Sharing Our Stories: An Advent Devotional – Day Thirteen

Yesterday I found myself telling my daughter a love story.

This love story was of particular interest to her because it was the one that birthed her into being. I’m not sure exactly what prompted her questions, but before I knew it, and much to the delight of my youngest, I found myself retelling those long-ago moments of early love with my husband.

I’m not sure whose smile was bigger as I shared about a walk in the woods where I first realized I was falling for my future husband. As I told the story of Jon scooping me up in his arms, dangling me over a water-filled creek, and looking at me with a smile that unsettled my young heart in the most peculiar of ways, I couldn’t help but grin at the memories. “It was like one of those movie moments,” I told my daughter, “You know, where the girl expectantly looks at the man, waiting for the kiss certain to come, only to have the moment somehow interrupted and the kiss put on hold. Instead of kissing me, your dad just grinned and set me back on my feet, but at least he didn’t dump me in the creek.”

She laughed that I compared our story with a movie scenario, but the questions continued and the story did, too. When I shared about the first kiss that eventually did come about, she giggled with me over the mention that I actually heard fireworks when we kissed. True story. Which maybe loses a bit of its aura when you realize our first kiss occurred on the Fourth of July with fireworks going off in the distance, but still, it was pretty romantic. And for those of you who know Jon and me, well, suffice it to say, “romantic” is not a word that would be readily used to describe either of us. I’ll take what I can get.

58304_155102207847525_4996021_nPerhaps the sweetest thing about our conversation yesterday was to see my daughter’s face as she reaffirmed my story with the words, “That’s what Dad said, too!” Unbeknownst to me, she had apparently been grilling my husband for the same details the previous evening. I’m glad to know our stories corroborated, and although our daughter still seems a bit baffled as to how her Mom and Dad’s love was not one of initial attraction, but rather a love which grew over the course of several months from a shared friendship, she can’t help but see its lasting truth. After more than 28 years of marriage, the love story continues to unfold.

But something special happened yesterday in the telling of it — our daughter was brought into it with us.

It’s important to share your story and to invite others to join in it with you.

In retelling our stories, we are reminded of truths that are sometimes ignored or overlooked or altogether neglected by the confines of day-to-day living. Sometimes love can get buried beneath the mundane and the duties, to the point that the miraculous can seem dulled by the ordinariness of it all. In the retelling of our stories, we get the opportunity to relive them in our minds and to experience the wonder all over again. And those who are listening get to experience it with us.

Psalm 107:1-3 encourages us to speak out the great things God has done as we retell the story of our redemption:

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story– those He redeemed from the hand of the foe, those He gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.

Our stories matter because they are His stories. The pages of our lives are filled with wonders of Who God is and of the great things He has done.

This life He has written gives breath to the gospel in human form — the truth of redemption revealed in finite life through the birth of infinite love. Those who are in Christ are the pages of eternal story —  story of flesh and blood delivered by Divine. Of secret parts and broken parts and sinful parts, all being made new. Transformed by Spirit power.

Our stories bring the gospel of Jesus to life in real and tangible ways instead of abstract theological theories. Our stories are more than just words, they are salvation in real time. Stories of deliverance that are complete and yet ongoing, delivered and delivering still. Gathered and continuing to be gathered from the four corners of the earth and grafted into one body. The body of Christ — a story filled with stories of life after life redeemed, saved to bring life to others through the telling of their redemption.

This is why our stories are to be shared — to bring life.

To remind others of an unfailing love reaching beyond human concept to touch the hearts of men with life.

Our stories matter because they are His stories.

Stories to be treasured.

Stories to be passed down to generation after generation to show that love lasts.

In memories of yesteryear.

In the reality of today’s trials.

And in the eternal halls of a glorious Kingdom that will be without end.

Has the Lord redeemed you? Then tell your story.

FOR REFLECTION
How long has it been since you have shared a part of your story with others? It could be a word of praise for answered prayer, or a word of encouragement for how God is sustaining you even though you are still waiting for the answer. It could be telling your children the love story of you and your spouse. It could be making known the path of salvation to a coworker or friend. It could be, well, anything you deem to be a part of who you are or who you are becoming by God’s grace. Tell someone a portion of your story today, and experience again the wonder of love that is a part of it all.

 

Choosing the Calm

I am calm, but I am not active.

I smiled to hear the heavily-accented words coming across the phone lines. Words spoken from a man who is prone to action, accustomed to being on the front lines of God’s battlefield. A man displaced because of his faith. A man who has been imprisoned and beaten, hunted and forced into hiding, cut off from his birth family, separated from his wife and young children for a period of time that stretched beyond eighteen months. A man who now calls a different country home… all because he was adamant about sharing the knowledge and love of Jesus with others.

A man who honors me with the name Mama although he’s not my son by natural birth.

To hear the deep peace surfacing through his words has been a long time coming. A pastor and missionary turned common laborer in a country far from home is at last coming to grips with waiting.

Waiting for the calling of God while living where he is.

Despite the barriers of culture, language, and occupational change, he is learning to live with peace in his heart even when he’s not active in the ministry which he’s always known.

As I write these words, I can’t help but smile at the thought of how easily we get confused as to what ministry is. Contrary to what he may be tempted to believe, this precious son of my heart has never once stopped being a minister of the gospel of Christ. How can he when he carries the very presence of God’s Holy Spirit with him wherever he goes, whether behind a pulpit or behind prison bars or behind the borders of a foreign land.

Even the most seasoned of warriors can be fooled by decoys.
Even the wisest of Christians can be deceived by the grip of much activity.

Why is it so difficult for us to live “calm but not active”?

We struggle if we are not busy “doing” something for God. This issue to “rest and regroup” can be such a frustrating directive. Surely some form of action must be required. Obviously something needs to be happening beyond this consistent call to pray and to listen and to wait. But by forcing action, we unwittingly surrender the peace that longs to take up residence deep within us.

We muddy the waters of calm with our incessant desire for movement.

Grasping for God’s presence in fire and in earthquakes, we unwittingly believe He is always found in the fierce and wild, and never in the mild of a whispering breeze.

Too often, I twist my son’s words and live as one who is active, but not calm. Placing my hands upon too many things at once, answering “yes” to too many requests, running to and fro without clear direction… when all along what God really wants is for me to stop and sit in the gentle breeze of His presence.

Today I challenge all of us to purposefully choose the calm and stop feeling guilty for taking God-enforced breaks from the call of duty. Let’s cease and desist this irrational need to be busy, and instead, invite peace to come wherever we are. And to linger with it.

Let’s embrace the power of stillness.

Let’s choose to be flexible and bend into the unknown even as we rest in what is known.

You don’t need to see the next step to simply enjoy the gift of salvation today. Trust in the promises you have been given even as you reacquaint yourself with the tried and true of Father’s faithfulness. Revisit the cross of Jesus and rest beneath the shadow of redemption’s outstretched hands. See this time of seeming non-activity as  your personal upper room until you sense the fire of the Holy Spirit sweeping over you again.

In short, simply allow God’s presence to be enough for this moment in time.

No matter the season, embrace your “now” normal because one day it will be new and different  For this day, live with purpose and tarry while you are still able instead of worrying about filling in the gaps in your story.

Sometimes it simply requires a pause to fully comprehend all that has transpired to date.

So take this time to soak in the gift of remembrance. Marvel once more at the miracle of grace until Shalom has settled deep. Until you trust anew in the One who is both the Author and Finisher of your faith.

Stop the glorification of busy, and choose to live calm… even when you’re not active.

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Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. – Psalm 116:7

The Unveiling

Then behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…

Jesus came to earth, lived and died among us, and cast His sacrificial love fully into the great unveiling of restored relationship with the Most High.

Yet we live as ones still cloaked in darkness.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve encountered fellow-Christians who struggle with their identity in the Beloved. Admittedly, I have joined them there on far too many occasions.

“When I’m honest, sometimes I struggle to believe that God is good.”
“Can I really believe God has my best interests at heart?”
“What if I’ve disappointed Him one too many times?”
“I just don’t feel worthy of His love.”
“Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll ever be good enough to earn His favor.”
“I wonder, really, if it all sounds too good to be true.”
“I think those things were only for the apostles to experience.”
(Feel free to insert your own questions or doubts here…)

No matter our propensity toward doubt and unbelief, there is one thing which has the power to undo the strength of every question…

The Cross of Christ.

Jesus didn’t leave the realms of heaven to step into our world and dole out punishment. On the contrary, He sacrificed Himself so we wouldn’t have to pay for the price of our sins. Ever.

He came as Rescuer and Redeemer. IN FULL.

When we truly ponder the extent to which Jesus offered Himself for us when we were still at enmity with Him, how can we possibly come up with the thought that we could somehow either earn His favor or lose it at the hands of our own making? What makes us think that after giving His life for us freely, He now desires to live heavy-handed with us? The thought is ludicrous.

If He did not cast us aside when we were wallowing in the filth of our sin, thumbing our noses in the face of all that is holy, then why are we tricked into thinking He now plays games with His love? That He is somehow straining to see the first inkling of a mistake so He can snatch His grace away?

How it must break Father’s heart when we fail to believe in the fullness of His love for us. When we continually act skeptical toward His unrelenting goodness. When we raise our eyebrows in cynical glance, waiting for the other shoe to drop and shatter our dreams.

How could He possibly exceed what has already been done at Calvary to prove His love toward us? How could He ever expand upon the vastness of grace portrayed through arms bleeding and broken, spread wide to embrace the sins of the world?

Yet we shake our heads in disbelief, as if it is not enough to restore us.

What more proof is needed than a blood-stained cross and an empty tomb and a temple veil ripped from top to bottom, exposing the way of entrance into the Beloved of Christ?

Remembrance is key to walking as ones set free.

The world would try to taint our thoughts with spiritual amnesia in order to paralyze us. The enemy whispers lies that good deeds and perfect performance are necessary to secure our place in the kingdom of God when the only reliable bond is the blood of Jesus Christ.

That one, lone thread of redemption hangs as a solitary Sentinel. Standing guard over our claim to His kingdom, with all its rights and privileges.

Yet we choose to live as ones still bound. Still held captive by the weight of our sins. Still sitting outside the gates in pauper’s garb, desperately searching for a way to be noticed in our own rights, clinging to a shame that was never intended to remain. Cloaked in the forgetfulness of a try-hard life looking for acceptance that has already been given.

Beloved, it’s time to lay claims to grace. To rise and to walk in the goodness that consumed our past separation and consumes us still – moment by moment – as we call to mind the Hope that is ours. The hope we have now.

It’s time to take God at His Word and receive Him for Who He is. For Who He claims to be in all His truthful glory, not in our own man-made image of deity. It’s time to live as if it really is finished. To breathe each breath with belief in His promises. To run free in the abiding abundance of His presence, no matter the struggles or the unknowns that surround us. We are invited and equipped to live with faith through the uncertainties and the hards of life as we look upon the Cross and know it is well with our souls. To live in the triumph that shakes the earth with glory light and opens tombs and releases bones long dead.

It’s time to live as ones who know we are held. And loved. Unconditionally. For keeps.

This Christmas season, may we make our way to humble stable and rise to the calling of Calvary, allowing the memory of that first encounter with the Savior to make its way into the forefront of our lives this day and save us once again as we choose to believe that He is good still. That we are loved – boundlessly and without limits. That life has meaning beyond this temporal sight of earthly wonder and sinful woes. That this world and all it has to offer is just a momentary breath of eternity, a brief exhalation of grace unfurled upon humanity.

May our hearts be stirred to reach with hopeful hands toward truth as we determine to catch it more fully and release it more purposefully, word by word, into our own hearts and into the hearts of all whom we encounter.

We are free, dear ones.

It’s time to live as if it were true.

It’s time to live with unveiled eyes…

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 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14