To Marvel and Mend This Christmas

And this will be the sign. You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger (Luke 2:12). 

The sign had been fulfilled. The angel’s words were true.

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child (Luke 2:16).

And the shepherds’ desire to see this sign was no Sunday stroll in the park. I can just imagine them running as fast as they could, sweating, hearts racing, maybe even stumbling through the fields because it was night.

I can imagine their hearts pumping through their chests as they reach their destination and look Mary and Joseph and Jesus in the eye for the first time. I doubt many words were uttered on their part but just sheer amazement. And this amazement could only lead them to make known what they had just seen.

The glory of God had just come down from heaven- a shining light in the midst of evil and darkness. Love had come down to save them and set them free from their sins. God had chosen them, lowly shepherds, to be the first to see this humble King lying in a manger.

They couldn’t help but spread the news that Peace was here. They shared the news to everyone and it spread far and wide.

And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (Luke 2:18).

But not only that, all the hearers of this good news marveled too.

And it’s this word “marvel” that jumps out at me today. It’s a word that I can’t skip over when I’m reading Luke’s account of Christ’s words and works.

Do I marvel at the gift of God sending his son Jesus down to this earth to save us? Has this good news so impacted my life that others see it and believe it as well?

Have I taken the time in these days leading up to Christmas to sit, reflect, be still and marvel at the mighty, mysterious works of God?

Because truthfully, I know there is a marveling that needs to be done in my own heart that has yet to happen. And there is a mending of brokenness needing to be done too. Both of which require God’s hand to awaken and heal.

And then I am reminded again of why Jesus came…

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

I want to see Jesus for who He is. To know him more. To put him first. To share his love to everyone he puts in my path. But I have to understand that this can’t be accomplished in my own strength. It has to be his mighty work through me for his glory.

Like the shepherds, when we see Jesus for who he really is, we are changed forever. Light pierces through our darkness. Our lives are radically different. And we can’t help but desire to see that change in other people too.

Why Your Broken Prayers Are Enough

This article (originally a blog post) was published in my column “Faith in Real Life” for Dallas Seminary’s Student Journal- Spring 2012 Issue 2. You can view the PDF here on pg. 5. 

It’s interesting how the word “prayer” conjures up many emotions and feelings for people. You might view your prayer life as a delight, a duty, or both. Maybe it just depends on what kind of day you’re having.

The demands of seminary, working, raising children, serving in ministry, and making our marriage a priority often leaves my husband and me with no choice but to fall on our knees before God. Our prayer lives have been forced to grow as our responsibilities have increased over the years, and I admit that much of my strength has come from confessing my absolute brokenness.

The Sweet Word Abba

When I was single, I had a more designated time for prayer, but now my prayers are more unscheduled, short, and spontaneous. And lately the prayer I offer most to God is help! I’ve also had times when the only words I could offer were tears. And of course the most pivotal prayer of all was when I asked Jesus to save me.

But most of the time I still feel this pressure to offer drawn-out, formal prayers to God, and if I don’t do that, I’m not spiritual. But it’s interesting to note that in Romans, Paul says that in our spirit we cry out, “Abba, Father” in our adoption as His children. And that’s a short prayer if I’ve seen one.

Being Natural with God

I’ve been reading the 30-day devotional book called Prayer by Charles Spurgeon, and in it he says, “I think this sweet word Abba was chosen to show us that we are to be very natural with God, not stilted and formal.” Spurgeon goes on to say that sometimes our prayers to God are more like groans and longings, and that when we cry Abba, “The cry in our hearts is not only childlike, but the tone and manner of utterance are equally so.”

I can just picture the tone and manner of the word “D-a-d-d-y” when a child is in great danger or in need of help, and how when we cry “A-b-b-a” to our Heavenly Father, it is the same.

Embracing a Child-like Faith

Spurgeon’s words have reminded me that it’s okay to offer such a short, broken prayer when that’s all I can do. They’ve also reminded me that lots of things keep me from being natural and real with God, among them pride, stubbornness, fear, my inability to trust Him with everything, and my failure to believe that He loves me.

But when I come to God as my Abba, tell him all that He already knows, and be real with Him, I’m amazed at how He shows Himself and works in my heart. My heart is overwhelmed with joy because I learn more about His grace and patience toward me. It’s as if He’s saying, “I love being your Abba.”

My true desire is to be more open with God and to not hide so much. In child-like faith, I want to crawl up in His lap and be in His presence. And in the coming days where I’m sure I’ll have to offer up one-worded prayers again, I can be honest and trust that He is listening—because I am His child and He is my Abba.

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:15

Heart Renovations {Good Friday Reflections}

our kitchen in progress

We’re in the middle of a major renovating project in the new house we’re set to move into at the end of the month. With the help of very generous friends in our church, my parents, and my husband and his friends, the ugly 60s style carpet in our living and dining room has been ripped out. The kitchen tile has been smashed out and new hardwood floors will be installed soon.

As you can imagine, the downstairs is a wreck. And on this Good Friday while I have just a few minutes to reflect on it, I can’t help but take a look inside the condition of my soul, apart from Jesus.

Apart from Jesus, it’s an absolute disaster. There is nothing good that exists (I wish there was).

I’m a sinful being and my sin is so disgusting and offensive that a price had to be paid to cover it.

Jesus’ death on the cross paid the massive debt I owed. A debt which I could never actually pay on my own accord. On the cross, Jesus said “It is finished.” Wholly. Completely. Not in part- but in full. Because of the pain, suffering, and anguish he endured and the spilling of his blood, I’ve been set free from the chains of sin. And no one else could do it, but Jesus.

Because of his death, grace washes over all our sin. Amazing grace for you and for me. A most precious gift.

But the cross can’t be left by itself, displayed on a church building, or worn around our neck as pretty jewelry. The cross, which showed his great love for us, demands an answer from us. A choice that we must make. Will we accept Jesus’ gift of grace and surrender our lives to Him? Will we turn from our sin and cling to Him? Will we allow him to renovate the ugliest, shameful parts of our heart so we can be restored again?

He is more than willing if we let Him.

The beauty of the cross and his grace is that He removes the junk and debris. He changes us and makes us new. It is all an act of His grace- a profound mystery.

Today, let’s not forget just how awful our sin is and how disgraceful Jesus’ death on the cross was. But let us also not forget…

Sunday’s coming.

Check out this video.

The Necessity to Shine {when this world drives you crazy}

I was reading a friend’s status update a few days ago about one of her neighbors. She was in her alley (most Texas homes have back alleys) and out of nowhere she heard a man screaming at the top of his lungs:

“I hate this world!!!”

She couldn’t believe it and asked her friends to pray for this man. Obviously, bitterness and hatred were brewing in his heart toward someone or something.

I’ve had days where I’ve seen a darkness and insensitivity in this world from people who have no regard for one another. Co-workers who slander and devour each other, nasty people in checkout lines, off-the-wall thinking, critical and judgmental people, all around negativity from people across the board, and more.

I’ve had days where people have really gotten to me and the world seems like a depressing place to live. Sometimes random and unexpected situations have happened that have affected my attitude. I think to myself:

The only hope in this mean and crazy world is Jesus. What do people do who don’t have that hope? I would go crazy without it.

And it’s not too long after that I’m reminded of who I am in Christ and what I’ve been sent on this earth to do as his disciple. He reminds me that indeed, this world can be a dark, cold and lonely place but there is a solution to the darkness.

Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” – Matt. 5:14-16

My natural inclination is to run and hide from darkness and not confront it, especially if I have been hurt by someone else’s sin. But how will my light shine if I don’t forgive and genuinely love that person who’s so incredibly unlovable? How will they hear about God’s forgiveness and healing if I don’t tell them?

If “hurting people hurt people” as the saying goes, then there’s got to be a reason behind every offense. How will my light shine if I return evil for evil? It won’t. My light will shine when I choose to love and let God help me overcome the darkness.

When God’s light shines through us, people can’t help but notice something different. They can’t help but want to know what makes us love rather than hate. They want to know what gives us hope. Love is how people will come to know and understand that the Lord is real and active in the world today.

The man who screamed out in the alley is a picture of how many people feel. They harbor pain and they feel hopeless. These are the people God wants us to seek out and shine our light to. There is no plan B.

And no matter how dark the world continues to get, we are still the light of the world.

Do you find it difficult to shine and show love among the darkness? 

From the Archives: An Anthem of His Faithfulness

Every seat in the chapel was filled. The doors on each side stayed open for Michigan’s August breeze to make its way in. I looked for a place to sit and found a spot on the end of a pew. As I sat down, I felt relieved that my husband was keeping the kids so I could have some time to sit and be still. Besides, this was my vacation.

God, I want to hear you tonight, prayedIt’s so hard to hear you when the daily grind can get so noisy.

Sara Groves started playing the piano and singing:

I can’t remember a trial or a pain He did not recycle to bring me gain

I can’t remember one single regret In serving God only, and trusting His hand

All I have need of, His hand will provide

He’s always been faithful to me

I tried to recollect a time when God was unfaithful to me and I simply could not. Even at a point in my life when I chose the temporal pleasures of sin over following Him, He remained faithful- patiently pursuing me and calling me to his side.

And all the needs I have ever had, great or small, he has provided regardless of my worry and doubt.

I thought about the concerns and fears I have with the future and I was comforted that God knew those too, but my uncertainties don’t change the fact of Who He Is. And if I had to follow Him all over again, in the joys and the hardships, I would still surrender my life to Him.

Sara played on and transitioned into the old hymn:

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Morning by morning new mercies I see

All I have needed thy hand hath provided

Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me

A man in his 60s stood up as she sang. I imagined his life and the possible trials he’d probably faced. I thought about how he’s further along in the journey than I. Then another person in the distance stood and then another. I got goosebumps. Before I knew it, handfuls of people were standing.

Knots grew tight in my throat. God had been so faithful to me and rarely did I thank Him and stand upon that. I felt such conviction. My pride tried to keep me planted in that hard wooden pew, but I rose to my feet anyway. Tears filled my eyes and I confessed to God where I had fallen short.

God, forgive me for not regularly expressing gratitude to you for all you have done. Change me.

I observed all that was happening around me and soon enough, everyone was standing. Some lifted their hands in humbleness. God’s presence filled the air and it was heavenly and so sweet. It didn’t matter what journey any of us had traveled, this was our anthem together.

An anthem of His faithfulness.

The Words “I Love You”

While I was washing the dishes a few nights ago, John walks up to me in adult-like fashion and says:

“Momma?”

I turn to him wondering what his next words will be. I assumed he needed something.

“I love you.”

My eyes lit up and I was pleasantly surprised especially after the kind of day it had been. My heart filled with joy that even though I’m a far-from-perfect Momma, my three year old still loves me and hopefully knows that he is loved deeply too.

“I love you too, John.”

He gave a big grin and went about his business playing.

God spoke truth to me that evening through my son. I love how God often has a way of intervening in our lives to show us how deeply He loves us. I don’t know about you but it seems like when I am the most unlovely, He shows his unconditional love all the more and I’m humbled. How does such a sinner like me deserve so much grace and love?

Yet he continues to love because He is Love. 

And he shows his love in unexpected ways: through Scripture, prayer, the Church, other people, creation, whispers, “aha” moments, circumstances, discipline, trials, and more.

But the truth is that he doesn’t have to continue showing his love. He has already proven his love by suffering and dying on the cross. He loved us while we were still sinners, in all our filthiness and ugliness. The cross sealed the deal and there is no greater love that exists.

But why do I often live like I need to be reassured of His love? Or sometimes I’m insecure of his love. I only need to look to the cross.

When it comes to love it’s no wonder that the song “How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan strikes such a chord with so many people deep within. It’s a song that chokes me up and reminds me of His faithfulness. No matter what kind of hurt, pain, or trial we are going through, we follow a God who loves us and who cares about our frustrations and let-downs.

And he is indeed jealous for us.

He wants us to know that, yes, we are broken people and yes we will mess up sometimes but that doesn’t change anything about His love. He is ready and willing to show us that love if we will listen and obey.

I’ve remembered John’s words a few times this week. They have helped me through my daily struggles and they continue to remind me that those are the exact words God is saying to me.

“I love you.”

How to Handle the “In Between”

The week after Christmas tends to be an awkward week for me. The whole month of December, I anticipate Christmas. Everything I do centers around Dec. 25. And then once it’s over, I’m not quite sure what to do.

I could relate to writer Marcus Hathcock in the recent RELEVANT Magazine article, “The Thud After Christmas” when he said, “There is a huge build up to Christmas… You get the feeling that the world is getting ready for something big and mysterious.”

Then Christmas happens and life moves on the next day as if it were never here. Marcus likened it to the radio stations instantly going back to their regular programming: “No tapering down the carols, just a clean break. A thud.”

I love how he uses the word thud because that’s exactly what it has felt like for me. I’ve asked myself a few times: Now What? What’s the next thing to look forward to?

This week, I’ve struggled with being in the in-between. Christmas is over and 2012 is on the horizon. I have my share of concerns about what the future will hold and what changes might occur.

But one thing has brought me true comfort and peace as I wrestle and grapple with the in between.

Going to God in His Word to be reminded and assured of his promises.

I easily forget that Jesus is enough. We hear it so much but it’s so true. He is all I need as I anticipate a brand new year that will hold only the Lord knows! This doesn’t mean that I don’t plan, work hard, make changes, set some goals, and more. Those things will happen.

But the point is that my eyes should not be on myself and what concerns I have. Or how I feel. Or frankly what I need to do. I actually end up getting depressed when I look too hard at myself.

My focus should be upon Christ, his Word, his ways, serving Him and His people. And above all to fulfill what I’ve been put on this earth to do- to know Him and make Him known.

I’m never disappointed when I begin placing my trust in what He says. And somehow, when my eyes are upon Him instead of self, I always end up finding true joy, comfort, and satisfaction. All the things that I’m pretty sure I was looking for in the first place.

Over the past few days I’ve noticed that the thud is slowly fading away and my anxiety about 2012 is turning into excitement and joy about what God will do and reveal about himself.

Have you felt the thud or struggle with the in between?

The Best News You’ll Hear All Christmas

Reflections from Luke 2:1-20

God became a man and lived on earth…

He came by the most humble means and was laid in a manger- a trough or box used to feed animals- very far from a crib in a royal palace. His father and mother, Joseph and Mary, sought a place for Mary to give birth but there was no room in the inn.

After Mary gave birth to the Savior, an angel of the Lord first appeared to shepherds. Humble, lower class citizens of the day and considered unclean- God chose them to be the first to hear the good news of this Savior.

Then that same angel and the heavenly hosts praised God saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

This baby Jesus would bring peace. The peace that mankind had been waiting for all along. His birth would usher in hope and life in the midst of chaos and brokenness.

Then the shepherds traveled to Bethlehem to actually see this Jesus. They saw him, Mary, and Joseph just as they were told. They spread the news to everyone. And everyone was amazed. But Mary hid and treasured all that was going on in her heart. I can only imagine her feelings and thoughts.

Then the shepherds went back to their fields, praising and glorifying God for all they had seen and heard. Finally, the Messiah had come. Not in the way that many expected, but he was here.

So what did this child’s birth mean for all mankind?

Did it mean good cheer, cozy Christmas songs, presents, Santa, snow, a nice manger display on the mantle, parties, charity, family gatherings, and good will toward men?

Those good things are only the outpouring of what this child’s birth means. His birth means so much more for us today.

His birth means that God stepped into history by sending his only son Jesus to earth. Jesus struggled and faced temptation like we do, yet he was sinless. He healed and saved those far from Him. His purpose in coming was to save us from our sins- all our offenses toward God. And they are numerous.

He would come to redeem, restore, renew…

So he did it just as he promised. He proved his love for us on a cross. He died the most shameful, disgusting and horrific death. He screamed. He cried. He agonized. He bled. He asked his father if there was anyway he could save him. But he knew it was God’s will for him to die because it was the only way to save the world.

So he willingly did.

But his death wasn’t the end. He rose again like he said he would. No man has ever raised himself back to life. Only God.

Over 500 witnesses saw his appearing and when his time on earth was finished, he ascended into heaven to be with his father.

Oh but the Christmas story doesn’t end there. Thank goodness. He is coming back for those who know, love, and have committed their life to him. He will one day, judge the living and the dead. And we need to be ready for his coming. We need to revere him and honor him.

Jesus is our hope this Christmas, no matter if we’re jobless, our spouse has been diagnosed with cancer, or we’ve lost a loved one. No matter what we’re going through, He is still our peace. And He is what our hearts are longing for.

Jesus is why we do all that we do in this joyful season. May our hearts be filled with gratitude for the greatest gift that has already been given to us in a manger many years ago.

Last Thoughts on the Life of Scott McCreedy

I had a few more thoughts I wanted to share from Sunday’s post about Scott McCreedy. There is no doubt at all that Scott was a man of influence. That post happens to be at 1,000 page views according to WordPress and Google stats and the number is climbing- all because Scott touched so many lives and people are searching for his name all over the country and world.

One of Scott’s classmate’s Erin wrote in a Facebook comment, “We have much to learn from him.” Her words are so wise as they demand that we take a good look at ourselves and see where we can be like Scott. Here are a few things I saw from a distance in his life that are worth emulating:

*Scott loved his family.

*Scott loved people.

*Scott was Scott and never tried to be someone else.

*Scott was selfless and served our country, even if it meant major hardship and sacrifice.

*Scott was sensitive and open to God and found comfort from God’s word.

Run to God

Those of you who knew Scott and are struggling, I want to encourage you that God loves you. In a tragedy like this, we can either run from God or draw close to him. Often, the natural response is to run and reject God. Our pride gets in the way and we grow bitter. But that always makes things worse and as time goes by, we end up getting nowhere.

Though it’s tempting, don’t run.

Cling to Him with all you have for strength. Cry out to Him for help. Give him your anger, fear, and worry. Tell him what’s on your heart.

Ask God to give you comfort and peace in this time and to reveal areas where you need to change. I’m asking God the same.

Take time to process and reflect on your life. Who are you living for? Yourself or God? If you died today, are you 100% sure you would go to heaven? The Bible says that God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Belief requires a commitment, an action of placing your faith in the person of Jesus. You’re recognizing that you’re a sinner and that nothing good is in you apart from God.

You recognize that it is by grace that God can save you and there is nothing you can do to earn salvation. You recognize that good works won’t get you to heaven, but the free gift of grace alone.

When you place your faith in Christ, He is the one that changes you. You don’t have to clean yourself up first. That’s God’s job. He changes your desires.

Trusting in Christ is not a religion or a list of rules and legalism. It’s a relationship with your Creator, God who wants to know you personally. Who died to save you, who rose from the dead, and who is coming again. He will never fail you and He is your hope.

Scott’s Legacy

Let’s carry Scott’s legacy with us always. Let’s grow and learn together and share our struggles so we can be healed (James 5:16). Let’s love because love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). Let’s be changed people and make a difference in the world for God’s glory and not let evil and darkness win again.

We have much to learn from you Scott. Thank you for your legacy to all of us. You are loved and we’ll see you soon enough.

Read Scott McCreedy’s Obituary in the News & Record


Remembering Scott McCreedy: Friend & Faithful Reader

Scott McCreedy left a mark on so many lives with his smile, genuine spirit, and servant’s heart. I met Scott in the 6th grade at Southwest Middle School in High Point, NC.

I remember taking classes with Scott, that he was a gifted soccer player, was one of the first guys in our class to grow facial hair, and that everyone liked Scott (especially the girls!).

I graduated from high school with him in 2000. From 2000-2009, I didn’t know Scott but when we reconnected on Facebook a few years ago, I found out he had served our country in the Navy as a rescue swimmer and I was so proud of him.

In July 2009, he sent a Facebook message to me out of the blue that I had saved. Here’s what it said:

Thanks.

Hey Samantha,

I just wanted to let you know that I am really enjoying reading your Blogs… I am going through a tough transition in my life and your thoughts/words are really helpful… thanks and god bless…. keep reaching out, there are alot out there who need it.

Best for you and your family,

Scott

I didn’t know Scott was reading my blog and ironically, I was going through a time where I wanted to quit blogging. His note encouraged me to keep pressing on and that God was speaking to his heart. Just a few weeks ago, he “liked” a new Facebook page I had created and a quote I posted by A.W. Tozer. I was very appreciative of his continued support and encouragement with my writing.

That was the last I really “heard” from him and yesterday I found out the shocking news that he had taken his life. I had trouble sleeping last night and my heart just breaks again today. My husband has been helping me process it all.

Scott’s father wrote a very thoughtful post on Facebook explaining Scott’s struggle with depression and his request that we pray for God’s mercy and love. I appreciated that his father took the time to share his heart. It helped bring peace to my heart.

Many people I know battle with depression, anxiety, and hopelessness on a daily basis. I have dealt with some anxiety and depression (postpartum) after having my second child. No one ever fully knows a person’s situation or struggle and the darkness they feel. I think it’s important to be compassionate and not judgmental towards those who are experiencing such inner turmoil and pain.

I am thankful that on the cross, Jesus crushed sin and death once and for all and that today, our ultimate hope is in Him. The historical resurrection of Christ is our present hope that Jesus will fulfill his promises in the future when he will heal the hurting hearts and bring life to those who love and trust in Him.

I believe that Scott is with His Savior and that all his tears and pain have been wiped away. My heart is sad because his life has been cut short, but I’m looking forward to when we will all experience a fullness and an abundance to life that none of us have yet seen or known.

We love you Scott and you will be missed greatly.

** Additional resources if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one:

Coping with Death and Grief- Focus on the Family article

What Happens When You Die? John Piper Audio Sermon and article

A Christian Perspective on Grief– audio

Switch to mobile version