East to West

​As I was sitting down with my coffee and tablet, I switched on the radio, and the song “East to West” by Casting Crowns was playing. It’s taken from the Psalms: 

  “For His unfailing Love toward those who fear Him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. The Lord is like a father to His children, tender and compassionate to those who fear Him. For He knows how weak we are; He remembers we are only dust.” – Psalms 103:11‭-‬14 NLT (http://bible.com/116/psa.103.11-14.NLT)

This version is from The Message: “God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he’s rich in love. He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs. As high as heaven is over the earth, so strong is his love to those who fear him. And as far as sunrise is from sunset, he has separated us from our sins.” (http://bible.com/97/psa.103.MSG)

Whatever version or translation you prefer to read, the message here is clear. God loves us. GOD LOVES US! Many of my friends had earthly fathers who were angry, or cruel, or unloving, and we should remember that no matter how godly a man is, they are far from perfect. We have to overcome that knowledge in order to realize that God, the LORD, IS perfect. He has none of the flaws our earthly fathers have. He knows we are weak, and He knows exactly what we deserve….and He sent His Son Jesus to cover our sins and wash them away. Because of Jesus, our sins are separated from us as far as the east is from the west; as far as the sunrise is from the sunset. Take a moment to ponder that thought. 

How far IS the east from the west? How far is the sunrise from the sunset? He gives us this promise through the prophet Isaiah:

  “But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. {We} will soar high on wings like eagles. {We} will run and not grow weary. {We} will walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31 NLT (http://bible.com/116/isa.40.31.NLT)

AMEN!

From Dry Bones to Hope

This is breathtakingly beautiful!

  “The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” “O Sovereign Lord ,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.” Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, 

  ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord ! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord .’” 

  So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, 

  ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’” So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army. 

  Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 

  When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord . I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord , have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’” – Ezekiel 37:1‭-‬14 NLT (http://bible.com/116/ezk.37.1-14.NLT

Through the music composed by men, and the stories written, we can catch glimmers of the promised land of heaven. Listening to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and reading this passage in Ezekiel, it occurs to me just how little we think our God is. If a man can prophesy God’s Words over a valley full of sunbleached bones and bring them back to life {note this: the man did not resurrect the bones; God’s Words gave them substance and breath. No zombies here; living, breathing human beings!!} just think of what our LORD is capable of! 

Then, the music…. close your eyes and listen to it. It goes from blissful serenity to agony and angst, from visions of stars and almost unimaginable beauty to anger and war, into a pronouncement that the King of the world is coming. There’s glory and excitement, victory, even terror written into the music. It’s like Tchaikovsky has written the voice of the earth, proclaiming with everything it has through the music. No, that’s not the tale of the Sugar plum Fairy that was written to go with it, but as I said, if you just sit and close your eyes and listen, you might hear God’s Voice in it. Let the music fill you and experience a tiny taste of heaven!

Mostly, through the scripture and the music, I hear Hope. So many of us have ended up in the valley of dry bones through addiction, idolatry, poor choices, or other reasons, this passage is the story of Hope. We can be renewed and made whole again through the Voice and healing of Jesus Christ our LORD. He is the Bringer of Redemption and Fulfillment. There is nothing –nothing – on this earth that is capable of true renewal outside of Him. Money, fame, and recognition can serve to make our physical lives more comfortable, but they do nothing for our spirit. The “Power of Positive Thinking” and the message of prosperity might give you the excuse you need to focus on the world and work to the exclusion of your spiritual life, but they won’t get you to God.

The only way to God is through His Son, the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. Think on this….

When Love Breaks Through 

When love broke thru 

You found me in the darkness 
Wanderin’ thru the desert 
I was a hopeless fool 
Now I’m hopelessly devoted 
My chains are broken 
And it all began with You 
When love broke thru 
And it all began with You 
When love broke thru 

I did all that I could to undo me 
But You loved me enough to pursue me 
Yeah, You drew me out of the shadows 
Made me believe that I mattered, to You (You) 
You were there, You heard my prayer in that broke down dusty room 
It was the first time I said, “I’m Yours” 
The first time I called You Lord 

– “When Love Broke Thru”, lyrics by tobyMac

Think about the profound story this song tells! This is a story of how God pursues us through our lives. No matter where we go or how hard we try to destroy ourselves, God never gives up on us or forsakes us. How absolutely amazing is that?

  “Yet it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down. And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for His own sins! But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on Him the sins of us all.” – Isaiah 53:4‭-‬6 NLT (http://bible.com/116/isa.53.4-6.NLT) – Read all of chapter 53….

Love breaks through our weakness, our sorrows, our brokenness. We have the opportunity every year to show the world how great God’s Love and Grace and Forgiveness are. We can show it to the unchurched and the unsaved; to the broken and depressed and hurting through our gifts of time and money. Countless opportunities are available throughout our communities to help the less fortunate during the months of November and December …. but what about the rest of the year?  

God doesn’t wait until the beginnings of the holiday ‘season’ to offer His Grace; why do we confine ourselves? Why not all year round? Reading Isaiah 53 and the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it seems to me that the biggest celebration maybe shouldn’t be at Christmas but at Easter. After all, we don’t really know when Jesus was born, but we do know the time of His sacrifice and His redemption! 

Don’t get me wrong. I adore Christmas. I love giving gifts and seeing the joy of the recipient, and I admit that I love getting presents, too. Even though I’m struggling a bit this year to get out of myself, I love having the opportunities to serve others. Seeing the decorations and lights is heartwarming, and I enjoy putting out my own decorations which includes several nativity sets. Contemplating the little scenes of Mary and Joseph and the shepherds as they worship the baby King brings peace to my heart. Babies are such a beautiful picture of God’s Love and renewal, and the Christ child is the ultimate picture of it all. It all began with Him, when Love broke through the chains of sin that bind us.

Today and every day, celebrate the birth of our Savior!

And Every Knee …

​  “Trust in the LORD with ALL your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His Will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.” -Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

The reason we have Christmas today is because of a Baby Boy Who was born over 2000 years ago. It’s a time to celebrate His birth. Scripture tells us:

  “Therefore, GOD elevated Him to the place of highest honor and gave Him the Name above all other names, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:9‭-‬11 NLT (http://bible.com/116/php.2.9-11.NLT)

From the carol “We Three Kings” –

“O Star of wonder, star of night

Star with royal beauty bright

Westward leading, still proceeding

Guide us to thy Perfect Light.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain

Gold I bring to crown Him again

King forever, ceasing never

Over us all to reign.

Glorious now behold Him arise

King and God and Sacrifice

Alleluia, Alleluia

Earth to heav’n replies,

O Star of wonder, star of night

Star with royal beauty bright

Westward leading, still proceeding

Guide us to thy Perfect Light!”

Can I just say how much I love singing and hearing Christmas carols? One of my favorite memories is of being at my parent’s house with my (baby) sister and her family, and my niece simultaneously singing “Ave Maria”. I know, it’s not a Christmas carol, but oh my goodness, how beautiful are the words and the music, especially when sung by my niece Erin Marie! 

“Maria, full of thanksgiving

Maria, full of thanksgiving

Maria, full of thanksgiving

Ave Ave God

Your God

Be blessed among the women

And blessed

And blessed be the product of your womb

Your womb, Jesus.

Ave Maria.”

Jesus is the reason we have this season. He is the reason it is called “Christ’s Mass,” or as we say it, Christmas. It’s a time for us to drop the busyness and look to Jesus. The Wise Men, or the Magi, dropped what they were doing when they saw the star. ⛤ They headed out on journey of unknown length and difficulty. All that they were focused on was finding this baby boy King Who was born under the star. 

These Magi, wise men from many different backgrounds and from great distances, traveled hundreds of miles and faced untold obstacles, kept going so that they could kneel to a young child, a child born in the most humble circumstances. They brought treasures to Him that were fitting for a king, and they worshipped Him. As is so often with truth, it is hard to believe. First, that any being would volunteer to leave the indescribable Joy of heaven to live on earth, let alone endure the torture and gruesome death on a cross; second, that wealthy scientists and scholars would leave their comfortable existence to undertake a long, difficult, and uncertain journey in order to bow at the feet of a child…. and yet, that is exactly what these men did.

Are you ready to drop everything and worship the King Who was born in a stable? ALL things are made possible through Him! 🕯🕯🕯

“O, Come let us adore Him, Christ, the LORD!”

Time to Get Real

This is a time of year when many people go out of their way to share hope and blessings on those less fortunate. That’s a wonderful thing! A friend shared verses 9-10 this morning, and when I looked at the entire passage, it struck me that it is very appropriate to share right now. I know so many people who have no problem cursing when things don’t go their way – it could be an inconsiderate coworker or a driver being reckless. It could be an unwanted phone call or it could be something that comes in the mail. There doesn’t even have to be a reason; the words can be a “normal” part of their language. God knows how often I have cursed, and how sorry I am now for the bad witness because of the words.

“1. Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.
2. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
3. We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.
4. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.
5. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.
6. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
7. People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue.
8. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.
9. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.
10. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
11. Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?
12. Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.” – James 3:1‭-‬12 NLT (http://bible.com/116/jas.3.1-12.NLT)

It’s so important how we conduct ourselves when we claim Christ. People are watching and judging. I am not perfect. I gossip and I slander and there are people about whom I have nothing good to say. In other words, I am wholly and imperfectly human. That said, I make a conscious effort to not do those things, most of the time. I will be judged, ultimately, by God. Listen to this song “Awake and Alive” by Skillet:

I’m at war with the world and they
Try to pull me into the dark
I struggle to find my faith
As I’m slippin’ from your arms
It’s getting harder to stay awake
And my strength is fading fast
You breathe into me at last

I’m awake I’m alive
Now I know what I believe inside
Now it’s my time
I’ll do what I want ’cause this is my life
Here, right here
Right now, right now
Stand my ground and never back down
I know what I believe inside

I’m awake and I’m alive
I’m at war with the world cause I
Ain’t never gonna sell my soul
I’ve already made up my mind
No matter what I can’t be bought or sold
When my faith is getting weak
And I feel like giving in
You breathe into me again

I’m awake I’m alive
Now I know what I believe inside
Now it’s my time
I’ll do what I want ’cause this is my life
Here, right here
Right now, right now
Stand my ground and never back down
I know what I believe inside
I’m awake and I’m alive

Waking up waking up
Waking up waking up
Waking up waking up
Waking up waking up

In the dark
I can feel you in my sleep
In your arms I feel you breathe into me
Forever hold this heart that I will give to you
Forever I will live for you

I’m awake I’m alive
Now I know what I believe inside
Now it’s my time
I’ll do what I want ’cause this is my life
Here, right here
Right now, right now
Stand my ground and never back down
I know what I believe inside
I’m awake and I’m alive

Waking up waking up
Waking up waking up
Waking up waking up
Waking up waking up

Songwriters
JOHN COOPER, BRIAN HOWES
Published By
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
Read more: Skillet – Awake And Alive Lyrics | MetroLyrics
(Listen to Skillet On Amazon Music Unlimited.)wp-1466436849319.jpeg

Embraced

​  “The High and Lofty One who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: “I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.”” – Isaiah 57:15 

THIS is what Christmas is all about! We get on our soap boxes and put on our superior attitudes, and what does it accomplish? A temporary ego boost? That fleeting feeling that we are better than someone? 

“The High and Lofty One who lives in eternity, The HOLY ONE!” He, the Holy One, Jesus, came to earth to be born in a stable and to die a brutal death on the cross to show us how much He cares. Jesus wasn’t stingy with his feelings or His meager belongings or even His Mother. He shared EVERYTHING, and most importantly He shared His life-blood so that I could have LIFE eternal  with Him.

I find it difficult to share anything,  let alone EVERYTHING. I would lay down my life to save my family, but I struggle to embrace them. Being a friend means reaching out and caring and listening. It’s a real struggle for me to do this. It’s not because I don’t care,  because I do – VERY much. At times I envy people who make it look so simple and effortless. Like Sheldon and the boys (AND girls! – on the TV show The Big Bang Theory), I find myself struggling when interacting with others, whether it is family and friends,  or co-workers, or strangers. I try to cover by making jokes or being sarcastic, and that doesn’t work in most situations! I am the wallflower in social gatherings because it is quite literally painful for me to have to reach out to people I don’t know. At work, I try to keep my head down and focus on the task at hand. I’ve been told to “keep it genuine” or “light and polite.” I’ve been called rude and heartless. I care; I really do. My empathy and comfort -giving genes seem to be lost in the maze of my brain. If you don’t understand, watch The Big Bang Theory and Sheldon. 

I’m sure there will be people who read this who will say I’m just making excuses. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. God restores me and He revives my broken spirit. Whether at work or play, I depend on Him to restore me. I couldn’t do anything without God! The hurt, the broken, the lost, and the lonely are all around us among our friends and families and coworkers. it might be the sales person or the cashier when you are shopping.

As hard as it is for me to reach out to people, I’ve found that the more I lean on the LORD for His understanding, it’s becoming a little easier all the time to be patient with slow lines and bad traffic. I can be pleasant to the cashier, and I’m not quite as paralyzed in social gatherings as I have been in the past. Jesus came here to embrace us all. Seems the least we can – should – do as His followers is to show a little kindness and offer His Grace to others, especially now as people are going a little crazy with the whole commercial holiday craze. Work with me to put a little CHRIST back into Christmas this year.

I Am Weak

  “​Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT (http://bible.com/116/2co.12.9.NLT

Remember singing this?

Jesus Loves me, This I know 

For the Bible tells me so,

Little ones to Him belong,

They are weak, but He is Strong.

Yes, Jesus Loves me,

Yes, Jesus Loves me, 

Yes, Jesus LOVES me,

The Bible tells me so.

I know Jesus Loves me. I know this, because I have witnessed it again and again in my life. I know that His Grace has saved me countless times from consequences of my thoughts and actions – Literally saved my life. That is not to say that I haven’t had to deal with consequences. My best thinking is what’s called stinkin’ thinkin’ in recovery programs, and stinkin’ thinkin’ often leads to some drastic consequences . 

I know Jesus Loves me because I saw how my parents lived that love in their lives. I know He Loves me because of the compassionate love pastors and laypersons have shown me through Christ Jesus. Have you felt that Love in your life? We so often miss Him, because we have remained too busy reminding ourselves of how inadequate we are. It’s true, we are completely inadequate to show God’s Love to others. Circumstances and consequences break us. Jesus puts us back together so that His Light can shine through the cracks and holes where we are broken and incomplete. 

  “And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.  God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,  the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.  I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” – Ephesians 3:6‭, ‬10‭-‬11‭, ‬14‭-‬21 NLT (http://bible.com/116/eph.3.6-21.NLT)

What a great reminder of God’s Love!