Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thank you Lord

"Standing here on the threshold of a new year, thank you Lord for all that has been in the year that is ending.

Thank you for the trials that made me come to you as I would not have without them.

Thank you that I come to the end of this year still here because of your constant gift of breath and life.

Thank you for the opportunities you've provided and the experiences that now fill my hard drive with memories.

Thank you for the Internet and the friends with whom I've been able to reconnect and even moreso Father thank you for the conversations with friends, albeit now typed and not spoken, as we are geographically far apart but still connected by heart.

Thank you Lord for my near friends with whom I share coffee, news, and the gambit from sorrow and frivolity; I am so blessed by their physical presence in my life.

Thank you for the abundance of good things that has caused me to resolve again to "lose weight" and "clear the clutter", and for the health and growth of my children even if it means my son is now taller than I am and that my daughter and I can just about share shoes...

But most of all Lord, as I go from here to face a new year, thank you for Your faithfulness and this knowledge gained from experiences this year that assures me ' 'tis grace that's brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.'"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Are you a Packer or a Lingerer?

I'm amazed at how many Facebook posts I'd already seen as early as the day after Christmas that said "Christmas is all packed up and put away. Back to life as usual!"

That's so NOT me because I am a lingerer. My tree and lights will be up and lite through New Year's and sometimes even through "Three Kings Day". There's something about the lights against the dark early winter nights that I'm reticent to extinguish.
I wonder what happened in Bethlehem the day after the birth of Jesus. Was there finally room in the Inn? Did Mary and Joseph pack up baby Jesus and move indoors or did they have to hang out a little longer with the animals?

We do know that eight days later they'd traveled the two miles to Jerusalem to present the child in the temple and then, after the visit of the Magi, they fled to Egypt. Talk about packing things up and returning to "real life". First they deal with a scandalous pregnancy and questions about their sanity I'm sure as they both recount visits from an angel and now they have become refugees in a foreign country. Forget the shepherds and their story of an angelic chorus, the Magi with their foretelling gifts, and the blessing of Simeon as Jesus was presented in the temple; they are now fugitives on the run from a mad despot determined to kill their child.

Yet Scripture specifically tells us that "Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" Luke 2: 19. Although Mary had to be a "packer" she was also a "lingerer".

The days are passing. A new year is quickly approaching as this Christmas season recedes. No matter if your decorations are still up or have been safely stowed away in the attic; carry still with you the treasures of the season in the truths that it celebrates. God loves you so much He came to be with us. He is and will be Emmanuel, God with us, from this time of trees and lights until we do it all again next year and until we reach our home with Him. Let that truth linger in your heart as you return to life as usual.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Because I love you


Around my house just before Christmas a "No Questions" zone is imposed.

There can be no asking of "Where are you going?", "What's in that box?", "Was that the UPS truck I just saw?" or "How could you possibly need that much tape?"

All the questions (that you can't ask!) are answered Christmas morning in the somewhat oddly shaped and interestingly wrapped packages under the tree. And actually there is only one answer - "Because I love you". That's why someone was out, had boxes to hide, or used up all the tape; because I was getting something to give to you because I love you.

Why were a girl's wedding plans interrupted by an angel?
Why did a fiancee embrace a scandalous pregnancy?
Why did angelic night visitors surprise snoozing shepherds?
Why did the appearance of a star prompt a road trip?

Because God was giving us a gift.
Why? Because He loves us.

We're no prize, not worthy of such affection from the Almighty but God has chosen to set his love upon us. As a matter of fact, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

A Facebook post today asked this question "What is God's greatest gift? Sending his Son as a sacrifice for mankind or allowing us the free will to accept or reject Him?"

You know the effort you've put into your gifts this Christmas. Perhaps you fought the crowds, stood in lines forever, paged through dozens of Internet sites, or maybe spent more than you should have because it was important to make it extra special. Imagine if the recipient of your gift disinterestedly unwrapped it and with a "hmph" shoved it back under the tree...

You gave because you loved but that doesn't guarantee your love will be reciprocated.

The whole reason this baby we celebrate was sent to a manager was so that He would grow up to be crucified on a cross. How have we responded to such a great gift of love? How today will you respond to the Giver?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A little perspective

It's a crazy time of year.

Between the stuff going on and the people we need to shop for, and the meals to be prepared it's just all much too much and it takes a conscious effort to hang on to the joy of the season, typically...

But let me share some perspective I've found this year. I'd read two novellas by Robin Jones Gunn Finding Father Christmas and Engaging Father Christmas. In them the main character, Miranda, is the only child of a single mother who died when Miranda was 11. She was then cared for by a friend of her mother's until that woman also died a few years later. Now an adult Miranda's only involvement in Christmas is the office gift exchange every year. There is no decorating, no list of people to buy for, just this one obligatory gift exchange.
And the whole thing opened my eyes to how many people, even in my personal world, that don't do Christmas as I do. They're without children or family or a home to worry about decorating. There's not shopping to do, a party to plan or a big meal to prepare because it's just them this year.

I think of the number of people I know who have lost parents and children this year diminishing their list by one, and how there would be no greater joy for them than to have the chance, one more time, to present their loved one with a gift this Christmas.

The crowds are still massive and the traffic insane but I am a little different now; grateful that I have a reasons to be swallow up in the sea of Christmas shopping humanity. And while it makes the parking no easier, it does make my heart more thankful.
Pray for those who are grieving and reach out to them. Hug your aging parents an extra time this year, and find a way to put an arm around your quickly growing children (although not in public, pleeaze!) call a friend because you can, and may you go into every store, parking lot, grocery aisle, and Christmas gathering more appreciative of the fact that you get to be there.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Expectations

"'Tis the season of making lists - fa la la la la, la la la la
I want that and get me this..."

I'm fairly certain that you didn't make a list for Santa this year; there are no toy catalogs filled with things circled in marker, no letters to the North Pole, or things whispered to a man in the mall in a red suit. But that's not to say that we don't come into the season, as do the children, without expectations, we're just not as overt in sharing them.

Practically every magazine on the checkout racks this time of year has at least one article on "Tips and Gifts for the Perfect Christmas". Slick covers show homes that probably took a professional team of decorators to transform into these Norman Rockwell worthy showplaces. Spoken or not we have desires for gifts, or for those around us to know us well enough to get us something that complements who we are or who we see ourselves as being. The turkey should be moist, the children well behaved, the music performed flawlessly, the ground covered just so with enough snow to make it pretty but not enough to make it treacherous, our favorite Christmas songs playing on the radio and everyone and everything will be just exactly right!

Because this is the season of expectation it is also the season of disappointment.

The decor never quite makes it to the standards of Beautiful Home, the gifts are perfunctory, half the dinner is cold by the time the other half is ready, there are empty places at the table or there are places you wish were empty, the roads are slick, all these awful versions of your favorite songs are played, the toys break minutes after coming out of the boxes, and the kids with too little sleep and too much sugar are crabby...

And, at this "most wonderful time of the year", we find ourselves dealing with disappointment and then think what is wrong with me? This is supposed to be "the most wonderful time of the year"! Even the music sets us up with expectations...

"My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defence; I shall not be moved.
In God is my salvation, and my glory; the rock of my strength and my refuge, is in God.
Trust in him at all times, O people,
Pour out your heart before Him.
God is a refuge for us." Psalms 62:5-8

"My expectation is from Him". The encouragement here is to make God the One we look to, the One we place our hope in, the One and only one in whom we have expectations. But...I've found that hard to do.

As I've gotten older I've consciously dialed back my expectations, not from some great source of spiritual discernment, but from experience and because I've figured out that the less I expect, the less I'll be disappointed and if I don't expect anything I have the ability to be delightfully surprised. But still, those expectations, they sneak in and take up residence in our longings.

So, if we have expectations and when they go unfulfilled; God invites us to pour out our hearts to Him. Go ahead, sit with God and tell Him how you are disappointed. Pour out your heart for the promise is that He will be a refuge for us, and that is one expectation that absolutely cannot be disappointed!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Surprise!

"It's the most shopping lines time of the year.
Where the holiday shoppers with coats, bags, and squalors are standing too near..."

I've been out shopping...enough said!

Anyone out in any store at this time of year knows what it's like. Even in the middle of a weekday afternoon there are long lines snaking down the aisles. It is Christmas which means everyone is out doing more shopping then they ever do because it's time to get gifts and for my kids this year that is a problem.

My teenage son wants a computer (which is not going to happen) and that's all he wants so then what do you get the kid who has everything? It's bad enough when you know what you want to get and are trying to find it but it's even trickier when you don't even know what you are out there looking for!

So I've been running through ideas in my mind, along the lines of something similar to what he already has: books, clothes, video games, computer software, Nerf and Lego stuff...and nothing was working. There is no new variation of something familiar that would be a good gift.

And then it happened; I was in a store and walked by a display and there it was, the perfect gift. It's fun, it complements his interests and abilities, he'll love it, and (most importantly, for mom) it’s not the price of a computer...Hooray!

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” I Corinthians 2:9

I had no idea this perfect gift existed because it was something I hadn't seen before, but just because I wasn't aware of it didn't mean it wasn't out there.

Our vision is limited by what we've already experienced or seen happen in the lives of those close to us. We’ve imagined all the variations of the familiar and frankly, they're not all that exciting but this verse tells us that our minds can't even conceive of what God has in store for us!

Can you even imagine?
Silly question! The answer is "No", we can't even imagine what God's plans are.

He has something out there that is unlike all we've already known.
Something that will thrill us: that complements the gifts and interests He's given us. Something we're going to love for He made our hearts and He knows how to touch them.


What opportunities, blessings, gifts, and experiences does God have in store for you this season? for next year? for the rest of your life into eternity?

I don't know, but I do know that when God says "Surprise!" to those who love Him, He has the perfect gift. (James 1:17)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Joy

I wrote the word "Joy" today and realized something...

The song is wrong.
Do you remember that song, "Jesus and Others and You, what a wonderful way to spell JOY"?

Joy does not come from putting Jesus first, than others, and then yourself because that makes my joy depended on what I do. When did my actions become the source of joy in my life?

"I will praise the Lord who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me.
Because He is at my right hand I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices...
You have made known to me the path of life.
In your presence is fullness of joy;
at your right hand there are pleasures forever."
Psalms 16:7-11

Joy comes from God.
From being in His presence.
From listening to His counsel and trusting in His care.
Look at these verses, they tell us the source of joy.

Look at the word, even it illustrates the principle. Joy comes into us as we spend time in God's presence, fills our hearts, and is then flung out into the world - as if one hand is raised to God and the other outstretched to those around us.
At least that's what I saw...
Joy, then, to the world because God has come to us!


Monday, December 14, 2009

With us...


Emmanuel - God with us.

We're hearing this word a lot. In songs, on cards, and in scripture and sermons and what an amazing concept it is.
God has come to us.

My question is, how closely has God come to us?
Where is God in this season?
In a nativity set on the front lawn or mantle?
Perhaps the motif on the Christmas cards being sent?
Or maybe in our words as we sing along with the radio or join in the great carols in a poinsettia strewn sanctuary?

How closely is God with you this season?

Recently I realized, as having left the church I've attended the past 18 years, that there would be no place for me to sing this Christmas; no choir, no programs, no chance to voice the amazing truths in the songs reserved for this season, which is something I have been thrilled to do for years. "It is what it is" though, "no need to cry over spilt milk" and all those sayings came to mind. This was merely an effect of a decision I felt God lead me to make and that was that...
A week later the phone rang and it was the organist at the church we attend in the summer asking if I could sing for them for Christmas.

How close has God come to us?
He has come to be this close; "You know what I long for, Lord; you hear my every sigh." Psalms 38:9.

More than a creche, a motif, or lyrics God has come to us to be intimately connected with us. To be so close that He hears our smallest sighs and works in all the details of our lives. His desire is to be with us, in every way, through each moment. We are to "pray without ceasing"(I Thess. 6:17) and "Not worry about anything but pray about everything. Tell God what you need" (Phil. 4:6).

God dressed Himself in flesh for a much greater purpose than becoming a cultural or religious icon. He had greater aspirations than being the object of plays, cantatas, and Christmas merchandise! He came as man for one reason; to die on a cross to atone for our sins so that He might enter our hearts and be with us now and so that we can be forever with Him.

He is with you.
Be with Him.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Do You Need a Snowsuit?

It is three little degrees outside, three and this is shocking!

Now it's not that surprising that the temperatures have fallen as the news has been predicting it for days - but it is shocking, especially when you first step outside!

So with this shocking, yet not surprising, turn of events came the hunt for the snowsuits. Were they behind the winter coats? Or packed up with the boots? Or perhaps in the downstairs winter equipment closet?

Unfortunately this hunt began exactly eleven minutes before it was time to leave for school... as somehow it almost always does; hmmm...although my husband and son are scouts somehow I missed out on that whole "Be Prepared" training! There is no reason that the snowsuit hunt should have taken place this morning. I knew what was coming and I could have been prepared.

In life however we don't have always have that luxury, of knowing what is ahead and preparing for it. Quite often we're suddenly faced with a shocking turn of events, something we didn't see coming, and we are left standing there empty handed.

The Israelites were that way. They marched out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, into the wilderness and suddenly realized they had no food! Here it was that God stepped in for them, not in the same grandiose way He did when He parted the Red Sea, but in the same way that I find He provides in my life and that is daily.

"In the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God." Exodus 16:12 (NIV) And sure enough the next morning the ground was covered as if with frost with these round things that they called "manna" which means "What is it?" (vs 15)

They were given what they needed for that day.

Some people tried to collect more and hoard it for tomorrow but the next morning it was filled with maggots...
This provision of God's was daily and had to be gathered as such. Every morning (except the Sabbath) they had to go out and spend the time necessary to collect the provisions for that day.

So also are we given daily grace.
"His mercies are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness" Lamentations 3:10

"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" Hebrews 4:16

In time of need.
God comes to us at the time of need.

Although I'd like to stockpile God's grace today for the problems coming in the future, I can't. God provides right when we need it, and it will be enough, and it will satisfy our needs. (Psalms 104:27,28, Isaiah 58:11, Psalms 95:3, Psalms 63:5, Psalms 145:16)

Look at the testimony of the Israelites in Exodus 16:35 " The Israelites ate manna forty years...until they arrived in the land of Canaan"

You've got to admit that the parting of the Red Sea, the water gushing from the rock, the storm of quail for dinner and all the other incidents where God provided for their needs in a big way were quite spectacular and, this writing as evidence, are still being talked about today. But let us not forget that surrounding these "big" showings of God's power that every single day He provided strength in the form of manna. Every morning provisions were laid out for them to collect. He provided for their needs day after day after day until they reached their destination.

What will next week bring and what of Christmas? What does the quickly approaching new year hold? What will things be like in five years? What if there is a sudden plummeting of all that is temperate in my life?

"Do not fear for your heavenly Father already knows all of your needs, and He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern" Matthew 6: 32-34

Even if that means a snowsuit...!






Thursday, December 3, 2009

Perfectly Packaged Gifts of Christmas Encouragment

In the past few days several perfectly packed gifts of Christmas encouragement have come to my Inbox and I'd now like to "regift" them to you! Merry Christmas!

She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:7

There's a lot of pressure to have a "perfect" Christmas with great gifts, caroling, and family. Often that makes our actual Christmas a let-down.
We forget the first Christmas was far from perfect - Mary had to give birth in a stable! What blessings from God can you find in your disappointments of the season? - BibleLeague.org


"Those who obey His commands live in him, and He in them" I John 3:24

Christ lived in Mary until He had to come out. Christ will grow in you until the same occurs.
He will come out in your speech, in your actions, in your decisions. Every place you live will be a Bethlehem, and every day you live will be a Christmas. You, like Mary, will deliver Christ into the world.
God in us! Have we sounded the depth of this promise?
-Max Lucado

A lesser woman might have argued with Gabriel. “No thanks, Buddy. My future's already mapped, and I like it as is. Go away, okay? Find someone else.” But that wasn't Mary's style. Instead, she mustered her courage and spoke words that changed the course of history: “I am the Lord's servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants” (v. 38).

Sometimes our lives take unexpected turns just as Mary's did. We're settled in a nice rhythm, and then God disrupts it by giving us a task riddled with risk or inconvenience, or circumstances force us to exchange precious plans for pain and uncertainty. How can we mimic Mary's example when we're tempted to turn and run the other way? Here are my thoughts…

Believe the words Gabriel spoke: “The Lord is with you.” No matter the direction our path takes, we need to remember that we're not alone on the journey.

Regard the change in plans as a blessing in disguise. God's purposes are far beyond our understanding, and we simply need to trust His wisdom and sovereignty.

Maintain a surrendered heart. Let's consider ourselves as servants of God as Mary did. Life is about Him and His eternal purposes, not about us.

Perhaps your plans for 2009 took an unexpected turn that complicated everything by human standards. You're a grandmother who's raising a grandchild rather than enjoying retirement as you'd planned. You're a woman whose marriage has undergone stress or ended. Perhaps you're changing careers or moving to a new city because of your present career. Maybe you're a mom whose teenagers' bad choices are affecting you. Or maybe you're sensing a nudge to lead a Bible study or small group, participate in a short-term missions trip, or care for a senior parent. Doing so will complicate your comfortable life, and you're tempted to say no.

Whatever your circumstances, know that God is in control. He sees life from an eternal perspective, and His plans are excellent even if they feel like bothersome complications sometimes. May that knowledge give you the courage to say yes as Mary did. – Grace Fox


You Can, Because He Can
I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. Job 42:2 NKJV

You can ask the Lord because He will not give you a wrong answer.

You can wait upon the Lord because His timing is always perfect.

You can trust in the Lord because He makes no mistakes.

You can hope in the Lord because He holds your future.

You can rest in the Lord because He is in control of your life.

You can lean upon the Lord because He is completely faithful.
-Roy Lessin