Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year, New Dreams



For the first time ever, I asked my Facebook friends to contribute to my blog post today. I asked them to share their hopes for 2012, and mentioned that their responses could be serious, insightful or funny.

They did not disappoint.

I'd like to start with the mixed array of responses to this question. And then I'll share a few of my hopes for 2012. Enjoy...

"My hope is to be consistent in maintaining the relative order I have recently achieved in my home. Living alone, it's often hard to feel like it's worth the effort when no one else sees it. My hope is to continue to see the value of it just because it makes me feel better." Shirley Schuette

"My hope is to be preggers in the next 6 months!!" Monica Cauthorne McClain

"To make an impact." Brandon Lee Hinson

"James 1:27." Elizabeth Coley

"After the baby is here, to be able to look down and see my feet again. :)" Sherrie Lourdon

"To hear God... even if it is a needed rebuke." Dawn Burnett

"My hope is to see my dad healed physically and spiritually, to show love better especially to my family. And as one of the church fathers said to God: to see Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly and follow Thee more nearly." Linda Whaley Johnson

My hope for 2012 is that God takes His time in our lives to show others how BIG He is and that we have the patience to wait on Him." Jennifer Harrison

"That God will bless my family way Beyond Expectations and that we can bless others way beyond expectations!!!!" Venus Newby

"That God will move in a big way to unify my whole family. That parenting will be less stressful and that I will achieve some personal goals. That God would birth some things that I know He has planned for me." Pamela Cole Thorpe

"Lol. My wish is 'to find a seat on the bus and sit down.' Translation: stay put for awhile, enjoy the scenery, settle down, and accept God's direction and timeline." Julie Franklin Haupt (Note: Julie and her husband just relocated their family of five.)

I can relate to each of my friend's hopes for 2012 (except my sweet expectant and wanting-to-be-expecting sisters, that is). I say Amen and Amen to every single hope in my own life (except expecting another baby, that is). Did I mention that already? :)

I'd love to share just a few more dreams for 2012 that I've got running around in my head:
  • I want to go deeper in Jesus this year. I want to grow in my knowledge of the Word and grow in my living of the Word. And I want to be more consistent in leading my children to the Word as well. 2011 was a great year of bible study for us, but I want to be more consistent.
  • I hope to grow as a writer. I want to write every single day of my life, consistently working on the hundreds of ideas that I have on paper. I want to continue writing my nonfiction book and begin a bible study series on the minor prophets.
  • I want to continue caring for orphans (James 1:27 from above), locally and around the world. I hope to use my talents and gifts to create awareness surrounding the needs of the 147 million orphans in the world.
  • I hope to encourage pastor's wives around the globe through our Facebook group and soon-to-be launched blog, A Pastor's Wife's Garden (www.pastorswifesgarden.blogspot.com). Check out the first post tomorrow, New Year's Day, and tell your pastor's wife about it!
So, as you can see, I've got lots of hopes and dreams for 2012. I'm sure you do too. Let's walk together as we trust God to give us His dreams for the New Year.

Trusting Him for an Amazing New Year,

Carla

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

This Christmas: Wait... There's More to the Story


Have you ever enjoyed a movie in the theater, watched the credits roll, then stand to leave, when all of a sudden, a new scene begins? You quickly take your seat, realizing, "Oh great, there's more!"

Well, today's blog is kind of like that. I thought I had completed my retelling of Luke's retelling of the Christmas story... Until I read a little more of the story.

Why don't you step back into Luke's narrative with me? There are a few more treasures just waiting for us to discover them. Follow me. I'll show you the way.

After the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, following the dictates of Jewish law, took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. I just love the two elderly folks that stepped forward to bless Jesus at the Temple. Let's take a closer look at them in Luke chapter 2.



Simeon was "righteous and devout.. and the Holy Spirit was upon him." (vs. 25) The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before He had seen the Christ. I love the uninhibited vigor of Simeon when he laid eyes on the Christ-child. The scriptures say he "took him in his arms and praised God..." (vs. 28) Can you imagine the old fellow reaching out to wrap the infant Jesus in His arms? I'll bet in his excitement and joy, he abandoned all decorum and politeness.

This makes me wonder... Do we approach Jesus with the same vigor and joy? Do we run to Him with reckless abandonment, unconcerned about following the "rules" of modern Christianity? Do we approach Him without reservation?

In my personal time with the Lord, I have no problem crying until I'm a soppy, pathetic mess. Sometimes I get so carried away, I praise Him at the top of my lungs. At times I dance, I bow down to the floor, I jump up and down as high as I can. I know I look like a lunatic, but I don't care. That's just how He moves me some days.

On the other hand, in church (where I sit in the very front, thanks to my pastor-husband) my praise sometimes lacks the freedom of my personal praise sessions. Could I be more concerned with what others think than what God thinks? How about you?

Another thing I love about Simeon: he walked in such fellowship with God that he followed His every word. Verse 27 tells us, "Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts." He immediately obeyed, his obedience leading to His promised meeting with the Christ-child.

Do we walk with God this way? Are our ears constantly open to His promptings, His lessons, His direction? Or do we do our own thing, consulting Him when we're in trouble or need?

Oh, may we have hearts like Simeon -- constantly seeking His Word. And may we keep our hearts open to receive specific guidance from Him. He loves to speak to His children. May we have ears to hear.

I also love Anna, the prophetess. She happens to be one of my favorite Ladies in the Bible. This mature woman reminds us that life ain't over 'til it's over. In her seasoned years, this widow "never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying." (vs. 37) This sister spent her life worshiping God and spending time with Him. Can you imagine the depth of relationship she enjoyed with Him? Wow.

Do we pray without ceasing? Do we meditate on His law day and night? Do we want to live for Him solely and wholly?

I love Anna's passion to spread the Good News of Christ. "Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." (Verse 38)

During this Christmas season, have we told others about Christ? I have to admit to some fear this year. I was tempted to tell people "happy holidays," not wanting to offend any non-Christians. But that lasted less than a day. I quickly returned to my usual "Merry Christmas" to every bank-teller, cashier and stranger on the street. I figured if I offended someone, I'd just have to deal with it on the back end.

This Christmas season and New Year, I'm choosing to say His name as much as I can. I am not ashamed. I love the name of Jesus Christ. It's the sweetest name I know!

Dedicating My Life, My All,

Carla

Saturday, December 24, 2011

This Christmas: I'm Loving the End of the Story



It's Christmas Eve and I'm thinking of Mary giving birth to the Christ-child, as I'm sure you are too. I can see them traveling by donkey or camel, Mary riding with her legs dangling to one side of the animal. Mary is exhausted and wondering when, oh when, they will arrive in Bethlehem. Joseph's brow wrinkles with concern for his young wife, especially when she moans with merciless labor pains.

I can only imagine their frustration when they discover that the town, packed with sojourners, has no rooms available for them. What will they do? Where will they go?
"The time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Luke 2:6b-7
And this is how we reminisce on Jesus' birth. We think of the baby Jesus in the manger, with straw lining the makeshift crib. The world finds much comfort in Jesus remaining in the manger -- a cooing, gurgling baby boy with dimpled cheeks and glistening eyes.

But that's not how the story ends.

The story ends with the baby Boy growing up, teaching the Word of God to multitudes, healing the sick, and raising the dead.

The story ends with the God-Man being betrayed by a close friend, beaten to a bloody pulp and hung on a cross to pay a vile sinner's sentence.

The story ends three days later when He raises Himself from the dead, conquering death and the grave.

The story ends when you and I accept His death on the cross as payment for our sins, receiving salvation and eternal life.

And the story has yet to end. One day He will carry His believers to heaven with Him, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye. One day He will judge the wicked of the world and the evil one that has deceived the world since the Garden of Eden. One day He'll truly have the last say. Hallelujah!

The challenge of Christmas comes with choosing to focus on Jesus as He is -- God, the Son. He is the Baby in the manger. He's also the God-Man that died for my sins and for yours. Don't keep Him in the manger.

That's not the half of it.

Loving the Jesus of the Manger and the Cross,

Carla

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This Christmas: I'm Rejoicing In God's Calling


I'm so glad you joined me for our next step in our walk through the Christmas story through the eyes of Luke. Last time we took a look at the miracle of Christmas, a virgin girl becoming pregnant with our Savior. Once again, the Word of God reminded us that nothing is impossible with God.

This morning as I read through Mary's song, my heart rejoiced with her in the great news of Gabriel, God's messenger. Although Mary only understood a portion of her calling at that time, she was humbled and honored to be considered so favored by God. Her response was immediate obedience and submission to the will of God.

However, I noticed something for the first time today in my reading of Mary's song. I'll highlight the lines that stood out for me. See if you can find the running theme that I discovered.
"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. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers." Luke 1:46-55
Said the blogger lady to her faithful readers: do you see what I see?

I see a God, who in His most merciful, most strategic move towards the redemption of mankind still speaks words of justice in the world. Mary speaks of God's judgment of the proud, the rulers and the rich, no doubt those who had become rich, proud rulers through the oppression of others less fortunate. She also speaks of God's compassion towards the humble and the hungry. And she praises Him for being "mindful of the humble state of his servant." She rejoices that He has chosen a nobody, in the world's eyes, to such a noble and significant calling.

So today I ask, what has God called you to? I may not have a specific answer for you, but I can assure you of a few causes He's asked all of His children to work towards. Every believer is called to defend the poor, the fatherless and the disenfranchised. We are all called to care for the hungry and the destitute. And we're all called to care for widows and orphans.

Our calling may not be as vital to the entire world as Mary's was. We may not be called to carry the Savior of the world in our womb for nine months. We may not be called to rear the God-Man through His childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. We may not be called to watch Him hang on a cross for the sins of the whole world, powerless to save our sinless, innocent baby boy.

No, we won't be called to the magnificent calling of Mary, the mother of our Lord. But we have been called to represent Christ to the world. We have been called to tell others about Him. We have been called to live a pure life in a dark and perverse world. And we have been called to fight for those less fortunate than ourselves.

Are you rejoicing in your calling today? Do you know your calling today? I bet He can hardly wait to tell you. I'm sure He's wanting to hear your song of rejoicing too.

Rejoicing In My Calling,

Carla

Saturday, December 17, 2011

God With Us

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23
            Emmanuel. God with us. During the Christmas season we sing of God being with us.
            “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel...”
            We know God is with us on Christmas, and every day of the year, but do we really believe He’s always with us?
            On Christmas Day 2001, I questioned God’s presence in my life. Oh, I’d been a Christian for several years, and I’d grown exponentially in my walk with God by then. I had introduced several friends and family members to Christ. I had led women’s Bible studies. As a matter of fact, 2001 marked the year I’d become a pastor’s wife. Rest assured, I knew God.
            Yet 2001 was also the year that I’d miscarried two precious babies. I can still remember the sticky ultrasound probe on my swollen, exposed belly. I remember the image of my baby girl on the monitor. She was still there all right, but the flash of light that represented her little heartbeat no longer existed. With no forewarning or explanation, my baby girl’s heart no longer beat.
            Five months later, my husband and I relived this nightmare once again. I’d never felt so alone. I wondered if even God had left me.
            In this condition of heart, I entered the Christmas season. I attended holiday festivities feeling like the uninvited guest shivering outside, peering at the smiling guests through an icy window. During Christmas service, I sang carols alongside my fellow church members, but inside my icy heart ached.
            “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel...”
            In the New Year my heart began to melt. I’d been studying Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. During one particular lesson, God spoke to me through the story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection, recorded in John 11.
            The words of Mary, Lazarus’ sister, nearly jumped off the page of my study Bible. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
            I could relate. If God had been with me, surely my babies wouldn’t have died.
            As I delved deeper into this scripture, God opened my eyes to more of His truth. He feels our pain, evidenced by the often-quoted verse 35, “Jesus wept.”
            When my babies died, Jesus was very present with me. Furthermore, His heart broke along with my heart.
            Also, I live by faith, believing I will see my sweet children in heaven one day. Like Mary and Martha, I know Him not only as Jehovah Rapha – God our Healer. I know Him as the Resurrection and the Life.
            At Christmastime, we can know that God is with us through the joys and the sorrows we’ve faced throughout the year. He came to earth to die for our sins, so we could live eternally in heaven with Him and our loved ones – including some we have yet to meet.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This Christmas: I'm Expecting Miracles



The Evangelical Church has got a problem.

Oh, of course sin is rampant. Many people have turned their backs on organized religion, refusing to align themselves with the local church. And we are largely walking away from the Bible, no longer esteeming it as the inspired, God-breathed Word of our heavenly Father.

But we've got another big problem today. We no longer believe in MIRACLES.

We only believe what we see, hear, taste, smell and touch. If it can't be experienced through our five senses, we don't believe it exists. Of course we believe that Jesus came to earth as a lowly baby and that He lived a perfect life and died on the cross for our sins. We believe that He healed the sick. That he raised the dead. That He turned water to wine.

Yet at Christmastime 2011, do we believe that He still performs miracles? Do I believe?

Let's pick up where we left off in Luke's retelling of our Savior's birth. I'll summarize the next events for you. After the Angel Gabriel greeted Mary, he revealed God's calling on her life.
  • He told her not to fear
  • He reminded her that she had found favor with God
  • She would conceive a son, and should name Him Jesus
  • He would be great and be called Son of the Most High
  • God would give Him the throne of His ancestor David, and He would reign forever; His kingdom would never end
Mary responded as any mentally-stable virgin girl would at that time and even today. 

"How can this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" Luke 1:34

Gabriel explained how this pregnancy would occur: the Holy Spirit would come upon her. This pregnancy and birth would be lived out in the natural, but conception would occur in the supernatural. Hers would be a miraculous birth. And to remind Mary of God's miraculous powers, Gabriel told Mary that her elderly relative Elizabeth was pregnant as well. As a matter of fact, this "mature" lady was already in her sixth month!

Gabriel's most powerful words -- often quoted today -- are found in verse 37.

"For nothing is impossible with God."

Do we truly believe that today? Do you believe that? Do I?

Think of the difficulties, challenges and trials that you're facing today. Are you believing God for a miracle? Even if God in His sovereignty, chooses not to perform a miracle, do you believe He's able?

Say this to yourself out loud. Nothing is impossible with God. 

Okay, again. Nothing is impossible with God.

One more time. And maybe this time it'll stick. Nothing is impossible with God!

This Christmas, I'm believing God for miracles in my life and yours. Will you believe?

Believing Nothing Is Impossible,

Carla

Saturday, December 10, 2011

This Christmas: I know He's With Me

Well, here we are at post three in my "This Christmas" series. I've been challenged, encouraged and inspired. And I've cried a few tears. After writing only two posts, This Christmas: I Believe God and This Christmas: I'm Taking It Personally, my heart is so much more prepared for the celebration of our Savior's birth. I hope yours has been too.

Let's tiptoe back into Luke's account of the Christmas story, and pick up where we left off.
"In the sixth month, 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." Luke 1:26-28



I've been focusing on the word Emmanuel this entire holiday season. Everywhere I turn, it's a name I keep hearing and reading. This past week, I took the kiddos to see "Bethlehem Revisited" at a church here in Conway, Arkansas. It was a beautiful production with actors (church members) that reenacted the time when Jesus was born.

In the recreated town of Bethlehem, one man read from a scroll of Hebrew. He read of the birth of Jesus in authentic Hebrew, even using the intonations of a Jewish priest. It was beautiful. I was transfixed. I enjoyed grabbing onto the words that I could barely make out. Yeshua. David (pronounced Da-veed). And Emmanuel.

Emmanuel. God with us. When the angel Gabriel greeted Mary, the mother of Jesus, he affirmed God's presence in her life. He knew he had some heavy stuff to share with her, so he must have felt the need to remind her that she was not alone. The Lord was with her.

During my intimate time with God this morning, I was reminded that God is with me. Just as He was with Mary. He reminded me that in 2011, over two thousand years after Mary's visit from the angel Gabriel, His presence is very real in my life. Through His Word, He quieted my spirit as I wrestled with the giants in my life. The giant of pursuing a writing career. The giant of preparing for a workshop I'm teaching at church in January. The giant of managing a family, along with being a pastor's wife, a community activist, a journalist, etc. etc.

He quieted my spirit with these words:
"The 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 3:4
God quiets me with his love. When I rant about everything imperfect in my life, He quiets me. When I wonder why life couldn't be a little easier, He quiets me. When I forget that faithful is He who calls who will also do it, He quiets me.

This Christmas, I am a child crying out for comfort, for empathy, for love from my Heavenly Father. And like a loving Daddy, He takes me in His arms, strokes my face with His hand and plants a moist kiss on my cheek. 

And I know He loves me still. I know He is always with me. Emmanuel.

Cradled in His Arms,

Carla

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

This Christmas -- I'm Taking it Personally



Thanks for joining me again as we walk through the story of the birth of Jesus as told by Luke. In Saturday's blog post we examined Zechariah and his doubt when the angel told him that he and his elderly wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son. I hope you resolved, along with me, to believe God this Christmas.

Today, let's shine the spotlight on Zechariah's wife Elizabeth. After her husband returned from his service at the Temple of the Lord, Elizabeth became pregnant, just as the Angel Gabriel had foretold. Unlike Zechariah's response of unbelief, Elizabeth expressed her faith in the Living God. Let's take a look at her reply:
"The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people." (Luke 1:25)
I don't know about you, but as soon as something unfortunate happens in my life, I usually ask the question, "Why me, Lord?" When I'm suffering under some sort of hardship, I don't reason that everyone experiences difficulties in life. I'm not quoting verses to myself like Matthew 5:45, "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." After some time, God usually reminds me of that verse, but in the beginning of my trial I'm usually in the mindset of "Woe is me." I take my trials personally.

Well, I love the lesson that Elizabeth gives us in this scripture. She takes the Lord's blessing of her soon-to-be-born son personally. Oh, she knows that her son John will be a special child, and that he will bring joy to her and Zechariah. She knows that he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth and will be great in the sight of God. She knows that he will be kin to the Savior and prepare the people's hearts for His coming.

She knows that her son will bless the world, but she takes God's blessing personally.

This Christmas, I want to take my blessings personally. I want to take God's favor personally. Oh, I know Jesus came to earth to die for the sins of the world, and I want the whole world to come to know Him. My heart breaks when I watch people around me grasp for money, fame and people, when what they really need is the Savior. And I pray that this Christmas maybe they'll see that only He can bring peace and joy.

But this Christmas I have to take his sacrifice personally. He died for me. Believe me, I know what a sinner I am. I know how unworthy I truly am. I needed a Savior. I still need the Savior.

I can't tell you how many Christmas carols I've listened to this season that have literally broken my heart. I've been a soppy mess, full of tears over the same songs I listen to every year. I think it's because I'm taking it personally. When I hear, "O Holy Night," I believe I was on God's mind that night. When I hear, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," I believe He's not just "God with us," but He's with me. When I hear "What Child Is This," I believe that Child was born for me.

This Christmas I'm taking His birth personally.

Take a look at Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige's performance of "What Child Is This". I pray that you take this powerful song personally.



Overwhelmed by His Favor,

Carla

Saturday, December 3, 2011

This Christmas -- I Believe God

 
Have you ever received a word from God? Not just the words received when you read and study the Bible. I mean a specific, just-for-you, kind of word from God.

I have. I'll share a little about that later on. For now, let's take a look at a story in the Bible of someone that had a bit of a problem believing what God had to say.

Luke begins his account of the birth of Jesus Christ with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her husband Zechariah was a priest. They had no children in their old age, because Elizabeth had been infertile their entire marriage.

One day, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah while he was burning incense in the temple of the Lord. Gabriel came with great news: Elizabeth would become pregnant with a son, a son that would be a joy to them and a great leader for God.

"Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God," proclaimed Gabriel. "And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah..."

So what do you think Zechariah said? "Oh messenger of the Lord, thank you for this great prophesy. Praise God for His favor!"

Not exactly. His lines read a little more like this:

"How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."

Zechariah doubted the word of God. Instead of rejoicing in the message from God, he wallowed in disbelief. Even though we know the story ends well, with John being born to Elizabeth and becoming all Gabriel had promised he would, I have to think Zechariah regretted his response of doubt. And God gave him plenty of time to reflect and repent. For nine months, God struck Zechariah's tongue, making him mute until the birth of John.

Have you ever doubted God? I sure have. But I distinctly remember a time that I truly believed God's word to me. At that time I had suffered two miscarriages, and had already adopted my Christian. I had always wondered if I would have another biological child, even though we were planning to adopt again.

While reading the Bible one day, I read a scripture where God told Joseph (of the Old Testament) that He would give him a child from his own body. Suddenly, in my mind the words in my Bible looked like they were lifting off the page. I knew God was clearly speaking those words to me. That day I knew I would have another child from my own body.

I believed God. And a few years later, my little Jada was born on the eve of my birthday. What a sweet birthday gift she was.

I haven't always believed God with such conviction. But, oh the joy I experience when I do!

This Christmas holiday, let's commit to believing God. Let's believe His holy word -- the Bible. Let's believe His personal words to us. Let's believe Him when everyone around us rolls their eyes at our "foolish" faith. If we can believe that God came to earth as a little baby in a manger, surely we can believe Him for smaller miracles in our own lives.

After all, He's never broken a promise yet.

Before you go, I've posted a song by Martha Munizzi, "I Believe God". May it encourage you to always believe.



Believing God,

Carla