Monthly Archives: December 2012

Different…Better

A few days ago, my family made a special trip to a grocery store. On the way, we passed at least five stores where we usually shop for groceries. My daughter couldn’t understand why we were doing this, especially when picking up a little food wasn’t our primary goal. The reason behind our special trip was to check out a store which is brand new to our area. We like new grocery stores around here. A few years ago, Trader Joe’s came to town, and we couldn’t even get close to the parking lot for weeks. And on Whole Foods’ opening day, we were literally shoulder to shoulder with our fellow shoppers, but I don’t remember if we actually purchased a single thing.

We’re drawn to the new. “New” offers a possibility of different, perhaps better. Advertisers hope a “new and improved” product will capture our attention (and money).  This week, many people will expectantly welcome the arrival of the New Year and the possibilities of different, perhaps better. Admittedly I’m really not into making the yearly list of “more” or “less” – as in “more Scripture memorization” and “less junk food.” (Yesterday we passed a church sign that I found amusing – ‘May your New Year’s troubles be as short-lived as your resolutions.’)

Of course, I’d love to be more organized, exercise more consistently, have more verses committed to memory, and eat more fruit, but what I really need is newness in my attitudes and not just in my actions.

Ezekiel 36:26 ~ “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”

2 Corinthians 5: 17 ~ “… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Ephesians 4: 23 – 24 ~ “… let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”

Romans 12: 2 ~ “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

Each of these Scriptures indicates that transformation is God’s doing. I’m thankful that the Holy Spirit is alive and real and lives in me! He cuts to the heart of the matter and gives me power not merely for annual resolutions but for daily renewal.

My part is to be the offering. Of course that means tangible steps – making time to be in the Word, attending worship with the Body of believers, participating in Bible study, choosing to honor God with my choices in eating and exercise, living by the convictions He has placed in my heart. But these actions arise out an attitude (humility) and an approach (dependence).

Christ said to His disciples:  “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And Paul later wrote in his letter to the Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (4:13).

Jesus, the Vine, produces new life and new fruit in His followers, the branches. What do my striving, my goodness, and my resolve produce apart from Him? That’s right – nothing. Seems that the key is being made new each day is “abiding.” Some versions of this Scripture use “remain” in place of “abide” – “Those who remain in Me will bear much fruit.” Remaining = renewing.

Personally, I prefer the image of “abiding.” Somehow it gives me a fuller picture of resting in, depending upon God’s grace. In the book Abide in Christ, Andrew Murray describes abiding as “unbroken communion.” Now there’s a vision for the new year!

“A close walk with Me is a life of continual newness. Do not cling to old ways as you step into a new year. Instead, seek My Face with an open mind, knowing that your journey with Me involves being transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Jesus Calling, Sarah Young).

All this reflection about “new” has me thinking that while “new” usually means different, it doesn’t always result in better, at least in our limited perspectives. “New” implies transformation (especially in reference to the New Year), but “new” can also refer to transition (which is almost always stressful, if not downright difficult). Take divorce. Or widowhood. A new town or new school.

Sometimes we find ourselves in new situations because of events beyond our control. Here is where we have to rest in the One who is in control. What is new to us is not new to Him.

And sometimes we find ourselves in a place where change is truly necessary for our good. Going back to Jesus’ reference to Himself as the Vine, He spoke of times when the branches, through pruning, take on a new shape. Something that inhibits the growth of the branch has to be taken away. I’m thinking bitterness. Holding on to unhealthy habits. Needing another’s approval.

Pruning is painful. But through the process of pruning, branches are better able to produce new flowers or fruit.

I don’t know what 2013 holds for me in way of transformations and transitions. All I know is that each day is a new day of God’s mercy (Lamentations 3:23 – 24). Sometimes my actions will correspond nicely with New Year’s resolutions (more of the right stuff, less of the bad stuff). Sometimes they won’t. Pruning will come. But I pray that my focus this year will be on abiding.

Depending on Christ, for different, certainly better.

Romans 12: 1 – 2 ~ “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 ~ “This is what the LORD says— who makes a way in the sea, and a path through surging waters, ‘Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old. Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”

Not Only Christmas Day

Good morning! I hope you had a blessed Christmas! It is a rainy & windy day in North Carolina – perfect for a lazy morning of staying in our pajamas. I’m thankful for time to rest, partly because my family hasn’t had a lot of sleep in the past few days and partly because the house is such an overflowing mess that I don’t know where to start! Sometimes life is one daunting task after another, isn’t it?

And so today finds me procrasinating a bit, because I’d really like to stay in the Christmas glow of worship, family, prayer, and reflection. But I know that as soon as I turn on the TV, the newscasts will have turned their focus onto 2012 in review and what’s to come in 2013. Commercials will be playing upon our holiday-indulgence-regrets and pitching weight loss plans and products. Eventually I’ll have to think about removing the tree with the falling needles. And there will be duties to resume and big decisions to make. Plus, upcoming visits to the cancer center with my dad.

January may be around the corner, but this year’s Christmas offered me, more than ever, the gift of an eternal perspective. The holiday season may soon be past, but Christmas Hope is a forever-reality because the Baby went from the manger to a sinless life to a cross that I deserved. He died that death may die. The things that I worry over today – be they trivial like messy houses or heavy like doctors’ reports – pale in comparison to the immeasurable hope and glory that are forever found in Christ.

And so I’ll take one step at a time today and not buy into the temptation to mentally venture into what’s to come. Life will be a mix of taking out the trash and hugging the ones I love and talking to Jesus who goes before me. His example of humility and His gift of hope won’t be on my return list, but will be presents that I open every day.

The poem, Not Only Christmas Day, by Mary Fairchild, is on my mind today. I hope it encourages you, as it has inspired me, to view life with a Christmas perspective throughout the year.

http://christianity.about.com/b/2007/12/06/weekly-prayer-post-not-only-christmas-day.htm

Lord, this is my prayer
Not only on Christmas Day
But until I see You face to face
May I live my life this way:

Just like the baby Jesus
I ever hope to be,
Resting in Your loving arms
Trusting in Your sovereignty.

And like the growing Christ child
In wisdom daily learning,
May I ever seek to know You
With my mind and spirit yearning.

Like the Son so faithful
Let me follow in Your light,
Meek and bold, humble and strong
Not afraid to face the night.

Nor cowardly to suffer
And stand for truth alone,
Knowing that Your kingdom
Awaits my going home.

Not afraid to sacrifice
Though great may be the cost,
Mindful how You rescued me
From broken-hearted loss.

Like my risen Savior
The babe, the child, the Son,
May my life forever speak
Of who You are and all You’ve done.

So while this world rejoices
And celebrates Your birth,
I treasure You, the greatest gift
Unequaled in Your worth.

I long to hear the same words
That welcomed home Your Son,
“Come, good and faithful servant,”
Your Master says, “Well done.”

And may heaven welcome others
Who will join with me in praise
Because I lived for Jesus Christ
Not only Christmas Day

— Mary Fairchild

The Gift of Gifts

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The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers, and one of its prayers, “The Gift of Gifts,” so beautifully captures the heart of Christmas worship. I’m including it today with my hopes and prayers that your Christmas is filled with the peace, joy, and wonder of the best gift ever.

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty He could make you rich” ~ 2 Corinthians 8:9

O Source of All Good,

What shall I render to Thee for the Gift of gifts, Thine own dear Son, begotten, not created, my Redeemer, substitute;

His self-emptying incomprehensible, His infinity beyond the heart’s grasp.
Herein is wonder of wonders: He came below to raise me above, was born like me that I might become like Him.

Herein is love; when I cannot rise to Him He draws near on wings of grace, to raise me to Himself.

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Herein is power; when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart He united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreated and the created.

Herein is wisdom; when I was undone, with no will to return to Him and no intellect to devise recovery, He came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost, as man to die my death, to shed satisfying blood on my behalf, to work out a perfect righteousness for me.

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O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds, and enlarge my mind; let me hear good tidings of great joy, and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore, my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose, my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;

Place me with ox, ass, camel, goat, to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face, and in him account myself delivered from sin;

Let me with Simeon clasp the newborn child to my heart, embrace Him with undying faith, exulting that He is mine and I am His.

In Him Thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.

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~ The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett, 1975

Why “Dimly Burning?”

“Dimly burning,” I know, doesn’t sound entirely optimistic as a name for a blog. You would think I’d rather be identified with more positive descriptors – something that would draw readers in, right?  Typically we’re drawn to things and people that could be described as radiant or dazzling. But dim? Uh, not really.

I write this blog as a way to ponder and express my journey of faith in and with Jesus Christ. Of course my heart’s desire is to let my light shine, through living and writing, so that others would see Him (Matthew 5:14).  But if I’m honest about my story, it should include the highlights and the, well, lowlights.

“Dimly burning” comes from a verse that has been life-changing for me – Isaiah 42:3 – “A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.”

During this season I sometimes recall Christmas memories which aren’t very merry. I doubt I’ll ever forget the horrible sinking feeling I had when a child approached me at a Christmas gathering and inquired: “Why does your face look like a skeleton?” Now that’s a question you just don’t forget! The little girl wasn’t being cruel, just sincerely curious.  I cringe at the pictures of myself during that Christmas because truth be told, I really did look on the verge of death’s door.  And while a battle with anorexia had me barely holding onto life, I was held in shame’s firm grip.

Honestly I don’t have many clear memories of that time of my life, except for moments of severe mercy and moments of simple grace. The child’s curiosity prompted one of those severe-mercy-moments because it shocked me into the hard truth that I refused to see in the mirror.

“Dimly burning,” on the other hand, takes me back to a moment of simple grace. It was a Sunday, and my pastor at the time, Dr. Joe Brown, was preaching a sermon on the prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 42:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth… Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

Dr. Brown had a lit candle on the platform, and from where I sat in the large sanctuary, it looked like a tiny flame. But Dr. Brown asked for the house lights to be lowered, and in the midst of darkness, the little light shone persistently. Unmistakably. As I watched the flame, my heart leapt with hope. Yes, my life was a picture of a candle dimly – barely – burning, but because God’s Son had come to live in my heart, I suddenly realized that the flame of His Spirit would never be snuffed out. The Holy Spirit whispered to me, “I believe in you. I will not leave you. I will keep shining in your darkness.” It was a moment of pure and simple grace. Truly I felt deserving to be extinguished. My fear and shame and failures were so painfully obvious. Many struggles can be hidden but not anorexia. And yet, the Lord spoke undeserved love and forgiveness into my life.  And He promised a future and a hope. The Light of the Nations would re-kindle a spark of strength within my soul.

About the promised Messiah in Isaiah 42:3, Martin Luther said, “He does not cast away, nor crush, nor condemn the wounded in conscience, those who are terrified in view of their sins; the weak in faith and practice, but watches over and cherishes them, makes them whole, and affectionately embraces them.”

Watches over. Cherishes. Makes them whole. Affectionately embraces.

This is what He did for me. And He still does.

That painful Christmas was years ago. While an eating disorder is not my struggle anymore, there are times when I still hunger for hope. My sense of His mercy runs thin. The enemy would be well pleased for guilt, shame, and regret to smother my flame.

This morning in church, we read from John 1, and I remembered….

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (verses 1 – 5, 14).

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This week comes the culmination of our Christmas celebration. All because the Word became flesh. May we never get over the why and the way of His coming.

Matthew reminds us in the twelfth chapter of his gospel. Jesus healed numbers of broken people in the large crowd that followed him, but He“warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matthew 12: 15 – 21).

Jesus could have come to our world in the company of blaring trumpets. But as Matthew Henry puts it, He came “without noise.” That is, without pomp and circumstance. Without a royal entrance.  Sure, there were the earthly sounds of a barn and a baby. But we recognize Christmas as a “silent night” because of the hushed humility of His birth. And then when Jesus as He ministered to the people, the Word shows us that He did not come to boast but to bind up the broken-hearted.

For You cause my lamp to be lighted and to shine; the Lord my God illumines my darkness.” Psalm 18:28

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

This Christmas, I pray that your hearts – be they broken or blinded, doubting or dim – draw near to the Light. He can illumine a spark of faith within you that, with the Breath of His Spirit, ignites into a flame of hope.

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The Towel

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Many years ago at Christmas, a dear friend gave me a kitchen towel rolled around a piece of paper. On the paper was written “The Towel.” Since then, I’ve passed this gift along to many friends because it so perfectly symbolizes the meaning of Christmas. I don’t know who wrote “The Towel” – a Google search shows that other people have discovered it, but seems that no one can cite an original source.

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Based upon John 13: 1 – 17, here is the message of this simple but meaningful gift ~

        “At first glance, one looks at a towel and thinks, ‘Great, a towel… I needed new one,’ or ‘Good, a towel, the old ones are getting stained and worn.’  But have you ever stopped to think that for years and years, the towel has been used not only in the kitchen or the bathroom, but for a variety of reasons.

Take for example, the mother who wipes the tears of a little child; the nurse who binds the wounds of a patient; the woman in the home wiping her hands as she moves from task to task; the caregiver who patiently cleans another spill.

Notwithstanding all of the above examples, perhaps the most significant use of the towel was years ago when our loving Jesus took an ordinary towel in His hands and dried the feet of His disciples only hours before His crucifixion.  Sure, the towel is a handy item with a myriad of uses, but it also has special meaning when seen in the hands of the Savior doing a work of humble love for His fellow men.

So take this towel, knowing it is given with love, and do works of goodness with it, as the Savior worked goodness with His towel so many years ago.”

Our Lord Jesus came to us in the most humble form, and His mission was servanthood in the fullest extent. He said to the disciples (who were concerned with position and status): “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In His prayer of John 17, Jesus tells the Father, “As You sent Me into the world, I have sent them (His followers) into the world” (verse 18). Since Jesus willingly came to this world in full humanity and humility, His followers are most like Him when we follow His example, take up a towel – whatever that means for us – and serve. At Christmas, as I’m shopping for kitchen towels and making my copies to give as gifts, I’m reminded of why and how Christ came. When I’m tempted to snap at my family for the mess in the kitchen or skip the nursing home visit, all it takes is a glance at the towels waiting to be given to remind me of His example. At times when I feel I have little to give materially this Christmas, I think about John 13 and remember that sacrifice – whether I see it as minor or major – is always meaningful when given in the Name of One who gave His all.

So as I give “The Towel” every Christmas, it offers me a gift in return: the gift of perspective.

Perhaps you can give “The Towel” to a caregiver, a mom, a teacher, or someone who serves in other ways as an encouragement that their service is a reflection of Christmas Love. And together we can remember and worship our Savior for being with us and among us, for dying because of us and for us, for imparting His love in us and through us this Christmas and always.

Philippians 2: 1 – 8 (The Message) ~ If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care — then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

John 13: 1 – 15 ~ Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas,son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

 “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”

Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!” Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.

“God is not dead; nor doth He sleep…”

Written in 1863, the closing lines of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow are especially comforting to me.  Longfellow wrote this poem after suffering the loss of his wife in a fire and the severe wounding of his son in a Civil War battle.

The poem “Christmas Bells” was set to music and became the carol we know now as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

These words from the carol came to mind tonight as I grieve with people across the world for the loss of innocent lives and the devastating events in Newtown, Connecticut. …

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth” I said;

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,

“God is not dead nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail. The Right prevail,

With peace on earth. Good will to men.”

Earlier today, I read a blog written by Jon Bloom and posted by Desiring God ministries:

Christmas: The Dawn of Death’s Destruction (http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/christmas-the-dawn-of-death-s-destruction).

I encourage you to follow the link and read the entire post, but here is what spoke most powerfully to me:

“That’s why Jesus came. His whole purpose for being born was to die,

…that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14–15)

But not just to die. Jesus was born to be raised from the dead (Revelation 1:18). He is the Resurrection and the Life and whoever believes in him “though he die yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem it was the dawn of death’s destruction. It made possible the fast-approaching time when,

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:8)

If you’re feeling grief this Christmas, then know that what you’re experiencing is very much a part of Christmas. Jesus came to deal with your grief. Hear with fresh ears the angel’s gospel: that Jesus came to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). And if sin is removed, death’s days are numbered and your numbered tears (Psalm 56:8) will be wiped away.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Favored One

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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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