Friday, December 24, 2010

"Like a kid at Christmas"

It's what we want out of Christmas - it's the "wow" factor we're aiming for with our gifts and decorating. "Like a kid at Christmas" is that look on a face of anticipation and joy and incredulousness and wonder all wrapped up in one gigantic smile and wide-open eyes.

My kids are older now so I'd forgotten how intoxicating that look can be until I was at a Cub Scout Christmas party. Santa had come and was handing out gifts to the children. There were two little girls there, siblings, and when Santa walked in you'd think they were about to explode with happiness. They looked at him, and each other, and then back at him with smiles that practically wrapped around their little heads. There were no words to describe how they were feeling and still hardly sufficient words to communicate how they looked.
It was pure magic. This was undoubtedly the highlight of their day or, from the looks of it, their lives!

For me however this party was just another box to be checked off the Christmas list of things to do.

"Next!"

I will keep checking off boxes until it is the evening of the 25th and then I'll start a new list of  year end stuff which will flow right into the list of new year resolutions and responsibilities and long term planning. Things are too busy to just stand around and be wide-eyed with adoration!

But what if, even if just for a few moments I could experience the joy of a kid at Christmas?

Can I, amid all the hustle take a moment to get lost  in a carol? To hear the story as if not for the thousandth time and to stand in sheer incredulousness and pure incomprehensible bliss that God came for me?

Can I realize that the greatest gift isn't wrapped in the fanciest ribbons and paper but instead is Almighty God wrapping Himself in skin?

He came so that He could forever be my high priest who is familiar with all that is familiar to me.
He wept.
He was tired.
He was surrounded by people needing him to do things for them.
He had boxes to check off until he reached his final objective - giving Himself as payment for my sin so that He could then turn around and offer to wrap me in robes of his righteousness.

He wore my skin so that I could be covered by His goodness.

This is the gift that is held out to me, and to us, and to all the world.

May God grant us one thing more this season; the ability to be still and accept this gift of Himself with the wide-eyed adoration it inspires and deserves...

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior which is Christ the Lord!" Luke 2

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Oh there's no place like home for the holidays"

Here, at home, the holidays don't look the same as they years ago; the number at the table is fewer, the pile of gifts under the tree smaller.

The loss of loved ones keeps it from being "the most wonderful time of the year" until I ponder that "better is one day in Your court than a thousand elsewhere" (Psalms 84:10 NIV).

They are home for the holidays, not in our homes, but in God's presence.

The same God who has welcomed them home will also provide grace for our every need and will someday wipe all tears from our eyes as well.

So, to you specifically this season, may God gift you with peace.

Isotoner (g)love

I live on the cheap side of life.
Not necessarily frugal as that implies thoughtful comparison of price to quality, I'm just cheap. Why pay $10 when you can get something "just as good" for $2?

Of course a low price can mean cheap goods like the many pairs of stretchy knit "magic" gloves that are in singles throughout my house. I pulled a pair on and discovered holes between 3 of the 5 fingers - and these were the new ones! Highly ineffective in single degree temperatures!

But as I was doing Christmas shopping I saw them, and I bought them, a pair of isotoner gloves. They slid onto my hands seamlessly and snugly cocooned them in sleek warmth. It's hard to believe that what I had been wearing and what I wore now could both be considered gloves!

Christmas is a season of loving. We endeavor through our gift giving to communicate that we love someone I mean seriously, what else would have someone out in the stores at this time of year?! This is the time that we say "When I saw this I thought of how much joy it would bring you and I want you to be happy because I care about you."

But no matter how extravagant my gifts are they are like stretchy knit gloves compared to the love shown by the manager. For in the manager God sends a message; He gave us Himself so that we could experience the joy of His presence both in our lives now and forever.

This love was not cheap but of the highest quality and price. It is the love of the God of the universe offering to adopt us as his own children and thereby taking on Himself the responsibility for all our care both now and always.

This, this is how loves looks and feels. This is love that fits snugly around our hearts and keeps us safe and warm.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The longest night and Christmas lights

I don't know all that transpired so that we celebrate Christmas in December, but it does strike me how highly appropriate it is that, at this time of the year when there is more darkness than light, this is when we celebrate the coming of The Light of the World...

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. ...

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: ...

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. - (John 1:1-9, 12, 14 NKJV)

One of the beauties of the Christmas season is driving through the neighborhood and seeing all the lights. Some homes have only their lite tree in the window while others are so bright they make the electric company very happy!

But from single tree to a million twinkling lights any light helps in the darkness. We are like Christmas lights in our world - little reflectors of the presence of the Light of the World in our lives. We bear witness to the Light just as John did, everywhere we go. While a body of believers maybe able to shine as brightly as the best decorated house on the block; a single strand of lights still pushes back the darkness. A simple strand here and a lite tree there; together they light up the neighborhood.

Your witness, however small, bears witness to the Light. Your faithfulness to God combined with the words or another and the actions of a third may join together to light a path bright enough for one to find their way to the Christ child this season. It's a tough time of year. Stress is high all around. Streets and stores are crowded. People are busy, some frantic to get it all done before the "big day".  Let the testimony of your life as you move through today be as a light to hearts that desperately need it.






Friday, December 17, 2010

Potential

I've have this amazing ball of yarn - it's soft and warm and has this fantastic coloring.

It is simply a ball of potential!

In my hands this yarn will become a scarf. Those are the tools I have and that is the knowledge I possess. But in the hands of someone else, with different tools and other ideas, it could become a garment of warmth, or a thing of great beauty. An artist would look at this yarn and see possibilities I'd never imagine. An expert in yarn craft could construct an item I'd never considered.

The ball of yarn remains the same - with its particular mix of characteristics - but its potential outcome is all dependent on in whose hands it lies...

We all are a mix of experiences, personalities, temperaments, and talents.

We are all lives full of potential..

So the question is what to do with them? How to craft who we are with what we have into a significant contribution and lasting legacy?

My hands are not that talented or capable, merely adequate.

What if I put this into the hands of an artist? A creator? An expert?

What if I took this life of mine and placed it in God’s hands thereby granting Him permission to do whatever He desired with me? and how? and when?

Would He drop the ball?
Would He make a scarf?
Or would He, who actually spun this yarn to be just the way that it is, work with it, as only one can who is intimately familiar with its characteristics, until it is what He’d envisioned it would be all along?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Satisfaction (as in "I can't get no...")

I have vivid memories of the Christmas catalog from when I was a child.
 Do you as well? Every year one would come in the mail and
my sister and I would lay on the floor and turn it page by page and make our lists of what we wanted - or sometimes we'd just circle the stuff. Yep, as you guessed it, sometimes we'd have to go get a fresh pen as ours was, suddenly, surprisingly, out of ink! These were the things I wanted to make my Christmas happy - and of course to make me the first kid on the block to have the latest and greatest thingamabob!

Times have changed. One year my son "cut and pasted" off the Toys R Us website what he wanted into a Word document. The ads now come in the Sunday paper and in the sidebars of every other webpage. According to the Chicago Tribune from Dec. 5th preteens most wished for item this year is an IPad; while the children over 13 most desired a computer.  I'm thinking the 1975 $2.77 Malibu Barbie featured here wouldn't exactly give them what they're wanting...?

We want stuff - I, for over a year now, have coveted a kitchen appliance (I know, what a geek right?!) I have priced this machine a million times with a thousand coupons at a half dozen stores just waiting for it to be within the realm of rationalization! Today is it! Today I am getting my long sought for coffee maker and then I will be happy for the rest of my entire life! I will desire nothing ever again!! Wait, did I just see an ad for that new rotating waffle iron... 

We want stuff but what we really want is satisfaction and we think that if we get "xyz" we'll be satisfied, fulfilled, happy - until of course "xyz 2.0" is released...

Why? Why aren't we happy once we get something? Why doesn't the $2.77 Barbie I got in 1975 fulfill all my desires?

There are several reasons - including the materialistic environment in which we live and the skill of marketers in breeding desire. But another reason is less about us as consumers but as people; we're not satisfied forever because we're constantly changing.  Our lives change. Our situations change and with those changes come new things we desire for satisfaction - and I'm not talking about stuff now. I have friends who the wife was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor this spring; the desires of their entire family have changed now from whatever they were to getting good reports from the treatments.  To one who has lost a job, satisfaction is now having a place to go to work. For one without transportation, satisfaction would look like any running vehicle. For one who is painfully aware of the loss of someone during this season their desire is just to have their memories be more of comfort than sorrow.

We keep changing, so what it takes to satisfy us also changes but there is One who never changes and offers us satisfaction.

You satisfy me more than the richest of foods. I will praise you with songs of joy. Psalms 63:5

The people ate their fill. He gave them what they wanted. Psalms 78:29

But I would feed you with the best of foods. I would satisfy you with wild honey from the rock. Psalms 81:16

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. Psalms 90:14

I will satisfy them with a long life and give them my salvation. Psalms 91:16

He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle's! Psalms 103:5

When you supply it, they gather it. You open your hand to feed them, and they are satisfied. Psalms 104:28

For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. Psalms 107:9.

When you open your hand, you satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing Psalms 145:16

He sends peace across your nation and satisfies you with plenty of the finest wheat Psalms 147:14
No matter what our needs are, or how they change from year to year or moment to moment, we have One who can satisfy our hearts.

Yes, you really can get some satisfaction!

Monday, December 6, 2010

I'll be home for Christmas

I was far from home and grabbed a towel from the rack in the hotel bathroom. It was about as thick as a piece of paper and barely bigger than a hand towel. It was both disappointing and ineffectual for its task.

When I was home I reached for a towel and found it thirsty lushness wrapped around me like a queen sized blanket. It was more than enough; it was extravagant.

Both situations were similar in what I needed but the difference lie in where I was. At home I found all I needed and more – but away from home the result was inadequacy and disappointment.

We’re seeking, and needy, and vulnerable. How are we and where are we while we’re trying to meet those needs? If we are far from home we’re on our own to find happiness, fulfillment, purpose, or love; often we come up short.

But if we are home we have a Father who delights in providing for us (Psalms 37:23) and promises that we’ll have all that we need (Psalms 23:1). When we are home we will flourish and have joy because we are in His presence.(Psalms 92:12-14)

"Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord; He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God and I trust Him.  He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection...If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you. (Psalms 91: 1-3,4,9 NLT)

Be home for Christmas this year. You are most welcome there! (Ephesians 3:12, 14-21)

Friday, December 3, 2010

'Tis the season...

...of warm snuggly blankets, fa la la la la, la la la la!

Baby, it's cold outside!
And, although I'm inside it's still cold!  So 'tis the season so bring out the warm blankets and drape them on every arm of every chair. (Seriously it looks like a giant slumber party is always going on in my living room!)

My favorite is a new one that's microfiber lined with sherpa which makes it soft and super warm. If I could make it into an outfit I'd wear it everywhere! 

But for now I sit in my big blue chair this morning under my warm blanket as I open God's Word to feed my heart and I read, "Unfailing love surrounds those who trust in the Lord." Psalms 32:10 NLT

I feel loved as I sit here all cozy and still; comforted by His care for me as the demands of the day have yet to have me distracted and running. But "unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord" - surrounds - not just covers me when I'm still and reflective but surrounds me, wherever I go, whatever I'm doing, no matter how I feel.

I am as surrounded by the love of God as if I took my blanket with me everywhere I went. No matter how cold it will be outside today, no matter what bitter winds will blow I am protected by the love of God which surrounds me.  His love covers me: it cocoons me.

I guess there is such an outfit of sherpa after all!

Do you have one?
Don't forget to take it with you as you go out today!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

It's become iconic; the scraggly tree with the lone red ornament, as we remember Christmases of our youth from when A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired in 1965.

Beyond the nostalgia though is the original meaning, that Christmas is more than commercialism and excess but that it is, as Linus quotes (click for clip) from Luke 2, all about the birth of Jesus.

It is the scrawny tree vs. the forest of colorful aluminum monstrosities and, it is also for us, the devotion to the Savior of a single heart - your heart - against the bedlam of Christmas obligations and expectations.

So when you're shopping this season and see this little tree (which, ironically, true to the season's materialism you can now buy everywhere), let it remind you that the most important thing is your heart seeking the babe in the manager, more than anything and everything else.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

We, the walking wounded

It's one of the oldest and most tired jokes...

"Why do you keep banging your head against the wall?"
"Because it feels so good when I stop!"

We are wounded people.

Wounded by life, by circumstances, by family, friends and associates. Some are wounds of the stabbing, twisting life-altering type that leave us in stunned shock. Others are more like a paper cut - not life threatening but that still hurt like the dickens.

Recently I was sucker punched - which, as the name implies, just adds insult to injury as you don't see it coming! But what has impacted me more than the wounding was the resulting assistance and comfort I received from others around me. Because of their care I came away with a new appreciation for their friendship and gratefulness to God for their presence in my life. Would I have had that attitude if I’d not experienced the pain? Probably not.

So are wounds worth the rewards?

I can’t answer that question.
Today, for me, I would say "yes" but I'm not you and for myself I may feel differently tomorrow...

But what I know is that God can use, as he did for Joseph, what is done to us with evil intentions for His own good. (Genesis 50:20).

So while I don’t suggest going and banging your head against a wall, if along the way today you are hurt, hear this invitation. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalms 147:3)


No matter the severity – from breath stopping pain to annoying tiny slices – you have a Great Physician and His appointment book is wide open.

The Doctor will see you now.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Long dark journeys

I am not a roller coasting loving kind of girl, nor am I fond of small tight places. Unfortunately I remembered each of these facts after being launched into a five story tube of water.

Deep breaths.
Slow, deep breaths.

It was pitch black in here. I was okay for a few seconds and then the tube twisted on itself launching me against the side.

More breaths. Ragged. Shallow.
A distinct impression that the walls were closing in.

Ah, lights!
It’s the end!
What a relief!
...

.....

.......

.........

...........

.............

The darkness, if possible, seemed deeper as I continued to rush forward leaving the lights left far behind. How long was this going to last? How long could I last having no awareness of anything beyond the darkness and falling and the feeling that I wouldn’t make it if this lasted much longer?

A water park ride is one thing but when you’re plunging through life and circumstances with no control; that is a kind of scary that doesn't end in a minute in a splash of chlorinated water.

God promises that He walks through the 'valley of the shadow of death' (Psalms 23) with us. This promise is for any kind of death; physical loss but also the loss of employment, health, home, or hope. Included are when dreams, expectations, or relationships are slaughtered or when we’re plunged into valleys that rob us of reasoning and blind our eyes to the beauty of living and stop our ears from the call of hope. There are valleys when the only emotion is fear from the shadows that grow deeper on a journey that seems like it will never end. Here, in these valleys, God walks with us for this is why He came.

God came to be Emmanuel - "God with us".

Not "God with us when we're in our Sunday best".
Nor "God with us only in wide verdant peaceful places".

But simply God with us - wherever we are.

He is Emmanuel - God with us, especially when it is dark, and long, and out of our control, and scary.
Especially then...


To you O God, who is the Light of the World, come to us here in these small dark spaces. Give us the light of Your presence and the touch of Your hand. Reassure us that, no matter how we may feel, we are not in this alone for you have promised to never abandon those who love you.
(John 8:12, Psalms 4:6, Psalms 89:15, Psalms 73:23, Psalms 37:28, Hebrews 13:5)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pregnant...

There is something special about being pregnant around Christmas for no matter how frantic and frenzied everything gets around you your thoughts never get too far from the life you’re carrying within you.

Be pregnant this Christmas.
Yes, I do mean you…

Be cognizant of the life you carry within you – in your heart. Remember that the relationship you have with the Savior is what those around you, harried in their busyness, are seeking.

This season is all about peace, joy, and love.
We, as children of God, know the truest meaning of those words.
We have experienced peace in the unsure, joy despite long dark valleys, and love that is unconditional.

We know the real reason for the baby in the manger.
We understand that Christmas is really all about Easter.
And Easter is all about God who so desires a relationship with us that He’d sacrifice His Son for our redemption.
Christmas is all about the gift of God’s love.

Birth that gift into your world this season.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

Just in case you hadn’t notice the million ads on television or the four inch thick paper that arrived on Thanksgiving, today is Black Friday. This is the day that officially kicks off the Christmas shopping season with special sales that began at 3 am so, if you played your cards right, you could be done by breakfast!

I am sure that there were hundred of thousands who were out this morning and I know my girlfriend was one of them; only she wasn’t at the mall but instead cooking breakfast at a battered women’s shelter. Few are the things that motivate us to get out of our beds in the middle of the night; for some it may be the thrill of being in a crush of a holiday crowd (although I don’t know who!), for her it was the chance to do something for others and thereby show the love of Christ, and for some, out this morning, it was a sacrifice of their own comforts in order to afford a gift they know will bring a loved one great joy.

Many bemoan the fact that Thanksgiving has become the forgotten holiday as retailers rush us now, earlier and earlier, into Christmas with holiday displays and music as soon as Halloween but I think perhaps that we know something they do not. For you see Christmas is really an extension of Thanksgiving. We embrace this season of gift giving because we are thankful for the people in our lives. Sure there are some obligatory gifts that are given but aren’t most of your thoughts of what you can give to the ones you love? We are celebrating the coming of Christ because we are so grateful that God did not leave us forever separated from Him but has sent His Son for our redemption.

So bring on the sales, the trappings, the wonder and madness of it all because to a thoughtful heart it is the beginning of a prolonged season of giving thanks!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chronic

Chronic -ugh - even the word makes one cringe!

Merriam Webster's dictionary defines it as "marked by long duration, by frequent recurrence over a long time". This word originated around the 1520's from the Greek khronikos meaning "of time" and vague disapproving sense is from association with diseases (a connection found since c.1600).

I hurt my back last week and since then have a new appreciation and sympathy for those who have chronic pain. I know how crabby I've been, so I can't imagine what it is like to wake up every morning knowing the day will be pain filled and one's ability limited.

But, the more I think about it, I realize that we all wake up each morning to chronic conditions. It may be physical or perhaps it is emotional, spiritual, or relational in the form of an ongoing situation, besetting sin, or problematic relationship; something that, as you look back over your life, has been there for years upon years. I was flipping through my journal and found that while some things have changed many have not. I see the same prayers and questions over and over in its pages: chronic conditions that, in all likelihood, will never change.

“Marked by a long duration – by frequent recurrence over a long time” this is what chronic means and it feels so negativebut dare we look at the positive side of chronic?

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed for they are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness” Lamentations 3:23.

God’s love is chronic in our lives.

There is never a sunrise that is not accompanied by His mercies and strength.

Never does the moon rise unaccompanied by His promise to watch over us through the night and to be there for us should sleep be elusive.

For whatever else is chronic in our lives, so is the love and care of our God.

"But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9,10

“I will never leave you or forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

So as you deal today with whatever is chronic in your life do so remembering that God's presence is also always with you.  His ear is attentive to your prayer:  He is listening for your voice. (Psalms 130:2)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Smudges on our souls

My whole world has titled off its axis just a bit since yesterday.

Why, you might ask?

It’s because I washed all my windows.

In Chicago we've had some unusually mild weather so, before the blizzards blow, I took advantage of the warm days and cleaned all the windows inside and out.

A clarity has been added. Gone are the smudges, the built up dirt that distorted the view as I looked outside. The light in my house is now brighter, clearer and it changes what I see and how I feel.

Life is messy.

We get smudges on our souls and the dirt of discontent builds up on our spirits; but then God provides agents to wash it away. It may be a song, a sermon, a conference, a comment, a catastrophe, or a circumstance and suddenly we see life more clearly and it changes everything.

Matthew West sings in My Own Little World about his small safe world with "population: me” until he sees a homeless widow and now his world consists of two. What would we see if our eyes were opened?

May God clean the smudges off our souls so that we can clearly see what is around us. Each of our lives are different, perhaps this is the time to focus on a spouse, a job, a neighbor, children, ministry, or the world outside one’s comfort zone but, no matter what we will see, may God gently clean the dirt from our hearts so that we can.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What I need to know

I know not -
how God moves
how prayer works
what God plans
why bad things happen
or what my future holds.

BUT

I know the One in whom I trust and am confident that He is capable.

Those who know your name trust in you
for you O Lord have never abandoned anyone
who searches for you. ( Psalms 9:10 NLT).

I know whom I have believed
 and am persuaded that He is able
 to keep what I have committed to Him
until that day ( II Timothy 1:12 NKJV).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

One among millions

 

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.
Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6,7)

"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost. (Matthew 18:12-14)

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my every thought when far away.  You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am...You both precede and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. (Psalms 139:1-5)


Monday, November 1, 2010

The Parable of the Princess

The streamers of ribbon and pearls rode the wave of long brown hair cascading down her back; her headdress telling all that she was special, she was royalty, for tonight she was the princess.

She was also the mom who had thrown on her daughter's crown as she was walking around with her family as they trick-or-treated. She was the rapidly aging woman who was realizing she was no longer as attractive, fearless, hope-filled, or energetic as once she was. She was all grown up now and, at the rate her kids were growing up, she’d too quickly become an empty nester. Her castle was filled with projects well intentioned but only begun and piles of responsibilities waiting to be sorted. Her lists were always longer than her hours and she’d discovered the white horse, that her knight had arrived on, involved a great deal of upkeep.

Her court of ladies brought her great joy however castle responsibilities left them little time for repose. There were the endless rounds of engagements to attend to and also constant threats to the peace of the kingdom.

The King however was the one who had placed this garland of loving kindness upon her head and bestowed upon her the honor of being a princess and His beloved daughter. He was in complete control of the happenings in the kingdom and always welcomed her warmly when she came into His throne room. No detail was too small for His attention and no threat too great for His power. She was dressed in rich flowing garments of praise and salvation and her table always abounded with the finest of food. Her heart was secure for the Almighty King was her protector and she served and worshipped Him as her Lord. He asked her total allegiance which she freely gave knowing that without His good favor she would still be dwelling in the shadowed outskirts of the castle. She now lived each day in His palace enjoying the nearness of His presence and the richness of His love. No matter what the responsibilities or difficulties; she would remember that, not only for tonight but also for all of eternity, she was His princess-with or without the ribbons.

(Taken from Psalms 103:4, John 1:12, Jeremiah 32:27, Isaiah 61:10, Psalms 55:7, Psalms 104:27,28, Psalms 23:5, Psalms 89:15, Psalms 56:13, Psalms 26:8, Psalms 27:5, Psalms 61:4, Hebrews 13:5)

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Dumbest Kid in the Class

Have you ever felt like the dumbest….

No, wait, I’m not even going to ask that question because I hope your answer would be “No. Of course not. I have no idea what you’re talking about!” (And just in case that wouldn’t be your response, I won’t even ask).

I hate that feeling. Like not only is everyone around you “getting it” but that it really isn’t that difficult a concept and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to comprehend it. For me it is a depressing, isolating, frustrating and discouraging experience, feeling stupid is not fun.

Now it is one thing when it happens in a school situation –quite another in a work environment – and most serious of all when it occurs in “real life.” School might mean a bad grade, work could be a loss in advancement or employment but what about when we’re missing it in life?

I find that I get into a situation, have a problem, a decision to make or a conflict and suddenly I’m the kid with the blank stare on her face. What am I supposed to do? How do I even start solving this equation? What are the pertinent factors? Could someone at least give me some multiple choice answers??? And even though I know that at one point I learned the process and knew how to find the answer now I can’t even remember the basics!.

In preparation for a writing conference I’ve been looking over my writings. Over the past 3 ½ years I’ve written about 300 times. I write when I’ve been so inspired by something that I cannot not write about it; when I have learned something about God that is so big to me that I have to share it. So, in using the learning motif, I have written an “essay” on these concepts of faith approximately twice a week for the last 45 months and STILL, when I get into a situation, I act like I’ve never heard any of the answers before!

How patient is God with us? How many times He comes to us with the same lesson again and again as currently “testing” reveals we just haven’t gotten it yet…

I am beginning to realize that, when it all comes down to it, there are only two things I have to learn; only two truths that impact all of my reality. God is God (and I am not) and Jesus loves me. Who knew that the song I learned as a toddler was actually my earliest exposure to this concept I’ve still yet to grasp?

In every situation there is God – holy, powerful, sovereign, above us, with a plan, in control, of greater understanding that we can every comprehend and there is the fact that He loves us – sent Jesus to die to offer redemption, is a constant help, companion, advocate, strength and is watching over and taking care of those He loves.

Think about it. The thing you’re facing right now. How do these two truths effect the situation and your response to it? It really is all you need to remember.  If God the possessor of all power, strength and understanding loves you - what else do we possibly need to know?

So even though I may have come to the understanding every week for the entirety of my life and yet still forget when a new "test" comes I, the dumbest kid in the class, am assured that God has not given up on me yet because, after all, God is God and Jesus loves me!

“Being confident in this very thing that He which began a good work in your will bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tenacity

For the past few days we've had 20 to 60 mph winds and they are brutal; I keep expecting tree branches to land on the roof...

I had also expected that these vicious winds would strip the trees of all their colorful leaves...


but as you can see from the video, they have not!
(if video does not appear click here http://thinking-on-these-things.blogspot.com/2010/10/tenacity.html)

These are autumn leaves - they are already on their way out - they've got just a few more weeks until they fall to earth and die - their summer season is over yet they are still hanging on and holding firm for all they are worth. Their glory days are over and these winds are fierce yet these leaves are tenacious!

How tenacious are we when the winds blow? It is easier to be dedicated and have that bulldog determination when we're younger or the situation is new but how about when the winds are familiar as we have already had to hold on through many previous storms? When this is not your first rodeo, dance, or trip around the block; how do you hold on when you don't feel as strong or you're not as young as you used to be?

I Corinthians 4:2 tells us, "Now it is required that those that have been given a trust must prove faithful."  But how do we do that?

"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame and is set down at the right hand of the Father." Hebrews 2:2

"Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps." I Peter 2:21

We can remain faithful because we are not blazing the trail on this path of pain and difficulty. Christ has walked it before us, and now He walks it with us. We are never in the storms all alone.

"You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am...You both precede and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head." Psalms 139:3,5

There is One who is holding onto us, surrounding us, no matter how fierce the winds that blow.
If these leaves can hold on through these gusty winds, surely can not I hold on too when there is One who is holding me?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

God bless "Don Jose"!

My daughter is in the opera Carmen at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.  This is a big deal as it's not a small town hall kind of presentation. The fact that the main floor tickets are $194 should tell you something in itself!

At last night's performance Yonghoon Lee, who is in the starring role of "Don Jose", brought in a cookie cake to the children's chorus and on it he'd had written "Jesus loves you very much".

Yonghoon Lee is South Korean and Katie says seems to speak broken English.  He is young and a rapidly rising star in the opera word with a smooth powerful voice. Everything about him could say "diva" but this star chose to share his faith with a group of children.

His ingenuity speaks to his passion for Christ.
This was something he never "had" to do yet went out of his way to do as a witness.
Think about this (as I've done nothing but think about it since she came home with this news). He's leaving Chicago soon as the performances are ending. The only contact he has with the children is briefly on stage in the first act. Yet, apparently he so desired to tell them that Jesus loves them that he found a way to do it.

I find it extremely hard to witness. I worry about what people will think of me and if what I say will come out "right".  I wait and wait and wait for the perfect time and opportunity - which of course never seems to come - yet this young man made an opportunity and chose words to share despite what this would cause others to think.

Sadly Katie tells me that some of the kids now think he's a freak... however I think he's a shinning testimony to me of the kind of witness I, and all of us who love the Lord, should be.

May God bless Yonghoon Lee and bring many to Himself because of this man's bold and faithful witness!

Monday, October 25, 2010

1-800-4UR- HELP

It's happened.
I knew it would although I was hoping it wouldn't  for at least a few more years; but it's already happened twice...

I had to phone a friend.
For help.
With my son's homework...

I knew eventually he'd be in a subject I couldn't help him with and I expected it to be Calculus or Honors Biology; surely I could be the expert on all things through elementary school and Jr. High...

Nope.

And it even gets worse than that; last night when I was talking to the friend having it explained to me so I could explain it to him I couldn't understand it and had to turn the phone over to my son to hear the explanation and who understood it immediately! (and I'm still not clear on the whole subject...)

There comes these times when we don't have the answer; as much as we want to and as desirous as we are to help, we can't.
But we know One who can.
He has promised to give wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5). We know that He desires for us to walk in His ways and follow His commands so God will not be grudging in giving answers to those who are seeking Him.

But, like my son last night, I couldn't get the answer and then give it to him.  He had to get it from the source himself. We can pray for those around us who are seeking answers and whose problems exceed our ability to advise. We can lead them to the Source of all answers but they must do the asking as we cannot ask for them.

And therein will they not learn the bigger truth? Beyond help for the immediate need they will know what it means to seek God and isn't that truly the greatest lesson of all?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Showers of Blessings


There are experiences that cannot be described adequately by words or captured on film and walking through a boulevard of trees as the leaves rain down on you and crunch underfoot is one of those inexplicable and heart-awing moments.

You are surrounded by beauty, so stunning you are silenced as you watch the glorious color that is over you and also swirling around and showering down. And then these leaves remain on the pathway, audible reminders of their presence completing this whole multi-sensory immersion into the grandeur of Fall.

It is the season of gratitude; of open eyes to the majesty of God's faithful care over us and the blessings He showers down upon us. It is the perfect time to realize that as the leaves falling from the trees are many, so also have been our blessings.

Typically my family will make lists around Thanksgiving of what they are grateful for but this year it is time to visualize the blessings as they're showered on us - not in neat rows and an chronological times but by the handfuls and scattered throughout life. This year I will write my blessings on paper leaves and make a pile - a glorious, messy, taking-over-the-table type of pile and thereby remember that is how generous God is and how much I have been blessed.

How great is our God and how much we should praise Him! Psalms 48:1

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Open my Eyes?

I love my eye doctor! He is the most enjoyable and engaging medical professional I have ever been forced to spend time with (seeing that two of the four of us are quite bereft in the vision department, it has been a decent amount of time). 

He is knowledgeable, funny, and caring, and  he takes his time with the exam and in answering all my questions.  I love it as a patient in the chair, not so much as one in the waiting room but at least I know my time with his undivided attention is coming.

Last night he dilated my pupils and, although I've worn contacts the majority of my life, I'm still a bit squeamish about things being put into my eyes but it was necessary. So I laid my head back and opened my eyes wide for the drops. After a few minutes, when my pupils were wide open and fixed in place so they couldn't constrict; he took an extremely bright light and, getting right up to my eye, looked through my open pupils to the back to check out the health of my retina. It was intense and for the rest of the evening my vision was altered.

We sing these beautiful choruses that say "Open my eyes that I may see, glimpses of truth thou hast for me" or "Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you." but I've found having one's eyes opened can be a very uncomfortable experience.

God often brings a catalyst into our lives that opens our eyes and then with the light of His Word examines our hearts and it is revealed to us that all is not as it should be with our souls.  Sudden illness or downturns or conflict or conviction disclose that deep down faith is frail and doubts are lurking; that when push comes to shove perhaps beliefs ascribed to by lips and intellectual assent have not taken root and flourished in the heart.

I've recently had my eyes opened and am still processing through what it exposed.  I liked the way I saw things before my vision was altered because with new sight comes new responsibility. So now I must chose to respond appropriately or close my eyes to what God has shown me.

May our all-powerful and loving God, who opens our eyes, also give us the ability and courage to walk in this newness of sight.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

To-Do Lists of MANY things

I’ve given up trying to remember...

I’m not saying I’m old but I’ve given up trying to remember things. And, since it seems my memory is only as long as my pencil, I make lists – lots of lists –for everything because writing it down is my only hope of remembering what it is that I’m supposed to get done! I wish I could say this was a new thing but if it’s a sign of old age I’ve been old for decades!

There is always so much to do isn’t there? I feel that I cross one thing off and then add two more. I’ve discovered this morning that I’m not the only one…

“While they were traveling, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks and she came up and asked, ‘Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.’ The Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.’ ” Luke 10:38-42

Many tasks…

One day I was asked what I’d done that day and so I listed it – every last thing - and even I was amazed at the accounting because it was full of many, MANY things. I’ve always felt bad for Martha in this story – Mary, just sitting around, gets the credit for doing the right thing while Martha, busy providing for everyone, is chided.

Notice however that it was Martha who invited Jesus into their home. She was out there being hospitable. I wonder what prompted her to invite Jesus; my guess being she must have known something about who He was and what He’d been saying. She is the one who shows this interest and first step towards faith.

But then the reality of inviting Jesus and his numerous disciples for a meal overshadowed the original intentions she started with; the bread would not bake itself! And soon,as she was so distracted by her many tasks, she was missing the opportunity to spend time at the feet of Jesus.

It’s apparent that she went complaining to Jesus resentful but perhaps it isn’t with the obvious resentment of her sister’s lack of help but perhaps; it is more her resentment that she wished she also had the luxury of time and responsibilities to be listening to His words…
While I can’t project that on her I know that’s typically how I feel when having a get together as I end up so busy with the hosting that I’m lucky say more than a passing hello.

I think Martha meant well – she had high aspirations. She invited Jesus to her home, to come in and be with her but then she got distracted by the many things.

There will always be many things to distract us.
ALWAYS. Many MANY things!
So while we’re intentional about inviting Jesus into our days, let’s not get so distracted with everything else, that we fail to spend time at His feet actually being with Him. There will always be things but spending time with Him is the most important thing of all the ones on the list!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My God - from the moment I was born...

"You brought me safely from my mother's womb and led me to trust you...You have been my God from the moment I was born." Psalms 22:9-10

Every birth is a miracle although sometimes there is more awareness of that miracle than other times - difficult conceptions, tenuous pregnancies, and deliveries that don't go as planned lead one to affirm, "You, God, brought me safely from my mother's womb!" My own two children can praise God in that way as they each wanted to make their appearance into the world far earlier than expected (overachievers from the very beginning I guess!) and I claim this verse as my own as well.

The year was 1966 and a girl was pregnant.
I don't know her name and  never remember seeing her face.
The pregnancy was unwanted and,  although I do not know the circumstances, this baby's future was uncertain. Was she young? Unmarried? Were her parents supportive and helpful or distant? Was she sent away to give birth as girls of that time and culture were? Did the baby's father know or care what was happening? Did she hold her daughter or never look on her face? Did she mourn when she gave her away or were her emotions more of relief? Did she return to her previous life? Finish school? Go on to marry and have other children? Does she still live today? Does she ever think of the daughter she never knew?

While I don't have those answers I do know this "You have been my God from the moment I was born."
I realize now how helpless a newborn is, and how it was of God that there was the giving of an infant and an organization of people who valued life and  found willing arms in which to place that baby.

You have been my God from the moment I was born.
It's true actually of all of us

"You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb" Psalms 139:13
He has been our God since our very beginning.
The question is do we recognize Him as "my God"?

Is there any term more personal as one that says "my God"?
Not God, or Lord of the Universe, The High Holy Impersonal One but the God who is mine because I have accepted His invitation to become His child and live attune to His direction. You may acknowledge Him as God but do you relate to Him as "my God"?  It is the most precious relationship you will ever have for to be loved unconditionally by an all-knowing God is a priceless gift. You will never be apart from His watchfulness or care. No matter what other friends or family may fail or no longer be with you, God's presence is constant. His mercies are new every morning. He guides our steps and tells us which path to take. It is a relationship that only grows sweeter and deeper as the years go on and He's promised that as He was my God from the moment I was born that He will be my God until the last moment of my life.

"I created you and cared for you since before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime - until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you." Isaiah 46:4

Do you know my God? Is He your God as well? Do you sense that in all that happens to you this day that His presence is with you and that He is watching over you? "Praise the Lord! Praise God our Savior for each day He carries us in His arms!" Psalms 68:19

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Old" Faith

I had a necklace and I'd lost it; so after months of not finding it I decided it was time to replace it. Bringing it home I noticed how shiny it seemed and sparkly.

Of course the afternoon I came home with the replacement necklace I found the original one! With them side by side now you could really tell the difference between the two. One was brand new and unsullied yet the other was a deeper sheen.

So compared to the old would I keep the new instead? All bright, fresh, and shiny?
Not a chance.

I had begun wearing this cross necklace as a reminder to myself of who it is I belong to and to whom is entrusted with my care. The subsequent years found me fingering it through hospital rooms and doctor’s offices, entering a new decade, and days in which life just didn’t work the way it was “supposed” to. It had come to represents a faith that is old and experienced; and a God that has been tried and proven Himself faithful time and time again.

I remember the shininess of first love when I first entered this relationship with the Savior but now it is a faith that has been forged through the fires of life and has come out as pure gold.

God is faithful. Always. Never has He abandoned the soul that has been entrusted to His care. Never has he fallen asleep and been caught unaware. This is the testimony to me of my necklace and of my life, and is true for every life that looks to Him as their God.

Monday, September 27, 2010

What if today you were not alone?


"If Jesus Christ appeared in the flesh to you right this minute, I seriously doubt that you would care how your favorite football team can improve its offense.

I don’t think it would matter anymore whether you need to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home.

I don’t think you would be worried about how you would get that bill paid.

I think you would be captivated by His presence.

Awed by His magnificence.

Lost in the wonder of His love, and trembling in fear of His power and holiness." (Ovation blog - Andy Wood - Clearing out the mental clutter - September 20, 2010)

After I read these words I stopped to imagine such a scene - What if Jesus were to suddenly knock at my door and come in and sit on my couch?  How would His presence with me, in my space, impact my day? What would it be like if Jesus were here with me?

But the amazing thing is that, He is.
He is already in your house, on your couch, next to you while on the computer.
There's not a moment today where you are alone.
Not today, or actually ever.
We are always in the presence of God for He has promised "I will never leave you or forsake you" Hebrews 13:5.

I don't have to imagine what it would be like to have Christ show up at my door to day because He is already here with me and there with you. Nothing I do, or say, or encounter will be without His witness. No difficulty or disappointment will be experienced without his awareness.

Imagine if Jesus Christ appeared in the flesh to you right this minute...then open your eyes and realize that you don't have to imagine because He lives in you.

For this is the secret:
Christ lives in you,
and this is your assurance that you will share in his glory.
Colossians 1:27

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Getting dressed for church

As I am without a church home, every Sunday is a little bit different as we're going to various churches and I find the type of church we're attending impacts what I'll be wearing. 
This morning it was casual pants and ballet flats, last week it was a skirt and heels. One service had hymnbooks and the other words on a screen; one a guy with a guitar, the other an amazing choir. On the platform today was a young pastor in jeans while last week there was an older minister in a suit behind a pulpit. The beauty of it was that each church, as different as they are, were still a place of worship and that I, in heels or flats, was still coming from love for my God.

There is no dress code when coming to God; no special outfitting necessary before He loves us.
If I pray with "Our Father who art in heaven" or "Lord, help!", God hears my prayer.
If my preferred translation is  KJV or NLT, the Spirit of God still speaks through His Word.

There are no qualifiers on our appearance when we come to God! No dressing up of ourselves is necessary nor a cleaning up of our hearts.  All He asks is that our hearts are open to Him. 

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13

Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, LORD. Psalms 89:15

"Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." Hebrews 4:7

My heart has heard you say, "Come and talk with me." And my heart responds, "LORD, I am coming." Psalms 27:8

Come.
Come just as you are.
Come in whatever you're currently wearing -
Just be sure to come.

Friday, September 24, 2010

No fleece necessary!


We know the story of Gideon - God had told him exactly what to do (He'd even sent an angel to tell him!) but Gideon was still not exactly sure about God's direction so he put out a fleece ( a piece of animal skin) and asked God to confirm his decision by making the fleece wet  and the ground around it dry. And the next morning it was exactly as he'd prayed for but poor Gideon was still not sure so he prayed that the fleece would be dry and the ground around it wet, and God, ever a gracious Father, again gave him the confirmation he was seeking and then, finally, Gideon was ready to get with the program.(Judges 6)

Often it seems God speaks this way - over a period of time,after much time spent in prayer and consultation with wise friends and a weighing of the pros and cons... but, as I discovered today, sometimes God speaks with another voice...

This morning, while in a small group for Bible Study, it was mentioned that there was need for a teacher for the 3 and 4 year olds so that many of the women who had to find babysitting arrangements on their own would be able to bring their children with them.  A worthy cause, giving mothers of young ones a time and place to get into God's Word - surely I could help! Throughout the next hour I kept thinking about the need and my own perfect qualifications for meeting it, saying "Well Lord, is this what you want me to do? I could do it but it would be quite a commitment...what do you think I should do?" I thought I'd get more information and then continue praying about it during the week to see if this was where God wanted me. 

And so the information getting conversation began;
There is a need?
"Yes"
What does it entail?
"First...., then....., and then....."  

I did not meet the first requirement of having attended this study for three months already (which would be difficult seeing it was Week 2) so even though I explained why I had the ideal qualifications to help but it didn't matter, I was summarily dismissed until three months had passed.

I had been rejected!
"It's insane to turn down a volunteer who's willing to make a commitment like that", I thought as I walked out. "She has no idea who I am and could have at least talked to me a little longer to find out and why should these poor women wait when I'm offering and I am a great teacher and...".my thoughts were raging angrily and it wasn't until I paused for breath that I heard it - the voice of God saying "You asked me for an answer didn't you?"

This was not a rejection of me but was God quickly answering my question with a firm and unequivocal "No!." I didn't expect so immediate of an answer, as I hadn't had time to work through the process and put out a "fleece"... But God had indeed already given me the answer I was seeking, faithful in His guidance and all I could do was laugh. God indeed knows the way that I take (Job 23:10)  and the best pathway for my life (Psalms 32:8) and this was not it.

So how do you know if it is God speaking?
John 10 answers that question with a story:
"The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep...and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won't follow a stranger, they will run from him because they don't know his voice."

I called a friend last week and when they answered, for a split second, I didn't recognize their voice because it had been so long since we'd spoken even though we've known each other for years...

Keep up the conversation.
Even if you've been in a relationship with Him for years, keep spending time with your Lord and Savior so that when God speaks you will know His voice;
no fleece necessary!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gifts of Encouragement

I am doing today what I do most days—picking things up and putting them down in different places . . .

Sometimes I think my entire life feels like that of Sisyphus (the man from a Greek myth who was condemned for eternity to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it fall back down just as he gets to the top, forcing him to start all over again) as my daily chores seem to be nothing more than doing the exact same things over and over and over and . . .

But today in moving things from place to place, I discovered an e-mail I'd printed out two years ago—one of validation and encouragement. With new eyes I began looking around, and I also found on my desk a handmade card about friendship and a wooden sign a girlfriend allowed me to "steal" from her house while I was deep into studying (it says "Be Nice or Go Away").

My life is filled with small gifts of encouragement—from e-mails, to e-mailed blogs sent to lift my spirits, to comments on my blogs that do the same. I've been encouraged just this morning through a phone call, by an upcoming planned date, and by a personally recorded CD of unbelievably beautiful piano music I've been listening to. I found encouragement in Scripture today from Psalms 73:22-23, which says "I was so foolish and ignorant . . . Nevertheless I still belong to you and you are still holding me by my right hand . . ."

Isn't it incredible how something so easy to give as a word of encouragement can be so powerful?

The discouraging surrounds us, overwhelms us, and shouts loudly in our lives, but today, in all the "boulder rolling up a hill" that you are doing, may you find a precious gift of encouragement—a card, a song, a quote, a conversation, a memory, or whatever boost you need—and may it make your heart, even if just for a moment, smile!


"My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that the grace of God is with you no matter what happens!" I Peter 5:12