Wednesday, December 25, 2013

O Holy Night

"O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn".

I love this Christmas carol. The fourth line,"'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth" swirled over and over in my heart this December. Like gentle white snowflakes fluttering to their home on the ground, these words found a home in my heart. I am humbled.
This well-known carol speaks old truth. As I pondered it, I heard - possibly for the first time - the wonderfully encouraging message. The soul (my soul) felt its worth!
I am worth Jesus leaving his Father's side to be born and live among us.
In moments of silence, in the nurturing of quiet, in the treasuring of truth, love is known; significance is experienced; worth is substantiated. My soul feels it.
I am so thankful.
The verse continues...
"A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn".
My soul feeling worth - a wonderful thrilling hope. A hope fully realized when Jesus completed his earthly journey he started on Christmas.

Oh what GREAT joy, Oh how glorious - I feel it!

The cross Jesus bore validated my worth.

"Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born..."
These words I've sung and loved for years lead me to fall on my knees, to worship the one who is the source of my soul's worth.
What about you? What truth have you heard this Christmas through words that are so familiar? Let's bless each other. Please leave a comment and share with me and the other Echoes of Grace readers.

Merry Christmas!

Josh Groban sings O Holy Night here. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Angels, Dreams, IMMANUEL

Matthew 1:23 quotes the prophet Isaiah, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel".

Immanuel - God with us, also a message communicating Gods guiding and helping someone fulfill their calling. One of the gifts 2013 gave our family was the picture of God's faithful work in our son's life guiding and helping him fulfill his calling.

May 2003. Our family gathered at Covenant Theological Seminary to celebrate Jeff's graduation. We were proud of our son earning his Master's of Divinity degree. We were even more proud of his heart to serve God in the local church. That weekend we also met Aubrey - his future wife. It was a very special time.

July 2013. Ten years later once again we gathered to celebrate. This time, New Life Burbank, a PCA church in California, was the setting. Jeff's was ordained to pulpit ministry. Bill, Jeff's dad, and a PCA ruling elder, gave the charge to Jeff.

(Both times, thankfully, my purse held a healthy supply of tissues.)

Ten years of waiting and praying for ordination. Ten years of experiencing Immanuel and his faithful work guiding and helping in ways not expected, and perfectly orchestrated.

Naomi, now 1; Judah 3.5 years
Those ten years were full. Jeff and Aubrey married and started a family. While Aubrey attended medical school, Jeff worked at a bank in a poorer section of Charleston, SC. His stories kept us entertained and stocked his sermon illustration file.

God unlocked two wonderful opportunities for interim pastor positions. Jeff led, preached, and faithfully shepherded those congregations. Dr. Aubrey's gifts of reaching out to the women in the congregation complemented Jeff well. Those years were God's training ground for California.

During that time, Jeff earned a second masters degree, Master's of Theology, and graduated with honors from Erskine Theological Seminary. 

Experience piled up. His pastor's heart grew and expanded. Together they learned ministry. Persistence blessed. All the time Immanuel was faithfully guiding and helping.

During those years of waiting and praying, we all experienced Immanuel, God with us.

Immanuel cloaked in faithfulness blessed with a loving and supportive family.

Immanuel cloaked in faithfulness abundantly provided for their needs.

Immanuel cloaked in faithfulness guiding them with each new opportunity.

Immanuel cloaked in faithfulness kept and preserved.

Immanuel - God with us in the waiting preparing Jeff and Aubrey for New Life Burbank.

Immanuel takes on deeper meaning for our family this Christmas. What about you? How have you experienced Immanuel during this past year?

"He who called you is faithful; he will surely do it."
I Thessalonians 5:24, ESV

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Angels, DREAMS, Immanuel

Four times in Matthew 1 and 2, God speaks to Joseph through a dream. Joseph, recognizing the wisdom from God in these dreams, obeys. Because of God's dream communication and Joseph's obedience Jesus is born and protected in those early years of his life.

I had a dream a few weeks ago. In my dream, my friend drove to the St. Louis airport to pick up her dad. As she drove toward the arrival door, she spotted him running toward her. He saw her from a distance and couldn't wait to wrap his arms around her. He was jumping over benches, suitcases, and other weary travelers to get to her, to be with her, to feel her close, and encase her in his love.

It was a dream. I know my friend's dad. This is not his personality.

God who came to earth to live among us that Christmas morning 2000 years ago also jumps over any obstacle to love us.

Just as God spoke to Joseph in his dreams, I saw an illustration of God in my dream.

Often times when I'm arriving at an airport, weary from travel, I walk out through the TSA check point and see many being welcomed into the arms of loved ones. Those loved ones wait... in many cases for long hours. They greet with hand-crafted signs and big smiles, but they don't run toward those they are greeting; they can't - the TSA makes sure of that. 

But God runs to us. He jumps over any obstacle to get to us, to enfold us in his arms, to whisper or shout the truth of his love to us. 

My dream pictures Christmas.

God jumped over the obstacle of the virgin birth.
God jumped over the obstacle of the culture of the day that told Joseph to divorce Mary.
God jumped over the obstacle of Herod with his jealous desire to kill the baby.

Obstacles are not obstacles in God's economy. They are steps to show the depth, the height, the length, the breadth of his love, his care, his desire, his concern.

A thought to ponder this Advent - What are some of the obstacles God has hurdled on your behalf to show you his love?

"... that you being rooted and grounded in love, may have the 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..."
Ephesians 3:17-19 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

ANGELS, Dreams, Immanuel

June 11, 2013. My husband Bill speeds up the hilly neighborhood road leading to our street. Even at 60 mph, others to the rear were gaining on him. He slows only slightly to turn. The broiling, billowing smoke tinged yellow and red at the end of the street stares back.

Heart pounding, sweat dripping, mind racing, he tears into the driveway, pulls up to the garage and jumps out of his truck. Ten minutes - only ten minutes to empty our home of the important and precious. The rest we may never see again.

An unknown truck follows him into our Black Forest driveway.

"Can I help you?" the driver askes.

"Do I know you?" Bill responds.

"No, I am Bob and this is my daughter Angela (she looks to be about 12). We live in Calhan (a ranching community, 30 miles to the east). We are just passing through and wondered if we could help." 

Hmmmm, our dirt road is a cul-de-sac. It is a destination, not a road to someplace else.

Decision... is Bob a good Samaritan? Or? Does Bill trust him?

Because of the girl, he decides yes.

Bill gathers our important papers, medications, and more. Bob and Angela take all the pictures with people in them off our walls and load them into the back of Bill's pick-up. They also grab a few other important looking things, like my old computer. Then they were gone.

Bill never saw them leave.
He never said, "thank you".

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
Hebrews 13:2 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Hand of God

 The Hand of God so evident
From the front
     so clearly seen this year.
Pondering particulars 
     often leads to tears.

Tears of joy and thankfulness
     for His presence in my days.
Tears of wonder and amazement
     for all His many creative ways.

Your hand, O God, protected
     in the midst of flames and smoke last June.
Your hand, O God brought comfort
     and kept from being consumed.

Your hand accompanied Your voice
     through the encouragements of friends.
Their words spoke truth and honor
     to this amazed and grateful one.

Your hand a guide for my hand
     as words tumbled from my pen.
Or drawn inside a sketch book,
     Your truth all new again.
From the back

Your hand orchestrated events
     that brought great joy to all.
We gathered, we celebrated, we worshipped.
     Before You in awe we fall.

To grasp Your hand, to hold on tight
     To walk with you today.
Father, that is my desire.
     Please continue to lead the way.

And on this day, Thanksgiving Day,
     I bow in wonder as I pray.
So thankful for your hand, O God
     that eased each moment that I trod. Amen

The Hand of God piece pictured, a gift from my dear friend Carolyn, inspired these words. Carolyn carried this Olive wood hand-carved piece crafted in Israel across the ocean to bless and lend perspective to us. Thank you, Carolyn. I’ve made it the anchor of our Thanksgiving table.

Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.                                                                                                                                       Psalm 147:1

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Overwhelmed by Generosity

Thanksgiving 2013 will have a new richer flavor. My eyes wide open to blessings (like our home) formerly taken for granted. Motivated by Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts, my thankfulness list has exploded since June. I am overwhelmed by generosity.

As I drove into the free farmers market for Black Forest fire evacuees last summer, I didn’t know what to expect. And the thoughts that did rumble around my mind didn’t come close to reality. 

There was a twinge of guilt—we had grocery money. My plan was to pick up a few apples, maybe some oranges, express my thanks and continue on with my day. I knew our community wanted to help; I wanted to return the favor by being an appreciative receiver of their generosity.

And a receiver I was! The experience drew tears; it was overwhelming. My thanks seemed feeble. Our pantry overflowed. I shared with neighbors.

Generosity also displayed itself in the prayers of our friends. I am not a good pray-er in emergencies; thank you to all who stood in the gap.
Friends opened their homes to us; others, sometimes people we didn’t know, provided meals. 

There were emails, texts, phone calls, and notes that daily ministered to our souls—each a breath of fresh air to our smoke-filled brains. 

The gift of time and energy came through the lives of many from our Sunday school class who offered their chain saws, pick-up trucks, and muscles on a HOT Saturday morning helping clear away burned trees and rebuild our stack of firewood. Some I was meeting for the first time.

Then there were the firefighters who valiantly fought the flames that threatened; who dug fire lines around one side of our home and pulled the lawn furniture away from the house. Thank you to our military for dropping slurry (we wondered what that orange stuff was in the yard); thank you to our sherriff, his crew, The National Guard and other law enforcement agencies.

Thank you to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army who provided quick lunches for us—and the best hot dog I ever ate. The tools and clean-up kits met a practical need. And, and, and …

Generosity displayed itself in many creative ways reflecting the creativity of our Savior. It continues to be overwhelming. 

As I’ve pondered what was most helpful, a few generalities surfaced:                     1. Those who told (instead of asked) us how they were helping.                             2. Scripture shared without commentary.                                                                                                            3. Friends who identified with our emotions without offering wisdom.                    4. Technology—communicating from a distance.                                                     5. Our pastor’s sermon from Romans 8.                                                                  6. Lamentations 3:22 ~ my go-to scripture this summer.

“The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help.”                Acts 11:29

2 year old Marianna wanted to get in on the helping too.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sabbath-Living Retreat Fun!

The Jews have a saying... The Jews don't keep the sabbath as much as the sabbath keeps the Jews. I identify.

My devotional time has morphed into sabbath-living. For me that means being attentive to the One who is always attentive to me... or enjoying my friendship with God.
 "No longer do I call you servants... but I have called you friends..." John 15:15.

Sabbath-Living is also the name of the retreats I facilitate. Each has a bit of a different emphasis but all are anchored in listening to God and enjoying his presence. 

Last week several ladies of Village Seven Presbyterian Church gathered for a Sabbath-Living retreat. This time the big theme was our identity. We kicked off the afternoon with everyone choosing a hat that allowed them to introduce a piece of who they are. Fun, fun, fun. 

Sandy surprised us by creating the slide show below. Enjoy and smile as she lived out her identity and captured in pictures our afternoon. Thank you, Sandy!You've received a Smilebox!

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