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Campfires

campfire 4

When my kids were in elementary school we spent one week each summer at a camp in the Western Adirondaks.  It was a small piece of property on the banks of one the many lakes with cabins or campsites that you can rent. The groups renting the cabins would all share the lakefront beach, picnic tables, dock and a huge stone fire pit area. My favorite part of the week was when everyone would gather around the fire each night. Early in the week, we were just introducing ourselves but by the end of the week, we were old friends. Each year, the same families would rent their favorite cabins but there would always be one or two new families to meet. It was a tradition that I grew to love and look forward to each year.

There was a rhythm to life on the lake. The families would do their own thing during the day – hiking, swimming, fishing, kayaking. Then after dinner, one of the men would wander over to the stacked firewood and start to split some logs. Someone else would campfire5gather up smaller twigs and they would start to stack the wood in the fire pit. Soon they would have a fire going. One by one folks would start to come out of their cabins and gather ‘round the fire. Some would bring marshmallows, some would bring graham crackers and chocolate. Before you knew it, everyone in the camp was pulling up a chair to toast marshmallows and trade stories of their day.

That’s the way campfires are. People are drawn to them. It would be dark around the lake at night so the only light came from the fire. It would get cold as soon as the sun went down. As the night wore on, you would see other fires start up around the lake and you could hear people talking and laughing at their own campsites. We would gather closer to our fire and talk into the night.

As soon as the fire was lit, people were drawn to it. It was a light in a dark place. It provided warmth on a chilly night. Not only were people drawn to it, but everyone was welcome there. No one was ever turned away from the campfire. You might think that we were all young families so we had a lot in common, but that’s not really true. When I think of the cabins and who stayed in them there was a lot of diversity. Our family was young, middle class, and there was another family about the same age. They had three athletic boys, a large boat and loved to go sailing and hiking every day. The next cabin held grandparents with their adult daughter and young grandson who was an only child. Next to them was a middle-aged couple with grown kids. The father played golf every day and their kids came up and each spent a few days as their job schedules allowed. These were families with very different dynamics than mine. There were also two elderly nuns who rented the smallest cabin on the lot. They were very sweet and would only came to the fire early in the evening so they didn’t bother the “young folks”.  We’d beg them to stay and talk with us and sometimes they would for a bit. We would also have first time visiting families. One year we had a family of older parents and a young foster child with some severe social issues. I know they felt awkward but everyone did their best to make them welcome. The next year another family with a single child came. campfire 1The first day I invited them to the campfire but only the wife and child came down. She explained that her husband was watching a ball game on TV. Same thing the next night. The third night the husband came to the fire and we realized what was going on. He had been drinking quite a bit. The wife was embarrassed and expected those of us around the fire to exclude them but she was surprised when we all welcomed him and then kept right on talking and roasting marshmallows. That’s how campfires work – even groups of people who are very different will bond together and feel welcome. Even people with problems that may make them difficult to be around are welcome.

That’s how God is – He is a light that everyone is drawn to and finds a warm welcome. God doesn’t turn anyone away. The church, as a reflection of a loving God should be the same way – drawing people in and making them welcome. But sadly, because we are just human, we don’t always do a good job with that. Though we aim to be inclusive,  churches often become exclusive. It’s human nature to want to gather with those who will look, talk and think as you do. A healthy church body is one that allows God to raise them above their own human nature and lift them into a Godly nature that can become a welcoming campfire. A campfire that those outside the sanctuary doors can see and be drawn to. All those different types of families will make for a messy mix. But a messy mix united by God is beautiful to see and even more beautiful to be enfolded into.

Without oxen the stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest. 

Proverbs 14:4

A life that is lived will get messy. People will mess up but God doesn’t. Our campfires may sputter out but God’s is always burning bright. That is why we can always find a welcome with God. You always belong and fit in with God. Even when you mess up, when do something wrong, you belong. The wife of the alcoholic was expecting a cold shoulder from those of us around the campfire. She was a bit confused when we still welcomed her family even after knowing her secret. It’s an amazing moment when youcampfire 2 finally realize that no matter how “good” you try to be, you will mess up at some point and your secrets will slip out. Maybe it’s something little, maybe something pretty big, but we all make some bad choices at some point. We all sin. No one is so good that they can say that they haven’t sinned today. But this doesn’t scare God. He is not put off by our bad choices. He is not going to shut you out because you did something wrong. He will always love and welcome you. He will expect you to repent and help you change that behavior, but he won’t push you away. You are always welcome with God.

Everyday someone is hiding from God because they feel they won’t fit in or that they have messed things up so badly that they wouldn’t be welcome. Maybe you know someone like that. Maybe you are someone like that. I know I’ve been there and will, at times, still find myself slipping back into that line of thinking. Human nature is tough to beat. But I keep looking for the campfire that shines in the darkness. It’s not a perfect fire. The logs may have splinters that draw blood and may still be a bit green. Sometimes there is more smoke than fire. Yet, if it’s a campfire belonging to God, there will be warmth and light beyond our limited capabilities. And no one will be turned away from that campfire. Not even me.

campfire

God is light: in Him there is no darkness at all.

1 John 1:5b

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Freedom

Freedom – it can mean so many things to different people.

Child-running-in-field

When I think of freedom, I am transported back to the woods by my childhood home where my friends and I would play for hours on end. During the school year, we would cut through the woods to get to school. We weren’t supposed to but we felt free to do so anyway. There was a path that cut through the trees but there was another area with an open meadow on a gentle slope. I loved to run down that slope coming home from school on a spring day -arms spread wide, long hair getting hopelessly tangled in the wind, just running down the hill in a moment of complete freedom!

You don’t get that many “twirling in the sunshine in a grassy meadow” moments of care free freedom as an adult. Life isn’t a movie set and as we age a million worries jump in to replace childhood freedom.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

2 Corinthians 3:17

I have to admit, I never saw much freedom in being a follower of Christ. There is a whole set of do’s and don’ts that Christians have to follow, right? On Sundays, I would take extra pains to dress nicely and act respectfully and sit quietly in church. Isn’t that the way things are done? I remember one boss I had who would always apologize if he cussed in front of me because I was a “church lady” and he seemed to think that I wouldn’t tolerate such language. One time, I was planning a weekend getaway with friends and someone asked if I “needed to be in church on Sunday morning”. Now, in all honesty, I do like to dress up a bit for church since I am so casually dressed during the week. I don’t like to hear swearing, but I do a fair share of it myself so I don’t think it’s my place to correct anyone else. And I do like to visit other churches when I am away from home. But all these perceived “rules” that I live with are (for the most part) manmade, not God ordained. We expect certain things from ourselves. We accept the expectations of others and allow that to rule our lives. Yet, God repeatedly offers us freedom.

The Lord sets the prisoners free.

Psalm 146:7b

prison-bars We all have allowed prison walls to build up in our lives but Jesus promises that following Him will set us free. Yet doesn’t the very idea of following someone imply a new set of rules to follow?

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

All of Jesus’ teachings are truth shining out against a twisted world. Everything you havesky 1 ever learned can be held up against Jesus’ words and the lies will be exposed while freeing truth is revealed.

What are the lies that can imprison us? Just think of all the basic lies we fall into everyday – “I am not good enough”, “I am not strong enough”, “I am not smart enough”. I was at a job interview once, in which I was told that I didn’t “look the part”. It was gently hinted at that I was too old, not stylish enough, my makeup was too simple and I should try to dress in a more slimming way, in other words – too fat! I fell for every one of those criticisms that had nothing to do with my ability to perform the actual job. It left me discouraged and feeling pretty useless. Isn’t this what our society tries to do with us every day? You need this product to feel better and this one to look better. Most women I know cringe at the thought of shopping for new jeans or, even worse, a bathing suit! Why? Because we have been told what things should look like and have never learned to appreciate who we actually are.

open roadNow here is a freeing truth that I, as a follower of Christ, need to take to heart. He already knows exactly who I am and still loves me. He doesn’t care that I prefer to wear sneakers rather than heels. He knows every inch of the road that he has laid out for me and already knows exactly where I will fall along the way. Notice I didn’t say “if I fall” but “where I will fall”. He still loves me. He doesn’t pay any attention to the lies that so easily trip me up.

Those lies come into play when we allow our failures, combined with our sins to identify us. We start to see ourselves in terms of our darkness and not as a reflection of God’s light. God has promised that through repentance, He will remove our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) and once removed, He will never hold that sin against us again. Even though we tend to identify ourselves by our sinfulness, God sees those who have committed themselves to Him as blameless (Philippians 2:15)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:23-24

Let these words sink in for minute. If you are like me, you will need to do this daily. Our past can either help us to grow or cause us to sink into the mire of our own sinful nature. We make the choice and by reaching out to God, He will do the rest. Just as Boaz does for Ruth (Ruth 3-4), when we let our intentions to follow God be known to Him, He shows us how he has already stepped up to the plate and taken care of our redemption for us. Though we are sinful, God is waiting for us to turn to Him so that He can forgive us and put our past in its proper place – behind us as we move forward.

Freedom

What does this godly freedom look like? Paul talked about being free from sin in Romans. Not free from ever sinning again but being free from the things that sin can trap you in, like negative thoughts and a dark outlook on the world. Things like fear, anxiety, doubts and anger. Things that can wrap around you so tightly you struggle just to take a breath. But God gives us freedom- the freedom to celebrate life, the freedom to love ourselves and others. Freedom to take just that one breath.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So, if the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed.”

John 8:34-36

fireworks

Happy 4th of July – Celebrate Freedom!

 

 

 

 


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I wanted to be with You

cross

I wanted to be with You

as You fell down to pray

but there were so many things

that kept me very far away.

Things like pride and anger,

things like plain old fear.

But I am so glad to know

that You were praying for me there.

I wanted to be with You

when your friend, he did betray,

But I saw the soldier standing there,

I just couldn’t be brave that day.

I was held back by pride and anger

and just plain old fear.

But when you faced Judas’ kiss

I saw compassion shine so clear.

(how did I miss this?)

I wanted to be with You

to defend You at that trial,

making waves and speaking out

but you know that’s not my style.

I cowered in pride and anger

and just plain old fear

I was no help to You

Had my own burden to bear.

I wanted to be with Youcross - Copy

as they led You up that road.

that cross that You carried

should have been my heavy load.

But I couldn’t bear the suffering

and tortured agony

yet, You walked the walk I couldn’t walk,

each step you took for me.

I wanted to be with You

but I’m not good enough, I guess.

Still You carried on alone

even when I had to rest.

You took all my failures

that had stopped me in my tracks

as you walked up to Golgotha,

my weight across your back.

You took all these things that held me down,

my pride and anger and fear

You took them with You on that cross

and I’m so sorry that You were there,

so sorry that I couldn’t share,

so sorry.

And yet, somehow glad that You were there

so glad that You truly care

for me.

I wanted to be with You

yet all the time

You’ve been here with me.

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Love has…

Love has a facecross

A face that all creation looks up to

A face I can cry out to for desperate help

Or opens into laughter for the joy He extends to me

All life stretches upwards to see the face of Him who is Life

 

Love has two eyes

Eyes that look down upon His creation

Beaten and bloodied eyes that saw past his own pain

Tearful eyes that soaked up the darkness that exists in mine

Eyes that ever long to catch a glimpse of who I am to Him

 

Love has two handsfather child hands

Hands that were stretched out and nailed to a crossbar

Hands that have reached out to catch me when I stumble

Hands that gently wiped away each tear I have shed

Or rise up in anger to defend me when I crumble into my own weakness

 

Love has two feetfather and child feet

Feet that have walked the Heavens from before time

Feet that trod the dust of Judea and splashed in the waves of Galilee

Feet that resolutely followed a path to Golgotha

Feet that willingly search for me when I have hidden myself in shame

 

Love has a name

Savior, Messiah

Annointed One

The Son of Man who is Jesus

love looks like...

 


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All About Love

 

The last Advent candle is all about Love

Advent Candles Christmas Eve-Prophecy, Love, Joy, Peace, Purity

 

It’s Christmas time and I wait all year,

I love the excitement that’s thick in the air.

It’s in a child’s laugh and a grandparent’s eyes,

Even strangers tend to smile and reindeer learn to fly.

 

I love decorating the house, unwrapping each treasure

That I pull out of boxes and remember with pleasure

The Christmases past, how the years have flown by,

When my children were younger and so was I!

Christmas presents

 

I set up the Nativity and hang each stocking,

A large wreath on the door for those friends who come knocking.

From the kitchen, the aroma of fresh gingerbread

And the other rooms are scented with fresh pine instead.

 

The children in costumes, shepherd’s staffs and angel wings,

Two play Mary and Joseph, there’s a star followed by three kings.

They tell us the story of a wondrous birth,

Of a time when God Himself reached down to the Earth.

Christmas decorations

 

The Son that He loved, His love for mankind

Are together at last and for a brief time,

We walked with Love and learned from His hand

As He showed us a Love we still struggle to understand.

 

And it all starts with a babe, so tiny and frail.

I love that it starts as an improbable tale.

A young mother, trembling, frightened and scared,

An untried father, woefully unprepared.

I love that wealthy kings travel dangerously far,

While shepherds can stroll downhill to follow that star.

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I love that when we couldn’t stretch our hands high enough,

God reached down to us with immeasurable love

merry Christmas 2


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A Glimmer of Hope

hopeBetween the Old and New Testament stretch four hundred years of uncomfortable silence. During that time, Isaiah’s words would have brought the first inkling of the idea of Hope.

The people walking in darkness

Have seen a great light;

On those living in the land of the shadow of death

A light has dawned.

Isaiah9:2

This is the beginning of hope; that first glimmer of the idea of a Savior for all people. It would have been a foreign thought, though. When you hope in human terms, it starts very small. Just a flickering of light in your dark surroundings. Only if the situation improves will that flicker grow steady and brighter.

But hope, from God’s perspective, bursts onto the scene with “a great light”. What I love about this verse is that it shows the sheer size of Godly hope with a God who has even the scariest of situations in already in hand and will walk with you through whatever fears, doubts, sorrow or anxiety you may be facing.

f8aa4858aff064c0a6bd5bac5b63f8b1--ironman-tattoo-hope-tattoos

The darkness must come first in order for hope to shine against it. Our trials become a mere backdrop for God to work. Hope appears in the midst of darkness and gives us a target to aim for, a goal to strive for. It forms itself into an anchor that you can cling to.

This is the essence of Hope.

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Advent 2017 – week one


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Having a Hard Time Listening

P1030204

sometimes you are just listening for that one special song

 

Thirty years after the inception of the Contemporary Christian Music movement it seems ridiculous that so many are still divided over this issue. It speaks volumes of the health (or lack thereof) of the Christian church today that we allow such petty issues to divide us when there are so many other issues that we should be grappling with.

Having said that, someone tried to pull me into just such a discussion recently. His objection to modern praises was that he felt the songs focus on ourselves while traditional hymns focus solely on God. My first reaction was that perhaps he should go back and revisit the lyrics of both genre of music. But I resisted the urge to be sarcastic and tried to listen. Problem was I was only allowed to listen. He just wanted to vent and was not expecting a response other than agreement and sympathy.

But I did have an opinion that I wanted to share. This is the fun part of having a personal blog. I can vent all I want. It’s my blog and I’ll vent if I want to.

As a music lover, I have a deep respect for the music of the church, from the old hymns to the repeated praise choruses to the more thoughtful and varied songs of today. Of course, I have my favorites but I love a wide range of styles of music so I am comfortable and able to respond to a wide range of worship styles.

I’ve been listening to an old Todd Agnew song lately, “Written on the Wall”. The chorus cries out:

‘Cause the sound of this world’s deafening, and I ‘m having a hard time listening, and I wish your will was still written in the walls.”

To me, helping me get back to a place where I can hear that one special song that God sings for me is the essence of a solid worship service. When I come to church on a Sunday morning (or whatever day/time your service is) I am coming with the dirt and grime of this world on the soles of my shoes, worked under my fingernails and ground into the fibers of my clothes. It will take me a moment to refocus.

‘Cause the sound of this world is really deafening and I’m having such a hard time listening.”

I’ve come running into church dragging a bleary eyed toddler behind me. I’ve trudged up the front steps after spending the day before with my dying father and couldn’t wait for service to end so I could get back to his bedside. I’ve been so tired after a rough week at work, a night out with friends, a fight with a rebellious teenager.

The sounds of the world…I’m having a hard time listening, Lord.

But then I hear the strains of music from within those four walls that aren’t meant to be walls at all. Sometimes the sound of a keyboard or piano, or maybe the sound of voices greeting each other after a hard week out in the world where it can be so hard to hear. As the congregation starts to sing, I join in. The world begins to fade. It slips gradually away. I love when that first song gently pulls me before the throne. A song about me. A song about myself and Christ. I guess my friend would have disagreed with me on this.

But don’t let it end there. Subsequent songs need to refocus us on the One who is the whole reason we are there. I allow the music, the prayer, the choice of Scripture leading up to the sermon help me to tune out the noise and tune into Christ and who He is – grace, love, mercy and peace.

And I’ll find that I didn’t even notice if an old hymn was sung or a praise chorus. It was simply my being led away from the world which is deafening and into His presence of peace. And the next time someone tries to start that some old argument with me, I’ll just let the music I hear in my heart play while the storm surges around me.

Zephaniah317_1920x1080_1The LORD your God is with you,

He is mighty to save.

He will take great delight in you,

He will quiet you with his love,

He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17