Managing the Manger?

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What is it, in fact, that confounds us when we are confronted with the Baby Jesus, God-With-Us?  Does God always answer your prayers in the ways we expect?   Does He come to us in ways we would prefer or imagine?   Typically, no!   We often have difficulty recognizing His ways and certainly are challenged in understanding His timing.  In fact, sometimes I haven’t been terribly thrilled with the answers to my prayers.  

 

At the time of Christ’s birth, the Jews had been waiting for centuries for their Messiah; under the oppression of a Roman emperor, they were groaning (yet again) for deliverance and political freedom.   I would imagine that the promise of a Messiah who would rule and reign forever, with the government on his shoulders, must have sounded pretty appealing.  They certainly had good reason to put faith in the promises of their prophets for the advent of the King of Kings. 

 

Yet – no!  He came as a baby, in human form, fully God yet fully man in fragile flesh.   Although the newborn baby was, no doubt, endearing and precious, there is something frightening and disarming about the power of God’s almighty, earth-shaking Presence resident in that cute swaddled bundle!   Suddenly, despite being drawn to the Baby in the manger, I have found myself shaking and frightened.   Had Jesus first appeared to me as a warrior king, I would have applauded and cheered.   Instead, He stole in quietly, completely disarming and disconcerting me, leaving me wondering (and worrying) what He actually had in mind. 

 

Is this the devil-defeating, earth-quaking Creator of the universe?  What are the implications of His intervention in my life?   What does it mean to truly yield myself 100% to this Savior whom I hardly know, certainly did not immediately recognize, and yet who knows me better than I know myself?   Yes, I am disconcerted and a bit fearful of Him, and I myself feel defenseless and exposed.   

 

Maybe that is why we sometimes feel tempted to simply leave Jesus in the manger until Easter.   Maybe that is why we dread confronting Who He really wants to be for us:   we dread the exposure attendant to a real relationship with the awe-inspiring, all-powerful, living God.   Sometimes it is hard to remember that the Holy Spirit only exposes for the purpose of healing our hearts and minds, as we are so accustomed to the enemy exposing us to accuse and condemn us, and we are already woefully familiar with our own faults and shortcomings.  

 

Will I pick the Baby Jesus up and own Him and allow Him access to my heart?   That is the question.   Will He grow in my life, or will I insist He stay in the manger until time to be nailed to the cross? 

Father, I thank You for the gift of Jesus Christ, Your only-begotten Son, my Savior and Redeemer.  May His presence and character expand in my heart and mind and spill forth in a way that will attract others to You and Your goodness!

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Is the Yoke on You?

yoke-modelRecently I heard an excellent devotional prepared by a friend on the subject of yokes.  As I meditated on her words, I began to realize that it is very easy to take on a heavy yoke without realizing it.

After all, Jesus did say, ” These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation [trouble]; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NKJV)  Challenges and troubles do not magically vanish from our lives merely because we are Christians; on the contrary, we can expect trials and tribulations from time to time.   Of course, we believe that Jesus has overcome the world, and with it all the attendant troubles, but sometimes we do not feel very victorious!

The key to overcoming those challenges is how I manage them.  Often, I am overcome by the weight of the problems I confront; in seeking to resolve them righteously, I tend to bear the burden without remembering that the main part of the load is something Jesus promises to bear.   Peter encouraged us to give all our worries and cares to God Jesus, for He cares about us (1 Peter 5:7, NLT).

Although Jesus told us to expect tribulation in this life, He also tells us His yoke is easy:  

Is Jesus contradicting Himself?   He promises we will face trials, urges us to cast our cares on Him, then tells us His burden is light.   How can that be?

If we remember that Jesus bore the weight of all the sins of the world on the Cross, we can understand that rolling the weight of our troubles onto Him is equivalent to placing those situations on the Cross.   As a result of His resurrection, the weight of our sins, challenges, trials, problems, and pain is no longer heavy or burdensome, not even to the Lord of Heaven and Earth, as He already bore that weight for us.

Seemingly identical objects manufactured from different materials can have very different weights.  For example, an enamel-coated aluminum pan would be far easier to pick up than an enamel-coated cast iron pan of the same size.   We might not even notice the difference until we attempted to pick them up!

I have discovered that this same principle is operative for me in regard to my burden-bearing tendencies:  often I begin to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit to pray for someone, resolve a complex spiritual problem, give advice, or intercede for a very dark issue, only to find myself pinned under the weight of the problem I thought I was responding to in a righteous manner.   When I find myself paralyzed with the heaviness of the troubles of this life, it is because I have unwittingly picked up the wrong yoke!   It LOOKED like Jesus’ yoke, but it was not at all light or easy.

Father, show me where I have shouldered burdens you already paid for at the Cross; help me to lay down counterfeit yokes (which are always too burdensome for me!) and pick up YOUR yoke.  Your yoke is easy, and Your burden is light.   Thank You for hitching me to Your yoke with You, Jesus.   You are able to pull me through any trouble we face!

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Shed the Shroud

alisha041Perhaps it comes as no surprise to most of us that even dedicated Christians find themselves subject to depression, sorrow, and shame.  What’s more, the burden of guilt for feeling depressed, sorrowful, and ashamed is often worse than the feelings themselves.  After all, aren’t Christians supposed to be the happiest people on earth?  Based on God’s Word we can be confident that Jesus has set us free from sin and released us into a new life permeated with His Presence.  By His Holy Spirit, He is readily available to us — as near to us as the breath we breathe.

Yet somehow, many of us labor under an all-too-familiar shroud of sorrow and shame that we cannot seem to shake.   In fact, we tend to think that that sorrow or shame is part of who we are, our cross to bear, our thorn in the flesh.  As such, we endeavor to simply cope with the heaviness and own it as our just due, as something unchangeable this side of heaven.  

However, that shroud is a cloak of death thrown over us by the enemy of our souls.   His goal is to choke off the joy God has made available to us and to blind us to God’s perspective on our lives.  The enemy blankets us in darkness and hopelessness; he loves to convince us that his heaviness is, in reality, part of who we are, a part we are powerless to change.   

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He called him forth from death into life. Lazarus emerged from the grave; however, he was still clothed in the grave clothes in which he had been wrapped prior to burial.   Jesus instructed Lazarus’s friends and family to remove the grave clothes and let him go (see John 11).   Sometimes I think I neglect to ask others to help me remove the shrouds that the enemy persists in tossing over me.  I think I should be able to toss them off by myself — which I only rarely am able to do!   Often, I muddle through a week or so without recognizing that the shroud is NOT part of me, my personality, or my calling.  It is a dark cloak of death that suffocates everything the Lord has breathed into me!

Jesus, help us to speak life to one another and remove the shrouds of futility, hopelessness, depression, sorrow, fear, and shame that so readily block our vision and drag us down.   We choose to step out from under the heaviness of those grave clothes and into Your marvelous light!   Thank You for delivering us from the undertow of our past and the dark thoughts that would like to chain us to darkness.   You are truly our Deliverer! Empower us to shed the shroud and to yank it off one another!  Thank You for Your resuscitation station that enables me to shed the shroud of darkness and shun the shame!  You are glorious and full of hope, and I thank You for Your light and life that conquers every shred of darkness!

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5 NLT)

 

 

 

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The Power of Deception

wisteria1This morning at breakfast, I happened to mention to my husband how much I had been enjoying the beautiful vine with luxuriant purple flowers that adorns our back fence.  Previously unnoticed, it is draping along the top of the fence behind our stand of cannas.   Since purple has always been my favorite color, these blooms have been a delight these past few weeks, particularly now (autumn) when a few other plants have already passed their prime.  To my great surprise, when I asked him the name of that vine, my husband responded that it was an invasive plant that he needs to eradicate as soon as possible, as it will overtake all the other plants in the yard and choke the life out of them.   I was properly horrified!   “How can that be?,” I thought to myself.  

The spiritual lesson instantly registered in my heart:   more often than not, deception initially presents itself as something attractive, innocent, life-enhancing, and even beautiful.  However, as it progresses, it proves toxic and chokes the life out of everything around it.  Its appeal causes us to ignore prudent investigation of how it operates or what effects it may ultimately have on our lives.  After all, if we initially recognized deception as deception, it would (by definition) no longer be deception, would it? 

Although we hardly need to re-visit the oft-cited example of Eve yielding to the lust of the eye, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life in the Garden of Eden,  we certainly would benefit from applying the same lessons to our own lives, communities, and cultures.  Even a cursory glance at the news reports  exposes the rampant hatred, malice, selfishness, lying, and exploitation that run completely counter to Scriptural principles of integrity and personal accountability for our misdeeds.  Our media reflect who we are:  it appears we worship ourselves, our own conveniences, our own opinions, and our sexuality.  We accuse others of the very things of which we ourselves are guilty.   Are we even recognizable any longer as a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles?   

While no one may deliberately purpose in his or her heart to deceive and exploit others (at least not initially), when we fall prey to deception, we find ourselves choking in the throes of our own demise.  What initially seemed appealing, or even beneficial, proves toxic.  This principle holds true both personally for individuals and corporately for nations.   

I praise God that He is the source of hope for me, for my family, for my community, and for my nation.  Jesus is faithful to unmask deception in our lives and deliver us from every darkness.   Repentance is a gift we desperately need God to give us; happily, He gives that gift quite willingly, as He does not want us to perish!  I pray He exposes deception in my life, unmasks anything toxic, and empowers me to repent; He is able to deliver me and heal me, and He is my only hope!  I pray similarly for my country and its leaders.  

Jesus, send Your Word and heal us, and deliver us from our destructions!  (see Psalm 107:20)

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  2 Peter 3:9 NKJV

 

 

 

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The Power of the Trickle

water_dropletI am learning that we should never underestimate the power of the trickle to erode strongholds in our lives and to flood us with God’s goodness.   Most things begin with small cracks in the fabric of our everyday routines. Typically, nothing changes dramatically overnight, and even the apparent dramatic changes are, in fact, the fruit of a protracted period of systematic beating against walls of resistance to what God desires to establish in our lives.

We read in Ezekiel 47:  1-12:

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The Power of Trans-Generational Partnership

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SYNERGY:  1 + 1 > 2

The principle of synergy consistently characterizes God’s economic system:  He is capable of making more of what we have (or think we do not have) and seems to function above and beyond the physical and mathematical laws He Himself has created. The feeding of the five thousand and scores of other miracles recounted in Scripture illustrate His creative and multiplying power.  When we contemplate the power of partnership between generations, this principle of synergy proves particularly powerful.

According to our linear, western rationale, one generation succeeds and ultimately supersedes the previous one.  Certainly, the flower children of the sixties scorned the “establishment” built by their parents’ generation and demanded a fresh brand of freewheeling independence. They rejected the lessons of the past and attempted to develop a completely different culture. However, identifying  another’s mistakes does not necessarily mean we should completely discard everything about another person or group of people.

In contemplating the gifts of my children and their generation, I can readily see a sense of daring, love for adventure, and intolerance for hypocrisy and pat answers.  These young people are fervent about pursuing their dreams; they are also quick to identify the failings of their parents and grandparents without losing the idealism young people need to fuel their passions.  

On the other hand, those of us who are older and more experienced might prefer to take fewer risks and instead adhere to systems we feel have worked well in the past, even when facing new challenges that might demand different modes of operating.  Some of us have lost our passion and perseverance; we may be exhausted and disheartened at the lawlessness of our culture and tempted to separate ourselves entirely from what we see happening around us.

In view of our different perspectives, do we truly understand that parents, grandparents, and children carry a corporate anointing for partnership and that we need each other?  While it is easy to rest on our respective strengths and discount what we perceive to be the flaws in another generation,  we would be wiser to actively cultivate their partnership to effect lasting transformation in a chaotic world that desperately needs to know the love and power of Jesus Christ.

Ruth, a Moabite widow, refused to abandon her Hebrew mother-in-law (Naomi) when the latter made the decision to return to her hometown of Bethlehem.  She committed herself to Naomi, to Naomi’s people, and to Naomi’s God.  As the story unfolds, we find that Naomi was not the only beneficiary of this partnership.  Not only did Ruth work to provide for Naomi, but Ruth herself ended up marrying Boaz, a wealthy, kindhearted relative of Naomi’s deceased husband.   Ruth gained a family and a heritage, and her son with Boaz is recorded as an ancestor of our Messiah.   

Similarly, there was partnership and mutual affirmation between Elizabeth, the future mother of John the Baptist, and Mary, the future mother of Jesus.  Mary heard from the angel Gabriel that her older, formerly barren relative was pregnant, and she went to visit her.  The yet-unborn John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, and Elizabeth recognized Mary as the mother of her Lord.  She uttered a prophetic blessing on Mary, who then broke into a prophetic song of her own magnifying God and affirming what He was doing to save His people.  

As a mother and grandmother, I am asking God for specific ways to partner with the younger generations.   I want to collaborate with the Holy Spirit to affirm and honor the gifts He has deposited in them; I love encouraging them to pursue their callings and their dreams.  I NEED them, and I believe they need us, the more experienced generation, as well.   We can certainly learn from one another.   Surely one generation plus one more generation add up to more than two!   Who knows what God will do when we cease dismissing and criticizing one another and begin to actively cultivate righteous partnership?

Psalm 145: 1-4 (NASB) 

I will extol You, my God, O King, and I will bless Your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless You, and I will praise Your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.

 

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Moans from the Marianas, or Pleas from the Pit

Have you ever discovered yourself at the bottom of an emotional or spiritual pit?  When life becomes overwhelming, challenges accumulate, and disappointments meet you at every corner, the pit may appear to be a safe place.   Personally, I have sought refuge in an emotional pit to avoid further barrages from adversarial people and situations — even to hide from myself.  What have I learned?  Such pits are far from protective; they are seemingly bottomless, like the Marianas Trench (the deepest point on earth).  Invariably, the walls of the pit close in on me, and I find myself profoundly alone.

What does God say about the pit?  In Psalm 139, verses 7-12 (NKJV), we read:  

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Even the Marianas Trench is not too deep for the Spirit of God.  He rescues us from our self-destructive isolation pits, our pits of self-pity and despair, our pits of hopelessness and futility.  The words of the psalmist declare:  “He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps.”  Psalm 40:2 (NKJV)  Jesus hears my moans in the Marianas Trench and my pleas from the pit.   He hears my self-reproach and even my silence.   He breathes His life into me and pulls me out of the places where I have become stuck; He establishes me on the Rock of His Word and directs my steps anew.  Whereas the devil’s idea of a pit stop is the darkness of despair, God’s idea of a pit stop is more like that of a race car driver — a pause that refreshes, re-tools, and re-fuels us in His Presence.

 

Diana Ross used to sing, “Ain’t no mountain high enough; ain’t no valley low enough; ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from you!”  The fact is, the songwriters had it backwards:   There truly ain’t no mountain high enough, or valley low enough, or river wide enough, to keep the Lord of Heaven and Earth from rescuing you and me.  No pit is beyond the reach of His Spirit, and He loves to shower us with the rain of His goodness.   Are you groaning under the weight of your sorrows?  Invite Him to touch you now, lift off the heaviness, and grant you a HOLY pit stop in exchange for your Marianas Trench!

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