Tuesday, December 31, 2013

As the Year Ends, Don't Raise a Toast, Raise Your Ebenezer

1 Samuel 7:12:  Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, "Till now the Lord has helped us."

As I read and study the Bible , I am struck by how many times in the Old Testament the nation of Israel turned away from and back to God.  That is the situation in the 1 Samuel text quoted above, and in honor of Israel's return to worshiping the one true God, Samuel took a stone and and called it "Ebenezer" because "Till now the Lord has helped us."  Thus, one of the names of God is "My Ebenezer".  Ebenezer means "stone of help."

The Lord has certainly been my stone of help this year.  It has been a year of change for me and my family, and none of the changes have been small.

In April, after a long 18 months away, my son came home from spending time in a wilderness boys' camp due to a period of anger and rebellion towards my husband and me.  Although we have some inkling what caused the anger, it still isn't clear to us why he felt he had to react in the way he did, and we are still coping daily with snippets of rebellion and anger.

In June, my daughter moved to  Nashville to start a doctor of physical therapy program at Tennessee State University.  Having her live so far away and seeing her in between long interludes has been difficult simply because I miss her.  She and I have always been close and spent a lot of time together, but as I look toward the future, I see her asking me less and less for advice and finding her own way.   It causes me to wince when I think about it, but I suppose all mothers and fathers do that when their children leave to make their own way in the world, and begin their own families.

My husband is dealing with stress of several kinds and in ways that I don't feel comfortable with, and it is very difficult to see how it is affecting him, especially as he is aging.  To be beset with major financial changes at age 62 is hard when you have always been used to having money and doing what you want with it.

And last, but certainly not least, the challenges of having Parkinson's Disease and undergoing deep brain stimulation surgery has really put my faith to the test. 

But God has been my refuge, my strong tower, my hope, my Savior, my friend and my Ebenezer this year...my stone of help!  Strong and mighty is He who holds the framework of my life in His hands - stronger and mightier than the one who rules this age, stronger and mightier than anger, rebellion, fear, and loneliness; more dependable than money, jewels, silver or gold; and strong enough to carry me through surgery, recovery and learning how to live with disability, The Lord God is my Ebenezer!

I lift Him up today and everyday because I love Him, need Him and desire Him and all that He imparts to me by way of His holy spirit.  I could not make it through such tough testing and daily living without Him.  Looking back, I know that until now, the Lord has helped me everyday of my life.   He has been there through the right and wrong, the fear, the dread, the laughing and smiling, the tears and every time that there has been hope for a new day; holding my hand and cheering me on, advocating for me and calling me forward through the race of life which is, no doubt about it, hard.  I am running this race with His help and so today, I lift my Ebenezer for the year 2013.   God Almighty, My Ebenezer.

Lord, you know my heart, I don't always show it, but you are the center of my life.  Never a day passes without thinking what you think, without a prayer of some sort, without looking to you and your Word about what to do and how to do.  Thank you, God, for choosing me, loving me, saving me and bringing me to this point in my life where I realize that without you, my life is meaningless.  I thank you for the old year and all you have taught me, and I look forward to the new year which will, no doubt, bring about changes and challenges that I know I could not face without you.  None of us know where we will sitting just 12 short months from now, but I pray that nothing with separate me from your love, including my will, my pride and my ability to sin.   Forgive me for the things I did in 2013 that did not bring you glory and inspire me to do everything I do in 2014 to bring glory and honor and praise to your great name.  I don't know who will read this, Lord, but for each and everyone who passes by, I pray that you will are or will become the center of their life, to the praise of your glory.  In Jesus' name.   Amen.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Mary Pondered All These Things in Her Heart

This is a blog I wrote several years ago, and I thought it worth re-printing with just a few modifications:

You know how it is, moms, when our children do things, we store them up in our hearts to take out over the years, to review and cherish because our children are so precious to us.

Mary was no different from you and me in that way, but her child certainly was different, and I am sure, he gave her many things to hold in her heart that were very different from the ones our children give us, didn't He?

I imagine that many of you are like me during this season, reading the first three chapters of Luke. It seems like I do that every year, and each year the story holds just a little more in it that speaks to my heart as a mother and a child of God.

As I meditated on the Christmas story this morning, I paid particular attention to Mary.  Maybe it's because my own children are getting older and living their own lives,  and when you add to that the fact that I've put a whole lot less of the meaningless into the holiday the last five years, less focus on food, fun and shopping and more attention to God's Word, His Son, and living a godly life, but the words, "and Mary pondered all these things in her heart" spoke to me.  What exactly does it mean to "ponder"?  The online dictionary defines it as:  To reflect or consider with thoroughness and care; to meditate on over time.

Imagine having angels show up at the birth of your child, or shepherds who left praising God and spreading the word that your child was a special child, the redeemer of mankind!  That's one I'd want to pull out and ponder now and again. 

Imagine being the mother of the son of God and watching Him grow up, learn to talk, say "mama" and "papa", take his first steps, lose his first tooth, tie his shoes and other ordinary things? If we as mothers of ordinary, everyday children store up their lives in our hearts, think about how Mary must have felt knowing that her son was the Savior of the world. Every thing he said or did must have made an imprint upon her heart and mind.

Imagine losing your child for three days and finding him in the Temple teaching the teachers and adults; you're in a tizzy, and he calmly tells you that you had to know that he would be about his father's business!  That's another one I'd have to think about.
Isaiah 53:3 says that Mary's son was a "man of sorrows", men "despised" him, "rejected" him, hid their faces from him and gave him no value. How does a mother hold that in her heart?   I certainly know from experience that when my children are sad, but really not just feeling sad, but living with sorrow day and night, or when other people make them feel unwanted and don't see their value, it gives me great pain in my own heart! Strong's Concordance states that the word "sorrows" is translated from the Hebrew word makove which means physical and mental pain and sorrow of the soul.  Yes, Mary's son was all those things, but think about the pain this must have brought to Mary's heart?

Then there's the Wedding at Cana in John 2:1-10. The wedding host runs out of wine and Mary goes to  Jesus and tells him about it and he tells his mother that it's not time yet for him to do miracles and reveal himself.  She tells the servants to do whatever he tells them to do and as a result, the wedding host ends up serving the best wine last when it is customary to serve the best wine first before everyone is tipsy and don't know what's what.

John tells us in his gospel that if all the things Jesus had ever done were written down that there would not be enough books to hold them!!!

As we celebrate his birth today, whether it's in quiet contemplation or boisterous family gatherings, let us ponder anew the miracle that occurred that day in Bethlehem. God became flesh and dwelt among men, lived with them, loved them as friends and family, and died for them and us.

Yes, God himself saw our helplessness and cast off all about himself that was holy, godly, and supernatural, and became a "man of sorrows", "bruised for our iniquities", and "wounded for our transgressions" so that we might be restored to our intended relationship with God the Father.
Everyday is Christmas as far as I'm concerned. Emmanuel, God With Us, Prince of Peace, King of Kings, Jesus Christ, Y'eshua, Messiah came and paid the price so that we might be set free from sin and its consequence...death!

Take the time today to ponder in your heart, like Mary, the many things that have been written about her son in the Bible (the one and only source for truth)!

May God bless you in the new year with his presence, his peace and his love and grace.

Monday, December 9, 2013

God Incarnate

It's weird to think that millions of Christians are celebrating a holiday that many, many other people celebrate who are not Christians -- and they are celebrating in the same manner...lots of bling and blitz, and gifts, and food and drink, and parties and fancy clothing and so forth and so forth and so forth.

Anyway, God has been calling me away from all this overindulgence.  It's really not the kind of worship He wants, and it gets me in debt and takes my focus off of Him, which really doesn't give Him any glory.

Yesterday, though, at church, the message my pastor shared stopped me dead cold in my tracks when he spoke about what Christmas really means, really means, not just the famous Jesus' birthday line:  God Incarnate - God in the Flesh. 

The God of all creation decided (the moment He knew that man would not be able to live without sinning) that He would take on human flesh and be born to a woman; He'd live a sinless life and give that life as a sacrifice to pay the price for every individual who ever lived on this planet.
When He chose Mary as the woman through which He would work this miracle, He changed her life forever!  He changed it by choosing her in view of her purity and virginity and changed her life from a youth with a more or less carefree life (of course, she had chores and responsibilities similar go all other young Jewish girls) to a woman with a questioned morality.

I can hardly think of something that changes a person more profoundly than giving birth and having a child to parent and raise to maturity, and, she had to be changed everyday of his life due to living in such close contract with one who was sinless and perfectly holy.
John 19:25 tells us that Mary was standing at the foot of the cross.  As I contemplate being the mother of the one who was crucified, I feel sure that there was no more life-changing moment in her life as that one.  To see your child naked, bleeding, beaten, mocked and nailed to a cross - who could bear it?  Then, to know that it was God's plan for his life and it was done for the world, including yourself; well, that surely would make you look at your life, your sin and everything else in a much different light.

We ALL, like or not, admit it or not, SIN.   The price of sin is death.  He paid the price on that day in Jerusalem when He went to the cross willingly and died.

When you believe that He is/was who He said He was/is, proclaim it to the world and do as He said by picking up your cross and living a life similar to the one He did (a life of denying yourself, loving others and serving them), His sacrifice is accounted on your behalf and you are restored to your original, right relationship with God.  Then begins your quest to "work out" your salvation with fear and trembling (but that's another post).

God Incarnate is what is truly being celebrated, and when you look at what God Incarnate is, you realize this is something that should be celebrated everyday of your life, not in a buying, eating, drinking, partying frenzy.

I am going to re-print here a portion of The Omega Letter from November 30.  It is written by Pete Garcia and is entitled "Conspiracy Theory" (the sub-heading is "The Original Conspiracy") and I feel it is very valuable information to take in:

The Original Conspiracy
This is the part of the brief that the skeptics will laugh and point and say how silly I am that I believe in a real Devil. This is the part of the brief that even the John Stossels and Glenn Becks of the world conveniently leave out. Not saying they don’t believe in a real Devil, but they can’t state it publically for fear of losing what credibility they do have.  Since I don’t have any credibility, save Jesus Christ, I’ll just state the obvious.
If you believe the Bible is true, and you accept that there is a real God, real Jesus, real angels, real Biblical events, etc. Then why do so many have a hard time believing the Devil is also real? Not only is he real, but he has been real busy. From the first book of the Bible (chronologically), we have an account that dates to the time around of Abraham—2000 B.C.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?”  So Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.”  Job 1:6-7
All the way to the first century A.D., the Apostle Peter tells us to…
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 1 Peter 5:8
These two verses reveal to us some important aspects that we need to bear in mind.  First is that Satan is not omnipotent. He can’t be everywhere at once. Secondly, Satan doesn’t sleep, doesn’t stop, he is always restless, always going about seeking to kill, destroy, and attempt to thwart God’s overarching plan. Satan has known since the Garden of Eden and that God had a plan afoot; a plan of redemption for mankind, and certain destruction for him. This is why the Bible revealed God’s plan progressively to over 40 different men, from different countries, and differing professions, and spread out over 1,600 years, to keep this plan as cryptic, yet specific as possible.
Now as a Christian, reading the Scriptures some 2,000 years later, I had always assumed that Satan really knew who Jesus was. But the more I study it, the more I’m willing to bet that Satan had his eye more on John the Baptist, than on Jesus as the likely candidate for the One who would destroy him. Maybe John was a decoy of sorts. He was meant to be a distraction, not for man, but specifically for Satan. It is why from before his birth, John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit and Jesus wasn’t until His baptism at around the age of 30. It’s why John devoted his life to the ministry of God long before Jesus officially began His. 
Maybe this is why Jesus asked His disciples who men thought He was…and they gave a myriad of answers except Peter. Maybe this is why Jesus said of John;
“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  (Matt. 11:11)
Maybe this is why the Kingdom was preached publically in parable form, not only fulfilling the prophets, but to keep the plan moving forward undetected.  The Apostle Paul understood the delicate nature of Christ’s ministry.
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory,which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  1 Corinthians 2:7-8
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Ephesians 6:12
The real conspiracy is not at the political level, but the spiritual one.  It is fought by influence and coercion, through spiritual fear and blackmail.  Satan and his legion have known since Christ’s resurrection that they have already lost the war.  Satan saw the religious system that God gave the Jews through Moses which was possibly the most complex and strictest ever created.   The last thing he expected was that God Himself would become a man, and allow Himself to be killed to permanently bridge the gap between God’s unapproachable righteousness, and man’s incurable depravity.
They would have never killed Christ if they had known what it would mean…permanent liberation for mankind from hell and death.  This is why Jesus kept His true identity hidden and only revealed it to certain people at certain times.  Remember, Satan is not omnipotent so he couldn’t be everywhere at once.  Jesus knew when and where He could reveal this, without revealing it to the one who would attempt to spoil the plan of redemption. 
I pray that this year, you will put away your credit card, pull out your Bible and get to know the One who came and whose short 33 year life changed the world like no other man...the man named Jesus...God Incarnate!