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Christmas grace

Joseph.  He appears in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. He is in the lineage of kings, but he seems obscure in the small town of Nazareth.

His character shines through when he is confronted with an impossibility. His betrothed is pregnant, and he knows it is not his child. What is a law-abiding Jewish man to do?

While he contemplates a humane way of getting out of his contract and somehow protecting Mary’s life, he dreams a dream. “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “ ‘Joseph son of David.’ 

How long had it been since he thought about his heritage? How long since he felt like someone other than a simple carpenter?

Sometimes we need to be reminded who we are.

To Joseph belongs the honor of remaining true to his calling. He listened when God spoke. He believed the word of the Lord. He obeyed when asked to do the hard thing.

Though we hear little of him after the first couple of chapters in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, he stands tall in courage and faithfulness. He was chosen, just like Mary, to make a family and a home for the Son of God.  He would model what a godly man looks like to this Child come from heaven.

In honor of Joseph, I pay tribute to those who follow in his footsteps.

To all the men who have been father to other men’s children.

To those who accepted responsibility to provide for those in their care, to love them when they didn’t have to.

To the men who said “I do” and committed to love their wives for a lifetime, a covenant that will not be broken.

To those who gave their name, their identity, their heritage.

To the men who taught their children what a good day’s work is, what it looks like to lead lovingly, and how to build character and integrity into a life.

To those who worked with their sons and danced with their daughters.

*   *   *   *   *   *

You are an important part of the story, just like Joseph was in the life of Jesus. Though he was not the birth father, he put on the cloak of duty without concern for himself.  He forsook fear and lifted the shield of faith.  He disregarded the questions about his honor and what others thought about him.   He had been given the truth and that was enough.

joseph2

It was enough for Joseph to obey where he was called, to go forward and not look back.

And he, Joseph, called His name Yeshua.

The angel said, “Joseph, descendant of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The baby in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son. You will name the son Jesus.  Give him that name because he will save his people from their sins.”  Matthew 1:20-21

Christmas grace.

 

Revised and reposted from December 2015
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Walk this way

Finding myself more than halfway through a Bible study becomes melancholy experience for me.

There’s lots of preparation for each and every week that takes a chunk of my time.  But when I gather with a group of wonderful women who become sisters-in-Christ in the truest since of the word, and we talk about God, it is joy.  Plain and simple.

Studying The Armor of God with Priscilla Shirer has been eye-opening to us as we have been awakened to our enemy’s strategies, re-discovering how to fight well, and learning to put into practice what we already knew and what we are learning afresh.

This week’s topic has been the shield of faith, learning that faith is active, moving where God is calling.

I will admit I have had my crises of faith.  Those times when I questioned everything I was ever taught in the face of my present reality.  Times when what I desperately prayed for didn’t materialize.  Times when I wondered if everything I believed was really true.

Often my focus was on me and my faith.  Was it enough?  Was it strong?  Would it be sufficient to accomplish my purpose?

Ms. Shirer made this statement:  “Faith is less about me and more about God.”

I am a dull learner sometimes, having to repeat the same lesson again.  And this time I want to remember this lesson well.

Faith is about a mighty God, a dependable God, a strong and compassionate God.  And let me say it in bold letters, A Faithful God.

When Jesus chided his followers because of their lack of faith, wasn’t it because they were looking at circumstances and themselves rather than looking at Yahweh?  The I Am.  The Self-existent One.  The Everlasting.  The Alpha and Omega.

Oh my, when I look at the God of the Bible who accomplished amazing miracles and who died a selfless, humiliating death for my sake and to pay my unpayable debt of sin, I am filled with a strong faith in a strong God.

Faith is not about me.  Not about how much or how little I have.  Not whether I can talk myself into believing the impossible.

Faith is about a faithful God who can do more than I can imagine or think into reality.  When I fix my eyes on Jesus, when I look toward the only Answer in a broken world of questions, when I see Him in the glory of the One and Only who rules and reigns even when all seems in chaos, then and only then am I filled with faith.

When this vision is before me and making itself at home in my heart, I will have an active faith.  A faith that can move forward where God is calling to me.

I will hear Him say, “Walk this way.”  And I will go with Him.

Walkway

Bruce Park AW Hanks Walkway, Wikipedia

Being faithful

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Blog pictures 2 029Father,

I want to be a faithful woman, a faith-filled women.  Sometimes I am not.

When my heart is broken wide open and pouring out its own anguish, I feel far away from You, like I wonder where You are.

But haven’t I read Your very own words?  You are near to the broken-hearted, close to the crushed in spirit.

I pray.  Sometimes the prayers seem to hit a brass heaven.  Do you hear me?

Then I remember:  You hear my cry for help.

Well, I have cried a lot of tears, a bucketful probably.

Do you really keep my tears in a bottle?   They must be important to You.

I wonder about Your plan and question, “What are You doing?”

Your reply is to point me to hope and a future.

But I don’t understand it.   And I cannot see how it is all going to work out.

You tell me You are working all things together for my good.

And I ask, “But how?”

You patiently tell me Your ways are too high for me to grasp and Your thoughts are beyond my comprehension.

I fear my faith is small.  I bow low and pray, “Lord, I believe.  Help my weak faith to grow.”

Father, I  choose to trust Your words.  I determine to believe they are true.  I acknowledge Your sovereignty over me and Your love for me.

It is small act of faith.  Like  a little mustard seed. And I feel You making me stronger somehow.

Growing me into a faithful woman.

How is your faith growing?

I love hearing from  you.

Leave a comment?

Suffering for Christ

“If I call will you come? When I cry do you hear?”

The questions from a song written by Zach Neese called Faithful God echo my own heart.

I’ve asked those questions in the midst of difficult and uncertain events.  I’ve wondered where God was while I suffered or watched people I care about suffer, even die.

Maybe you have, too.

Why is it we think God is in our midst when all is right with our world but we assume He is far, far away and out of hearing when the world is crashing down around us?

More and more I realize I don’t know all the answers. I’m not a theologian, only a forever-student of the Word.  I’m still learning.

I used to think I could “command” God to do what I wanted, the results of an idea that we can name what we want and claim it in Jesus’ name.  That should make it a done deal, right?

Another line of thought says if I can just think enough positive thoughts and eliminate all the negative ones, I will draw only good things to me.  That would be pretty powerful, wouldn’t it?

There is nothing new about those ideas.  It was put into a poem called Invictus by William Ernest Henley in 1800s.

“I am master of my fate; I am captain of my soul.”

 I have already decided.  I don’t want to be in charge of myself and my destiny.  Captain of my own soul?  I answer that question with a resounding “No!”

I don’t have sufficient intelligence or wisdom; I am too selfish, too self-focused, too emotional, too small in my thinking to design my own life, to decide what is best for me and expect a good outcome.

I have surrended the command of my life to the Captain of the Lord’s Host, Jesus Christ.  But when suffering is all around me, family, friends, the world, I still have questions.

Reading chapter 1 of Philippians recently, I see words that I’ve read many times before, but they spoke in a different way this time.

Verse 29 says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him.”

I’ve always considered the suffering Paul talked about to be persecution for the Gospel of Christ, the kind of suffering preachers and missionaries deal with, the ones who give their all, live in foreign countries, and risk their very lives to spread the good news of Jesus.

I’ve never suffered like that.

But what if Paul’s words were expanded to include Christians who deal with mental, physical, emotional pain while still reflecting the light of God’s glory as they endure?

A friend tells me about a young woman with a husband and two small children who is dying of cancer.  Treatments are no longer effective.  She will not be a survivor.  She has little energy anymore while friends bring food and take the children out for a picnic or ice cream.  Yet, she musters the strength on a Sunday morning to dress in something pretty, wearing her face mask to prevent an infection, and she comes to church to worship.

I hear of a mother of six boys who was told the sweet baby girl she and her husband had waited for is diseased in the womb and will not survive long after birth. This mother courageously carried the child full term despite medical advice to abort. She gave birth and held her little girl until breath was gone. Her friends, her church, and her community are impacted by her faith.

I listen to heart-breaking prayer requests from the lips of my choir when we practice on Wednesday evenings.  Then I watch them lift their hands and hearts in worship to their God who leaves many questions unanswered.  Their joy shines though the burdens are heavy.

Another friend shares through tears the heartbreak of watching a family member’s life deteriorate before her eyes. Yet she continues to serve and fulfill her obligations, faithful to the calling of God.

A childhood friend who has many gifts and talents was struck with a debilitating disease years ago that allows only a few good days out of many painful one when staying home and resting is all she can do.  She recently shared her great joy at being able to serve her church in a way she can, organizing a greeter ministry.  It’s something she can do within the limitations of her illness.

Another childhood friend lost her husband this year to a lingering illness.  We have reconnected on Facebook. I recently asked her how she was doing. Her response was from a wounded heart that was fully and faithfully trusting her God.

I see the glory of God shining in those lives.  Though He slay them, yet they will trust Him!

That kind of faith speaks louder than a Sunday morning sermon in the church house.  It shouts loudly to neighbors, co-workers, people on highways and byways of life who will not hear the gospel except as it is lived out by persevering Christians.

So maybe Paul’s words ring true for you like they do for me today. When life spirals out of control and I feel myself falling with it, I remember that God told me in His Word that there would be days like this.  He has not left me in my suffering.  He is ever near the broken, the wounded, the hurting.  He has a purpose for it though I cannot see.  And perhaps . . . just perhaps His light will be reflected in me as I hopefully endure. 

The song I began with continues like this:

“If I call will You come? When I cry do You hear?  I believe every tear is caught up by a faithful God.

  So I will cry until You come, cast my cares into Your arms.  I can’t see past this storm, but I’m counting on a faithful God.”

Until the storm passes by, I’m counting on a God Who has been faithful to me in my past, is faithful right now in my present, and will be faithful until my life on this earth ends, and I stand in the presence of my God.

A promise from 2 Corinthians 4 rings in my ear:

  16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory . . .

Being there with Jesus will be worth it all.

Living in a shaky world

Television news this spring has often centered on the tragic events caused by earthquake, tsunami, floods and tornadoes. 

Sweet William and I have huddled in our hallway on several occasions, listening to the warning sirens and the blowing wind. 

I’ve watched the aftermath news reports with sadness.  Some losses are material and can be replaced.  But losing loved ones, especially when they are not found, are devastating to the heart.

The tragedies have resulted in deprivation, heartache, confusion, and perhaps questions.

I have questions.

  • How do people survive such catastrophic events?
  • How long will it take to rebuild.  How long to recover emotionally?
  • What if it happened to me and mine?

It doesn’t even take an earthquake to shatter our dreams and our lives.  All we need is to get the a doctor’s diagnosis, or to be handed the proverbial “pink slip” because our job has been eliminated, or to hear dreaded words like, “I want a divorce,” or “This is the police.  Your son has been arrested.”

In a shaky world, we need a sure foundation.  There is only One.  Sadly we build our hopes and dreams on things and people who are shaky themselves.  When the winds blow and the rains come, those foundations crumble beneath.  What is there to do then?

A daily devotional comes to my email each day from Roy Lessin, co-founder of DaySpring, author, and blogger at “Meet Me In The Meadow.”  His post from March 4 is appropriate encouragement for those of us who believe Someone holds this world and all its inhabitants in His strong and mighty hand.  When the world is shaky, there are some things we can count on.    Here is Roy’s post:

Things You Can Count On Now!

There is a grace that is sufficient; a mercy that endures; an atoning blood that cleanses; a hope that doesn’t disappoint; a love that never fails; a purpose that works all things together for the good; a peace that passes understanding; a joy unspeakable; a kingdom unshakable; a foundation indestructible; a High Priest who prays; a Savior who lives; a Spirit who comforts; a Father who cares.

Therefore, we who have fled to Him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us .This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. Hebrews 6:18-19 NLT

Leave a comment at Mr. Lessin’s blog – http://roy.dayspring.com/2011/03

Tribute to a dear woman

 

May 2nd marks the birthday of someone special to me.  She was one of the women who impacted my life in a monumental way.  This day I pay tribute to one of God’s soldiers gone home, my aunt, Doris Marie Lockard Rayhill.

I never really called her Doris Marie unless I was trying to identify her to someone. To me she was my Aunt Dottie.

But the first name I called her was “mommy.”

You see my cousin and her first born, Danny, was born a year and a half before me. He was the big brother I never had and the one this little girl tried to imitate. He called her “mommy” – so I called her “mommy.”  I called my own mother, “Mother,” naturally.

It wasn’t until I got to elementary school that I learned the other kids did not call their aunts “mommy”.

The two of us had a talk about it. I explained that I needed to call her something else because the kids at school didn’t understand.  She told me about a pet nickname her mother had called her.  It was “Dottie.”  She was my Dottie ever since.

Dottie was my children’s church director, and she was my first pastor. I wish I could tell you how we children really had church in the basement of Faith Temple Church of God, how our spiritual foundations were laid stone by stone each Sunday morning.

I learned about Jesus’ love from the stories she told us. Stories like: The Little Red Hen who gave her life for her chicks; Snowflake, the lamb that kept wandering away from the shepherd; Barney’s Barrel; Why the Chimes Ring; and Miss Bump.

Those precious stories explained the gospel in a way a child like me could understand. They still touch a tender place in my heart when I sometimes share them with my own grandchildren.

In children’s church we learned to sing What a Friend We Have in Jesus, I’m Glad I’m a Christian, Ti’s So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, and Trust and Obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. Those songs became themes for my Christian walk.

In the basement of that old church, I learned the books of the Bible, was encouraged to memorize Scripture, and could do a Bible drill with the best of them.

When I grew into a teenager, Dottie was my choir leader at Dixie Valley Church of God. And she led us to worship! We sang some good old gospel songs: “He’s the Lord of Glory,” Walking Up the King’s Highway,” “Here Comes the Bride,” and “Getting Ready Today, moving out tomorrow, gonna say ‘good-bye’ to all earthly sorrow. I’m looking for that mansion there. I see the light, I’m almost there.”

I wonder if her spirit was singing that when she departed this world in September 2008?

Dottie became my mentor when she decided the youth needed to be taught how to become leaders. She put me in charge of directing a play, The Missing Christians, a story of the rapture and those left behind. There were other young people who were challenged to take on leadership roles. What a bold venture for her and what confidence she put in us as she stood in the shadows and watched us take off and grow.

Years later, a group of women gathered weekly in my parent’s basement for Bible study and prayer. Once again I was privileged to sit under Dottie’s teaching, this time as a young adult. I watched and listened as the Word of God seemed to pour forth out of her mouth. Through her years of faithful study and hiding His Word in her heart, she had become a reservoir of living Truth that became the Bread of Life and Living Water to us.

I soaked it in, and one day I thought to myself, “I want that!” I never aspired to be a teacher, but I longed for that knowledge of God that only comes from knowing His heart through His spoken Word.

When my dear Mother went home to be with Jesus in 1983, Dottie and I grieved together.  We both loved Mother so much.

That first Christmas without Mother was when Dottie gathered my little family in, Sweet William, our son Travis, and me. We had always been in her heart, but from then on she included us into her own immediate family for holidays and family events.  And there we remained.

As the years passed, she continued to encourage, support, and pray for me.

When her health began to fail, I was honored to serve her and care for her at times. She would always thank me, sometimes try to pay me. She didn’t grasp that I owed her so much more than money could ever repay.

What a great woman of God she was. Not perfect as none of us are, but truly a follower and disciple of Christ.

A Scripture seems appropriate for my Aunt Dottie. First Corinthians 11:1 says, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” That’s what she did and what she taught.

Hers was a life well lived.  I am a life that was changed because of her.  

Happy Birthday Aunt Dottie.

 

If you had a special person in your life, I would love to hear from you.

Leaving February

 

I enjoyed the month of February with all its talk and posts about love. It gave me a chance remember important people in my life.

Then there was the sermon series, “Navigating the Storms of Life,” at Little Flock that got my attention and resonated with truth each Sunday. I found myself heading into a storm on February 15 when my Sweet William was suddenly thrust into open-heart surgery.

Now at the end of the month, I’m beginning to see some of the clouds disperse and a patch of blue sky peeking through. I guess that means I’m coming out of a storm. At least for now.

I was having a Facebook conversation last evening. You know the kind I mean. I type out my message, send it, then wait for a reply. It is a slow way to talk.

My FB friend is in the middle of a tornado-like storm, the warning sirens at full blast. It won’t be over for a while. All I can do is stay close, pray for her, and offer encouragement when I can.

I told her I have found that God speaks to me more clearly during the darkest of days, the hard roads, the tear-streaked seasons of my life. He seems nearer at those times, probably because I seek Him more often, praying without ceasing just to make it through the next hour. Perhaps my ears are more prone to listening to His words when I am broken and bruised.

Honestly, when I look back to those stormy seasons, I realize my faith grew. When I had nothing but God, I found that He was more than enough.

It helps me look with hopeful expectation toward the future. I can enjoy the clear-sky days. But I can also face the storm clouds that gather without fear. I have tested and found Him to be faithful, near and dear in the valley of the shadow as well as on top of the sun-shiny mountains.

So I bid February farewell. I will not pass this way again. But I will look back and see God’s hand written all over it.