Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Eve - Some Thoughts to Ponder

Thank you to my friend, Theresa Thaete for sharing her story for a new year with us this week.

Theresa on one of her missionary trips to Zambia.
2010 was a year of intense dread and sadness for me.

Usually I eagerly anticipated Advent and Christmas; I loved putting up our tree and watching the faces of loved ones opening the gifts I had so carefully chosen. But not that year.

One of our sons was the cause of my misery. He was acting out and seeking to fill the pain in his life with all the things that teens do. I never knew what to expect, every day a new challenge.

I'd often run to the phone exasperated interrupting my husband at work seeking his wisdom. Or dialing a friend, a safe person, to ask for prayer ... or just plain vent.

At times I even chose to leave my home. I didn't feel safe being in the same house with my son.

On one of those occasions, running in fear, I cried again to the Lord; probably for the millionth time. My feeling of guilt (a gift from God) was real. I kind of knew I needed to be running to God first, not to my husband and my friends.

God graciously brought Isaiah 9:6 to mind. (I bet you too have been seeing this verse a lot during the Christmas season.)

Immediately these four awesome titles that God alone bears began to speak to my heart. I repented and my eyes turned from my circumstances and focused on God.

Eagerly and a bit hesitantly I leaned into my Good Shepherd, I listened for His love. The experience of relief was almost physical.

I marveled as God showed up as my Wonderful Counselor over and over. He provided clarity of thought and direction. I noticed I was growing in trust as I reached less for my cell phone. Sometimes I even heard specific words in response to the hard of my life.

I experienced the opening and closing of seemingly locked tight doors; my Mighty God assuring me of His perfect timing and sovereignty.

As my Everlasting Father, I was touched by many expressions of His love and tenderness. He knew what would speak uniquely to my heart. Sometimes I saw how He stretched and disciplined me for  my growth.

(This was one of the most challenging titles for me as I have some deep "father wounds".)

Over and over, His peace comforted me. He was my personal Prince of Peace providing comfort in the intense stresses of life.

Pondering Isaiah 9:6 has become a New Year's tradition for me. Although I cling to this passage throughout the year, it is particularly meaningful as I look back each New Year purposing to see the faithfulness of God. I also list what I'm expecting in the upcoming 365 days and ask God that these descriptors would be my reality in my unknown.

Perhaps thinking through Isaiah 9:6 might be something that would greatly encourage your faith as we start the new year like it has done for me.

Blessings to you in 2016!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Mary Responds

Thank you again, Marcia Carole for your lovely addition to Echoes.
Merry Christmas Friends!

Instead of writing out Mary's Song of Praise, commonly known as The Magnificat, John Michael Talbot sings the first few verses at this link below.

Listen and savor.

Luke 1:46-49, ESV
And Mary said,
     "My soul magnifies the Lord,
          and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
     for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
          For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
     for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
          and holy is his name. 

What are you hearing from God?

Next week we conclude this series with a guest post from my friend Theresa Thaete (who partnered with me on these Advent posts) on Isaiah 9:6.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Angel's Message to the Shepherds

(If you haven't read the December 2 post, I encourage you to scroll down and read it first.)

Ordinary Lives, Holy Callings

Luke 2:8-20, The Message translation

"There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly,God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, "Don't be aftraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."
     At once the angel was joined be a huge angelic choir singing God's praises:
     Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
     Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

     As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. "Let's get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us." They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
     Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they'd been told!" 

Please consult your Bible and The Message translation above as you think about these questions.

The first people God chose to hear of Jesus' birth were shepherds, common laborers doing what they were trained to do.
     What insights do you observe about God's character with His choice?
     They were in the midst of their ordinary. How have you experienced God in the midst
          of your ordinary this past week or month. 
The shepherds were given a holy calling, a kingdom sized job. What they were hearing was for all people.
     How did they respond to their task?
     What holy calling has God put in front of you ... in the midst of your ordinary?
          How are you responding?
Consider each phrase of the angel's announcement in verses 10 and 11. (written from NASV)
     What truths about God do you hear in each phrase?
     If this was the totality of what you know about Jesus, what do you know?

     *Do not be afraid
     *I bring you good news
     *great joy
     *which shall be for all people
     *there has been born for you
     *a Savior
     *who is Christ the Lord.

The multitude of angels spoke of peace. Is your understanding of peace in your own world, your family, your church, your community a reality?   
     Jesus is also called the Prince of Peace. 
     Sit with this identity and this offer;invite Jesus to bring his peace to you. 

The peace is offered to those with whom he is pleased. 
     Matthew 17 records the Transfiguration. God identifies Jesus as his beloved son 
           with whom he is well-pleased. God is pleased with us if we are also his children.
          Hebrews 11:6 tells us that it is our faith that pleases him.
     As a child of God, what does it look like for you this week to please God?

In the ESV, the three verbs in verses 18 and 19 are "wondered", "treasured", "pondering". 
     As you come to your Bible this week, what will wondering, treasuring and pondering look like for you? Why do you think these particular verbs are used?  

What have you heard from God in this passage?
How will it affect you as we draw closer to Christmas?   

Next Thursday, Christmas Eve, we'll wonder together over the passage know as The Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Angel's Message for Joseph

(If you haven't read the December 2 Echoes post, please scroll down and read it first.)

Considering, Listening, Obeying

Matthew 1:18-25, The Message Translation

"The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn't know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.
     While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God's angel spoke in the dream: "Joseph, son of David, don't hesitate to get married. Mary's pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God's Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus - 'God saves' - because he will save his people from their sins." This would bring the prophet's embryonic sermon to full term:

     Watch for this - a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
     They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for "God is with us").

     Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God's angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus."

What stands out to you in this passage?
What kind of bothers you?
What characteristics of Joseph's humanity are noted?
What fears might Joseph be experiencing?
Imagine a conversation between Joseph and Mary before the dream. 
How do you see Joseph's commitment to God?

What about you ...
     When have you had to share something hard with another close to you? 
     What gave you the courage to proceed?
     Are there circumstances in your life that don't make sense at the moment?
     How are you responding?
     What would it look like for you to bring these circumstances to God?

Joseph is described as "noble", "just", or "righteous"  (depending on your translation).
     Consider the pressure of the situation, not only knowing Mary is pregnant, but also what
     he might be experiencing from his parents or those in his synagogue community. 
          How important was his identity? How did knowing his identity help him?
     What words does God use to describe your identity to you?

Three qualities in Joseph's life stand out: he considered; he listened; he obeyed.
     What are some synonyms for considering? Which communicate the best to you?
     As you consider your current reality, what is God saying to you?
     What will your obedience look like?

The baby is identified by two names in this passage. 
     The first designates what this baby does. 
    The second, who this baby is.
          What are the names?
          Which is most meaningful to you this week? Why?
          What will it look like for you this week to live as if you really believe those names?
          How does the reality of these names infuse you with courage? 

Fill in the blank, and consider praying this prayer ...
     God, I haven't discovered what appears to be my fiancee cheating on me, but this
     situation _________________ is my reality right now. And it is embarrassing. 
     God, what do you think about it? What do you think about me? I want to listen to you.
     What would it look like for me to trust you, God, in this reality this week?
     Thank you that you not only want to save me from it, redeem it, 
     but thank you also that you are my Immanuel. 
     I really do want to obey you. Amen. 

We'd love to pray along with you if you'd like to share what you're hearing.

Please join us next Thursday as we ponder Luke 2:8-20.  


Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Angel's Message for Mary

(If you haven't read the Echoes December 2 post, please scroll down and read it first.)
Thank you, Marcia Carole for your lovely rendering of this event.
Identity Leading to Courage

Luke 1:26-38, The Message Translation

In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin's name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:

     Good morning!
     You're beautiful with God's beauty,
     Beautiful inside and out!
     God be with you.

She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, "Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.

     He will be great,
          be called 'Son of the Highest."
     The Lord will give him 
          the throne of his father David;
     He will rule Jacob''s house forever -
          no end, ever, to his kingdom."

Mary said to the angel, "But how? I've never slept with a man."
The angel answered,

     The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
          the power of the Highest hover over you;
     Therefore, the child you bring to birth
          will be called Holy, Son of God.

"And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months' pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God."
And Mary said,

     Yes, I see it all now:
          I'm the Lord's maid, ready to serve.
     Let it be with me
           just as you say.

Then the angel left her.

With your translation of choice open to this passage, allow these questions to set a tone for your Advent. We'd love to hear what you are hearing in these timeless words.

What surprises you about this passage?
If this is all you know about Mary, how would you describe her?
     How do you see her humanity?
     What do you appreciate about her character? Why?

"O favored one, the Lord is with you!" (v.28) What a wonderful affirmation.
     What kinds of things may have been swirling in Mary's head hearing these words?
          If you heard these words, what might you be thinking?         
     What security does this affirmation offer? 
     The Lord is with us today as well. If I trust this, how would it change
          how I view my circumstances?

What surprises have you received from" God?
     How have you responded when the surprises have the potential of shame?

"Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God." (v. 30)
     "Favor" is sometimes translated "grace". Having just celebrated Thanksgiving and now looking
     toward Christmas, list some ways you have found favor with God, and thank Him for each

Think about "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (v. 34) 
     Do you sense God nudging you to believe something "new" or "big"?
     Might your response be, "How will this be, since ____________?"

"Behold, I am the servant of the Lord;" (v. 38) 
     Mary allowed her identity to provide her with courage to respond, 
          "Let it be to me ..."
     What words do you use to describe your identity as a believer?
          How will your identity provide you with courage in this next week?

You might want to write out a conversation with God over what you are hearing from Him.

And if you're willing to share, we'll all be blessed. And we'd be honored to pray for you.

Next Thursday, Matthew 1:18-25.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Advent 2015

Echoes of Grace is taking on a new format during Advent this year. I think you'll like it.

My friend, Theresa Thaete and I have been pondering some of the familiar Christmas passages in Matthew and Luke. And from our time, we're offering you some prompts to consider these historical narratives and bring their truths forward to your lives in whatever circumstances you find yourself in this year.

It is our prayer that these Advent, Echoes of Grace posts will bring good news of great joy to you, perhaps some ah-ha's, and mostly a deepened experience of God's presence in your life as you hear His voice speak softly to you heart.

Each Thursday I will write out for you the words from the passage of the week in The Message Translation. Our suggestion is that you have your go-to translation (ESV, NIV, NASV, NLT, KJV, etc) near by. And as you consider our prompts that you would read both from the Bible at your side and The Message.

This is NOT designed to be a Bible study.
We encourage you to stick with the scripture of the week.
Do not go to a commentary or even read the notes in your Bibles.
Pick the prompts that seem to be calling to you. You don't need to ponder all of them.
Allow God to lead you and listen for His voice.

And, if you like, please share what you've heard. We'd love to hear from you and pray for you.

Tomorrow, we'll start with Luke 1:26-38. 

"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him."
Matthew 17:5 (bolding, mine)