“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23, KJV) Especially this year as we celebrate Christmas, may the good news of God incarnate bring us joy and remind us that no matter our circumstances He is near.

Singing in the night
by Jose Sanchez

Last December, I had a long list of new year’s resolutions to improve my life. I was determined to make 2020 “my year.” You’re probably laughing. That’s okay. Nobody knew what was going to happen this year.

When COVID-19 hit, I felt I just needed to keep it together, to get hold of myself and get through it.  Truth be told, I naively thought it would be simple. “Just follow CDC guidelines, and you will be fine,” I told myself. However, I started to lose it when in a matter of days this tiny virus caused an avalanche of uncertainty, fear, unemployment and thousands of people died around world.

I wish I could be documented as the hero of the story, but 2020 is not a story about me. I realized the  people we serve needed to hear a message of peace and hope; ironically, though I’m the music director for the Northern Division I felt overwhelmed getting that message across.

One night I couldn’t help but shout the question I’d been trying desperately not to ask because it seemed like admitting defeat: “God, what are you doing?” I went to my keyboard and played an old hymn to an arrangement I composed 10 years ago. As I played, I sang the words in my head. It was then I felt God’s presence right there with me saying, “I am so glad you asked.”

You see, I do not think there is anything wrong with questioning God, but I think it’s rude to ask and not being willing to hear the answer.

“I thought you wanted to make 2020 ‘your year’,” God continued. “I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19, NIV)

Handing control to someone else can be a shaky process. It’s not easy to let go. It’s not easy to trust, particularly when we don’t know where we’re going. More than ever, this year has proved that.

“I’m still with you,” God comforted me. “I just needed to take back the driver’s seat. I’m still in control, and I definitely know where to go and how to get there. Trust Me.”

Passing through grief
by Major Nancy Mowers

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—…Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? —Isaiah 43:2,19, The Message

I have been going through some rough waters this year. On June 4, my ministry partner and husband of 49 ½ years died. My heart has a gigantic—no ginormous—gaping hole in it.

A picture posted on Facebook by my friend Gail Olley, who is grieving her grandson, captures how I feel. It is a sculpture in Geneva, Switzerland, called Melancholy by Albert György that depicts the void that is left.

But as I look closer, I see more. Through the hole I see the storm clouds and dark sky. And though I’m experiencing dark times, it helps me recall the amazing ways God works after the storm. I can see in my mind’s eye—through the hole—how the clouds turn fluffy white, the sky a clear sunny blue.

And I know that God is doing a new thing in my life. Through my grief I can see it. His grace is shining through. It doesn’t make the hole, my grief, less but it gives me hope.

My life verse has been and continues to be 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

Pray that I will see and discern God’s will during this time of change and growth. My prayer is that you and others will be able to see God’s hope and love through me.

Battling cancer
by Chris Shay

It’s been nearly one year since my doctor called to tell me I had breast cancer. Being generally healthy all my life, the diagnosis came as a shock, especially since I had retired just one month prior. Yet, immediately I felt the Lord’s presence and peace.

I announced the news on social media to gain prayer support, and the Lord held me close through the prayers of many. People from all over the world held me up in prayer, many of them having walked a similar cancer journey themselves, and I felt the strength and encouragement of the Body of Christ when I needed it most.

My husband, Mick, has been an incredible partner, walking through the roughest times with me: three surgeries, sickness from chemo, extended vertigo episodes, tests, appointments and hair loss. Family and friends were there for me as well, and I was blessed in so many ways.

But the greatest blessing was the increased intimacy I felt with Jesus. A friend of ours who has battled cancer for many years let me know this had been his experience as he lay in bed unable to move, rested during chemo treatments and faced the feelings of sorrow that came unbidden, and so it was for me.

Philippians 4:5b says “The Lord is near.” And He is! God made it plain to me that battling cancer was my assignment for the year. With that assignment He gave me the gifts of peace and faith, strengthened by His presence. In a very small way, I have entered into “the fellowship of His sufferings” the apostle Paul speaks about in Philippians 3:10, which he rightly understood to be part of truly knowing Christ.

Today my relationship with the Lord is more precious than ever. I know His Word is true and offers us peace in the darkest of times. My desire is to glorify Him with my life however many days have been ordained for me and through whatever life may hold. Not only is this a great privilege, I have the joy of having Jesus with me every moment to encourage, strengthen and comfort me. He is Emmanuel, God with us. I pray, despite all this year has held, you can join me in praising Him this Christmas.

 

 

 

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