Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace

“Amazing Grace” is a Christian hymn published in 1779, with words written by the English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton (1725-1807). It is an immensely popular hymn, particularly in the US, where it is used for both religious and secular purposes. It has been estimated that the song is performed about ten million times annually in various forms.

The story behind the author and his words is fascinating and has been produced as a movie and Broadway play. John’s mother died before he turned seven and he joined his father on a merchant ship as an apprentice at age eleven.  He was well known for his headstrong disobedience and incredible profanity. After being flogged for desertion from the Royal navy he joined the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel so severely that he called out to God for mercy. That moment marked his conversion but he continued slave trading, considered a respectable vocation at the time, for several more trips until he left the sea for good at age 30. Newton began studying Christian theology and began preaching about the grace of the cross which saved him and later he became an abolitionist. Shortly before his death at age 82 he preached, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior!”

An amazing story of a changed life but what does grace mean?  In Christian belief it means “God’s free gift of unmerited favor manifested in salvation and bestowing of blessings”. I was always taught the simple acrostic; God’s Riches At Christs’ Expense. 

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.      Eph 2:8-10 (NLT)

John Piper wrote; “Well, it  appears that the word grace in Paul’s use not only refers to God’s character trait or disposition or inclination to treat people better than we deserve, but the word grace also refers to the action or the power or the influence or the force of this disposition, which produces real, practical outcomes in people’s lives, like being sufficient for good deeds or enduring the thorn in the flesh or working harder than everybody else, which Paul says about his own apostolic work.”  

Throughout the pages of the Bible we see story after story of men and women, rich and poor, powerful and unnamed, failing God by disobeying His law and turning to temporary gain or satisfaction. By God’s grace these people saw God at work in their circumstances and the power of changed lives. Their stories are much like ours. God’s love never fails. He faithfully waits for us to turn back (repent) so we can enjoy a living and growing relationship with Him.

If you fear you’ve written too many checks on God’s kindness account, drag regrets around like a broken bumper, huff and puff more than you delight and rest, and, most of all, if you wonder whether God can do something with the mess of your life, then grace is what you need.      Max Lucado

I may not have a history like John Newton but I need God’s grace just as much. I want Him to work on my heart and through His enabling power to live in grace. Grace extends forgiveness and kindness by overlooking others faults. Grace carries on when people misjudge you. By God’s grace our lives are put into order with purpose and meaning. God’s amazing grace never runs out.

 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.      Heb 4:16 (NLT)

The Need For Resilience

The Need For Resilience

Today I am reposting my blog from last January (something I don’t usually do) because encouragement and resilience are still desperately needed. I wish for you to have courage and peacefor today and hope for tomorrow.

We survived 2021 with all of its’ bumps, bruises and losses. From political unrest, natural disasters and a world wide pandemic, life is not going to be back to “normal” anytime soon enough. Although we have great hope in beating this virus with vaccines, we are still struggling. So how should we respond in 2022? We cannot give up hope but instead to continue building resilience.

Resilience is the ability to cope with adversity and to use challenges to forge strength and prosperity. Having resilience does not mean that you don’t struggle, make mistakes, or need to ask for help. Resilient people keep plugging along even when the situation becomes ugly or exhausting.

There are many characters in the Bible who developed resilience through tough challenges. A favorite of mine is Joseph found in Genesis 37-47. If you have never read the whole story – please do ! Joseph was the youngest and favorite son of Jacob the Patriarch of Israel. From a young age God spoke to him in dreams which made his brothers even more jealous. The angry brothers sold Joseph into slavery and told their Dad he was dead. Joseph was bought as a household slave in Egypt and did well until the Masters’ wife lied about an assault putting him into prison. Joseph kept the faith and his dreams got him out of jail and placed him serving the Pharaoh himself. A life of extreme ups and downs yet Joseph never stopped believing and trusting in God because he understood that God has a purpose even in our suffering.

God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. 8 So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor over Egypt. Gen 45:7-8 (NLT)

“A helpful way to exercise spiritual resilience is by cultivating gratitude and counting your blessings. Be thankful for what you do have rather than focusing on what you are missing. Build optimism and be positive. Accept the past and focus on the future.” American Psychological Assoc.

How we respond to our circumstances or developing good coping skills will help us maintain balance. We need to take care of our bodies and avoid negative outlets. Masking our pain with alcohol, drugs and even food is tempting but it’s like putting a bandaid on a deep wound. Find resources to manage stress, not avoid it. Don’t dwell on the news and Facebook but instead find uplifting music, scripture and supportive friends. We can be proactive in finding purpose by making goals, problem solving and helping others. We need to keep things in perspective and be realistic about change. Not all change is bad. Finally, resilience should give us a hopeful outlook because we have learned from our past. Resilient people have a survivor mentality.

Our situations may vary widely but the answer is the same – call on God, the Almighty Creator, Our Sustainer, Redeemer, Healer and Friend.

 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Gal 6:9-10 (ESV)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (resilience) 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Behold Immanuel

Behold Immanuel

This advent season I have heard a lot about two terms; Behold and Immanuel. The word “Behold” is used 1298 times in the whole Bible. It means to look intensely not just a glance but to gaze upon, regard, pay attention to something special.

 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. [8]   Isaiah 7:14

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.      Isaiah 9:6

Immanuel means God with us. It is a title (among others given) and not another name for Jesus.  Immanuel is spelled with an I in Hebrew (old testament) and an E in Greek (new testament). In Hebrew the title expresses the wonder of the incarnation, that God became flesh and made His dwelling with man. (John 1:14)

Ward Cushman, in an article on To Every Nation, gives four reasons why Jesus’ title Immanuel is important to us.

  • Immanuel means the Father showed Himself to us.
  • Immanuel means Jesus identified Himself with us
  • Immanuel means Jesus gave Himself for us.
  • Immanuel means the Father, Son and Spirit have stayed with us. 

He promises to be with us Matthew 18:20. One way that is fulfilled is by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives John 14:16-18. This means we can rely upon Him. Immanuel is a practical truth that can change your life.   The shepherds were given the glorious message of good news and told to go, see, examine, and investigate for themselves.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ (Messiah) the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  Luke 2:10-11

Behold -have you examined this good news for yourself? Prophecy was and will be fulfilled because God keeps all of His promises.  The Messiah, our Savior was born as a baby in very humble circumstances and not in a palace so all people could draw near.  And because He was confined to time and space Jesus understands all of our problems. Remember this Christmas that God loves us so much He gave His only Son to be the ultimate sacrifice for sin.  The question remains, is there room in your busy life for him? He promises internal and eternal peace and joy despite our current difficulties. We don’t have to be afraid of the future because Immanuel has come.

***Come and behold Him, born the King of angels . Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord. ***

The Message of the Angels

The Message of the Angels

Angels play a big part in the Christmas narrative. They appeared first to Zechariah, then Mary, Joseph and lastly a group of shepherds.  But the initial reactions to these supernatural beings was not joy but; dismay, being gripped with fear, perplexed and terribly frightened. I would have been too. Angels in Scripture are formidable and shine brilliantly they are not fluffy little child like creatures. The message for each person was individual but they all heard the comforting words: “do not be afraid, we have good news”.     

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”     Luke 2:8-12 (ESV)

 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”   Luke 2:14 (NKJV)

Even though the birth of Messiah had been prophesied long before by Isaiah, Micah and other prophets it seems very few were actually looking for him like the wisemen and not everyone was happy. Zechariah was a priest and he had trouble believing the angels’ message. King Herod was afraid of competition for his illegal position on the throne. People respond the same way today to God’s message.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (which means God with us)    Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)       For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.      Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

Whatever our journey has been or the circumstances we find ourselves in today, God doesn’t want us to be afraid but instead to come to Him.  “A child was given” – He came as a baby so people would approach him. Jesus grew into a man and experienced everything that we do so he really understands our feelings and problems. The good news is for everyone.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.         John 3:16-17 (NLT)

The Jewish word Shalom is more than just simply peace; it is a complete peace.  It is a feeling of contentment, completeness, wholeness, well-being, and harmony. The peace Jesus offers is not like what the world offers. He is Immanuel. God is with us, watching over us and walks beside us. The angels’ message of good news is for everyone. Can you hear them?

From Casting Crowns- I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on Earth, good will to men  *** Chorus

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

But the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them? (Peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
(Peace on Earth)
(Peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men  ****

Do you hear the bells, they’re ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The light, the angels singing (peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Make Time for Soul Care This Holiday Season

Make Time for Soul Care This Holiday Season

We all know the Holiday season can be stressful and exhausting!  Approximately 6 weeks of non-stop advertising and extra to-do’s added to the calendar. This year the media added the stress of not “getting what you want” and running out of supplies due to the backup of cargo ships . Plus we are still feeling the lingering effects of the pandemic. We can get caught in the trap of consumerism so easily but building memories and caring for people is more important than things. I believe we really need to re-evaluate what is truly important. Everyday we have choices and can control the chaos this Thanksgiving and Christmas.

What are the most important traditions for you and your family?  Put those at the top of the list!  Carefully consider other events before saying yes to others.  Don’t try to do it all or you won’t enjoy anything yourself. If Mommy (or Daddy) isn’t happy then nobody is happy!

Have limits and lower expectations that everything will be Hallmark perfect. If you have  small children and especially if you have children with special needs, you may have to say no to too many extra activities.  Don’t feel guilty. No time to bake? Buy cookies. Limit the visiting hours and try to maintain a regular bedtime. One year we just couldn’t get our family Christmas letter done and didn’t send any cards. Nobody died because of it (but I did get a reprimand from an elderly friend).

If this is a particularly stressful or financially tight year for you then only decorate the Tree, the mantle or table and the front door. The tree represents – eternal life and Jesus the Light of the world.  The mantle or table decoration is right in view for you while the front door is what others see and where you enter and exit everyday.

Plan and limit your shopping. It is too stressful to push through the crowds of people to “find the perfect gift”. I have been so happy with online shopping but watch your spending and set limits there too. Getting into debt over gifts does not leave a satisfying feeling afterwards.

tired shopper

Stop and take a deep breath – seriously. Breathing helps clear our minds, calms our racing thoughts and lowers blood pressure.

Make sleep a PRIORITY –  Take cat naps if necessary – I am finding a great benefit to it. Have a coffee or tea and take a 5 minute power nap – it really will refresh you!

I love the idea of  “no politics” at the table. Sharing funny stories or remembrances is a much better way to enjoy and connect even with difficult relatives. Take a walk, play a board game or watch a classic movie together instead.

group-of-friends-and-family-thanksgiving

Take advantage of FREE things. Driving around the neighborhood to view different lights and displays is fun!  Enjoy a local holiday parade (or Macy’s on TV).  Play music: slow to relax or fast to pump you up to finish a task. Music is the international language that speaks to the soul and that’s why everyone loves Christmas music!

Most important DO NOT neglect your time with God!  Read a Christmas devotional or one Chapter of Luke each day for the month. Read the real story of  Thanksgiving. Learning about their first winter and harvest meal will make you grateful! Christmas is about celebrating Jesus’ birthday and the reason He came.  Ask God to help you count blessings and not focus on difficulties. He will fill your heart with peace, wonder and the joy of the season.

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

God rest you merry, gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day

To save us all from Satan’s power, when we have gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy – O tidings of comfort and joy!!!

Gratitude in a Forgetful Nation

Gratitude in a Forgetful Nation

Americans celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving each November with a huge feast and a gathering of friends and family but are we truly thankful?  The marketing campaigns started pushing our need to buy holiday gifts asap back in September. That is all about greed not gratitude. We have forgotten our humble and crude beginnings. We forget how blessed we already are and what matters most.

Last year marked the 400th anniversary of the original Pilgrims landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Stepping aboard the fully refurbished replica of the Mayflower this summer was a shocking reminder of how cramped and horrible it really had been. The merchant ship was built to carry cargo not people, but 102 passengers and 30 crew members climbed aboard with great hope for a new home in a new world.

The Mayflower ll in Plymouth harbor

It took 66 days to cross the ocean. They ate the same thing every day while onboard and some of it became hard and moldy. The living conditions became intolerably smelly and they ran out of clean water. Each family could only bring one chest for clothes, weapons, and tools to cook, build and garden with. Now imagine that the crew you are trusting to get you there safely doesn’t like you, nor you them. Arriving in September didn’t give enough time to build adequate shelter and 45 people died that first harsh winter. I would not have signed on for this.

These men (including only four women) were resolved to make it work. Some had left family behind to send for once they were established. There was no turning back. The first Pilgrims had risked their lives for the freedom to worship God independently of the Church of England and government control. They had very little and absolutely nothing was given to them but they were grateful.

From dictionary.com : Gratitude means thanks and appreciation. … Gratitude, which rhymes with “attitude,” comes from the Latin word gratus, which means “thankful, pleasing.” When you feel gratitude, you’re pleased by what someone did for you and also pleased by the results. Unlike indebtedness, you’re not anxious about having to pay it back.

That first thanksgiving was actually a three day harvest celebration that was not repeated. Documents describe a feast of deer, assorted wildfowl, a bounty of fish and flint, a native variety of corn harvested by Native Americans, which was eaten as corn bread and porridge. They also ate native fruits, vegetables and lobster. Lobster was very plentiful but they didn’t like it! And there wasn’t any pie because they didn’t have any ovens to bake in.

Recreation of Pilgrim village dated several years later

Many more ships would come in the years to follow because of these first brave souls. It is good to remember the past. We should not erase or change it. Gratitude should spring up in our hearts when we remember the sacrifices of others. Our greatest example is Christ who sacrificed His own life to give us peace with God, a hope and a future. He paid a debt that He didn’t owe and we can never repay. Christians in America need to realize that we enjoy the freedom to worship which is something that many others in this world are denied.

In a society that has forgotten where we came from and only cares about personal agendas you can make this Thanksgiving special. It’s cute to dress up the children with paper hats as “Indians” and “Pilgrims” while eating popcorn but also tell them the real story. It was a hard life!  Talk about some of the losses of the past year but also the fun times you shared. Throughout the holiday season resolve to stay focused on the many blessings you already enjoy. Choose to remember and be grateful.