April McGowan

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

My heart is so saddened by the past few days. We’ve had shootings at our Clackamas mall, then our local pet store caught fire (nearly all the pets were lost), and now the shootings in Connecticut follow that up. I’m left feeling empty and sad. There are hundreds if not thousands in mourning this week—a week we’re supposed to be preparing for Christmas and enjoying family traditions.

Seeing the flags flying at half-mast in town was a dampening reminder today. And while I drove around with my family, doing some last minute shopping and buying a much needed pair of boots for my daughter, I was struck by how life still moves on despite the loss. However, the twinkling lights, merry music and usual hope of the season is contrasted by loss. Deep, heart wrenching loss. It brings us back to where we lay our hope. Is our hope here on this Earth, or does it lay in the hands of our Savior?

I’m struck by the stories of unselfish love emerging out of the tragedy. From the people in the mall who stayed with the injured, even as they lay dying, to the teachers who risked (and lost) their lives protecting their students. And while some shout, “Where was God?” or claim He turned a blind eye because the schools have quit teaching about Christianity, I say He was right there in the midst of it. Because, where there is sacrificial love, there is the Son, and where the Son is, there is the Father.

So when I drive around this year, looking at the Christmas lights, I’m going to be remembering the sacrifice and loss of many—but especially the sacrifice of the One, who came to cast light into the darkness, to draw us unto Himself in our grief, to save us from our iniquities. Emmanuel—God with us. He promises never to leave us nor forsake those who belong to Him, no matter what evil plays out here in this world.

John 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

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Hopelessly Devoted to You

The word dedicated sure has changed meaning for me in the past four years since we’ve been eating an allergy free diet. It all started with my son, but as we did testing on the rest of us, we found we suffered from similar reactions and sensitivities to gluten, egg and dairy. So for the most part (notice I say most and you know who you are!), we avoid these ingredients. My son, though, has to have food made in a dedicated kitchen on dedicated equipment—so no eating out for us.

We read labels very carefully now—watch words are ‘made on shared equipment’ (a no-no for Seth) or ‘made on dedicated equipment’ which means there’s nothing on that machinery or in the process that will contaminate his food. I look out for that word now—dedicated—it carries a positive feeling and gives me a sense of security knowing that what I’m about to give my son is safe for him to eat.

I started thinking how the significance of words change over time. I think we’ve gotten a bit lax about throwing around words to suit our meanings—so much so that they lose power over time. Dedication means wholly committed and set apart for a purpose. A synonym of dedication is devotion.

Some people are devoted to a sports team, or their work, or a political cause. Some folks are dedicated to the pursuit of a goal like a perfect education, the perfect house, maybe that dream vacation—and they’ll stop at nothing to get there.

But, do we put that much passion and devotion into our relationship with God? If we forget about God the Father and think of Him as a far off entity, then we’re probably not spending much with Him. Some people seem to want the relationship with God to happen magically. No work on their side, all the work on His.

To have a relationship with someone, you’ve got to spend time with them. Imagine living in a house with someone you never spoke to, or said one or two words to here and there…and when you hit your hand with a hammer yelled their name. And when things went awry in your life you turned around and told them it was their fault. Things probably wouldn’t be going so well between the two of you.

The super good news is that our Lord is patient with us. He’s not going to ask for a divorce or have you evicted from the house. He’s waiting for you, longing for you—missing you.

I’d like to encourage you to devote as much time to the Lord as you can this holiday season. Read His word—it was written for you! Spend time in prayer. Talk to Him. Devote your time just for Him.

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Full text here). 

Philippians 4: 8-9 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Full text here).

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And So This Is Christmas

The other day I had an opportunity to share my faith with someone who was confused about Jesus’ deity. And, as when anything like that happens, my faith deepened as I went about finding the verses of the Bible to share with him.

As it’s Christmas, the time of year when Christians choose to celebrate the birth of their savior, I thought I’d share a bit of what I found for my searching friend. I think the misconceptions of the world often infiltrate our ideas of who Jesus was. I often hear through the media that He was just a good man, or that He never claimed to be God, or that He was a just a prophet. Rather than listening to what others say, I think the best source of information is the fountainhead—the Bible. I’ve linked all the verses to read in context if you’d like.

The Bible says this about the birth of our Savior some 700 years before He was born:

Isaiah 7:9 Therefore the Lord himself will give youa sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, andwill call him Immanuel (which means God with us). (Full text here)

Isaiah 9: 6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Full text here)

Equally powerful are the statements Jesus makes about Himself:

I AM the bread of life (John 6:35)

I AM the door (John 10:9)

I AM the light of the world (John 8:12)

I AM the good shepherd (John 10:11)

I AM the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)

Before Abraham was born, I AM (John 8:58)

I AM the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 22)

Romans 5:6-7 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Full text here)

I know things are ramping up. There are family pressures, parties to attend, the perfect gifts to find, and a whole world of madness outside of our homes (and sometimes inside). But, I hope you join with me in celebrating our Lord’s birth this season, thanking Him for all the things Jesus is to us, and what He’s done for us. Mostly, I hope you slow down and spend time with the One, who gave Himself up for us as a willing sacrifice, a gift of love.

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