Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Countdown To Christmas

The Countdown To Christmas has officially begun, and I love everything about the Christmas season; the music, the snow, the smell of cookies, the sound of a crackling fire, the spirit of giving and the story of the birth of Jesus.

My Christmas tree has been up since November 3rd and now with December 1st only a few days away the clock is ticking.  There is much to be done before Christmas Day.  Decorating (for you slackers), shopping, cooking, baking, church and school programs, entertaining family/friends and lets not forget the eating.  I can't think of another holiday that brings as much planning, joy and happiness as Christmas.

This Countdown To Christmas has me thinking about how I want to see the next 26-days unfold.  Yes, I want all the people, fun, food and gifts but I also want to focus on the real celebrant, the One that Christmas is all about.  NO, I'm not talking about Santa, but the other Christmas guy--JESUS!

In the past decade, attempts have been made to strip Christmas of everything "Jesus."   The truth is, it's highly unlikely that December 25th is actually the birthday of Jesus, but it is the day that we, who call ourselves Christians, have chosen to remember His birth.

For that reason, as the Countdown To Christmas begins, and with it, pressure from outside forces pressing in to make Christmas about anything but the birth of our Savior, I want to be on Mary's Team.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, knew how to take the crazy out of Christmas.  When the angel proclaimed to her, Blessed art thou among women...she didn't try and give the job to another or say, "Sorry, I don't have time for this.  I'm planning a wedding.  I can't fit another thing on my to-do-list!"

No, when Mary received the news...she rejoiced in God her Savior

"Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.  
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!"
Luke 1:46 & 47 (NLT)

How about you?  Will you join me on "Team Mary" this year?  Will you take time in the busyness of the season to remember and declare from the depth of your soul to anyone with ears to hear...or eyes to read...

"Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.  
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!"

...and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thankfuls


Thanksgiving is tomorrow.  If you are like most people who celebrate this day, you will take time before or after your meal to share something that you're thankful for.  I wish I could say that we practiced this tradition at every one of our Thanksgivings, but we may have missed a few years.  

Over the past six months, we have had the privileged of having our son, daughter-in-law and three amazingly wonderful grandchildren living with us.  We are three generations under one roof.  Next fall, they will return to Northern Asia to continue their work there.  Our son's family has a nightly tradition called "Thankfuls."  They don't do "Thankfuls" just on special occasions or over the month of November or at the Thanksgiving table.  It's every night all year long.   

Some nights, our grandkids will ask us to join them for "Thankfuls."  We go upstairs and sit on their beds while each one says one thing that they are thankful for that day.  The "Thankfuls" they usually share consist of time that someone spent with them, a thoughtful gift they received, a kindness shown to them or something yummy they ate.

To me, it's not as much about the item they are being thankful for as it is the lesson of gratitude that is being nurtured in them every single day. 

In I Thessalonians 5:16-18 (TLB) it says this... 

 Always be joyful. 
Always keep on praying.
No matter what happens, 
always be thankful
for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Our country has had some struggles this past year.  There has been much division over the parsing of words and taking of sides.  Sadly, this division has even found its way inside the Church.  By Church, I don't mean a building made of bricks and motor but a Church made of blood, flesh and bone.

Here are the verses that proceed this call to rejoice, pray and give thanks, no matter what happens around you. (verses 14 & 15)

Dear brothers, warn those who are lazy, comfort those who are frightened, take tender care of those who are weak, and be patient with everyone. See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to everyone else.


Tonight, before you lay your head on the pillow, tell someone your "Thankfuls," and be KIND OUT THERE!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Not Suprised

Surprises can be loads of fun, like receiving a homemade German Chocolate Cake for your birthday. (See photo!  Yes, that's the husband.)   Another awesome surprise is unexpected money.  Who wouldn't want a surprise like that?

I've had many great surprises in my life.  Far too many to list, but one of my top 10 surprises was when our son unexpectedly arrived home early from Northern Asia.  That was such a happy and joyous occasion.  I couldn't stop smiling.  He was home, safe and with us.  That was a welcomed surprise.

However, I do realize that not all surprises are happy ones.  There are many unwelcome surprises in life and sometimes these can even cause us to question our faith.  Like sudden unemployment, the death of a loved one, relationship issues, sickness or even the loss of property or possessions.  No one would ever jump out from their hiding place and yell, "SURPRISE your house just burned to the ground!" 

Yup!  All surprises are not welcome.

Recently, someone near to me experienced some unwelcome surprises.  Even as the disappointing news was relayed to me, I didn't feel concerned or worried for this family.  A single phase poured over me like a healing ointment.

"God's not surprised by this."

We don’t know the storms ahead of us, but He does. In His infinite wisdom, He knows the what, why, where, when and how of all our situations.  He sees our lives playing out from beginning to end, not moment by moment.  Nothing we have gone through or are going through or will face in the future is a surprise to our God.  

We may be frazzled when we are caught by surprise, but God is NOT SURPRISED nor unprepared!  He knows the events of my future and yours before we experience them.  I don't know about you, but for me that equals a peace that passes all understanding no matter what the outcome. 

In Romans 8:28 (GW), God gives us an island of hope to stand on when we get blindsided.  It's a place to drive a stake in the ground to hold on to when doubts rush in and we feel our lives have turned from peace to disstress. 

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God—those whom he has called according to his plan.

A few verses after that, in verses 35, 38-39, we find more encouraging words to hold on to when troubles or trails take us by surprise.  

 "What will separate us from the love Christ has for us? Can trouble, distress, persecution, hunger, nakedness, danger, or violent death separate us from his love?  …The one who loves us gives us an overwhelming victory in all these difficulties.  I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love which Christ Jesus our Lord shows us.  We can’t be separated by death or life, by angels or rulers, by anything in the present or anything in the future, by forces or powers in the world above or in the world below, or by anything else in creation."

The greater the unwanted surprise, the greater God will show Himself.  Remember the three Hebrew boys in Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  They faced death in a fiery furnace.  God was NOT SURPRISED but these boys were when He showed up. 



  


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Moving in the Right Direction


In October, my granddaughter's first grade class took a field trip to Potter's Zoo in Lansing, Michigan.  This zoo is about an hour drive from her school.  The kids, parents and teachers were all happy and excited to finally be on their way.  They were scheduled to go the week before, but the trip was canceled due to a "chance of rain."  Of course, the day of the actual trip, it was colder and rainier than it would have been the week before.  It's Michigan...enough said!

The school decided to push ahead in spite of the weather and off they went to the Lansing Zoo.  The bus was on the move.  I know you're thinking it so I'll go ahead and say it...the wheels on the bus went round and round...on the wet pavement, on their way to Lansing.

About 40-minutes into the one hour trip the bus rolled to a stop...at the Saginaw Zoo.  Oopps!  This zoo was closed for the season.  After some heartfelt apologizes and lots of sighs, they pressed on and finally made it to their destination.

This little story got me thinking that movement doesn't always mean productivity.  In fact, if you are moving in the wrong direction it can be counter productive.  For example, the Children of Israel moved for 40 years in the desert, while a whole generation lost out on seeing the Promise Land.  Lots of movement, but no productivity.  Then in Jeremiah there is a verse directed at the tribe of Judah.  They were so stubborn and determined to go the wrong way that the Prophet Jeremiah recorded these words.

Jeremiah 8:4-5 Message Bible

“‘Do people fall down and not get up?
    Or take the wrong road and then just keep going?
So why does this people go backward,
    and just keep on going—backward!
They stubbornly hold on to their illusions,
    refuse to change direction."

How destructive my granddaughter's zoo experience would have been, if the driver refused to change directions.  Yet, in our spiritual journey we do things similarly when we clearly see the road markers and continue in the wrong direction.  

I know in my own life, I'm a fast mover and can misinterpret movement for productivity missing the markers along the way.  I have to remind myself to slow down, pay attention and sometimes I need to change direction as I endeavor to maneuver through life in a productive way for the Kingdom.    

Help me Lord, to move in the right direction, not just move for the sack of movement!


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Teach Me

The elementary school years were not easy for me.  I struggled to pay attention and found sitting in a chair for hours painfully uncomfortable.  I often wondered if my problem was due to my superior academic abilities and the teacher was teaching far below my brilliance.    

Hey, it's possible. FINE! I may have been of the "late bloomer" persuasion.  

Due to my remedial learner ways, there have been plenty of life lessons that required repeating.  For example...the 4th grade.  Oh the shame!

I really was an exceptionally good teenager and ended up in the National Honor Society, but oh those elementary years.  Wow-those years were another story all together! The skipping school in the 1st and 2nd grades.  Most first graders would have learned their lesson but not me.  I was a repeat offender.  There was the black crayon on the hardwood floors, the stealing and lying.  I was a bit of a scraper as well.  The mischievous things I did are far too numerous to mention in a short devotional.  I was most certainly a slow learner.  

I wish I could say that those days are far behind me, but spiritually speaking I'm still a bit of a slow learner.  Recently, while having my quite time I wrote this prayer in my journal.  

"Thank you Lord for lessons both great and small, you are forever teaching me your ways. I pray I'll be a quick learner."

Sometimes I think my pen writes ahead of my brain, and I have no idea how it does that.

As sincere as my prayer was, I know I'm not alone in the the slow learner's class.  You may not have repeated a whole year of school, but I'm guessing that you have had to start over again because you didn't learn a lesson the first time.  

My go-to Bible character for slow learning is King David.  When the prophet Samuel comes to confront the King about his sin with Bathsheba, David is incensed with the "sheep stealing" culprit in Samuel's story. King David is livid, until Samuel says, "Thou art the man."  In Psalm 51, David pleads for the Lord to forgive him for his "sheep stealing" ways.  Then in Psalm 86:11 (NET) he prays this prayer. 

O Lord, teach me how you want me to live!
Then I will obey your commands.
Make me wholeheartedly committed to you!

King David made some big blunders but he also did some stuff right.  In Acts 13:22 (GW) he was remembered by God like this...
‘I have found that David, son of Jesse, is a man after my own heart...'  

Being teachable is an awesome trait, even for we who are slow learners.

"Thank you Lord for lessons both great and small, you are forever teaching me your ways. I pray I'll be a quick learner."


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