch of outcasts, the hometown of kings became the cradle of the King of Kings! What a great underdog story, just the kind that our Lord likes to write. The Ruler of All finds His earthly home within the small, the humble, and the seemingly inconsequential little town of Bethlehem.

Linking with: Whole Hearted Home and Little R and R

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Cost of Simplification

My dear friend Indira has mentioned to me several times how much she enjoyed my recent post on Simplifying Christmas.  "Simplification is the word of the day!" she has said lately.  Yesterday, however, she shared with me how some of the decisions involved in her simplification process have caused her stress.  

Unfortunately, the decision making process that we have to put in motion once we take a step to simplify anything in our lives does involve a considerable amount of mental anguish and stress.  The reason is because simplifying implies cutting; and cutting implies cutting off, which in turn means that something/someone is always left behind/cut off...Like the strands of hair left on the floor when we get a haircut...like the branches when we prune our bushes and trees...like our old friends when we move away...like our beloved when we can't be on two places at the same time, simplification inherently means sacrificing.  And the decision of what/who to sacrifice is agonizing...The good news is that it usually balances out along the way.  One person's sacrifice generally represents another person's gain, even if the final equation is not appreciated until further in the unseen future.

During the Christmas season we celebrate the advent of our Lord and Savior.  We rejoice because a Son has been given unto us!  That's humanity's biggest gain in the history of the world!  On the flip side of that coin, though...a Father was left behind...knowing what the sacrifice involved.  

God's plan is perfect in any and every way.  Perfection doesn't mean, however, that it is without pain.  The pain of sacrifice deeply pierces the soul.  But in turn, the result of sacrificing is immeasurable gain.

The trick is to trust!  As we pull out the shears or as we see the shears coming unto us, we must prayerfully move on to finish our task, trusting that the hand that guides the cutting is the very hand of God.  And even if we don't get to see the results of the process on this shore of life; we can rest assured that one day we will understand the ins and outs of God's greatest simplification process.  After all, pruning is what helps the tree bear fresher, more luscious and better fruit next season, right?

I know my friend is still very torn about the decisions she has had to make lately in order to simplify the life-events that are approaching.  But I pray that she sees the gain behind each one of those sacrifices she is making and that the Lord speaks to her/us regarding His very own unfathomable sacrifice which brought us life.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given; Isaiah 9: 6

Linking with: Titus 2sday and Monday's Musings

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Fullness of Time

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law. (Galatians 4: 4)

“When the fullness of the time came…” How many times have I read this verse and overlooked this phrase? It was not just any other day. The birth of Christ happened exactly at the moment it had been planned since before the beginning of the material world. It was not just like any other day - it was when the time was ripe, when it had matured to the point of perfection, when the time was full. 

Days had passed steadily for centuries, but then a special day arrived - one that was different because it was right – it was appointed. 

The funny thing is that by any worldly standard, the timing of Jesus’ birth was all out of whack. A young couple arrived at a dinky little town where there was no place to stay but a filthy stable and a few rags to keep warm. If you ask me, it was nothing but a big case of wrong place, wrong time. According to God’s design, however, it was perfectly as planned. It happened just the way it was supposed to. It might have been a surprise for Joseph and poor Mary who probably wondered why the Lord would not provide better conditions for them to bring to life the Giver of Life. It was not a surprised for God…Any concerns they may have entertained didn’t matter because the Father of All had it all in His hands, as usual.

Doesn’t it seem sometimes as if the timing is all wrong in our lives as well? Don’t we sometimes despair because we don’t see where the roads are taking us as the time seems to be ticking away, waiting for no one? Don’t we often let ourselves be trapped by the quick sand of worry, fear and doubt…wondering if He’ll deliver us or let us die? I imagine Mary might have felt a pinch of that anxiety on that night a couple of millenniums ago. After all, she was just a young woman about to give birth to her first baby. I am willing to suggest that she felt confused as to why things didn’t seem to be going smoothly for them. I’m pretty sure Joseph was probably going out of his mind as well. But, oh, what a miracle emerged despite the state of fright and commotion. The Hope of Mankind was born to bring Mary, Joseph and us peace – the kind that surpasses all understanding. 

God has a plan for you that will come to light at exactly the right time. Any confusion or concern you have is natural, but rest assured, the glory that will come will wipe away all that came before in the fullness of time.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born. Luke 2: 6

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The A-maze-ing Plan of God

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. Luke 2: 1-5

Isn’t it amazing how organized God is? His attention to detail is revealed in His astonishing sense of order, but in addition the way His plan usually unfolds reveals something else. It shows us His creativity in writing intricate and elaborate plots. He loves stories, and His stories are far more intriguing than any created by the greatest geniuses of this world. 

The passage from Luke on the birth of Jesus demonstrates God’s knack for theatrics. He didn’t have to make the path to Jesus being born in Bethlehem so complicated. By any number of natural or supernatural ways, He could have placed Mary and Joseph in that little town in time for the birth of Jesus in order to fulfill the old testament prophesy spoken of in Micah 5: 2. 

Instead, The Lord’s plan was WAY more interesting than that. A Census, a political tool from an oppressive foreign power, was used by the Maker of Heaven and Earth to bring the fulfillment of His Holy prophesy and purpose when the time was full.

Isn’t that the way of God for us too? Doesn’t it feel that many times life is nothing but a big huge brainteaser? It sure is an intricately complicated puzzle that we wouldn’t even be able to begin to piece together on our own. Once the time is right, however, He fits it all perfectly together...as we stand in awe watching how magnificently those tiny pieces fall gloriously into place. 

WOW, that was a mouth full! But when it comes to describing God’s plan, no words seem appropriate. The best part of it is that even though we are able to figure out some plots and sub-plots on this side of Heaven, we WILL get to understand it all once we make it Home… We will get to read that last page of the story of our lives, where all the questions are answered and loose ends are tied up.

Is God’s plan for your life right now looking more like a maze than like a straight path? Are you trusting Him and allowing Him to fill you up with His peace so you can be still and know? (Psalm 46: 10)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Simplifying Christmas

Every Christmas season I run around like a mad chicken trying to accomplish all the "tasks" that convention and tradition have established as the norm for the celebration.  I'm not going to say I don't enjoy it since I do like the rush caused by the hustle and bustle of the preparations.

I remember growing up in Panama, my favorite day of the year was December 24th.  And my favorite thing to do on that day was to go downtown to see my otherwise sleepy hometown become alive with last minute shoppers who made the business year worth while for the store owners.  I loved it!  The anticipation, the nervousness, the colorful lights, the decorations, the packed sidewalks, the traffic jams, the pushing and shoving...

In a way, I think that's why I go shopping on Black Friday...because it reminds me of that...minus the early drive in the freezing cold, of course : )

This year, however, everything is different.

The key word this Christmas season has been "simplification."  The circumstances of my life during the last many months have made me slow down.  The funny thing is that it is all happening without much thought from my part.  It has not been planned at all.  Things just haven't happened this year.  My sons were not part of our church's pageant for the first time since they've been alive almost.  We missed the church's Christmas dinner also for the first time ever.  I just realized that I won't be sending Christmas cards either.  Most of the kids' presents have been bought online and Dan and I have re-instated an old "tradition" we had of not buying gifts for each other.  We held that tradition for several years when the kids first came and money was short.  Baking cookies is still far in the horizon and it seems like it will mostly be made by third parties, like the place that makes the yummy frozen/pre-portioned dough from the school fundraiser earlier this year.

I have decorated the house, though, because our new home was begging me to dress it up with some Christmas cheer;and our Nativity set is looking cooler than ever!  I love sitting in front of it to contemplate the different scenes we were able to create thanks to the generosity of our dear friend Judy who has been contributing to it for the past two years.  But that's pretty much it.  We have no grand plans other than to rediscover our Savior presence within our hearts and souls.  My biggest desire, and where I am going to put my greatest effort is in seeking Him and praying He is re-born in me in an unmistakably visible and palpable way this Christmas.

Waiting for My Emmanuel is the only preparation I need.  And the rush will be like no other I've ever experienced...it is just as simple as that!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Branch of Jese

Inspired mostly by portions of Isaiah’s chapters 7 and 11, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a song traditionally associated with Christmas. However eloquently it speaks of the Advent of the Christ, the coming of God with Us, it is not so much speaking on the topic of the first Christmas. Instead, the hymn proclaims His second coming in its poignant and sobering verses. 

Isaiah announced that: 

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; 
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— 
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, 
the Spirit of counsel and of might, 
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD— (Isaiah 11: 1-2 NIV)

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people… (Isaiah 11:10-11a - NIV)

He will raise a banner for the nations 
and gather the exiles of Israel; 
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah 
from the four quarters of the earth. (Isaiah 11: 12 NIV)

“For a second time” the Lord will “reach out his hand… to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people…” What a glorious statement. The shoot of Jesse will come again, and He will rescue His faithful remnant. The One who once was the little child born in Bethlehem is none other than the Emmanuel, the Great I Am. One day, in His full majesty and radiance, He will lead the way. 

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1: 20-23 NIV)

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Present

Remember when you were a kid? Was Christmas the most magical of all holidays for you? It surely was for me! My whole entire kid year revolved around Christmas…like the quote from the movie Christmas Story says.

I never got presents during the year; my birthday and Christmas were the only times of hope for me to have some excitement. And the kind of birthday gifts I got were not ones that would thrill the heart of a little girl with big dreams of fun - yes, socks and soap were among them. So, the promise of Christmas was the bonanza at the end of the year. Whatever fun gifts I got were always reserved for Christmas.

My list was always long. I began making it the day that TV shows featuring toys started in early November on Wednesday afternoons. That was when the biggest store in Panama would put together a one hour-long commercial demonstrating the latest toys on screen to make every kid in the country drool. I remember thinking how lucky those kids in the show were because they got to play with the most exciting toys of the season every week.

I knew I would not get everything I wanted, but it was more about the distant hope that Christmas brought to my heart year after year than about the actual presents. It was like a promise of great things to come wrapped in colorful paper and ribbons under an old silver tree.

Now that I have children of my own and see them making their list as soon as the first Christmas flyer reaches our house from the toy store, I’m reminded of those days when I was a little child. My own heart beats with joy just thinking about the hope that Christmas still brings. Not so much for the hope of material things but the anticipation of a renewing of my faith and a transformation of my mind.

That is why today, even though in different terms, I still think of Christmas as a present...the present of His presence...

This year, more than ever, I long for that Present...I  trust I will find it as I quiet my soul in the midst of the Christmas noise and focus my eyes on Christ. It is a season to celebrate His birth into flesh and His decision to move closer to us as He walked on this earth, a decision that transformed it all as He continues to be in us - Our Great Emmanuel.

Linking with Little R and R and Whole Hearted Home

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Walking on Water

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said. Matthew 14: 28-29

There comes a time when we are called by our Lord to “come to Him on the water.” And it is terrifying.

Like Peter, we are afraid, in the middle of a terrible storm, and haven’t we had a chance to get a handle on things, when there we are…climbing outside of our boats, readying our feet to do the humanly impossible…

He calls. He tells us “come” and we must. That is the time when His glory shines as He drives us to the miraculous.

We all have that moment…that walking on water moment...the moment when it is just you and Him. Spectators are certainly standing by, but it is just you and Him on the water. Can you feel it? The trembling of your leg as you swing them one at a time out of the comfort of your little boat. The sweaty palms as you hang on to the edge of that vehicle that has provided your safety so far. The splinters pocking through your skin as you hesitate to let go of the wooden railing. The gentle caress of the water on your bare feet telling you, “there is no way you can stand on it and not sink.” The wind messing up your hair, whispering you will fail.

What do you do then?

There is only one thing…keep your eyes on Him!

Both feet on the water, you begin to stand, your sight fixed on His face. Suddenly, O marvelous surprise! The water does not give. He sustains you from the distance as you take your first step, more like a wobbly glide on water skiis. You slide one foot in front of the other, afraid to lift them off the…water…The eyes of all the people around are on you…Your eyes on Him.

His arm stretched out to you, and only you, for that is your moment with Him. And you walk.

The trick? Keeping your eyes above the waters, off the stormy gale, and glued to His face. The second we look to the side, we begin to sink, panic strikes and our walk is done. It doesn’t matter, though, for He is there. His arm reaches out to us and rescues us in an instant…but O wouldn’t it be wonderful to finish the walk? He knows if we will or not…the end is irrelevant…the important thing is that we did it. We took the step when He called. We walked on water, even if for a fleeting moment.

That glorious walk takes many shapes and forms. Sometimes we sense it coming, others, it comes all of a sudden, but two things are certain, it is always frightening, and He is always there to help us through.

My walk on water is approaching fast. It is going to be me, Him and a pill in an empty room. I’m bracing for it. But I know that He will be there with me. I pray I remember I must keep my eyes on His so I don’t sink. But if I do…He will pull me out, and I will be safe in His arms.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 
“Lord, save me!”

 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. Matthew 14: 29-31

Linking with: Whole Hearted Home and Little R and R

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Struggle

Sometimes, many times, rather, I beat myself up for not doing what is right and falling into the many temptations of life.  Guilt turns into heavy shackles and frustration builds a wall that separates me from the very source of power , strength and grace who can pull me out of the darkness in which I've fallen.  On this past Sunday, however, I heard a message from Romans that brought me great hope.  Tucked in the middle of very mind boggling concepts, in which God's economy of dying in order to be born again shines through, there is a comforting idea that helps my anxious soul find some rest.  The revelation is the fact that the struggles are not ever going to be truly over on this side of paradise.

For some strange reason, hearing the confirmation that struggling is just part of life became a comforting thought.  Knowing that I am not the only one who struggles with my weaknesses helps me continue on the path.  And the Lord knows that we need a constant reminder of such message.  Therefore, He places books in our hands.  He leads us to Sunday school.  He sits us in front of a video series.  He brings a friend closer.  He makes His whispering a bit louder...all with the purpose of reminding us that it is OK.  That we will be OK, and that the good news is, that in the end, we are already victorious in Him!

The message in Romans tells us that we are to "count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus! (Rom 6: 11) What a blessing!  What good news! We are crucified with Christ, dead to sin, and free to follow, know and obey Him!  But Paul doesn't tell us that we are free from the struggle.  He goes on to say that we are NOT to "let sin reign in our mortal body so that we obey its evil desires."  We are NOT to "offer any part of ourselves to sin as an instrument of wickedness."  Instead, we have to "offer ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of ourselves to Him as an instrument of righteousness."  (Romans 6: 12-13)

If the struggles were over once we are born again in Christ, why would Paul tell us not to let sin reign?  Sin is defeated...death has no power in those who belong to Christ; but we are still in the world, and darkness is all around us, and we are still in our "mortal" bodies.  Our flesh is weak and until we live in this flesh we will continue to fight it.  The thing is that in Christ we have the strength to be in this fight without surrendering.  We have the power of Christ in us as the Holy Spirit dwells inside of our soul and He changes our will so we obey God along the path to becoming instruments of righteousness, rather than falling helplessly in the clutches of sin to be turned into instruments of wickedness.

We are under grace! (Romans 6: 14) And we seek obedience to Him and we are free from the slavery to sin which condemned us to eternal death.  That freedom allows us to choose to offer ourselves as an offering to righteousness which leads to holiness, to be set apart for Him

We are saved/justified; but the process of sanctification is a life-long affair.  In that process, we will stumble and fall since it is a constant battle against our mortal nature.  But we are not the only ones who struggle.  The line of holy fighters in the Bible is truly long.  My favorite is Peter.  Walked with the Lord every day during Jesus' entire ministry on earth.  The Rock! The one who got out of the boat and walked on water with Jesus.  One of the few chosen to see Christ Transfigured! But he still denied Him at a moment of intense weakness.

The hero in Peter's story is not Peter, however.  The hero is Jesus!  It is not what Peter did what restored him.  It is what Christ did.  Peter's heart remained in Jesus, and that's why he wept bitterly.  Humility hit him like a ton of bricks when he realized what he had done.  But Jesus picked him up again and gave him a seat of honor because His grace abounds in those who belong to Him.

We are God's handiwork...His song...His poem...His precious creation.  He will see us through our struggle in this life and He will, in His time, restore us.  In the meantime, we trust and we rest in His care.