Friday, December 31, 2010

December 31, 2010

2010 has turned out to be quite a year. Despite some very trying seasons, I will remember it as one of my favorite so far. Here are a few of the events that made this year so memorable. Most link to a blog post about it:

Paintballing for the first time

In between events, I got to experience so many special "everyday" things. Talking about our precious Lord with Erin so often, loving on two adorable Johnson children, dinners on Friday nights with friends, growing a deeper understanding about love through my grandparents, gaining a greater appreciation for family, and a stronger desire for God.

The greatest lesson of this year was the importance of listening: to God speak, to breaking hearts, to great joys, to prayers, to people's passions, to each other. Not only listening but patient, open minded listening. It amazes me how important the act of keeping quiet can be. It's humbling and changes you. I still talk a lot but much less than I did this time last year.

Thank you, Lord, for standing stone moments that marked this year. Thank you for letting us see you move and do your work. Thank you for experiences that draw us so much closer to you. Thank you for the joy you brought us. Thank you for the tears you cried with us and dried for us. Above all, thank you for your presence with us, for going before us, and for pointing us all back to you. Praise you for the gift of 2010! All glory goes to you!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Favorite Gift

A year and ten months ago, I visited Houston's First Baptist Church for the first time. I remember dragging my feet to go because I was scared - Not because I was concerned about not liking it or not knowing anyone but because I knew that I would love it. What would that mean? What choices would I have to make and how would they be received? What would my response to others be? More specifically, what would my response be to my family? I knew it would be hard but I went. I loved it, like I knew I would. Telling the family was scary and it has definitely been a growing process for us all. When I first told Mom and Dad, I told them that I would love for them to come visit with me but I wasn't going to pressure and bug them about coming. It was an open invitation for any time they were here. I never asked again but hoped and prayed for the day I would be able to share where I am now. Friday night, it happened.

Christmas Eve came filled with visiting, playing, and cooking. However, at 5:00, there we sat in the in Worship Center: Gregg, Erin, Liz, Mom, Dad, Bladen, and me. I felt like it was already Christmas morning and I was five years old again. We were sitting in this place that has grown to mean so much to me. On stage were the worship leaders that I worship with every week. We heard a message by a minister that the Lord uses in my life weekly. All around us were the body of believers that walk out this life together. All things and people that I have grown to love. On that night, I sat surrounded by all of these familiar things side-by-side with those I love most. It was a beautiful service - scripture intertwined with song only briefly paused by a wonderful reminder of what our response to Christmas should be. The kids did great. We stopped. We sang. We focused. We worshipped. We. We. We. All shared with my family. They got to experience a taste of this place I love. I got to share this part of my life with them. I got to show them the heart of where I worship. It was sweet.

Of everything that I received this Christmas, that service together was the best gift I was given. There are a lot of things that I have been hoping for in life. Not many of them have come to be yet but God was sweet to fulfill this greatest hope this Christmas. A nearly two year prayer answered - my family together at HFBC. Just once was all that was needed. They came because they love me. They came to see this part of my life. They came.

Hope fulfilled and prayer answered.

The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. - I Thessalonians 5:24

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Hope of His Presence

In a couple of days, we will be celebrating Christmas. This holiday has grown to have deeper meaning to me each year. The past few months, I have been looking forward to Christmas a lot - the music, the lights, the joy of children (my family and students). However, this isn't even the part of Christmas that has captured my mind and heart the most.

A few weeks ago at Celebration, there was a section in which the prophet Isaiah sang of the lost state of Israel and the coming of a promised Savior. It immediately shifted to a scene of the Jewish people throughout the 400 years of silence between the prophecies and the birth of Jesus. I've thought about this scene a lot over the past few weeks. I've known this fact for years but can you imagine? Nothing from God for 400 years. That would be like not hearing from God since before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Nothing. Silence.

What would that be like? Everything promised met by what must have seemed like nothing. All of the hope of generations of people unrealized in their lifetime. They heard the stories and promises from their grandparents and parents. They told them to their children and grandchildren. They looked and listened in hope. For generations......

Not what they were expecting. Not what they were looking and longing for. He was all they had hoped for and more. While they would not see it, He was fulfilled promise, realized hope, God Himself. While they were looking for a king, God left Heaven and brought His presence to us. Our Emmanuel.

I think of Anna and Simeon - two of the first to see their hope fulfilled. Both were promised to live to see salvation. In comes this infant promise with His teenage parents. Both praised God, blessed the child, and left knowing they had been in the presence of God.

In case you haven't figured it out, hope and presence are the themes of this season for me. We can all say that the past few months have been sprinkled with things that have brought joy and pain. I'm no different. I've experienced disappointment, exhaustion, doubt, injustice, joy, beauty, and laughter. There have been times when hope has been hard fought for but there aren't many better things to fight for. There have been times of experiencing the presence of God so closely that the only thing keeping me on this earth is this flesh my spirit is wrapped in.

Many will celebrate the birth of a baby this weekend. It's so much more than that. It is God's fulfilled promise of salvation. He closed the gap that stood between us and God. He not only brought the forgiveness of sin but He destroyed the barrier between us and Him. We now have full access to Him! We can come to Him and He longs for it!

My prayer is for the joy of hope - that we would not lose ourselves or give up to discouragement in this life. My prayer is that we would be open to seeing God's fulfillment of our hope and not being blinded by our expectations of what that would look like. That we praise God, bless Jesus, and long for the presence of God.

Emmanuel has come! He is here! He wants to be your fulfilled hope and He wants you to know His presence. This is the message of Christmas.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Seeing First Hand

This poem was written by a man on staff at HFBC and was used in the Celebration presentation this weekend. It is lengthy but beautiful as it tells the whole story. Enjoy in this beautiful season:

Seeing First Hand by Stephen Smith

To say the scene in Bethlehem that night
was "only the beginning" would be a vast understatement.

For as the years passed, the boy grew.....

He would escape with his parents to Egypt
He would return to settle in the home city of Nazareth
He would be trained as a carpenter.

He would see his world differently than others
He would answer his teachers' questions with amazing clarity
He would love his earthly parents.

And all the while, there....Mary and Joseph
Seeing first hand the story unfold as the angels promised.

Even as the confines of his earthly body expanded,
So too, his spirit expanded to grip the reality of his calling.

For as the years passed, the man grew......

He would hear the voice of his heavenly Father
He would see his mission come alive in his heart
He would go down to the water to John the Baptizer.

He would stun the wedding party in Cana as the water turned to fine wine
He would open the eyes of a blind beggar
He would change the life of the Samaritan woman forever.

And all the while, there.....Jesus.
He would see first hand the story unfold just as his heavenly Father promised.

Even as the palm branches fell under the feet of the humble King,
He knew the mind and heart of the religious leaders.

And as the days passed, the crowds grew.....

He would wreck the moneychangers' stalls in the temple
He would join his disciples for the Passover meal
He would journey to the garden to pray and prepare.

He would be traded to the guard for a kiss
His hands would be bound
He would be tried and mocked before the religious council.

He would stand before Pilate
He would be tested with the whip
He would be paraded through the streets.

His hands and feet would be nailed to a wooden cross
He would be wounded for the sins of the world
He would take his last breath.

And all the while, there....his brothers and disciples
Seeing first hand the story unfold just as Jesus had foretold.

But to say the scene on the cross that Friday
was "the end of the story" would be to end the matter much too quickly.

For this "end" was no "end" at all, but a brilliant beginning
And as the day dawned.....the light grew.

And the light shown in the darkness
and the darkness could neither explain it, nor blot it out.

And all the while, we, who have known nothing BUT the night,
Have had our eyes opened and we behold His Resplendent Face.

He would rise from the grave...
He would ascend into heaven...
He would save the world.....

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Smiling in the Rain

This morning my car broke down. On the way to church this morning, it just started downshifting on its own and without reason. Well, I'm sure there is a reason. I'm just a girl that doesn't know much about cars. For me, this is a very scary thing. Something I don't understand or know how to fix. In other words, the potential for a bad day. However, it turned into a very good one. So, since I like lists so much, here are all of the reasons why the car breaking down wasn't such a bad thing:

- I was on the access road, NOT I-10, pulling into a parking lot.
- I was running late for church so there were no other cars around me.
- I got ahold of Erin on her phone which she usually leaves at home on Sunday mornings.
- I got ahold of Erin (and therefore Dad), as they are saying goodbye to get back on the road to go back to Pleasanton.
- Once I was able to talk to Dad, we were able to figure out what to do in a sensible way that I couldn't see before.
- Dad was able to rule out scary things that could be wrong with the car.
- I got to meet an interesting Lebanese man for 20 minutes to whom I will never speak again.
- I got to spend some extra, unplanned time with Mom and Dad.
- I got a day to relax at home with no guilt whatsoever.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Without Direction

This Monday my fall bible study came to an end. We spent two and a half months working through the book of Titus. If you would have told me that this book would be so incredibly challenging, I would have scoffed at you. And I would have been wrong. It was hard connecting sound doctrine to sound living. I know these lessons are not over yet and there is still a lot to learn.

One of the weeks was spent on the roles of members in the church - older and younger men and women specifically. As we talked about it, we all started to notice a common longing. None of us have mentors. By this I don't mean someone we look up to. None of us have someone who has intentionally decided to come along side us to show us what life looks like in the next stage. We don't have an older woman to invest in us - teaching and sharing the wisdom that they could share with us. No one inviting us into their homes or to meet with us regularly to share life with. On the reverse side, we don't have anyone we are mentoring either. No one younger than us to invest in, meet with, and possibly share what little wisdom we have. It is sad.

When did this happen? I know that in attempts for churches to help people walk out life together, we have allowed ourselves to be sectioned off into our own corners - college students, singles, newly marrieds, young families, youth groups/parents, empty nesters, "golden agers". However, the beauty of mentoring/discipling is being lost. We are becoming more and more isolated within ourselves with little direction from those who have been there and done that.

I know it isn't just my generation that is feeling this loss. I have a dear friend that is in her early 50s. She has lamented several times that she would love someone to mentor her. Yet, she doesn't have that someone. I'm not innocent in this either. Teenagers scare me to death (not joking or exaggerating here) and I don't know many people in college. I could be doing it but with who?

So I find myself wondering what the next step is. How do we fix what has been broken? Where do we find the wisdom we so desperately crave?