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Archive for December, 2006

Merry Christmas!

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found…” -Isaac Watts

Well, it looks like this will be my last post before Christmas (and probably my last before the New Year). I hope that your Christmas is wonderful and that you are continually astounded by our Savior’s incarnation.

May the Lord bless your Christmas and New Year!

“And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mark 2:17

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with
whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:14

‘…[Simeon] took [Baby Jesus] up in his arms and blessed God and said,
“Lord, now you are letting your servant
depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of
all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:28-32

As a humorous side note: The snowman pictured above was built by our family (yes, I know… but it was an attempt!) when we were on vacation three years ago. We built it, left our cabin, and went out shopping (or something). When we arrived back, we looked around for our precious snowman. He was in the yard across the street, and they had replaced his berry-mouth with peanuts. Tragic. The main question we wondered was: who steals a snowman!?

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On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we would put up the Christmas tree. It began as a ten-foot tall Christmas tree that reached to the ceiling in our living room beside the grand staircase. You could see the top of it from the upper landing of the stairs. Glass bells tied with red, green, and gold ribbons crowned the magnificent tree.

As time went by, we put a piano by the staircase where the tall Christmas tree had been. We then bought a smaller tree that we could put in front of the den window. My parents have an aversion to real Christmas trees, so both our trees were artificial. Still, they were both beautiful!

So, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we picked up my grandmother, with her bags and bags of tantalizingly wrapped Christmas presents. While listening to traditional Christmas carols, we decorated the tree. When we finished decorating the tree, we plugged the lights in and stood back to admire our work. The musical ornaments all played at the same time; they made an undistinguishable, yet beautiful, sound.

Though I could say that the trouble began that Sunday after Thanksgiving, it actually began in July-when my siblings and I realized that Christmas was less than six months away. We perused shiny-paged catalogues for our presents, planned what wonderful gifts we would give to our family, and talked about the Christmas feast. The excitement built as time went on. It reached the climax on Christmas Eve.

Climbing into our silver Dodge Durango, which was piled high with presents to give to our relatives, we drove the familiar two hours and arrived at the home of my mom’s parents. A hustle and bustle greeted us there! Aunts chopped onions, stirred gravy, and baked rolls the warm kitchen. Uncles laughed and joked in the living room. Cousins shook colorful packages, attempting to guess the contents.

My grandparents’ tree was often a bright, horrible, silvery white with gaudy, colorful lights. But I loved it! Some years they had a green Christmas tree with hand-crocheted ornaments. Whatever tree they had, the tree was not the central focus of our attention; we were interested in the presents! After supper, my uncle read the Christmas story from the Bible. It felt as though it took years! Finally, finally, the cousins would all run at the tree, attacking the presents as a dog attacks his prey. Shouts of “Look at my trolls!” and “Whoa….cool!” filled the cozy living room. I never understood how the adults all stood so calmly, seemingly unworried about the presents that lay before them. They preferred to watch our gleeful faces and to talk among themselves. Cameras flashed, capturing our proud, cheesy smiles, as we held up our gifts.

Finally, with arms filled with treasures of all shapes and sizes, we climbed back into the Durango and drove home. Before we reached home, we stopped at my grandmother’s quiet apartment to pick her up. It was always dark by then. I felt as though I were up criminally late! When we arrived back home, I would lay awake in bed, wondering if it was possible to rush the morning.

As soon as I woke up on Christmas morning, I would race downstairs to find the tree all aglow with lights. There were also new presents under the tree; Santa had come while we were sleeping! Christmas day always went by in a flurry of excitement. While we played with our new toys on the kitchen floor, my parents cooked the Christmas feast. My godparents came around lunch-time to help us devour our meal. Afterwards, with our stomachs full, we talked and played and read.

After everyone went home, though, the old familiar feeling would set in again. I would feel sad, joyless, lonely. Everything that I had been working and hoping for was over. My purpose and goal had been Christmas, but what was my purpose now?

Although the feeling was most prominent at Christmas-time, it came at other times of the year, too. When I ordered a book in the mail, I would wait eagerly. Then, the package would come, and the joy would lessen considerably. It happened when relatives were coming to visit, with youth retreats, and with a myriad of other events. The constant feeling was one of being let down. The joy was incredible for a time; then, it diminished, leaving emptiness in its place. Living for these things simply was not working.

For Sunday School in middle school, we had a small, carpeted room with folding chairs. Will, our leader, taught from a wooden pulpit in front of the white-board. One week, shortly after Christmas, Will showed us a video of his family’s Christmas when he was younger. He compared the short-lived excitement of the Christmas season to the joys of Heaven. In that Sunday School, he had unknowingly taken the veil off of my eyes.

I realized that I was filling the void in my life with things. It was the void that was supposed to be filled by God. I did not immediately change my life. But over time, I began to recognize my treasured idolatries and ask the Lord to remove them.

I still struggle often with placing my joy and hope in temporal things, even good things, such as youth group, school, or babysitting. The Lord has graciously worked in me to show me my sin. He is teaching me that He alone is worthy of my full hope and trust. Living for Him is the only true joy; He does not disappoint.

I realize that living for Christ and His glory may be compared to living for Christmas, as I did when I was a child. However, when “Christmas” comes, it will last forever as I worship my God in Heaven!

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Praise, Ponder, Proclaim

 

Do you ever have a hard time seeing the joy in Christmas? I know that I sometimes do. Do you get caught up in the glitz and glamour of sparkling presents, Christmas shopping, and Holiday parties? I have definitely been guilty of this one, too.

Last Sunday, our pastor said that if the meaning of Christmas does not affect us, perhaps it is because we have grown prideful. See, Christ came to the lowly and humble. Christ’s birth caused wealthy wise men to bow before a child and kings to panic and tremble. However, it caused lowly shepherds to rejoice! When we forget our need for a Savior– our lowliness in the eyes of the Lord– Christmas does become meaningless. Christ’s birth brought joy to the simple and caused the humble to be exalted. Consider the people Christ spent His time with. These people were generally not the wealthy and wise in the world’s eyes. Instead, Christ spent much of His time on earth with sinners, the sick, and the poor. We are sinners, dying, fallen, beings. Through Christ, though, we receive new lives and are exalted. God became man so that we would not perish. How incredible! It must cause us to ask, “Why me? Why have you done so great things for me, Lord?” We definitely do not deserve it. It is only by His grace.

Our pastor gave three responses, things that we should do when we receive the good news. They are from Luke 2:8-20. I’ll list the verse references beside them.

First, Christ’s birth should cause us to praise (vv.13, 18, 20). The angels praised. The shepherd praised. Mary and Joseph praised. They all praised God, the Savior, the covenantal God of Israel who had not forsaken His people. Once we realize our lowliness, we should begin to praise, crying out with Mary:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my
Savior…” (Luke 1:46-47)

Second, the fact that God became man so that we might have life, the fact that He became our perfect sacrifice, should cause us to proclaim (vs. 17). Our lives should praise and proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! We must tell people about the Good News of the Gospel, not keeping it to ourselves.

Thirdly, we must ponder. In verse 19, we see that Mary quietly pondered these things in her heart. She did not let the news of Christ’s birth through her become mundane, even though it could have as she went through her days. We must continually preach the Gospel to ourselves, exulting in God our Savior.

As we realize more and more our lowliness, the depths of our sin, we will see more and more of the incredible gift of Christ’s birth. May it never grow stale or boring. Realize your need for a Savior, and rejoice as you look at how the Lord has provided a Savior for you!

Light of the world
You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes, let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore You
Hope of a life spent with You

Chorus: Here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
You’re altogether lovely
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me

King of all days
Oh so highly exalted
Glorious in Heaven above
Humbly You came to the earth You created
All for love’s sake became poor

Bridge: I’ll never know how much it cost
To see my sin upon that cross

Song / Lyrics by Tim Hughes

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Watching

Perhaps I noticed it first when my mother punished my younger brother for his disrespect toward her, and he defensively exclaimed, “But Mom, Ella does it all the time!” Or maybe it was when I began to see how the little girls that I baby-sit for mimic me. I remember being terrified when I first realized that people were watching me. They were imitating me, the good and the bad. Whether you realize it or not, there are people watching you and imitating you.

Look at your own life. Do you see how your parents have influenced you? I am very similar to my parents in many ways, even absorbing the character traits that I do not admire in them. Who you are around on a consistent basis greatly affects who you are. (Proverbs 13:20)

Paul understood this. In Titus 2, when he exhorts the older women to teach the younger women, he first exhorts the older women about their own behavior. One of the greatest things we can do to pass on Biblical femininity is to live it out. There are younger girls watching you, testing you, and learning from you. On Sunday afternoons, I co-lead a small group of middle school girls. I have come to realize that they will learn more from my consistently dressing modestly than from many talks on the subject. Don’t get me wrong- there are times and places when issues need to be addressed by the spoken word. However, as the old adage says, “Actions speak louder than words.” Living a life that models the Gospel, seeking forgiveness when you wrong another, and displaying joy and love is a great testimony to the love of the Lord.

Do you see them? They’re all around you. Maybe in the form of a younger sibling, the children you watch in the nursery, or students at your school. Do you live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ? And let’s remember, that the Gospel is not about appearing pious; God cares about our hearts (I Samuel 16:7). The idea is not to attempt to live outwardly as you think a Christian should live. Instead, we must wholeheartedly pursue a relationship with the Lord and apply ourselves to His teachings. Then, and only then, can we truly live out the Gospel, by His grace.

I am going to close with a portion from Mabel Hale’s timeless classic, “Beautiful Girlhood,” revised by Karen Andreola. Even though it is long, I urge you to read the whole passage. It is my hope that it will encourage and challenge you as it has me.

“No woman who loves the Lord Jesus Christ is entirely weak and insignificant. Someone will pattern after her, or draw courage from her. By her trueness to principle, her loyalty to right and truth, she is anchor and fortress to the weaker sisters about her. In the home, in the neighborhood, in the congregation, everywhere, a good woman living in modesty and simplicity is a mighty force among woman. And just as powerful is the influence of a woman who is not good. It lies in the power of woman to lift up, and terribly in her power to pull down and destroy… Then comes the influence of a true woman upon her younger acquaintances. It may be that the boys and girl about her seem to be full of nonsense and foolishness, that they do not see her example of earnest, lovely nobility; but in a few more years she will see that her life does bear fruit among her acquaintances.”

Beautiful Girlhood. Eugene, OR: Great Expectations Book Company, 1993.

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I think it’s safe to assume that you can relate to at least one of the following statements:

“I have lengthy papers to write, a book to read that seems to get longer, and monstrous exams to study for! When will it end?”

“Someone in my family is constantly sick with a cold or the flu.”

“I have so many presents to buy and so much to do to prepare for the holidays- I can’t wait ‘til it’s over!”

“I don’t know how I am going to earn the money to buy presents for all my friends and family members!”

“My frustrating family member is coming into town. How can I be patient with him?”

Christmas has become very commercialized. In addition, the Holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year with exams, traveling, and a never-ending to-do list. However, it is not supposed to be this way. Advent, the celebration of the coming of Christ, should give us joy and renewed strength. It should give us a new perspective on our own lives, as well as the lives of others.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all you anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
I Peter 5:6-7

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

We are commanded to cast our burdens on the Lord. And we are able to do so only through Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection.

In the Old Testament, after the Fall, there was a holy distance separating God and man. Man was not holy enough to approach God; in fact, man often feared to see God or even hear from God. It was a very miraculous occasion when God had direct contact with His people. He usually had contact only through a mediator (a prophet, judge, priest, or king).

So what changed in the New Testament? Why are we now commanded to approach God anytime with any need? The answer is not that man became holier, or that God randomly changed His mind. The answer is that Christ came. Christ’s sacrifice– His coming down to earth, fully God and fully man, living the perfect life of righteousness, dying the death that we deserve to die, and His rising again– bridges the separation between God and man. Because Christ came to earth, we are able to approach God, to love God, and we are being sanctified through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And this news, instead of making us stress with busy preparations, such as shopping, cleaning, cooking, and working, should make us eagerly sit at our Savior’s feet, knowing that He is all that we need. (see Luke 10:38-42)

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16 (emphasis mine)

How can we find time, in the midst of this busy season, to sit at His feet? Ask Him. He will supply every single need that you have. Draw near confidently. When you are tempted to get frustrated with Uncle Bill, whisper a prayer to the Lord. Seek His wisdom and patience. When you fail to get the grade that you wanted on your exam, seek His peace. He is in control of your life, and He has a purpose for you! Through Christ, we have access to the throne of God. Instead of making us so busy that we forget our dependence on God, this should cause us to go through this time of the year, and every time of the year, with great rejoicing, generosity, and love, for both God and man.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Philippians 4:4

What did the shepherds do when they heard of Jesus’ birth? They left their work and went to see Him, rejoicing. The wise men brought gifts to Jesus, rejoicing. The angels looked down from Heaven, rejoicing. Christ’s birth should causes us to focus our lives on Him, not our petty wishes and problems. Rejoice in your exams; rejoice in the privilege you have to study and learn more about God and about the world that we live in. Rejoice in your weakness, which forces you to rely of Jesus. Rejoice in all things through the Lord Jesus Christ!

This season, when focused on Christ, truly will be a wonderful time of the year. Realize what His birth means for you. Realize your need for Him in all areas. And cast your cares upon Him, because He does care for you! Then, you will truly rejoice.

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Busy-ness

I apologize for my lack of posting this week. I have been (and continue to be) swamped in school, projects, and events. Posting may be a little less frequent until after the Holidays. However, I will post when I can!

Blessings to you all!

Ella

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Candle in a Cave: Part II

There are several “application-points” from the message of light and darkness (see this post).

candle.jpg

First, we need the word of God. We must allow His Word to be “a lamp to our feet.” As we keep our lights burning for Him, we must continually preach the Gospel to ourselves, reminding ourselves that it is His glory and not our own that we are seeking, by His grace.

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”                                                                                      I John 1:5-7

In a similar vein, we need to examine our own mindset and worldview. Do we make every decision by the Word of God? Do we choose our position on an issue using the Word of God? Are our media choices, the things we pour into our minds, matching up to Philippians 4:8? We must “take every thought captive” to Christ in order to be lights in this darkened world.

And lastly, we need to shine with the light, spreading the Gospel of His truth. He has called us in the same way that He called His people before us:

“And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified…I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:3, 6b

So, we need to abide in the Light, walk by the Light, and shine with the Light. In this way, we can be candles in the dark cave of the world- candles that point to Jesus Christ.

“O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord.” Isaiah 2:5

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence, but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation,
among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ, I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”

Philippians 2:12-16

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