Friday, December 30, 2011

Year-End Ponderings of Faith and Faltering

As 2011 rolls around to its final days, I find myself thinking back on all of the wonder and awe that God has brought about in my life. I think of the many ways He has provided for me and my loved ones; the magnificent times of worship with other believers and how He met us in those places; the hardships I have  had to endure to help me learn to give thanks in all things; and the real and profound voice of God that can be heard by His children when we fervently seek after His face.

Our God is an amazing and mighty Warrior. He is the Prince of Peace. He is a gentle Lover of our souls. He is the Rescuer. He is the Gardener of us, the branches. He is the Giver of Life. He is the Bridegroom. He is our Help in troubled times. He speaks, and His children know His voice. He is the Great Shepherd.

With a God so multi-faceted and prominent in this world of trial and tribulation, how can I wander so far off the beaten path of His ways? How is it, that I look back over the last year of my life and see the tracks of a life that has veered off course so many times? I can honestly say that each and every one of us, whether we have come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ or not, have been tainted with something far worse than "wrong directions" for the course of our lives; we all have been stained with sin. And this thing called sin is most-often overlooked and called by many different names–especially in our "politically correct" society.

Independence. Aggressiveness. Deserving. Concern.

These things all seem to be good things, but looking at the deeper meaning and how they relate to a life of faith will show us just how faded our vision has become over time.

When Adam and Eve first walked in their own way, eating the "forbidden fruit," they were exercising their independence from their Creator, making a bold statement that they felt they knew what was better for their lives over God's supreme rule.

When we are working to make our way in the world, we sometimes learn that to make it to the top, we need to be aggressive in order to beat the crowds. But in doing so, we forget to wait patiently on the Lord; we decide that He must not know what we need or what is best for us, so we forage ahead, usually making the journey a lot more troublesome and difficult than it needs to be.

A major thing that we, as Americans, have bought into lock, stock, and barrel, is the idea that we deserve certain things. We decide–many times with the help of cunning marketing campaigns–that we have worked hard or gone through a particularly tough ordeal, and therefore we deserve certain luxuries like dream vacations or a great big box of chocolates, etc., etc. Sometimes these things aren't so bad, but the level of self-treating in the name of "I deserve it" has reached an all-time high. People are putting major dents into credit cards that they will never be able to pay off, writing checks that their accounts can't cash, and serving up seriously health-debilitating dishes that stress their bodies out, encouraging illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease... All in the name of "I deserve it."

Last, but certainly not least, we spend many of our days worrying about the future, our friends or family members, our health, money, and so much more. We play the "concerned card," making ourselves feel okay about the fact that we are fretting unnecessarily. The number one most spoken command in the Bible is to have no fear. Jesus tells us not to worry. He commands us not to fear. He speaks words of faith and trust to His disciples over and over again, admonishing us to believe in the Word of God, to trust in the provision of the Almighty, to know that our God will supply all our needs, according to His riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

This new year, let us turn our ways to trusting in God's perfect timing. Let us all decide to live our lives to the fullest–lives full of faith in our Heavenly Father.

The prophet Jeremiah says it best:
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

May this new year be one of living life to the fullest with faith and trust in God our Father... in our helper, the Holy Spirit... and in Jesus Christ, who is our life.

And Merry Christmas from all of us...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Grace Undeserved

Grace Undeserved
By Lauren Lamoreaux
Christmas to me means a lot more than just celebrating Jesus' birth. I'm going to tell a story here that I haven't told or even thought of in years...
The fall that I was 15, I had quite the wake-up call. My friend, we will call her Sophie, introduced me to the world of shoplifting. We started small, swiping candy and cigarettes, and gradually moved up to bigger things like CDs (when they came packaged in those long rectangular white plastic anti-theft cases) and clothing.
It was November, and Sophie’s brother’s birthday was rapidly approaching. Now, we had the money, but it was always such a rush to “lift” things from stores. I still can’t believe I lived like this... So on we went, through this store, lifting things, including her brother’s gifts: fishing lures. Seriously. Fishing lures. We were about to leave the store, having purchased the legitimate things we decided were too big to smuggle and, checking that our newfound booty was securely in place under our jackets and in our pockets, stepped lightly out the door. “Excuse me girls! You don’t have any un-purchased merchandise, do you?” came the hail. We immediately stopped, cheeks flush with the hues of guilt, and turned to face something we had never known to exist: the plainclothes security officer. Our breath became shallow, as our throats swelled to an almost unbearable tiny passage.
The plainclothes officer hauled us into the manager’s office and called the police. We were arrested and taken to the big house. Well, okay, maybe not THE big house, but it was big enough to scare every unholy place right out of me. Our parents were called, and I distinctly remember my dad’s reaction. He was so incredibly angry at my actions. After all, this type of thing goes into the newspaper! And, being from a more prolific business-owning family in our area, well, he was outraged. “What will people say when they read that a Hentschel was arrested for shoplifting?” I was tried as a minor and not only had to pay the store back, but also received 20 hours of community service and probation.
Christmas that year, I was told, would be nothing more than maybe a token gift, and certainly nothing of value, because they used up so much money paying back the store and in court fees. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was one of the Detroit Red Wings’ dearest fans, watching every hockey game I could, rooting from my northern Michigan hometown with as much fervor as someone sitting right in Joe Louis Arena.
In my family, we take turns opening gifts, one by one, until everyone has had a turn, then go around again. I don’t remember how many gifts I actually had that year, but I do remember it was my turn, and I opened up this gift, in a typical shirt box from any Joe Schmo department store, and there, in my hands, was this lovely and perfect Red Wings jersey. I remember looking up to the sounds of my mother sobbing which I then, of course, found myself adding a harmony to her melody. It was one of total repentance mixed with total forgiveness. It was grace.
Today, I am reminded that we all – in some form or another – are like me. Not only have we fallen into sin and selfish living, but we have also tarnished the Family name. And no matter what place we are in life, whether we’ve never known our Father, or maybe we have actually walked with Him and have since turned a blind eye or a deaf ear to His direction, we all have that precious package neatly wrapped with a bow sitting under our heart’s tree. It’s something we don’t deserve, but in the same space, something that our Father so lovingly desires to lavish upon us: His GRACE. It goes a long, long way, my friends. It’s always the right size; able to cover a multitude of sins. It’s always the right color; complementing the natural beauty He has given to us. It’s always the right accessory for any event, any season, any thing at all.
God’s grace came down to this earth in a tiny baby named Jesus. He lived a guiltless life, blessing those who everyone else had cursed, calling the wise men of the world fools (and proving it), and reaching his hand out to the unlovely. And after all that, he went to a place no one else would ever go for me: a torturous death of beating, whipping, bruising, and finally, crucifixion... all to give me the chance to be welcomed into the Family which I rightly belonged before I stained myself with sin.
Yes, this Christmas I will remember that Red Wings jersey as the symbol it really is: grace undeserved. And I do believe I have consequently picked out my Christmas day attire.
May the joy of Jesus Christ invade your hearts in a new and amazing way this Christmas. Peace, love, and most of all... grace to you all.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Childhood Christmas Ponderings

When I was a little girl, we would go to Grandma and Grandpa Hentschel’s house for the big family Christmas celebration every Christmas Eve. The night was magical in every way: boxing up the presents to take along to the party; watching our breath escape from our mouths in the cold, dark, winter air; and all of us piling into the car with hats, snow-covered boots, mittens and scarves filling in all of the gaps between us kids.

When we arrived at their house, Grandpa, or "Bumpa" as he was affectionately known as by his grandkids, would greet us with the biggest hugs and kisses, and Grandma would soon follow with her greetings and love too. Then we would find our aunts, uncles, and cousins all throughout the house, talking, playing, and munching on various foods. Somehow, we kids always found the mixed nuts that were still in their shells and had to be cracked open to eat. It was always a fun game to see who could get them opened first! Of course, we also had plenty of cookies and candy canes to go around as well.

All of the grandkids would talk together in hushed tones, every one of us mesmerized by the sparkling tree, covered with colored ornaments and practically smothered – and I mean nearly literally suffocated – in tinsel. We knew there were presents under that tree for all of us, but also knew that getting close enough to see the names on the tags would certainly get a reprimand from one of the grown-ups. So we would sit... and wait... and talk about... the magical time for presents to be passed around and opened.

When every last gift was opened and all the words had been spoken, Mom and Dad would bundle us kids up and take us home to our beds where we would lie awake, unable to fall asleep because we knew in a few short hours, Santa would be coming to bring us each a very special gift that we would discover under our tree come Christmas morning. 

Isaiah 9:6-7
Peace, Love, & Cider Mugs...