The Darkness Around Christmas

There is a Child within a manger
Whose love can reach the smallest heart,
From kings to shepherds, To everyone of us whose dreams have been torn apart.
And he was born for all the children
Who watch the snow and dream their dream.
He is the Sunrise, He is the Child of Hope,
The Star of Bethlehem.

I am going to step out on a limb knowing that there may be many who will run to their sheds and grab a hatchet and chop right through my limb! “It’s a time for JOY, Jody!” Yes, it is, so stay with me here through the last note of the song.  

Most of us will not have a Norman Rockwell Christmas.

There will be no children chattering happily about presents. No family gathering around a table groaning with delicious dishes of food from recipes handed down from previous generations. There is no Christmas tree with piles of presents because – why bother when there is no one to see it?!

I bring this picture to light because I’ve recently read on social media about the suicidal death of two young men who shocked their family and friends by their actions. Those left behind are devastated and questioning what they could have done differently.

Not all nights are “merry and bright.” Instead nights are often when time seems suspended and no one is around to care or speak up that they are even praying. Being alone with a voice inside whose sole purpose is to convince us that this is all we will ever have – nothing. And it’s all I will ever have. That negative voice lies!

Christmas is about a child, a baby that was born to very poor parents in a very small village. He was wrapped in simple cloths, no Osh Kosh onesie. Sheep and a donkey, maybe a cow, were the only ones sharing their presence. No family. No doctor. No palace for The King. There was no crowd of people “oohing” and “ahhing” over the new baby, just a crowd of angels singing!

This child came to bring light into my life. This child came to chase away the darkness of lies and shine the truth of who I am to Him. This child is my Savior; He made it possible for me to have life forever with my Father and all those I love and who love Him. He gave His life for me. A gift. A gift that is worth more than I can imagine!

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.
2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.
3 You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice.
They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest
and like warriors dividing the plunder.
4 For
you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.
5 The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire.
6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His government and its peace will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. — 
Isaiah 9:2-7 (NLT)

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Love One Another

… you can’t come where I am going. So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:33-35 (NLT)

Jesus said this to His disciples at their last supper. Time was seriously running out. So whatever He said to them, had to be crucial to the mission.

I am to love others as Jesus has loved me and in that true example of loving, others, even unbelieving enemies, would know that I was His disciple. That’s an amazing thing! Frankly there are some people who aren’t very lovable! And yet, Jesus does not qualify His statement.

My pastor published on the week’s bulletin a list of Scriptures which may teach and encourage me in my desire to love others. I’d like to share them here – with some personal notes.

Proverbs 18 Each chapter of Proverbs may seem like a list of random thoughts but often there is a thread which “connects the dots.” For me in this chapter, I really get lessons in the use of my mouth and how I will reap much wisdom if I listen more, listen first, and then consider whether to speak or not. Definitely a chapter to read more often!

James 1:19 While this chapter also encourages me to wisely be slow to anger, it also has an important phrase “be slow to anger.” When you get angry, does it come over you like a slow burn or like a flash? Yes, me too. Anger is a white hot, flash of lightning that rarely has anything to do with slow, methodical thinking!

Proverbs 21:26 Some people are able to present a good face. They may have a broken wrist or a broken heart – but everything is “fine.” Most of us have “secret sins” that we hide. Sin thrives in darkness. It flees in the Light of God’s Presence! Oh how much God wants me to keep growing closer and closer to Him. He wants me to be real!

Colossians 1:9 Most of us grow up wanting to please our parents or mentors or teachers. We want their approval. As I got to know Abba, Father God, I wanted to be so close to Him. I read and studied the Bible for hours. And sometimes I found, what seemed to be conflicting directions. I wanted more wisdom. I wanted more clarity. Our Father is faithful. We can trust Him. He will keep meeting, keep teaching us.

Proverbs 17:1 I am going to climb on my soap box. Reality shows with all their drama, including fighting, screaming, lying, cheating – certainly a crust of bread for dinner is better than living with people who find that kind of behavior acceptable for a home! Reading the whole Proverb is a good, healthy meal I will go back to read again.

Ephesians 4:15 This chapter admonishes the leaders of the church that their job is to grow up the members of Christ’s Body to maturity. Leaders such as pastors and teachers are not there to do all the work of ministry but to empower all of us to do the work we have all been given talents to do.

Philippians 2:14 “Do everything without complaining and arguing” is Paul’s admonition that most of us skip when we read this part of Philippians. We want to be an example to others but we do not necessarily want to do that without being given credit for the difficulties and hard work we put in to make it happen.

1 Corinthians 13:7 This chapter of 1 Corinthians is often viewed as the definitive biblical explanation of “love.” No matter how many times I read through the chapter, I am always convicted to assess my own life and how I apply love to those who are in my life, whether friends, acquaintances or even – not friends. It is a good lesson and I need to review it often!

Colossians 3:13 God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. 13 Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. 14 Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together. (Colossians 3:12-14, CEV) Whether I am applying this to my parents, siblings, spouse, children or church members, there is no wiggle room to exempt me from forgiveness as I have already been forgiven much! Forgiving someone isn’t letting them off the hook! They were never on my hook to begin with! It is for Jesus to judge and bring justice.

Proverbs 13:12 Jesus’ name brings hope, His perfect Hope into my spirit. No matter how many times I am knocked down, Jesus puts His hand out and Hope covers me, lifts me, brings me up and sets me on the path where Abba wants me.

No matter what a week brings, God’s Word is there to guide, heal and bring me to the place He wants me – closer to Him.

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Let Me Live in the Glory of Your Grace

I was listening to this song two nights ago and I was struck by the phrase, Let me live in the glory of Your grace. What does this mean?

I define God’s grace as His unconditional love. It is His grace that sent Jesus to die for my sins before I was born, before I knew Him, and certainly before I loved Him. It is Abba’s grace, freely given to me, that overflows in me and out of me to others. I love others that, in my own ability, I would not be able to be kind, even forgiving to as we interact.

God’s grace, His love, is perfect, as He is perfect. So now I follow the word trail that God’s grace would also be covered in His glory. What is “glory”? The presence of God? God’s essence?

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world. Psalm 19:1-4 (NLT)

God’s glory has gone throughout the world. It has gone. It is here. It is available to me through His love. God, my good and perfect Father, holds nothing good back from His children.

Did you see the glory of God on this child’s face? It’s there not because of who she is but because of whose she is! She saw a man who was hungry. Her heart, her spirit given to her by her Heavenly Father, was touched and responded with His grace, His unconditional love. God’s glory was manifested in this child.

If the heavens proclaim God’s glory, what is my life proclaiming? As Darlene Zschech said in the lyrics of the song, Let me live in the glory of His grace. I have a choice of where I live. Every day, help me make a God-choice, Abba.

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“I love you, Jody!”

How often have you heard God say that to you?

How often does a father tell his child “I love you”? Once in a lifetime? Every year? Every month? Every week? Every day?

[Jesus said,] “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”                    – Matthew 7:9-11 (NRSV)

Jesus also said that the second most important commandment was for me to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) Jesus is warning me that if I do not love myself, I cannot love my neighbor. So what do I hear in my head every day? Do I hear words of love?

I’ve been talking to my Abba, my Father, about this. I decided on the name Abba because Father seemed too formal and Daddy too casual. When I picture Abba in my mind, He is grand. He the King! But then I look into His eyes. They are kind. They are familiar. They know me. They have seen me at my most vulnerable; when I have been in the most pain and so very weak.

Every day, or night depending, I have spent some quiet time with Abba and I start our time with, “I love You, Abba.” Just a quiet, from the heart statement. And then I don’t rush on to the next thing but let that statement mean something. I consider what it means. I meditate on how I allowed my love to show itself in my heart and my life. And then … I wait for it. I wait to hear “I love you, Jody.”

I look up into the eyes of my Father. I look at His eyes and consider what they are saying to me and about me. Do I hear correction? Sometimes. But it is correction, not humiliating condemnation. My Abba steers me in His right direction. He teaches me about cultivating more fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) Abba shows me how to keep my mind on what is good:

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

Our lives are so filled with “stuff.” The demands on our time are sometimes worthy (serving others, family, job etc) but can often be good, but not necessarily God (entertainment, job, serving others, etc). For me, it has taken me so long to learn that when someone asks me to do something or an opportunity opens for me to participate, my response should always be, “I’ll pray about it and let you know.” And then do that. Listen to what God has to say. Would God actually tell me not to cancel our family vacation in order to help at Vacation Bible School? Would God ask me to reschedule our family vacation in order to help with VBS? Yes, to both questions. God has a plan. His plan to bless and show His love for me may include allowing me to help children and receive their unconditional love. He may also know that my family needs the time He has planned for us. What have He and I been talking about lately? What is it that I need to learn about? Let me slow down. Let me listen to hear Abba tell me how much He loves me.

“I love you, Jody.” I want to hear this every day. I want to take time for what is important in my life.

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Sometimes, It Takes A Mountain or A Desert

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.

You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!                            Psalm 139:1-6 (NLT)

Are you going through a “rough patch”? That descriptive phrase brings to my mind a video of a BMX bike going across country. The rider has serious skills and heavy duty pads and helmet so even a spill brings only a few bruises. The journey through a life-threatening health crisis, the possible break-up of a marriage, a loved one charged in a felony or addicted to drugs or alcohol can bring more than bruises to a family. Where are You, God? Am I being punished for my past sins? Are You sleeping in my boat and going to allow me to be swamped? Even drown?

King David of Israel says he was aided by God to kill a bear and a lion who had attempted to destroy his sheep when he was a boy shepherd. While still a boy, he faced a giant Philistine with only a slingshot and some stones. And yet, he succumbed to the temptation of a woman bringing the death of his child as a consequence of his murderous choices.

Eleven of the Twelve Apostles ended their lives in martyrdom of various inventive ways and the Twelfth, was isolated on an island. Do we identify with isolation, pain, and loneliness? Do we think we are the only ones in such circumstances?

Who is Father God who allows these things to happen to me and those I love? Yes, we live in a fallen world where evil exists. But I am the child of the King! Shouldn’t He protect me from such terrible horrific events? Didn’t Jesus say that He came to earth so that I would have an “abundant life”? (John 10:10) Jesus was pointing to my eternal life, not my life here on earth. Jesus came and lived 30+ years here in this life to show me what it was to live with threats in my earthly life. He came to show me how to live when people reject me, speak evil against me, and even testify at how evil I am. Jesus showed me what it was to endure tremendous pain. And then the disciples that have come after Him for the next 2000 years also showed me how to live through this world in the Hope and Victory of Eternal Life.

How do I make it day to day?

  1. Do not stop meeting with God every day. This may mean that I am crying out to God. It may mean that I am punching my pillow every day as I repeatedly weep & cry, “Why??!?” and “What does this all mean?” God is big enough, all-knowing enough to handle my repeated questions and my anger. He is big enough to take my anger and unforgiveness from me also!
  2. Even if it is one chapter, read something in Scripture. A psalm. A proverb. A chapter from the gospels or the letters to the churches. Take in some word from God to consider with your own words.
  3. Do not isolate yourself from other Believers. We are warned about isolation (1 Peter 5 and Hebrews 10) and encouraged to be an active part of the Body. It is Satan who whispers in our ear, encouraging us to study alone and telling us we don’t really need to be a part of a fellowship which will pray with us and for us and discuss Scripture together, even disagree in the discussions. (Proverbs 27:17)

Music has been an important part of my worship experience, as like David the shepherd boy and king, music expresses my questions, my pain, and my love for God and I hear His love for me. Here is a song from the Gaither Vocal Band, Sometimes It Takes a Mountain, which brought to me that sometimes it does take a mountain for me to climb or a desert for me to walk through before God has my attention so that I listen to Him and learn from Him. Join me and listen to this now.

I faced a mountain,
That I never faced before
That’s why I’m calling on the Lord
I know it’s been awhile,
But Lord please hear my prayer
I need you like I never have before.

Sometimes it takes a mountain
Sometimes a troubled sea
Sometimes it takes a desert
To get a hold of me
Your Love is so much stronger
Then whatever troubles me
Sometimes it takes a mountain
To trust you and believe

Forgive me, Jesus
I thought I could control
Whatever life would throw my way
But this I will admit
Has brought me to my knees
I need you Lord and I’m not ashamed to say

Sometimes it takes a mountain
Sometimes a troubled sea
Sometimes it takes a desert
To get a hold of me
Your Love is so much stronger
Then whatever troubles me
Sometimes it takes a mountain
To trust you and believe

Posted in Bible Study, Christian Living, God, Life | 1 Comment

Consider: Christianity – This Week

Making prayer journals

What would my life be like if I had not been born a Christian? I would never have tasted a piece of bacon if I had been born in a Jewish family! And if I had been born in Nigeria and Muslim, caring for hospice patients and their families would have never been such a life-changing experience for me!

This is Consider Christianity Week. You can learn more about this time of focus that is held annually the week before Easter from my friend and author, Elgin Hushbeck. He says,

The main goal of Consider Christianity Week is to equip Christians with the knowledge and ability to Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do so with gentleness and respect (1 Pet 3:15). Not only will this strengthen their faith, but it will increase the effectiveness of their witness.

Christianity is more than just religion. It is a way that I have learned to live my life according to the Scriptures handed down through the teachings and examples of Jesus Christ and the prophets before Him. The traditions of the Church Jesus established through His hand-picked disciples and the experiences I have had with the Holy Spirit as the teacher and guide through reason and inspiration as I have continued to grow in my relationship with Him has given me a living faith that has grown both toward God and my brothers and sisters in the faith.

Jesus gave me two mandates:

1) Love my LORD with all my heart, mind and strength and love others as I love myself.

2) Go & make disciples, baptizing and teaching everything I have taught you!

And Peter reminds me to do that with gentleness and respect. And that is where I am in my relationship with Jesus. I am sharing what Jesus has done in my life and encouraging others to get to know Him too. Consider belief in Jesus Christ!

Note: Several of the Energion authors are sharing their testimonies this week on our News website. Be blessed!

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The Truth, The Whole Truth!

I am the one who has seen the afflictions
that come from the rod of the Lord’s anger.
He has led me into darkness,
shutting out all light.
He has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

He has made my skin and flesh grow old.
He has broken my bones.
He has besieged and surrounded me
with anguish and distress.
He has buried me in a dark place,
like those long dead…

The thought of my suffering and homelessness
is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.                                  Lamentations 3:1-6 (NLT)

Sometimes life is just hard. Some days are more than difficult with loved ones ill, children trying to navigate through tough questions and circumstances, and job security and health insurance a thing of the past.

If we are men and women of faith, we turn to our Bibles looking for God’s promises. We come to study groups and join others in worship, all searching for answers, encouragement and guidance from our Savior. We want to know that His promises are true. We want to know we are not alone and that God understands. We need more than the promises.

In the first 20 verses of Lamentations Chapter 3, the writer expresses his frustration and bewilderment, his anger and hurt that God has allowed these terrible things to happen. I can surely relate to that! “Where are You, God?” “Do you hear me crying out to You?” I need to know that my Savior continues to walk with me every day.

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”

The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
to those who search for him. Lamentations 3:22-25 (NLT)

By reading at least the whole chapter, I get a full message from God, His important message: He is with me all my days. He affirms that there will be difficult days. When I cry out to Him and wonder where He is in troubled times, He assures me He is with me and won’t leave me.

Take some extra time with the LORD today. Instead of just reading:

The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. – Psalm 23:1 (NLT)

Read the whole psalm and remember all that the LORD is doing in your life every day!

Posted in Bible Study, Christian Living, Devotion | 1 Comment

No Resolutions in 2017

I have spent the last two months doing more listening than talking. That’s a change for me. I feel really good. That should not be a surprise! So here I am on the first days of the year and what do I hear as a mandate for me in the coming year? I hear the word “commitment,” not resolution.

My online dictionary says “Resolution” is “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” My decision. My determination to make the resolution happen. How has that worked for me in the past? Not very successfully.

On the other hand, the dictionary says “Commitment” is “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.” For me, commitment is a daily desire on my part to set my mind on God and His plan for my day, my week, my life. I made a commitment to Henry when we married 17 years ago, relying on God, His strength and promises, to keep me true to the marriage covenant we made. It’s because of God that we are better than we were 17 years ago!

Last night I was reading about Joseph in Matthew 1. There’s little we know about Joseph and yet, he is the human father that God chose to care and protect His son, Jesus and His mother, Mary. Out of all the men in Judea, God chose a carpenter, but He chose a carpenter who listened and obeyed! Like Mary, Joseph is given a difficult word from God: go ahead with your betrothal to Mary for the child she carries has been conceived by God; she is still pure. But no one in their family or village is going to know that. Even if they told people this story, they probably wouldn’t believe them. They would probably think it was just a story made up to cover their “sins.” But Joseph takes God’s Word, His difficult Word, and acts in obedience. Why? Because he has a close relationship with God. Joseph spent time every day with God. When God brought encouragement to him, Joseph rejoiced. When God brought a difficult task to him, Joseph accepts God’s Word, he trusts His Word, he relies on His Word and re-orients his life to conform to that Word.

So as I tell Abba how I want to draw even closer to Him this year, I want to hear His voice. I want to walk in His way throughout the year in all things. I will rejoice in encouragement and I will obey even in the difficult times. As you join me in reading these two Scriptures, let’s slow down and not just nod in agreement. Let us consider how these words can be encouragement but they can also be difficult. Will I trust and obey in both circumstances?

Above all else, you must live in a way that brings honor to the good news about Christ. Then, whether I visit you or not, I will hear that all of you think alike. I will know that you are working together and that you are struggling side by side to get others to believe the good news.

Be brave when you face your enemies. Your courage will show them that they are going to be destroyed, and it will show you that you will be saved. God will make all of this happen, and he has blessed you. Not only do you have faith in Christ, but you suffer for him. You saw me suffer, and you still hear about my troubles. Now you must suffer in the same way.                                                                         – Philippians 1:27-30 (CEV)

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.                 – Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)

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What Is Friendship Worth to You?

when-we-are-oldFor the last year, I have tried very hard to delete all the political entries my Facebook friends have posted. I just could not read all that political rhetoric. Facebook is a wonderful way to keep up with my family and friends who live throughout this world. I had hoped that Tuesday would be the end to all the politics. I was sadly, very sadly, disappointed.

Friends are lashing out in anger and disgust because their candidate did not win and their friend did not vote correctly and so – of course – that made the difference in who won the 2016 Presidential Election!!! And if you think this is only a Democratic lashing – I could put names on a list of Republicans who did the same thing after the 2012 Presidential Election!!! It is impossible to bring understanding to my way of thinking!

I have a friend that I have shared a friendship with for over 50 years. To be exact, we met in second grade, 54 years ago. We currently live about 600 miles apart. We see each other every few years. But we can pick up the phone and talk like we saw each other last week. Who is your oldest friend? How long have you known each other?

Make new friends, but keep the old.

One is silver, and the other is gold.

What value do we place on friendship? I don’t mean that list of 358 people who are listed as “Friends” on Facebook. I mean people that when your loved one dies, this person is there. They listen. They have extra Kleenex. They know the way to bring you comfort and, most importantly, healing. And when the world, ie your job, the IRS, in-laws (to name a few), knock you down and leave some bruises, a friend can restore humor and perspective that keeps the balance in a world gone mad.

Friends also do not allow politics to cut a friendship, because friends learn from each other, especially when they have different views about political issues. They learn when they look through the lens of another. They discuss a problem, not to try to convince the other person to give up their convictions, but to learn how someone might think differently and come to their convictions.

So if you took the time to read this and know that you have slapped at a friend in the past year or the past week because of different political voting – shame on you! Pick up the phone – no, don’t do a post on Facebook – Pick up the phone and call your friend. “I’m sorry” are two of the most powerful words you can speak. They are right after “I love you” on the Powerful Words List.

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christmas-2003-croppedWill I stop missing you … in time?
Will I stop seeing you in the distance … in time?
Will time become more or less meaningful … in time?
I guess time will tell.

At first time had no meaning. You were not here.
You were there. I wasn’t.
Each day was made of endless minutes without you.
Each night a solitude when I listened for your step, your voice.

Then time began to quicken. There were weeks, then months, then years.
And yet you have not aged in my mind’s eye.
You still have that stare, with those “old eyes” that know more than they should.
You still have that unexpected laugh, which lights up my world with a joy.

Time has passed. Your friends have married. They have children.
I weep for what could have been, but is not.
I weep for words not spoken,
For possibilities without fruit.

And then, time brings a peace. A smile.
Time will soon mean nothing.
You and I will have more than time.
We will have … forever.

Posted in Family, Grief, Poetry, Uncategorized | 4 Comments