At The End Of The Bethlehem Road

3b17288306b4ff728bdb6ed9c6f87894I wish I was one of those people who loved to travel. Don’t get me wrong. I love sight-seeing historical landmarks, hiking mountain trails and walking through ancient ruins, but I’m not what you call a world-traveler. I’m not a jet-setter. I’m not even a happy-camper.

In my lifetime, I’ve journeyed to New York more than once both for pleasure and for ministry. I’ve toured New England and crossed the border into Canada. I’ve flown across country to visit a cousin in California who drove me up and down scenic Highway 1 and around winding mountain roads to stand beneath the mighty redwoods. I’ve been to the Holy Land and walked where Jesus walked and to Greece where I stood on the Acropolis and listened to the wind sweep through the ancient columns. I’ve been to Disney World and even cruised around Mexico, but I still don’t like to travel. It’s not that I don’t like experiencing more of God’s big, beautiful world. I just don’t like the journey.

I can’t seem to put aside my fear of flying. I can’t rid myself of this awful curse of motion sickness. I can’t even get a good night’s sleep if I’m not sleeping in my own bed. The older I get, the less I want to leave the comfort of my home. Somehow, though, I don’t think God wants me to become a homebody. I think God’s got something in mind for me that includes the discomforts of all that traveling requires…the loneliness of days on the road, the weariness of sleepless nights, the restlessness of a queasy stomach, the helplessness as I face my fears.

I happen to believe there’s a Bethlehem Road we all have to travel. Forced by Roman law to leave the comfort and familiarity of their home in Nazareth, Mary and Joseph journeyed over a hundred miles to Bethlehem to fulfill God’s plan and purpose for Jesus’ birth. It wasn’t an easy journey. They traveled on foot…Mary on the back of a donkey and very pregnant. (I’m sure she experienced a few bouts of motion sickness.) They slept under the stars every night of the journey…on a cold, hard ground.  (I’m sure they experienced a few sleepless nights.) They fought off waves of fear…at the thought of raising the perfect Son of God. (I’m sure they wondered what in the world they would ever be able to teach the Omniscent One.)

Yet, the Bethlehem Road was the most important journey of Mary and Joseph’s lives because at the end of the road  God performed the greatest miracle of all time. Jesus was born without the comforts of home, without a midwife, without family gathered around to share in the joy of His birth, without even a proper blanket for He was wrapped in swaddling cloths, long strips of linen wrapped around His body to keep Him still and quiet.

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:4-7

I’d say the loneliness of weeks on the road, the weariness of sleepless nights, the restlessness of a queasy stomach and the helplessness of their fears was worth it. To witness the miracle of Jesus’ birth, to hear the Son of God cry out with His first breath, to cradle the Hope for all mankind…oh, yes, it was worth it. The road to Bethlehem with all it’s discomforts and potholes and uphill climbs was so worth bringing the Savior into the world.

Wanna hear something wonderful? Miracles still happen at the end of the Bethlehem Road.

As I approach yet another year in my faith journey I wonder just what lies ahead. Sure, there will be potholes to avoid, mountains to climb, starry nights to keep me company on sleepless nights and upset stomachs to pamper, but I’m convinced God is up to something new in my life. The birth of Jesus was a new beginning for God’s people and Mary and Joseph witnessed God work a mighty miracle in their lives. The journey to Bethlehem may have been difficult, but it was life-changing.

I’m believing God for a few miracles of my own. Since I have an active imagination I like to ponder things and I wonder…what if Mary and Joseph hadn’t obeyed God and taken the road to Bethlehem? As I sit at my computer and type this question tears pool in my eyes because I don’t even want to think about it. Life might be so different for all of us, but I also have to ask myself: What if I didn’t want to take the road God has mapped out for me in my own life? What if I choose a road that doesn’t lead to ‘Bethlehem’ where God wants to birth something new? What miracle would I miss out on?

I don’t know about you, but I want to see God work miracles in my life. I want to see Him birth change. I want to see Him create something new in my life. I may not always know where God is leading me, but I know He will never take me down a long and weary road if it won’t be worth it. I’d rather have a hundred sleepless nights and face a thousand fears as I journey through life than to miss the miracles waiting for me at the end of my Bethlehem Road.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll become a world-traveler after all. Maybe God will lift the curse of motion sickness. Maybe I’ll learn to love flying across friendly skies with God as my Pilot. Maybe I’ll sleep like a baby on unknown turf wrapped in the swaddling cloths of God’s protective arms.

Maybe…all I know is, I don’t want to miss out.

Big Girl Faith

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me–holy is His name.” Luke 1:48 & 49

These are the words of Mary, the young girl chosen to be the mother of Jesus. Wow. A virgin pregnant with the Son of God. What happened to her was beyond human understanding. Beyond human belief. Mary faced ridicule, rejection and a possible divorce form the man she was pledged to marry. To sing a song of praise to her God was a pretty remarkable thing. After all, she was just a child herself. A teenage girl. Have you ever wondered if you, at such a time as this…in the faith with which you possess at this moment…could have paused with a song in your heart to praise the Mighty One?

I was saved at the age of eight. Being a preacher’s daughter I grew up in the church. I began memorizing Bible verses and singing hymns loaded with Christian doctrine from the moment I began to talk. I believe I loved Jesus even before I asked Him to be my Savior, but if I’m to be completely honest, I didn’t have the faith of Mary during my teenage years. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit I was more like a prodigal who wanted to go my own way and rebel against the God of my father.

Not Mary, though. She had a special place in God’s heart because of her faith: “Do not be afraid, Mary (the angel told her), you have found favor with God..,.For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1: 30 & 37

Scripture tells us more than once that Mary “pondered things in her heart.” She treasured the moments God gave her an understanding of heavenly things. Like the time the shepherds ran to worship Jesus in His humble birthplace because angels told them to and the time Simeon prophesied over Jesus in the temple when He was dedicated. These things happened to encourage Mary’s faith. Without a doubt, she believed God. She even knew that one day a sword would pierce her heart. On the day she knelt at the foot of the Cross and watched her son die, her heart was torn in two. I’m sure she thought it would never mend. But it did.

Mary’s faith may have been big at the time the angel of God came to her as a young teenage girl, but her faith became great when she no longer saw Jesus as her son but as her Savior. Acts, Chapter 1, tells us that after Jesus ascended into heaven, Mary joined the disciples in constant prayer before Pentecost. All the things she had treasured in her heart as she raised the Son of God gave her an understanding of His purpose on earth and prepared her for salvation. Her grief and suffering at the Cross was beyond what most of us will ever experience on this earth. She witnessed Jesus’ agonizing death and responded with a mother’s heart, but it was in her suffering that she found God to be faithful and true. He raised her son from the dead and His Spirit would live forever in her, as He does in us. Even Mary had to grow up in her faith.

What I’m discovering  in my later years is that I’m never to stop “growing up” in my faith. Neither are you. Our trials and our sufferings on this earth aren’t meant to defeat us. They’re meant to refine us. In these last days when our faith is threatened and evil seems to prevail, we’re to be a people who keep our feet firmly planted on the Solid Rock.

Isaiah 7:9 says, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”

The original Hebrew meaning of the word “firm” in this verse means: to build up or support; to foster as a parent or nurse.

In my personal interpretation, I see a faith that is always growing; a faith that is constantly nourished and nurtured. Sometimes that means I have to praise God when things don’t make sense, just as Mary did, because Scripture tells us that He inhabits the praises of His people. It doesn’t mean I praise Him for cancer or death or a broken heart. I praise Him because He is God. Because He is mighty and reigns victorious and through my suffering He will bring about a good work in me. And I pray. With all the saints, I pray.

I love the mustard seed necklace my parents gave me a few years ago. I wear it to remind me of the lessons Jesus teaches us in Scripture about faith:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” Matthew 13:31

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17: 20 & 21

As I reflect on the birth of Christ this Christmas season, l want to be a woman of praise. I want to be a woman whose branches shelter the lost, the hurting, the suffering of this world. I want to be a woman who digs her roots deep into the nourishing soil of God’s Word and allow the Water of Life to move within me in love and power. I want to be a woman who shows a world of doubters what it means to rise up in belief and say,

“My God is a Mountain-Mover! Watch Him Move!”

I don’t want to be satisfied with little girl faith. If little faith can do a lot then don’t you wonder what big girl faith will do? It doesn’t matter how many people want to take Christ out of Christmas, He still lives. He still reigns. He still comes to the Mary’s of this world, to those who have learned to treasure the gift of faith, who believe all things are possible with God.

Why The Christmas Spirit Will Never Die

Fear. Sometimes you can smell it. It permeates the air and sends out waves of anxiety. It causes our hearts to race and our hair to stand on end. It  produces uncontrollable panic. It robs us of joy and steals our peace. It snatches from us the blessing of rest. It thrives on sleepless nights. It’s awful. It’s miserable.

It’s unnecessary.

This is the season of perpetual hope. When dreams of sugar plums dance in our heads as we snuggle warmly in our beds at night. When children sing joy to the world and steeple bells ring peace on earth goodwill to men. When the faithful come joyful and triumphant and silent nights are holy nights. When white Christmases flood our dreams and the sound of sleigh bells echo through the woods. When the star of wonder shines in the nighttime sky and away in a manger a baby is born.

At least, this is the way it should be.

We sing the songs and serenade with carols. We read the stories and meditate on the Word. We watch the movies and admire the live Nativity. We bake. We decorate. We play holiday music and wish one another Merry Christmas, but even in the midst of Christmas, fear creeps in. It catches us by surprise at the most inopportune moments. We stop and take a deep breath. The Christmas spirit is under attack. We want it. We need it. We fight for it.

In these days on the Kingdom Calendar there’s a lot to be fearful about. Our country’s a mess. Our government’s a mess. Our health care system’s a mess. Most of America is struggling to stay afloat. We work so hard and make so little. We’re angry. We’re frustrated. Sometimes it seems out-of-control. Chaotic. We have reason to be afraid.

But we have a greater reason to hope.

When Jesus came to earth things weren’t much different than they are today. God’s people were living in difficult times. They were oppressed by Roman rule. They were taxed to death. They were poor. They lived in fear, but they lived with the hope that Messiah was coming. It was in the midst of this fear that Jesus was born. It was in the midst of these difficult times that Hope came alive.

“…God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said  ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you…Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus.” John 1:26-

The angel wouldn’t have told Mary, ‘Do not fear,’ if she hadn’t been afraid. We don’t need courage if we have no fear. God knows we’re a fearful people. Yes, these are difficult times, but God still comes to us in our fear. He does some of His best work when we’re afraid. There’s something about courage that triumphs over fear. There’s something about the power of God that conquers fear. There’s something about the peace of God that rises above fear. There’s something about the way peace changes the very air we breathe.

The times when fear creeps up on me I remind myself that God. Favors. Me. I may not have lived in biblical times or been chosen to be the mother of Jesus, but I am still chosen. By God. He. Esteems. Me. He looks on me with affection. I’m important to Him. He knows what scares me, what causes me sleepless nights, what produces anxiety in me. When fear creeps in and threatens to steal my joy God reminds me He. Is. With. Me. I don’t have to be oppressed by the rule of fear in my life. Messiah has come.  He. Reigns. He. Rules. He. Lives. In me. And in you, if you’re His child.

Oh My! I think I hear the angels singing…

The good news of the Christmas story is that God is all about hope. He is the Hope-Giver. So, when fear threatens to steal your Christmas spirit just remember: Jesus still brings rest to merry gentlemen and silent stars still go by above our deep and dreamless sleep. He still disperses the gloomy clouds of night and puts death’s dark shadows to flight. He is still the everlasting light and shines in the darkest streets. He still sings to lowly shepherds and calls to  all mankind. He still rises with healing in His wings and one day….oh, happy day…peace will reign over all the earth.

He is still Immanuel. God. With. Us. 

And He is still called, “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

And because Hope is alive, fear cannot survive. Because Hope is alive, the Christmas Spirit will never die…

To Shine Like A Star

The first year God inspired me to design our family’s Christmas card was over twenty years ago. I was sitting at a stoplight waiting for a “Go.” Out of nowhere, in my mind, the picture of baby Jesus appeared, silhouetted against a white backdrop. I had mere seconds to sketch it out on a napkin I retrieved from the glove box. By the time I got home, I knew God wanted me to design a Christmas card. A few days later God birthed a verse: Sweet and simple the Christ child came; the heavens proclaimed His holy name.

I never dreamed that a Christmas tradition was in the making with that first homemade card. Each year, I sketch out the design for the front of the card on mylar or thick paper. I cut a stencil. I use only 3 colors; gold, pine green and brick red. I paint on white card stock. I handwrite each verse. It brings me such joy to know that our family and friends receive such a precious gift from God through me. It’s way bigger than anything I could have dreamed up on my own. It’s a ministry. When an unsaved friend of ours tells me every year how much he looks forward to our Christmas card and that it’s the nicest he receives I realize God has a purpose that reaches far beyond my human creativity. Our unsaved friend has heard the gospel message more than once through these cards.

God has inspired these cards in some very unique ways. Sometimes the picture appears first. Sometimes the verse. I’ve been awakened in the middle of the night with inspiration and I’ve been inspired by a pastor’s sermon. (I had to doodle that one on my bulletin.) One time I sat in my grandmother’s rocker for three hours…waiting…doing absolutely nothing…before God spoke a word. That’s what you call being still and quiet before the Lord.

And sometimes I’m even cleaning house. That’s how the story of Ignatious came to be. Proof that God works in mysterious ways. “Ignatious the Star” ranks as the most beloved and the most unusual of all my cards.

It was August and I was vacuuming, not one of my favorite house cleaning chores. As I pushed and pulled that heavy upright a phrase began to resound in my ears, “There once was a star named Ignatious, who dreamed of being so spacious….”

I stopped vacuuming and actually laughed out loud. What would you have done?! I had no idea what it meant, but over the next few months I would hear this same phrase over and over again while I washed dishes, pulled weeds in the flower beds, painted walls, shopped for groceries. At one point, I started rapping it as I dusted furniture, “There once was a star named Ignatious–boom boom–who dreamed of being so spacious–boom boom.” And I danced a little with every swipe of the dust cloth. Holy Mackerel, I thought I’d gone mental.

Usually around Thanksgiving I start thinking about my Christmas card. I tell God I’m ready and ask Him to speak to me. Wouldn’t you know? The minute I asked God to inspire me I heard that familiar phrase. I stopped. I actually took a seat. I stared off into space and with tears of gratitude that I’d not lost my mind after all I received the rest of the story:

There once was a star named Ignatious, who dreamed of being so spacious;

Though smallest of all he still shown with awe, forever humble and gracious.

He hovered and twinkled and sparkled and sprinkled his light through the darkest of night;

So happy to stand and be part of God’s plan, he was such a glorious sight.

One day he asked God to give him a job, to prove himself to be helpful;

God said, “I’ll give you a task far more than you ask, but only because you’ve been faithful.

Today My child will be born reconciled to bring others to eternal joy;

The light from your heart will shine from the start bringing others to My baby boy.”

Ignatious grew grand and began to expand, his heart overflowing with love;

God’s gift though small was given to all and His light shone down from above.

I’ve had a few friends tell me this would make a great children’s book, but I don’t know. Somehow I think God had a message here just for me. God reminded me through the story of Ignatious that He’ll use anyone with a heart that’s willing and obedient. Sometimes our tasks seem small and insignificant, but God doesn’t see it that way. He gives us small jobs to test our faithfulness and we learn humility in the little things. When we prove ourselves worthy He knows He can trust us with more. No matter how small or how big the task, we have the responsibility to shine…to hover and twinkle and sparkle and sprinkle wherever God sets our feet…to be happy just to stand and be part of God’s plan.

We’re all called to shine the light of Jesus. To point the way to the Savior. We’re walking Christmas cards and who says the spirit of Christmas is only for the month of December? What a wonderful thing to receive inspiration from God while sitting at a stoplight or in the heat of a summer month or while cleaning house! Small things. Mundane tasks. Dreaded Chores. Hovering in one spot. Lighting just one room. It’s all important to God. It’s all part of God’s plan because…

a small thing can turn into a big deed…

a mundane task can turn into an extraordinary work…

a dreaded chore can turn into an anticipated event…

one spot can become many places and one room can become a mansion. My name may not be Ignatious, but I can still be a star.

“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” Daniel 12:3

So, I think I’ll ask God to give me a job and see how helpful I can be. Who knows? Maybe if you look into the nighttime sky this Christmas season you’ll see a star with my name on it. I would love to see you hovering beside me.

Shine on, dear friends, shine on.