2008 In The Rear View Mirror

As I write this Christmas is over and 2009 is less than 48 hours away. I am not sure I am ready for 2009.

2008 was a great year for me.  I spent more time with my husband and my family. My husband and I celebrated 30 years of marriage and our relationship is better than ever. I saw my son graduate from college with honors. I watched my daughters navigate some difficult things in their lives with courage, grace, and tenacity.  I delight to see all my children walk with the Lord. They are by far more spiritually mature than I was at their age.

I have enjoyed teaching and ministering to people this year. I have had delightful times with the Lord this year in which He has taught me some lifelong lessons.

My husband and I reconnected with some dear friends, Gus and Karen Bess, which has led to us being involved in a new ministry; which is always energizing and exciting.

It has been one of those years that I am reluctant to see end because it has been so good.  The five years previous to 2008 were hard years for me. The 2003 Paso Robles earthquake set off a 4-5 year period that was fraught with difficulties and trials in both my personal life and ministry; personal physical problems, family illnesses, and the loss of some family members.  Sometimes just getting through the day, week, or month was the best I could do.

But about the spring of 2008, the clouds began to lift and life became enjoyable again. The journey became a little easier, the burdens a little lighter. I was able to concentrate on coming alongside others who were struggling and help carry their burdens. What made the difference? I got drenched in God’s grace.

Though I knew that through all the hardships and struggles God was working on me, still I fought Him on many things. I wanted life to be fair. I wanted people who had hurt me to repent; I wanted the people I loved to not hurt; I wanted God’s people to thirst and hunger after God; I wanted to be in control. I realized that I wanted God to run my life according to my plan not His. But fighting God’s sovereign control of my life left me exhausted and exasperated.

Finally, in the fall of 2007, God used the life of David and an odd character in the Bible named Mephibosheth (read about him in 2 Samuel 9) to show me the wide-screen, high-definition version of His amazing, limitless, compassionate, all encompassing grace. The result was that my view changed. Instead of focusing in on what God has not done for me or what I thought I deserved; I focused in on what God had done for me, which was far more than I deserved.

God cannot love us any more than he does now, and He will not love us any less no matter what we do. Nothing we do can increase or decrease God’s love for us. This is grace.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

2 Samuel 22 says that God “…reached down from heaven and rescued me; he drew me out of deep waters. He led me to a place of safety; because he delights in me.”

God delights in me: ME. That is astounding to me. Sometimes I don’t even like myself. This helps me to have a more accurate view of who I am in Jesus Christ which helps me to continually conquer my worst sin, pride. It also makes me more compassionate and patient with others. God in His mercy has shown his abundant grace towards me. How dare I not extend a small measure of that grace to others who are image-bearers of God?

I will be honest. This has not been easy to do. I did not by any means turn into Mother Theresa (which my family will attest to) overnight. But I have seen progress in my life. I hang on less to past and present hurts. I forgive quicker, both others and myself.  I am more compassionate toward others.  I focus more on who I am in Jesus Christ instead of what I do for Jesus. I serve him out of love and not out of obligation because I am following a list of do’s and don’ts.  This is freedom. This is love. This is grace.

I hope 2009 is a year where I continue to be overwhelmed by His grace on a daily basis.  May it be that for you as well.

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God’s Amazing Gift

The incarnation—a miracle of God planned from the beginning of time. God knew His creation, man, whom He had lovingly sculptured in His own image, would fall. But God loves man and so He made a way to redeem him. Man’s spiritual death would be redeemed by a birth- the birth of God Himself to a lowly, young woman. The incorruptible God entered the world through a corruptible woman.

He could have come as a man, fully grown, ready to start His ministry. But God chose instead to leave His heavenly world, spend 9 months in the body of a woman, make the arduous, messy journey out of the woman’s womb, through the birth canal and into a sinful world. He took the form of a newborn baby, the most helpless of all humans, and at that moment in time, hope entered the world and His name was Jesus.

He chose as His vehicle a young Jewish girl, Mary, called “highly favored one” by an angel who visits her. She was, as T.S. Eliot says, “the place of impossible union where past and future are conquered and reconciled in incarnation.” Mary is the one constant is Jesus’ life. She brought Him into the world and watched as death took Him from this world. This “most favored woman” does not question God but presented herself as God’s servant and said “let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Her faith was simple yet deep. Perhaps she remembered the many Old Testament scriptures that prophesied the Messiah’s birth. God had been in fact preparing the world for His arrival since before the world was created. The entire Old Testament is the story of a special preparation.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:9 2

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2

“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” Jeremiah 23:5

The miracle of the incarnation made possible the miracle of salvation. We marvel at how God, the creator of the universe, could become man. Yet we should also marvel at how God could love us so much that He would leave His heavenly throne to become like us. The miracle of Christmas is not just that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” but that God chose to love us at all. The ancient scholar Irenaeus wrote, “The word of God, Jesus Christ, on account of his great love for mankind, became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.”

Take time this Christmas season to ponder, wonder, contemplate and reflect on this great love!

“See what an incredible quality of love the Father has given, shown, bestowed on, us, that we should be permitted to be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are!” I John 3:1 (Amplified Bible).

The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before…What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s back fade in the distance. So stay. Sit linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon. Jan Richardson, Night Visions