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Immanuel, God With Us

Anticipation. I can’t sleep. Even now, at 31 years of age, I still look forward to Christmas morning as if I’m 7 years old. It’s not about the gifts I’m getting. It’s not even about the gifts I’m giving. It’s so much more than that. To be able to capture the looks on the faces of my children when they “get it” for the first time, what Christmas is all about, would be the best gift this side of heaven.

As I anticipate my children’s reactions to Christmas morning, I’m reminded of how simple and peaceful the birth of Christ was. He is a King, born as a baby, to a teenage mother. I find myself thinking about Mary and how she responded, the anticipation she must have felt.

Small town Nazareth
Small town Bethlehem
Tiny animal trough in the corner of a barn
Born without fanfare, born out of town, away from the familiar, away from family
Fully God but painfully human. To the unknowing ear, another baby was born. Another person to count. Another mouth to feed.
Nothing in the world’s standards would make Him noticeable to an outsider.
Yet Mary, unwed teenage mother, understood that her job was incredibly important.
Either it was true or she was crazy. She didn’t question. She didn’t worry about what others would think. She didn’t try to get her beloved Son noticed. She didn’t ask for any of it, but she did it anyway.
She wrapped Him in a cloth. She made a bed out of hay. She shushed Him when he fussed. She rocked Him to sleep. She sang lullabies to Him.
Did it break her heart to know He would die for her? Did it break her heart when He ignored her or treated her the same as everyone else? She accepted the call, knowing that He was not hers. She mothered Him and let God do the rest.

I am reminded daily of the incredible gift that Jesus is, and I’m reminded daily of all He came to Earth for. Without Christmas, there would be no Easter. And without Easter, there would be no point to life, there would be no life. Jesus could have shown up already grown. He could have declared His kingship over all mankind. He could have demanded people to follow Him. But He didn’t. He came as the most vulnerable and dependent creature in the world, grew up among the very people who would one day reject Him, and lived every day knowing the end of the Story. He loves people where they are, and lets God do the rest.

“How many kings stepped down from their thrones? How many lords have abandoned their homes? How many greats became the least for me? How many Gods have poured out their hearts to romance a world that’s been torn all apart? How many fathers gave up their sons for me? Only One did that for me.”

Preparing for God to show up

The song “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” has been one of my favorite Christmas songs for some time. It is pretty, heard rarely, and has an incredible message. It’s typically sung earlier in the Christmas season, for the Advent focus. It invites Christ to come, to ransom Israel, His people. Emmanuel, meaning “God with us”, comes to Earth to save us. Ransom us. Redeem us. Live among us.

As I was thinking about the upcoming weeks, with preparations and endless concerts and parties, I realized that this Christmas will be much different for us as a family, being the first one in many years that I will not be working. While this is welcome and exciting, it also made me realize just how much I want God to show up and insert Himself into this season this year.

Every year, we celebrate the birth of Christ, or “God showing up” as the solution to the problem of sin. We prepare our homes to be pretty and festive, and attend concerts, plays, and candlelight services. We reach out to others and look for ways to help those in need. These are the reasons I love this season so much!

As I was thinking about the things coming up in the next few weeks and thinking about decorations and presents and other preparations, I thought about how preparing for Christmas this year, in the normal way, is preparing for God to show up in our home, family, and finances. Giving God this space of preparing our minds and hearts for His arrival this season takes on new meaning for me this year. This year, more than ever, I am recognizing my need for Him, for hope in this dark world, and I’m recognizing the need for Him of those around me (my kids, friends, family members). In celebrating “God showing up” as a baby two thousand years ago, we are preparing for God to show up again, to change the way we view this season and this priceless gift we were given.

In this season, are you just trying to make it through, going to bed exhausted nightly from preparations, decorating, and parties, or are you preparing for the God of the universe to show up? Create space in your heart and mind for God to do a miracle in and through you.

Waiting

Right now, I am going through one of the most difficult waiting processes in my life so far. Some days are easy to wait, some days take everything I can to keep from fretting all day about something I have absolutely no control over.
There is a song called “While I’m waiting”. In this song, it says “While I’m waiting, I will serve You. While I’m waiting I will worship. While I’m waiting I will not fade. I’ll be running the race even while I wait.” I think the hardest thing to do while we are waiting on God is to continue to serve and worship Him. It’s easy to think that by sitting back and waiting on God, without doing anything to grow in Him, we are going to hear from Him quicker. We think we will be less likely to “miss” what God is telling us. However, God tells us to wait expectantly. That means to be watching, serving others, worshipping, and waiting all at the same time.
God has shown me, already, things that I would have missed if I had just sat back and waited for God’s plan to unfold. These were things I learned through serving Him, worshipping Him, and watching for signs of Him. God doesn’t want us to fret and worry during waiting periods, but He wants us to trust that He is working. He is God, no matter what, and He deserves our praise, no matter what.
Next time you’re faced with a waiting period, remember that sometimes the lessons are in the midst of service and worship. If you sit back and expect God to work, you may miss what God is trying to teach you.

Self-talk

“Days will come when you don’t have the strength
And all you hear is you’re not worth anything
Wondering if you ever could be loved. But if they truly saw your heart they’d see too much”

“Praying that you have the heart to fight Cause you are more than what is hurting you tonight
For all the lies you’ve held inside so long
But they are nothing in the shadow of the cross”

This song really speaks to me, and many of us, because it deals with those things we say deep inside, to ourselves. Many of the lies we believe about ourselves are the ones we tell ourselves. We think, if only I were better at this, then that would be easier.

We also allow our outside experiences to validate the lies we are telling ourselves. For instance, we may look at a job rejection as an indication that we really aren’t qualified for anything beyond the dead-end job we have now. So we allow ourselves to give up.

What would happen, though, if we let these lies and insecurities come to light? If we were truly honest with how we feel, and really looked at what we say to ourselves, what would we discover? I think that is the hardest thing to do. It’s easy to listen to someone else saying negative things about themselves and tell them not to be so hard on themselves, but we turn around and say the same things to ourselves.

Any negative talk, especially negative self-talk, is directly from Satan, and he uses it to distract us from the truth. John 8:32 says “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” There is a huge amount of freedom in the truth, and when we discover the truth of who we are in Christ, we gain an infinite more amount of freedom. Satan wants to keep us in bondage, so we can never reach our full potential in Christ.

“You were made for so much more than all of this.”

Times

Today has been one of those days. I woke up exhausted, and late. I’ve been dealing with an annoying bit of physical pain today as well. And, along with many others, I’ve been struggling with how to respond as a follower of Christ to the news of the death of Bin Laden. While trying to work through these mixed emotions, and after a brief conversation with my pastor, I’ve realized several things, and God has really revealed a few things that I hadn’t thought about before.

First, as evil as Bin Laden was, he was still a human being. He still was made in the image of God, and God still loved him. God did not love the evil he did, and I believe God is grieving the eternal separation. A soul is a soul, and whether a person is the worst person imaginable or the biggest saint ever, if we choose to ignore Christ’s sacrifice, the result is the same-eternal separation.

John 3:16 says “For God so loved the WORLD…” (emphasis mine). It does not say that God so loved every person who is pretty good. The world means everyone. God’s love knows no boundaries; we simply choose whether to accept it or not.

Another thing God showed me is that He was God on that awful day ten years ago (9-11), He is God today, and He will be God forever. He has never left us. He has never stopped working. No matter what happened or what will happen, God is in control.

One final thing God showed me today: I am no less a sinner than Bin Laden. Christ died for me as well as him. I chose to accept that incredible gift, and I am so thankful that I don’t get what I deserve.

Tenth Avenue North has a song that I think describes my mixed emotions well. It’s called “Times”.

I know I need You
I need to love You
I love to see You, but it’s been so long
I long to feel You
I feel this need for You
And I need to hear You, is that so wrong?

Now You pull me near You
When we’re close, I fear You
Still I’m afraid to tell You all that I’ve done
Are You done forgiving?
Oh can You look past my pretending?
Lord, I’m so tired of defending, what I’ve become
What have I become?

I hear You say,
“My love is over. It’s underneath.
It’s inside. It’s in between.
The times you doubt Me, when you can’t feel.
The times that you question, ‘Is this for real?’
The times you’re broken.
The times that you mend.
The times that you hate Me, and the times that you bend.
Well, my love is over, it’s underneath.
It’s inside, it’s in between.
These times you’re healing, and when your heart breaks.
The times that you feel like you’re falling from grace.
The times you’re hurting.
The times that you heal.
The times you go hungry, and are tempted to steal.
The times of confusion, in chaos and pain.
I’m there in your sorrow, under the weight of your shame.
I’m there through your heartache.
I’m there in the storm.
My love I will keep you, by My pow’r alone.
I don’t care where you fall, where you have been.
I’ll never forsake you, My love never ends.
It never ends.

Resurrection Day

What is Easter, truly, to you? I find myself wondering that this evening. There are times, honestly, that I’ve known and even stated what it’s all about, but it ends up being about the ham and egg hunts and presents and chocolate. There have been times, especially recently, that my actions have not demonstrated what I believe in my heart. I have lost sight, at times, of what Easter is really all about.

Maybe it is working in retail that has stained me. It seems that all I think about and hear during any given week are sales and profit, and “what can we sell or do to make the most amount of money?”. Big holidays capitalize on those thoughts even more, and I sometimes start to “buy into” the frenzy. I could blame my commercialist actions and attitudes on that, but we all know that hope and peace don’t come from any store, even if I paid all the money in the world.

While sitting in church this morning, our worship team sang a song entitled “You’re not alone” by Meredith Andrews. I have heard the song before, but never really listened or saw the words before today. Hearing this song today helped me to realize that Christ’s death on the cross not only redeemed us, if we are willing, but also gave us a way out of our loneliness. His death and resurrection serve as a reminder that we aren’t alone, that God has wiped away every fear, that He’s seen us in our darkest moments, and He’s never left our side, even when others have.

Not only did Jesus come to save us from our sins and create the bridge to a restored relationship with God, but He also came to show us that we aren’t alone, never have been, and never will be.

“You’re not alone, for I am here. Let me wipe away your every fear. My love, I’ve never left your side, I have seen you through the darkest night, and I’m the one who’s loved you all your life.”

Broken

Hungry, I come to You for I know You satisfy
I am empty but I know Your love does not run dry
So I wait for You, so I wait for You

I’m falling on my knees, offering all of me
Jesus, You’re all this heart is living for

Broken, I come to You for Your arms are open wide.
I am weary but I know Your touch restores my life.
So I wait for You, so I wait for You

I’m falling on my knees offering all of me
Jesus You’re all this heart is living for

This song, called Hungry (by Kathryn Scott ©2001), has always been a favorite since the first time I heard it. My brother introduced me to it, and there was just something about it that touched me. The thought of being hungry for God, and waiting on God and seeking only Him to fill me up was never lost on me.

We sang this song in church yesterday. It’s the first time in several years that I’ve even heard it, let alone sang it. The part that got me was the part about coming to God broken and weary, and knowing God will restore my life and my heart. Continue Reading…

Desert Prayers

This is my prayer in the desert
when all that’s within me feels dry.
This is my prayer in my hunger and need.
My God is the God who provides.
This is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flame

I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice
I will declare
God is my victory and He is here

This is my prayer in the battle
When triumph is still on its way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I’ll stand

All of my life, in every season
You are still God, I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

This is my prayer in the harvest
When favor and providence flow
I know I’m filled to be emptied again
The seed I’ve received I will sow

Desert Song – Brooke Fraser ©2008

 

Hillsong United - Across The Earth: Tear Down The Walls

I love this song. It has always been one of my favorites. Every time I sing it, I’m reminded of how God is present no matter what I’m going through. Not only is God present, but He is actively directing everything in our lives.

We all go through seasons in our lives. Sometimes we go through seasons of prosperity, sometimes through seasons when we feel like we are in a desert. No matter what, through every season, we need to be praising God. We should worship God because He’s God, not because He does anything for us. He always brings us through our trials, but often He teaches us, through the hard times, how to trust Him with our entire being. If we learn to worship Him no matter what is going on or what we are going through, it will be a lot easier to persevere through the hard times. By learning to praise God even in the desert, we learn to expectantly wait for God, even when we feel like we can’t see Him. Waiting expectantly doesn’t mean sitting and waiting for God to fix the problem. It means actively seeking to know God more, looking for Him and His hand in every situation, and actively putting your trust in Him that He is taking care of it. Continue Reading…

How I want to live

“Yahweh” by U2 has a lot to say about how we should live our lives, and how physical things shouldn’t matter all that much. Every time I hear that song, I am left with the desire to do something, anything, to make a difference in the world around me. Often, when I think about making a difference, I get overwhelmed, because I think that there isn’t much I can do. I don’t have a lot of dispensable income. A lot of my time is eaten up by work and spending time with my family. But then, after hearing the song, I am reminded not just how blessed I am, but how much I CAN do to make a difference. Continue Reading…