Silence

In the silence and darkness of the sultry, summer night they donned their hoods and robes and in the cloak of darkness rode into the night. Without hindrance they took up their torches and set fire to the crosses, the very representation of a love they knew nothing of, a love they could never comprehend.

Down through the years, they rode, leaving a trail of tears, a trail of blood, a trail of hate until the trail became a road and the road became a highway.

They no longer hide behind a mask and robe, they no longer ride out in the darkness of the night. They no longer hide their hate.

In our silence, we allowed the sin of a nation to grow. In our silence we allowed the beast to remain unchained. In our silence and our blindness, we allowed the hate to not even fear the light of day.

When will we stand and say enough?

When will we stand with our brothers and our sisters and declare, no more, no more, enough?

Yes, No, Maybe?

“I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary. “May it be done to me, according to your word.” (Matthew 1:38)

I’m sorry to say that probably would not have been my first response. Whatever you want Lord. I would have thought of my own self first. Why me? There are only 400 people in the whole town of Nazareth. They will all know. Who’s going to believe it? Why me? I’m too young. What will Joseph think? What will he say? What will he do? I can’t do it. I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear you. That would be me. More like Jonah in the belly of a whale, than Mary. Like Jonah though, I’m learning that pretending you can’t hear doesn’t work with God.

Mary just says yes and leaves all the rest up to God. What was it like to carry the promise of God within her? It must have changed her not only physically, but spiritually.

After the angel left, Mary set out to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she cries out, “How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill what he has spoken to her!” (Luke 1:43-45)

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill what he has spoken to her. God said it. Mary believed it. She made room for the promise in her life. It wasn’t convenient. It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t an easy journey. In the face of impossibility, Mary believed.

Do you know that you also have the promise of God within you? You just have to believe.

Making room for Jesus in our lives is never easy.

It isn’t always comfortable or convenient. The journey isn’t always a clear, clean path. There are many times it seems downright impossible. Like Mary, when we believe, God will never leave us. He doesn’t ask us to make the journey alone. Let us go together and be servants of the Lord.

 

I Am Gabriel

“Do not be afraid Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” (Luke 1:13)

God always sets the stage for His story, His narrative with a different scene than we would. An unexpected event. Jesus’ birth story, begins more than a year earlier while a temple priest serves is serving.

God sends his best angel to deliver a message. Zechariah is the priest chosen to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. “An angel of Lord appeared to him.” This angel told Zechariah not to be afraid, his prayer had been answered. His wife, Elizabeth would have a baby. He told Zechariah many things about this son whose name would be John. “He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children.”

Then Zechariah did what I think most of us would have done, “How can I know this?” He focuses on the how of the message instead of the promise of the message.

“I AM GABRIEL, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news.”

oops, yep, I would have probably asked the same thing. So, I Am Gabriel, proceeds to tell Zechariah that he will “now listen.” Literally. No more talking for you.

Gabriel tells Zechariah, John will be filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb. I think like Zechariah, I would have been overwhelmed. First, why me? After 400 years, why me? Second, filled with the Holy Spirit? No one had ever been filled with the Holy Spirit. Certainly not before they were born. Third, Elizabeth is a little old.

God sent John to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. From birth, John knew God’s plan for him. There aren’t any stories of John and Jesus playing together as little boys. They would have at the least met when their families traveled to the Temple. I wonder what their conversations would have been. “Hey, Jesus. Get ready!” “No, John, you are to prepare the way. You’re up first.”

God always has a plan. He sets the stage with those He chooses. Not the stars of the day. He answers Zechariah’s prayer. He shows favor on Elizabeth. He gives grace to replace their “disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:25) God takes our rituals, our plans, and He shows us a better way.

Perfect? Or, Hot Mess?

 

“How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3)

If your Christmas tree could talk what story would it tell? Would it whisper, perfect? Or, would it shout, Hot Mess! For several years I fell into this idea that my tree, like my life, should be perfect. If I placed all the right ornaments just so, I could project perfection and beauty. I had a color theme every year. All angels, no Santa’s. I felt compelled to have a picture-perfect tree. Just in case Southern Living stopped by. Right? I know, certifiable.

That is not who I am. That is not my story. Trying to be someone else denies who God says I am. The messy me that can’t find two matching socks. The one who likes bright colors. Who says Christmas has to be red and gold? I checked the Bible to see what Jesus would do. His color was red. His tree didn’t even look like mine. His was about sacrifice. Mine was all about me.

Last year I pulled out all those mismatched ornaments. The less than perfect gaudy angels. The construction paper doves with foil wings. The fragile glass angels. The Santa’s and the photo ornaments the kids have given me. Those construction paper ornaments still covered with glitter and foil from the 60’s hold so many memories. Of a table littered with cookie cutters.  Red construction paper. Glitter.  Foil. Family.

I’ve discovered all these mismatched ornaments are so much more. Each one holds a memory. Forever tied to a person. A gift. Hands that lovingly glued it together. The child that hung it on the tree. It isn’t perfection that holds it together, it’s the love that made it, that shaped it, that wrapped it.

In Paul’s letter to the Gentile believers in Galatia, he reminds them they don’t need to become Jewish to be fully righteous. For me, creating that perfect tree was my need to be in control. To create an outward appearance of fitting in with those other perfect trees around me. Through my own human effort, I tried to be something I wasn’t.

My life is sometimes messy; many things are mismatched, and probably missing a little bit of glue. But, each memory, each piece of foil, or glue, or glitter-covered construction paper fits beautifully with the fragile china, handblown glass, and hand-carved angels. It is the memories and love that hold it all together. Like me, God’s Masterpiece.

It reminds me that God chose an unlikely place for a King to be born. A teenage mother, a reluctant father. A less than perfect time. There was no Town Crier to announce the future King’s birth. There weren’t even family or friends to share in the event.

It was in a messy stable. The only witnesses some shepherds and animals in the manger. This baby boy who would one day die for me. Die for you. Die for all mankind. He would redeem his people.

The heart of Christmas isn’t the perfection of my tree; it is in the perfection of the One who hung on a tree. The heart is Jesus.

Do You Feel Like Molded Plastic?

Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10-11 CSB) 

“He doesn’t have any articulation, he is just molded plastic.” According to Pete, who was four at the time, his new toy couldn’t battle as well as some of his other favorites. I will be perfectly honest. On that particular day, I couldn’t remember what articulation meant and I had to consult Mr. Webster for the correct definition.  According to Webster, the most common usage is the act of giving utterance or expression.

Pete learned articulation is also the action or manner of jointing or interrelating. The articulation of the limbs. His new toy couldn’t properly move its arms or legs. It was less effective when met with resistance.  Now seven, his toys are often on the battlefield, fighting it out. Some days the good guys win and sometimes they don’t. But they continue to enter the fray and stand their ground.

He was well aware, even at four, that battles are better fought and won with limbs that move. Molded plastic just doesn’t fight well. Do you sometimes feel as if you are on the battlefield without any articulation? Maybe you feel a little like molded plastic. Unable to move or speak.

Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians by reminding them how to battle in this world.  In verses 10-11, he reminds us, Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil.”

So often I try to fight my own battles. Don’t worry, God, I can do it. Like a stubborn two-year-old, I still try to do it on my own, my own way. It never turns out well. Without God, I am like molded plastic, unable to stand against my enemy’s schemes. He simply tells me I am not enough and I topple. Without God’s armor, I am unable to stand.

Several years ago, I entered a season of shattered dreams. Brokenness. Hurt. The effort of moving was like pushing through molasses. Just breathing seemed to require a strength I did not possess. There were many days I did not think I would make it through. Days. Weeks. Months. I lived with my broken dream. But God.

During those dark days, the only light I clung to was a promise. God promised to never leave me. When everything else was wrong. God was there. I learned to stand in His strength. When I entered an unknown world, God met me in my brokenness.

Luke 1:17 says “make ready for the Lord a prepared people.” In the Greek, the term make ready describes internal preparation. To be prepared for battle required me to relinquish my two-year-old self.  Allow God to prepare me. To stand.

Today your battle may be trying to get teeth brushed. Backpacks packed.  Kids out the door. On time.

You may be facing a wall of doubt, fear, or anger.

A doctor’s report.

A loss that threatens to pull you under.

Loneliness that is suffocating.

Unknown. Broken. Impossibility.

God is possibility. In the face of fear. The unknown. The broken. He wants to stand with us. To let go of our two-year-old self. We do not battle alone. He will always help us achieve the impossible, even while asking us to do the improbable.

“For this reason, take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.” (Eph v.13 CSB) 

Not like molded plastic. Not static standing. Standing ready for battle. Fully articulated. With limbs ready for battle. Giving utterance of God’s Word.  God’s Truth. God, you are my shield. God, you fight for me. God, you stand with me.

Like Pete’s battles, some days we feel as if we are no longer able to stand. We’ve taken to many hits. We feel as if the umpire is giving the final count. It is in those moments that we continue to give utterance to the truth of God’s word. To stand in the strength of God. Fully prepared. Never alone.

Dear God, help me relinquish my fear, my broken impossibility. Help me stand. Fully prepared. God show me in the midst of my battle You are with me. In Jesus’ Name. Amen

Focus, Focus, Focus!

“I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2 CSB)

 

After a recent visit from my grand-daughters, I set about reorganizing, cleaning, and putting away random toys. I started to put my nativity back in its “proper” order when God nudged me. Let’s be real, God generally gives me more than a gentle nudge to get my attention.  Looking at my nativity through the eyes of a three-year-old gave me a completely different perspective.

I organize my nativity with Mary and Jesus gazing adoringly at the baby Jesus, front and center. The cow and donkey are discreetly behind them. The shepherds are outside the stable, on a “hill” complete with palm trees, the flutist, the bag-piper, and the drummer are a little closer. The three wise men approach from the right, a little further out, since they aren’t really there when Jesus is born. Obadiah sits on top of Alexa since he is smaller than my other sculptures (I’m pretty sure he wasn’t even alive when Jesus was born). All nice and tidy. Much like my attempts at organizing my life.

Ally put Jesus at the center and everyone surrounds him. Close. All eyes are on Jesus.

A three-year-old’s view of life. Simple. Just look at Jesus.

Put Him at the center of all you do. Jesus is the center of their adoration, their attention, and their lives.

As I move into the new year God keeps pulling my mind back to that view. Three weeks into 2019, how’s it going? Are you already regretting some of those goals you wrote down? Looking back at past years goals, I see a pattern. They are the same. Every year.

These have been my goals for several years now:

  1. Lose 30 pounds by February, March at the latest.
  2. Be a better wife and mother
  3. Read the entire Bible.
  4. Get up at 5 am and spend the first hour with God.

Every year I get the same results.

RELAX, I promise I am not going to talk about SMART goals. Take a deep breath. There are a lot more qualified people to talk about that subject. If you want to learn about SMART goals, ask Google, or Siri, or Alexa.

As God kept reminding me of Ally’s view of life, I realized I was the focus of those goals. Not only were they unrealistic, but all the focus was also on trying to create an organized tidy life, an illusion that I wanted to create. God asked me what it would look like if I moved number four up to the number one spot?

Put Jesus at the center of my focus.

What if?

When seen through the eyes of a three-year-old, life is so simple. Just look at Jesus.

When I feel overwhelmed with my to-do list. Look at Jesus.

When I feel my life unraveling. Look at Jesus.

When I just said good-bye to sanity. Look at Jesus.

When the darkness keeps whispering, failure. Look at Jesus.

That is my focus this year.  In John 15, Jesus tells us to abide in him, to remain in him and he will abide in us. As I move into this new year I will be looking to Jesus for my peace and my joy. While my books and my tidy home may spark joy, true joy can only be found when we look to Jesus and not the world.

The Long-Awaited Messiah

“But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them.” (Luke 2:9)

Today, we celebrate the birth of a King. An unlikely King. An uncommon place. Two ordinary people. A motley crew of witnesses. A whole host of angelic messengers. You and me.

Sitting here today, looking at my imperfect tree. In the still, dark hour before the sunrise. Before the rush of the day. I sit with Jesus. He sits with me. I lean in to hear his whisper.

All that.

The announcement.

John. Zachariah, Elizabeth.

Mary. Joseph.

The shepherds. The Magi.

The gifts. The stable.

God’s Love.

 All that. Was for you. Will you let me be your Everyday Jesus?

I came to shine my light. In a dark world.

I came just for you.

Today is just the beginning of our journey.

Like Mary, treasure these things in your heart.

Meditate on what has been said. There is still much to learn.

Will you meet me here tomorrow?

Pull Up A Chair

“For my grandfather’s entire family deserves death from my lord the king, but you set your servant among those who eat at your table.” (2 Samuel 19:28) 

As the golden, orange leaves drift to the ground our eye is drawn to a mile-long table, groaning under the weight of an abundance of food. People are coming from every corner of the earth. Every age, every color, every race. They each carry their own chair, not one the same. Everyone finds a seat at the table.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see God’s story unfolding primarily through his chosen people, the Jews. As we watch their story unfold, we get a front row seat to an epic tale. Not a fairy tale, or a sci-fi movie. Not a comedy, or a reality tv show. No, we get to see a story of great victories and great loss. Amazing stories of conquering heroes. Betrayal. Murder. Love. Division. Unity. Jealousy. Anger. Promise. Hope. Love.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, we learn there is nothing new under the sun. The Bible is an epic story of God’s people. Unlike us, God gives a clear, honest, gut-wrenching story of His people. You and Me. A story of a lot of messed up people. The beauty of the story? God doesn’t want us to remain broken and messed up.

He sent a little baby to restore humanity. Jesus’ birth is what unites a divided people. His birth and ultimately his death on the cross erased the line that divided Jew from Gentile.

We can’t see the birth of Jesus without seeing the shadow cast by the cross.

As Jesus had his last meal on the night he was arrested, he reclined at the table with his followers. Before dinner, he washed the feet of his disciples. Even Judas, who would betray him. Still, he washed his feet. He invited Judas, his betrayer, to sit at the table with him.

He still invites us to sit at his table. No matter our past. No matter our betrayal. Do you feel disqualified to have a place at the table? Jesus family tree wasn’t much to write home about. King David, an adulterer, and murderer. Rahab, a prostitute. There is a long list of people that failed.

Yet Jesus invites us to take off our past. To let go of our shame, or hurt, the shattered pieces of our lives. He wants to wash our feet. He wants to recline at the table with us and listen to our stories. There is always room for one more at the table.

 

Photo by Jordan Arnold on Unsplash

Reservations? Sorry, No Room

 

“And laid him In a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:7)

Hesitantly, I slink into the room. Every face turns to me. Judgment immediately flickering across their faces. Once again, I have been found lacking. My bright, cotton dress doesn’t fit with their subdued silk designer fashion. My hair doesn’t fall into nice shiny, beachy curls. Even after 40 years of practice, my make-up will never look like theirs. I don’t fit. I will never measure up to that unspoken code. I feel left out. Alone in the crowd. Have you ever felt like you were peering through a window? Never invited to be part of the group?

In my father’s house, there’s a place for me. I am invited. He loves me just as I am. In my hot-pink, cotton dress, straight hair and slap-dash, make-up job. He loves me.

Mary and Joseph were unable to find a room anywhere in Bethlehem. Had word spread from Nazareth about their “situation”? Had they been left out? We don’t know. We only know “there was no room for them.” God made room for Jesus in the stable.

While we try to fit into a world that tells us bigger is better, more will fill the empty places. The penthouse suite is what we need. God challenges us to look at the world through the lens of His love. When I am broken, He can mend me. When I am lost, He will find me. When the road ahead is dark; He shines His light.

When there is no room; He makes room.

God invites us to look at the stable through the eyes of love.  In that little stable, God opened wide the door for everyone to enter.  He set the stage for our redemption., our restoration.

Making room for more. How like God to show  His promise and plan through a lack of room for Mary and Joseph. Everything was full. God, through His mercy, made room for more. He made room for all people to enter into His promise.  We don’t have to worry about a reservation, we are already invited. All we have to do is say yes.

 

 

Photo by KEEM IBARRA on Unsplash

Wrapped in His Love

 “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” ( Luke 2:7 KJV)

When I was in fourth grade, I had to memorize Luke 2:7-14. To this day I can still remember every King James Version word. It creates pictures in my mind of that night, so long ago.

I’ve never really given much thought to swaddling clothes. We can see in every painting or depiction of the scene, swaddling clothes was simply a beautiful, blue blanket. It was probably a gift at the baby shower.

Once again, my mind betrays me. I see through the lens of today’s culture. Today, swaddling is a technique of tightly wrapping a baby in a blanket. It is supposed to help the baby transition from the womb.

In the first century, swaddling clothes would have been strips of cloth wrapped around the baby’s limbs. It was believed they helped their arms and legs grow straight.  The angels told the shepherds, “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12 KJV)

God shows us two different pictures in those few words. Mary and Joseph were good parents, they wrapped Jesus with care so that he would grow straight. Then she lays him in a manger. A manger is just a fancy name for a trough. A trough, a dinner plate for the animals.

God wraps me with the same care in His Word. “I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight.” (Isaiah 45:2 KJV)

He wants to create a path for me, a straight way to follow.

The angels told the shepherds, “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12 KJV) The shepherds find Jesus exactly as the angels told them. Jesus is always found in places that aren’t expected.

He will always move outside what the religious teachers find “acceptable.” He still meets us today outside the walls of the expected or accepted.

Jesus didn’t come to be laid in a bassinet in the palace.  God laid aside His divine nature and became fully human. He did not come and rule as a King. He chose to become like you and me. Jesus chooses to sit beside us. To live life with us. To share in our joy, our sorrow, and our hurt. Wherever you find yourself today, my friend, Jesus wants to wrap you in His love.

 

 

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