All creation, come praise the name of the Lord. Psalm 148:13

 

One afternoon the boys and I were hanging around the house when we heard a knock on the door. Our neighbors’ son and daughter dropped by to bring us an Orchid root – complete with bloom. We had a nice visit and when everyone was gone I looked at that plant and thought, “what in the world am I going to do with this, I can’t keep violets alive?” I did not know what type of planter to use and just put it out of mind for a few days until I figured out how to care for it. By the third day little plant was in an emergency state and I felt terrible so I gathered the family and we all did triage – one grabbing rocks for drainage, one grabbing water and one emptying out the yucky frozen planter stored in the garage.

Orchids can be fickle but they are well worth the effort.  They require special care. The instructions say the two top things that will kill them are number 1 – not enough light and number 2 – too much light. Alrighty then, that clears everything up! I researched with the family and then located everything we could find while snuggled inside our warm house during a snowstorm. We needed tree bark, a special planter, special fertilizer and soil. We had none of those things and could not get out to get them. “Yes kids, prayer works for everything.” We dug, patted, watered and then asked for some divine intervention. You tube videos on the following days confirmed our fears – indeed we had done basically everything wrong.

It seemed strange to replant this orchid while taking down Christmas decorations. Pine cones scattered my floor, tree remains and glittery pieces of who knows what still littered the floor. The little orchid looked so tiny, fuchsia and unique in comparison.

Why would anyone involve themselves in such a delicate, fragile flower? I’ve seen them in Chinese restaurants and nail salons. I’ve never seen them at a McDonalds. They are feminine and delicate, adding beauty and fragrance to any room. Why bother? I told the three guys in my house that I really liked this flower but really we are probably more “dandelion growers” than anything. We do pretty well with mint and poison ivy but nothing else has really grown around here that we can lay any claim to.

Did you know that orchids do best when they “dry out” and get saturated with water only once a week? Soak, expend. Soak, expend. Hmm. I recognize that from somewhere. They also do not need a planter to thrive but love to grow outside wherever they can extend. Unique. Rare. What a beautiful reminder of God’s grace and call to us to rest and go, rest and go. It brings to mind the song, “I give myself away, so You can use me” by William McDowell.  *

At the same time this was all taking place I was studying the passage, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. 12.

The part that stuck out to me this week  was, “let us run (with patience/endurance) the race that is
SET before US…

This is not just “get with the program we all have a part to play” language. It specifically means: to run what is placed before you or in front of you. That which has been appointed or destined for your life, what is present and at hand.

 Not what others think you could or should do.

It does not say to run others races in their lane for them. It is not a “one size fits all” pajama pant arrangement but a call to run the path God has specifically ordained and created for you – the track He has laid out for YOU to run on.

Yes! If there is a track, there is a runner. The word “set” is the Greek word prokeimai which is a passive deponent. It means we don’t forge out our plan but …

 

we get on the moving walkway of His will – much easier.

 

He acts, we passively ride on His plan. Good set up.  You are necessary and needed and God has specifically set that path in front of us so we can get to where He wants and needs us to go. Specific, unique, special. We can’t make others run on our track, or insist they follow our time, distance or speed. We line ourselves up with the Kingdom pathway.

A few days passed… and a little  bloom was lifted above the green leaves, perky and strong. We named her Gloria (our persevering little orchid) and in George Washington Carver fashion we greet her every morning and thank God that He kept her alive in spite of our makeshift efforts of care.  Her needs and what will make her grow are specific to HER. We will do our best but have to remain aware that all plants are not the same, some need different environments than other plants. God can make anything flourish and grow – if it is HIS will.

The boys only let me name one of our fourteen fish in the tank, so this new addition brought me great joy. It will be the first feminine named thing in our home – pink power!  We were thrilled that the little plant survived. She’s dainty, beautiful and pink. I wondered throughout this process, what is the race set before us? How do we make a loving, environment for those “unlike” us or what we are used to? 

Lord, thank you for Your beauty and the beauty of everything you create. Thank you for my beautiful neighbor who gave us this plant. Thank you for the guys  in this home who co-labor with me and who helped me repot this orchid, even though it looked hopeless and took  some time. Thank you for just the right amount of light to make Gloria grow. Thank you for the journey set before us that is unique, special and designed by You with us specifically in mind.

Gloria a Dios

*Also check out Give Us Your Heart by William McDowell. They are both great prayer songs.

RenaeRoche 2018 

The boys and I spent an evening in the emergency room this week. There were many people there with various ailments, some coughing, some bloody and some asleep from the wait. The hospital was doing a great job accommodating everyone but the severity of the conditions and amount of people were a bit overwhelming as we waited our turn.

There was a middle aged woman pacing the floor. She was dressed casually and fashionable.  She looked anxious but not ill.  The look on her face told me this wasn’t her first rodeo. There is a suffering that comes that teaches things you cannot get in a book. Those words were written on her face although I can’t exactly explain how I knew that. The fellowship of suffering is a real and tangible thing and once you’ve been to that place you recognize it in others.

Later on I was able to hear the woman’s story and since I do not have permission to share it, I will keep the details private. It was a brief encounter. Her son was there with a serious problem. Her other son was there comforting him. The worry on her face looked how my heart felt in that moment. You could tell that her older son knew how to comfort his younger brother. You could see that this woman loved them both and had invested a lot in her family. In spite of real, deep pain and agony their love for one another was beautiful to behold. It was sacred and told a story words could not express.

I offered water and prayer but nothing but getting in to see a doctor would alleviate their concern. I let her know we would be praying and I sincerely ask anyone reading this to pray for that family because they need a miracle for life to continue in any normal way.

This is what gripped me that evening. She was scanning the room, looking for solutions, wondering about the outcome, wondering if things would turn out alright. I was a total stranger and so desperately wished I could fix their pain. Her searching eyes and focus on helping her son stirred me to pray. Her love and concern still linger in my mind as I remember her desperation. The need is so great that only God can help them.

Jesus is merciful. Eleos (Greek word for mercy) means He stands waiting to help, waiting to be compassionate and kind, ready to assist and show love. He not only sees our struggle but WANTS to help. That is not just for the righteous or those who have daily devotions. It’s not for those who are members of churches or sing certain hymns. It is who He is at His core.

That mom would have done ANYTHING in the world at that time to help her son. Yes, you reason, but that’s a mom’s natural love for a child she has birthed and raised up in this world. That’s much different than a holy God who reigns the universe.

Consider this verse: 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  Romans 8:15 ESV

Could that same God welcome you? Me? He’s pretty far up there in rank and authority. He sees all of our sins and failures. He knows all of our flaws. Sometimes I feel like I can’t reach Him. Sometimes I question if He cares about a little worm such as myself. Sometimes I feel very carnal and small. But when I lose my way, when my vision grows dim I can look at Jesus and see what He was like on this earth. Reading God’s word reminds us that our fears are about us and not how God feels at all. Matthew 14 reminds us Jesus helped Peter walk on the sea; people touched just the fringe of his garment and were healed. He didn’t just sit in the synagogue and yell “next” when people came to Him. He continually demonstrated His fathers’ compassion and care so we would know His character, His heart.

If we have come to Christ, He does not stand aloof, just begging us to go to church. He stands postured to extend the mercy of the Father, He stands with open arms wanting to help, wanting to hear, wanting to bless. Not just because He’s merciful, not just because we are pitiful, but because we are SONS – adopted heirs. He loved us so much He died on a cross to provide real answers and solutions to our real needs.

One prayer request I’ve waited for over eight years for an answer, without any response. Another one, four years. When God is silent we are tempted to think He is aloof, uninterested or even possibly rejecting us along with our need. But that is contrary, opposite of His nature. Time erodes our faith, circumstances cloud our hope. The Life of Jesus, His character, grace and actions SCREAM the opposite of what the world or our fears tell us, if we will only pause long enough to hear. He is not only true, He is merciful. He is not only alive, He sees and hears and wants to help.

I’m asking God to intervene for that worried mama in the ER. I’m asking God to reveal himself to the young man encouraging his little brother. I’m asking God to continue to show me how deep and wide and strong is His love for me. I’m not a passing stranger He wants to impress, I am His adopted SON (same title for daughters) and He stands waiting to help, assist, offer compassion, love and kindness.

Thank you Jesus. Though I do not always see it, though I take it for granted, you want to support, bless and guide. Help us see who you really are today and who we are as adopted sons. Thank you for letting me encounter compassion in the midst of pain.

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Hunky husband asked me out on a romantic date. I wore my best smelly stuff reserved for time with him, the kind he loves. I put on fancy lipstick from Lancome, made my hair shiny with as much product as it could hold and  put on my favorite maroon sweater. We were to meet at an Italian restaurant and I was ready. I counted the minutes and then drove through town, anticipating conversation and laughter, Italian food and great coffee. I walked through the dark restaurant looking for my beloved but he was nowhere in sight. The waiters also helped me look for him. As I sat there, he texted, delayed at a meeting. No worries, there is warm bread on the table and I trust he is on his way. Eventually he came and the waiters were watching for my response. I was delighted he was there and our time was well worth the wait. There is just no one else that would thrill my heart so much to be with. He made time in his busy schedule – for me.

This weekend – we anticipate being with each other and the Lord. Do we prepare? Do we put out our clothes, shoes? Does our heart beat with excitement as we long for what He will speak to us? Do we count the minutes until we gaze into His face? Do we prepare our minds, pushing aside worries and anxiety? What do we do in advance to show our desire for this all important meeting, setting aside all lesser loves?

Matthew 12

At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?

 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 

ESV says “something” but in the Greek it says “estis” – someONE. Who or what could be greater than the temple or the priests (authorities) of that temple? This ONE is greater in rank, authority, prestige – He is the elder and superior one. The ONE higher than all the rules. What Jesus, you think you are above the law? Yup. You think that rules don’t apply to you buddy? Yup. Basically Jesus is stating that He is GOD. Snap! He just outranked the law and legalists. The creator, builder, high priest…  He decides what happens.

He is greater than   > > > religion and the religious

 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, (Greek “eleos”, to be compassionate and show kindness to the miserable and afflicted, helpful)

and not sacrifice,’ (victims, gift) you would not have condemned (judged) the guiltless (innocent). For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Who is the son of man? God’s kid, the one given all authority. A prince does not need permission from his friends to redirect the kingdom. That is who Jesus claimed to be which set him at odds with the temple and all who worked there. He declared that He was supreme, the chief, the master, the One who regulated and directed all traffic on the holy day. Many think 3 Chris Tomlin songs, offering, sermon and fellowship in the parking lot is the standard. Who determines that or defines “Sabbath” today?

From this point on – others will market, direct, suggest, legislate and formulate the “day”. Jesus clearly here points out that what happens during that day of rest and renewal – is up to Him. Yikes! Not denominations, not pastors or priests, not parents, not doctrines, not lexicons… how will we understand and know then? Give us a formula so we can avoid asking Him!

The word of God is our guide; the Spirit of God is our teacher, if we listen.

This is a pretty weighty matter for a simple blog but let me direct you to what thrills the heart of God – eleos, mercy. He is delighted to extend it. If you are miserable, you can apply. If you are afflicted, desperate, tormented, weary, you can apply. This Lord loves compassion and bringing help to those who need it. Is that mercy for us, the hurting, neighbors? Yes.

You can buy a Lutheran or Pentecostal guide to Sunday worship, a yoga guide to stretching, a Buddhist guide to mindfulness…   all may have some pointers but while you “legislate” the day you will get further from the One who wants to direct traffic- the Lord of the Sabbath. His thing? Mercy. His passion? Mercy. His desire? Mercy. Compassion, kindness and help are part of that. It’s His kryptonite. He’s the Lord of that day – then, now, tomorrow.

You have a date with the KING this weekend … an amazing, loving KING. He is Lord of that time, wait for it ….., celebrate it and keep it FRESH! 

    JESUS  is >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> than just church day.

So, my husband got a fish tank recently and added some new fish. We have one fish that has lived for several years. The old tank was getting really gross and everything inside had a grey cast to it. The fish seemed upset by this but I didn’t say anything, lest hubby might call me the “fish whisperer” or something. I did sense their dissatisfaction however. The glass was even getting murky brown.

One day he left the house with a vial of something. All day I prayed, interceded and cried out to God on hubby’s behalf. I was sure it was cancer or something worse. Maybe I should have been more intentional about our nutrition and diet? The man I loved was possibly too frightened by a bad report to tell me what he was facing.  When he came home he let me know that the people at the fish store said his water needed some different chemicals. I know we are on a budget, but seriously?  I thought “man, for something so important why are you trusting people at a fish store with your health? “ Ends up, he was having the fish water tested – who knew such things took place? Magically, the fish tank kept  changing.  It is such a good idea for me to stick to other things in our marriage because clearly, or in this case, dimly, this was not my area of expertise.

Eventually, new fish began to appear replacing the ones who died from either the brown water, the stressed out lady watching the water or possibly they went on to fish Heaven, no one really knows. In that mix , a snail was purchased. This snail was not your average snail. It was not taupe in color but a bright orange. Instead of sliding along through life she would show up on the bottom of the tank, the side, the top –all in one day. One morning, I woke up and everything looked bright and brilliant inside the tank. The rocks were tan instead of black and the foliage was green. I thought I was more chipper, possibly had more coffee that morning, but after several days of estimating this, I realized this exceptional snail had sucked up the mold, garbage and toxins throughout the tank. It looked like someone had scrubbed the castle and the submarine which was pretty amazing. Hubby was given a gift of beauty that could also clean. Hmmm?  Nice combo.  Glad for snail’s example.

Miss snails destiny – garbage sucking. Pure unsophisticated garbage removal. Who would want that for a job or career? She did not pass on the garbage or slide it elsewhere, she sucked it up and removed it. Impressive. Everything in her path became brighter – not because she painted, glossed or polished, she merely removed the trash in her way. The results were gorgeous and displayed brilliant color. She was doing exactly what she was created to do. I’m not a huge fan of fish (too many bad flushing experiences as a child perhaps) but this snail has caught my attention. She makes the tank, our home, the world – a better place. I like her better than some people I know because of this. She removes stains and  keeps moving forward. She shines dark places.

Hubby and I won the “ugly sweater” contest at church last week. He wore a tree on his head and I wore a sweaty sweatshirt and grumped “bah humbug” in an ugly manner. It was fun to be ugly for an hour but I missed  smiling and being positive for Jesus. Do I let others “garbage” affect me or move on to polish?  Our snail does not get snagged by garbage, it actually propels her forward. Sadly, I’m not sure I am as spiritually mature as the snail in my fish tank. Sometimes I linger and grumble about the dirt and garbage, instead of just moving on.  1 John 3:8 says for this purpose was the Son of God manifest – to destroy the works of the evil one. Wherever Jesus went, he made things better and BRIGHTER. Bringing beauty is a choice, not for the fast or furious but the faithful.

Keep going today – whatever your pace, shining and knowing God, your creator watches and sees it all.

Renae Roche 2018

January 1       Complete, Carry Out, Fill

The web counter was added mid-December. The counts were  17,251 on the 29th of December.  I’m glad you stopped by and truly appreciate your visit. Would you be willing to comment or add your questions/ thoughts?  See the “contact us” form at the end of the blog. Thanks!  Renae

Matthew 5  ESV

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish (destroy, overthrow or dissolve) the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish (destroy, overthrow or dissolve) them but to fulfill them.

Fulfill = Complete, carry out to the full, fill

 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, (does not say resurrection here)

Not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 

19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will NEVER enter the kingdom of heaven.’

Ouch! I want to go to Heaven. I know that all of my righteousness is but filthy rags. My righteousness must be in the person of Christ or I remain without hope. So how does a limited supply – that which is found in Christ, exceed a set limit? Is it positional meaning it comes from Christ or can it be impacted by conditions such as waiting in His presence?

So, these words do not square with “hippie Jesus” that goes for anything and everything under the guise of grace. He sounds, in fact, pretty serious here.  It is a direct quote from Christ himself, leaving none to theologically outrank Him. It almost elevates the wound tight lives of the scribes and Pharisees but considering the whole context of scripture — that can’t be right either. How do we reconcile these words with contemporary society? Those not believing in the apostolic age where gifts are poured out after the resurrection will say this ceased – the need for filling. Pentecostals will shout out that we all need to be filled by the Holy Spirit. That is Biblical and experientially I’ve seen that take place. But how does the law get filled, completed with each commandment? This is a quandary, a fascinating subject, worthy of study.

Greek students will recognize the importance of the iota and dot. They are necessary and vital.

Mama’s and Papa’s may see the words “called great in the Kingdom” and desire that for their children. Many secretly desire that for themselves and would that be misguided or perfect?

What does this mind twister mean and how does it fit in with the very Jewish book of Matthew? How does it square with the content of scripture as a whole? The early church asked these same questions because the answers mattered to them. Some worshipped, others ran for their lives to avoid martyrdom. We see the words in red and know that they carry meaning for our lives. How do we fully obey Christ in this generation?

Comments? Thoughts? Challenges?

I pray this year will be filled with Scripture and Spirit = a sure plan for success. (See Psalm and Proverbs 1). My hope is this year our hearts and minds will be challenged to know God more and follow Him with all that is within US. I love Ravi Zacharias’ ministry name: “Let my people think”. Let us serve God with our whole bodies, our hearts, our strength, our souls and our minds in 2018.  Renae

 

May you always be:

A MIND though which Christ thinks;

A HEART through which Christ loves;

A VOICE through which Christ speaks;

A HAND through which Christ helps.     (Author unknown)

 

 

A scream is heard in the dark, starry night.

Why is that woman screaming? “She’s in labor.” “I am so glad you put those people out with the animals, boundaries are important.” “Weren’t they evasive about where they were from and why they were here?” “It makes them look suspicious.” “They clearly should not have been put with the other guests; they smelled like they had been traveling for months.” “We certainly don’t want those foreigners in our city to interrupt our holiday, it’s not like they are family nor have any family here.” “Now we’ll have to help out their kid too.”

All the relatives and friends were in a different city. The noise of the crowded inn was shut out as they closed the door where the animals were kept. They would be safe her from the cold and curious visitors. Soon, they would register and declare to the world they were a couple, a new family. Mary knew she was to marry and trust this man Jacob but when she saw hints of doubt in his face she may have worried about her future. In this time of travail, would he be strong enough to help her?

We do not know if the same God who serenaded the shepherds, the same God who gave Elizabeth hope, the same God who told her of Jesus would be questioned by this couple in this hour. Were the dreams enough to encourage them? Were there majestic Heavenly violins? When the supernatural invaded that cattle stall, were there prophecies, utterances of praise or just tenacious faith clinging onto hope in the silent, cold, darkness?

In Matthew,  Jacob is tasked with naming the baby Jesus and there is the hope that he will save the people from their sins. This baby will touch so many people in a way that connects them to God that they will call him Emmanuel- God dwelling with us. His presence would be different than other children. The Jewish baby comes from a long line of praying, believing and hoping saints and sinners. But this day, there is no silver spoon in his mouth or designer blankets. Mary knew this baby’s DNA would be different than anyone ever expected.

In the gospel of Mark, he tells us right off the bat that this baby is not just Mary’s but belongs to God.  How do you attach to a baby that is only truly partly yours?  11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Rather than focusing on that candlelit manger scene, Mark gives us a glimpse into the Heavenly family. He illuminates for us the unity of the Trinity – Father, son and Holy Spirit all together but doing different tasks. His identity is not based on what Jacob names him but on who his heavenly father says that he is.

Luke lets us know this was Mary’s first son; God could have selected a seasoned mama with ten kids if He was just looking for a surrogate with experience. God had selected someone He trusted, someone who had His attention and favor. He wanted the mommy of His son to be kind, compassionate and someone who magnified the Lord.  She did not reject this baby but wrapped him up in cloths. Was this to make him comfortable, to protect Him from all the germs in that dirty setting or to get him ready for another journey? When she laid him down in that manger was it with joy or fear that he just might end up being God’s son and the peoples’ savior? Was that act of simple release (laying him down in the manger instead of holding Him) Mary’s understanding that this child would be given for the sins of the world? If this birth process did not kill her, certainly His death process might. Mary knew because Mary had been foretold and forewarned, she agreed anyway.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “ God has brought the Jewish baby and His family to be born in a Jewish town. In spite of the father, angel and community giving Him a name- Mary knew that this little child would never fully be hers.   

John, the best friend of this baby knew that what His family spoke of Jesus may be accurate but it was not complete. He starts out his verbal photo album by letting us know that this baby was God’s Word, the actual creator of the universe, He was the total gift of life and light. He could see things come full circle and knew that the existence of this saving Messiah was for a purpose, a reason that we along with the saints from generations ago and for all those after could become the children of God – spiritual siblings. The Son desired brothers and sisters, those who reflected the image of His father.  This baby was not just a boy, He was the son of God – fully God and fully man. If that were not enough, he also tells everyone His character – He is FULL of grace and truth. Because Mary knew John, she did know that this baby boy would not become the great I am – He was born the great I am. Scripture records that Mary knew, and her response was “be it unto me according to Your Word.”

Those at the Inn did not receive Him. His family would not receive Him. His city could not receive Him. His nation fought against Him but when the God who sent Him received Him into glory, that promised Holy Spirit was poured out and the promise released that we could become the children of God. Matthew 10:40 tells us, ““Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” Those who accept this baby’s  work – what He did on the cross as payment for our sin, whoever acknowledges that He is Lord and confesses with their mouth that Jesus is Lord, will be saved.” The rejected one opens the door to the Heavenly family, where no one is ever abandoned, rejected or alone. What a gift! What a Presence, what a King.

Oh come, let us adore Him, not just as a baby but as King and Lord….

Merry Christmas.

Renae Roche 2017

 

Luke 2 — We read that because of us a child is born. We were the reason for the season. What? Why would you say that? All the coffee cups and posters say Jesus is the reason for the season? Yes but John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that (or for this reason) that ALL who believe in Him shall have eternal life. Luke 19:10 tells us that He came to seek and save…  First a Son, then a Savior.

Ponder this in your heart today . . . .

He didn’t come to a mosque, a synagogue or a temple. He came to a holiday party of a much different kind. The high and lofty, the low and hungry would all have equal access ….and irritate sociologists till the end of time.

Bound in cloths, little Houdini did not share His eternal secret of escape. For He was busy resting, enjoying quality time with family, He wore no superhero cape. Called “The Beginning and the End,” this plan was in the middle, to save those from the tyranny of the urgent, God chose a babe to reveal this riddle. His greatest ministry then was REST as His little blankets would unfold. God once again gathering the FAMILY, the greatest reconciliation ever told.

The gathering of the faithful, the snuggling against the breast, all had ceased from their labors for this was the season to meet their long awaited REST. Crying, cooing, burping, great works they watched on their knees, little did Mary and Joseph know this one would reach the least of these. While many may seek miracles, hear sermons, or have the cross on their mind, God restarted their second chance so the prodigals’ long lost hope,… they would now be able to find.

When we gather at the manger, where simple animals share their food, could it be that God still calls us to multiply, be fruitful and know that He alone is good? Is the real reason for Christmas looking in our Saviors face, seeing things His way, through His Word and understanding everlasting grace? While many seek out Facebook of such a different kind, is the real reason for the season knowing we were always before God’s face and on God’s heart and in His mind?

“First things first” the marriage counselors say, yet do any of the evangelists proclaim this was one of Jesus’ greatest days? The day he was still, loving and being adored, could this be the greatest accomplishment of our Savior, Redeemer and Lord? To calmly trust in His father, to posture Himself under the omniscience of His watchful eye, was this His first, obedient act even before His time to die?

Creation made, then suspended we waited for second Adam in swaddling cloths to arrive, could this be the promise of salvation, to save and sustain one such as I? To be loved and to be –loving, is the first act of our infant King, to bring a world together just to worship God and rest was a small, yet profoundly amazing thing.

Pausing to be with family and neighbors, to see a smile, to hear a cry; may not seem like the “big stuff” until we remember the original reason why. Jesus came to be with us, not just for show or ministry, He came to give us rest, heal us of our loneliness, and lovingly reconnect the ultimate, sacred Family Tree.       

 

                                           Renae Roche ©2015. 

That’s a Leon

One of the earliest names of God is seen in Genesis 49.  Jacob is blessing Joseph and says:

“By the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
    (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
25 by the God of your father who will help you,
    by the Almighty who will bless you
    with blessings of heaven above, ….”

God is known by many attributes and titles but this earliest one tells us that Jacob knew this Shepherd was a God who comes near, a God who shows up to help, an Almighty who blesses and Jacob was aware somehow that blessings – they come from Heaven above.

Fast forward several generations.

This  occurrence will be at the beginning of the New Covenant writings. Shepherds, working under the cover of stars and darkness. Sheep are everywhere and then …. A sign appears in the sky. Why Shepherds? Shepherds are people of action. While sheep are resting by the still waters, Shepherds are running around making sure the setting is conducive to rest. They are less emotional types and more protective types. One pastor recently pointed out that shepherds were low on the social rung and not even allowed to testify in court. I’m not sure why but they were hired hands so they could not be impartial while owing a debt to a wealthy farmer. Their loyalty had to be with the sheep. They probably were not very tactful as they their time in conversation with fluffy friends.

Sheep were often people’s pets, not just sources of wool, meat or milk. They represented wealth because each flock could have up to 100 sheep in it. Shepherding was not for the faint-hearted. According to the International Standard Bible Dictionary (ISBD) shepherding was not done in isolation as relatives stepped in to help and under-shepherds were hired to support the whole process. It took a group of people to navigate all the things that needed to be done.

These rough shepherds could gut a sheep or help birth a lamb and be home for supper. They often looked down at the grass to make sure it was edible; they looked down at the path to make sure it was free of holes and rocks. They looked down at the water to make sure it was still. They were paid to notice the idiosyncrasies of each lamb. They didn’t wear snake skin shoes. No one stood up when they walked in the room. Herding, feeding, shearing and grazing were their daily activities. They were a messy bunch, not perfect in any sense. Although they had times to rest when the sheep did, they were people of continual work.  It makes one wonder, why didn’t God first show a sign to the wise men? Or even the priests? They were fancy, cultured and educated, wore great hats…

Maybe God wanted to be there for the ones who did a job He loved.  Maybe watching and waiting was God’s main goal for His flock rather than being just being wise.

Maybe “wise” is watching and waiting. Seems opposite of what the culture teaches us today.

Rough hands, tender hearts. Sheep have to be constantly monitored. Their horns are resources – they hold oil. There were no plastic companies producing containers or Tupperware back then.  They used hollowed out sheep horns. Horns were also used for instruments of worship. Without these elements, the religious life would suffer. But the use of these horns as “resources” would come at a cost, a cost the shepherds would see firsthand. Shepherds were necessary, uncelebrated, hardworking and faithful.

One Christmas when I was in high school someone gave me a stuffed puppy. He had on a Santa hat with his name printed on the top. I was so thrilled to get that thing. “Hey look this dog – his name is Leon.” They just thought it was what I chose to name him. We laughed when we realized later that I had read it too fast – it said NOEL. In my excitement, I had read it backwards.

There are many things this season that are just backwards – the calendar, the festival, and the traditions. We celebrate a melting pot of things in December. This nativity setting also has a mixture of prophecies, cultures and expectations. We see an unbelievably awesome sign being shown to those who no one would ever believe. That seems backwards. But God believed them and they continued to work whether people clapped or didn’t. Backwards is — dumb sheep and uneducated shepherds receiving the wisest message ever told about the wisest person who ever lived. That’s trust. It’s wise being defined as “those who follow the Shepherd” and dumb being defined as “those who refuse”. That’s fried ice! It’s a mobile station! That’s a Leon.

It’s also people in church wearing their Temple attire but not aware of the God watching over the Temple. It’s priests praying to a God they no longer trust. Control and trust are opposite things.  It’s people sacrificing greatly but never enjoying the sacrifice or the one they present it to. We heard recently of a national leader who took his own life. He went from minister to murderer and the cost of his sacrifice was exponential for his family. His sacrifice had become greater in his eyes than the One he sacrificed to. When did the flow of John 15 cease in his life and did anyone notice? He decided the permanent solution was wiser than the prayer of repentance for getting disconnected. That’s a Leon. It’s backwards – opposite of God’s heart and will for someone’s life.  If you are headed in that direction, slow down, meditate on John 10:10 and call someone today. That thinking is backwards and opposite of the meaning of Noel – Christmas when Emmanuel HIMSELF came to be with us and help us. He gave His whole life so you would not be alone – what a gift!

We can look at something for so long that all we see is a blur and our focus gets on our work instead of the finished work of Christ. 

Ministry as an outflow of abiding brings joy. Ministry that hurts family or ministers – that’s a Leon. It’s backwards. It looks right at first glance but it is opposite of the loving God who wants to bless, help and pour out His heart from Heaven. Business as usual does not equal God’s blessings. Seeking Him and seeing Him does.

While all the regular folk were singing to God that night the Shepherds were enjoying a Royal concert out in the field. They had front row seats because these were the guests of the Prince being born. Maybe God was looking to display His sign to the church folks? Maybe He couldn’t find a single robed believer who would look up? “Gabriel, try that hill over there”. “Those guys aren’t too busy to look for Me”. They may seem like stargazers to you, but they are AVAILABLE to ME. I’m looking for vessels to carry this message to Mary and Joseph – nothing fancy required. In fact, it’s critical nothing extra is added. Just meat and potatoes style.  (Maybe God also suggested they send a wool comforter and lambs bottle with them. Mary might need some help – a Messianic baby shower. Scripture does not say this but compassion certainly does.)

When we can’t see God, when we can’t feel Him, when we can’t hear him….  We can always rely on His compassion and unfailing love, it is who He is. So where do we see or hear Him  in the fields that night? Maybe God opened the portal of Heaven for the angels to sing because God had listened to the Shepherds sweet songs night after night. God is most definitely a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Isaiah 65:24 says, “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.

The wise men would not get to see the sign or baby until much later. So why shepherds abiding in the field? Maybe because:

 God sent Jesus not to impress us, but to save us. 

He was going to entrust His little lamb, His only son into the hands of a very cruel world. These sheep fields contained the best lambs in the world. Maybe God hoped His little lamb would get world class care, tender songs and that this bunch would see the value of this lamb. They were also the finest lambs in the world, known for their black shiny coats and perfection for sacrifice. Being born in this geographical location was no accident. It was prophecy.

Were these tough, rough shepherds who saw the sign in the sky the first ones to confirm to Mary the destiny of her son? Did the pieces of the puzzle of Joseph’s dreams make sense when they came and told them about their occupation? Did the shepherds know they were prophetic messengers? The Angels singing in the sky alerted the Shepherds. The babe in the manger alerts us that there’s a new Voice in town, better than all other idols or talents – One we need to hear. (Hebrews 1). We can’t afford to get these things backward– His values, directions or signs.

Christmas is not a celebration for just presents and good cheer. It’s a time or remembrance, a reminder that Heaven is near. It is a clarion call to look for the windows of Heaven to once again open, for those waiting to draw near. For those listening, watching and waiting…  for those wise enough to look  UP and follow…. Soon and very soon we ARE going to see the King!  

 

When I was in college I interned at a large church in Minnesota. I was the only female intern at that time and I felt the pressure of doing a good job. My supervisor was a seasoned pastor and I wanted to please him and the congregation.  I started out working with the toddlers and they were so much fun. Around Christmas time I was testing out the waters to see if we could do a Christmas play with this age group, so I read the story and we were going to “act” it out. Everyone had their roles and we did the scenes one at a time. Then it got overwhelming for the children and one kid started flying around the room making jet noises. Zoom, zoom, zoom…   He was promptly instructed to “sit down” as there were no jets in the manger scene. One girl came to his defense – “yes there were– they were big angels flying around keeping things safe.” Ugh. “Did these kids not get the message I had something to prove? ” “Who can lead a Christmas play with a little boy flying around?”

The week before another little boy kept yelling Jews!  I said , “yes they were Jewish” and planned on telling him the theological implications of their interaction in the new land when my patient helper said “no, he wants more jew-sss (Juice).” Hours in the library had made me a little  too focused. Now this same kid wanted to ask about the religion of the three wise men. ” No,” I fussed, “we are not going to discuss the wise men and their personal lives” – where did that even come from? Before I could turn around another little girl came in “oinking” and her brother was in tow, also oinking. She oinked her way right through the shepherds and snuggled her and her brother right by the donkey. This delighted the little jet plane pilot who proceeded to fly around the room – again. The representative Mary and Joseph started to interact with the donkey and shepherds and they all promptly made room for the little pigs right by the manger – right by plastic baby Jesus wrapped in a raggedy blue cloth.

The room was hot, my Christmas sweater was itchy, and time was winding down as the next service was soon to begin. My helper had gone to help another class and my future in ministry looked very bleak. I could not pull this off – these small people had no sense of order, personal boundaries or decorum. They were very short sighted when it came to the theological message of Christmas. It was hopeless.

I must have requested order more loudly than I realized because they all abruptly sat down. In apologetic tones I let them know in a concise well informed, educated and trained manner – there were “no pigs at the manger scene”. “No, no pigs. “  “Have you ever seen one on a card, in a play, on television?” The little curly haired blond girl replied, “There were no parts for my little brother and he wants to be in the play.” The children, as if on cue responded –” we want everyone to be in the play”. These sweet children knew the message this little baby brought – the message that God loved the whole world and came for ALL, not just the rich, pretty or talented. Maybe there was a little pig nearby on that day? My mind raced as I rehearsed previous plays, ancient regulations, dietary laws, bacon…

 Exasperated, I just didn’t know anymore, but the message this sister had for her little brother touched my heart –“don’t leave him out, we’re together”.  It would serve as a barometer test when I viewed all other ministers and ministries – do they include or exclude? In a brief Sunday school hour I had learned more from these small little people with jelly on their faces (and Bible and clothes) than I had from my professors all week. (Yes, snack time was also a fiasco that day).   God had sent his message in a very small package – a group of toddlers. He’s done that before – a surprise baby for Sarah, a baby in a basket in the Reeds and – a miracle baby in a manger, so this looks like a pattern with Him.

1 Corinthians 1:27-30   (ESV)

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of Him, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption…

 

Who were the “others”  included in that original Christmas story? You know the “them” that aren’t the “us”.  Unbelieved, smelly, rough shepherds. A young woman who messed up her engagement and family system. A betrayed, older father wondering why his dreams at night were stranger than the reality of his days.  Angels that some still believe today don’t exist. A donkey who slowly, methodically and faithfully carried the Message God sent to the world while everyone else was fighting about the temple, taxes and treasures. The little girl may not have had all the pieces of the story correct but she recognized that everyone should play a part and somehow this baby made that important.

That frazzled morning we gathered around the plastic baby Jesus (if I remember correctly it was missing a limb), we danced a little jig singing happy birthday and everyone got to rejoice in their parts –“What’s that light?” “Glory to God in the highest, moo, hee-haw — OINK!”  Angels and jets were flying around the room together, children were giggling and it was the best Christmas play I’ve probably ever seen. Did we get to do it on the big platform? No, for several reasons, but I know for sure it was seen.  

After the commotion, we sat on the carpet and I thought I would “pull the story together” for them. “Children, you know the story of the baby in the manger well, but what is Jesus doing now, since He is all grown up?”  Yes, I confess I planned on putting off my embarrassed  persona and put on my “ I’m a wise minister”  hat. That may be why Paul said he had to die daily!  There’s just so much flesh in us on any given day. The same little blonde girl raised her hand, “I know what Jesus is doing right now”. My mind flashed to more pig theology, more extrabiblical nonsense, more fears of “why is this woman teaching you these things, this will be the thing that gets me in trouble in my internship …  no, no, stop! Before I could call on a different student she blurted out, “He’s wallpapering.”  (Silence, then giggles).

Fearing missing her point again , I paused.  I’m a first year Bible college student, surely I can fix this? Adults all know He is opening scrolls, doing holy stuff. What do I say? Where does she get this stuff? “No, no… the Lord of Lords is planning on coming back in glory.” Then a couple more kids chimed in, “yes that is what he is doing. He’s wallpapering. We learned that in Sunday School. “There were only a few minutes left and I was hard pressed to explain things. This precious little girl noted my confused face and gently explained, “see, He is wallpapering my room right now – He knows I’m coming. He is preparing a place for me, for you, for us and He wants it to be very beautiful because He has been waiting for us for a very long time.” The  children started describing what they thought He was working on for them and I was very grateful some previous teacher had invested in those kids because this weary, tired, broke college student needed to know that there was more to life than what she felt and saw on that day. See I had been preparing for Jesus, I had been giving Him my best and on that day I was spent. I had been working to please my parents, my pastor, my church.

Then, God broke through.  “I’m preparing a place for YOU.” “I’m looking for YOU”. “I’m excited to have you come to my house and share in my joy.” He loved me MUCH more than I could ever love Him. I had lost sight of that in the midst of pressures, ministry and even joy.

The manger scene became real to me that Christmas. It wasn’t just about the actors or scenes in a play – it was about a baby who came to rescue ME. This same child who had no place ready or prepared for Him would prepare a place for those who accepted His invitation to come to His home (see the REST for you page). This story was about being loved and about that love reaching everyone. The most excellent and impressive work to be done in that church was not in my skill or wisdom but represented in that makeshift manger by that baby would could only receive ONE thing from me – love. That’s all babies know but that’s all they need to know.

Theology is complicated for those who choose to make it so but the sent baby – came to love. The resurrected baby – wants our love. Those nearest that baby – show that love to others.

This Christmas, don’t be a heaven hog – share the incredible Joy that whosoever comes to Him, He will not cast out.  Don’t exclude people from a Christ who came, died and rose so they could hear about His love. 

Do become like these little Christmas pigs – hungry and desperately wanting to draw near this One who is preparing a place for all those who love Him. Bring someone with you. He wants you!  He wants to refresh, delight and love on You!  You are precious to Him and those many rooms aren’t just a story – right now they are being beautifully designed and arranged for your arrival. There is room for you inn God’s heart and home.

Come, they told me, ba rumpa babum. A newborn King to see ……  

 

Renae Roche 2017 

 

Tis the Season for Christmas movies and reruns.  We especially love the older ones but didn’t realize how much our culture has changed. It is strange to have to explain moonshine or rotary phones while watching holiday favorites. Many of these golden oldies contain violence, yelling parents, addictions and more.  After watching Rudolph the Red nosed reindeer, one of the boys pointed out Rudolph was bullied. He turned to his little brother and processed how that affects self-esteem. As a kid I just remember the shiny nose!  Things have changed a lot. Santa sadly has some moments of racism and sexism. I’m wondering if people are more sensitive or if as a culture we are just becoming more aware of what is not acceptable behavior. As kids we never noticed it because we couldn’t wait to get to the good part…  Santa coming with presents!  Santa was coming to reward the “nice” boys and girls. Nice was defined as compliant.

One young boy that may not have been on the nice list early on was Pierre. He just did not want to do what the rest of his family liked to do. They had plans for him but he was listening to the beat of a different drummer so to speak. It got so intense that age 15 he ran off and joined the French Royal Navy. His family was very upset. He wanted to explore, test out ideas, and learn new things. He did not want to be involved in the business that his family enjoyed. He was kind of an outcast. The ship he got on had many sailors who got scurvy and various other diseases. Pierre learned on that ship how to treat their problems, especially those with dental disease.  Instead of just extracting the bad teeth, he wanted to fix them. He went on to be the “father of modern dentistry” and pushed for regulations of dental surgeons to have training and education before operating on people. Good idea!

Fast forward to 1964 when Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer movie was made. One of the lead characters is a little guy named Hermie and everyone wants him to make toys. He hates it and insists on being a dentist much to everyone’s scorn. The other elves and even choir leader chide him and bully him.  What would have happened if he had followed his dream and instructed them on the dangers of all that Christmas candy in Santa’s workshop? Those little elves might have survived their candy cane tooth decay and lived! It is a fascinating example of strength based leadership as this little elf naturally does what he is created to do and balks at the system that tries to make him behave like the herd.

Rudolph fascinates me. The reindeer don’t know that they need him – but the audience does. One bright reindeer alone cannot carry Santa; we all know that – it takes a team. (OK so we get the movie but Christians, churches, businesses, government systems) still insist on doing things alone or with only one party. Hmm? Maybe adults aren’t smarter than children. Rudolph does not want to wear the plastic black nose to cover his shine. He doesn’t want to stop glowing and “blend in” with the normal folk. So Rudolph decides to buck the system (it’s ok to laugh, its Christmas). It ends up that he has just enough light to brighten not only his path, but those bullying him and …. The big man himself, Santa. Just a side note, I’m guessing Santa is not too up on health issues and is possibly pre-diabetic, just saying. Then they distribute toys to all the  little girls and boys and the viewing audience recognizes that it never was just about their gifts, their struggles or their competitive power plays – it was about going out into the world to share the Christmas Spirit. It sounds close to something I heard in a seminary once.

Do you remember that old Psalm people bring out on Easter or when someone dies?  It’s all about a Shepherd gently leading his sheep? It doesn’t talk about following other sheep. Psalm 23 is a psalm of gratefulness for leadership. I’ve never noticed until watching Rudolph the other night that the recipient in Psalm 23, gets all the provision, but at what price to the leader? He enters dark places, fights off wolves and predators, has to reign in those who stray, feed the little suckers and stay awake while they sleep. Tough stuff.

The rod and staff that many fear is to just goad or correct them, is much more than that. It is also used to hang a shepherds ‘lantern. Fully lit, that lantern guides the shepherd so he can lead the sheep by still waters, through dark valleys and to the manger so they can pig out on Christmas nuggets. That light is lifted high so the little sheep hooves can see where to go and not stumble. The lambs poke along but increase in speed to keep up with the light. The training for that shepherd is different than the sheep that walk along beside them. Some have to risk all, go ahead, and lead the way so others can see where to follow.

Maybe Rudolph is a pastor in the making? His unique DNA, gifting, strengths and even weaknesses will carry his weak little legs far. What is difficult to see now is how he will be used in the “then”. The parts others believed were a disability or hindrance, what annoyed or irritated them, was the very thing that would be used to “light up the night”. Baby you’re a firework! His design was for their benefit as much as his.

Back to Pierre the sailor turned dentist for a moment. We wonder what that cost his mom and dad for us to be comfortable in a dentist chair today? The journey…   one day Pierre Fauchard, the father of modern dentistry would promote and invent lights positioned on the dental chair so a person’s mouth would be lit up to make surgery safer. Good idea Pierre!  Thank you. Aaaaagh…..What pain did his family go through when he said, ‘see ya later? Sorry to make waves but I’m following my call to be a salty dog.” He needed his light to shine, even though at the time he did not understand how, when or why. He followed the drumbeat he heard.

Through the rugged hills and valleys, across the dusty terrain Mary and Joseph trotted to Bethlehem, leaving friends, family and the comfort of home so the light within her could be birthed …. The One who would become The Light of the world. It cost something. Popularity, finances, friendship, security. When that baby opened his eyes for the first time – a Star was born and Heaven got a glimpse through a different lens of a world that had grown very dark.

Grace comes in many frames, gifts and even occupations. It’s never one size fits all.

Where are the Rudolph’s of this generation and what is God preparing them to do that we cannot now see? What irritations, weaknesses, genders, national identities or disabilities are we judging instead of embracing? Who are the Rudolph’s before us and are we valuing their contribution while we submit our gifts and talents to be part of a greater team? Where is God calling us to let our light shine? What is the impact of the absence of that light if we disobey?

Gentle Shepherd, lead us and use us in this season…..

 

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for HIS good pleasure.

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Philippians 2 ESV

May God’s light shine brightly in you this  day in full strength for His glory! R

 

Renae Roche 2017