Monday, December 24, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence-Day 24-- Mary

Many stories have been told about me. Many have been true and there have been many half-truths and to my sorrow there have been many lies. All of them have made their way back around to my ears. I have thought and pondered them as I do everything.

I remember that season as if it were a dream. I wonder sometimes if I have remembered it correctly or if the dream has been dyed by my own slant interpretations. But, no, that is one thing I know I do well—I hold tightly to details. I understand how they are woven together like my linens.

I am old now. I was young then. Just a girl. I have been considering what to tell you. I could tell you about the angel coming to me, I could tell you about my flight to the protection and safety of Elizabeth, I could tell you about the horrible moment when I had to tell Joseph news I knew he would not understand, I could tell you about the months between when I endured the hissing whispers at the well, I could tell you about the journey to Bethlehem and the events that took place—all these events were important and you know those parts of our story, but none of them are the one for tonight.

One night I sat on the roof of the tiny house we rented in Bethlehem. It was warm, way too warm to be inside. My son was only a few weeks old and I sat with him on a pallet to catch the breeze. He lay on my chest. Such a tiny little boy. He fit on the torso of me—curled tightly. It was his favorite place. Mine too, if I had allowed anyone to know. I remember looking down at that tiny face and being enthralled. All the events of the past year played out in my head.

I rubbed by hand over his fuzzy capped head. And it was then, in that short space of time, that I came to a full realization of what or rather who I held. I almost dropped him. He almost slid from my arms as the revelation swelled inside me. My hand trembled as I tentatively placed it on his narrow back to readjust him.

Shouldn’t this have dawned on me sooner, you ask? Back when the angel Gabriel came to me? Back when John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb or when the wise men came and bowed here before my son only a few days ago? Shouldn’t I have known? No, I had to ponder and hide these things in my heart. I have to mull and stew.

And in the stillness on the roof, in that quiet moment it dawned on me with a clarity so piercing I felt it.

My son. My son is the Son of God. Gabriel said God’s favor was one me, but what in the world am I doing? Who am I to be the mother of deity? What child is this and what can I give him? What can I teach him? What in the world am I going to do?

These questions rolled over me like a wave. And I panicked.

But on the end of the wave came the voice of God. I had heard it before; I recognized it. Jesus stirred and sighed in my arms as if he could hear it too.

You teach him what you know, Mary. You explain and demonstrate to him the dailyness of life. You teach him about bread and yeast, about mustard seed and fruit trees, about lamps and lamp stands. This is what you will teach him, Mary.

I shook my head. What absurd things to be teaching the Son of God. These were the mundane things of life. I did not understand. I thought Jesus would need to be sitting at the feet of great masters and the best rabbis in the village. I thought he needed far, far more than I could give him.

But the instructions of the Almighty God kept whirring in my ears. And I obeyed. Every chance I got I included this son of mine in my tasks and chores. We walked through fields and I showed him the flowers and talked to him about their beauty and how they were gifts to us. I drew water from the well and let him drink from the gourd and watched it dribble down his chin. I attempted to explain the precious necessity of water to him.

I always pondered how these little lessons would ever be of any value to this Son of God I had birthed. I just didn’t understand, but I decided I didn’t have to. I just needed to do what had been asked of me.

I am old now. And my Son is no longer with me. He is with his Father. But I have heard his teachings. I have seen Luke and Matthew’s accounts about my boy. And when I read and hear the truths he taught using the common things he learned at my side I am humbled and stunned and pleased.

We just never know what the Almighty is going to use to reveal himself to his people, do we? We never quite understand what he will do to bring us into His Presence.

For me it was the quiet, steady breathing of a tiny baby boy.

25 Days of Christmas Presence--Day 24--Joseph

By Steve Rehnborg

Hurt. That’s what I felt. It seems so long ago now, but I remember the pain in my heart when Mary tried to explain that she was pregnant with a child of the Holy Spirit, like that happens everyday. I thought, if you’re going to lie to me, make up a better story than that. I walked away from that conversation, uncertain. I wondered how was I going to explain this to Jacob, my father. The wedding plans were already begun. He was already preparing a place for us. He and my mother were already looking forward to grandsons. They weren’t going to believe the Son of God story. I was certain that would be ashamed of me, it would be my fault. They expected better of me and I always tried to live up to their expectations.

I focused on my work for awhile. We had plenty to do. New work had begun expanding the synagogue, Nazareth was growing. But, everyday as we worked on erecting the new stone walls, I couldn’t shake the hurt. One day I reached a decision, or so I thought. I chose then to divorce Mary. I cared about her too much to humiliate her in public so I chose to do it quietly. I knew I would have to tell my father, but I also knew he would not be ashamed of me because my insistence on a divorce would demonstrate my innocence. I was certain that my parents would be disappointed, their hopes for grandchildren were going to be postponed, but I was determined that a marriage could not begin without trust.

That’s when everything changed. I went to bed exhausted from a hard day’s work, but convicted about my decision. I was asleep quickly and deeply. I can still see the angel who spoke to me in my dreams that night. He was frightening and amazing all at the same time. He spoke to my doubts and fears. He confirmed what Mary had said. I was right. You can’t begin a marriage without trust, but I was apparently the one that had to learn to trust. When he was gone and I awoke, I could hardly wait to find Mary. I knew my fears were frightening her too. I wanted her to know that I understood God’s plan now. The potential was beyond measure.

And so, I didn’t divorce her. The wedding was still going to happen. I took some ridicule because Mary was pregnant, but we were beginning our life together in service to our God.

Politics. We spent a lot of time discussing politics at the work site. Everything from the temple leadership to the oppression of Rome. When Caesar Augustus declared we would have to register, the debates began to get heated. It was a hardship. I had to stop working so I could travel to Bethlehem. Many of us did. That slowed our progress on the synagogue and cost us several days’ wages. But, politics, we couldn’t do anything else but what we were told.

The journey to Bethlehem was more difficult with Mary so close to having her baby, THE baby. (I was in awe of the possibilities of this birth.) The journey was hard, but things didn’t get easier just because we arrived. The city was crowded. We were barely able to manage the streets for the crowds of people swarming, pushing and bumping. Finding a place to stay, nearly impossible. I tried to find accommodations, but the birth was imminent. Anyplace was the urgent need. The stable was as good a place as any; at least it got us away from the crowds.

The birth. It didn’t seem quite as dramatic as I might have expected for Immanuel, the Savior. But, when Mary laid him in the manger, I was captivated by His Presence and suddenly overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the days that were to follow. When the shepherds arrived to tell us their story, Mary and I could only smile. God was confirming what He had told us and He was telling the world.

I fell into the dad role pretty easily. I always loved children. It just made me stop and ponder when I was reminded of who Jesus was and the Power that was present there. I watched him grow and learn. When he was old enough, he began to help me with my work. I taught him about building on a good foundation. I taught him about cornerstones. I showed him how to make the plans for a new building. He always listened dutifully, respectfully, with appreciation, but I knew his future was not coming from me. He was already too wise among the scholars. His hands were made for healing, encouragement, hope, and love. They were not made to heft stone and form wood. I knew that.

I won’t be able to participate in the promise of his future. I won’t see the plans fulfilled. My time is short here. I know he is provided for. The wealth of kings was laid at his feet when he was still a child. I am just grateful that God let me experience His Presence.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence--Day 22

Years ago at a very difficult crossroads in my life journey I was at a retreat. There were some incredibly amazing people present. People I respected and had considered to be mentors in the faith. It was the evening session and we were to share a Scripture that God was using in our lives.

When this woman read hers I underlined the whole passage in my Bible. I didn’t think much of it at the time other than it was a powerful passage. And I didn’t fully comprehend it. Earlier this year I was going through my Bible and found the markings with the dates and the woman’s name. And the verses were suddenly illuminated for me. I read and reread the passage.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:23-26

When we think of portions we think of McDonald’s and their sizes of fries. Or we comment on a restaurant’s sizes of portions. Or we explain that this is your portion of the program to delegate and conduct. But to the Hebrew people a portion was an incredibly important allotment. To be given a portion was to be given a part, piece or investment of and in something valuable. When Elisha clung to Elijah before Elijah was taken up in the fiery chariots he asked God for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. When Elkanah was giving meat to his family he gave Hannah a double portion; this act showed Elkanah’s favor and was an expression of his love.

Like Hannah and Elisha I want a double portion of the Presence of God.

I want him to hold me by my right hand—and I don’t want to let go.

I want him to guide me with HIS counsel—I don’t trust my own.

I want him to take me into his glory—into the weight and essence of who he is.

I want him to be who I desire—I have desired so much that was not good and right.

I want him to be the strength of my heart—my own has failed me.

I want him to be my portion—forever, not just momentarily or temporarily.

This Christmas I want a double portion. And I am going to be bold enough to ask. Because of Jesus coming, because of his grace, because of his mercy, because of his love I have been given a portion in the Kingdom of God. This has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with me. It is not that I have been good enough. It is not that I have not sinned. It is not that I do everything right or make all the right choices. It is only through his grace...

I am not going to let it go. I am not going to allow it to be robbed from me or mine. By the grace of God I will claim my double portion.

And the Father is willing to give this to me. To you. To us.

His sending of Jesus is our proof. He is the visible reality that God longs to redeem his people and give them their portion in his kingdom.
But there is something that floors me. There is one phrase that stuns me. In Deuteronomy* Moses is singing. And he sings, “For the Lord’s portion is his people.”

Back at the beginning of this series of devotions we talked about God’s pleasure and that he wanted us to be his people. His people. We are his portion. We are valuable to him. We are the allotment that he desires.

When I think about who I am, when I think about who the people are around me, when I think about this world that we live in I cannot fathom this phrase uttered through Moses.

But it is by God's determination that we his portion. We are the portion that belongs to God.

And then it comes full circle with this tiny little baby—he made this portion possible. He is God’s favor toward us. He is the expression of God’s love.

Heavenly Father,

You are our portion. You are the good and valuable in our lives. We want double. Oh, we long to be a good portion for you. A portion you cherish. Please help us, Lord. Our hearts will fail us if we attempt to do this alone. If we trust in our own strength it will prove to be far too weak. Please always be with us and help us to be bold enough to claim what is already ours. Amen.

Daily Activity: This Christmas what are you going to ask God for? What do you want a single or double portion of? What is worth the asking?

Deuteronomy 32:9

Thursday, December 20, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence—Day 20

Abba Father,

Hear my petition.

Please hear what I cannot say—what I don’t know how to say. I long for your presence tonight—like a young infant seeks his mama’s face. Tonight I want to see you. I am cold, hungry and insecure.

Tonight we move closer to the day we celebrate your arrival. I am thankful that Jesus came. I am even more thankful that he came and went and promised not to leave us orphans.

No, you knew who we would need. You sent the Holy Spirit to move among us—to live in us, to abide in us so that we might have life. We just don’t understand. We really don’t fathom the depths of this event we call Christmas. We think we do, sometimes we talk as if do, occasionally we live like we do. Christmas is still a mystery. It is still veiled in the mystery of a God who cared enough to enter into life with us.

The means by which you accomplished my salvation, the salvation of all people, still floors me. I consider how you managed this redemption and I just don’t quite comprehend why you would want to redeem me.

My feet are made of clay. I am weak. I am sometimes ugly. Often I speak before I listen. Frequently I ignore all the warning signs that declare to me that I am making a poor choice. I neglect to read the sign posts you have left for me. I miss turns in the road. I sin both willfully and inadvertently. And my heart can be wicked and deceitful (and this one scares me most of all). I dream dreams that do not align with who you are. I long for things that will not pull your kingdom forward. My hands reach for the wrong things. I might have to argue with your Paul—I feel like the chief of sinners. My heart is bent—it seems to me beyond repair.

But as Steve wrote yesterday this beyond- repair- thought is only my perception. It is NOT the truth.

The truth is that you come to me just as I am. You come to me in the filth and ugliness of me. You come to me in the goodness and right of me—though there is little. Even now in the midst of pain and fragility and anger and fear and deceit you come to me—in a way I understand.

I think of holding my Elijah-boy (his Poppy calls him King David) and my Little Lion Man and the purity I see in them. There is a holiness that halos their little faces because they are yet untainted by sin and failures. Their Noni struggles and longs to be like them.

I believe this is why you sent Jesus as a baby. There is no rank cynicism in a baby. There is not yet mean deceit. There is not yet intentional manipulation. There is no hidden agenda. There is no cold hate. And when I hold my boys, you help me to remember.

To remember that Jesus who was a baby said to be like little children.

Teach me once again what it means to be a little child. Show me how to allow you to make my heart like Elijah and Judah’s. Let this Noni learn from her grandsons.

Thank you for sending a baby. Thank you for choosing the weak and frail to carry out your plan. That means there is hope for me. You will use me. You will empower me to bless the tiny world in which I live—just as Elijah and Judah bless theirs.

Just as Jesus blessed his.

Amen and amen.

Elijah and Judah

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence--Day 18

Yesterday my daughter got me a Christmas present. I know what it is. I have seen it and held it, but she will wrap it and give it to me on Christmas morning.

We were shopping and we were in one of our favorite stores and I told her I had something I wanted to show her. We walked down the aisle and turned into a booth. I wondered if it would still be there. I had been having a month long debate about whether to buy this for myself. I just couldn’t justify it.

It was still there.

You have to get it, Mom.

I waffled. She didn’t. She looked at me and firmly said, I am buying you this for Christmas. Give it to me. You should have this.

I wasn’t sure what to do. This was way too much money for my daughter to be spending on a gift for me. But I knew how much it would mean to me coming from her.

The gift was a whole chambered nautilus shell. Whole. Not a cross-sectioned one—I have one of those in my room. I had never actually seen a whole chambered nautilus—only in images

whole chambered nautilus. Beautifully marked and in incredible condition.

The clerk wrapped it in layers and layers of tissue paper and my daughter brought it home. I won’t see it again until Christmas, but its lessons for me have already started.

I started my year with the tag word WHOLE and this gift comes to me at the end.

This week I have struggled with wholeness. I have felt fragmented and disjointed. My age-old insecurities have surfaced. And I look around to see where I laid down my armor.

It doesn’t feel like Christmas right now. Today I did not feel like participating in the festivities of the Christmas season. I did not want to hear Christmas songs or buy presents or wrap them. Today I did not want to make out Christmas menu grocery lists. I did not want to engage people. I did not want to participate in Christmas.
This is a very hard post for me to finish. It is difficult to continue writing when I have read more about the community of Newtown, Connecticut.

When the horrible tragedy happened and news began to filter to me all I heard were the words Sandy Hook and I panicked. I am from Sandy Hook. I went to elementary school in Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook, Kentucky. And for a few brief moments I was transported back to the halls of my grade school.

It is Christmas and this tragedy is a hard and ugly thing. Newtown is fractured and broken. Senseless, cold killings have violated a community. The people, the families, will never be the same. We will never be the same. To attempt to make right sense of this seems futile. I can find no sense in it. None. There is no logic to the slaying of children who had not even reached double-digits.

Christmas is about Immanuel—God with us.

Christmas is about our participation in the Divine. I don't need to want to participate in Christmas--I need to be hungry to participate in Christ. In Jesus.

How, in this season, can we participate and help the Newtown community to find some sense of wholeness again?

How can we who live far away be a part of binding up wounds as our President suggested? What can we do to aid healing?

We pray.

Not just a God Bless Them kind of prayer.

We ask for wholeness for families who are now sick and weighted with grief—mothers weeping for their children, fathers groaning over their children, husbands aching for their wives, brothers sobbing for brothers and sisters screaming for sisters.

We ask for healing for the children who have seen terror—looked it in the face.

We ask for sleep for little ones whose minds are filled with nightmares.

We ask for wisdom for our leaders who are bowed under the weight of this tragedy.

We ask for a safe and holy space for people to vent their anger and their pain.

We ask for strength and stamina amid an avalanche of sorrow and sadness.

We ask our Father to teach us, now this Christmas, how to participate in the Divine.*

We ask him to show us how to put on his flesh and comfort his people.

We ask him to demonstrate how to step into his skin and carry consolation to his people.

We ask to be the second incarnations.

Jesus came that we might participate in the Divine. Jesus came to make the fragmented, broken, destroyed, wounded and cut parts of us whole.

My new chambered nautilus reminded me.

Father, send people, send us, to the community of Newtown. In whatever way possible provide for us opportunities to help and aid in the healing of this place where ugly evil has wounded and destroyed. Please help us to be active in finding routes to love a people who have suffered in ways most of us cannot even imagine. Enable us to seek and find opportunities to take care of these families who are weeping tonight. Our faith is nothing if it does not have hands and feet. We must participate. We cannot sit or walk by and allow the wounded to continue to bleed. Show us how to bind up these wounds and heal your people. Amen and amen.

Daily Activity: Many resources to aid in helping the families of the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary have already been established. There are websites in place where you can leave video and voice messages for the families. There are sites established to provide funds for the victims’ families. Ask God how you can specifically help. Participate.

II Peter 1:4

Stories and Names of the Connecticut Victims

Aid for Newtown Families

Sunday, December 16, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence--Day 16

In recent years I have chosen a word I use as a tag all year (Debbie Macomber and Ann Voskamp have this tradition also). Almost everything I read or do then pivots on this word.

2012’s word? 


It became an acrostic for me: 


I wanted this acrostic to permeate my life.  I wanted every word to frame, on a regular basis, my actions, thoughts and behaviors.

I have succeeded. I have failed. I have attempted. I have been apathetic. I have yearned. I have forgotten.

Inside of me, in the deepest depths of me, there is a well and it holds a mighty cavern of waters. This water routinely rushes in joy and often flows in sorrow. I’ve tried to control it to a trickle, just a little stream of water, but it just simply wells up inside me. This passion is intense because…

You see, she who has been forgiven much, loves much.

And I have been forgiven much.  

Perhaps this is an Easter devotion more than a Christmas one, but you can’t have one without the other.

I wonder if, when the woman bent down and broke the alabaster jar at Jesus’ feet, long dormant memories came to Jesus’ mind.  Did he recall, either by his mother’s recollections or by his own memory, the men who came to visit him as a child in Bethlehem? Did he remember their exotic faces bent toward his? Did he remember the different cadence of their speech and phrasings? Did he remember his mother and Joseph’s reactions to these men?

Did he remember the gifts? The gold? The frankincense? The myrrh? Did the aroma rise when the wise men from the east opened the lid of the boxes as it did when Mary’s jar lay broken and in fragments at his feet?

What did the wise men from the east and Mary, in the house of Simon, have in common? And what, oh what, do I have in common with them?

Both Mary and the wise men came to passionately worship Jesus.


The first point in my acrostic. I thought I understood worship. Yes, I thought. Little did I know.

Not long ago early in the morning hours, in the back sanctuary of my home, I was utterly overwhelmed in the presence of God. Undone I went to my knees on the dark laminate floor. And there I remained, bent and bowed. Weeping and praying.

And then I rose far more whole than I was before.

As did the Magi and Mary. The Magi knelt and then rose—rejoicing; Mary knelt and then rose—forgiven.

To be in God’s presence we cannot help but worship. And when we do, it rises like perfume—a pleasing aroma in God's presence.  

Heavenly Father, we want to worship you. We want to understand what that means. It is more than singing, more than liturgical reading, more than public praising. It is pouring out ourselves, the spilling of the best of us into your lap and onto your feet. It is calling you who you are.  Worship is more than weeping or praying. It is allowing you to enter into the deepest depths of us and overwhelming us with your presence. It is forgetting ourselves and bowing until we have forgotten the time. It is becoming a pleasing perfume to you. This Christmas, like the wise men when your Son was a child and sweet Mary when your Son was grown, show us how to worship.

Daily Activity:  Not one today. Today is almost over as I post this. But tomorrow? Tomorrow, set aside five minutes. Just five. And in that five minutes pour your self into his lap and at his feet. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be reluctant. Just pour.

Friday, December 14, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence—Day 14

The angels went to the shepherds--an unlikely crew based in the hills on the outskirts of Bethlehem. These shepherds were isolated and hidden from the mainstream traffic. Their occupation was a little less than savory, but necessary because of the sacrifices at the temple. And although they were necessary they still were held in disdain.

The angels came with a proclamation! Today, today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you! This public and official announcement was not told first to Herod or the High Priest. It was not posted and announced in the courts of the temple of Jerusalem. It was not heralded from the walls surrounding the great city.

God’s presence among his people, His Immanuel appearance, was proclaimed by the heavenly host to people caring for sheep.

They were leathered, worn and sturdy people. People who got their tunics and hands dirty. A demographic calloused to the elements and exposed to the dangers. People living a mundane, everyday existence.

The angel’s words were that God’s good news is for ALL people. All. Such inclusivity. Such an encompassing. And the shepherds marveled—they were included in this all. The fact that the proclamation was coming first hand to them was astounding. And they wasted no time. They set out on the beaten path that led to Bethlehem.

The night sky would have been bright to light their way, but their feet would have remembered the path. Too many times had they traipsed back and forth carrying lambs on their shoulders and leading sheep with their staffs. They would have brought no sheep that night. Someone would have volunteered or been chosen by the casting of lots to stay behind and guard the flocks.

And all the while as they put one dusty foot in front of the other, dodging upturned rocks and ruts in the path, they would have been mulling and discussing this proclamation.

A baby born and lying in a manger. Shepherds would have known birthing. And they were quite familiar with mangers. But this baby, the angels declared, was to be the Savior. The long awaited and anointed one. And that, that news, was beyond them. But their curiosity and hunger moved them forward.

And they arrived. And they left.

But the shepherds left far different than when they came. As the dark of night gave way to the early dawn they stopped everyone on the path. On that beaten way, back to their daily existence, they went out spreading the word of what and who they had seen and heard. And everyone they told went a different direction carrying with them this good news.

And so down through the millenniums and centuries this good news has come. Through countless ages these blessed shepherds’ accounts have reached too many to count.

But I can be counted. I am one of them. Their good news of great joy came to me. In the midst of my darkness, at the core of my blindness, God came and made a proclamation to me.

To me.

He said, I have good news of great joy for you, Tamera. Because I love you and you are precious to me I will not leave you where you are. I will not leave you as you are.

When this proclamation came to me I was living out in the darkness in an isolated place. I dwelled there. But even then I was being what God intended for me to be. I was taking care of people. The hurt, the lonely, the tired, the frustrated. Why? Because I was one of them.

I still am.

All my young life I wondered what and who I was. I have embraced many things, many titles. I have worn several hats.

But God has called me to be a shepherd. He has asked me to take care of and feed his sheep. He has asked me to proclaim the good news to the hurting, the frustrated, the excluded, the weary, the lonely and the afraid.

So, today I am proclaiming to you the good news! And I shout it with great joy.

You and I are included in the ALL PEOPLE of the angel’s proclamation.

The proclamation is for us.

And because of this proclamation we can enter into God’s presence.

Heavenly Father, you came to the shepherds—the common, everyday people of the world, and you told them the good news first. You opened up the night sky and sent a host of angels to proclaim that this was the year of your favor—the moment of the world getting to see your face. Your Presence was declared to people just like us. Let us, in turn, be like the shepherds. Enable us to be bold and audacious in our own telling. Give us courage to proclaim that you have changed us. In this good news you have redefined us. This is the year of your favor to us. Let it shine on us. Bring us out of our darkness and into our callings. You have called me to shepherd your people. Help me, God, to live into and out of my calling.

Daily Activity: What proclamation is God making to you? Today what good news is he trying to covey to you? What darkness is he calling you out of into his light? Listen. Listen closely.

What proclamation does he want you to take to others? One of forgiveness? One of inclusion? One of exhortation? Of encouragement? What good news does he want you to share?

Do it. Please, just do it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

‎25 Days of Christmas Presence—Day 7

By Steve Rehnborg
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:13-14 NIV

“Peace on Earth” How many times are we going to see that message this Christmas. It is probably in the top ten favorite designs for Christmas cards, window displays, and holiday advertising. It’s an easy statement to make at the holidays in these times. It doesn’t name Jesus – it’s safe. And, who doesn’t want peace on earth?

A couple of years ago, my daughter and I were having a conversation about the upcoming Christmas holidays. She asked me what I wanted for Christmas. Since ‘gifts’ is not my love language, gifts are not high on my list of important issues, even during the Christmas season. So, I gave her my smart-alecky answer: “How about Peace on Earth?” I don’t think she found that answer very helpful, but I really didn’t have even a mental list to draw from. We left it at that and went on our way.

God laughed at my smart-alecky answer. No, He didn’t give me the “I found that hilarious” laugh. He gave me the “I’ll teach you something new” laugh. He probably tagged me with the Hebrew version of “smart-alec” on the end of that laugh somewhere.

It was during that season, when I left my daughter to figure out on her own what to buy me for Christmas, that God showed me a truer meaning for peace on earth. I don’t remember the exact setting of when the Spirit spoke to my heart on this, but I do remember the message. Peace on earth isn’t about a freedom from war, battles, enemies, strife; it’s a statement about the presence of Jesus. Jesus is the peace on earth. His coming to earth and dying for my sins and being resurrected makes peace between God and me. I, in my sin, am no longer in conflict with Him. The strife that has been destroying our peace since the Garden of Eden has come to an end. It came to an end when “Peace” arrived on Christmas. In Colossians 1:19-20 it says,

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Make sure you read that last part: “God reconciled to himself all things…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” This may not be as profound to you, but it was like the best Christmas present I could have received because the Spirit revealed to me a simple principle of scripture. We are still going to have wars. Men are still going to terrorize the nations. Thieves are going to break in and steal. The earth is going to try to destroy our peace with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes, but “Peace” came to earth, came to man, came to me.

I credit my daughter with bringing me “Peace on Earth” that year -or at least the meaning of it.

Prayer Today from the Rich Mullins’ song “Hold Me Jesus:

Heavenly Father, Jesus:

Well, sometimes my life

Just don't make sense at all

When the mountains look so big

And my faith just seems so small

So hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf

You have been King of my glory

Won't You be my

Prince of Peace


Daily Activity: Pray today. Hard. You are not going to escape the madness of the season, shopping, family, trouble, pain, or whatever robs you of peace unless you accept the peace of Jesus. Pray for that peace to fill you up. It will come when you enter the presence of God and accept Him – and He will bring “peace to those on whom his favor rests”.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence—Day 12

My husband and I do not exchange Christmas presents; we        decided this early on in our marriage. All we want, truly, is to be together with each other and our children. That is plenty.

Often we say we don’t want a gift. No, we don’t want anything for Christmas, and all the while we are secretly hoarding away something—something we really want someone to remember to get. We expect them to surprise us even thought we haven’t even hinted at our wish list.

But there’s no gift I am secretly hoping my husband will have hidden under my pillow.

Why no gifts? Because I have plenty.

Let me explain.

When I was about sixteen years old I had a wish list.

I coveted wealth and prestige. I wanted my life to be easy. I wanted to live the high life. I thought I had a plan in place to assure my success.

It was all about me.

I knew what I wanted, and I certainly knew what I did NOT want.

I wanted to graduate with a doctorate degree in psychology or a masters degree in journalism. I was never going to get married. I did not want children. I was not interested in religion of any kind for any reason.

I sought sophistication. I wanted classy clothes, a classy occupation, a classy car and classy acquaintances. These were symbols of success to me. Imagine the slow motion walk of the about-to-be-heroes of an action movie and that’s what I wanted to be.

Notice I said what I wanted to be.

I didn’t know who I wanted to be. I didn’t know my own heart.

Now, I am standing on the far side of forty and I understand what sixteen year old Tamera did not and could not. What is the difference?

The question really is who is the difference? Who changed me?

God arrived.

He came into my life much like Jesus was born into Bethlehem--I wasn't expecting him. He was birthed into the profane stable of what I was. God arrived and told me he had a better plan. God’s presence gave me a choice.

My desires or his. I could have what or I could have who.

I chose.

And my wish list changed.

Once I coveted wealth and prestige, but God made me a rich woman. Through the riches of God’s grace I have found a wealth that cannot be taken, stolen or depleted. My wealth is in my relationships—my daughters and son-in-law, my grandsons, my husband, my brother, my friends.

Once I wanted my life to be easy, but God made me a strong woman by the building of my faith through various troubles and trials I didn’t expect.

Once I pursued the high life, but God made me a servant and taught me to love others more than my narcissistic self.

Once I craved sophistication, but God made me an artist and taught me how to see long-lasting, soul-deep beauty.

Once I craved a successful life.

We are told in Scripture that God will do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. I wanted success, but he gave me immeasurably more. *   He made me prosper.

The Greek word for prosper is a combination of two words: eu which means well done and hudos which means progress in a long journey.

Prosperity is a well done journey through life.

A successful life is not about material wealth or prestigious milestones. No, it is about a good journey. It’s about making progress.

Prosperity comes from a long journey in His presence.

That’s what I would have told the young Tamera. I’m not sure how much I would say to her or how well she would listen. I’m not even sure I would clue her in—no, I think I would just tell her it’s going to be a beautiful journey. And all you hope for will come to pass (but I wouldn’t tell her that it wasn’t going to look anything like she had planned.) I don’t think she would have understood. She was too na├»ve, too fickle and too myopic.

It’s not about you, Tamera.

It is about Him.

My Father, you have blessed me. You have prospered my far, far beyond the wish list of my young self. I thought I knew what I wanted, and I thought I knew how to get it. But you came to me, you came, and offered me so much more. You offered me riches I still cannot fathom. I pray that during this season we understand the prosperity of your Presence. May we come to know that when we are in your Presence we have it all. Amen

Daily Activity: Today if you made yoru wish list what would be on it? What would you list? What do you really want for Christmas? Be honest with yourself. Be transparent.

* Ephesians 3:20


Christ Church of Winchester

Monday, December 10, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence—Day 10

At the beginning of this Christmas season our minister, Dave, preached some hard words. With utter certainty he stated that we need to love the least of these. Those weren’t the hard words. We hear that admonition often. No, what caught me off-guard and slid under the third and fourth layers of my skin was what he what he said after this.

He paced across the front of the sanctuary rubbing his tilted-down head and then looked up at us and said, “The least of these are not always who you think they are.”

My head shot up from my pen scribbling on the bulletin.

They are not always the poor, the needy, the lame, the blind, the handicapped, and the challenged. Often they are not who you think they are. And because we have a preconceived notion of who they are in our minds, we often overlook them. We often don’t see them.

Then he said the really hard words.

Sometimes we are the least of these.

Those were the hard words. The unexpected words.

I have been on a mission this season. I have been looking for the least of these.

I am, however, looking for people who look like me: people who hide behind elaborate masks and put up fortified walls. I search for people who hide their least-ness, like me, with bravado. I look for people who smile a wide smile, but it doesn’t reach their eyes. I seek out the people who struggle to shore up their weaknesses, who have blood seeping from their wounds.

It’s not hard to find us.

Dave challenged us to search for and find the least of these and do what we can. He told us to step outside our comfort zones and bless the least of these. In a sense he explained that we needed to change our perspectives. We need to look at people and situations from a different vantage point.

The Christmas play unfolded before us. My attention was focused on the drama, but I kept seeing the two boys in my peripheral vision.

The almost five year old, Wyatt, couldn’t see. Too many heads and bodies were in his way. He wasn’t allowed to stand on the chair, but he wanted to see his siblings who were center stage. He didn’t want to miss their parts. At one point I looked down the row and sixteen year old Ben was standing with his back pressed in and against the corner of the wall. He had Wyatt on his shoulder, his hands holding the little boy’s legs securely so he wouldn’t fall. Ben stood in this spot for the duration of the play, and Wyatt got to watch the whole Christmas production from Ben’s shoulders. What a vantage point.

While milling and mingling during the play’s reception I was privy to another incredible interaction. In the middle of this social congestion Joshua* (who has very limited reasoning and logical abilities) looked at Caleb and said, you love me this much, right? And he spread his hands a few inches apart. Caleb looked Joshua squarely in the eye and said, No, Buddy. I love you this much.” and spread his hands a few feet apart. Joshua was delighted.

One blessed with action; one blessed with words.

Wyatt, a tiny boy whose vision was obscured, was one of the least of these.

Joshua, who often feels unwanted and unloved, was one of the least of these.

In those moments Ben and Caleb were being and doing what Dave had asked of us. They stepped outside their comfort zones, outside of protocol, outside of the norm and ministered to someone in need. The changed their perspectives in order to change someone else’s.

Loving the least of these is really about changing perspectives—we exchange ours for His. God’s presence makes us aware of the least of these. Being in his presence alters our perspective.

It really is simple, yet we often make it complicated. Ask Ben and Caleb. This Christmas just follow their examples:

Lift people up so they can see. We need to set them on our shoulders if necessary. Hold to them tightly so they don’t slip and fall.

Love people right where they are. Then go one step further. We need to see the wounds in people and let our words be a healing ointment. When someone asks for inches give them feet. Go beyond what is expected. Give just a little bit more than what most people think is necessary.

This Christmas season we need to ask who are we overlooking? Who are we not seeing? Who are the least of these in our lives right now?

Enter into God’s presence and ask Him to change your perspective. You can’t be in his presence very long and not be aware of the least of these.

And remember: at one point or another we are all the least of these.

Heavenly Father, thank you that you love the least of these. And that means you love us. Thank you that you see through our bravado. You see through the masks. You see we are in need even if we don’t want to acknowledge it. You see where we need to be lifted up and you love us right where we are. Oh, may we be like you. May we look at others the way you do. Help us, Father. Help us love the least of these. Amen.

Daily Activity: Often we think in order to minister to others we have to do something extraordinary, but in reality it’s only the little things that are needed. Ask God what you can do today, what good and ordinary thing, you can do for one of the least of these in your life. Remember this might include you.

* Not the young man's real name.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence—Day 8

(Day 7 will be posted. I had some technical difficulties transporting my husband's post on Peace. )

Eight days in of writing Christmas Devotions and I’m struggling. Suddenly panic sets in; I can feel it humming just under the tips of my fingers. There’s a litany of naysaying voices in my head.

What new thing can you say about Christmas? What could you possibly say that hasn’t already been said? What insight could you possibly share that wasn’t someone else’s epiphany first? What new revelation could you possibly bring to this millennium old history?

This isn’t about me sharing something new.

This is about sharing the truth.

I am a perfectionist. A first-born, only child. A female. And this issue of mine affects a great deal in my life; I would be embarrassed to tell. But one place it shows up alarmingly and ridiculously is when our family puts up the Christmas tree.

Every year I am on a mission to create the perfect Christmas tree. I want it to look cozy, but elegant. No frou-frou, mind you. I have this hidden agenda to create a tree that if Better Homes and Gardens were to get wind of it they would want to put on the cover of their December issue. As our minister says, “Pray for me.”

My daughters and husband can attest to this. They know. Ask them. I have ornaments for the back of the tree, filler ornaments, bottom, middle and top tier ornaments. And I have ornaments that only I put on the tree. I set these ornaments out in groupings. The girls pretty much know which ornaments go where. And lights. I’m not sure I want to expose my obsession with the lights.

Oh, might as well. I want them scattered on every branch, woven deeply in the tree, and I prefer all color or all white. Not a combination. My husband is an engineer and a mathematician. If anyone could put lights on a tree, this man could do it. In his mind he can take the circumference of the tree, multiply it by the height, allow for the narrowing of the tree and decide how many strands of lights we need to adequately light our tree. Then he would multiply it by three. Just for me. (He really does love me.)

Not long ago my husband was talking with his mother on the phone. I could not hear her side of the conversation, but I assume she asked if we had put up our tree. My husband laughed. He explained to her that he was going to find out what day I had chosen and put the tree together and the lights on the day before. I realized when I heard this conversation, though it was truly in fun and my husband really was only teasing, that I had a problem.

Now my Perfectionism issue in this particular arena doesn’t really hurt anyone. Oh, I’m sure it annoys my daughters. Perhaps, irritates my husband. But in reality they chalk it up as another one of Mama/Tamera’s quirks. No, this one doesn’t hurt anyone, and if this were the only place perfectionism attempted to reign in my life it would just be comical.

But Perfectionism rears her ugly head unexpectedly and routinely in way too many places in my life. And in the other places it does cause problems. Hard ones. Hurtful ones. Hateful ones.

Early in my faith, and even later, I lived in a near panic. I read and heard Jesus’ words, …be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.*

And my definition of perfection would be inserted into his exhortation. It was and is a cruel and hard definition.

If one tiny thing is wrong then all is wrong. If there is a typo or misspelled word then the writing has no value, if there is a wrong word or action then the situation is futile, if the food is not as tasty or savory as my expectations then it is a failure. The if theres could fill pages.

Perfectionism is a demanding, crippling master.

Perfectionism has a nasty voice in my head. She is the naysayer. The negator.

But this God who loves me would not allow me to remain in this nightmare. He knew the toll it was taking on me and those around me. It was unhealthy because it was turning too introspective. Too critical. Too harsh. I lived in a constant state of despair because according to my definition I just couldn’t get or do anything completely right.

But this beautiful, incredible and marvelous God changed my definition.
During one of my study times several years ago I began to follow the word perfect through Scripture.

I learned that the word perfect in Scripture is not the same as my or our culture’s definition.

The meaning of perfect in the languages Isaiah, Jesus and Paul used is alarmingly, comfortingly different.

It means: complete, of full age, mature, whole.

Glory! This was my epiphany.

I read this definition over and over. I remember searching and looking and studying longer, deeper. I was like a thirst-driven woman who had found a spring and just kept drinking—so very afraid that the water was just going to disappear.

Suddenly when I read Jesus’ words I no longer panicked. I no longer went numb with fear.

Be perfect (whole, complete, mature, of full age) just as my heavenly Father is perfect (whole, complete, mature, of full age).

This is one of the most freeing revelations of my life. I still struggle. There are still times my definition superimposes what I know to be true of real perfection. When this happens the Spirit reminds me of the reality of the word. He reminds me of what I have been taught. Of what I now know:

Jesus came, eternal God born as a man-child, in order to live and die and make us whole.

Jesus came, infinite God wrapped in the blanket flesh of a newborn, in order to change our definitions.

Jesus came, mighty God willingly enveloped in limitation, in order to make us complete.

Jesus came, glorious God compressed in the weight of a baby, in order to bring us to full age.

This Christmas God is whispering to you.

He wants his voice to be heard above the naysayers—even if your own voice is the loudest. Only His voice speaks the truth. He wants you to understand that he came to make you perfect.

He came to make you of full age (mature).

He came to make you complete.

He came to make you whole.

Yes, perfect. Just as he is.

And that is why he sent Jesus—so that it would be possible.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your truth. Please keep changing our definition. Keep closing our ears to the negators and open our ears to you. Don’t let us forget. Don’t let us return to Perfectionism’s tyranny. Thank you that no amount of our own perfectionism can negate what you think about us. Thank you that our own naysayers can be quenched with the truth of your Word. Thank you that we do not have to adhere to our own definitions or the world’s. Thank you that instead we can exchange ours for the reality of yours.              Amen

Daily activity: Read the following Scriptures. Replace the word perfect with the new definitions from above. Ask God to change the definitions that you have warped or just simply wrong.

Matthew 5:48
Isaiah 26:3
Colossians 1:28

Thursday, December 6, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence—Day 6

Friends of ours visited us this week. Our casual pizza sharing times usually become church—a gathering and fellowship of the Body of Christ. We laugh, we spill, we pray, we interrupt, we joke, we cry, we eat. Usually we laugh some more.

These friends are some of our trusted iron-sharpeners. And I am always honed after being with them. Inevitably there is a phrase in our conversations that prompts an insight and births a concept in my spirit. Whole trains of thought and pages of writing often result. Perhaps only in my journal, but it happens.

This week a passing mention was made of the Tabernacle of the Old Testament and the Temple of both Old and New Testament. Apparently this had been a topic of conversation in their vehicle before they came to our house (I wish I had been a fly hiding in the heating vent.). This contrast and comparison of these two places lodged in my mind. I was thinking about it while studying Ephesians.

God commissioned the constructing of the Tabernacle and the building of the Temple to be symbols of his Presence among his people. Holy and sacred places.

The Tabernacle was transitory and could be moved to follow the nomadic people of God. The Temple was stationery and was a place to gather in His people who were scattered. These were the epicenters of the Presence of God. They were, however, places of limited access—not everyone could enter every court.

In ancient eastern courts citizens could only enter into presence of the king through an official called a prosagogeus.

When Esther came before the presence of Xerxes she bypassed the prosagogeus. Normally as she entered the court this official would have announced her into the presence of the king. She certainly was not to enter the king’s presence without his summons. .Esther’s name was not on the agenda for the day. But because Esther had a relationship with the king provisions were in place to allow her access to him.

Very few people have direct access to a king. Protocol must be followed. Not every one is given access to the king’s presence. Think about Prince William of England. Someday he will be king. And during his coronation week I will fly to London and take a black cab to Buckingham Palace and knock on his door. And he, Kate and I will have scones and tea.
No. Security would detain me before I ever placed my foot through the gate at the drive way. I would be denied access to William. I do not know the king. I do not know anyone who does know the king.

Jesus’ birth began the provision of access not only to a king, but to the Father.

Jesus came to be both the Tabernacle and the Temple. Jesus was sent (commissioned) by the Father to usher in the age of unlimited access to his presence through the Spirit.

Provisions have been put in place for us to enter the presence of the Father. The veil was torn in the Temple when Jesus died on the cross, but in the event of his birth the doors and gates were swinging open.

This provision of Jesus causes my eyes to burn. This provision of Jesus causes me to hold my breath until my chest gets far too tight. This provision of Jesus has provided unlimited access to the very throne room of God.

Oh, what an incredible thing!

Christmas reminds us that the world needs some thing. The world needs a prosagogeus. We need someone to let us in. We don’t’ need someone who knows just the king, we need someone who knows the Father.

Jesus will and does.

He is our Prosagogeus.

Merry Christmas to us!

Heavenly Father, I praise you for the greatest present I have ever been given. Thank you that the temple and the tabernacle are no longer closed to me. I am praying and being heard in your throne room at this very moment because of your Jesus. Because of him, this sinful, marked woman has access to the King. Jesus has provided access for this orphaned girl to enter your presence, Father. I bless you for this privilege. May I abide there continually. And may I forever proclaim this provision of Jesus to anyone who will listen. May I learn to be a prosagogeus. Amen and amen.

Daily Activity: Read Ephesians 2:18  ; Ephesians 3:12
Read  Esther's Entrance ; Esther's Entrance 2

There is someone in your life who needs to know that they have real access to God. They need to understand that provisions have been made. Be a prosagogeus and in prayer take them before the throne of God.

prosagogeus  William Barclay. The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, page 117.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence—Day 5

By Steve Rehnborg

This is a POWER crazy world. We power our lives with coal power, nuclear power, solar power, hydroelectric power, and wind power. It doesn’t seem to matter whether we have AC power, DC power, three phase power, or single phase power, we still need power supplies, power cords, power poles, power protectors, power factors, and power transmission. We can power up, power down, over power, under power, power dive, power wash, and power walk.  To control our world we have the power of the pen, economic power, market power, power analysis, powers of persuasion, power to choose, will power, the Power of Positive Thinking, and you can be IN power.  Don’t forget Power Colors including green power and black power.  In our free time we have power quotes, power lyrics, PowerBall, Power Hour News, and power forwards.  Some of our favorite characters are Power Puff Girls, Power Rangers, Nintendo Power, Austin Powers, and Tyrone Power. Our heroes have rings of power, secret powers, and we call on Higher Powers. Whew! I think I need a power nap. 

Why are we so drawn to power?   

We are drawn to earthly power, but there is an immeasurable source of power in the presence of God.  God is power.  He is the power that created the universe and which sustains it as it spins through its eternal dance. Imagine for a moment the power of the universe encapsulated in a baby boy in the manger.  It kind of boggles the mind; the universe of infinite power in a newborn child.  That is the ultimate definition of potential energy. 

That power was not limited to that boy born on the first Christmas day.  God’s power is unlimited potential energy. He intends for us to use it in our daily lives.  It is potential energy ready to be tapped into by faith.  It is the ultimate power source, if we will let it flow from Him. 

Current flow is the movement of electrons between a high potential and a low potential.  Kind of sounds like the empowering of God: His high potential being transferred into our low potential.  What is really amazing in this analogy is that current is voltage (think God’s potential) limited by resistance (think of our resistance to His working).  If the resistance in an electrical circuit is high, the current flow is low.  If the resistance is low, the current flow is high.  A short circuit unleashes all the power available because the resistance drops to almost zero. God’s power can work in us and through us, but only if we don’t resist.  Imagine the power that could be transferred to us and through us if we stopped resisting God? 

There was a definite lack of resistance between the human, in the flesh, Jesus and the spiritual, creator of the universe. God’s Infinite power could flow through the low resistance Jesus enabling His human, physical being to walk on water, still the wind and the waves, magnify bread and fish to feed thousands, raise the dead, give sight to the blind, remove leprosy, bring strength to lame legs and healing to the sick.

But, the Bible indicates there was a limiting of this power flow from Jesus.  The power flow from Jesus was limited by the level of resistance of those who sought Him.  Often He said, “your faith has healed you” as though our choice not to resist the power of God is what made the power flow.  When faith was absent the power failed to flow.  Matthew 13:58 says,  

            “And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”   

He didn’t do many miracles because their resistance wouldn’t allow the current to flow!  

We have the ability to experience this amazing power of God because we, as Christians, live in His presence.  Romans says, 

            God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”   

We have been given the Holy Spirit.  We have the opportunity to let infinite power flow because the unlimited source of power is right here with us.  Jesus said,

            “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.”  

 Whoever believes in Him will lower the resistance and let the power flow. 


Dear Father, we praise you as the infinite source of power in the universe.  We stand in awe of how you placed that infinite power into the Christ child and redeemed us with that power.  We pray that you will forgive us for resisting your power and limiting its flow.  Help us Lord to short circuit our lives to your potential and live our lives with the power you intended for us to access.  Amen

Daily Activity:  Commercial Christmas is full of so many lights all using power.  This season, as you look at all the decorations, let the lights remind you of this message. Then take just a moment to meditate on how God wants to empower you. Sit down today and make a list of ways you resist God. Consider how you might short circuit that resistance.  Try to remove the resistance in at least one area and watch how God’s power flows.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence—Day 4

There are times when my husband will look at me or me at him (our faces very close to each other) and we will ask a question. Three words. That’s all. The subject is understood.

Stay with me?

We both come from broken backgrounds. Ones of failed marriages and severed relationships.

We just wanted to belong. To be wanted. We longed to belong to someone. To be a treasured wife or husband. We wanted someone to stay with us because they loved us, not just because of duty or obligation.

Deep down we tend to believe that because of God’s character he was obligated to save us. Duty-bound to love us. We tend to believe that he looked down at us and shook his head in disgust and turned to heaven’s court and declared that he would have to do something about our degenerated, sinful, ugly selves.

We, somewhere in our depths, understand that God is a holy God. He requires perfection (we’ll discuss this later in our journey towards Christmas) and that he will tolerate nothing less. Often we feel disconnected from him because he seems to require and expect too much. Because of this picture of God we have decided he is unreasonable. So, why bother?

We have heard it said that God is love, but we can’t seem to reconcile him with this demanding and exacting God. I have been told that the god of the Old Testament cannot be the same one who fathered Jesus in the New. And when these words left my friend’s mouth, I wept.


The birth of Jesus—this holiday we celebrate—breaks down all these misconceptions, all these lies the enemy has stealthily and covertly inserted into our religious history.

The birth of Jesus—this ordinary event of a child entering this world —was God’s declaration of his intent. It was the manifestation of his ancient and eternal plan. It was his way of saying I will stay with you.

It is a revelation of his character.

Contrary to religious thought, God did not send Jesus simply because he was disgusted with us. He did not send Jesus because he was vehemently ready to annihilate man from creation.

God sent Jesus because he wanted his people back. He sent Jesus as a ransom* for his treasured possession**. He sent Jesus to redeem the crown of his creation***.

That’s us.

But often we don’t believe it.

God did not send Jesus to appease his disgust (Yes, God hates sin. All of Scripture attests to this truth, but he does not hate us), but he sent Jesus so we could be adopted as His children.


I weep now even as I type. When I found my answer in Ephesians I was stunned. It is God’s good pleasure to save us. Not just his obligation. Not just his duty. Not just an appeasement for our sin. Not just a requirement for his holiness. No, it was his good pleasure and will to make us his people.

God sent Jesus so his Presence would dwell among us. Live among us. Stay with us. He sent Jesus so that we might once again become the people of God. We would belong to him.

With Paul I declare that God is to be praised for this glorious grace!

You see, God is holy. He is an exacting God. He is perfect. But if these were his only characteristics then we would have no hope. Futility would reign. Despair would overcome us.

But the grace, oh, the beautiful grace of God, comes because He knew we could never meet these expectations. We could never measure up to the standard.

But He is also love. The deepest core of his character is love. Not our culture’s warped definition and tarnished version of love. Not the shadow, but the reality of love. And in that great love, he sent Jesus to do what we could not.

That was and is grace.

Because of the presence of God through Jesus we can be his chosen people. A people saved by grace, held by mercy and compelled by love.

Christmas, the birth of Jesus into our world, is the revelation of God’s character to his people.


God was willing in all his perfect holiness and perfection to come in humility and slide down into the trenches with us, to live in the hovels with us, to dwell in the ghettoes with us, to stay with us.

That doesn’t sound like duty or obligation to me. That sounds like love.

Sounds to me like God is staying with his people.

Father, thank you that you want us to be your people. Thank you that you sent your Son in order for this to be possible. Thank you that you were and are sovereign and humble enough to come to us. And as always you go far beyond—you stayed with us. Teach us to be your people: to be a marked people who look like Jesus. And in this Christmas season enable us to show the reality, not the shadow of your love to others. Amen

Daily Activity: Read  Ephesians 1:3-10

Find (ask God to highlight them in your thoughts) someone today to whom you can show and extend His good pleasure. This extension could be through spending time with them, sending a note, an intentional act of kindness, a text, a phone call, a message (handwritten or facebook) and then pray for them.

* ransom

** treasured possession

*** crown

Monday, December 3, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence—Day 3

During this 25 Days of Christmas Presence my husband, Steve, will be a guest writer many times. He is an incredible man: full of light, intelligence, patience and wisdom. Enjoy!

When glass is manufactured the common components of sand and various chemicals are heated to thousands of degrees and melted. The molten glass flows like water and is fed into molds that form the glassware being made. I’ve watched bottles, plates, light bulbs and various other articles being formed from glass. They come out of the molds seemingly complete, but still very hot. (I once watched a machine operator light a cigarette from a newly made wine bottle!) The problem is that you can’t just let the glass cool off and start using it. It has to be annealed. The process is basically a slow, controlled cooling in an oven. If glass is not annealed the glass does not cool evenly and that puts stress on the glass. I walked by a bottle once in a factory that had not been annealed and it burst into a thousand pieces as I passed it. I think of this example when I think of how fragile human promises are, how a little bit of stress causes them to burst and remain forever broken.

How many promises are broken in our lifetime?

I promise I won’t hit my brother, again.

I promise I will always take care of the puppy.

I promise I’ll work harder at school.

I promise I’ll pay you back the money I owe you.

I promise I’ll remain faithful to you.

I promise I’ll stay married to you ‘til death do we part.

That’s not even a complete list of broken promises for most of us. Our promises don’t seem to be properly annealed; they live under constant stress, and are easily broken. And, like the bottle, they usually end up in a thousand pieces with no possibility of repair.

God has always been faithful and true to keep His promises. David said in Psalm 145:

13 The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.

The Bible shows us how faithful over and over; Noah was promised the flood, Abram was promised his son Isaac. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were promised the Land of Promise. Hannah was promised her son, the prophet Samuel. Israel was promised the Redeemer, the Messiah, the Son of God. Christmas, the coming of the Messiah, was a promise made over and over for four thousand years. God began with the promise to the serpent in the Garden:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

He fulfilled that promise with another promise in Luke chapter 1:

30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

The promised Messiah seemingly came and went, but the promise made to Israel and to Mary continues on today. The promise is still being made to you. Peter renewed the promise on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:

39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

For those of us “who are far off” we can still claim the promise of a redeeming Messiah this Christmas. He wants us to join Him in His presence and accept the greatest present mankind could ever imagine- eternal life. His promise has been ‘annealing’ for six thousand years and even eternity. His promise is not going to break because of stress. It will hold up on its own. Trust it.

If you have already accepted the present of salvation, then consider this Christmas what a precious gift it is and enter into the presence of God and praise Him when you see the baby Jesus.

If you have not already accepted the present of salvation, consider the promises made by God. Promises that have never been broken and will never be broken. These are not the shattered promises made by your mother, father, brother, sister, friend, spouse, or child. When you see the baby Jesus this season, remember God’s promise to redeem mankind and accept you right where you are right now. Enter into His presence and accept His present.

Elizabeth recognized the promises of God when she prophesied in Luke 1 upon Mary’s arrival:

45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Will you believe the promise of God?

Father, first of all, forgive us because we are promise breakers. Forgive us for breaking promises to each other and to You. We praise You because Your promises are never broken. We are so thankful that we can depend on Your Word to protect us, sustain us and most of all save us. We enter into Your presence with praise as we give thanks this Christmas for the promised Messiah. We give You praise for the hope of life, and life everlasting. Amen

Daily Activity: Meditate today on God’s promises to you. Consider how He has been faithful. Think about a broken promise you’ve made to God or to someone else and consider how you might revive that promise from the broken pieces and fulfill it. Make a definite plan to keep that promise.

Christ Church of Winchester

Sunday, December 2, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Presence—Day 2

My husband and I spend a lot of time together because we enjoy each other’s company.

Our best times of communication happen when we are in each other’s presence. When I can see his face I understand far more.

Sometimes we misunderstand each other and must ask for more information to clarify. Sometimes we don’t hear each other because there is too much noise or too many distractions and we have to turn our ears to one another.

There are times when the volley of ideas and thoughts move between us rapid-fire. There are times when we sit in complete silence; it is a comfortable silence—one born of contentment and familiarity. There are times we are silent because there are not enough words or the right ones.

We talk about a myriad of topics. We laugh about nonsense—both of us entertained by the absurdity of the other. We discuss the thoughts we have pushed back into the crevices of our hearts. We examine the hard things that fray the edges of us. We share the hurts that pierce and discourage; we acknowledge the fears that torment.

This is a gift to me—this marital communication that crosses so many boundaries and perimeters.

This is a very good gift, but its ultimate purpose is to remind me of an even greater gift.


Prayer ushers us into the presence of God. Prayer throws open the throne room door. Wide. And we are encouraged to be bold and enter with no hesitancy or reluctance.**  Audaciously (not arrogantly) we are to come into God’s presence, before his face with petitions, thanksgiving and praise.

Like my communication with my husband honest, real prayer is born out of familiarity and intimacy. It is buoyed by laughter and rejoicing, marked by vulnerability and transparency. It is punctuated with raw angst and passion. It is laced with humility, seasoned with grace and fortified by love.

Let this Christmas season begin a new time of entering God’s presence through prayer. This is one of his greatest gifts to you.

Please don’t forget to open it.

Don’t try and save the wrapping paper. Don’t be tentative, just rip it open. There’s no need to be proper, and there is no completely right way to open this package. Just go before his face and come clean. Talk about anything and everything. Laugh and cry. Tell him what you love and what you fear. Ask him for clarification and request a repeat of instructions if you don’t understand the first time. Tell him how good he is. Thank him for Jesus. Ask him to take care of the people you love. And don’t be afraid to sit in silence with him. If you are in HIS presence the silence doesn’t bother him. Don’t make it hard; don’t make it a mystical, abstract event.

Father, we ask that you turn down the volume of the noise this season. Please shut the door on the cacophony so we can enjoy your presence and we can talk candidly. Help us to put aside our own awkwardness and timidity. Let there be an ongoing, underlying conversation in our hearts with you. Thank you for this incredible gift your presence gives. Amen.

**Hebrews 4:16 

Daily Activities: Visit
This Jesuit website will walk you through a time of guided prayer.

Christ Church of Winchester

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