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Monday, December 25, 2017

Advent Journey: Day 25, Hope


Merry Christmas!  It's hard to believe we have made it to the 25th day of our Advent Journey and have come to an end as we celebrate the Birth of our Lord Jesus!  It has been an incredible journey with you, and I am so glad we have shared these days of reflection and soul-seeking and truth-finding in God's Word together.  I am glad that we have remembered the coming of Christ to Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.  Today was Christmas Day, and after watching It's a Wonderful Life I am writing my final blog for the season.  I have to be honest, it was an unconventional, unexpected type of Christmas Day for our little family.  Christmas Eve was wonderful, but today our travel plans got changed due to weather and it wasn't the picture-perfect Christmas for which I had hoped.  I was a little disappointed.  Hope differed makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.  (Proverbs 13:12)  We all have hopes around Christmastime.  We hope that we might receive that special present...we hope we can pay our bills and finish the year well...we hope that our kids don't catch the winter bug going around...we hope that our holiday baking and cooking turned out okay...we hope that time off from work won't create too much stress in the New Year...we hope that we can really stick to those resolutions in 2018 that we're already thinking about...we hope that we can get along with family at all the holiday parties...we hope that it will be a white Christmas...

But sometimes our hopes are deferred.  Because that is life.  Just like George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life,  we realize that our days aren't perfect and sometimes even Christmas is far from perfect.  Maybe this Christmas you feel alone.  Maybe you are waiting for that prodigal child to return or for your sister to call or for your spouse to forgive you. Maybe, like our family experienced, the winter weather has made a change in plans and your vacation time is going to be spent a little differently than you had planned.  Maybe you are mourning the loss of a loved one who passed away this past year, or even years ago, but Christmas just seems to be the most difficult and painful time of the year for you.  Maybe you had to work on Christmas and couldn't even take off to be with family.  Maybe you had a beautiful Christmas, but there is still something more, something deeper that you are longing for, that seems to be missing.  Hope deferred.

Christmas is all about heart- about the love of Christ come to earth to live and die for us and give us eternal life.  But in the midst of real-life (unlike the Hallmark holiday movies), sometimes we are heart-sick, even at Christmastime.  And for that type of illness, there is only one remedy, Proverbs' wisdom tells us.  Desire fulfilled.  God created us with such deep longings and desires.  We are hard-wired to desire. We are knit together in a way that creates us with very specific desires and hopes.  But there is one unique and absolute longing that is in every human soul which must be met for Christmas Hope to be fulfilled.  C.S. Lewis writes of this soul-longing:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy,
the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

We may experience hopes deferred- both in the minuscule and monumental experiences of life.  But the only possible way for us to ever experience true desire fulfilled, which leads to the Tree of Life is to place our Hope in Jesus, the Baby born in Bethlehem, the Savior of the World.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is Psalm 43. Verse 5 says:

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

I love how personal this Psalm gets.  I love how it asks that deep, penetrating question, calling oneself out from hope deferred and placing one's hope in GOD ALONE.  And that hope turns to praise and worship!

The Apostle Paul gets very personal with the human experience and struggle as well, when he writes his profound letter to the church in Rome:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice but ty the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God...Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
(Romans 8:20-25)

Just seven chapters later, He quotes from the prophet Isaiah, and He very clearly points to Jesus Christ as our one and only, forever hope.

And again, Isaiah says,
"The Root of Jesse will spring up,
One who will arise to rule over the nations;
in Him the Gentiles will hope."
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him,
 so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
(Romans 15:12-13)

There it is- the Christmas message packaged in just two plain verses.  The God of hope is the only One who can fill us with all joy and all peace as we trust in HIM this Christmas and always.  Jesus is the Root of Jesse, He is the King Forever who will rule the nations and spring up to offer both Jew and Gentile Hope. To offer YOU and ME hope!  During Advent, we have reflected on the coming of Christ to Bethlehem when He was born in a manger long ago...but now we anticipate the arrival of his Second Coming, when He will rule forevermore and joy and peace will be ushered in with all perfection.  I cannot wait for the day when every hope deferred is crushed by the Tree of Life, who fulfills the longing of our souls and gives us life eternal, which we so desire.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas with hope rooted in the Root of Jesse!  I pray that these 25 days of journeying through Advent with simple words and Biblical treasures has led your heart and mine straight to the heart of Christ and reminded all of us what true Christmas HOPE is all about.

Advent Journey: Day 24, Cookie


I decided yesterday to not open my laptop to do my blog, so that I could focus on Christ and on family, as our tradition is to do our Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve.  So thank you for bearing with me as I catch up today!  Before we dive into the word for yesterday's Advent Journey, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas! Let us rejoice in Christ our Savior and be filled with joy today!

So "Cookie" was the word for Day 24.  Hah!  This one is the most un-spiritual, lighthearted words on the list...and I'm not sure what got into my head when I wrote that word out for our Advent Journey...what did I imagine blogging about? But it is a fun word and I'm glad it's on our list to focus on, because Christmas should be filled with cheer...and feasting...and cookies!

So I asked my Dad yesterday, while he was cooking his homemade sauerbraten and spaetzles and baking my Grandmom's Polish Bread recipe with Jamie, "What in the world do I write about with the word cookie?" And thankfully, my Dad came through and sparked some ideas...!

Don't we all love cookies at Christmas?  I have special memories of baking cookies with my parents when I was younger, and now Jamie and I have a lot of fun baking together.  I remember when I was very young, leaving cookies and milk out for Santa and carrots for his reindeer on Christmas Eve.  It was magical.  I remember the special Santa mugs and Christmas plates that we had for our treats for Santa.  Children around the world wait for their gifts from Santa, and in turn, leave their own gifts out for Santa.  

In light of the gifts we give to Santa, let's search our hearts and ask ourselves what gifts we are going to bring to Jesus this year.  The wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  What is on your heart to give to the Lord? What would you like to present to him, not just at Christmas, but in the coming year?

One of the gifts I want to intentionally bring to Jesus this coming year is joy.  Because He is the giver of true joy, I want to live in that joy daily.  It has to be a choice, and sometimes even a sacrifice, but it will be a gift well worth receiving and giving.  What about you?  Is there something you know you could give to Jesus this year?

The Lord tells His people in Hosea 6:6 (New Living Translation):

I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.

More than gifts of offerings and sacrifices, more than even our tithes and our duties and good works, God truly desires our hearts.  He desires us to know Him intimately and personally, to have relationship with Him.  While it is good to go to church, to read our Bibles, to do kind things for others...if there is no heart behind it, if there is no relationship behind it, if there is no love for Christ behind is meaningless.  

So as we embark on the new year, may 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, 12 be our pledge.  May we bring the gifts to Jesus this year that He desires, above all- love.  May we know Him fully and invite Him into our hearts to know us in the most remarkable, transformative way.  May He be our King, and may we, with the wise men, bow down and worship Him. 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things...For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Advent Journey: Day 23, Miracle


I've always believed that miracles could happen, but I just didn't realize or expect that I would personally experience a miracle, or better yet, more miracles than I can count in just a few years...Today's Advent Journey word is so close to my heart, because of the miracles I have witnessed and lived out recently.  Every day, Jamie and I tell Joey he is a miracle, because he truly is our miracle baby.  When our little guy opened the advent box this morning, with his usual excitement and anticipation, we once again looked at him and reminded him that his life is a miracle!  Jamie and I are both so grateful to be alive and have this "bonus time" here on earth, as illness threatened both our lives two and three years ago...the Lord not only saved our lives and gave us this amazing gift of marriage, but our Great God defied the medical experts and surprised us with a baby we weren't supposed to ever be able to have.  Nothing is too difficult or impossible with God, nothing!  So often I forget and I doubt and I fear and I worry. So often I don't believe.  So often I rely on earthly strength and worldly wisdom, forgetting that God's WORD is truer than true, and His promises are yes and amen in Christ Jesus!

While we don't always understand what God is up to, and we don't always get answers in the time or fashion that we would like, God is making miracles every day, if only our eyes and ears and hands and hearts would be open to our incredible, powerful God!  While God has not miraculously healed my vision, I have found that in the time being, the greater miracle is that when people see the tape on my glasses, they often ask what it's for (it's fun to watch strangers look at me curiously and try to figure it out!).  When they inquire, then I have the opportunity to share my story and share of all the countless miracles God has done in my life- including the miraculous healing of my hearing after being completely deaf in my left ear.  When I share about these other miracles on my journey, I can point to Jesus and His ultimate saving power- the Savior of our souls who gives life eternal.  (I'm not always as good at verbally expressing my heart- writing comes more naturally to me when I want to share things of the soul and of faith, but I eagerly ask God for those opportunities and for Him to give me the words to share...I don't want to pass up those moments!)

I don't have the time or space to write here every miracle that has occurred in my life since 2014 and even in the few years leading up to my diagnosis and Jamie's (that's why I am writing my book, to testify to God's greatness and glory), but I just want to declare today that our God is faithful, and that if you are waiting for a Christmas miracle, I am praying for you, my friend, that God will come through for you in ways that you never even imagined or expected!  God is with us, God is for us, and God is glorious!  One thing we have to remember is to not put our faith in that which we hope or ask for, but rather place our faith in the Person of Jesus Christ.  We must not place our faith in the answer we wait for, but in the One who will answer us according to His perfect and good plan.

I'll always remember what I wrote on my bathroom mirror in the summer of 2014 when I found out I had a brain tumor.  My dear friend and prayer warrior, John, who is an elderly man that is so passionate in his faith and prayers, gave me a picture of a rainbow to remind me that God makes miracles.  I stuck that picture of the rainbow to my mirror and then wrote under it, emphatically "GOD MAKES MIRACLES EVERY DAY!" I needed to remind myself of this and to wake up every morning with the expectant heart for a miracle.  If we live with the expectation and belief in what God is doing, there is incredible joy and peace.  Even if our circumstances look grim and trials seem to flood our lives and overwhelm us, there is a greater reality- the reality of the realm of the miraculous and the eternal.  Jesus Christ came to usher in life, hope, victory, and peace.  He is our miracle this Christmas and forevermore!  Even though I have experienced tangible, unbelievable miracles in my own life, on ordinary days or difficult days, I need to remind myself of this truth and to challenge myself to walk in accordance with HIS WORD and not the worries of my world.  I want to leave three scripture passages today for us to dwell on- may they saturate our souls and allow us to embrace the miracles God has for us this Christmas and in the New Year!

Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it: “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!”
(Mark 9:23-25)

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
(Luke 1:34-38)

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:14-21)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Advent Journey: Day 22, Mystery


This is the great mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey. The God of love who gave us life sent His only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that He walks with us.
(Henri Nouwen, Gracias)

Today's word for the Advent Journey is Mystery.  My first thought was instantly the mystery of the Incarnation- God becoming flesh.  As one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, reflected on the mystery of Christmas, He pointed to God-with-us, Emmanuel, and how Jesus is with us forever and at every moment, knowing our struggles, meeting our needs, never leaving us nor forsaking us.  I decided to dig a little deeper into the New Testament, mostly Paul's letters to the early churches, and see what I could find on the topic of "mystery".  There is so much to unpack!  I'm not going to write much tonight, myself, but rather just share some of the incredible verses I found about the mystery that was hidden in ages past, yet revealed in Christ Jesus and available to us as a free gift and treasure.  Ok, are you ready?  There's a lot, but it's powerful, it's truth, and it's the unveiling of the great mystery for all time and space and all people- the mystery made known in the baby born in a manger! 

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
(Colossians 1:25-28)

Now to Him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith- to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
(Romans 16:25-27)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ...In Him we have redemption through HIs blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment- to bring unity to all things in Heaven and on earth under Christ.
(Ephesians 1:3-10)

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God's wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.
(1 Corinthians 2:6-8)

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power...this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
(Ephesians 3:2-12)

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
(Colossians 2:2-3)

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.
(Ephesians 6:19)

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.
(1 Timothy 3:16)

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
(Colossians 4:2-4)

I cannot say much else- the Apostle Paul shared so eloquently the picture and intricate details of the incredible mystery of the GOOD NEWS, the Gospel- for both Jew and Gentile.  All I can say is that I am grateful to be a recipient of such good news and to be an heir of Christ Jesus the King. I am so overwhelmed when I think upon the glory of Christmas and the Holy Mystery wrapped in swaddling clothes.  Let us just pause for a moment and be in awe of that Mystery.  And if you've never surrendered your life to the mystery of Christ, there's no better time than the week of Christmas to bow before the King of Kings and give your life to Him, for He so graciously has given His life to you and to me, for you and for me. Amen.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Advent Journey: Day 21, World


When I read the word for Advent this morning, World, so many images came to mind.  I pictured the celebration of Christmas around the world in so many cultures, languages, with various traditions and customs- all so beautiful!  Of course "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!" popped in my head as well.  Truly, we have a reason to celebrate and a reason for real and lasting JOY!  I also thought of Luke 2, the Christmas story, and once again mediated on the fact that the Gospel is for all people around the world.  The angel declared that this baby boy would be good news of great joy for all the people!  

And the angel said to them,
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths
and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!"
(Luke 2:10-14)

Isn't it amazing, too, that the heavenly host in their praise song declared that there would be peace on earth among those with whom His favor rests?  Peace around the world- isn't that something of which we all dream and for which our spirits long? Yet we feel so very caught up in the midst of strife after strife.  But, it is truth: Jesus is our Peace.  He is the Prince of Peace, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, and He is coming again to reign.  As we celebrate Advent, we remember His coming 2000 plus years ago, but we also await and anticipate His second coming, His ultimate and final reign, when He will make all things right again and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.  We long for peace, because we were made for peace.  I wrote a worship song recently called "Like the Dawn" (I can't wait to share this one with you all!) and the chorus goes like this:

Jesus is the name that brings us Peace.
Jesus is the name of Victory
Emmanuel, You came to give us Life.
Crucified with Christ, we are Alive!

As we consider the gift of Jesus, the gift of Life, the gift of the Savior, the gift of Peace and how this Great Gift of Christmas is for the entire World, my mind drifts off to friends near and far- especially those in faraway lands.  Tonight I am praying a special prayer for five people that are a part of our family, but we won't get to see this Christmas...our Compassion sponsor children.  Julieta in Guatemala, Ronald in Uganda, Mixi in Indonesia, Livia in Brazil, and Namata in Uganda.  I share a lot about our baby boy, Joey, with you all, but I want you to know, these 5 children and teens are so incredibly special to us and a true part of our family.  Although we haven't met all of them yet (I dream of that experience this side of heaven for each one of our Compassion kids- I've had the incredible joy of meeting several sponsor kids over the years in Africa, Asia, and Latin America), I imagine what Christmas will be like for them this year.  When I receive their letters int the mail, I can't tell you how excited I get.  I want our Joey to experience that excitement and that connection with them as he grows.

Julieta is such an artist, so creative and thoughtful-I love her drawings and she writes beautifully.  Ronald is a true leader, very gifted in sports and music and in so many areas, but also a prayer warrior with strong faith. Mixi's letters are filled with affection, enthusiasm, and expression- she's just precious.  We don't know little Livia yet because we just began her sponsorship this week as the Lord put her on our hearts, but we are excited to get to know her!  Namata has a passion for sharing the Gospel and truly serving others- she shines!  Just as parents love to "brag" on their kids and show others how special they are, I want to share our sponsor students with you all, because each one is so dear to Jamie and me, and to the Lord.  We believe, in faith, that God is doing something mighty in each one of their lives.   (I am so proud of my sponsor kids that have graduated as well!!  They are forever a part of my heart and my life!)  So this Christmas, I try to imagine what it would be like to celebrate Jesus' birth in Guatemala, Uganda, Indonesia, and Brazil.  I have a little nativity which I bought in Uganda in 2010, when I met Ronald and Namata (and dear Whitney, who has graduated).  That nativity is a reminder to me that the Christmas story is not just for us here in the United States, but for all people, in all times and ages, and in every country around the world.  The Christmas story is for young and old alike, for poor and rich alike, for men and women alike, for every nationality, tribe, and tongue.  Jesus came to rescue each one of us, and He is the giver of peace- peace for the soul and peace on earth.

Thank you for letting me share these five important young ones with you. Their pictures light up my own face as I see the God-given life and potential and purpose in each one of them!  I can't wait to see all that the Lord will do in their lives!  I want to also encourage you this Christmas- if you want to be a part of what God is doing around the world, why not take that step to sponsor a child in Jesus' name and become the encouraging cheerleader in his or her life?  Exchanging letters and photos is so fun, so simple now with options online. For just over $1 a day, you could change the life of a child forever.  For a little one living in the dark shadows of poverty, you can help shine the light of Christmas into their lives by lifting them out of their circumstances and into hope- hope found in Jesus.

Compassion's program is Christ-centered, Church-based, and all about Children.  It's not a community development or relief program, but rather a child development program, truly investing in the God-given potential in each child's life.  I love Compassion's commitment to integrity, financial accountability, and most-importantly, their unapologetic commitment to Jesus and the Gospel.  I love that Compassion empowers the local church in countries all over the globe to really reach the children in their communities in the ways that are most needed. I love that my relationships with my compassion kids is so personal and special.  If you are at all interested in sponsoring, here is a link with the children who have been waiting the longest- some of them over 365 days.  Wouldn't it be the most incredible Christmas gift ever for one of these children to find out that you chose them- that you decided to be their sponsor?!

To finish today's Advent Journey, let us praise the Savior of the WORLD with

Joy to the world!
The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart
Prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing...

Joy to the earth!
The Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy...

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found...

He rules the world
With truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love...