Sunday, December 30, 2012

If you’re wondering if God really does make all things new

I use a devotional book based on the liturgical year, and the theme for the week after Christmas is “All Things New.”

I’ve been looking at those words for several days now, and if I’m honest, I have to admit there are situations in my life and in the lives of those around me that make me wonder if God really does make all things new. Because sometimes, the transformation is so incremental and  the process seems to take so long--it feels like an eternity.

In addition, those times when I'm sure I hear God whisper to me that he wants to make all things new, I can be clinging to all things old. I mean nails dug in, squeezing tight unwilling to release whatever it is in my clutches.

Here’s a practical application of that point. The Bible I’ve read for several years is so worn that from Genesis to Psalm 128, the pages are loose from the backing. If I’m not careful, the Pentateuch, the historical writings, and part of the poetic works can scatter when I lay the Bible down. The other problem is the pages are so worn on the corners, they rip when I turn them. Even if I glue the pages back in, the spine is broken, and the pages are too brittle.

I don’t want to give this Bible up, just as I didn’t want to give up the one that preceded it. But, Jerry wanted to give me a new Bible for Christmas, and I think God wanted to as well.

I’m clutching. There’s the verse marked in Isaiah 40 for a family member, and the date in Philippians 3 when my mother died, and the verses God highlighted for me in Joshua when I had cancer, and on and on. It feels comfortable and familiar—a balm when days seem strange. But, those highlighted areas can sometimes alter my ability to see the new thing God is saying.

And I have to check myself on this—do I carry this old Bible as evidence of my knowledge of the scripture to others instead of the scripture’s evidence in my life. Do I? Am I letting nasty spiritual pride slip in?

I sure hope not.

In any event, I’m turning over a new leaf—literally. It’s time.

I also hope that in other areas, in which I’m still holding on, that I can release them to the Lord. I can veneer, and spray paint, and sand on a situation making it appear a bit better on the outside, but God is the only one who can make things new from the inside out. I pray God increases my faith to believe him for this even when circumstances scream something else.

Join me in carrying these words in your heart from Revelation 21: 5 into the New Year—“He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!”

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Every Shining Christmas

Just before the tragic circumstances of September 11, 2011 unfolded, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As our family navigated what turned out to be the last days of her life, our grief seemed to get mixed and compounded with that felt by all Americans.

In addition to the unfathomable grieving going on in Connecticut due to the school slayings, I’ve been so aware of how it’s affected others who’ve suffered personal losses this time of year.

That year my mother died, when it came Christmas time, I wasn’t sure I could celebrate. However, the Lord began to speak to me, and I wrote the lyrics of a song, “Every Shining Christmas.”

For all those who find Christmas bittersweet, I pray you’ll find a bit of comfort in these words.

Every Shining Christmas
Some years every dream’s fulfilled, there’s joy in every place.
Some years there are disappointments, in our hearts an empty space.
Some years hopes are high with babies to be born.
Some years there are shadows falling someone to be mourned,
But still,
Every blessed Christmas,
Yes, every shining Christmas
I’ll take my place with those who sing your praise.
And through tears of joy or tears of sorrow
The bright star to Bethlehem I’ll follow
And worship you with all my heart once more.
Some years our legs are strong, we’re running hard the race.
Some years with a body weak, we stumble to the pace.
Some years in abundance, some years with less
At Christmas as always your name we confess.
Every blessed Christmas,
Yes, every shining Christmas
I’ll take my place with those who sing your praise.
And through tears of joy or tears of sorrow
The bright star to Bethlehem I’ll follow
And worship you with all my heart once more.
Beverly Chitwood Varnado c2001
Merry Christmas from all the Varnados!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Is there no balm in Gilead or in Newtown?

On learning the news coming out of Connecticut yesterday, I called my sister, a former first grade teacher for thirty-one years.

All I did was say her name and the tears began.

“The news,” she said.

“The news,” I repeated back to her.

“We used to practice the intruder drills with our classes, and I’d always tell them that in all my years of teaching I’d never had it happen,” she said.

Sad how small children have to prepare for the horrific.

“As we sat in the dark, I’d tell the children we have to be really quite, and I’d read a story to them,” she said and then mused, “But if it was a real event, and they were scared, how would you keep a six year old from crying?”

I don’t even know how you’d keep a sixty year old from crying in such a terrifying situation.

But yesterday at a school in a small hamlet named Newtown in Connecticut, teachers had to do exactly that.

In a briefing, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy urged us to remember in prayer the families of the 20 small ones and the brave teachers and administrators who lost their lives.

We shall as we grieve over these precious lives cut short. Only day before yesterday, Newtown was known for famous residents which include James Purdy who helped slaves escape in the 1850’s, Joseph Engleberger, the father of robotics, and Bruce Jenner, 1976 Olympian, but from now on the village will be known internationally for the one who committed the second worst school tragedy in our nation’s history.

Last evening I read again this lament from a long ago prophet, “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” (Jeremiah 8: 21-22)

An answer resounded not from those living a life of ease, but from now unknown slave-poets who labored under the shackles of oppression:

“There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
Thereis a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.”
Two thousand years ago, God sent a medicine for our souls to be born in a common stable. In that tiny baby Jesus, hope came for all the world. The balm that Jesus brings is strong enough to heal even those carrying the worst wounds this life can deliver.

I know this first hand, because my husband, Jerry, lost an eight-year-old daughter to a tragic accident many years ago. When he began walking with Jesus two years after her death, he found the Savior to be all He claimed to be. He found Him the balm in Gilead. I am a witness to the healing in Jerry’s life.

Today, I watched an interview with a priest in Newtown who said the live nativity they’d planned would go on tonight even though one of the little girls who was to play an angel had been a victim in the shooting. He said someone would come into the church and tell the parishioners that a star had been spotted overhead, and they’d all go out and see the baby Jesus in the manger.

When I see the baby in the manger this year, I’m going to remember that he is the balm not only in Gilead, but also in Newtown, and your town, and my town.

I’m going to remember there is no wound too deep for him to heal, and no situation too dark for him to redeem.

Tomorrow, the third Sunday in advent, we will light the candle of joy in our church, and we’ll read Philippians 4:4-7. “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again:  Rejoice.” We will still rejoice and give thanks even as we grieve in the midst of this tragedy as we remember the words an angel spoke to shepherds on a Judean hillside:

 “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Prayers going up for all whose hearts are breaking tonight.
There is a balm in Gilead.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

If you're playing to an empty balcony

I sing with a symphony chorus. In preparation for our recent Christmas concert, we had our usual dress rehearsal to run through the entire program.

As we sang the moving lyrics of “O, Holy Night,” I looked up into the empty balconies of the concert hall and grew sad there was no one to hear the lovely music. But, in that moment, I sensed the Lord speaking.

In life, God sometimes calls us to minister and pour forth in ways that go unnoticed to others. Some of our finest hours are our most unseen. But it’s not about others’ applause; it’s about pleasing the one who called us to be His hands and feet in this world. Though it may seem that we are playing to the empty balconies, that no one else notices, He notices.

For some, it may be giving ongoing care to a loved one who never expresses gratitude. For another, God may call for a financial sacrifice in order to meet another’s need. Still another may be asked to give time and talents away in a small place to few recipients. God might ask us to overcome an offense by reaching down deep in the wells of His grace and extending that grace in love and forgiveness. The morning paper may not report on any of these events, but as a friend of mine says, God keeps very good books.

Some years ago, Max Lucado wrote a wonderful work about the Beatitudes entitled, The Applause of Heaven. In it he quotes Matthew 5:12, “Great,’ Jesus said, ‘is your reward in heaven.” Lucado continues, “He must have smiled when he said that line. His eyes must have danced, and his hand must have pointed skyward. For he should know. It was his idea. It was his home.…Before you know it, your appointed arrival time will come; you’ll descend the ramp and enter the City. You’ll see faces that are waiting for you. You’ll hear your name spoken by those who love you.”

I’m back to a verse I referenced a few posts ago—I Corinthians 15:58: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

As you give yourself without reservation to Him and allow Him to make His music through you, know that beyond the empty balconies. He waits to reward you.

Lucado concludes, “And maybe, just maybe—in the back, behind the crowds—the One who would rather die than live without you will remove his pierced hands from his heavenly robe and … applaud.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

When Christmas Turns Bittersweet

My sister and I entered a local yogurt shop where I spotted a woman I knew as the mother of a special college girl who worked in an area I supervised in that other life I had as a buyer in the fashion industry.

I could tell that she didn’t recognize me, and I wrestled a moment about whether I should reintroduce myself, but instead my sister and I moved along, bought our yogurt, and took our seats.

For some reason, this woman had to return to the counter, and as she passed by our table, I felt compelled to tell her who I was.

I won’t share our actual conversation, but I’ll tell you this, I felt our exchange was a divine appointment.

You see, fifteen years ago, that beautiful college student had become a young woman with a husband and two small children. Just in her thirties, she died from a serious illness.

Her mother had that day purchased an advent wreath in her daughter’s memory and placed it in their church. All the bittersweet memories flooded back in, and she now felt alone with those thoughts.

But in God’s providence, I had the privilege of remembering with her that bright lovely soul that was her daughter and reminding her that she was not forgotten.

Right there in the yogurt shop, my sister and I saw pictures of her handsome grandsons and we hugged, exchanged lives, and she was no longer alone.

So when I read these verses, I nodded.

“…but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

This past Sunday, we lit the candle of hope on our Advent wreath, and gave thanks that God’s promises are true. Just as surely as He came as a man two thousand years ago, He’ll come again in final victory as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Until then, we’ll encourage, love, and extend the same comfort with which we, too, have been comforted.

Because when Christmas turns bittersweet, we really need each other. 
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