Mary and Elizabeth: A lesson in love and nurture

Who do you look up to and aspire to be like?

Who do you run to first when you need a sympathetic ear? Or when you need an understanding heart?

Whose advice do you value enough to go seek it out?

For Mary there was one answer: Elizabeth.

The angel came, Mary consented to let God’s will reign in her life and immediately she needs/wants to talk to Elizabeth. Something people thought was impossible is happening to Elizabeth. Something that defies the imagination is happening to Mary. They need to talk. A woman too old to conceive and carry a child is six months along. A woman almost too young has conceived of the Holy Spirit and is just pregnant. Two ends of the age spectrum separated by time and distance. Yet they are united by the God of their ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac, Joseph and more. There is really much that should separate them, yet what brings them together is more powerful than the unique circumstances which might isolate them. So Mary made the journey.

They not only talked, they sang praises to God! They were in close fellowship for almost three months. I can imagine them chatting over meal preparation, cutting the vegetables, preparing the bread, laughing and talking together making work seem like fun. Walking together to the well, one carries water to drink and the other carries the Water of Life. As the days pass, they walk a little slower, yet still with eager anticipation for the events yet to occur in their lives. It is a holy time of communion and mutual love and understanding not so different from our walk with the significant people in our lives.

The story of Mary and Elizabeth’s time together is a favorite of mine. I see them giving each other a very special gift – the gift of time. They took the time to talk about their common situations, about being pregnant and how that changed their lives. They may have talked about how to cope with those changes, and shared the joys, the concerns and the holy awe. These are things they might not have been comfortable saying to anyone else. Perhaps most important is the fact that Mary needs the nurture of this relationship and this fellowship with Elizabeth to help strengthen and prepare her for what lies ahead. Elizabeth’s home and heart is a safe place for Mary to rest as they enjoy their mutual fellowship and support.

We all have a desire at times to share things with the people we love. Special Joys and happy times are meant to be shared. So are concerns and cares. God places people in our lives for just such times as these;   we really are His gifts to each other. Our Father’s love for us is so great that He gives us what we need even when we don’t know what we need.

Gifts that give back – all year long

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, multiple songs, books and poems assure us this is true.

One very important reason for this is that it is a time of year when our thoughts and efforts tend to consider others before ourselves.  We busily plan parties, events, celebrations, and still find time to give our money, and energy to a special charity.

We think of the the true meaning of Christmas when we see nativity scenes or attend church.  But this season of the year is more than just a special time; it is more than just having a little time off with the family.  It is a way of thinking and feeling and of BEING in the world.  And it can last all year.

Do we give gifts to see the sparkle in the eyes of the recipient?  Do we give in hopes of making a child go crazy with excitement?  Do we give to make someone smile or laugh?  Do others look at your gift or use your gift the rest of the year with a special fondness for you the giver?  Do we give the gift that encourages and assures someone that we care and that we will be there for him or her through thick or thin?

God did.

Take a moment to recall how it feels when someone really gets the significance of a gift you have chosen specifically for them.  You know the one that jumped off the shelf into your arms screeming your friend or loved one’s name?  And then you wrapped it nicely and watched the reaction when it was opened….priceless.

That feeling comes from giving thoughtfully.

it is a tiny peak into the way God feels when He sees us receive the gift of a baby born in humble circumstances and when we pick that child up and place Him in our hearts to live – well I believe that brings God great JOY!

in this busy time of year let us remember to show our thanks for the most wonderful gift we could ever receive.  Let that spirit of thanksgiving for God’s special gift guide our thoughts words and deeds this Christmas and this year.

I found this list of 8 ideas for gifts that cost nothing, yet may mean everything to someone.  Feel free to add your own ideas to this list and share!

  • The gift of Listening:  but you must really listen.  No interruption, no daydreaming,no planning your response.  Just listening.
  • The gift of Affection:  Be generous with appropriate hugs, kisses, and pats on the back.  Let these small aactions demonstrate theh love you have for family and friends. (I had a friend tell me once that hugs can be restorative.)
  • The gift of Laughter:  Clip cartoons. Share articles and funny stories.  Your gift will say, “I love to laugh with you.”
  • The gift of a Written Note:  It can be a simple “Thanks for the help” note or a full sonnet.  A brief, handwritten note may be remembered for a lifetime, and may even change a life.  (I have boxes of notes colleted over the years from friends and family that mean a lot to me even today when I go back and read them again.  These notes show where the joys and concerns of life have been shared with significant others.  Someone will have to throw them out when I die, but until then, they have a special set of shoe boxes to occupy.)
  • The gift of a Compliment: A simple and sincere, “You look great in red,” “You did a super job” or “That was a wonderful meal” can make someone’s day. (I know this seems unimportant, but it even makes me smile when someone notices my hair cut!)
  • The Gift of a favor:  Every day, go out of your way to do something kind.
  • The gift of Solitude:  There are times when we want nothing better than to be left alone.  Be sensitive to those times and give the gift of solitude to others.
  • The gift of a Cheerful Disposition:  The easiest way to feel good is to extend a kind word to someone, really it’s not that hard to say, Hello or Thank You.

The Light Shines On!

She volunteers in her local soup kitchen serving food with a smile and a gracious word.  They look forward to seeing her there because her presence has become an encouragement.  They can see bright Light shining through her.

He helps construct a house that will be someone’s home, teaching the younger man working with him with patience and kindness.   The younger man does his very best to do things well and looks forward to going to work every day just so he can see that bright Light again.

She works hard to meet her deadlines so her co workers can meet theirs. She works cheerfully and well, often solving problems before anyone else finds out about them. The others love to work with her because she inspires them to do their best work too…and because they can see the bright Light that shines through her.

He works long days and into the evening preparing the soil for growth.  He smiles as he waters and nurtures the tender young plants coming from the earth bringing new life.  He is a wise source of inspiration to those who work along side because there is this bright Light that is always on…

She spends more time than is expected of her to see that every detail is in order and that all is ready for every committment. Her gracious attention to detail ensures a smooth and pleasant experience even when the unexpected comes.  There is alway a Plan B or C ready to be implemented.  There are many happy apreciative people who see clearly that the bright Light is ON!

Where did the Light come from?

…from a tiny baby boy born in a dark place 2000 years ago.  His Light still shines.  Through you, through me.

When you give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, give your extra clothes to the poor, when you care for the sick, visit those in prison, or show hospitality to the stranger.   (Matt 25: 35-36) Maybe we can’t all do all these things, but what we can do allows the Light to shine on.

How do you capture this Light? You just  have to recieve it…it’s free…no strings attached…Believe.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.  John 3:16

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”.  John 1:5

Welcome the Child and His love this year as never before.  Shine On!

 

 

 

Slow Down! Let His Light Shine!

The Apostle Paul in  2 Corinthians said something like:  The light of the glory of God shines from the faces of those who turn to God. (those who repent). They can’t help it.  The glow is a result of the relationship – the close relationship between God and His beloved.

When Christians see other Christians neither has to veil their faces – for neither is blinded by the Light, yet each  recognizes what the Light means in the other.  It means there is a personal relationship with the Creator God through His Son, Jesus the Christ.   It should be clear Whose we are.

But we live in a world that turns away from and even violently rejects the Light.  We live in a fallen world – at least for now – that provides distraction after distraction with so little effort it seems.  Some of our distractions are good things, things we should be concerned about.  But it is possible to become TOO busy.  So busy that we don’t notice the things we should.

Our lives are FULL of things to do, places to go, things to plan, people to care for, lists to make and then carry out….it just keeps going!  And it’s about to get much worse – if we let it.  We can be so tied to schedules and our own lists that we might not notice what is there for us to see – the life that needs God’s glory to shine on them. From you.  Could be that homeless lady at the food pantry, or the child looking up at you in the grocery store.  Could be the driver of a vehicle close to you in snarled traffic.  Could be that loved one…but will you notice? …  Will I?  Have we left no time to listen to the voices of those who need us?  Will we just rush right on past an opportunity to be a blessing? or to receive one?  Are we looking for those who need the Light to shine on them?

Maybe we need a fresh dose of His Light in our own lives, perhaps we are blinded by distraction.

Dear Heavenly Father,

As we approach the most wonderful time of the year when our hearts need to be stirred to remember the Greatest Gift ever given we confess that we are too busy.  We need Your Grace to fill us and overflow from us onto all the people you place in our lives.  We need to stop and listen for Your Word that speaks softly so that we may find that comfort and JOY choirs will soon sing about.  We need Your guidance to know when to say the little word “no” to over committment so that we can make room for You in our celebrations.

If the WORD lives in your heart, it will shine out through your eyes

be in the words you speak, the thoughts you think,

and the actions you take. 

A really short devotion: Romans 12

A genuine relationship with Christ will be evident in our lives.

Romans 12 talks about different gifts. People have different gifts and talents, I believe that because I’ve seen it. You have too. Some are good at building things with their hands and others excel at building consensus with words.

Maybe we’re called to do different things at different times. In response to God’s call we can and maybe are developing the foundation for more than one gift as we move through life.

Or perhaps as a result of growing closer to Him we are able to do more than we thought?

When we experience the change in our lives the power of the Holy Spirit brings, it effects the way we think and behave, the words we say, and fundamentally influences the witness we have in this world. The Holy Spirit brings a new way of thinking, a new way of BEING in the world and effects the way the world influences us. We are nurtured by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we grow and we change. We change for the better, and we just can’t help it! And that is just fine.

Dear Father,

What a thoughtful God you are!  You give us gifts and then you put us together with people who have complementary gifts!   I hope it gives You JOY as you mold and develop those gifts.  Use us and these your gifts for your honor and glory today and everyday.  Amen

Now what about you?   Take a moment and think about the gifts you are thankful for today.

Heaven has gained a Saint: William (Bill) L. Arthur

About 15 years ago, we had an interim pastor come to lead us while our search committee worked to find our new permanent pastor. He had been a pastor all his career and decided that he could best be useful in the interim role for his last ten years or so before his retirement.  Interim pastors are so important to the life of the church.  They bring a fresh perspective and a different way of doing things as they manage the day to day ministry of the church.   They allow mission and ministry to continue and even begin new ones during their time in the church.  Bill did all those things and more.

He joined right into the life and work of the church, accepting the people, listening to their stories and sharing laughter and sorrow as together we experienced the abundant grace of being part of God’s family.  He shared his accordion at church events as well as his rich gift of laughter with young and old alike.  He went to Montreat Worship and Music week with a group of us and didn’t even complain about our choice of housing.  It did have about a hundred million steps up from the road to get to the porch and goodness knows most of us did complain or at least we huffed and puffed loudly as we made our way to the top.

Bill had a way of discerning the gifts of others – even those gifts they had not yet discovered for themselves.  Then he mentored those individuals until the fruits were visible.  Bill loved to sing and once or twice even loaned his tenor voice to the choir for a special event.  Everyone loved Bill, perhaps because it was clear that Bill loved everyone.

When his time among us was over, we were saddened, but glad for him at the same time because he was one step closer to his dream of retirement and spending time with his growing family.  On his last Sunday with us we had a little party after church for which some of us shared our thoughts about our time with Bill.  I was one asked to say a few words.  On that day there was nothing better for me to say than to quote the words of Paul to Philemon, verse 7: “ Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints”.

Fast forward to the morning of October 28, 2014.  I was reading my devotional which just happened to be Philemon.  As I got to verse 7 it brought back vivid memories of Bill and I took a moment to remember him fondly once again.  I did not know this morning that Bill was gone from this earth; I only learned several hours later that Bill’s ultimate dream of seeing Jesus face to face had now come true.  I know that Jesus and Bill are having a jolly laugh together and that Bill has received his new clothes and had the honor of hearing God say “well done”.   One day we will see Jesus and Bill along with many other saints as together we join in one great big reunion party.  Praise God for this wonderful man and the life he led among us.

A jug and jar full of grace: I Kings17:7-24

A widow with a young son is near the city gate gathering sticks to build the fire over which she believes she will prepare the last of her bread. There has been famine in the land for many years and there is no hope of obtaining more oil and flour especially now that her husband has died. We are not told how long she has been a widow struggling to survive and care for her son. Perhaps her husband succumbed to malnutrition because he gave his bread to his wife and young son. Whatever the reason, the widow believes that she and her son do not have long to live.

Then a stranger from neighboring Israel comes to the gate and asks for water and as she turns to get it he adds a request for bread. She tells him “as surely as the Lord your God lives, I don’t have any bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug…” But the stranger is the Lord’s prophet, Elijah who tells her not to be afraid. He also tells her that she should make his small loaf of bread first and then use the rest of the flour to make some bread for herself and her son. “for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

She makes no reply but does as she is asked. Elijah’s loaf of bread is made and then she bakes more for herself and her son. The next day, there is still enough in the jar and the jug to make more bread. Did she wonder how this could be? Did she wonder each day if this would be the last batch? Then as the 4th, 5th, and all mornings were the same, did she grow to expect there would be flour and oil enough for each day’s needs? I can only imagine her amazement as each morning she lifts the jar of flour off the shelf to peer inside – and miraculously there is flour there yet again!

I imagine Elijah playing with the little boy in the evening, telling him stories from the Scriptures and teaching him new things. I imagine Elijah shares the stories with the widow as well and as she sees more evidence every day in her jug and jar that Elijah’s God is real her heart must yearn to have this God too. She needs God.   We need God.

She will soon see the power of Elijah’s God in a much more intense way when her son becomes ill and dies. Elijah takes the boy quickly to his room where he puts him on his bed. He cries out to God and stretches himself out over the child three times. As he covers the child with his body, he prays fervently that God would make the child live again.

God heard Elijah and had mercy on the child and his mother. Elijah then gets the wonderful blessing of returning the child to his mother, whole, well and very much alive.

The widow had doubtless heard of the God of Israel since she lived so close to Israel. She might have heard rumors about the amazing things He had done. But now she has been the beneficiary of God’s grace and mercy. She has a jar, a jug and a heart full of stories to tell her friends and neighbors now that Elijah has been visiting. I know that her grateful mother’s heart would have been thankful to God every day for the gift of life given to her son. And as the famine ended and rain descended on the land once again, and as her healthy son ran and played with the other children, she would lift her face heavenward and lift her own prayer of thanksgiving.

We have much to be thankful for since Jesus our Lord paid the price for our sinfulness and made salvation available to everyone. The jug and jar of God’s grace never run dry.

“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’.” Romans 10:12-13