Merry Christmas 2015!

It’s 9:00 a.m. Christmas morning. My kids are still sleeping. I guess that’s how it is with high schoolers. What has your Christmas season been like this year?

As usual, mine has been a bit hectic. I tend to have to take things one day at a time to get through each day and whatever is planned. Christmas is a busy season at church where I work; it’s a busy season at home when the kids get to exams and Christmas break; it’s a busy season as my husband finishes teaching and his semester. I again forego getting out family Christmas cards this year and race around shopping in the last week or two. And somehow it all comes together.

Yesterday, as I did some last minute shopping, this song came on the radio:

That’s what I felt: “I need a silent night, a holy night.” Time to be still and ponder.

We ended Christmas Eve at our church’s annual candlelight service. It’s a beautiful service that closed with all of us holding our lit candles and singing the traditional Christmas carol “Silent Night, Holy Night,” further reminder of the silence my heart has needed to focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

And what is that?

I love Chris Tomlin’s new Christmas song, “He Shall Reign Forevermore.” The first thing I loved about the song was hearing the echo of the words from the poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rosetti. That was a poem my children learned in school when they were young, and I learned along with them. But I was struck by these words in this new song: “This baby born to sacrifice, Christ the Messiah.”

Christ was born to die. That would be part of His mission, doing the will of His Father. He, who would come and live a perfect life, would die. He would be our atoning sacrifice, paying the price for our sins. Christ, our Creator God (Genesis 1-2), the Word made flesh (John 1), became our perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 10). Why was that necessary?

Sin separates and divides. It’s been the ongoing reality of life for all humans since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve first sinned (Genesis 3). We are all now separated from God by our sin (Romans 3:23), with no way to have access to God again of our own ability. And we are due the just consequences of that sin – death and separation (Romans 6:23a).

But Christ restores and redeems. This was accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection. He was willing to do this (to be born to die – and not just any death, but a brutal one reserved for the worst of criminals) (Philippians 2:8) to restore our relationship with God (Colossians 1:19-22), to give us eternal life (John 3:16), to give us hope (1 Peter 1:3). This is great, great love (John 15:13, 1 John 3:16).

What is our response? If Christ has accomplished this great work on our behalf, I guess the question is what is our response to that?

Faith. Simple faith, childlike trust, in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9). If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Romans 10:9-10).

I think back to Rosetti’s poem:

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
Yet what can I give him? Give him my heart.

We can respond with faith in Jesus, giving him our hearts. If you have not done that, what is stopping you? Ask in faith that God would help you and reveal Himself to you. Sometimes it’s that first step of faith that begins to open the door to much more truth, and step by step, He will lead us to Himself. I pray that for each one of us today and in the coming new year.

The Path of Life

Our family had a fun weekend picnicking and hiking at a state park with some of the college students where my husband teaches. We also went to an apple orchard and ended the day with a chili dinner, homemade apple pies, and pumpkin carving. It was a beautiful fall day. 
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We hiked through canyons on paths with precipitous drops where one wrong step could send you over the cliff and to a certain death! When my son stepped off the path to look down, I urged him to come back quickly — one slip and he would be over the edge. And the edge wasn’t like a roll down a hill, but a drop into a deep canyon. Only at one small portion did they even have a fence – most places were not guarded in any way. It reminded me of driving over a mountain pass where one wrong turn of the car’s steering wheel could take you over the edge of the mountain!

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overlook into the canyon

As we walked (and I prayed for safety!), I couldn’t help but think of verses like Jude 24-25:

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 16:11:

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 17:5:

My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not stumbled.

I thought about the path of life and how it is that we should walk. This was a picture to me of our lives. We need to stay on the path, following the Lord and His ways, to be secure. Going off the path and our own way leads to danger and could lead to death. But it’s exciting sometimes, it seems, to see what’s over there off the path, but it may just be a pit of destruction.

I also thought about those that we see walking off the path. Are we telling them to come back to safety? Or just hoping for the best for them? Their very lives could be at stake. If we have the words of life and know the path which leads to blessing and joy and salvation, should we not be sharing it with others who have not yet found it or don’t yet believe it.

Praise You, Lord, that you make known to us the path of life, that in your presence there is fullness of joy, and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. May we follow your path and ways, seeking you, and discover the many blessings and inestimable joy that awaits those who put their trust in you.

Speak Up

Psalm 39:2: “I was mute and silent, I refrained even from good, And my sorrow grew worse.”

Keeping Quiet

We’ve probably all heard there are some things we shouldn’t talk about in polite company, including religion and politics. We’ve all been around (or maybe even been at times!) people who are rash, argumentative, and offensive with their thoughts and opinions. So this rule of etiquette helps keep conversations polite and respects the thoughts and opinions of others who may differ.

Particularly now in our world of social media, it’s very easy for people to “tweet” their minds, and everyone can have a voice. We witness people disagreeing in sometimes ugly, even slanderous ways. It makes me wonder if in our society we are losing, to some extent, the ability to engage thoughtfully and logically, to think and discuss ideas, to value the dialogue and hear and consider other sides, without attacking the person who holds to a different way of thinking.

It’s for these reasons that I find myself rarely ever speaking publicly about many things that really matter — because undoubtedly, some will disagree. If I am silent, I don’t risk accidentally offending someone or being misunderstood. And rather than becoming engaged in the clamor of voices, opening myself up to attack or risking offense, it’s easier just to be quiet.

But I’m wondering — in keeping silent, have I kept the peace, but ceased to do good? Has my silence about most anything that matters been a way of giving up ground? Since I won’t speak of it, does it cause me to ignore it, thereby giving me less reason to do good for it (whatever this truth or value is)?

And if we adhere to respectfully being quiet, those with false and even harmful ideas push them forward. And when wrong ideas aren’t met with truth, the voices of error or harm will become the ones that are most heard and have the potential then to become the ones that are believed.

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” In keeping silent, we do nothing. And in our silence, it’s possible we might cease to do good.

A Case in Point

You have likely seen the Planned Parenthood story and videos about selling aborted baby parts for profit (or perhaps even intact babies, we are now coming to learn). This has caused many of us who might have previously become dull to the horrors of abortion itself, or even some who have previously defended abortion, to be shocked and enraged.

It’s a key time to step back and take a look again at what abortion really is. Should we not all have been enraged before when a baby was mercilessly killed under the cover of the womb? Perhaps because it was a dark, hidden place — not visible — people have not reacted to what would have horrified them if it were happening in an open, light place before the eyes of many.

And isn’t that a picture of how sin works and the enemy acts — in the darkness. But when the light shines in, as is happening now, the truth is clearly seen.

And in this case, it has reached a different level in our consciences, many of which have heretofore been numbed by the sheer magnitude of the problem, the law, the difficulty of challenging such a big organization, and the uncertainty about what we could do.

But people are now rising up, at first because it has become known the body parts are being sold for profit, but now even more because we all are realizing the extent of how these abortions are actually being performed.

Senior Bible Class

In my high school, we studied abortion as part of our senior Bible class. I have to admit that going into that class as a 17-year old, I had heard the word “abortion” and was told it was wrong, but a part of me wondered if it really was that big of a deal. Wasn’t this just a tiny little thing in its earliest stages that wouldn’t hurt? And didn’t “choice” sound like a really good thing?

But what happens when you study something is you begin to learn the facts, the truth, and then that inescapable truth informs you and drives you to believe differently than you would have without the truth.

We watched a video of an abortion. We learned how the baby develops in the womb and when the baby likely begins to feel pain. We heard from a counselor whose expertise was in helping women who had had abortions, and we even listened to a recording of a woman in severe grief over her abortion. We learned that this wasn’t just an exception; it was more the rule. We realized that the women having abortions were just as much victims as the babies, being told lies; in fact, an abortion can be dangerous to a woman’s health. It might even be possible that the women most defending abortion have experienced one themselves, such that defending it somehow eases the pain, reassuring them that if it’s legal, can it really be wrong?

This class was not only very convincing, but as Christians, we believe life begins at conception and that all people are made in the image of God and have value before Him. We know Psalm 139 is true – that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that God knew us before we were skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth.

During Senior Bible, we learned truth and knew where we stood on this issue long before we might ever face a decision about it.

Premature Birth

Years later, the day did come for me when I thought again about abortion and those who grapple with the decision. I faced an extremely rare and life-threatening pregnancy. Though abortion was never a consideration or suggested by my doctors, it did cause me to wonder what other women in a life-threatening situation would do. The perinatologist told me he would do his best to save my life first and the life of my baby. I remember saying to consider my baby and me as equal, but the reality is they would save the mother’s life first. I told him then to save us both.

What I knew about life had been shaped through my Bible class. But what I also knew as a mother was that I wanted this baby to have life, even if it should cost me my own. Her value in my mind was the same as mine — made in the image of God. Would the fact that I had lived longer – 30 years or so at the time – give me more value than her and what God might do through her in her lifetime?

Thankfully it didn’t come to that point. After a tumultuous pregnancy and a month-long hospital stay, she was delivered at the end of the second trimester, at 27 weeks, 2 pounds, 3 ounces. I remember looking at her in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and being struck with the reality that if someone came in there and tried to dismember and kill her, we would all cry out! But if she were still under the cover of the womb, it would be permissible. How can this be?

Here’s a 27 week baby, perfectly formed, human as you and me, different only by time and growth. She turned 15 this week, a beautiful and healthy girl.

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A Voice for the Voiceless

So what can we do? Today, it’s easy to know where to begin. We can contact Congress to urge our representatives to support S.1881: Bill to Defund Planned Parenthood.

We can pray. Don’t you wonder whose prayers are being answered even now?

Pray for the women who have had abortions who might be struggling with regret or grief. Pray for the people involved in this industry to be convicted of this and to see it from a new and right perspective. Pray for those in our government who will vote and make decisions on this issue. Pray for our own hearts to be led with wisdom by God to do what He would call us to do — love others, tell the truth in love for the good of another, give and support pro-life causes, and be a voice for the voiceless.

There are many other issues in our culture today besides abortion where we might need to lift our voices. And that will start in prayer.

Our Only Hope

In this and in all things, we have one hope. His name is Jesus. We do indeed live in a world broken by sin, and all things will not be made right until heaven. But He is a God of abundant, plentiful, and full redemption. For the one broken in pain, loss, and guilt over sin, there is forgiveness through Christ. His death on a cross and His resurrection from the dead offers us forgiveness through faith in Him. He who knew no sin became sin for us. All of Scripture tells us this story. We can be set free from sin to live with Him and for Him with joy.

Jesus is the One who stooped in humility, even to the point of death, to reach us, those who are weak and needy. And when we experience His grace, we will follow His example to truly love and protect the weak and needy around us, and to lead others to Christ who will give them abundant life both here and for all eternity.

It might mean that we will need to open our mouths to tell this good news, to speak the truth in love, to proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. And in opening our mouths, we might be led to do good, to seek His good in this world, to be a light reflecting the true Light who came into the world for our sake.

Happy Thanksgiving

It’s been a quieter Thanksgiving. We were in Florida for a family wedding two weekends ago, and my sister and her kids came back through for an eight-day visit. We enjoyed being with them; it’s far too infrequent. They left on Tuesday, and after a busy last couple of weeks, we had a nice, quiet Thanksgiving with my mom. We went to church last night for the annual Thanksgiving Eve service, and that’s always a favorite service during the year to be encouraged by testimony of God’s faithfulness in many lives.

There are so many things to be thankful for on this day and every day. We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

A week ago today my son and I were involved in a car wreck. While waiting at a red light, on a dark and rainy evening, two cars had a wreck in the intersection, each trying to beat a yellow light, one turning, and once they collided, the wreck came flying into our sitting car. I had my son and his friend in the car, coming home from his driver’s ed class, of all places! I have no doubt we were intended to be right in that place, right at that time, for that very moment.

I had just been praising the Lord that morning for such a fun time in Florida with my extended family and for the many good gifts from his hand. And I was wondering would I respond with praise when things aren’t as good. Would I love Him and recognize His goodness to me in all things. I’ve been reading through the gospels in my daily Bible readings and seeing how Jesus told his disciples to watch and pray that they might not fall into temptation. They needed to be prepared.

Before the wreck, unrelated to it, as we had headed to the intersection where we were waiting at the red light, a car had come speeding by us on the left, illegally, and raced past to turn in front of us. His cutting me off made me miss the previous light. As I sat at that intersection, the first car in line, waiting for the next green light, I wondered about how that car was on down the road in my place, and I was sitting in his place. I thought, wouldn’t that be weird if I find him down the road in a wreck and he ended up taking my wreck. But moments later, I was in a wreck, in his place.

Of course, I was right where God intended. And would I praise Him even in this? I do praise and thank the Lord for that. Could it be, in God’s good design, my son, who just took to the road today to drive for the first time, is now more sobered by the responsibility of driving, aware that we really aren’t in control, recognizing firsthand that cars can be really dangerous? This will definitely cause him to always wear his seat belt, if he ever wanted to be lazy about it!

But whether I can find good in it or not, I know it was for good purposes, and I know that God is good.

And I thank Him this Thanksgiving, among other things, for His protection over us. And I thank Him for our family and friends. Perhaps not being with many of them today reminds me all the more of what a gift they are. I thank Him for the many good gifts from His hand (James 1:17), and most of all, for His salvation. I thank Jesus for taking my sin, bearing my shame, suffering for me, taking my place, the punishment for sin that I deserved, and giving His life for me, so that I could live, and know Him, my Creator and Lord and King. He is good, and I praise and thank Him.