Monday, December 30, 2013
As the New Year approaches thoughts turn quickly to how we can take advantage of another new start. How can we grow just a little more, or maybe even a lot, in this next year? What “resolutions” do we make and try to keep this time around? What changes to our life can we embrace?
I heard on the news last night that weight loss is losing ground and is no longer high on the list for most people these days. Enough is enough, they say. It is a hopeless resolution. “I just can’t expect to do that”. Moving forward in some way has become more important, in this time of so much financial and health and world wide crisis.
Personally, I have never made any resolutions. I seem to know that I would not keep them, so why make them? I guess that may go along with never having dreams so that I would not be disappointed when they didn’t come true. But the reality of resolutions is that they are just realizing that changes need to be made; and being willing to make such changes. One thing that can be recognized as true is that change is inevitable as long as we are alive. The question is: Will we embrace it or will we fight it?
I posted the other day that David once said, “I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.” (Ps 17:3) Now that is a serious resolution. Most of ours are a bit simpler, I think, except maybe that weight loss thing. But many of them deal with not accepting change that goes with, say, aging: wrinkles, flabbiness, aches and pains in every joint, fading eye sight and hearing, hair loss… you name it, we will fight it somehow. But fight as we might, age will eventually catch up and do it’s damage, even unto death – if we have not been brought down by something else, first.
There are many directions we could go here (and I hope you will take some of those other trails.) But not every change in our lives comes from our decisions; many come unbidden: many come from the inside and many come from the outside. Many are good changes and many are not. What I am thinking about today is changes that have taken place due to the decisions of others; we just wouldn’t have made those decisions, but we have to live with them – or fight them - or accept them and embrace them.
I have recently been reminded of how much I love and embrace the worship services at my church. I am so encouraged and uplifted by them that I am sometimes brought to tears; and I am often brought to such joy that I can’t keep my hands or legs still while singing, or my “Amens” quiet during the sermon. My formerly introverted Baptist ways have long since disappeared.
When I first came to this church I was shocked. The dress-code had changed and I could wear the worn-out slacks and jeans that were my meager wardrobe at the time; no one even noticed. The hymn books were still there, but the words were on the wall and there were no notes to follow in the morning services. And the singing went on and on, with few interruptions. I couldn’t carry a decent tune because I had not sung in 20 years. But I persevered and retrained my voice at least enough to carry that missing tune. I listened to K-love radio as much as I could so that I could become familiar with the tunes and even the words. I found that I really loved most of each. Soon my favorite singer became Toby Mack whom I constantly called “Moby Dick,” first, in order to get to his real name. My friends found that to be hilarious. I just found his music to be some of the most exciting prayers I have ever heard.
In a prayer meeting one night, the subject of “arm raising” in service came up and one of our blessed Shepherds said that it was certainly in the Bible; but it seemed to be in reference to praying rather than singing. I laughed on the inside while thinking, “And that is exactly what I am doing. I am praying my way through this part of the service.” And I embrace that with all my heart.
Recently, I came to realize that Baptists may have come to be so “dignified” in their behavior because holding hymnbooks does not lend itself well to throwing ones hands in the air to express joy and excitement. :) Joy and excitement are what celebration is all about and I am all in.
But some of my peers are not; they are so “not in” that they are “all out.” Some have even changed to others churches over this disagreement. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love most of the old hymns and I even keep a hymnbook handy so that I can sing them when I am praising and praying at home. I love doing that.
But, in church, it does not work well for me. My eyes are not what they used to be and I cannot sing hymns at all if I have to share a book. Not sharing is rude, so I hesitate, but I do ask for one of my own.
And recently I attended services in a church which has not turned away from the hymnbooks or the style of service I remember from the 60’s and 70’s. I enjoyed being there with my new friend/relative, but I knew that I was glad that our services are different: I am glad that we rejoice in full force as we begin our hour of worship. That is when I knew that I had become a traitor in the midst of the not so young anymore generation. :)
It is not a new thing that church music, and other music, changes over the years. Every music show I know of proclaims each decade as different from other decades. And nostalgia is built on decades, one after the other being different from the last (and that includes “hair” nostalgia). So perhaps it is time to embrace this change. Perhaps it is time to love what was, but to also love what is, and maybe even what is coming next. Not everything; but as much as is possible.
Just for fun, let me say that the “too loud” complaint makes me laugh because those huge old built-in cathedral style organs were about as loud as thunder, and hurt my ears at times. :) And I will also confess that I will never be able to clap along because I am a 1- 3 beat person, through and through. Even after 8 years of this Contemporary Christian Music I cannot, for the life of me, figure out when to come in again after a pause in the singing, and I miss the full harmony of the music of the past. But I have learned to embrace the music of today; and I am filled with Joy and Love as we sing it.
But wherever we stand on these issues, we must stand in love and understanding that change comes, even unbidden change; and we must not let change destroy our flow of worship to our great God. So let us embrace the changes we didn’t ask for and cannot change by our own will power or by our denial.
May God encourage love in us for all that is glorifying His name, even if it is different than what we think we want. May we all have a truly blessed New Year embracing the changes that will come to us. In Jesus name. Amen.
Monday, December 23, 2013
This weekend I was overwhelmed with the subject of Peace. It came up in my reading, it came up in sermons, it even came up in some of the blogs I read. All of that should not seem unusual since Christmas is the ultimate symbol of Peace. Even in some countries where God is not honored, Christmas is celebrated because it seems to represent a time-out from the usual discord raging in this world; historically, even during some wars a cease-fire was declared for that day.
The major thought that I took out of all this is that the Peace that Christ came to offer is very personal and has little, if anything, to do with World Peace at this time. Rather, it has to do with a personal relationship with Christ which gives us a Peace ... “which passes all understanding…” We have within us, within our reach, a Peace that only the presence of the Holy Spirit within us can bring to us as we rest in Christ.
Jesus, himself, as He was ending His ministry, said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives…” John 14 27: Then in John 15 He describes the peace of abiding in Him. (I now see John 14:27 as the Christmas story in John. Jesus came to bring us Salvation, but He also came to bring us Peace.)
The Angels sang of “Peace on Earth, good will to men,” or so the Carol proclaims, but looking closer it can be seen that this Peace and this good will is for those who trust in Him.
Peace in this world comes only from abiding in Christ and relying on the Holy Spirit to grow this fruit of Peace in our hearts and lives.
This was the Peace that the Angels sang of as they announced Christ’s birth to the Shepherds. There is no promise of immediate Peace on Earth, for all and everywhere. That is still in the future. This was a promise of Peace for those who would choose to accept Christ for the Savior He is.
As I have been searching for Gentleness, I have discovered the true meaning of Peace; if I am at Peace and filled with Peace, I will be gentle when gentleness is needed; and that goes for all of the other fruit of the Spirit. Peace requires a close walk with God on a daily basis; that includes letting Him use us at will because we have given Him ourselves each day and we have cleaned up our differences with Him in the start of the day.
The problem I struggle with is quite simple: I keep taking back pieces of my life that belong to Him to handle and control. Some examples are these:
Bulldozing – I become frustrated over people who don’t get what I am trying to teach them and I try to hammer it home.
Rudeness – I become proud and unable to stand rudeness, especially if it is aimed at me, but also when I see it aimed at others.
Politics – I allow myself to get way too upset about the conditions in the country today: This is my country, and I have been involved with politics since I was a teenager, but it is not my job to worry it to death and get riled up and angry. I tried to start a political blog, but trying to write it without becoming angry was nearly impossible. Now I have found a man* who speaks my words for me and I follow him and the discussions the come up on his blog and I am satisfied to know that someone has taken on the job of a voice of reason in a tumultuous world. And I can gently join the conversation and keep my cool, without having to give up attention to the subject altogether.
I also watch others gathering up worries and cares and frustrating over them and coming a little unglued about them. If we wonder if any of these things are interfering in our own lives, this is a great time to take inventory: How uptight are we about the shopping and baking and gift buying involved in celebrating Christmas. How worried are we that the family celebration will be just another excuse for infighting and grudge holding tantrums, rather than a true celebration of Christ.
We can’t do much about the others, but we can do much about our own attitude as we come together at Christmas. We can pray that God will graciously take our hearts and make them ready for this season. We can ask God to help us be a light of Peace and gentleness as we gather together. We can ask God to take away our apprehensions over these many things and to bring Peace into our own lives so that our lives may be used to bring Peace to others.
In other words, “Run, don’t walk, back to Peace.” When you realize your anxiety is overwhelming you, ask, seek, knock and this gift will be given to you. Why? Because Jesus says it will. It is His will that you live in Peace. He even sent the Holy Spirit to us in his absence to assist us in finding and living in Peace.
We cannot achieve Peace by sheer will. We must find it through the power of the Holy Spirit within us. We must give way to the Holy Spirit to bring forth His fruit in us. None of it can be seen in us if we insist on achieving it for ourselves.
We have been blessed with the option of Peace. It is there for all who will seek it. But, first, we must seek it, for our submission to Christ is the key to all things in our lives.
May God bless us with Peace in this remembrance of the birth of Christ, and may we be lights for Him in this season of many lights. Hallelujah, Amen
* http://themattwalshblog.com/ or as Matt Walsh or DMLdaily on facebook
Thursday, December 12, 2013
This is definitely a good time to ponder the Christmas story as presented to us in Luke. This is definitely a time to think about what we really know about this awesome coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is also a good time to recognize that everything that happened was in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Without the Old Testament, we would be at a complete loss to explain anything at all about that night. So… this may also be a great time to get online and seek out and read some of these prophecies. For all the reasons we disparage the techno age, we have many, many reasons to embrace it as well. “Google it” has become a call to arms; get your knowledge on! (Even if you don’t use Google Search.)
After hearing a sermon this week on Love Worth Finding with Adrian Rogers, I have been thinking about that night. I actually started some serious thinking when I read a blog by Sharon Jaynes which presented an imaginary letter from one of the Shepherds to his possible brother about the events of that night. The thoughts in the letter are quite beautiful and even striking in the description of the disturbance of the sky as the Angels came to make their announcement.
If we take a good look at what scripture says about that, we can easily see that the universe itself was ripped open as the angels made their appearance to the shepherds. So, I am thinking, “Why didn’t more people come to see what that was all about?” Did they not see this brilliant display or hear the noise of the singing? It was happening very close to Bethlehem and there were many, many people in Bethlehem at the time. After all there was “no room in the Inn.” People were packed in there to do their duty of registering for census. It was a small, sleepy town that turned into the “ski resort” of it’s time.
And, besides that, people all over the area should have seen what was happening. If you have ever lived in the Midwest, where mountains are basically non existent, you will realize that storms and lightening can be seen from many, many miles away. That is one reason I was glad to get out of there when I did. I just did not appreciate being able to see that far when storms were brewing. But, also, the sighting of meteors and so called UFO’s, which involve hundreds of people, are excellent examples of how far away something in the night sky can be seen.
So… Why didn’t more people see, or hear about what went on? It seemed to be a very poorly attended Premiere. I can remember when “spotlights” whirling through the sky were used to announce Premieres and car sales and other important events because people all over the area could see these lights. And there is a commercial out today that shows that our eyes can pick up the light of a single candle from several “football fields” away. If anyone was up and about they could have seen the light that night. Yet apparently they did not.
In one way or another, God saw to it that only the shepherds saw that amazing sight and heard those beautiful songs that the angels sang. Why? Was God really trying to keep the birth a secret? That is quite doubtful.
But God did plan to present his Son exclusively to the shepherds that night, knowing that they would understand the message more clearly than any others. They would understand the message that the Lamb had come by the very presence of the baby in a feeding trough meant to feed hay and grains to the animals. They would grasp the significance of the scene and they would start the telling of the story from the perspective of shepherds; the story that God’s Lamb had come to save his people from their sin. Only a few people were privy to this glorious fulfillment of prophecy. Then the shepherds began proclaiming what they had heard and seen “which were just as they had been told” (by the Angel.)
“And all who heard it were amazed.”
God uses the least of us to proclaim the best news possible to all who will listen. This was no blazing show for all the world to see. This was an amazing occurrence intended for a specific chosen people who would then spread the news by “word of mouth” testimony. Hmm… Perhaps this is a good time to wonder how “wordy” our own “mouths” are in giving testimony to this great night.
I am aware that this year God wants me to do something special with my own testimony of Christ and the Salvation He brings us. I put “mouths” in quotes because other ways of communicating are also used prolifically at this time of year. And with the coming of the techno age, even texting, tweeting and posting on facebook can be venues for speaking out with our testimonies. But, for sure, any Christmas cards we send out should be cards about Christ, rather than Holiday cards. Keeping Christ in Christmas is not just a spelling thing. It is a heart thing; it is the focus of all we do and how we speak up about Christ when opportunities arise.
With all the noise going on about Santa, do or don’t, and trees and multiple gifts, each one better than the last… It might be a good time to seek the facts about “St.” Nicolas. They will show that show he was just a man, like any other rich man, who did something different by giving gifts to the poor. He gave many gifts, but he did not fly around the world in a single night giving gifts to the whole world. He gave gifts to the people around him and he gave them in the name of Christ.
Christ is the only one who has given a gift to the whole world: the gift of his birth, death and resurrection so that we might be saved. And multitudes ignore that present all together, getting silly about a fantasy man who gives children gifts - big, fancy gifts – at Christmas. These gifts have no lasting value. Christ’s gift has that “forever and ever” value that people try to find in fantasy. His gift to us is eternal life, and it is available to all the people around us. He wants us to tell them that.
Now I need to go and write my personal testimony to send out in my Christmas cards. You might pray for me that I will get this done and that it will affect lives for His sake. And I will pray for all of you that you might find special ways to tell you own stories of faith in Christ during this very special season of opportunity.
May we all speak up this year and say what we know to be true in some special way of our own, just as the Shepherds did in their day of Joy. God bless you all! Amen
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
It seems that this particular Christmas has been a difficult one for many women. The days to accomplish everything on their lists have been cut short by a very late Thanksgiving celebration and the frustration levels are higher than ever. “So much to do; so little time to do it.” The list is endless and the time is fleeting. “Doing” Christmas has become a burdensome chore.
I watched part of a silly movie where the women of one town went on strike against their families for not helping with the lists of things to do and get done before Christmas. In the end the leader of this uprising realized that Christmas was not about perfection in doing, it was about enjoying family and friends. (That is not a Christian theme, but a good thing to realize.)
There have been many Blogs written this year about this whole concept of “doing” Christmas instead of enjoying Christmas; about changing our focus from the lists of things to accomplish to a focus on the Christ of Christmas and the realities that exist in our lives because He came into this world. After all, keeping Christ in Christmas is more than spelling it right. There is much to say about that, but I will, instead, turn to Mary:
Have you ever read Proverbs 31 and felt like a failure? As a barren woman, I can say yes to that. I avoid that chapter as much as I can. It seems to say that a woman’s place in the family of God is as a wife and mother, nurturer and provider for a family. One brave Pastor stood up against that idea last spring and that was welcome; but the truth is that barren women or old maids have been looked at as failures as “Godly” women for centuries.
But let’s take a look at Mary: When she was given the news of what God’s will was for her life, she finished the conversation with this proclamation: “May it be to me as you have said.” And, thus begins the true definition of a Godly woman. One who believes that God will carry out every promise He makes; one who surrenders herself to His will knowing in her heart that His will is what will bring her joy and will bring Him glory. He will not fail her; He will not fail Himself.
How exciting is that? The Godly woman need only submit herself to God. Her godliness is not dependent on her accomplishments, not on her works. Her godliness is dependent only on His Grace, the same as her salvation. If she is submitted to God her works will be to His Glory, whatever those works are.
Then Mary packed up her things and took off to visit Elizabeth. The angel had mentioned Elizabeth and her child, and Elizabeth was the wife of a priest and a relative of Mary, so maybe Mary knew that she could trust Elizabeth with this shocking news and that she might be comforted and nurtured at Elizabeth’s side.
When she arrived, and walked into the house an astonishing thing happened: the baby in Elizabeth’s womb “leaped for joy.” The Holy Spirit in John, recognized Jesus in Mary and leaped for joy. And as He did He filled Elizabeth with the joyful knowledge of what had happened with Mary and the presence of the Savior within Mary. She then exclaimed:
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!
But remember here, that Mary has not said a word yet about what has happened to her or what she was told. The Holy Spirit has enlightened Elizabeth to the facts and she is proclaiming her understanding of them.
Then she says, “But, why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? And she explains to Mary about John jumping for Joy in her womb and about the Holy Spirit enlightening her about Jesus being in the room. Her next words are all about the Godly woman:
“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
But, we might say, what has the Lord said to us? What has the Lord said will be accomplished in us? Has He even spoken to us?
Yes. God has spoken to us. He does so when we read his Word, or listen to sermons from His Word, or study books or subjects from His Word. He speaks to us from His Word through our minds and, if we are listening, He will definitely have something to say to us. But we must “be still and know that (He) is God.”
So I am thinking that at this time of year we need to slow down, not speed up. We need to be Godly women who are rejoicing in the pure Joy of the first coming of Christ and are also celebrating the next coming of Christ. We need to let ourselves be imperfect in accomplishing our “lists” and maybe even destroy those lists so that we can bask in the light shone by Mary as she accepted God’s will for her life. It was a beautiful thing, and it is an example of pure delight in the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord.
May we be blessed in the knowledge that all God wants from us is our total trust and our willingness to rejoice in Him, always, no matter what He brings our way. And may we lean on Him for guidance and comfort as we live out or lives on this earth. Merry Christmas to you all! (And to all a good night!) J
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Today, I re-read Psalm 13, emphasizing his plea to know: How long? How long? How long? As I read, I began to realize that God had a message just for me in these words, for I am generally asking the same thing:
How long will it be before I STOP bursting forth with anger? How long will it be before I “get it” and stop enabling my anger? How long will it be before I stop interfering with your desire for me to be fruit and to be fruitful?
There was a time when I found that I was “changed” some and stopped TAKING OFFENSE at many things that had bothered me before; but now it seems that I have reacquired that habit.
In the past year or so, I have begun to blast off much more often again. I have concluded on more than one occasion that I had been building up a reservoir of “hurt” that then overflowed into anger. But, now that I am seeking God’s deep guidance about where I am and what I am doing, I find that “TAKING OFFENSE” at every little thing has again taken over my life. PRIDE hurts and pride is an ugly thing in God’s eyes. And it is only by pride that we take offense about personal pokes and prods from others; or even from completely impersonal ones and truly unintended slights that we make up in our heads.
At this season of celebration of Christ and of family, I am remembering the fear that was expressed by others about having families gather together. Thankfully, my memories of family holiday gatherings are pretty fun. There were things that disturbed me, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. When I was married, I made sure that we gathered with my crazy family as often as possible. Perhaps that is because, even though everyone got drunk, there was no arguing or serious tension. We played our favorite card game and kept an eye on the football games while people came and went throughout the day. No one cared who won the card game because no one was better at it than anyone else; it was fun; just fun. In the background of weekend drunken brawls, this was peace at its best.
But Thanksgiving and Christmas have been a challenge for me in the last few years as I miss the flow of people and easy fun we had; as I miss my Mom and Dad and brother and our traditions. This, in itself, can be a serious trigger for me; thus I am concerned about getting things under God’s control ASAP. Note: I guess this is a good opportunity for me to realize just how much I really do miss my family at this season because tears have come to my eyes even as I write this. I miss my family, period, and this season reminds me of that. Generally no one has a clue how much I miss them because this family I now celebrate with was not around to celebrate with us beyond their earliest years.
This year is a special challenge because of the spiritual struggling I am working through at this time. Apparently I have come to believe that I am worthy of taking offense when people are rude to me. That is a lie. Only God is worthy of taking such offense; for He is the only Holy presence in this life on earth. I have touched on this subject in the past: but it is easy to forget that taking offense is a choice not a necessity. And I have been making that choice again. Wow. Will I ever stop? “How long, O Lord….” How long?
As I seek to live the Fruit of the Spirit, I find that trying to see it in my own life is probably more of a stumbling block than it is a help; especially because, though we all are given this fruit at our second birth, we are not all given each and everyone of them as our strong-suit.
A lovely friend of mine is retiring from her job this month and she is my vision of Gentleness. I truly believe that I will never be that gentle; that is not who I am nor is it a picture of who I must become. That does not mean that I do not need to allow some gentleness to be seen in me. To me that means that I will never be as strong in gentleness as she is. And that makes me sad, because gentleness seems so much more wonderful than whatever I am.
Unfortunately I am bit of a bulldog – perhaps a pitbull – and I wrestle constantly with separating truth from lies, fact and fiction, helpful and not so helpful. Perhaps, as with the real pitbulls, it isn’t being one that is the deepest problem, but maybe it is how I am not letting God train me to be useful as one, rather than being a terror.
I once loved a pitbull and she was the epitome of gentleness – unless she knew your intent was evil. Even then she only growled; unless unleashed by command. She was properly trained to keep her fierceness under control. She is gone now, but I think I should use her for an example for my own life. She was a sweet, sweet dog, even though she had the ability to do great harm if told to do it or failed to follow her training.
Unfortunately, I also have the ability to do great harm, and I am the only one who ever told me to do it. That is why I must surrender my “offenses,” worries and troubled thoughts quickly to God so that I do not boil up a pot of stew that will run over the top, in time. I must seek the training that will keep me from this harmful way of living.
Today has been a beautiful day, watching snow fall and sharing thoughts in many different ways while listening for God to continue to show me how strong He can be for me. But I ended up not socializing at all, so there were no flare-up challenges. Many will come, day after day. My prayer is that I will listen for His reminders to not take offense… even if it is the Government, or ugly TV commercials, or rude people around me, I am under instruction: NO yelling and screaming; not even when I am all alone. The more I practice the easier it is to behave that way when I am not alone.
And, by the way, that does not mean that I do not notice the offense. It means that I discern it and give it to God to take care of. And He definitely will, even if not until the final judgment. It is not up to me to be offended. He will keep His promise to destroy sin and sinner and we will finally live in Peace. Come, Lord Jesus!
As we praise God for Jesus coming the first time, it may help to remember that He is coming again; and He is coming to keep every promise He has ever made. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
This morning I am anxious to tell the story of how God passed money through my hands that was never intended to be mine. For some reason I cannot just let this story lie. It is only positive and needs to be celebrated for being the Hand of God at work:
One of the things I am learning about me is that I have too active a mind. I can start to write (in my mind) several blog pages in just one sitting with God. Ideas pop up and fly away like “crazy.” If I do not get to the computer quickly, those ideas can be lost forever. I always assume that this is a good thing: if I write about every idea that comes to mind you and I will both go nuts.
But today I have taken a look at how much I love God and how much He deserves love from us, while we deserve none at all from Him; yet He loves us unconditionally. And He is willing to use us as conduits of His love.
One day, more than a week ago, I was praying with my fingers on the keyboard. Sometimes, nearly always, this is the only way for me to accomplish praying for more than one thing at a time. My mind flits about like butterflies in a field of wild flowers, otherwise.
As I was praying, a family came to mind that I hold deep in my heart and as I prayed for them again, I became concerned about their Christmas. I told God that maybe it was time to give them a very special Christmas as they had been waiting a long while for one. Then I asked Him to give me a way to help that happen, even if just in some small way. Little did I know….
I have a friend in another state who is very dear to me and she is living where she is because her mother is very old and is in a care giving situation. But she is in charge of her mother’s money and she has helped me twice without my asking when a need has arisen in my life: sending me the monthly tithe from that income. I keep telling her that if she keeps that up, I will stop discussing such things with her… :) But she doesn’t listen well.
So… that afternoon I went to my mailbox and found a Thanksgiving card from her. In it was a check for that tithe. The card was in my mailbox before I even thought to pray for the family in question.
Was that money for me? Absolutely not! That money passed through her mother’s income into her hands and then into mine, intended all along for the family for whom I was praying. God knew where it belonged and He got it there via three of His beloved daughters. He is truly in charge of all things, even when we are clueless.
Psalm 24:1 declares, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein.”
In this time of giving, let us remember who actually owns all things and let’s allow God to pass things through our hands to others. He will get things to where they belong, but let us be eager to be the vessels through whom His work is done.
May we pause to think about who really needs us this Christmas and who really needs our hands to reach out to them with whatever we can give. And may we truly plead with God to use us to touch others with His love this year. God bless you all and Merry Christmas.