Wednesday, December 31, 2008

When the Ball Drops

2009. Having fully recovered from the Christmas hoopla, I relish the thought of a brand new year. It arrives as an enormous present, ready to be unwrapped and enjoyed. What will it bring? No doubt, there will be both joys and heartaches.

For me, chances are good for a loss of muscle mass and an increase in body fat. One daughter will enter her senior year of college, the other her senior year of high school. According to eHarmony, it will be my year for love (but only if I purchase a minimum three month membership).

Beyond my tiny world, America will witness the swearing in of its first black president. Richard Gere and the Bionic Woman will turn sixty. On a somber note, there will be heavy bombing in the Gaza strip on New Year’s Day. More than fifteen MILLION children will ring in the New Year as AIDS orphans. The signs are ripe.

This brings me to my favorite New Year’s fantasy. What if 2009 is the year our Savior comes back to get us? What if this is the year we are caught up in the air to meet the One who loved us before time began? What if 2009 is the year we feast at the wedding supper of the Lamb?

When the clock strikes twelve tonight, I will be mapping out the inside of my eyelids. And I will be dreaming – not of sugarplums, but rather of our Lord’s return, of the day He will dry every tear, when sorrow and mourning will pass away, when the dwelling of God will be with men. With that thought, I wish you sweet dreams and a Happy New Year!

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them. Never again will they hunger. Never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Revelation 7: 15-17, NIV.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Great Expectations

We don’t normally wake up the day after someone’s birthday and think, “Thank God that’s over!” I am embarrassed to admit December 26 is my second most favorite day of the year (surpassed only by the first day of school for “I’m bored” teenagers). This year, the relief I felt December 26 was so great, it warranted closer examination. Did the enormity of my relief point to something out of balance before Christmas?

You have to concede this about God: if you ask Him to reveal your flaws, He will invariably comply. I have learned not to ask unless I am willing to be humbled and to take corrective action. Mercifully, God is always willing to do the lion’s share of changing us if we but gather the courage to look. So what was my problem that I felt so much better December 26?

The truth is I worry about disappointing people at Christmas. Will the gifts be right? Will the house be clean enough, the food varied enough? Will I spend the right amount of time with the right friends and family? Will anyone’s feelings be hurt by something I say, do or fail to do? It is a lot of pressure. Of course, none of these fears has anything to do with the reason we celebrate Christmas. I believe they are part and parcel of our human condition.

The Good News is that Jesus understands my woeful lapses in faith. He doesn’t take it personally that the passing of His birthday finds me feeling like I’ve just survived a great hurdle. We serve an infinitely loving and patient God who never leaves us as He finds us. By next December, He will have done a great work in me. Of course, I won’t be where I need to be, but I know with all my heart that I won’t be where I am today. What about you? What journey of transformation is He calling you to, today?

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1: 3-6, NIV.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Twelve Days for Christmas, Days 11 and 12

I am certain that Satan did not want me to finish our study of Rick Warren’s The Purpose of Christmas. On Monday, I woke up with a fever and sinuses that a stick of dynamite couldn’t budge. On Tuesday, I woke up and our heat pump had burned out. It was a whopping forty-five degrees in the house. Several phone calls later, I realized it would be at least one more night, possibly two before we would have heat. Being sick and having to camp over at friends’ was not what I had in mind for the days leading up to Christmas. "Distracted" seems inadequate to describe my state of mind.

But by the time I finish writing this, Christmas Eve midnight will have come and gone. It will be Christmas. We got back into our house this evening. The antibiotics I’ve been taking have started to kick in. My nearly grown children are nestled snug in their beds while visions of giftcards dance in their heads.

The house is silent, save for the ticking of the clock. The Christmas tree sparkles with colored lights and tinsel. Ornaments my daughters made at school in the early nineties still hang in places of great honor. Now we are here; it is Christmas.

On this holy, silent night, I can turn to the Scriptures to relieve my distraction. I am drawn to the book of Revelation where the end is revealed from the beginning. The angels and elders are gathered around the throne of God. Just like in the night sky over Bethlehem, they all begin to sing for Jesus:

You were killed, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have caused them to become God’s kingdom and His priests. And they will reign on the earth.

The Lamb is worthy – the Lamb who was killed. He is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.

And that is what Christmas is all about.

Good night and God Bless – may you feel His grace today:
Gail W.

The last Word:
You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created everything, and it is for your pleasure that we exist and were created.
Revelation 4:11, NLT.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Twelve Days for Christmas: Day 10

Reference: Warren, Rick (2008). The Purpose of Christmas. Howard Books, pp. 104-106.

Funny thing about making peace with God; it is invariably followed by the peace of God. Today’s reading reminds us that through the birth of a baby two thousand years ago, we can know the peace of God in a world ruled by darkness.

It is eighteen degrees here tonight with not a cloud in sight. Stars I don’t normally see gleam in the winter sky. By the miracle of Christmas, I can look up and know my God is in control of all that happens in the heavens and here on the earth.

Man talks a lot about peace. History yields a long list of men and women who did all they could to promote peace. Billions of dollars have been spent; thousands of lives have been taken, all in the name of peace. The joyful news of Christmas is that God knew how far afield man would go, and He made a plan before the world began.

We who believe know the peace of God. It is certainty in the face of illness, in the face of poverty and in the face of broken relationships. It is peace when it makes no human sense to have peace. Today, we pause to mark Christmas as the gate by which we can know the peace of God.

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4: 6, 7, NASB.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Twelve Days for Christmas: Day 9

Reference: Warren, Rick (2008). The Purpose of Christmas. Howard Books, pp. 87-103.

Today’s reading focuses on Christmas’ purpose of reconciliation. The babe in Bethlehem came that we might have peace. Peace with God, the peace of God and peace with others.

Prince of Peace. Of all the names Isaiah listed for the coming Messiah, “Prince of Peace” touches my heart most deeply. I crave peace. I have known enough chaos to last a hundred lifetimes. Much of it was of my own making. Like the prodigal son, I took my inheritance and squandered it on riotous living. I thought I had a plan. The plan turned out to be a dead end.

But the Father knew I could never find my way back to Him on my own. So He sent His Son. He made a way for you and for me to come home, to be reunited with our Father. Peace with God means unholy man being reconciled to a holy God. Only the Son Himself could accomplish such a task. He chose to do so at a cost we may never fully grasp. At Christmas, we rejoice and mark the day His great Mercy came to dwell among us.

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Isaiah 55:1, NIV.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Twelve Days for Christmas: Day 8

Reference: Warren, Rick (2008). The Purpose of Christmas. Howard Books, pp. 79-83.

Today, we view Christmas in the light of faith. Webster’s defines faith as “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”. Long before Webster penned his first tome, Paul defined faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Rick Warren puts it this way:

“Just as parents deeply desire and long for their children to trust their love, God wants you to learn to trust Him. The Bible says, ‘Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.’ Faith makes God smile. It’s not what you do, but whom you trust, that gets you into heaven (pp. 79-80).

Christmas calls us to child-like faith in our Lord. Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). I think of the certainty I felt as a child that Santa Claus was coming on Christmas Eve. There were no nagging doubts, no contingency plan in case he didn’t show. I KNEW he would be there as surely as I knew the sun would rise on Christmas day. It never occurred to me that it would not be so. Oh, to have such faith as we await His arrival!

As we approach the birth of the Christ Child, we pause to thank Him for the miracle of faith.

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 7: 50, NIV.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gone Fishin'

Twelve Days for Christmas: Day 8 will be posted by noon today. ------------

Twelve Days for Christmas: Day 7

Reference: Warren, Rick (2008). The Purpose of Christmas. Howard Books, pp. 67-78.

As we move closer to the birth of the Christ Child, we stop to remember that He did not have to come. There was no endearing trait in us that would justify His leaving Heaven to come and get us. He came, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. This is what we mean by grace. When there was nothing the human race could do to reconcile itself to a holy God, Christ stepped in and paid the bill for us.

Grace is a hard concept for me to grasp. I grew up believing love was something you received when you followed the rules and lost when you failed to do so. Most people I know struggle to escape that man-made mentality. We can quote Ephesians 2:8 until the cows come home (“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith”), but what does that mean, exactly? I like Rick Warren’s explanation:

“God came to earth as Jesus essentially to say: You guys have got it all wrong! Of course doing good things matters, but it doesn’t make me love you any more or any less. My love for you is unlimited, unconditional, unchanging, and undeserved. You can’t purchase it, work for it, or be good enough to merit it. It’s a gift that will cost me a lot, but it is free to you” (p. 69).

Today, we pause to ponder the miracle of grace. We revel in its expression as the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us.

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
As we know Jesus better, His divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive His own glory and goodness! And by that same mighty power, He has given us all of His rich and wonderful promises. He has promised that you will escape the decadence all around you caused by evil desires and that you will share in His divine nature.
2 Peter 1: 3, 4, NLT.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Twelve Days for Christmas: Day 6

Reference: Warren, Rick (2008). The Purpose of Christmas. Howard Books, pp. 61-66.

How are we doing, ladies? I hope coming by this blog is a moment of refreshing for you – remember, this mini-study is intended to help us relax amid the rush and to focus, however briefly, on the core of Christmas. If it has become one more thing you need to do, that’s Satan talking, loud and clear! (He’s the only one I know who talks more than I do – I will be so glad when God shuts him up for good).

Oh, yes, back to our study . . . .

Today, we continue our look at Christmas through the lens of salvation. If Christ only came to save us from sin and death, that would be a gift beyond measure. But that is just the beginning! The good tidings of great joy are that He not only saves us from something; He saves us for something. Warren writes, "Although God created each of us for a purpose, we’ve all taken many detours in life, thinking we knew better. [OUCH] So God had to send Jesus as our Savior – to redeem us from sin, to reset the directions of our lives, and to restore us to His original purposes for our lives" (p. 62, emphasis added).

The babe in Bethlehem’s manger holds the key to all my happiness in the here and the hereafter. Because He came, I can find relief from the sin that binds me AND I can jump into the flow of furthering His kingdom. That’s where it really gets exciting! Christmas is a time to pause and remember the things that bring me the greatest joy: my family, my work and the certainty that this life is just a precursor to eternity with the Lover of my soul.

What about you? What has Christ saved you for? Take time to think about the things that bring you the greatest joy; take time to thank a tender Baby for making it all possible!

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Romans 8: 28, 29, NIV.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Twelve Days for Christmas: Day 5

Reference: Warren, Rick (2008). The Purpose of Christmas. Howard Books, pp. 41-50.

Today, we take an expanded look at the gift of salvation that Christmas brings. In The Purpose of Christmas, Warren writes,

“When people think of spiritual salvation, they often have a very narrow concept of it: they think that salvation is being saved from hell. But God had so much more in mind than just fire insurance when He sent Jesus to be our Savior” (p. 44).

Webster’s dictionary defines “salvation” as preservation from destruction or failure; deliverance from danger or difficulty. The word “save” is to rescue or deliver from danger or harm, to preserve or guard from injury, destruction or loss.

“I am my own worst enemy.” How often do we hear this; how often do we think it of ourselves? It is no secret that many (most, speaking for myself) of our troubles are of our own making. Even when other people, places and things create chaos in our lives, we make matters worse by the way we respond.

The apostle Paul described our problem perfectly: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate is what I do . . . I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it (Romans 7: 15-20).

Sin is real, and I need to be preserved from its destruction. Every day. Salvation is not just a card to cash in at the gates to eternity. It is a tool for living every moment of every day. Through salvation, God chips away at our hearts of stone, molding us into the image of His Son. When we accept Christ as Savior, we give consent to the Sculptor to begin work with our rough materials. Through the ongoing work of salvation, God will use what we bring to create the masterpiece He knows is within us.

Christmas is for salvation.

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day unto now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1: 3-6, NIV.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Twelve Days for Christmas: Day 4

Reference: Warren, Rick (2008). The Purpose of Christmas. Howard Books, pp. 29-37.

In today’s reading, we continue to ask, “What, exactly, are we celebrating at Christmas?” Using the angel’s pronouncement to the shepherds, Rick Warren focuses on the eternal Truth that God is for us.I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

For many years, I pictured God as a giant man with a flowing white beard and a ready supply of punishments for those who did not toe the line. Satan uses our guilty conscience and a wrong understanding of God to make us forget that God is on our side. At Christmas, we celebrate that God is rooting for each of us with all the love and power that heaven holds.

The apostle Paul, writing to the church at Rome, posed the question we must daily ask ourselves: If God is for us, who can be against us? Our reading points out that God plus one is always a majority! We do well to follow Moses’ advice to the children of Israel, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today . . . the Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Take time today to remember that God is for you, that Christ came not to condemn the world but to save it.

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.
Psalm 27: 1, 5, NIV.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sabbath Rest

Pause today to reflect on what we've been reminded of so far:

Christmas is a time to take courage.

Christmas is a time to celebrate that God loves you.

Christmas is a time to celebrate that God is with you.

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.
Isaiah 30: 15, NIV.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Twelve Days for Christmas: Day 3

Reference: Warren, Rick (2008). The Purpose of Christmas. Howard Books, pp. 25-28.

Immanuel. God with us. Here we find another reason to celebrate Christmas. God is with us. God is with you. God is with me. What could be greater cause to rejoice?

I often marvel at how unbelievers can get up and face the world each day without the Savior. What gratitude comes from knowing, The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Today, you may feel alone, but feelings are not facts. The Fact is The Great I AM is with us, every day, everywhere. He has not left us here as orphans. The God who came to Bethlehem in the form of a baby still comes to us today. He is right here, right now. Sounds like time for the happy dance to me!

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.
Psalm 121:4-8, NKJV.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Twelve Days for Christmas: Day 2

Today’s reference:
Warren, Rick (2008). The Purpose of Christmas. Howard Books, pp. 10-24. (Don’t panic; most of those pages are pictures!)

Based on the angel’s pronouncement, Rick Warren cites three purposes of Jesus’ birth. The greatest holiday on Earth is a time for celebration, for salvation and for reconciliation. We begin by examining Christmas as a time for celebration.

The carol asks, “Shepherds, why your jubilee?” What, exactly, will we be celebrating on December 25? A few paid days off from work? That the planning, shopping, cooking, decorating frenzy of the past month has finally come to an end? These are reasons the world celebrates Christmas. But what about those of us who know the Savior’s birth as the unfolding of God’s gracious plan?

When we celebrate Christmas, we are celebrating the nature of God. The bedrock truth revealed in the manger is that God loves us. For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son. Through the prophet Isaiah, Christ foretold His purpose in coming to Earth:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted; to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Isaiah 61: 1, 2).

The joy of Christmas is that the Creator of the universe loves us with an everlasting love. He loved us more than He loved His own life. Pause for a moment and think of the glories of nature. Now think about the fact that God’s love for you far exceeds anything our human eyes can see. Cause to celebrate, indeed.

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man . . . but God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5: 6-8, NIV.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Twelve Days for Christmas: Day 1

Today’s reference:
Warren, Rick (2008). The Purpose of Christmas. Howard Books, pp. 1-9.

Rick Warren begins The Purpose of Christmas with the question, “Why is Christmas such a big deal?” He has a point. In a world that so often denies Christ, there is still a tremendous stir this time of year. With December 25 less than two weeks away, many people are feeling this stir in not-so-pleasant ways. If that is you, I have one word for you . . . breathe.

You may be reading this in the middle of a busy office or in a heap of exhaustion after a day you thought would never end. Whatever your circumstances, I invite you to stop. Just stop. Before you read another word, close your eyes and take one deep, gut-raising breath. Go ahead, be extravagant – take two!

Now, where were we? Oh, yes; I believe it was the book of Luke:
There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!

My attention goes first to the state of the shepherds. They were sore afraid. Sound like anybody you know these days? From job woes to jihad, we face many reasons to be terrified. The world seems to be spinning faster and faster – any day now, things will start flying off into space under the momentum. Evils we never dreamed possible have become the stuff of everyday headlines.

And lo, just as the light of angels cracked the darkness over Bethlehem, Christmas comes, bringing its sudden and singular message: Fear not! The purpose of Christmas will always be the bestowing of the Greatest Gift. Rick Warren points out this Gift is priceless. It lasts forever. It is indispensable in the here and the hereafter. But like any other gift, it is useless if left unwrapped beneath the tree. I pray the moments we spend together here will be an opportunity to unwrap your Gift anew, to be dazzled again by the brightness and beauty that filled the night sky so many years ago. The wonder is still ours for the pausing and asking.

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2, NIV.

Discussion Suggestion:
What terrifies you these days? What do you need to stop and lay in the hands of the Savior?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Twelve Days for Christmas: A Mini-Study

The Purpose of Christmas by Rick Warren is a magnificent little book that seems to be on a lot of gift lists this year. I bought the book several weeks ago, toying with the idea of doing a short study for Job 19:25 He Lives.

Last week, my name was drawn for a door prize at a women’s dinner (see post 12/07/08). I was having so much fun at the dinner that I did not open the prize until I got home. As I peeled back the wrapping, I saw the red cover of Rick Warren’s new book peeking back at me. Okay, God – I get it!

On God’s behalf, I invite you to join me beginning December 11 for a twelve-day study of The Purpose of Christmas. Each day’s post will be structured to enjoy even if you have not had a chance to pick up the book. Please join me as we prayerfully approach the day that changed the history of all eternity!

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
The apostles gathered around Jesus . . . Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Mark 6: 30,31, NIV.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Oh Holy Night

Last Friday, I had my own holy night. No magi or livestock were involved, but Emmanuel was there as surely as He was in Bethlehem’s stable. I was invited to speak at a women’s Christmas dinner at a tiny rural church in Virginia. The night blessed my soul in ways I never expected. It was the greatest Christmas surprise I have received in many years.

I had never visited this little church before. Thankfully, a handful of women from my home church agreed to come along for moral support. As my friends and I drove through darkened back roads, not all of them paved, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. After only one wrong turn, we finally arrived. Rounding one more switchback curve, I saw the one-room church, lifted straight from a Currier and Ives Christmas card.

A buttery glow spilled from the windows into the churchyard. High above the white clapboard building, bells tolled as the clock struck seven. The rich, deep sound rang through the night, welcoming us to come in and find shelter from the cold. Shelter, indeed.

Inside, every corner of the room was filled. One corner held a Christmas tree. It was perfectly shaped yet real – we were in the country, after all. Another corner held a beautiful buffet, laden with ham, rolls, steaming green beans, baked apples and cheese potatoes. And that was before you reached the desserts! It was a feast fit for a King.

But the sweetest miracle was the greeting we received from this group of firm believers. They opened their arms and their hearts, warmly sharing the joy of Christ’s coming in song and in the Word. For a few brief hours, the world stopped. Sorrows and cares were set aside as we came into His presence with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise.

I had never met these women before. But I knew every one of them. From the newly widowed bride of many years to the elfin grandmother dressed in red from head to toe to the little girl with big brown eyes and chestnut hair swept up in a festive Christmas bow.

I was home. These women believe what I believe. They have staked their lives on the same truth I have, that the Lover of our souls left behind the glories of heaven to appear in a rural one-room stable, that He suffered unspeakably so we could be with Him forever.

For now, my holy night in the country felt like a little slice of heaven, a sneak preview of the fellowship we will feel when the One we adore returns to take us home again. The joy I felt will stay with me for a very long time.

May you feel His grace today,
Gail W.

The last Word:
The Word was made flesh and dwelled among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14, NIV.