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For to us a child is born

December 20, 2015

CCF05092011_00001“For 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. Of the greatness 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 9:6-7 NIV

Do these verses sound familiar to you? For to us a child is born is on Christmas greeting cards in almost any store that sells them. This time of year we hear the music of Christmas from loudspeakers played everywhere from grocery stores to churches, though I wonder how many of us really listen to the message.

Megiddo Feeding TroughWhat does it mean For to us a child is born?

Isaiah couched the prophecy among others he made regarding Israel, some of future joy and others of future destruction and exile. Even in his day, I doubt Isaiah’s hearers fully understood his message. Some of it made sense and spoke of nations of which they were familiar. He spoke warnings to them and gave them the word of the Lord. But in among the confusion or fears of coming judgment to His disobedient people, God also spoke peace.

He told Isaiah to tell His people that a child was coming, a son who would carry the government on his shoulders. Can you picture it? In our imaginations we might see the Greek god Atlas carrying the weight of the heavens on his shoulders, a burden and punishment apparently given by Zeus (another Greek god).

IMG_5216But this Son, this child Isaiah predicted was coming, would not carry the government as punishment but as reward. He came as a child–fulfilled in Luke 2 where shepherds were told, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…

The prophesy was given in parts. No infant is capable of ruling a government, nor did He fulfill, in His infancy some of His other roles. He did not come as a child to sit on David’s throne…then. He did not come to establish His kingdom or uphold it with justice…then. He came as a child. His first purpose was to be what the angels pronounced to the shepherds–a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord.

photo-68We sing songs like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” which words include, “glory to the newborn king.” He did come as a king. The wise men knew it when they followed all of the signs to find Him. But this King came virtually incognito. Except for the star pointing like a majestic finger and the angels declaring the triumphant entry of God to earth, Jesus came quietly. No fan fare. No trumpets blaring for all to rise and bow down to Him.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…


The truth is, Isaiah’s prophecy sounds more like God was giving us a precious gift
–like all babies who are born into the world–except–this One was so much more.

He was royalty, but He didn’t claim the right to be born in a palace. He was Almighty God, but He veiled His glory in human flesh. He was Wonderful Counselor (the role His Spirit would assume in our lives), Everlasting Father (the Giver of all good things–the whole Trinity was there in that moment), the Prince of Peace (Savior, the Messiah, the Lord.)

560922_487788301244092_1311217465_nSomeday the rest of Isaiah’s prophecy will be fulfilled, and the sentences and paragraphs in chapter 9 will all make more sense to us than they do today. Someday the child who grew to be a man to fulfill the destiny of Savior, Messiah, and Lord through His death and resurrection for our sins against His royal, Almighty Father, will take up that mantle of government and rule and reign on David’s throne as was promised to David millennia ago. He won’t be like the rulers of the past or the rulers of governments we see today. He will reign in justice and righteousness forever.

But for now…this year, this season…we celebrate a Savior, the Messiah, Christ the Lord.

For to us a child is born…

Merry Christmas!

 

by jill at 9:05 pm in

That’s Why Christmas

December 5, 2015

Bethlehem Shop 2This year, we will have a Michigan Christmas with long-distance kids. Not exactly what I would have picked, but you know, even this change has good things wrapped inside of it because God is in this season and God is in our hearts. I know that wherever He leads and whatever He does, He will never leave us nor forsake us–we are not alone, no matter how it looks to a watching world.

That’s not true for everyone though, is it? The truth is, so many of us are lonely and hurting and wondering if God has forgotten how much we need Him. It’s hard to watch cruelty and senseless violence or feel like our world is out of control. And on a personal level it is equally hard to feel our bodies failing, our lives growing less significant, our purpose in question to the point that we even wonder why we are here? What purpose is there for us when there is so little for us to do? So little life left to live?

CIMG0503I saw this often when I used to visit my dad in the nursing home. People sitting in chairs, staring into space, waiting for someone to visit, someone to love them–to care that they still existed.

And I would walk out of that place and pray, “Why, Lord?” It hurts to see humanity is such conditions. My father-in-law use to tell me, “Don’t get old.” And I would think, “Too late! I’m already headed there.” But of course, the quip in response is, “Yes, but the alternative…” Most of us don’t like to think that far.

But we should. Because the end of all things is near, according to Scripture. And Solomon in all of his wisdom said that it was better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting because the living would take it to heart. Wise men think ahead. Wise women ask the “why” questions. We want to know our purpose. We want to know that we are not here by accident, that there is something better, something other than just this.

Megiddo Feeding TroughWe want to know that life isn’t just about growing up, getting married, having kids, watching the kids grow up, saying goodbye, and maybe getting to be part of the next generation, to leave a legacy, because even a legacy isn’t enough. Christmas shows us that, doesn’t it? We want to know that beyond this life we aren’t just leaving memories for our kids to pass on to future generations until we are forgotten. We want to live on. God set eternity in our hearts. It’s there. Can you not feel it?

The whole reason for Christmas was never about having the kids open gifts beneath the tree. It isn’t even about the joy of being together as family, as much as that means to you and to me. The reason for Christmas has also been Christ. It’s always been about the future, the final destination.

IMG_3584Jesus stepped into time to fix what was broken, to bridge a gap so wide we could not have crossed it in a thousand lifetimes, to bring us hope.

And for the joy set before Him, for the joy of having us with Him, to live with purpose on into eternity, fully alive, young or old,  for thisHe came as a newborn infant and made His bed in an animal’s feeding trough. And He endured far more than we ever will so that He could promise to never leave us or forsake us. Even in a nursing home, even in separation or pain–we would never be alone–because we have Him. And one day He will escort us into eternity to be with Him forever. If we will just believe Him.

That’s why Christmas. Though the trappings and the way we celebrate may change, the reason never does. It never should. Not if we know Him. Because He never changes. We can count on Him and find purpose and joy and a future in Him.

For unto you is born this day, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Messiah. Savior. Christ. Adonai. Elohim. Yeshua.

Jesus.

Selah~

 

by jill at 9:13 pm in

Thanksgiving

November 26, 2015

It’s late here and the end of another Thanksgiving, but before I settle in with a book to read, I had a few thoughts to share. I’ve spent a lot of time this year searching for gratitude and an attitude of thanksgiving, so this year’s celebration was one that kind of capped that search. One thing I’ve discovered in the middle of struggle is that remembering God loves me and praising Him and thanking Him makes all of the struggles seem small by comparison.

IMG_5216If you look at a sunset or stand at the edge of the vast ocean or look down from the heights of clouds out of the window of an airplane, you get a sense of how very small you are. But I think that sometimes, in the grand scheme of life, we tend to forget those moments and start to imagine that life revolves around us. Life becomes very small when it involves only our little world.

I had a few of those melancholy thoughts today because our little corner of life is so much smaller than it once was. When our kids were young, life was crazy busy, holidays chaotic, shopping and baking and party planning took time and energy and we tended to rush through it, even as we hurried to capture the moments before the blur ended. If not for pictures, my memory might not be so good because as soon as January turned the corner, it was off to the next birthday or school schedule or planned activity or this-is-supposed-to-be-fun vacation.

IMG_1603But now, life is a little slower. And the kids don’t rush down the stairs to eat that big turkey dinner with the extra stuffing and at least two kinds of pie. While we weren’t alone for the Thanksgiving meal, things weren’t the same. Life isn’t the same.

But this year I can guarantee life changed in some way or another for every person on this planet. I don’t always notice that in my work-from-home office. But as I’ve gotten to know more people at church or out in the world this year, I’ve seen that beneath the veneer of cheerfulness, we all struggle. We all have bad days, difficult weeks, frustrating circumstances, challenging relationships, upsetting health issues. Some of us just hide our struggles better than others do.

IMG_4732Some of us are standing on the shores of life feeling very small. We wonder if things will ever get better. We battle emotions we don’t know what to do with. And we don’t know where to turn.

I’ve felt that way this past year. There was a point at which I was not sure I could take any more stuff. My world had become very small and wrapped around me.

But God…don’t you love those words?

God has taught me so much in those moments. And when pain increased, so did prayer. I started to fight my way out of despair and took a big risk. I began to truly praise the Lord in the middle of those storms. While I was seeking a hand to pull me up, I found it in gratitude and praise and thanksgiving for what God had already done for me, what He is still going to do through me, and with all those things I’ve entrusted to Him. Sometimes my only words are “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

IMG_5943And yet those words–words of Scripture spoken back to the One who first uttered them, are filled with such grace. And grace brings gratitude. Grace is a treasure, a pearl of great price, a reason for thanks giving.

Were there good times this year? Absolutely! But there were a lot of changes too, and that’s when my world seems small because adjusting to new phases of life takes me a bit of time. And yet, in light of eternity, I don’t have to think the world revolves around me. My world expands and grows, explodes with joy and wonder as I gaze heavenward and watch the sunset or toward the things God has made that are so much bigger, grander than me.

The heavens declare the glory of God. They’re shouting His praises just by being!

On this Thanksgiving, I can do the same.

Selah~

 

 

by jill at 11:18 pm in

What does it mean to forgive?

November 16, 2015

IMG_2980In church yesterday our pastor talked about forgiveness. He took us to a parable Jesus told about the servant with the huge debt that his master forgave, but then that servant went out and found a fellow servant and choked him, demanding his money back. (Read the story here.) Of course, if you’ve read The Crimson Cord, you know that I used this parable in Gamal’s character to show how it might have played out in ancient times.

But the parable Jesus told was more than a story. It was meant to teach truth.

To put it in modern terms, let’s look at it this way:

Bethlehem Shop 2Suppose you stole something. Perhaps it was as small as a few office supplies or a piece of gum at a grocery store in one of those bulk bins. We justify ourselves when we think the little stuff doesn’t matter. But maybe we move on to stealing music or movies or books from “free” sources and then to cheating on our taxes or lying to our neighbor. (Yeah, lying is a form of stealing because it is stealing the truth from another person.) Say our lies move us on to bigger temptations and we start flirting with a married co-worker rather than standing by our man. What if that flirting leads to sleeping with someone who is not our spouse?

IMG_4137Or maybe we get in over our head financially, so we find ways to get out of paying our debts. (Jesus’ character had this problem and his debt got so big in today’s dollars he could have owed a trillion or at least billions of dollars.) There was no way in a thousand lifetimes that he could have repaid what he owed.

When someone hurts us in one of these ways–stealing from us, lying to us, cheating on us, lying about us, etc., etc., it hurts, doesn’t it? Or maybe they don’t do any of these things, they just say mean things because for whatever reason they don’t like us. Or we hurt them unintentionally, so they react back. Or we just happen to be in the way when that stranger takes out their anger at the store or on the road. Been there? How many cases of road rage could be avoided if we forgave instead of retaliated?

Korazim Ruins 9That’s what the master in the parable did. He forgave a debt that was impossible to repay. Sometimes we are faced with relationships where the hurt goes so deep we think we simply can’t ever forgive. But this master did so.

You would think the servant would be grateful, wouldn’t you? (You would think Gamal would have been grateful too – if you’ve read The Crimson Cord.) And you would think I would be more grateful when I stop and remember the things God’s had to forgive me for doing, saying, thinking. I’m sorry to say, I’m not always as thankful as I should be either.

Masada 19This forgiven servant had a short memory or maybe he thought he deserved to be forgiven, but he turned right around and went off to collect his debts. He was probably out of cash, since he obviously had just been in debt himself, so he figured he’d get some quick. (Rather than wait for his next paycheck?) In any case, you know the story. He demands the very thing of others that he has been forgiven of in his own life. He refuses kindness and grace to others, though he has just received it in great measure.

He shows no mercy.

He refuses to forgive.

And in the end, he loses the grace he’d been given and his life is in ruins.

Wailing Wall 5What was Jesus saying in this parable? Was He suggesting that if we are forgiven in Christ we can somehow lose that forgiveness? That we can lose the saving grace, the gift of life He’s already given to us? As our pastor reminded us yesterday, the rest of the Bible does not support that thought. No one, not even ourselves, can snatch us out of God’s hands. Our very names are written there if we are His.

But oh the pain we can suffer when we live with an unforgiving spirit! I personally think that some of the references to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” can come in this life when we allow ourselves to live with bitterness. (And I’m sorry to say, I’ve been there too. Some lessons are learned from living in these pits, but we sure don’t want to stay there!)

Sunrise over Jerusalem 16The Bible tells us not to go to bed angry lest we give the devil a foothold. That means, that anger left unchecked, allowed to fester and grow, sinks its feet into our innermost being and resides there. The enemy has us right where he wants us because when we live with a bitter, unforgiving spirit, we become ineffective at showing the light of Jesus into a dark world. The light that is in us is hidden, nearly quenched, the longer we allow that unforgiving spirit to reside in our hearts.

Someone once said, “Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” But it is we who are the ones who are slowly dying from the poison of that bitter drink. And we hurt everyone around us that wants to love us.

IMG_4518So how do we forgive that person who is choking the life out of us wanting their debt repaid? Or how do we forgive that person who has done all the things mentioned above? We hurt each other so easily, don’t we? And yet God extends grace with such willingness if we but ask.

Sometimes forgiveness is daily and it is always a choice. It is not always a feeling. I might not feel like forgiving someone, especially if they are not sorry and keep doing the same things. But I can keep on choosing to forgive them because God gives me the grace to do so. I can pray blessings on them. I can release my own stranglehold on them lest I end up just as bitter.

Hurt people hurt people, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Jesus came to heal our hurts. He told the story to show us God’s grace. And if God can be so giving to us, wouldn’t we want to follow His example and do the same for each other?

Selah~

 

by jill at 2:08 pm in

Time and memories and four years later

November 9, 2015

CCF05092011_00001When they say time flies I wonder what that would look like if time housed a physical frame, had substance. If time had the wings of an eagle would it’s flight be slow, regal? Or should we picture it more like a hummingbird’s wings that cannot seem to hold still long enough to even see its colors without slow-motion video?

Amy Grant sings a song where she says, “Time is illusion, time is a curse.” In some ways, I would agree for when it flies too fast for us and change whisks us into another of life’s dimensions, it can feel like blessing as equally as it can feel like a curse. But however we look at it, time is not static. Its movement is constant and incessant and daily. And before we know it years have come and gone.

CCF01092011_00004_2That’s how I felt this week looking back to yesteryear. Thirty-three years ago this week, life was wonderful, exciting, new and maybe a little bit scary as I held my firstborn son in my arms for the very first time. How grateful we were for that day, a day we had long prayed for, and there we were, at last. Where did thirty-three years go? Really. Tell me how they slipped by when we weren’t looking, because in my heart it was just the other day that I sat with a two-year old in Oshkosh overalls doing 100-piece puzzles and watching Sesame Street and later snuggling up with Dr. Seuss and “It’s Not Easy Being a Bunny” and Bible stories at bedtime.

Fast forward three kids grown and nearly eight years ago to the excitement to our first overseas trip to Israel, which came on the heels of my first book contract for The Wives of King David series. That year, 2008, was a whirlwind for us. Kids made some life-changing decisions and my dad’s health took a downward turn. That trip to Israel kept me filled with warm memories while I sat in a hospital room and watched my dad suffer in pain from a broken hip.

IMG_4851He was never the same after that. They said in time he would walk again. He didn’t. He spent the rest of his life in a nursing home and we had a weekly McDonald’s date where I brought him his favorite food and coffee (don’t ever forget the coffee!) and watched his face light up to see me. I hated that place because I didn’t want him to have to live there, but I would go back again if only to see his face once more.

Instead, today, on the eve of the fourth anniversary of his passing, my mom and I went to visit his grave. Cemeteries are good places to realize how fleeting time really is. To think his earthly body has been buried under that sod all this time, and yet, I know that’s not where his soul resides. Those Bible stories we read to our children didn’t start with us. They were a legacy passed on from watching how much the Bible changed my dad’s life.

He came as we all must come to Jesus, with the faith of a little child, and he told me once that he “walked the sawdust trail” at a revival meeting when he was only four years old. Does the faith of a four-year-old matter? It mattered to my dad. He may have had his doubts, but if he did, he didn’t share them. Instead, he spent every single day reading that Bible, cover to cover, year after year for as long as I can remember.

DSCF0166And I think it is that legacy and the memory of his quiet sense of humor that I miss most as I’ve been thinking about him this week. He went home to his heavenly Father two days after his son’s birthday and the day before his grandson’s birthday.

I’ve also been thinking that birth and death are more similar than we think. Before birth, we are cocooned in shadow, hidden in the secret place, until suddenly we are thrust into this world of noise and light and the jarring realization that we can’t go back and live in such safety ever again. (I wonder if that’s in part why babies cry at birth?)

As we get older and meet the world, we encounter good…and bad. We meet darkness and separation and suffer pain and we eventually realize that this world lacks a whole lot of things and needs more fixing that anyone has ever been able to offer. We feel rejection and disillusionment and experience hunger and thirst and don’t we all know deep down where truth lives that there has to be something more? Something eternal?

In eighty-nine years on this planet, my dad lived through a lot of good and a lot of bad. But I can tell you one thing, when he knew his time was nearing its end, he wasn’t afraid. He knew death was a lot like birth–he was going to be leaving all he knew (like that first sheltered cocoon) and be thrust (born, if you will) into a new world of glorious discovery.

FullSizeRender-11So on November 10, 2011, he took that journey that is so much like birth, left us for a world he’d never seen before, only read about in that Book he knew so well.

There is song Phil Wickham sings called “Heaven Song”, which two of my boys sang at my dad’s funeral. Mom and I listened to it today on the way to the cemetery. It seems strange to picture my dad “running on greener pastures” or “dancing on higher hills” but I’ll bet he would tell us that the purest water there is far better than McDonald’s coffee!

And time has no wings there. In fact, I rather doubt Daddy has even noticed four years have come and gone. He would not care that the grass is growing over his headstone. If he has any unfulfilled desires at all, they would be to have his family with him there where pure love and joy and light never leave. But that’s a subject for another time.

IMG_5943Time. There it always goes again. Flying off like a hummingbird rather than soaring slowly like a gull. Already the sun has set here and dinner beckons and another day is nearing its end. And tomorrow I will go on remembering all the wonderful memories this November week has brought our way. Until the final day comes and I won’t look back wondering where it all went, but will look ahead to discover the things my dad has already found to be true.

He knew it all along because he read it every day in that Book. But now he knows it with more than just a soul-aching hunger that there must be more. Because there is more.

And he has seen it. And one day I will too.

Selah~

by jill at 6:29 pm in