God With Us, Always

I realize it’s still a few days before Halloween, but unless you’ve been under a rock (or in North Dakota somewhere) you know the Christmas parade has started in stores all across the land. (My apologies to anyone in either of the Dakotas).

Yes, the holidays are fast on the heels of All Hallow’s Eve and we’ll be reminded once again – I hope! – that God is with us. I guess we can blame capitalism and commercialism, but Christmas seems to come sooner every year, doesn’t it?

No doubt due to Seattle’s drizzly weather (and the Costco displays), I started humming this Christmas song* the other day and realized that “Emmanuel, God With Us” are words I can sing year ‘round.

Because God is always with us. And has been with us from the beginning.

– – – – –

Our Home Group has been walking slowly through the book of Joshua, a portion of God’s Word I love greatly for the message of salvation in its pages. God with us, right there in the Old Testament, in the unlikely guise of Rahab, the harlot. Fast forward, or read forward, and the New Testament records Rahab’s unlikely inclusion in the lineage of Christ, revealing the scarlet thread that ran, not only from her window, but all through history to Christ’s birth and ultimately his death.

I love how God’s story is throughout the pages of the Bible, salvation from beginning to end, God with us for all time.

– – – – –

My new book Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas talks about the story of Christmas, not as a single day, but a season. I write about the days including Advent (on December 3rd this year) all the way to Epiphany on January 6th—the observance of the “showing forth” or manifestation of God to the world—and how we can spread out the joy of Christmas over weeks, not days.

I think the real message of Christmas is not that Jesus came, but what we’re going to do with what we know about His coming.

He was manifested to the world—God with us—so we can show others who He is. All year long, wherever we go.

Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas can show you how. You can purchase it on Amazon or from Barnes and Noble. Thank you~

front book cover

*We Have a Saviour, Hillsong United Christmas

What Does Grace Really Cost?

We raised our hands and voices again this morning in worship, singing of  grace being an ocean…and if it is, we’re all sinking.

Then Heaven met earth like a sloppy, wet kiss.  And well, after that line in the song, it took me awhile to get my spirit and soul focused on Jesus again.

I always think about a cocker spaniel puppy when we sing that verse.  I mean really, ‘a sloppy wet kiss?’  I know Jesus loves us, God loves us, immeasurably and tenaciously so. 
But frankly, I think we are getting a little too casual with this word we toss around in Christian circles–the word is ‘grace.’

To paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God’s grace is free, but it isn’t cheap.

There’s a difference, of course, between cheap and free. Free is a gift given by the Giver, purchased with a price. Cheap is, well, worthless.

I am becoming weary of hearing the phrase, “thank God for His grace, it covers all my __________”  being used like a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card.

The Greek word for grace is ‘charis’–gift.  We get the words ‘charisma’ and ‘charismatic’ from this.  People with ‘charisma’ are gifted. People who are ‘charismatic’ have gifts of many kinds, and often they have the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But the gift of God’s grace? It isn’t cheap and it isn’t free.

 It cost Jesus his life.

A passage I’ve been meditating on in Ephesians Chapter 1 really spoke to me about this; verses 5-8 in particular make it clear we cannot separate the gift of grace from the Giver:

 “he  predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, 
in accordance with his pleasure and will— 

(God decided ahead of time that we would be His children 
because it makes Him happy)

to the praise of his glorious grace, 

(Why? so people will praise Him for His amazing grace)

which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

(Yes, it’s a free gift)

In him we have redemption through his blood, 

(purchased back from the Enemy of our souls)

the forgiveness of sins, 

(every one of them, every time, when we repent)

in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 
that he lavished on us.” 

The grace was lavished on us AFTER the redemption through Jesus’ blood,
AFTER the forgiveness of sins.

The impossible work of that scandalous exchange–his life for mine,
his gifts of grace for my sin–are something I never want to take for granted.

His grace isn’t cheap, but it’s free.

Celebrating Motherhood

This is not the post I intended to write for this week, but I was overcome with gratefulness for my children. Excuse me while I gush.

L to R, daughter Leah, Son Aaron, family friends
Husband in the Firetruck, Son Aaron behind him
DIL Courtney in front, daughter Leah on right
first grandson Hanan (now 12)
Daughter Leah practicing her mad chef skills
1982 ish; Leah and Aaron with their Grandpa Paul

The little boy above?
He has (now) 5 children of his own. Here he is with four of them.

I stood in church this morning with my hands raised in worship and pondered the miracle. The miracle of being alive and here in this place, celebrating with my two brothers.

There’s no reason we should be in church. We did not grow up with a relationship with Jesus, there was sporadic church-going in my childhood at best.  We had alcoholic parents (gone now), absent fathers (more than one), and truth be told we pretty much raised ourselves.

As the oldest of 5 children, I was the mom in many cases for my four other siblings.  It seemed like my parents were out often, and in later years, without a dad around, my mom was working most of the time.

I didn’t learn any mothering skills from example or input or nurturing. I came by childrearing by the grace of God and the skin of my teeth.

I could share with you the skin of my teeth part (that will be for another day). Today I want to talk about the grace of God that has carried me through the birth and raising of my children to this present day where they are grown ups with children of their own.

I did SO MANY things wrong when my kids were little (they’re 35 and 38 now). I did not want to be the fun mom that played with them. I was too wrapped up in my own angst and lostness (yes, I knew Jesus, I just didn’t know how much He loved ME.)

I stumbled my way through discipline, birthday parties and Sunday School.  Through parent conferences and temper tantrums, through perms and soccer games, late night school projects, boy/girl problems ad infinitum….and then boom! My son and daughter each were grown and married.

Amazing thing, though, in spite of the horrible missteps in my past as their mom?

They still love Jesus. 
And they like me. They talk to me. On purpose. 
Especially my daughter. 

I KNOW THIS is a gift. Yes, there are hundreds of families where parents and children are estranged from each other.  But that is not my story.

My son and daughter both amaze me with their tender hearts, their talents, with their humor and their gifts. 
My son has my mother’s musical ear and loves to sing and worship.  I remind him of that since she’s been gone for a very long time and he hardly knew her.  
My daughter is a technical wizard and artist.  She got that from her grandpa, which I also remind her about. The chef part–her love of cooking?  That she got from God alone, (ask her–I am no great cook).

What did my kids get from me?  An honest walk with my Jesus, watching me fall on my face and into His arms, listening to me apologize when I’ve hurt them. They heard my angry words with their father and saw us reconcile (often).

They’ve also heard me break into song in the middle of the grocery store and sung right along with me.  We’ve jumped on trampolines together, danced in the living room to Johnny Mathis songs and they’ve listened to my corny jokes.

Best of all? We’ve worshipped in church together over the years as they’ve grown.  They have sought after God and had their own miracles in the middle of their hard times and difficulties, a testimony, not to me but to the God to whom I pointed.

The God who redeems all things.

The One who redeems and makes new and creates out of my often very empty childhood, beauty and joy and strength, in spite of everything I was missing.  

THAT is something to rejoice in.

Linking with Jen and the Soli Deo Sisters 
and Jennifer for Tell His Story

His Praise Goes Everywhere

I am honored and humbled to have a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago to be featured at The High Calling this week.

I have been part of this faith-based online community for the two plus years that I have been blogging and they are the most supportive and encouraging friends, some of whom I’ve met in real life, like Deidra Riggs.

Will you follow me here as I share about Aslan…and the idea of Social Justice?

A Broken Hallelujah

For those of you with the Shrek song running through your heads, I’ll give you a few moments. La, la, la……  (If you want to sing along with the original songwriter Leonard Cohen, click here.)  Okay, done? How about now?
I have a little brother–I am the oldest of five children–who actually is not ‘little’ anymore. In fact, he’s 6 foot 4 inches. I will call him my youngest brother. 

When my mother was just separated from her third husband, my brother D. was in a serious motorcycle accident; he was 19 at the time.  Let’s just say he was not okay with my mother’s choice for a mate so he didn’t relish the idea of living at home. Estranged from the rest of us, he’d become a nomad, crashing on various Southern California couches after he decided to leave home and high school, as I recall, in that order.

But this accident brought him home.

Actually, “home” had to go to him.  When my mother received the call from the police about D’s accident, she got herself to the hospital, re-entering his life under less-than-ideal circumstances.  My brother was hospitalized for three 1/2 months, nearly lost his leg to an amputation and ended up becoming a guinea pig for the first ever (it was the ’80’s) nuts and bolts leg rebuilding done ever done for an injury of his kind.
D. wore a leg apparatus that looked like he’d been put together with an metal Tinker Toy set.  The bolts were adjusted and tightened regularly, encouraging bone growth and repair.  Recuperation was excruciating and slow, but he finally recovered.

Once he was mobile, D. vanished again, floating in and out of our lives for the next decade.  Drug and alcohol addiction dogged him and he came near death again more than once. We’d hear of his whereabouts from time to time but he was often missed at family gatherings. It was hard on my mom; it was hard on ALL of us.

I will not tell his salvation story any more than that, other than to say God got a hold of him in 1999, rescued him, redeemed him and relieved him of his death wish and defiant ways. 
It was a mighty deliverance.

But relationship re-entry was difficult for the two of us in particular (at least the way I saw it.)
When you spend your lifetime the oldest of five children in a family with an absent father and a harried mom–such as I did–you usually take charge of things, or responsibilities are handed to you.  I was left with the burden of caring for my brothers and sisters while my mom worked; D. as the youngest resisted it the most.

I was the bossy big sister for most of his life and now our adult interactions were strained. I had found Jesus at 19 during the time he was out of our lives and I was a little (well, a LOT) over-zealous.  My fanaticism didn’t help my relationships in my family–I was referred to as “the religious one” which only made things worse.

Although D and I now shared a saving faith in Jesus, our relationship as adults was going to need some work.

Soul injuries can take a lifetime to heal but I can testify 
to God’s faithfulness and the power of that process.

Here we stand, 15 years since D.’s first “house arrest” by Jesus, and stand he does–not just physically, but soul-whole as well.  Our relationship is repaired and we are continuing to grow in love and grace with each other.  

All of those miracles crossed my mind, bubbling to the surface in tears as I stood in worship a few Sunday mornings ago. There was a moment during an outpouring of spontaneous prayer when I heard these words,

“There are only two conditions of the heart.  
A closed heart is a hard heart.  
An open heart is a soft heart.  
There are two conditions of a soft heart.
One that is open to receive the love of Jesus Christ or open to give that love away.”

The words touched me deeply. “Wow,” I thought, “who is that praying?”

The prayer continued, “Jesus, give us your grace to live our lives with open hands.”
I began to weep, tears brimming not so much at the content of the words but the condition of the speaker.

It was my little brother.

The brother who should be dead, who’s come back to life and knows better than I ever will what it means to sing and pray a broken hallelujah.

He was badly broken and by God’s grace he’s being made whole. (And aren’t we all?)
Linking with Jennifer for Tell His Story 
and Emily for Imperfect Prose

Six words–Heart

~seeds hidden, sliced open to taste life~
This post is linked up for the first time with Six Word Fridays, hosted by 
Adrienne Scanlon who blogs at My Memory Art
I chose a six word photo caption….to capture my heart this week.
Before I took the apple photo, the word ‘love’ showed up in the magnets on our frig, rearranged by my daughter Leahwhose heart I had in mind.

Seeing the apple reminded me of a heart sliced open. Sometimes there’s a hidden message in an apple…..from sliced open seeds come new life. 
My precious daughter can tell you that.

Pink Dawn

This viburnum blooms every year in my yard in January.

That’s the main reason I bought it–to have some color (and fragrance) in the dead of winter.  I live in the Pacific Northwest and we have our seasons.  I’ll say.

But there’s something else about January–the declaration of the joy of a new start. 

A re-everything time of year.

Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote recently about New Year’s Resolutions in a way that made me stop and think. And sigh. And cry.

Because her words were so true.  

“Life is a marble cake–with joy and sadness all mixed in to the batter, 
to make the pattern of our days. You don’t have all joy, all the time. But thanks be to God, we aren’t stuck with all sadness either.” 

The key to living in the joy of this new year is to
re-member–put back together–the list of promises already fulfilled for me.  For you.

I want to make this resolution:

to RE solve to RE member my RE deemer and what He’s already done. 
That He is the one will RE-cover my past.

Not through my own efforts and what I can do but what He’s already done.

To RE mind myself of His power and His promises towards me.

To be RE freshed.  To be RE newed

To RE joice in the blood of Jesus which has purchased my life and covers my sin and makes me right with God. Which has paved the way towards the throne when I am desperate and on my knees and crying, “Oh, God, here I am again.”

Starting over.

And aren’t we always? Every day is a new start. A chance to rest and relax from our own striving, to trust that God’s got our back.

Every day is a a do-over from the One who’s done it all.

Who brings the promise of a new dawn each day, a pink dawn of color and fragrance and beauty as we RE-lease it all to Him.

Our ‘anatole’, the Dayspring, our dawn. (Luke 1:78).

linking with Laura B. for Playdates.  More beautiful words over there.