Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

It's that time of year again.
The stroke of midnight now signifies a new year.

So it's time for New Year's ____?_____.

Yep, resolutions.

I, like you, have gone through the cycle of New Year's resolutions from making them with great idealism, to realizing their futility and inevitable failure, to merely thinking about things I'd like to change but not calling them resolutions, to, well, to not even bothering...

But this year I am making one resolution.

I want to eat rich foods and I want to eat until I am satisfied.
I want to do all that I can to get fat.

No stringy celery, dry rice cakes, and small plates of entrees for me.
Bring on the richest, sweetest, most tender foods and bring it in on platters!

I want things that melt in my mouth because they are so full of fat themselves- smooth like chocolate, buttery like pastries, and tender like marbleized beef. I do not want to walk around constantly hungry.

I even found a verse that describes what I want perfectly!
Isaiah 55:2 "Hearken diligently to me and eat that which is good and let your soul delight itself in fatness".

I want a fat soul.

No power-of-positive-thinking inspirational sayings for me. No bumper sticker theology, no religious rhetoric, not even warm fuzzy quotes with cute pictures or verse-a-day calenders will suffice.

Why would I be happy snacking on "Today is the first day of the rest of your life" when instead I have the invitation from God saying "Come and talk with me" (Psalms 27:8 ). I can commune about anything and everything at any time with Almighty God or I can try to motivate myself that today is a fresh start....
I think I'll respond "Lord, I am coming!" (Psalms 27:8)

I want to feast on the richness of God and of His Word, on His love and grace, His holiness and justice, His compassion and unfailing love. This is God, who is not some abstract idea, historical figure, or uncaring deity, but the One who seeks me and invites me to know Him.

I want to claim the verse in Jeremiah 31:14 where God says, "I will satiate the soul of the priest with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, says the Lord".

I want to say with the Psalmist, "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips". (Psalms 63:5)

This word fatness means richness, abundance and blessing.

Psalms 36:8 promises that "They shall be abundantly satisfied (filled up, to the brim, not wanting any more!) with the fatness (richness, blessing) of thy house (the place where God is) and you shall make them drink of the rivers of thy pleasure". Reminiscent isn't it of Psalms 23 where we're told that "He makes me lie down by still waters...he restores my soul." ?

So this is my resolution. To feast on the abundant richness of God, to listen to what He says, and to let my soul revel in it's increasing girth.

And "if out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45), it might not be such a bad resolution for all of us!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ice not heat

I woke up with a knot in my neck. My first thought was to find the heating pad but instead I opened the freezer and grabbed an ice pack and in doing so chose healing over comfort.

I knew a heating pad would feel good and that ice would not, but I also knew that ice would make it feel better in the long run.

I find much of God's Word like ice when I am seeking heat.

A gentle answer turns away wrath...Proverbs 15:1

Love your enemies,
Do good to those who hate you,
Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.
If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic... Luke 6:27-29

Let us not be weary in well doing...Galatians 6:9

Don't be selfish
Don't live to make a good impression on others.
Be humble thinking of others better than yourself ...Philippians 2:3

Be still and know that I am God... Psalms 46:10

These are not commands I prefer.
I'd rather give anger for anger, get instead of give, quit instead of keeping on and be more concerned about myself than others. These are not my natural inclinations...

They are as numbing as the ice on my skin, painful even when first applied; this cure often temporarily overshadowing the pain of the injury.

But this is the right thing to do: while not comforting, they are healing and therefore making me more whole than broken.

This is what God says to do.
The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. Psalms 19:7

If I trust a doctor as to what to do for a knot in my neck, surely I can trust the One who created me for the best advice on how to live my life...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Bring It On"

Three inches of icy slush had fallen overnight.
School had not been called off as it should have been and I was slogging out to see the kid's Christmas program.

Twice my car got stuck on the dismal side streets and I got out and kicked away the snow from around my tires and then went back and forth and back and forth until my car was moving again. By the time I got to the school program my gym shoe shod feet were so wet that even my socks were squishy! I was miserable during the whole program and afterward went straight to the shoe store to get some boots...

What had I been thinking?
I knew the conditions when I went outside but I was unprepared.

Today it was snowing, snowing, snowing. Several inches came down in the time I was out, making it another sloppy winter day. Today though my feet are dry. I was prepared. I was wearing my boots.

Are we prepared when we got out into our days?
Are our hearts ready for the assault which is inevitable?
Are we prepared to deal with discontentment and materialism, selfishness and antagonism, worry and uncertainty?

It shouldn't surprise us when we encounter these in our days.
The question is have we taken the steps to be prepared?

Have we spent some time with our Lord to get the proper perspective and protection against the things we'll be wallowing through as we walk the path of our daily lives?

A new year is upon us. Chances are we'll encounter many of the same things we have in previous years, similiar challenges with family and jobs and relationships, with money, and emotions and health. And chances are there will be things that cross our paths that totally surprise us.
Are we prepared for what is to come?
Can we be?

If I start each day in communion with the Lord of the Universe and the One who loves me so much that He holds me securely in the palm of His hand; then whatever happens I'll know I'm not alone and that it's not just about me and my strength or abilities but that the One who knows when a sparrow falls will be the One who is my help.

And, when you're slogging through messy slush, it makes a world of difference in how you feel at the end of the day.

Friday, December 26, 2008

December 26th


The day after an event is always a curious thing. And when it's today, the day after this whole season of Christmas...

It’s all over. The shopping, the cooking, the decorating, the programs, the running, the planning, the wrapping, the card addressing, the non-stop Christmas music...
It's all over.

So…now what?

I always find there’s a letdown after something I've been looking forward to or working towards is behind me instead of the one huge thing filling my vision.

It would seem to be time to refocus: to that end I've already read several emails, most sent on Christmas day, about the After Christmas Sales. I heard that J.C. Penny was even opening at 5:30 am this morning for shoppers...I wonder if anyone showed up? Who isn't totally worn out with shopping by now? The evening news last night already had diet tips to shed those holiday pounds...and I've even had a couple conversations about Easter plans...!

It's also a time to deal with disappointment; in what didn't happen, wasn't given, or didn't get accomplished before the big deadline of Christmas, or with the gadgets of Christmas that didn't quite live up to the expectations of children, or yourself!

It's a time to reorganize; to deal with leftovers, the food, and wrapping paper and decorations, gifts that need to be exchanged and the general pieces of whatever mayhem took place in your house over the last few days and then of course to assimilate new things into your life and to pack up all the Christmas decor and put it away until next year.

It's a time to return to the real world; after having been able to take a break and spend it with family, friends and in general frivolity today can be like a cold slap of reality as you trek back to work.

Do you ever wonder what happened to Joseph and Mary the day after the baby and the shepherds and all the excitement? When the sun shone the next morning and the people started coming for their horses and donkeys, did they blink and wonder for a second if the previous night was all a fantastic dream? Did they spend the next night in the stable or was there some room found for them in the inn?

What we know is that eight days later Jesus was taken to the temple in Jerusalem where the prophets Simeon and Anna received him. And what we also know is that for Mary, the time after Christ’s birth was a time to ponder.

“Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” Luke 2:19

There is a week here between all we’ve been doing in preparation for Christmas and the beginning of a new year. A time to refocus and reorganize, but also a time to ponder.

Christ has come into the world. A new year is right around the corner.
It's most certainly a time for pondering.

Max Lucado has said of Mary and Martha, those most famous of NT sisters, that Martha had things to do and Mary had thoughts to think.

This is a time for the Mary in all of us.
A time to think.

That the Timeless One stepped into time for us.
That the mystery of the Incarnation was all on our behalf.

That Christ has come.
To you.
For you.

That whatever next year holds we do not face it alone.
That we are never outside the scope of His awareness and concern.

Before you turn your Christmas tree lights off, follow Mary’s example and gather together like treasure the memories of the season, the blessings that have sifted down, the messages you’ve heard, the gifts of love manifested in presents and in their presence of family and friends, and ponder them this week and take from them an energy and richness as you enter a new year.

Remembering that He is Emmanuel, even when Christmas will be just a distant memory, He will still be “God With Us”.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Icons of the Season

The NORAD radar screen is up right now in it's own window as I type. We're watching Santa as he's flying around the world (in Saudi Arabia currently) with those eight little reindeer, and Rudolph of course!

We love Santa. And why not? He's a jolly ol' elf, full of cheer and goodwill (something in short supply in the shopping centers especially today) and he has gifts for all the good little boys and girls.

He's a symbol of generosity and justice. He has those lists and he's checking them twice...and yes, I confess, as a parent having used the famous reasoning of "you better be good because Santa is watching."

He does amazing things; all those toys, that round the world trip, the improbable gifts that miraculously appear under the tree. It's wonderful! And the holiday movies like Miracle on 34th St. and the Santa Claus movie push the probability quotient a bit further towards "well...?".

The Nativity scene. A young Mary and older Joseph tenderly caring for her. The new baby with the glow above him. Adoring shepherds, pristine sheep, heavenly angels and a night sky full of brightness and wonder.

In five months we'll have a new icon before us - the lily festooned cross as symbol and celebration of the resurrection. The babe, grown up, crucified and resurrected and ascended back to heaven where He then becomes to us, Santa...?

A good God, a just God, a watching God waiting to see if we're good or if we are bad. If we are bad he punishes and if we are good he blesses us. We make our lists in forms of prayers filled with requests and hope that in the passing weeks by going to church and loving our fellow man that we've been good enough to earn His favorable answers. And we perpetuate this myth on our children, and in our churches to each other: God is the great man upstairs (like a heavenly North Pole) and He is watching and He has the ability to do amazing things if we're good....

Sounds sacrilegious doesn't it?
Sadly, it's more true than we want to recognize.

Why do you open your Bible, be nice to those you meet, attend church, contribute to charity, abstain from temptation and try to live a good life?
Is it an attempt to be more good than bad?
To be more nice than naughty?
And if not for your salvation do you consider this the route to your sanctification?
People have been attending churches all their lives, and are quick to tell you so when you inquire about their relationship with God. "I've been a member here for 40 years and have taught Sunday school and...and.... and...."

Santa - He's a tool, a symbol, a legend.
God - is not.

God is.

He said so about himself in Exodus "I AM".
Not merely some cultural icon but a Deity that desires this personal intimate relationship with us. Not the grandfather upstairs with some kind of list, or the dictator intent on running your life and ruining your happiness or the insane powerful being that must be appeased by sacrifice, but God our Father, God the creator, God the One who loved us so much that He sent His Son as this baby in the manager so that we'd enjoy an intimate relationship with Him every single day of our lives.

Enjoy Santa (he's in Finland now) but don't mistake God to be as trivial as this jolly ole' elf. He offers you a gift far greater than a seasonal symbol of generosity and justice. Take advantage of His amazing gift that was given in the baby in the manger, the ability to enjoy a growing genuine relationship with Him, the everlasting and Almighty God.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Does Your Heart Resemble the Stable?

The Christmas story has forever elevated the lowly stable…

“And she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

We’re familiar with the story; big crowds in Bethlehem, no room in the inn, sympathetic innkeeper leads the exhausted couple to the place where the animals are kept. A stable, perhaps a cave, and here it is that the Savior of the World is born. It is to this place that a chorus of heavenly hosts sent the amazed shepherds. There was room here in the stable for Mary and Joseph and the newborn King, and because there was room, Christ came.

We know numerous Christmas songs that convey this concept:

"Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King, let every heart prepare Him room..."

“O come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.”

In this season, is there room for Christ? Amidst all the frivolity and shopping and stress, is there room in my heart for the arrival of my Savior?

Hold that thought for a moment...

A large part of Christmas consists of decorating our homes and opening them to entertain family and friends. This is another popular song concept you can recognize in lyrics such as:

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go…and the prettiest sight you see is the holly that will be on your own front door...”

”Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays…if you want to be happy in a million ways for the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home…”

“The door is always open, the neighbors pay a call…”

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly…”

At no other season do we go so out of our way to make our homes a welcoming place.

We put up lights and decorate inside and out. We plan get-togethers and put together special menus. We invite guests, and we do all we can to make them feel welcome and to make our homes resemble the quintessential Currier and Ives Christmas print.

The coming of Christ is no longer a surprise as it was that night of the angels’ announcement.

We enter the Christmas season aware of the fact that this is all heralding the arrival of God incarnate so that He could be Christ crucified, our Redeemer.

Are our hearts made ready for Him as much as our homes are made welcome for our guests?

In our homes we clear the clutter of daily living that’s piled up on the counters. We make extra space in the coat closet. We polish the silver and pull out the china. We prepare with a sense of expectancy.

Do we come into the final days of Christmas with that same sense concerning the preparation of our hearts for Christ?

Or, when He comes, do our hearts resemble more the stable, where room was hastily made in the corner of a foul-smelling place cluttered with filth, where there was no expectancy of His coming? Will the place in our hearts that we give Jesus be filled with the stench of resentment or bitterness, or will the amassing of life’s trappings fill every corner?

There is no doubt that, whatever the environment Christ comes into, He will transform it. We do not have to “clean up” before we come to God. He welcomes us just as we are.

But let me challenge you believer, as you come to this celebration of the birth of Jesus,take the time to prepare your heart, clearing it of attitudes and sin that have lingered, and sweeping aside worries and doubts.

Make ready a place for your Lord, recall your blessings and string them as lights, put up a wreath of unending gratitude, stoke the fire of your devotion, hang a big red bow of love on your door, and expectantly welcome His arrival!







Monday, December 15, 2008

Batteries Not Included

These are the infamous words usually read for the first time at the most inopportunistic times, like, let say, Christmas morning...

A mad scramble about the house ensues; "Batteries, batteries, there must be some around here somewhere" is being heard muttered above the opening and closing of drawers and cabinets. Chances are that even if some are on hand they will not be the correct size! The remote controls are checked and pilfered and then hours and hours later when the battery-powered toy has been abandoned and the parents sit down to relax finally and watch a little TV....

Today the MP3 player's battery went out and my cell phone started beeping to let me know that it too was just about out of energy.

In this season, we so understand how that feels.

Wouldn't it be interesting if we had those little battery icons on our foreheads, showing the decreasing bars…?
We get our schedules for the festivities, others expectations, our own aspirations, and then down the road find that "Batteries NOT included".

So where do we find these much needed batteries for this time?
Where do we plug in to be recharged?

I guess it might be a little different for all of us, just like every electronic gadget I have has a chord specifically for it that doesn't work for any of the others(!), but there are some generalities that help us all.

Get some extra sleep - a nap, an earlier bedtime, some time relaxing in a chair between events - restorative sleep is an amazing thing.

Take time for a friend - okay, so you may not be able to put your head on a pillow but you can contact a friend - however that is, in person or by phone, and if you can do it over coffee that's just so much the better! Even a few emails or texts can give you a little extra boost. I find it true that, as the quote says, Friends double our joys and halve our troubles.

Spend some time with the Lord - The words are familiar from the most famous psalm of all; “He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me besides the still waters, He restores my soul.”
Or could we perhaps substitute “recharges my soul”?
Time with God tends to change my frantic or exhausted perspective and reminds me that He is in control, I am never alone, and He’s promised to meet my needs and take care of me.

I can feel the bars increasing…

May you as well.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pieces of Christmas

"The stockings were hung by the chimney with care..."

It's not my house they're talking about, perhaps my neighbor's with the amazing outdoor light display but it's not mine because at my house:

* the tree has stood bare in the corner for a week now, lite only because it came out of the box that way!

* the Christmas photos have been printed yet there are no cards and the address list is MIA

* there are 12 days until Christmas yet the countdown calendar is still in the box of decorations

* I only have an idea for a gift that should have already been in the mail should I hope for it to get there by Christmas

* the Christmas socks that were multiplying like bunnies every time I went looking for normal socks have now apparently gone into hibernation

* the components for various handmade gifts have been purchased yet only a week remains to get them assembled

* I have an amazing Christmas village yet it's been packed away so long it's become a dim memory

* the outside Christmas lights are sitting, in the box, inside.

I have pieces of Christmas.

Various, scattered, random pieces of Christmas.

I doubt that I'll be able to assemble them in time to make that picturesque Currier and Ives holiday.

(sigh)

I seriously don't know how this happened.
The date of Christmas has not changed.
The stores have been heralding it's arrival since mid-October.
I've even scaled back my expectations and aspirations yet still here I am with only pieces...

So what do I do as Christmas is scattered around me? As I roll up my sleeves and determine to get it all done I realize it's not probable. What if those stockings never get hung by the chimney with care?

I know this wasn't the intent of Christmas; the angels said "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will toward men; maybe this is what it’s really all about?

Even though I already know the story and adore the Christ child, perhaps this reminder is for me amidst my pieces of the perfect holiday?

That perhaps the most important piece to have of Christmas is peace in my heart?

I am not going to find it at the mall, or in the boxes of decorations, the beautiful tree, the perfect gift, or the whirl of events I’m attending.
I will only find that peace through my ongoing relationship with the One who came so long ago to a manger, because that was the whole reason He came; to have this relationship with me.

All of these pieces that are strewn around me, stem from the fact that two thousand years ago God made it possible for me to know Him...







Wow. That's amazing.













Suddenly the stockings just don’t seem as important.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Lavish Love

I think the car ads this time of year are hysterical. I mean who buys someone a car for Christmas? Do you know of anyone who has ever been given a new car for Christmas? And yet every year we see the same commercials. Also right there in lunacy, in my opinion, are the ones for diamond bracelets - only $999.99 with a free gift box...I've never had an occasion to wear a thousand dollar bracelet, have you?

These would be lavish gifts.

I love the word lavish; how it sounds and how even the definition sounds, well, lavish; Characterized by or produced with extravagance and profusion
Immoderate in giving or bestowing
Unstinting
To give or bestow in abundance: shower


Extravagance - like a car
Immoderate - like diamonds
Profusion - like a Fruit of the Month Club

Wouldn't you love to be able to give lavishly?
Okay, wouldn't it be fun to be the recipient of lavish giving? (Go ahead; be honest, we would all answer "yes")

God loves us lavishly.

In the gift of the Savior.(Luke 2:11)
In the blessings and provisions we see as God opens his hand to meet our needs and we are satisfied. (Psalms 104)
In the new strength and mercies given to us morning by morning. (Lamentations 3:23)

What is more precious than the blood that's been shed on our behalf to wash away our sin and give us a home in heaven? Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God! I John 3:1

And what is more consistent than the daily attention of an Almighty God to the details of our life? Psalms 37:23 The Lord directs the steps of the godly.He delights in every detail of their lives.

John 1:16 says it best, "For of His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (NASB) one gracious blessing upon another (NLT) grace to grace (KJV) one blessing after another (NIV).

It wouldn't take many minutes of contemplation for you to realize this is true in your own life - blessing upon blessing, grace for each day, forgiveness for each failure, unfailing love despite rejecting him, strength for each conflict, rest for your troubled soul, peace in the midst of pressure, grace upon grace upon grace - a lavish love.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Finding Myself in the Old Testament

I love the Israelites.
As a kid I couldn't understand what their problem was; here it is they see the Red Sea parted before them and their enemies drowned behind them and three days later, THREE DAYS, they're all whining in the wilderness that they're hungry and there's no food.
I couldn't believe anyone's memory could be that short!

As an adult I find I resemble them more than I care to admit...

I don't think it's a matter of memory so much as it is of intensity.
Life comes at you fast and we deal with stuff and then, bam, we're onto the next thing and by the time a week passes the thing that was so huge and important a week ago is practically forgotten. There's no time to sit on the couch and mediate on the good things, something else is pounding on the door for attention!

That's why I love the Israelites because they never really seemed to get it. They'd praise, and then they'd complain and then He'd provide and they'd praise and then three days later start complaining again...they're so ME...

The beauty of the Israelites story though is not in their humanness but in how God deals with them. He loves them, faithfully, through all the cycles of praise and complaint, of rejection and repentance, not only through their lifetimes but for generations.

The Israelites I read of in the Bible are dead and gone but God is the same God.

The God who took care of them is the same God who takes care of me.
He has compiled quite a resume throughout the record of Scripture.
So what am I worrying about?

Monday, December 8, 2008

I was created to...

As a parent you do the best that you can; and occasionally you have the pleasure of discovering you're doing something right...

My daughter had her first performance as a member of the Chicago Children's Choir. To this point it had only been rehearsals, and meetings, and an outlay of money; tuition, fundraisers, and a very specific uniform, and now it was time to see her sing. I went because this is what parents do. We go to band concerts with earplugs and Little League games with sunscreen, bug spray and snacks, and to endless soccer games huddled under blankets by season's end because this is how we support our children in variety of things they're attempting.

I, however, found this concert to be vastly different and I sat with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat the entire time Katie was performing because there was no doubt that this was her niche. She shone there onstage and even the vast distance from the risers to mid auditorium could not conceal her pure joy.

In the grand finale she was lost from view in a group of a couple hundred children.
Did her voice make a difference in that vast group? No.
Did her being a part of this great endeavor make a difference to her? Absolutely.

There was a song with the phrase "I was created to make Your praise glorious", it was vibrant and upbeat. Watching her sing there was no doubt that Katie was created to be in a performing choir.

What if that song is true? What if you and I were created to make God’s praise glorious? And to do so through whatever means and in whatever way God has gifted us to do so?

We’re not all gifted to be singers, if so, who would listen? But we have all been crafted in a particular way to lend our own personal tenor to this anthem of God’s praise, so that as we come together, His praise is glorious, vibrant, with the ability to move a watching world to the realization that this is something more than religion or ritual because it’s so very real to us.

Is this some face we put on? Some “praise the Lord” attitude we adopt? Not at all. This praise springs from who we are and the relationship we are currently enjoying with the One who created us. And therefore it will emanate out of our lives because we are so filled with it.

You were created to make His praise glorious. This is your niche.

Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What I know that you don't....

It’s the Christmas season, which means it’s the season of secrets!

Lists are being made and checked off: gifts purchased and quickly squirreled away from curious eyes. It’s both the fun and frustration of the season. Fun if you know exactly what would be the perfect gift and you can get your hands on it, and frustrating if you haven’t yet figured out what gift will make their eyes light up or if you waited in line for it in the cold darkness at 4 am after Thanksgiving and found they were gone by the time you got to that department…

I know things that my children don’t.
And I see them alternately wishing and whining about something they want.

I already have it for them.
I’m just waiting for it to be the right time.

It makes me wonder if it’s the same way with God.
He knows what we need, what we think we need and what we want.
He hears our prayers and our complaints as we anxiously keep asking.

If I as a parent have this understanding and ability to have these awesome gifts in store for my kids, when the time is right; isn’t it a pretty simple step of faith to realize that God might be doing the same with us?

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8,9

Monday, December 1, 2008

Immanuel


God

The Most High

Creator

Supreme Deity

King of Kings and Lord of Lords

Potentate of all time



Is

present tense being verb

as in right here, right now



With

alongside

next to

partner

has jumped in with both feet



Us

personally

intimately



Immanuel - God is with us



What impact does that have on you today?