Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Expecting

Ten years ago, I celebrated Christmas six months pregnant with DeLaynie, our first born. The experience changed how I think about Christmas.

There's something truly bizarre about pregnancy. Inside of your body, there is a person growing. This person is intimately connected to you, yet you know very little about them. You know that the child will be a mixture of his or her parents, but that's all the information that you have.

Now add in the fact that Mary has been told that her son would be the Son of God. Would God use her DNA like He used the dust to form Adam, or would He make Jesus from scratch? What would the Son of God look like, feel like? What would His cry sound like? How could she be so incredibly close to Him and yet know so little about Him? How could the Son of God need her, a young girl who had so little life experience and wisdom to offer?

Yet He would. The Son of God would need Mary to feed Him, carry Him, change His diaper. The Son of God would wear a diaper! The Son of God would live in all of the weakness and neediness of a baby.

Honestly, it's too much to even think about! How could God allow His glorious Son to experience such humility, such humiliation? I know why, but the how befuddles me.

We're still expecting Jesus, and we still have questions. We don't know the exact order of things. We don't know who will be on earth when He comes. We're intimately near to Him, yet the information we have is limited. Just like a pregnant woman scouring through books for new moms, we try to put the information together, but it's abstract, hazy at best. We see most of the pieces, but we can't quite fit them into a coherent picture of what it will be like.

But we know one thing. When Jesus comes back, it will not be like the first time He came.

He will come in glory and power, not humility and weakness. (Revelation 19:11-16)
His coming will be noticed by all, not just a few shepherds. (Revelation 1:7)
He will not need anyone to care for His needs, but those who belong to Him will be cared for... forever! (Revelation 21:1-8)

As I think about baby Jesus this Christmas, I can't help but contemplate King Jesus as well. It isn't as sweet and comfortable as the meek little Jesus in the manger. King Jesus isn't nearly as safe and easy to handle. But He is good, so very good!

We're looking for Your return, Lord, and we can't wait to see how it all fits together!


Friday, December 18, 2015

How Prayer Works

I saw this meme on Facebook the other day.

I think that it initially caught my attention because the little girl has red hair, and I automatically run to the aid of any red head under oppression.
 
 
But then it occurred to me that a lot of people think prayer works this way.
 
"What if I say the wrong thing?"
 
"Never pray for patience. You won't like how God answers."
 
"What if I tell God to do whatever He wants with my kids, and they end up getting hurt?"
 
"What if I tell God that I want His will, no matter what it is, and then I don't like it?"
 
 
It's not just young or immature Christians who think this way. When I was in high school, a speaker at a youth retreat told us, "I prayed for a wife for years, but then I heard on the radio that asking God for a wife means that I'm asking God to give me someone else's wife. I started praying for a woman to marry, and then I met my wife."
 
I wish I were kidding. Not only did he believe that God couldn't differentiate between his actual desire to get married and a sinful desire to have an affair with a married woman, he heard this explained on a Christian radio broadcast.
 
It really isn't just about prayer methods. How we pray reflects how we view God. If we see Him as our Father, our words and phrases take a back seat to honest conversation.
 
If you have a child or work with children, you know how hard it can be to understand what their little mouths are trying to tell you, and you know how hard any good parent, caregiver, or teacher is willing to work to understand them.
 
Today, a friend of mine re-posted this memory of a conversation that she had with her three year old foster son two years ago:
"I'm glad I can find the logic in a sentence like 'When my finger is broken and the toilet is harder hurt and I can't do like a diamond in the sky, what happens?'
The translation is: 'I smashed my finger in the toilet seat and think it's broken. You asked me to wiggle it (apparently like the motions to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) and it hurt.' He later added 'I will have to go to the big doctors house and you will come with me?'"
 
If my precious friend is willing and able to work that hard to understand her foster son, can't we believe that our heavenly Father is just as willing to hear our hearts, even when our words don't quite make sense?
 
 
 How does prayer work? Prayer, at its heart, is a matter of trusting that God is able to anything that He desires and that His desire is ultimately for His glory, which is our good.
 
Our God isn't waiting on us to figure out the correct terminology before He blesses us. He isn't holding out on giving us His good gifts until we get the wording just right. He wants us to talk to Him with love and respect, like a child would speak to a good Father. Because that's what He is, a Good Father.
 
 
 


Monday, December 14, 2015

What's Happening

Edwin has tremendously enjoyed having the opportunity to preach at a nearby church. It's also been fun for me to get listen to his preaching again. There's something glorious about watching how the godly pastor lives between sermons, and it only makes Sunday mornings more wonderful.

Edwin and Ella took a rapid trip to Alabama to see his mom. He doesn't have any vacation days at work yet, but he was able to arrange his days off to make the trip happen. He and Ella enjoyed their time with Granny Wina, even though it was very short. DeLaynie and I had a good time going to church, shopping, and enjoying each other's company. Individual time with each girl is always a treat!

We finished one part of the adoption process and are now moving forward with the dossier. This part of the adoption is very precise. We are getting more and more anxious to bring our little boy home, so please pray that our excitement fuels us to get the work done that is needed to get him here.

After speaking with another church planter who is planting "from scratch" (as opposed to starting a church with a core group from another local church), Edwin and I are beginning to develop a clearer picture for how God may continue His work in Jamestown. It was very, very helpful to speak with some people who have worked in this type of ministry for years.

We are going to send out a newsletter this week with more details about the strategy that God is giving us and how you can get involved. If you are interested, we would love for you to sign up to be a prayer partner by filling out the form on the right sidebar.

The last couple of weeks have been more challenging. Although the girls seem to be more settled each day, the Christmas season has emphasized the loneliness of moving for us grown-ups. It seems like our enemy has taken notice of our weakness and thrown a few extra attacks our way.

Please pray for us, that we'll respond to challenges with love and faith instead of fear or self-pity. Pray that God will further His work in Jamestown and that nothing will keep us from being faithful to His calling on our lives.

Friday, December 4, 2015

ReDefine: Love

 
 
My favorite book, possibly of all time, is a book written by a spinster named Corrie ten Boom who lived in Holland during World War II. The Hiding Place tells the story of how she grew up in a Christian family, hid Jewish people in her home to protect them from the Nazis, endured Nazi concentration camps, and found Christ at work in the midst of it all. She was a very normal woman who would have lived and died unknown, had God not written her such an incredible story and opened doors for her to tell it. Her writing and speaking career came at an exorbitantly high cost.
 
Her story is a story of bravery. Her story is a story of sacrifice. Her story is a story of grace.
But as I read each page, what punctured through everything else was that her story is a story of remarkable love.
 
This week brought some challenges into my world. It was nothing extraordinary, just normal pain in a broken world. They were circumstances that challenged me to love when I really didn't want to.
 
The scene that remains most powerfully with me was a moment shared between Corrie and her father after Corrie's heart is broken by a man that she loved. In a book describing grotesque crimes against humanity, it was a normal, everyday hurt that spoke to me the loudest. Even after surviving the torturous circumstances of a concentration, Corrie still gave weight to the hurt that she experienced in a typical situation. That in itself is encouraging.
 
Her father's answer to her hurt was inspired. As she lay in her bed, she dreaded the pat answers that most people offer in such situations, but that isn't what she received from him. Instead, he gave her a gift that would enable her to love the man who broke her heart as well as the men who would break her body and her spirit.
 
 
(Thank you, Mr. ten Boom, for making every bit of my parental advice look pretty pathetic.)
 
The answer that Casper ten Boom offered to his daughter has been the same answer that God has offered me as I have struggled to love people who don't seem to care about me.
 
I don't need for the pain to disappear. I need another way to love them, a way that doesn't depend on them loving me in return. I need the kind of love that God has for me.
 
That's the kind of love that can get us through the everyday hurts of this life, and it's the kind of love that got Corrie through the torture of a concentration camp.
 
As Corrie and her sister Betsie, went through the humiliation of medical inspection, Corrie had a sudden realization. For the two unmarried, middle-aged women, being stripped of their clothing and marched through chilly hospital corridors in front of male guards was agony. That was when Corrie realized that Jesus had also been stripped of His clothing, jeered at by crowds of people.
 
She whispered to her sister,"'Betsie, they took His clothes too.'
 
Ahead of me I heard a little gasp. 'Oh, Corrie. And I never thanked Him.'" (The Hiding Place, page 195)
 
Imagine it! In the midst of dehumanizing pain, Corrie and Betsie discovered Christ's sacrificial love for them! Instead of being angry at God for allowing their pain, they were grateful to Christ for experiencing pain for their benefit. As I struggled with own, minor hurts this week, these truths slowly worked on me, giving me new perspective and reminding me of the power of the cross.
 
Is there any hurt that Christ hasn't experienced on our behalf? He was betrayed, beaten, stripped, humiliated, tortured, and killed, all for us. In the midst of our suffering, we can find Him there, waiting for us to join Him.
 
Is there anything more wonderful than knowing that every attempt to separate us from God's love can be used to bring us a deeper, more intimate understanding of His sacrificial love for us?
 
 
Reprogramming my thinking isn't as fast of a process as I would like. My first reaction to hurt wasn't, "Thank You, Lord for the privilege of knowing You better." Instead it was, "God, why would You do this now?"
 Lord, keep teaching me these lessons, no matter how great the cost. I believe that knowing You is worth suffering every loss. Help me to believe it more each day.
 
To order Corrie's book, The Hiding Place from Amazon, click here
 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

O Come Emmanuel!

Edwin and I recently had the joy of going on an over-night date. It was a tremendously good opportunity to spend time with Edwin. With his weird work schedule, we don't get much quality time together. With the girls with my parents', we made the short trek to Buffalo. We went out to a movie, and there, next to the theater, was a Hobby Lobby! I didn't even know that there were Hobby Lobby stores in New York, so I obviously needed to spend at least 90 minutes walking through the thoroughly decked-out store.

Walking through a balanced mix of Scriptural Christmas decorations and snowmen, I suddenly experienced a rush of gratitude.
 
How am I so blessed that I get to know this Jesus?
How am I so incredibly lavished by grace that the baby in the manger is my dearest friend?
How can the Perfect One become so weak and frail, all for the sake of people who broke His heart?
Why was I born in a time and place where I could know the One for whom Israel waited for generations?
What kind of grace could hatch such an awesome plan as this: that God would become a baby, live among us, die for us, and be raised to bring us into new life?
 
The remnant of Israel waited for generations to see the Messiah. Many of them died long before He came, never seeing His promised One in the land of the living. You and I are incredibly blessed to live in a time when all who trust in Christ can have a personal, intimate relationship with the Most High God! We can know Jesus! Yet I find myself easily distracted by sad attempts to maintain the fading glory of earthly holiday trappings.
 
As I walked through the craft store, completely overwhelmed by God's grace to me, I begged Him to keep me from getting lost in all of the diversions that could pull me away from Him. I prayed that He would be my greatest joy this Christmas.
 
I pray the same for you.