Left behind...

Left behind…

There is usually one decoration that escapes notice during the process of taking down and putting away, at least in my house.  Its presence is noted only after all the boxes have been safely stowed in the attic.  Last year it was a purple, handmade, sequined ornament with a gold bow, made by a woman whose family walked through trauma in God’s strength.  It hangs in a special place, during Christmas, symbolic of answered prayers.

This time, a sprig of fake mistletoe escaped the take down.  Every year, it swings from the door frame between the kitchen and the living room; reminding me of a sweet Christmas, years ago, when it hung  from the doorway of a backpacking tent, placed there by the man who would one day ask me to marry him.

The afterglow of courtship still clings in my memory to that slightly tattered bunch of silk leaves and plastic berries.  I love the memories, but appreciate more, the years since, when married life brought shared joys, sorrows, laughter, commitment and comfort.  The afterglow endured and took on a life of its own.

There are so many moments in all of our lives that leave luminous fragments as they pass: courtship and wedding days, the births of precious children, special family times and holidays celebrated. It’s lovely and warm to bask in the afterglow, but what you do afterward makes up the substance of life.

Since September 6, we’ve been walking through Matthew 16:24:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

If you’re new to this blog, scroll down to the 9/6 post to catch up. We’ll wrap up this scripture journey by looking first at Luke 1:26-33:

In the sixth month, God sent the angel, Gabriel, to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”  

Mary was greatly troubled at his words, and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus.”

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.”

When the words of the angel Gabriel echoed as only an afterglow in Mary’s mind, how difficult was it to walk the path God planned for her?  We see her love for God and the humble sweetness of her spirit as she said,”I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)

However, it is easy to imagine that the days following Mary’s encounter with the angel were tumultuous. Telling Joseph that she was with child, clearly not his, and explaining her situation to her family must have been difficult, to say the least.  Were the family dynamics following her revelation tear-infused as her loved ones tried to embrace the  news and deal with the consequences of a potentially broken engagement, legal ramifications of a divorce and community gossip? We can only speculate about the details, and recognize that God, in His infinite wisdom, knew character development, reliance on Him  and strength of faith would come from any hardship Mary and Joseph endured.

Mary followed the path God set for her, but it didn’t end in Bethlehem.  The steps of her life took her all the way to the cross, where she watched her son be crucified.  Did she stand there as the darkness gathered, wishing that it was she who suffered, instead of her precious boy, knowing in her soul that it could not be?  All the details, the uttered prophecies and amazing circumstance surrounding her son’s life, treasured in her heart, must have resonated in her mind, mixed with sharp, stabbing anguish.  One can only hope that there was Godly insight there as well, knowledge that the horror she witnessed was meant to be and that glory would come, not as an afterglow, but as a brilliant light, exploding salvation into the world.

Mary gave substance to her life by following God’s will, and offered us a beautiful example of what that looks like.  She trusted God and humbly accepted His plan for her life, whatever that entailed.

Although she  experienced the heart ache of a soul pierced with grief (Luke 2:25-35), she  knew soul-seated joy (Luke 1:46-55) and had the privilege of delivering the favor of God’s grace to the world through the instrument of her body: giving birth to the Son of God, Redeemer of the lost.

Once the ornaments are all packed away, how should we walk in the afterglow of Christmas?  Do only the memories linger, or does the afterglow take on a life and light of its own; a glowing commitment to share Jesus, the gift of God’s grace, all year, through the instrument of our bodies: our words, our actions, and our lives?

The journey of a Christ follower is not promised to be trouble-free, and speaking  the message of salvation is often not easy. But, if you are a child of God, you, like Mary, are favored. You have been given His saving grace! It is your privilege to deliver the news of God’s gift, and His Spirit will strengthen you to walk the path He wants you to follow.

To summarize all that we have considered since September 6,  following Jesus means to have an intentional and dedicated focus to living the will of God and developing His character in the process.  The trials and sacrifices incurred  are tools God uses to shape us into an image of His Son.  The presence of the Lord with us and the promise of eternity with Him gives a soul-seated joy that circumstances can’t take away.

Matthew 16:24 (your mission as a Believer)  also circles back to God’s mission: John 3:16, which really is the message of Christmas:

“For God so loved the world, He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

Following Him and delivering that message can take you many different directions.  Perhaps it takes you to a mission field, faraway.  Maybe the path is one you walk within your family, striving to follow God’s ways, not the world’s; guiding your children and family members to Christ.   Maybe the trail takes you across the rocky fields of a workplace where God’s presence isn’t wanted, a classroom where prayer is not allowed,  or to the many arenas where the world’s presence is dominate and darkness abounds.  We are called to shine our light, the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, so others believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life; (John 14:6)  and will then praise God for the illumination of their minds and salvation of their souls.

We can all learn from Mary, who picked up her cross, and followed the Lord, long before the Son she bore spoke the words in Matthew 16:24 to His disciples.

In the afterglow of Christmas, remember that you are God’s masterpiece, (Ephesians 2:10) a uniquely crafted instrument, meant to sound out the beauty of God’s grace: Salvation through Jesus Christ.

If you have not yet internalized belief in Jesus, Redeemer of your soul, know that He is calling you and longing for a relationship with you.  Admit you have sinned.  Believe that God’s Son died for you.  Confess your sins to Him.  With open hands, accept the best Christmas gift ever, that can come on any day: eternal life and the presence of the Holy Spirit in you, guaranteeing you Forever Life.

Prayer: Holy Father:  Help me walk in the afterglow of Christmas.  Make the spirit of Christmas blaze with a light of its own, so that I can shine the light of your Son into the darkness, and follow you wherever your will takes me.  Develop in me your character as I share your grace and follow you, amen.

My hope and prayer for all of you:  May the Lord bless you with the light of His Son, igniting in you a passion to follow Him.  When you pack the  visual reminders of Christmas away,  keep the meaning of Christmas in your life, so that the afterglow endures and takes on a life of its own. Love more, serve more, speak more for Him!

Happy New Year!


More than meets the eye...

More than meets the eye…

The oak across from my driveway has leaves the color of a once red, weather-worn 57′ Chevy parked behind an old farmhouse.  I studied it as I walked down the driveway from a morning run, knowing there was more to this oak tree than met the eye. The day before, I had stood beneath its branches, amazed by what I saw.

The sun was up past the trees on the other side of the soybean field and the sky was bright blue.  One more step took me beneath the branches and I turned my face up to the canopy of leaves.  Sunlight streamed through the rust colored leaves, turning them into rubies blazing forth with scarlet light.  Just as it had been yesterday, the view gazing up from below was dramatically different than the one from the side.

I walked back and forth several times to see the change.  Each time I came in beneath the branches and looked up, the glorious red leaves filled me with wonder.  The difference between dreary and magnificent was just a matter of perspective.   A few steps in and an upturned face positioned me to see glorious color and beauty that could easily have been missed.  I could feel a lesson in the making.

From rust to rubies...

From rust to rubies…

The challenges  and tribulations of this life often cover over our souls like rust on old metal.  We feel dingy, worn and fragile.  It’s not just the big blows that hurt and wear us thin but also the day to day trials and struggles that beat incessantly on our energies and attitudes.

It’s then we need to bend low, humble ourselves and creep in under the overhanging shelter of our God, and look up to see His face.  How do you really do that?  Tell Him you know you can’t fix what’s wrong, and that you can’t cope by yourself. Ask Him to forgive you for wondering WHY, instead of looking to see WHAT He wants you to learn.  Stay close to Him in prayer, seeking to follow Him through it all and expecting to see His glory come about.  Your world might be raging, but He holds the Universe in His Hand. His plans for the world and for you will not fail.  He keeps His promises.  He wants you to focus on the rubies, not the rust.

Following Him means you need to stay close, so you don’t get off track. Camp beneath the overhanging branches of God’s shelter by studying Jesus and how He lived His life.  He set the pattern we are to follow.  Read Matthew, Mark, Luke or John and pray to understand the character of Jesus so that you have in your sights how to be.  Know you can be like Him because if you are a child of God, Jesus lives in you, and you operate in the power of the Holy Spirit.  In Him, stomp down all the parts of you that get in the way, to make room for the parts of Him that want to fill you up.

Bend low, get close and look up.  Worship Him, because who He is never changes. He is the Artist who created you; He is Lover of your soul who died so you could live; He is Always, Forever and Almighty. He is Craftsman and Conductor of your life. The rubies of His glory exist even in the rust of life.  Get in position and ask Him to help you see your circumstances with a  different perspective.

The world can rage.  The rust invades, but He is God.  Nothing happens outside His plan. He will not desert you, but if you move away from Him the rust can overtake you, and the rubies fade out of view.

Follow the character tracks of Jesus to the shelter of the Father.  Jesus left clear prints that lead the way.  Follow and pray for wisdom to view life from His perspective.  Bend low, get close, look up.  Then, encourage someone else to do the same.

Matthew 16:24

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”