Archive for December, 2013

Now that we are in the short respite between Christmas and New Year’s, I thought I’d share with you the focus of my December meditations. My month was a bit too hectic to get this into a blog earlier, but perhaps God’s timing is at play and you will have a greater opportunity to absorb this today. I know this is a long blog, but I’m confident that you’ll be blessed by it. Take a few minutes in your devotions to read and meditate on it. God will bless you as He has me.

In late November, God brought to mind a story about my dad. His name was Pat. After his funeral we were sitting in my step-mom’s living room and my aunt said something very special to me. She said “Everyone knew when you kids were little, you better not touch any of you kids or you’ll have to answer to Pat.” I’ll make it personal – “You better not touch sandy, or you’ll have to answer to Pat!” Now that obviously was a very special thing for me to hear. It was wonderful to hear how much my dad loved me. But that wasn’t the lesson God had for me in reminding me of that conversation. The lesson for me was that I didn’t know my dad that way. By the time I reached an age when I remember things, my dad was an over-the-road truck driver so he was only home every other day to sleep. And when he wasn’t sleeping he and mom were arguing. Now I knew my dad loved me, but I didn’t know the dad that my aunt told me about.

The message God had for me was that, while I know God, there are many other ways to know Him. He is so much more and so much bigger than the little bit that I know of him. So my prayer became “Lord, reveal yourself to me in a new way this year during the Christmas season.” Along with that was the thought that when I preached in December maybe I would preach about the extravagant love of God that is embodied in the birth of Christ.

And I’m so excited about the passage God led me to study those themes. My December message was a special one. And when I finished preparing it, God led me to a worship song that fit perfectly. I had apparently bought it about a year ago and then promptly forgot about it. It totally expresses my heart as I prepared this message. Before I share the message with you, let’s listen to the song.

“Let Me Rediscover You” by Downhere

Oh, Lord, let us rediscover you this week. Don’t let this season end until we’ve seen you in a new and glorious way. Reveal Yourself to us, Lord. We want to see you and cry holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come. We want to worship the God who came to earth and returned to heaven. All for me. Amen!

God took me to the book of John. Now I have to admit – many people love the book of John, but it’s never been my favorite!

A common question new believers ask is “what should I read” and many people tell them to read the book of John. I don’t get that.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.”
John 1:1 (KJV)

Say what? Quite honestly, that’s never done much for me. But God…He brought it alive to me this this year. We’re going to look at it in the New Living Translation

1In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He existed in the beginning with God.
John 1:1-2 (NLT)

At the simple reading of this, we don’t know that the Word is Jesus, but as we get further into the passage, it becomes clear. So, knowing that it is Jesus, what does the verse tell us?

Well, the first thing it tells us is that there was a time that God refers to as “the beginning” and God existed before that – He existed before the beginning of time. That’s why we call him the everlasting God, the eternal God – He existed before the beginning, He exists now, and he will exist beyond the end. That boggles my brain. But it’s true. There’s absolutely nothing I can do with that statement except accept it by faith. And worship.

We don’t worship a God who was born on a given day in human history and then died on a given day in history. Yes, Jesus did those things.

But in order for him to do those things, He had to step out of eternity and into the boundaries of human time. Think about that for a minute. We often focus on Jesus coming and dying for our sins and are amazed that He would do such a thing…and we should be amazed…but think about the bigger picture for a minute. Lose the “what’s in it for me” mindset that we all have, and think about the process.

Jesus existed before the beginning of human time. Jesus was with God. Jesus was God.

There’s a lot I don’t understand about the spiritual realm. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that it’s beyond my imagination and understanding with a WOW factor to the nth degree.

Jesus existed in that realm with God before the beginning of time.

And just in case you have developed a hierarchy in your mind that consciously or subconsciously considers Jesus less than God – I mean it only makes sense, right – The Bible says that Jesus is the Son and God is the Father; it also says that God sent His Son to die for our sins…so it only makes sense that God is greater than Jesus. Just in case you have started thinking that way, John includes that last phrase of verse 1 “and the Word was God.”

So not only did Jesus exist before time, and not only did He exist with God, but He is God. Scripture says if you have seen the Son – that is Jesus – then you have seen the Father. That’s not a “like father like son” statement – that’s a statement of the reality that the Father and Son (and the Holy Spirit) are one.

In those two verses, John starts his introduction to the Christmas story by making sure we understand that the One who came to earth is the One who existed before the beginning of time and is God Himself.

Let’s go on, starting again with verse 1:

1In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He existed in the beginning with God.  3God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.
John 1:1-3 (NLT)

Here we have a new piece of information. That God created the world through Jesus. Jesus was the force behind the creation of everything. Jesus was the power that God used to create the world. Jesus was the creativity that God used to create the world.

The word translated “created” is a form of the verb “to be” – so we could also translate the sentence “Everything is” or “all things are” or “all things exist” because Jesus created them.

Now there’s another passage that describes creation – Let’s look briefly at Genesis 1:

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day.
Genesis 1:1-5 (NIV)

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created light.

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created heaven and earth.

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created land and the oceans.

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created – as it says in John chapter 1 – everything – all things – nothing was created without Him.

Let’s go back to John 1:

1In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He existed in the beginning with God. 3God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. 4The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
John 1:1-4 (NLT)

Jesus gave life to everything that was created. It was Jesus who breathed life into Adam. And His life brought light to everyone.

Jesus was the creator of life at the beginning of time, He is the giver of new life for those who follow Him. He is the good shepherd who lays down his own life – who gives up his life – so that we might have life.

John writes more about the light:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
John 1:5 (NLT)

Other translations of verse 5 say the darkness has not “understood” or “comprehended” it. Interesting that they translated it as they did. The word used is katalambano, which is more frequently translated apprehended.

The verse that this blog takes its name from is Philippians 3:12. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Philippians 3:12 (NIV)

Jesus, the source of all life creates light and the darkness is not able to apprehend or grasp it. I don’t want to be like the darkness. I want to live in the light. I want to grab hold of all that God has for me. I want to apprehend that for which Christ has apprehended me (as it’s worded in the King James Version).

Skip down to verse 10:

He [Jesus] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.
John 1:10 (NLT)

Jesus, who existed before the beginning of time, who is God. Jesus, the one who created all things, who breathed the breath of life into Adam, gives life to all things. Jesus came into the very world He created…but the world didn’t recognize Him.

Jesus stepped out of eternity to come into a world where His people said…”What? Who did you say you were? I don’t think so!”

I think perhaps that is a betrayal worse than His crucifixion. The complete betrayal of the world He created – they didn’t even recognize Him.

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.
John 1:11 (NLT)

The ones who He called to be His very own. The ones He chose. The ones he chose again and again as they turned to idols made of wood instead of the One who gives all things life. The ones who chose power or money or fame or leisure or…any of the so many other things we turn to instead of God. The ones…they are us…we rejected Him. I rejected Him.

Isaiah foretold this when he wrote this about Jesus:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)

Jesus left the heavenly realms – left the world of eternity to step into the world of human time – for this. To be despised and rejected. To not be recognized by His own people. To offer abundant life only to have His creation reject it.

That’s extravagant love. God knew. Jesus knew…that many would reject His tremendous gift of salvation. And still, He stepped out of eternity, took on the form of a man, living among the indignities of this world of disease and sin.

That’s extravagant love. There’s no other explanation. Jesus was born as a helpless baby so that we might experience the love of God. He gave it all up for you and me. That’s how much He loves us. He gave up heaven and lived the rejection and betrayal…so that we may become children of God.

12But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
John 1:12-13 (NLT)

To all who believed and accepted Jesus – it’s not enough just to believe. You have to believe and accept – the word there is lambano – remember katalambano – this is just the second part of it, lambano – so the words are very similar. To all who grab hold of Jesus – to all who      believe and receive Him – to those people, He gave the right to become children of God. He gave them new life – reborn, not physically, but spiritually – He gave them (us) a new birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
John 1:14 (NLT)

That’s extravagant love. That the eternal God left behind the glories of heaven to show His glory to us, through the person Jesus. Jesus who created the world. Jesus who existed before the beginning – before time began. Jesus who gave up everything to show His extravagant love for me. So that I could become a child of God.  So that I could experience a new birth.

And for the sake of brevity, let’s skip to verse 18:

No one has ever seen God. But the one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
John 1:18 (NLT)

Jesus has revealed God to us. Whew!

Jesus is the baby who was born in the manger. Jesus is the man who lived a sinless life. Jesus is the One who died for my sins so that I might be reconciled to God and have eternal life now and forever more. But He’s so much more than that. Jesus is the eternal God who left heaven to reveal God to us.

That’s how extravagantly He loves us.

If you don’t know that love, talk to God. He specializes in revealing Himself to individuals. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. My first prayer went something like this: “Lord, I don’t even know if you exist, but if you do, I want to know you.” I was 23 years old. God revealed Himself to me in a way that left me no doubt of His existence. And now, 34 years later, He continues to reveal the extravagance of His love to me. He’ll do the same to you.

May God bless you abundantly with His presence now and throughout the coming year. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. He’ll do it.

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2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned…6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (NIV)

This is the prophecy of Jesus given to Isaiah more than 700 years before Jesus’ birth. During a Bible study last week my husband pointed out something that my attention had never been drawn to before. Notice that first phrase – “for to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” We all know that Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, yet in the prophecy of His birth, the Lord describes Jesus as being born to “us.”

Immediately after Jesus’ birth, the event was announced like this:

8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:1-14 (NIV)

Again, notice verse 11 – the angel didn’t describe Jesus as being born to Joseph and Mary, but to “you.”

Jesus birth was always intended in the heart of God as being a gift to the world. It was a gift to me and to you. Unto “us” a son is given; a Savior has been born to “you.” You and I are part of that “us” and part of that “you.”  Jesus has been given to us. He is our gift.

Enjoy your gift this Christmas – eternal life, bought for you with the precious blood of a Savior who loves you beyond measure.

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I live a blessed life. I’m not rich and all my dreams haven’t been fulfilled – I’m guessing the same is true for you. But being blessed isn’t a matter of how much money you have or what you’ve been able to experience or accomplish. Living a blessed life has to do with your relationship with Christ and living in that relationship. Jesus said that He came so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. He came so that we might have the promise of eternal life and the experience of a blessed life while still on this earth. I undoubtedly enjoy God’s many blessings.

Still, I find myself in the group of people who fight the holiday blues. As I grow older, I find that the battle waged in my mind grows more difficult to overcome.

Fortunately, as I’ve grown older, I’ve chosen to pursue God consistently, so hopefully my ability to win those battles has grown as well.

I’m tempted to give examples of things that cause me to be bluesy. That would be falling into the enemy’s trap. It would be encouraging a bit of self-pity. You can all fill in the blanks if you like or just understand that I’m a lot like many of you – feeling down at a time of year when it seems that the world is feeling joyful.

So it seemed a good blog would be the transparent one that shares how I’m dealing with my blues. Maybe they will help you fight the good fight.

  • Don’t dwell on the reasons for your blues. It’s really tempting, but don’t do it.
  • Without dwelling on the reasons for your blues, if you’re aware of specific issues, make plans to counteract your feelings or change the situation. For example, something happened today that made me feel isolated and therefore lonely. Don’t rest in that place, take action – In my situation, I need to call a friend and arrange a “play date.”
  • Pray, asking God to reveal Himself to you in a new way during this season. I’ve done that this year and God has been so faithful.
  • Plan activities that don’t draw attention to the reasons for your blues. For example, the first year after Phil’s mom died, we had a very unconventional Christmas. I knew it would be a very hard time for him, so we didn’t do have a “normal” Christmas. We painted our living room over the holiday weekend, taking time out only to visit family for dinner. We had the opportunity to be a part of the celebration but kept ourselves busy at other times.
  • Focus on praise. Yes, I know that’s hard work, but there is much to praise God for even when we’re feeling bluesy.
  • Be more intentional about playing your favorite Christian music in the background (or foreground).
  • Practice more giving – especially of yourself. Volunteer to serve meals at a shelter, visit nursing homes, organize food drives and gift-giving opportunities. You will be blessed. And you’ll sleep better each night when you’ve given of yourself during the day.
  •  Spend some time in prayer reviewing your year and asking God what your focus should be for 2014.
  • Give a gift to Jesus. Again, spend some time in prayer – ask Jesus what He would like you to give Him this year.
  • Cut yourself some slack. You don’t have to be busy all the time and you don’t have to be the perfect wife, mother, daughter, friend at a time when there’s too much to do. Don’t over commit, and if you do, graciously bow out.
  • Smile and be friendly when you’re out and about. It’s so tempting to ignore everyone you pass by as you shop or run errands. Resist! You’ll be surprised at how better you feel when you make the effort to smile and be friendly to everyone you see – everyone!
  • Enjoy your memories. If/when they start to swallow you, change the subject. But let yourself enjoy them in the meantime.
  • Let go of unrealistic expectations. My mom lives in a nursing home. I miss “real Christmases.” I’ve learned to let go of the expectation that our Christmas gatherings will be enjoyable in the way that we used to enjoy Christmas. We’ll enjoy Christmas differently. I’ve come to learn that pretty much no one has the idea Christmas we all look forward to. Every family has their own difficulties. So let go of your unrealistic expectations and you’ll enjoy your Christmas season a whole lot more.
  • Be proactive in your planning over the holiday. If being too busy makes you vulnerable to becoming depressed, be sure to allow enough down time. If being alone leads to the blues, plan to be active. This year we’ll spend Christmas Eve day with my mom to celebrate Christmas, then Christmas Eve at a church service; Phil has to work 7am-3pm on Christmas Day and then 3-11pm on December 26 and 27. I am sure part of my blues is feeling like I have no Christmas with my husband. So I’m praying that God will give me a creative way to enjoy the holiday with Phil. (I’ll be honest – the praying is a new thing on this issue. I’ve been wracking my brain over this for a week or so…then I remembered that praying is more effective. :-))
  • Enjoy some special foods without feeling guilt! In fact, let go of guilt about everything over the holidays (and beyond). Stay close to the Holy Spirit and yield to conviction, but reject guilt.
  • Ask for help if you find yourself battling the blues unsuccessfully. Don’t let them take root because they are hard to uproot.

God is good, but we live in a fallen world. Don’t let the enemy of this world steal your joy for the next one! Enjoy your Christmas season.

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After a couple years of “practicing,” I began blogging in earnest on March 30, 2008. (My first blog is here. My March 30, 2008 blog is here.) That’s nearly six years ago. During those 269 weeks, there have only been 8 weeks when I didn’t post a blog. Why? Because it’s important to me to fulfill the call that God has on my life, and I believe that call includes blogging regularly. It doesn’t matter whether ten or ten thousand people are reading my blog. What matters is that I’m faithful and obedient. I’m not posting for the sake of posting. I’m posting because God has laid something on my heart and I’m a teacher, writer and speaker, so, like Jeremiah, if I don’t share it feels like “fire in my bones.”

Why do I tell you this today? Because it’s been seventeen days since my last blog. This is the longest I’ve gone without posting. Over the past month we have had extraordinarily short deadlines at work and other unexpected activities that simply left absolutely no time for writing and posting blogs. It’s been a pretty chaotic time and even when I’ve had the time to write blogs, I didn’t have time to post them.

The cool thing is that during the past couple of weeks, I have been very aware of my neglect of Apprehending Grace and totally at peace with it. I have a pretty strong sense of “ought to” that I regularly have to push away from. Over the past few weeks, God has taken care of that for me. So getting back into the swing of things, I thought I’d reflect on that peace and how it happened.

Things I Did Right

  • During this time, I very purposefully looked at my schedule each morning and asked God to identify the top priorities for the day. I’d pray, review my To Do list, pray again, then write numbers next to the tasks indicating their priority. I took time to do this no matter how busy we were. Each day I’d have “AppGrace blog” on the list. Each day it either didn’t get a number next to it, or the number was so low I never got to it. Because I had started the day asking God to put things in priority, I was able to sleep in peace each evening. I knew I was working as hard as I could, so if it didn’t get done, then it wasn’t God’s priority for my day.
  • Throughout the day I was intentional about pausing to breath in God’s presence when I moved from project to project. It was my “presence of God pause” – I’d take a deep breath and concentrate for a few seconds on God’s goodness. I was reconnecting with God’s presence in the midst of the chaos around me.
  • When tempted to complain about our season of busyness, I repeatedly spoke of the good things associated with this season. (Most notably that God was using it to supply our needs in a year when business has been very slow.)
  • I purposefully prayed each evening thanking God for His goodness and faithfulness. At bedtime God’s peace would try to slip away as all that was left undone would try to flood my mind. I kept that from happening by praying – sometimes aloud to keep the enemy at bay.
  • Each morning, no matter how tired I was, I thanked God for the day ahead.
  • I read God’s Word each morning. I didn’t always read as much as I typically would, but I read something.
  • I didn’t overdo it. Sometimes it felt like I was about to cross over that fine line of doing all we can and not overdoing it, but I was always able to pull back. I took a lunch break and dinner break each day. When I couldn’t work anymore, I quit. No matter how much was left on the To Do list. Not overdoing it is one way we show that we trust God. Pushing ourselves too hard is evidence that we’re relying on ourselves too much. I even had folks come help me clean my house twice during the past few weeks. (Special thanks to Linda who recognized the need and offered before I even asked.) Resting says that I trust God to enable me to accomplish what needs to be done in the time I have available or He’ll give me grace with clients for the work that isn’t accomplished. (Or He won’t give me grace with those clients, but He’ll provide for my needs in some other way. I’m OK with that option, too.)

Things I Did Wrong

  • One morning (very near the end of the busy time) I realized that I was putting my makeup on like a wild woman! My hands were moving so fast dabbing at the powder (with more force than necessary) that it was actually adding to my stress. When I realized it, I stopped and purposefully slowed my movements. It made a huge difference in my stress level. I realized that I was adding to my stress by acting as if I were under stress. I didn’t need to be under stress. I was experiencing God’s peace, yet I was still letting my mind and body register stress. In other words, I truly had peace about what wasn’t getting done, but during the day I was allowing myself to feel stressed about all I needed to do. I’m not sure that makes sense but it was my experience. What I found was that the moment I relaxed my movements, I felt less stress and greater peace. I have a tendency to move too quickly when I’m stressed. All that does is increase our stress. It really doesn’t help us get things done more quickly. More often than not it causes us to drop things or spill things or make mistakes. At least that’s my experience.
  • I didn’t do any of the things I did right as consistently as I’d like. I forgot to pause between tasks to breath in God’s presence, I did complain, and I didn’t ask for help as much as I could have. There’s always room for improvement.
  • Exercise and healthy eating fell by the wayside. Ugh. Time to recover the good habits I’ve lost over the past 2 months.

God’s peace is a wonderful thing. He promises that He will keep us in “perfect peace” when our mind is steadfast on Him (Isaiah 26:3). I wouldn’t say that the peace I experience was “perfect peace” – it slipped at times. But then, my focus wasn’t always on the Lord, either. But I experienced much more of it than I usually do. Thank You Lord! Sometimes we really do see ourselves making progress!

It feels really good to be back in my routine. I’m looking forward to more writing. And enjoying the short time left before Christmas. Merry Christmas, friends. Enjoy God this season! Despite my busyness, I sure have been. More about that in my next blog!

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