Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

I'm going to shut down the computer for a little while, gals. I am heading out to Colorado the day after Christmas to spend a few days with my extended family, celebrating my mother's 70th birthday (she doesn't read the blog, so I can put the number in print!). And by the way, she really doesn't look a day over 55...but I will be back after the New Year.

This Christmas season has been a memorable one for me for many reasons. But the main one that sticks out in my mind is the overwhelming graciousness of God. As time passes, it seems that this world only becomes more dysfunctional, more wicked, and more self-focussed. I think that every day we move farther from Adam's perfect state simply adds to the horrific condition that sin has afforded here on earth. Oh, I know - sin brought death, and dead is dead - there aren't levels of death. But I think the effects of sin on earth have increased - on the soul there is only one effect, but on earth the wickedness seems to be increasing. Maybe it's because we are filling the earth with sinners.

None of this is a surprise to God. He completely understands the rebellion of sinful man, our dark hearts and our self-preservation tendencies. He knows that we want to worship and follow anything and everything but Him, and He gets the fact that fist-shaking is one of our favorite pastimes when it comes to knowing Him. Being a sinner makes us His enemy. He knows it, feels it, and completely understands it.

So what does He do about it?

"But God demonstrates His own love for us, that while we were YET SINNERS, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

While we were still his enemy. While we were shaking our fist at Him. While we were worshipping someone or something else. While we were sitting on the throne of our hearts, ruling and rebelling, He sent His Son to make the way clear for us to be restored back to Him.

Who does that? Oh, we might do that for our children, but for our enemies? For those who hate us? Only God is gracious to the point of death. And it doesn't stop there. His loving arms reach around His children individually and patiently hold, lead, guide, discipline and even playfully tickle now and again because He loves so deeply. So deeply that while we were still His enemy He fixed the problem. What love is this? How gracious must He be to offer His only Son for the life of His enemy, Kristen Wisen?

And then when I see His hand as clearly as I have over the past few months and years of my life, and I realize that salvation is enough for me but He offers so much more than just salvation, I am humbly overwhelmed at His goodness, His kindness and His grace. And not just in my life, but in the lives of countless believers around the world - how He can be so attentive to so many all at the same time is mind-boggling...but then again, He is God and I am not...

Okay, enough rambling. I just want to say that I love the Lord, and I hope and pray that the sight of that tiny, little baby brings to mind the fact that He was the Father's gift to you for eternity.

While you were His enemy, He sent His Son.


Thank You, Father and Thank You, Jesus...

Really Cool Picture

I saw this today on an Endtimes website called Born to Watch. ( It is depicting the moment when the world will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with great power and all His glory. I just thought it was pretty thought-provoking and so I dragged it off that site and threw it here for you to see. (I hope that's okay...?) Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Highs and Lows

"But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was." Luke 1:28

Before this verse in Luke 1, all we know about Mary was that she was an engaged virgin who lived in Nazareth. Those three words, engaged, virgin and Nazareth, is enough information for you to grab your Bible dictionary and dig deeper into understanding exactly who Mary was. But I want to move on to two other words that stuck out in verse 28 - perplexed and pondering.

Often when an angel appears to men, the response is flat-on-your-face fear, but Mary has a completely different response - curiosity and confusion. The next words that the angel speaks are "Do not be afraid," so perhaps there was some fear mixed in, but you don't see Mary fall on the ground and cry out, "Woe is me, for I am a woman of unclean lips!" or become as a dead man from fear. I have often wondered why she wasn't more frightened and I think it is because God is so kind hearted that He didn't want to scare the living daylights out of her - so the angel's appearance, though definitely supernatural, was comforting rather than frightening. Just my thoughts on that one...

By the way, did you notice when Zacharias questioned the possibility of his wife becoming pregnant that the angel responded with discipline, but when Mary asks how she could be pregnant since she was virgin, the angel responded in a kind explanation? Just interesting, wouldn't you say?

Back to the topic - here we find Mary thoughtful and contemplating. Jump now to Luke 1:45-55. Mary responds to Elizabeth's declaration about her pregnancy with praise to the Lord. Now remember, Mary is an engaged, pregnant woman - this was not socially acceptable and actually rather difficult to explain. But she keeps her eyes on God and humbly praises Him for His work in her life and His plan for the world. Again, I think Mary was a deep thinker - she isn't a reactor but a responder. There's a difference...think about it...

Next we see her in Bethlehem, tending her newborn in a manger, having visitors within hours of His birth, strangers, no less, and what is her response? Luke 2:19 tells us "...but Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart..." Again, a deep thinker. Mulling it over. Treasuring it. Pondering it. What comes to mind with the picture we are seeing of this young woman? I think of God's description of a godly woman: a gentle and quiet spirit. Do you see it?

One last snapshot - forty plus days after Jesus' birth (8 days old He was circumcised and then her purification was about 33 more days), Mary and Joseph take Him to be presented to the Lord in Jerusalem and offer a sacrifice according to the Law on His behalf. They are met by an aged man who speaks a prophecy over Jesus: "And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed - and a sword will pierce even your own soul - to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2:34,35)

Wow. Every mother's dream prophecy, wouldn't you say? Mary's response is not recorded, but with everything we have learned about her previously, what do you think her response would be? Was she angry at this old man? Did she pull her child out of his arms and storm away? Did she cry herself to sleep and blame Joseph for not protecting her and the baby from this stranger? Did she react?

Or did she respond? Did she hold her baby and look into His tiny, little eyes and ponder this prophecy, knowing God was completely in control? Did she shed a tear, thinking that this Child's destiny was out of her control but His care and protection were temporarily in her hands? Was she perplexed? Did this information go into that treasure box of wonders full of miracles?

Highs and lows. The highs of affirmation of God's plan with the arrival of the scruffy, crazy-eyed shepherds who fell on their faces and worshipped the One that she knew was God. The lows of not even two months later having the reality of His destiny cut deep through her heart. And her response? I think the same because of her character.

Mary was a young woman to have such character and I am confident that the day Jesus died, she was even more mature than the day He was born. Ladies, Mary's choice to respond to God rather than react to life is an example for us today. She was certainly not perfect, but she was chosen for an incredible task.

Oh, to be a woman of great character, one whom God would choose to use in an incredible way! God desires that gentle and quiet spirit in each one of us, and He has shown us that it is possible to be that woman whether we find ourselves in the highs or lows of life.

So...there are some of my thoughts. Are there any you would like to share, having read Luke 1 and 2?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Fun

Here's the perfect recipe for a December Saturday afternoon:

Begin with a counter full of ingredients...

Add a room full of women...

Provide an empty table...

And voila - instant holiday fun!

Thanks, gals, for a great day of baking! The youth group and all of our respective families greatly appreciate your display of love!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Weekend Wish

"Oh, to have the faith of Daniel!"

"I want the courage of Joshua."

"Lord, give me the wisdom of Solomon..."

"Am I am Mary or a Martha?"

"David was a man after God's own heart. How would God describe me?"

We often read the Word and study the characters to learn more about ourselves, our God and to give us godly examples to imitate. Peter was fiery and quick tempered, but his impulsiveness gave him a boldness to speak truth without apology. John was kindhearted and meek. Joseph trusted the Lord, despite how unfair life was to him. Nehemiah followed the call of the Lord amidst major oppression. Esther mustered the courage to save a nation. So many stories, so many lessons to learn.

But there is one person in the Bible that we tend to shy away from. Oh, she gets plenty of attention and for some, she has been elevated to a level that places her second only to God the Father. Because of this misplaced worship, we tend to completely disregard her story to avoid the appearance that we worship her as well. Yes, you know who I am talking about - Jesus' mother, Mary.

There is a great pendulum swing in feelings toward Mary - the Catholics hold her in such high esteem that they teach she herself was an immaculate conception. We evangelicals are at the other end of the spectrum, and we barely whisper her name because we don't want to raise her above any other common woman - she was just an instrument of God's choice.

Are you kidding me? Yeah, she was an instrument of God's choice, just like David, Joshua, Joseph, Peter and Esther. Just like us. We need to get past this and see what we can learn from this humble girl.

So my weekend wish for you is actually an assignment. I want you to read Mary's story. Take a look at Luke 1 and 2, and write down some observations about this gal. Her story is unique to say the least, but we have a lot to learn from her. Then next week we'll compare notes.

Sound like a good plan?

Have a great weekend, gals. We are 7 days away from Christmas!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Your Petition has been Heard

"But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Luke 1:13-17

As a child, I was taught that when Zacharias drew the lot to burn the incense before the Lord, that he brought his life long petition before the Lord in prayer - the request of a child. But ladies, I am not sure that's exactly what he was asking for as he prayed that day in the Temple. Let's take a closer look:
  • Elizabeth was advanced in years (1:7) - not only was she barren, but she was getting up there in age. Now, we have the story of Sarai and her pregnancy at 89 years old, so perhaps we just assume that when a story starts out with barrenness, that God is going to step in. But was that at the forefront of Elizabeth and Zacharais' minds? I think there comes a time when you accept the obvious - Elizabeth not only was barren, but most likely she was beyond the bearing years - that's why the scripture tells us she was advanced in age...advanced beyond what? Beyond the childbearing years...
  • Zacharias was a priest whose service would be called upon for two weeks each year in Jerusalem. The privilege of lighting the incense within the Temple would be a once in a lifetime calling - chosen by lot, which is another way of saying chosen by God. So, if you are given the once in a lifetime opportunity to light the incense inside the Temple and offer a prayer before the presence of the Lord, don't you think that this would be a sobering responsibility? Do you think this would be an appropriate time to bring a personal request, or was Zacharias speaking on behalf of the children of Israel?
  • So what would be an appropriate request on the behalf of the children of Israel? Well, at that time Israel was being occupied by Rome, who was making their lives miserable. Time and time again in the history of God's relationship with Israel, rebellious Israel would find itself in captivity. They would repent and cry out for salvation, and God would provide a savior in the form of a judge. But for nearly 400 years God had been silent - no judges, no prophets, nothing. I believe Zacharias was crying out for salvation. I think he was petitioning for a savior. The prophets had told of a coming Messiah, and I think the prayers of all the priests on behalf of the children of Israel were strikingly similar - I think they cried out for salvation.
  • The real evidence of what Zacharias was asking for comes in the response of the angel. He says that God has heard his petition and Elizabeth would bear a child. "There," you say, "that proves he was praying for a son!" Not so fast. It goes on to say that this child will be great in the sight of the Lord and that he will turn many hearts back to their God. Then in verse 17, the angel says that this baby will be a forerunner before HIM, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to make the people ready for the Lord. I believe that in that one simple word, we find evidence of Zacharias' true request. "Him." Who? Well, we know it is Jesus Christ - John the Baptist is the forerunner for the Messiah, Jesus Christ. If Zacharias' request was simply for a son, then the angel would have explained the fact that the baby would prepare the way for the coming Messiah. But, if Zacharias had asked for a messiah, the angel could refer to the answered petition with the pronoun "Him," as in, "Your son will prepare the way for Him."
So, what's the big deal, Kristen? Though we know that at one time in Elizabeth and Zacharais' lives the desire for a child was great, I believe that the petition that was answered that day by the angel was the request for a Savior. 400 years of silence was broken and the answer was "yes." In essence, in the fulness of time, God was finally ready to answer the cries of not only His people, but of all creation and announce the beginning of His plan, starting with this barren, aged woman's only son as the bearer of the good news, that the time of the Messiah had come.

Yes, this baby would be an answer to an old request of this elderly priest, kind of a bonus thrown in. But more importantly, and more appropriately, this baby was the start of the answer for a Messiah, for salvation for all of mankind. Zacharias' prayer was heard that day - it was God's time to save the world.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about expectations these days.

I knew you all were expecting me to post an entry here on Groundwork for Grace. You were probably waiting on pins and needles, right?? (You don't have to answer'll pop my bubble!) We had to unplug the computer for a few days while the carpets were cleaned, but we're back on-line now, and I'm proud to say I navigated my way to the back storage areas of Blogger all by myself! No techno-geek husband help required!

I was expecting a big..HUGE..been hearing about it for days... storm here in Holland today. I stocked up on food, toilet paper, Christmas cookie ingredients...I was ready!! Humph..I don't know what happened up in Grand Haven, but here in Holland...ppfffttt...we got nothin'..zilch...nada..
My kids were expecting a great day of fun in the snow and instead it was like playing in a giant slurpee. They came in soaking wet, but I didn't mind too much as it gave me time to work on some of my Christmas preparations.

We're hosting Christmas at our house this year. My brother and his family will be coming in from Washington D.C. and my parents will come from the Chicago area....12 people and 4 dogs at our house for 4 days. Paul can hardly wait!!!! He loves lots of noise and chaos and dogs running everywhere....or not. He does, however, love me and my family. So he's trying to stay positive. As I worked on my menu and tried to come up with ideas of things to do together, I began to formulate these Norman Rockwell images in my mind.....good conversations around the dinner table, the cousins playing nicely together, playing cards at night, working a puzzle in front of the fire. Everything was looking swell in my mind until I came to Christmas Eve. That's when I realized that I had better check my expectations at the door.

You see, no one in my extended family knows the Lord. And... my brother and his wife parent very differently than we do, which sometimes causes tension. sister-in-law (who I love) is a rather emotional person whose moods can either make or break an entire day. Holidays can be stressful! So while I know how I would like our time together this Christmas to turn out, in reality I have no idea what lies ahead. If I haven't lost you by now, raise your hand if you can relate.

We all have expectations..if not for Christmas, then for our lives. We expect certain outcomes to situations we encounter and certain behaviors from our friends, our children, even our God. So what happens if those expectations aren't met? How should we respond?

I was reminded this week, while reading an Advent story to my girls, that even though God had told Israel exactly how he was planning to send their Messiah, many had other expectations about how their rescuer should arrive and what He should do when he got there. And what about Mary? She was having an ordinary day expecting to marry the love of her life when overnight her whole life changed.....Joseph's too.

Is your response to failed expectations like hers? She called herself a bondslave of the Lord and trusted in her Master. We may not know what lies ahead, but our Father in Heaven does. We may be surprised by the events in our lives, but He is not. Mary goes on to rejoice in God her Savior...she tells of His mercy, how it is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. She recalls his mighty deeds and ends by remebering how He spoke to Abraham and his descendants forever. Hmmmmm...that sounds strangely familiar. Anyone remember our memory verse? Psalm 115? Anyone???

Kristen shared in one of her previous Bible studies that we should picture ourselves with a yoke across our shoulders carrying a pair of buckets, one at each end. Whatever is in those buckets will spill out onto others around us when we trip..or stumble..or bump into someone or something...when our expectations aren't met. If your buckets are full of stress, anger, despair, crabbiness...or yourself, that's what others will experience. BUT, if you buckets are full of God's word, His love, the fruits of His spirit...well, you get the picture!

Advent seems a great time to get rid of our own ideas about who He is and what He should do for us and focus on the real Jesus of Scripture. My wish for you these next few weeks is that you would take some time each day to focus on the fill your buckets with truth about who He is, what He has done for you, how He wants you to respond. Fill your buckets to the brim with the character of Christ...and then spill it all over everyone around you as you bump your way through the holidays.

I'll pray for your buckets, if you'll pray for mine!

Grateful for Immanuel...God with us!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Gone for a few days

Good morning, ladies!

I trust you had a great weekend. I am just writing you a quick note to tell you that I am in Chicago this week and Beth is covering the blog for me - this is assuming that she can maneuver her way in the back storage areas of blogger-world, but she has a techno-geek husband, so I would expect in a day or two you will hear from her!

I put a picture of Chicago here so you could see where I am going. If you start on the right side of the picture and count 9 buildings to the left, I am staying on the 35th floor of that 9th building. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Just joking...I wanted to see if you'd try!

Have a great week - I will see you all online next Monday, Lord-willing! Let me leave you with this one thought:

"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:3-4

This is my message to you this week...thank you for the honor and joy you have allowed me to experience through blogging with you this fall. Have a great week!


Friday, December 4, 2009

Weekend Wish

Is there anything that brings more joy to a child than a snow day? Well, guess what, ladies - today you are going to have a house full of happy children!

I woke up at about 5:45 this morning and stumbled downstairs to my computer. On my way, I looked out the window and could no longer see the driveway, and the dark, night sky was strangely light. I knew immediately what was was still snowing and that meant there was a good chance school would be cancelled. And of course, it was...

My children all have about the same response when I tell them to stay in bed. Christopher was in a deep sleep and as I quietly said his name to wake him, he mumbled a response. "Snow day - stay in bed." His voice strengthened. "Really?" "Yep," I answered. As I closed his door I heard him call out, "Good call!" I'm not sure if he was talking to me or the Lord, but I headed back up to the girls' rooms to let them know.

Alex sat up in bed when I walked in and when I told her she said, "Sweet!" and dropped back down onto her pillow. Nicole was the only casualty of the morning. She was already up and getting ready to shower, but promptly turned around and hopped back in bed, and nearly two hours later she is not up yet. So starts the Wisen's snow day...

My weekend wish is another simple one for you today. If you have children, I'm wishing you a wonderful snow day. Make a big breakfast, bundle the little ones up and let them make snow angels and snowmen. Have a big saucepan of REAL hot chocolate waiting for them when they come back in. Make cookies with them and find a Christmas movie to watch in the afternoon with a big bowl of popcorn on your lap. Nap with them by the fireplace or play a board game to pass the time. But enjoy your children today!

If you don't have children, I still want you to have a wonderful snow day! Get your weekend prep done quickly, then light a fire in the fireplace, grab that book you've been meaning to read and a cozy blanket and have at it! Don't forget to spend some time with the Lord - may I suggest reading through Job 38 and 39? This is God's reply to Job, describing His power and control over creation - in it He mentions His storehouses of snow and on a day like today, it doesn't hurt to be reminded where all this beautiful white stuff came from! I love these chapters because they are so descriptive of creation and the Creator, that I can't help but sit in awe of who He is and who I am not!

So, have a great snow day, gals, and a wonderful weekend. We've held off on the snow until December, which is a rare occurrence in Michigan, so ladies, we might as well embrace the change...there's no fighting it!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thankful Today for Love

How cute are they???

James MacDonald has defined love as "You before Me." It's my favorite definition to use, since it's so simple and so right-to-the-point. You before Me. Your needs before My needs. Your happiness before My happiness. Your choice before my choice. Your interests before mine.

When I talk with brides-to-be, I can see the love glowing from their faces and its a perfect time to talk about true, godly, sacrificial love. But how often do I truly love my husband? Am I instructing these young gals to do something that has become rare in my own life?

Having an engaged daughter in the house is a lot of fun. It's fun to plan the wedding. It's fun to watch her try on her dress and see her face sparkle with delight. It's fun to add special, unique details that will make her wedding a day to remember. (As you can tell, Dad's the one paying the bills and Mom's the one having all the fun!)

Young, engaged love is so selfless. Austin lets Katherine eat the best bite of his cookie (he eats around the edges and gives her the soft middle piece). Katherine scratches his head as he naps on the couch. Austin drives out of his way to pick up something Katherine has forgotten at home and needs at school, just to make her smile and not worry. Katherine heats up leftovers for her starving fiancee and feeds him first, before putting a plate together for herself. All they can think of is each other's well-being and happiness. It's so nice to have them around.

But something happens after the marriage and we start to take each other for granted. It may take five or ten or twenty years, but it happens and it's sad when it does. Instead of scratching his head while he naps, I read a book. Instead of feeding him first, I tell him there is cereal in the pantry. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not really all that bad - but it's not as self-less as it was in the beginning. It's just very comfortable...

Same with our relationship with Christ. We are so overwhelmed with His gift of life, that we would cut off our right arm to please Him when we are first saved. But over time, our love becomes second nature and we find ourselves pointing to the pantry, as Jesus stands hungry for our attention at the kitchen counter.

What can we do about this? Is lack-luster love simply inevitable?

Well, there's good news, gals - we don't have to stay in this comfortable but lazy love. We can make the choice to pay attention and love deeper. Remember, love means "You before Me" which makes love a choice. I can choose to be loving to Dave and put his needs before my own. I can choose to love Dave and put his interests before my own. I can pour into his life and look deep into his eyes and be thankful for the godly man God gave me for a husband. I can go deeper...

And the same goes with Christ. I can choose to love Him as well. The only way I can put His needs, or desires, or will before my own, is to know what His will is - by being in His Word. The more I know Him, the more I will love Him. I can choose not to take Him for granted, but to have a grateful heart for His presence in my life! I can make this choice...I can go deeper...

So, today I am thankful for love. I am thankful for the swirling, emotional, selfless, engaged love that lives in my house right now. I am thankful for decades-old, kind-hearted, comfortable but willing-to step-it-up and go deeper love that I have for my husband. I am thankful for eternal, patient, all-encompassing, sacrificial, faithful and ever-present love, given to me by my heavenly Father.

As a matter of fact, before the snow comes tonight, I just might take my husband for a walk on the beach, stop him along the way, look deeply into his eyes, smile, give him a kiss and lift my leg...

Or maybe we can do that in the house instead...