Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

There’s no room. More than I want to admit, the innkeeper’s words to Joseph and Mary express my heart attitude in December.

Every year on “box-opening day” (usually the day after Thanksgiving), our family brings the Christmas boxes out of the attic and opens each one with the anticipation of rediscovering our treasures.

A few years ago, on box-opening day, it happened that the first box we came to held all of our daughter’s special Christmas things. Child-like things with sequins and sparkles and puppies in Santa hats.

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While I turned to another box, my giddy little girl turned her attention to the mantle over the fireplace.

“No, no, no….these things don’t belong here,” I stammered as she placed stuffed animals at both ends.

Instantly we were at a standoff. The lion-faced nutcracker was not mantle-worthy.

“This is where we put our pretty candles and our greenery,” I explained.

She didn’t care.

“Mommy always decorates the mantle.”

She pouted.

As guilt and frustration mounted, I pushed her things aside. My actions communicated something to her: “There’s no room.” And while I set candles in place, my daughter disappeared.

I want the mantle to be elegant, the gifts to be perfect, the cards to be beautiful, and the cookies to be spectacular. But such expectations create a barrier to the beauty of real-life experiences. And honestly, serving up my own pride pushes generosity and joy right out of my spirit.

Call a friend? There’s no room in my day for that.

Let the customer with 2 items ahead of me in the grocery line? There’s no room in my heart for that.

Visit a widow? There’s no room in my day for that either.

Take time to be still and pray? Are you kidding?

Eventually mommy-guilt sunk in, and I turned from the Christmas boxes to find my daughter, fully expecting that she would be sulking in her room.

“I’m in here, Mommy.” I discovered my girl sitting at her desk and drawing a picture of a jointly-decorated mantle, her toys mixed with greenery and candles.

“Isn’t it pretty, Mommy? When we work together?”

(Oh. Ouch.)

I’ve had my share of moments as a mom, or human being in general, that won’t make the annual Christmas letter. My suspicion is that your experience might be the same. But friend, receive this truth with me:

Jesus came to earth to find each person where he was, not where he ought to have been. And the same is true today. God reaches into the darkest, dirtiest, most fearful places to correct and restore us into who He meant for us to be.” (Charles Stanley)

Once again I realize that Christmas exists because in God’s eyes, I’m not an achiever. There’s no decorated house or culinary spread that will ever turn me into who He meant for me to be.

If I can’t be an achiever, my only hope then is to become a receiver. I need the dawn of redeeming grace to break into the dim recesses of my heart where pride and perfectionism overshadow my longing to be free. To be giving. To be love.

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Jesus came to release us from the striving and the chaos of achieving. Friend, it doesn’t matter if we over or under-do Christmas. The Father purchased our souls with the priceless, life-giving blood of His Son. That’s the singular purpose of Christmas.

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Once we’ve received this gift, there is no failure, no disappointment, no would-have, could-have, or should-have on our parts that can invalidate it.

And once we are secure in our identities as receivers, something else happens. We become releasers. When we receive love and grace freely, freely we release love and grace to others.  Advent becomes a season of listening for the footsteps of Jesus. We hear His movement in the hush and not the rush.

When our spirits are still, we notice Him in the hurting friend, the customer behind us in the grocery line, the lonely widow, the little girl longing for Christmas joy.

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This December, may we see ourselves as innkeepers. In the midst of the plans and preparations, we have multiple opportunities each day to decide if there is room for Jesus. May we receive and release Him fully in each moment.

By the way, the mantle was especially festive that year.

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A Season to Receive {When Christmas Doesn’t Feel Merry}

For the second consecutive year, I pass by the Christmas tree in the hospital lobby, and the sight of ribbons, ornaments, and lights punches me in the gut.

It’s not fair.

Where is God in this?

Why?

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You’ve had the same experience, perhaps? While we wish that illness and mourning and worry would take a hiatus during the holidays, we understand that doctors and funeral home directors and debt collectors are fully in business in December.

Sometimes the expected festivity of Christmas smacks hard against our circumstances. Perhaps this year it’s true for you that while others are immersed in parties, cookies, and presents, you feel buried under uncertainty, loss, or disappointment. They are holly-jolly, and you are heart-broken. My friend, I understand.

But after many times of pacing past the Christmas tree in the hospital lobby, the scowl on my face softens as I begin to marvel that such decorations are prominently on display in this public place. How long will it be, I wonder, before someone complains and the tree disappears for the sake of “correctness”?

Yet you and I can see it all around us: despite a societal discomfort with Jesus Christ, our souls really do ache for a Comforter.

And, whether we profess the reason for the season or not, we put up the trees and bring out the red & green and honor long-held traditions in private and public ways. Some might say that people celebrate Christmas because, in the bleak midwinter, we will do anything to be festive. But I see it as a stirring of faith.

At Christmas, more than any time of year, I see in the human spirit a longing for returning. We want the Christmas tree to look as it always has and we bake the same cookies and we bring out the same clothes (even if they are re-purposed for the ugly-sweater-party) and we sing the familiar carols and we traverse the neighborhood streets, expecting that the displays will look as they have in years past.

Can you see it – in these acts of returning – the longing for home?

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The Word tells us that God has set eternity in our hearts, and Home is not as much a place as it is a personal experience with His presence in our souls. It is a returning to the reason we were created. To the reason for Christmas.

And so, I stand in the glow of the hospital Christmas tree and I understand that it is fitting and right. The Light beckons us, and anyone who has felt a bleakness in the soul understands the yearning for hope to pierce the darkness. Here, in your most un-merry of places, is a yearning for the Messiah. Here is where He meets you.

God Is With Us. (Matthew 1:23)

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Eventually, the only material thing that lingers after December 25 is the fruitcake. As decorations are stored for another year, it’s natural, I think, to evaluate – was it a good Christmas? Did your house sparkle and did you score with the presents you gave and did the meals satisfy and did the family get along? And it’s pretty natural, I think, to feel some degree of let-down because we act as if Christmas joy is achieved rather than received.

One blessing of a broken-heart at Christmas, I’ve found, is that it hushes the demands of the season, if we will let it. We can see Christmas apart from the materialism and receive the manger-King who came to die. We can see afresh that Christmas’ true meaning doesn’t replace suffering but redeems it. The grace-gift, wrapped in the way of the Cross, is what Christmas is all about.

God is For Us. (Romans 8:31)

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And so, may we choose the comfort of receiving over the chaos of achieving. Instead of trying to do it all, may He be our all. May we choose to lay aside the happiness expectations and receive a holy experience in their place.

I learned this lesson last year while shopping for a black dress and waterproof mascara as Have a Holly-Jolly Christmas played in the background. At first I was resentful and bitter. But suddenly – not of my own thought, I know – I realized that I was likely not the only person in the store with a broken heart. Somehow I remembered that, whether my fellow shoppers were merry or mournful, they were pilgrims like me, on a journey with a longing for home.

As I unexpectedly had patience for the overwhelmed cashier and the lady in front of me who wrote a check,  I realized that my heart was heavy but not hardened after all. The Holy Spirit helped me to choose a response contradictory with my feelings and my circumstances. And I learned once again that joy isn’t limited to a season or a feeling of heightened revelry.

Through highs and lows, joy is found in a posture of hallowed receiving.

God is In Us. (John 14:16-17)

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If you are hurting, friend, my prayer for you is that you will lay aside all the expectations of a happy Christmas and receive the season in its holy meaning.

Receive the hushed experience of the One who still gently enters into messy, needful places.

Receive the love of the One who chose to lay aside His advantages to give us the Advent of peace.

Receive the simplicity that the Grace-Gift offers.

Receive the filling of self-emptied worship.

Receive the fellow pilgrim who needs hope.

Receive the Light as it penetrates the dark.

Receive the Carpenter of your eternal Home.

Receive the Promise-Kept and the promise that His goodness and glory will prevail.

Receive the relief that your Christmas is not going to look like everyone else’s Christmas, and that’s okay.

 Receive a Christmas of receiving.

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Nativity images used under license granted by Lightstock.

 

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Linking with Holley Gerth and encouragers who energize the spirit @ Coffee for Your Heart.

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Linking with Lyli at Thought-Provoking Thursday and Crystal at Thriving Thursday. Please check out these communities of inspiring writers.

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Favored One

During this time of the year, we often think of Mary. As I write, I’m looking around my home at the various nativities where she sits with her baby, her Lord. As I read Advent devotions, I marvel at her faith and willingness to accept this stunning assignment from God. One of my favorite writings about Mary comes from Elisabeth Elliot in “The Mother of the Lord” (http://www.elisabethelliot.org/newsletters2/nov.dec.1986.pdf)

Elisabeth wrote: “A dazzling stranger stands before her with a puzzling greeting. He calls her ‘most favored one’ and tells her the Lord is with her….Mary is troubled. She discerns at once that this has to do with things infinitely larger than herself, far beyond her understanding. What can it mean?”

When I remember that Gabriel greeted Mary as the “favored one,” (Luke 1:28) I’m instantly intrigued. This past year I did a study on the word “favor” in Scripture. Initially I was curious about the meaning of favor after reading Psalm 84:11, “The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” For some reason, it seemed that the Holy Spirit zeroed my attention on “favor,” and I realized that I seldom ever consider its significance. “Grace,” on the other hand, is something that I read about, think about, and sing about fairly often. And while Christians usually define “grace” as “God’s unmerited favor,” I don’t know that I ever considered what that essentially means.

I learned that the standard dictionary definition of “favor” is acceptance, courtesy, or preference, and its synonyms in a Bible dictionary include grace, blessing, or mercy.

When I looked up the word “favor” in my Bible concordance, I was amazed at how it is a thread woven throughout God’s story, throughout the covenants of the Old Testament and the new covenant in Christ.

Genesis 6:8 – “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

In Exodus 33, Moses found favor in God’s sight.

God gave this promise to the Israelites in Leviticus 26 – “I will look on you with favor and I will keep my covenant with you … I will walk among you and will be your God and you shall be my people.”

Throughout God’s story, in all of His ways with people from biblical times to today, He displays His favor through His covenant and by His presence with those who believe in Him. For us who live on this side of Calvary, God’s favor is shown toward those who have trusted in His Son.

After I researched Bible dictionaries and concordances, I googled the phrase “God’s favor” and found that there are very different perspectives on what the experience of God’s favor looks like.

Some people equate God’s favor with prosperity. I think the Bible would agree, but not in terms of health and wealth. A biblical perspective of God’s favor challenges the Americanized definition of prosperity. What I see about God’s favor in Scripture is that it is NOT directly related to one’s status or station in life nor is it a ticket to a life of ease. Consider….

Noah found favor with God and spent over 100 years building an ark although the earth had never felt a single drop of rain.

Moses found favor with God, and had to lead the Israelites through the desert for more than 40 years.

Esther found favor with God, and risked being killed to save the Jewish people from annihilation.

Daniel found favor with God, and was thrown into a pit full of lions.

According to Chris Tiegreen in Fixing Abraham: “God’s favor is a tricky thing. It is poured out on messy lives and it can make certain aspects of life much messier. It should be profoundly comforting that the heroes of Scripture were perceived as flawed and foolish. That makes any of us qualified to fulfill God’s purposes. The amazing thing about their lives was what God did in them, not what they did themselves. Sometimes humility, honesty, and desperate faith were all they had to offer, but those are priceless commodities in the economy of God. He wants us to come to him on those very simple but uncomfortable terms.”

Jesus described these “simple but uncomfortable terms” when He said “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (Matthew 5:3).

When I think of what it means to be “poor in spirit” I think of a character that is so unlike the self-assertive, self-sufficient disposition which the world admires and praises. Scripture reveals God’s favor as it was given to humble souls that were poor in spirit yet rich in worship.

Isaiah 66:2 – “I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at My word.”

1 Peter 5:5 & James 4:6: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

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Luke, in chapters 1 and 2 of his gospel, highlighted God’s favor throughout the incarnation story ~

Luke 1:28 – The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Luke 1:30 – The angel said to her, “ Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.”

Luke 1:43 – (Elizabeth’s words): “But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Luke 2:24 – (The angelic proclamation to the shepherds): “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:40 – And the child (Jesus) grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

The story of our Savior’s birth is marked with inconveniences. Elizabeth bore a child in advanced age. Mary faced the possibility of losing her husband and her life. Joseph accepted unforeseen responsiblity and ridicule. The shepherds risked losing their livelihood to see the Messiah. The magi traveled far to give their worship.

And yet, God’s favor with was them. God in the flesh was with them. Mary’s heart was filled with the treasure of her Savior’s presence. The shepherds and wise men were filled with unspeakable joy and matchless wonder.

“Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Favored ones look through a lens of eternal promise.

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But what does God’s favor mean for someone living 2000 years past Jesus’ birth?

God is still with us. When we receive His Son, we receive His acceptance, His covenant, His presence. Here at Christmas, that’s an enormously comforting truth.

God’s favor frees me from the pressure of my own expectations.

“Peace is not a reward for those who wrap everything by December 24. There can be no mad rush, no frantic preparations for the real spirit of Christmas. It simply fills our hearts as we are and where we are. Much the same, Christ did not need us to finish our work before He could save us. God’s salvation has always found us in the most unlikely of places and conditions…” (Ginger Garrett, “The Perfect Christmas” in InTouch magazine – http://www.intouch.org/magazine/content.aspx?topic=The_Perfect_Christmas).

It’s been an emotional day for me. I learned of something that someone I dearly love wants, and it was beyond my financial ability to make it happen. My husband and I have chosen for me to stay at home (having the choice is a wonderful blessing). But in insecure moments, I equate my worth with my ability to contribute. And in the season of giving, it hurts when I can’t contribute (and my husband’s presents come from his own paycheck.)

But God gave me the sweetest gifts today. In the midst of a tearful morning, my husband came home from work to say how much he appreciates me. And this afternoon, dear friends reminded me that this time of motherhood and ministry is a precious season. They helped me realize that my time is worth more than money can ever buy. And my worth lies not in what I contribute but in who (Whose) I am.

And I think about my salvation. I didn’t contribute to it. I can’t add to it. It is a gift of God’s favor. And though this life of faith is sometimes messy, I will choose to look through a lens of eternal promise and take a humble path made rich by His presence.

No good thing does He withhold – Psalm 84:11.

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