Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Cambodia and Christmas...

Today I was reading a devotional about when Jesus came into town....

In a nutshell, it was a time of celebration and the blind man was calling out and "becoming an embarrassment" so people were telling him to hush. (Luke 18:40) But Jesus stopped and called out to him. 

For some reason, as I read that devotion my mind raced back to my visit to Cambodia two years ago. It seems like so long ago and yet like yesterday. 

We had gone to help with Hard Places Ministries, a group that shares hope with the children and abused of the Phnom Penh. While we were there, the city was getting ready for a celebration. I don't remember what it was, but those in charge were obviously making sure they showed their best possible side. City streets were being cleaned up for the upcoming celebration and the police were in the park gathering up the "embarrassments" and running them out of town.  This was not the time to allow the ugly side of the city to be seen. 

Yet it was for that "ugly" part that we had come. 

We were there to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We hoped that in some small way, we could help those we encountered realize that Jesus saw them and cared. We walked into dark hallways to reach cramped dirty rooms that served as home to so many. We prayed and listened to people that struggled just to survive. We sat on concrete floors and shared hope at every chance we could. We taught and sang praises to Jesus at the base of a Buddhist shrine. We gave food to hungry children and the message of hope to any who would listen (which included, by the way, the very police who were there to "clean things up.")

As I read that devotional today, I was reminded of Cambodia...and Christmas.

I don't know about you, but Christmas brings out the Martha Stewart in me. Okay, maybe more like the "Oh my gosh, I've got to make this special somehow" side of me. I clean the house. Stuff our junk into closets, (oh come on! I can't be the only one that does that!) and put out our finest for all to see. I buy too much, eat too much, and stay up way too late. It's Christmas and everything is supposed to be merry and bright. I try to find the perfect gifts (which I never do - I am lousy at gift giving!) I try to cook, something else I am lousy at; and I try to create that picture of what I think Christmas is supposed to be. 

The imperfect parts, well, I try and tell those parts to "hush" and hide them away...time to put up the lights and make it look like all is merry and bright. 

For many, Christmas is not really a time of "celebration". There are too many hurts. Too many unresolved dreams. Too much life that has happened. Perhaps they've even given up trying to pretend that it's all alright. They figure, like those people in Cambodia, that they will simply be hidden away till the celebration is over...trying to survive.

And then comes Jesus.

He stops. He calls out. Those that have been hidden away are called to the front, not to be embarrassed but to be embraced. He says "come to Me" and be given rest. Suddenly, "the soul feels its worth."

Jesus sees the beautiful. He sees the merry and bright...but He also sees the worn and weary. 

He doesn't look away. He came...that is what Christmas is all about. 

To paraphrase a line from The Grinch...He came just the same. 

O Holy night....long lay the world, in sin and error pining...till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. (O Holy Night)

I don't have an end to this blog...perhaps it's because when Jesus stops and calls out to us, the story has just begun. Merry Christmas y'all.

 (To read the devotional by Ron Hutchcraft that inspired today's blog, click this link: Bare Feet, Boots, and A Man in Blue )

Luke 18: 35-43 (Message)
35-37 He came to the outskirts of Jericho. A blind man was sitting beside the road asking for handouts. When he heard the rustle of the crowd, he asked what was going on. They told him, “Jesus the Nazarene is going by.”
38 He yelled, “Jesus! Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!”
39 Those ahead of Jesus told the man to shut up, but he only yelled all the louder, “Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!”
40 Jesus stopped and ordered him to be brought over. When he had come near, Jesus asked, “What do you want from me?”
41 He said, “Master, I want to see again.”
42-43 Jesus said, “Go ahead—see again! Your faith has saved and healed you!” The healing was instant: He looked up, seeing—and then followed Jesus, glorifying God. Everyone in the street joined in, shouting praise to God.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In the middle of the mundane...

Just a short random thought for the week before Christmas.

That first Christmas, those shepherds had no idea when they started work that day what was about to happen. The world was troubled. Work stretched out before them with little change in sight. Maybe new bills came in the "mail" that day. It was just another day in a string of mundane days. 

But God broke through the night and Hope was born and suddenly nothing was the same.

I pray that hope breaks through the mundane and is born in each of us today. 

It's almost Christmas y'all!

Luke 2:8-14 (VOICE)

Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks from predators in the darkness of night. Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!

Messenger: 10 Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. 11 Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! 12 You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough.

13 At that moment, the first heavenly messenger was joined by thousands of other messengers—a vast heavenly choir. They praised God.

14 Heavenly Choir: To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God!
    And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Christmas Carol...

Every year I look forward to all the Christmas movies, but one is by far my favorite. I absolutely love A Christmas Carol - two versions in particular, the one with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge and the Muppet version. That's why this random thought is about my favorite Christmas classic.

The main character of this story is, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge. He is right in there with the Grinch as the symbol of all that is against Christmas. Even his name sounds grouchy! I still remember the first time it hit me that there was something more to his name. 

I was in church and we were singing about raising our mind immediately bounced in its ping-pong way and I started wondering what "Ebenezer" meant. Even I could figure out that it didn't mean we were supposed to lift up Scrooge - that story was only a little over 150 years old. So, I did what any person would do; I went home and googled it! I discovered that Ebenezer refers to the Ebenezer stone.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, "Thus far the LORD has helped us." So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. The towns that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath; and Israel recovered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites. (1 Samuel 7:12-14 NRSV)

One post I found mentioned Joshua and the twelve tribes setting up a memorial after crossing the Jordan. These stones were referred to as an Ebenezer. Literally, the word means "stone of remembrance" to remind us of God's presence and help in our lives. At the beginning of the story, Scrooge is just that - Scrooge. By the end, he is truly more of an Ebenezer - remembering and an ever present source of help.

This year, the ghosts of each of the Christmases really hit me in their symbolism. Each one is so much more than just a name.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is bright - like our memories. Isn't that usually the case...our memories of the past always seem more wonderful than they probably were. Ever go back to a place from your childhood only to discover it's much smaller than you remember? When I was little, we went to the City Park in New Orleans. I remember the huge roller coaster, the giant storybook characters and houses, the real cars I was allowed to was one of the most wonderful places I'd ever seen! Those of you who have been to City Park already know what I discovered when I returned there as an adult. Everything is miniature - even that huge frightening roller coaster! But that's how memories work. They can fool you. Maybe that's why it's so hard for the present to live up to what we think we remember. 

Poor Scrooge had painful memories that he tried to snuff out with the Ghost's extinguisher cap. I have to admit, I have a few of those....don't we all. The thing is, you can't snuff them out - they just smolder, waiting for a chance to burst back into flames.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is my favorite. He is a giant! That's what the present is - large and IN YOUR FACE!!! It's filled with the here and now and it demands your attention. The past seems bright, but the present simply IS! I find myself being ruled by the Present quite often. I am constantly putting out fires, unable to really concentrate on what is to come because the Present is just so dog-gone LOUD! Present is quickly gone - far more quickly than I realized he would be. (You'd think after dealing with over 52 years filled with "Present" I'd realize by now that it will so soon be done.)

Then there's the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He never speaks but only directs with his hand. That really does describe the future...unknown. All we can do is follow the lead and move forward to it. In the story, this ghost is depicted in a quite frightening way. To those who do not believe in God and His love, the future is a dark and scary place. I'm so thankful that I don't have to be filled with fear because I know who holds my future and I know He cares for me.

Jeremiah 29:11

New International Version (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future

Yep, there's a lot you can learn from a familiar old story. No matter where or when I am, God is still there, a stone of help that will not fail.

Psalm 139:7-12
Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
      to be out of your sight?
   If I climb to the sky, you're there!
      If I go underground, you're there!
   If I flew on morning's wings
      to the far western horizon,
   You'd find me in a minute—
      you're already there waiting!
   Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
      At night I'm immersed in the light!"
   It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you; 
      night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you.

Matthew 28:20
"I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age."

I think I'll close this Random Thought with the words of Tiny Tim, 
"God bless us, every one."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

All I want for Christmas is.....less

Yes, you read that right. All I want for Christmas is LESS! I don't want any presents this year, unless of course someone wants to buy me a new mop bucket (mine has a crack in it). Other than that I have all that I need. In fact, I've got MORE than I need. That is why this year, I have decided I want less for Christmas.

I want less clutter - to make more time to relax.
I want less drama - to make room for more joy. 
I want less (fewer) presents - to make more time to spend with those who I care about.
I want less food - I've already gained plenty this year...maybe we could give all that extra to those who truly need it.
I want less (fewer) excuses - so that I can spend time getting healthy.
I want less work - so I can spend more time enjoying life. (Okay - so I know I'll still have to work, but I'll bet I can find a way to make it more fun!)

I want less me - so I can have more of Him, the one who came as a baby that first Christmas so many years ago.

Anyone care to join me as we enjoy less this year?

Matthew 6:33 (VOICE) 

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too. 
Proverbs 15:16
It is better to live with less and honor the Eternal than to have riches and carry the burdens that come with them.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why a stable???

This is a repeat of a post from December 2008....but it's one of my all time favorites so I'm sharing it again.

The following "random thought" actually came about a year ago while teaching in Kid's Church just before Christmas. I don't think I've ever heard this fact, I had never thought of it before the words began to come out of my mouth that Sunday morning.

It was a typical Children's
Church service a week or two before Christmas. I had a wonderful group of kids, most of whom I had known since they were born. These children knew the Christmas story quite well, so making it real and new was quite a challenge. I had told the story and tried to paint a picture so that the children could experience the story anew. It was then that I asked the question - "Why was Jesus born in a stable?" Of course, the response was "Because there was no room in the inn." Then I asked a question even I hadn't considered before. "Why wasn't there room at the inn? Did God forget to make reservations?" Of course, we all laughed at such a ridiculous question. Obviously the birth of Jesus being in a stable was no accident....but why would God allow His Son to be born in a stable?

It's not like God didn't know when Jesus would be born. Yes, the city was crowded, but couldn't God have made room for this family in an inn somewhere? After all, He's God! He knew when the angel told Mary she'd have a son that they would be making this trip 9 months later! He could have made arrangements! I understand that there are many different views as to what this stable might have been, but it doesn't change the fact that a stable isn't a place for a baby to be born! That's where animals are born....animals like sheep and goats and cows. The kind of animal you'd use for a sacrifice.

You know, every time I think about that, it causes a lump to rise in my throat. Jesus, the King of Kings was born in a place where sacrifices are born. He was laid in a manger - the place where the animals would go for food....The Bread of Life, Jesus - born as a sacrifice.

This Christmas, as you take time to read the original Christmas story, may your heart be filled with the knowledge of God's love for you. Merry Christmas.

John 1:29 "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Don't throw yourself out at first.....

* You know, I love watching sports of every kind. Not on tv, mind you. I like to be there live and in person. Maybe it's my inner athlete that never learned to play sports, maybe I just love watching people; but for whatever reason, I love watching sports - especially when kids are involved. They still believe they can do anything....and perhaps they can. They believe that, even if they aren't all that good right now, they are just one throw, run, hit, or jump from greatness.

One of my most favorite memories is of a T-ball game I attended years ago. In that game, I watched a little girl do something that has stuck with me since. This tiny powerhouse came up to the plate to bat with all the expertise of a flounder out of water. Her helmet looked a bit too big, the bat looked like a redwood compared to her, and I'm pretty sure they had to stop her and tie her shoes for her before she started to swing. The first swing came - she missed. Then a second - missed again. Once more - it was a tip that sent the ball rolling slowly toward the pitcher. In true T-ball fashion, the entire outfield came running in to try and get that ball, but they simply weren't fast enough...not for that little girl. She ran forward and grabbed that ball and then promptly threw herself out at first. She was so proud! She had done what they could not! It took quite a bit of explaining, and I think I remember them giving her another chance, but I will never forget that moment. She actually threw herself out! No opposing team could do what she had done herself.

Therein, of course, lies today's random thought. I'm pretty sure I've been throwing myself out at first...and so have a lot of others around me. We have participated in helping the enemy of our soul in a way that it could not do in itself. It's as if the spirit of discouragement has attached its thorny claws to us and in raspy whispers only we can hear, it tells us over and over again we are not enough. We are not good enough, not smart enough, not cultured enough, not skinny enough, not whatever enough. It reminds us over and over of just how badly we blew it, AGAIN. It plays the stupid words we said over and over again inside our head like a broken record. It tries to convince us that when bad things happen, it is ALWAYS our fault. That we are being punished for being so inadequate once again.

I wonder if hermits separate themselves from the world not because of fear of the world, but because they are afraid they will fail and finally be discovered as inadequate...simply not enough. I know I have had times when I felt like I should just crawl into a hole so that I would do as little damage as possible. I say the wrong thing, act too quickly, live too loud, generally stick my foot in my mouth and then for good measure, stick the other foot in as well. I find myself desperately trying to learn what I imagine others must have learned years ago as teenagers, yet I am still trying desperately to discover what the "rules" are. Instead of getting better with age, it seems I'm getting worse! Buying wrong gifts, over doing, not doing enough, doing it too loudly, not speaking up when I should, forgetting the important things, being overwhelmed by the trivial....

It's not everyday, mind you. Some days I feel pretty confident in myself - followed closely by days when I realize just how inadequate I am. Like most, I've had plenty of times in my life when the spirit of discouragement and despair has tried to convince me to "throw myself out at first." That's the enemy's favorite tactic - to remind us just how human and "not enough" we truly are.

Here's the shocker - the enemy is a degree. I am not enough. I am in desperate need of a Savior. I need one who knows me and yet loves me all the same. I long for One who doesn't condemn, and instead speaks life into the cavernous hole in my heart and fills it. I want to be treasured as special...truly special. I want to feel His presence lifting me and reminding me that I am loved. I want one who doesn't remember my mistakes, but instead reminds me of the few times I actually got it right - because I waited on Him. I want Someone who will gently reach out and stop me from throwing myself out at first, before I've really even begun to play the game that day.

Perhaps you are like me this morning. You wake up to that feeling of dread in facing today's game - sure you'll mess it up somehow. I speak against that spirit of discouragement right now. I pray that you will recognize his lies for just what they are - an attempt to get you to throw yourself out at first before you even get started. God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a strong mind. He is right there with you, ready to guide your hands, steady your bat, and hit that ball right out of the park....just like your little kid dreams always imagined.

My words cannot fully express what is on my heart, but a song by Mercy Me does a really good job of speaking life.

Days will come when you don't have the strength,
When all you hear is "you're not worth anything"
Wondering if you ever could be loved,
And if they truly saw your heart, they'd see too much

You're beautiful, You're beautiful,
You are made for so much more than all of this
You're beautiful,You're beautiful,
You are treasured, you are sacred, you are His,
You're beautiful

I'm praying that you have the heart to fight,
'Cause you are more than what is hurting you tonight
For all the lies you've held inside so long,
And they are nothing in the shadow of the cross

You're beautiful,You're beautiful,
You are made for so much more than all of this
You're beautiful,You're beautiful,
You are treasured, you are sacred, you are His,
You're beautiful

Before you ever took a breath, long before the world began
Of all the wonders He possessed, there was one more precious
Of all the earth and skies above, you're the one Emmanuel loves
Enough to die

You're beautiful, You're beautiful
In His eyes
You're beautiful
You were meant for so much more than all of this
You're beautiful 

You are treasured you are sacred you are His
You're beautiful,You're beautiful
You were meant for so much more than all of this
You're beautiful,You're beautiful
You are treasured you are sacred you are His.

Today, as you come up to bat, give it all you've got. Don't be afraid that you won't be enough. Don't throw yourself out at first. Instead, know that you are loved....and give it all you've got - for Him who loves you no matter how you feel.

Beautiful by Mercy Me

*Repost from 2010. As always - thank you for reading!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Not exactly what I was hoping for....

When I was little, I could hardly wait for that special item to come in the mail. Some of you may remember the excitement, the thrill, the perfect anticipation that came in something called the Sears Christmas Catalog. Oh, there may have been others, but none compared to Sears.

I'd quickly flip past the dresses and underwear, past the shoes and appliances, straight to the toys...then I'd carefully get out my notebook and pencil and begin choosing my list to present to Santa. Did you know he used the Sears catalog? Oh, I'm sure he did because I remember listing each item, including the page number so that he would have no trouble knowing just which presents to place underneath my tree.

At our house, Santa came on Christmas Eve because our small little town in South Alabama was one of his first stops. We'd watch the Santa Radar out of Mobile and we KNEW when he was getting close. Sometimes we'd be at my father's gas station when Santa arrived - once we almost frightened him away and we had to rush back out of the house so he could finish putting our toys underneath that silver Christmas tree - you know, the one that rotated and had the different color light wheel that made it change colors.

As you can tell, Christmas was a big deal. I don't ever remember NOT getting just what I'd hoped for. Mama must have worked herself silly trying to locate the things on our list but somehow she always managed to find the most important things. I never quite managed to inherit that amazing talent from her...I wish I had. Somehow, the Christmases since then have fallen, well, a little flat.
Somehow, since I've grown up, I've never quite found what I hoped for underneath my tree. Oh, I've had some wonderful presents, but the peace...the joy...the wonder...they just seemed to have disappeared.

Today, I got to thinking about those shepherds - you know, the ones who were watching their flocks by night. I bet they were hoping for something. They may have been sitting around, talking about how difficult life could be. Maybe they were just talking about the weather and the price of wool. Maybe they were just so tired they just sat and watched. I wonder if inside they had that longing for more..more peace, joy, and wonder.

For years, they had probably heard the stories of the long awaited Messiah who would one day day. They'd heard those stories since they were boys...but that had been long ago. Still, they hoped that one day He'd come. Surely when He arrived, He'd be a conquering king and would finally free them from bondage. He'd probably be big and strong and very kingly indeed. I bet each of them KNEW how they thought the King would come. But they were caught by surprise.

Luke 2 - "Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Not what they were expecting, I am sure....but they didn't let that stop them. They said, "Let's go!"

I want to be more like those shepherds. As Christmas approaches, each of us has in our mind's eye what it's supposed to look like. We have the "perfect Christmas" all mapped out, thanks to our Sear's catalog (do they even make those anymore?) and our internet searches, and our tv shows and movies that show us just how it's supposed to be done. But what if it's not what we were expecting? What if, instead of some shiny impressive King, it comes humbly in a cold manger filled with daily life mooing for attention? What if it's even something that at first makes us, as the King James version puts it,  "sore afraid?" (I've always wondered about that, by the way. How afraid must you be to be sore?)

What if we discover like the Grinch, that Christmas "came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages boxes, or bags!

And he puzzled and puzzed, till his puzzler was sore." (There's that sore thing again!)"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more."

If Christmas isn't what I was expecting, will I still do as the shepherds (and even the Grinch) did and go rushing in to discover more? Will I stand there in wonder and be so afraid I am sore? Will I even notice if it doesn't come the way I'd hoped it would come or will I miss the wonder completely?

And the ADVENTure continues...I have to wonder what all I will discover on this journey to Christmas, but I'm pretty sure of one won't be exactly what I was hoping for. Nope, it will be a whole lot more. 

*Re-post from 2011...ADVENTures in Advent.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Lessons in the wind and the leaves...

I'm not sure where this blog will take me...but it began with the wind.

Yesterday, I tackled the job of raking the front yard. We have a beautiful popcorn tree that just a few weeks ago was full of the most beautiful colored leaves. Now they all lay at my feet and covered every square inch of my yard. I knew the weather was going to turn and if I was going to get this done, now was the time. So I raked, and raked, and raked. To make matters more interesting, the wind kept blowing and scattering my leaves. I offered up a prayer - okay, it was more of a complaint..."Come on, God! Give me a break!" For a moment, the wind turned and blew with me instead of against me; I smiled only to then immediately experience the wind shift again. It was then that one of those random thoughts hit.

From here on, this blog may seem redundant, stating the obvious for the oblivious. Yet, it is something I must remind myself of daily. Can I thank God in ALL things, not just those I see as a blessing?

As I raked and the wind turned against me again, I realized that the same wind that blew my work away was bringing a cool refreshing to my sweaty brow. It caused leaves to dance in merriment up to the unbelieveably blue sky. I could get angry and "shake my fist" at the wind, or I could take a step back and see things in a different way. Instead of working against the wind, I needed to shift my position and work with that wind....see the gift that it brought in the midst of difficulties.

Now, I know wayward leaves pale in comparison to some things people are facing today, but perhaps in them there is something we can learn. Do I fuss and fume when things don't go "my way"? Do I stare in disbelief when life hands me pain? Do I forget to look up and see if perhaps that which is causing me frustration is at the same time blowing in something else I need? Am I willing to be thankful in ALL things?

That same popcorn tree had given us shade all summer long when we needed it. It had painted a beautiful picture to welcome me home during the first few days of fall. It will serve as the backdrop for our nativity this Christmas. I thanked God for its shade and colors, could I thank God for its barrenness as well? Would I lift my eyes from the mess at my feet to see the hope? There truly is hope. Even in that emptiness, there lies the hope of a new season.

I don't know what wind has blown into your life lately...job loss, loss of loved one, loss of a hoped for future. It sounds trite, but I understand. More importantly, God understands. That wind that is "messing with" your plans may also be bringing blessings and hope you have not seen. Though it seems that all is crashing around you....look up. Your strength and hope are there. You can not see them, just like you can't see the wind. But just like the wind, you can feel it and know He is there.

This Thanksgiving, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of cooking, cleaning, and holiday activities, may you feel the cool wind of His presence and know that He is there. That is something we can truly be thankful for.
 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (MSG)
16-18 Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

*Re-post from 2008

Sometimes I feel like a chipmunk!

The following is a re-post of one of my earlier blogs...
Ever have one of those dreams that sticks with you for days? I don't mean anything scary...just something that you know somehow has a message in it. Two days ago I had a dream like that, so of course now you get to read about it.

In this dream, there was this little chipmunk. Cute little thing - sort of like Chip and Dale of the old cartoons. There was also this beautiful woman and she was holding a shotgun....the biggest shotgun I'd ever seen - more of a bazooka! She was calling out to this little chipmunk in the sweetest voice - "Come here little fella. Come on. Come here." All the while I was screaming at the poor little fellow at the top of my lungs, "Don't do it! Run! Get out of here! Run!!!!" That little chipmunk was just looking back and forth between the two of us, mouth full of chessnuts, trying to figure out which way to go. Then of course, I woke up.

This was one of those dreams that the minute I woke up, a thought came into my mind. "Not everything that calls out to you sweetly intends for you good and not everything that yells at you means it for harm."

Simple. To the point. It got me thinking. Of course, we all know about the lure of evil things like drugs and alcohol that call out sweetly and then destroy, but what about other things that I am more prone to fall victim to? How many times has the couch called sweetly to me to just sit and unwind while something inside  is screaming at me that I need to go for a run or, more importantly, turn off the tv and spend time with my family? How many times has my mind tried to tell me that I "deserve" some treat - just put it on credit, while my better judgement is screaming, "NO! Don't do it!" How many times have I succumbed to the urge to be sarcastic toward someone else when inside I know what is really called for is mercy and forgiveness and a kind word. How many times have I fought the battle of listening to gossip when I know what I need to do is walk away and pray? Please tell me I'm not the only one who is at least sometimes tempted by the "sweet" voice that means me harm.

Just like that chipmunk, I stand confused at times. Turning and looking back and forth between the sweet voice holding a shotgun and the crazy old lady yelling at me to get out of there! I may even see the shotgun, but I convince myself that it's not meant for me. Yeah, right. I know that as soon as my temptation gets a clear shot, she's gonna blow my head off! Yet still I stand there in the valley of decision. Why? That's a good question. Why?

"Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision." Joel 3:14
"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." Deut. 30:19

For an interesting view of those "smooth words" that lead to death...check out Proverbs 7.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Get happy....right where you're at

The past couple of days a "random thought" has been on my mind. Imagine my excitement when my pastor preached today on the very things that had been on my mind! (Love it when that happens!)

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to go from place to place, job to job, city to city, relationship to relationship, even hobby to hobby looking for that elusive thing called happiness? You've heard it before in probably a million blogs and devotions, warning that if you put your hope into a thing or a position or even a person that eventually it will let you down. The problem is, we are all looking for happiness and it is usually best found right where you are at. (Okay - please forgive me for ending a sentence in the preposition, but you get the idea.)

I've had more than a few chances to put this whole idea into practice. The funny thing is, when I finally choose to be happy where I am, God seems to move me on.

This came to mind last week when I talked with a friend about the gentle nudge she was feeling about moving to a job in a different area. She stood there explaining to me, "It's not like I don't love where I fact, I've never been happier." I could only nod. Seems like every job I've ever moved to didn't make sense. In one job, I'd tried repeatedly to leave! I couldn't even score an interview! Then, just when I decided to be happy where God had me planted, He moved the very place I had been unable to get an interview for five years! Then God moved me again, but not during a season of discontent, but in a time when I finally had discovered contentment. 

Seems that just when I let go of the idea that I have any right to decide what my life should look like, it starts to look like something so much more than I could have ever dreamed....and sometimes I even get that which I had hoped for.

I won't pretend this is always an easy process. I have an idea of what will really make me happy and I'm certain that if I just try hard enough, I can make it happen. The problem with that is that my life doesn't belong to me. I am His. I'm not really the one in charge here. Now as strange as that sounds, that concept is pretty liberating. It's not up to me. The only part of my "future" that is up to me, is turning it completely over to God. I simply have to start where I am and choose joy. I choose to trust that God knows what will bring me fulfillment far better than I do.

I think the first time I really saw this was while hoping for a child. We had hoped for years for a child, lost one through an adoption that went wrong, faced each passing year without the sound of a child's laughter in our home. Slowly, I released that dream and truly gave it to God. I came to the point where I could truly say, "God, I want a child more than anything, but if You choose for us to serve you without children, I will trust You." My attitude changed. I changed. The one true barrier to my joy was removed and peace returned....and two children followed.

I'm not saying that there is some magic formula or equation. "Do this and then all your dreams will come true..." In fact, in a way it's about giving up your dreams - to God. It's about choosing to find the joy and fulfillment right where you are. It's about looking at what the enemy meant for your harm and recognizing that God can/has used it for your good and His glory.

It's about a choice...a choice to change your attitude and find the joy.

I am reminded of a story Lysa TerKeurst once shared. Her daughter had found some cocoons and was hoping to hatch butterflies and instead from those cocoons she got moths. Mom expected disappointment, but..."As I watched Brooke’s sheer delight with the rich evidence of life before her, she couldn’t have cared less if it was a moth or butterfly. A creature that once only knew the dirt of the earth had just been given the gift of flight. Reaching- soaring-up- up- and away."

I guess it really is all about how you look at things. In the words of my pastor, you may not get to choose your circumstances, but you do get to choose your attitude in the midst of them.

It's time to get happy, right where you are at...and then you can move forward.

Today's message isn't posted yet, but when it is, this is the link to where you can find today's message that shares this truth SO much better than I ever could. Grace Temple Podcast . (When posted, it will be the November 9th message.)

Acts 20:24 (NIV)

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Genesis 50:20 (NIV) 

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Philippians 4:11-13 (MSG)

I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Frankenstein fear....(Franken-fear?)

*This is a re-post from a few years ago...

I used to love to watch the old monster movies like Frankenstein, The Blob, and of course a multitude of Mummy movies. I would rush home every afternoon to watch "The Big Show" and an endless supply of movie monsters guaranteed to make you jump at sounds in the night. Of course, those monsters never really scared me...they moved WAY too slow to frighten me. 

I always wondered about the girls in those movies. They were all young and healthy and yet they invariably would fall, turn an ankle, get their clothes caught in something or simply stand and raise their hands toward their face and scream. I never could understand why these healthy young women didn't just high-tail it out of there! After all, the monsters moved slower than my grandma - why not just run?

I didn't get it...until yesterday. I was thinking about the fact that summer is only a few weeks away and how I am determined that THIS summer we'll find ways to have some fun. Last year we did the "bummer summer" and I really didn't want to go that route again. You see, last summer was the summer when my husband was out of work. We were okay, and we knew God had promised to provide for us...but I look back now and realize that I went into "shut down" mode. The fear of the unknown absolutely paralyzed me. That's when it hit me - the monster of fear had lumbered toward me and I just stood there. Okay, so I just SAT there and did nothing. I didn't even run! (Not figuratively on that part - I literally didn't even run! My training program took a serious back burner.)

I'd always liked to believe that I was a fighter, but fear had stopped me in my tracks. I started thinking about the differences in fear and faith (other than the obvious ones) and decided to share a few of those parallels in this blog.

Fear paralyzes, but Faith propels.
Fear guards, but Faith gives.
Fear hoards, but Faith helps.
Fear trembles, but Faith transforms.
Fear withdraws, but Faith welcomes.
Fear hates, but Faith hopes.
Fear barricades, but Faith busts down walls.
Fear begs, but Faith believes.
Fear forgets all that God has done, but Faith...well, Faith faces the storm knowing that God has saved before and He can do it again.

Looking at my list, I have to wonder how many areas of my life I have allowed fear to stop me and keep me cowering in a corner.

Fear is that lumbering monster that truly has no power over us unless we give in to it and give up. For fear to succeed, all that is required is that we do nothing....just allow it to creep in and overtake us. For Faith to win, we need to put on our running shoes and get back into the race.

So now I finally get all those old movies....they weren't really about the monsters, but about how we defeat ourselves. To quote FDR from his inaugural address, "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

Some may not realize this quote comes from a speech was made in 1933 - a time of economic hardship and seemingly impossible situations. It wasn't just a bummer summer - it was a bummer decade!

This year, I think I'll get off the couch and tie back on my running shoes....and leave that ugly monster in my dust. God has a race for me to run....and I won't win it by just sitting here. Care to join me?

2 Timothy 1:7 - "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Is God a Liar???

Is God a Liar?

The following is a repost from 2010...I noticed it was one of the four most popular posts I've ever had, so I decided to share it one more time.

I almost titled this blog, "God is a liar", but I didn't want to give those who know me a heart attack.

This has been a week filled with reminders that God can be trusted...He never lies.

I have a facebook friend who recently asked the question, "Can God lie?" and it got me thinking. I mean, I immediately knew the answer, but when I started to write my response, I realized I didn't act as if I did. While I know that God cannot lie, I find myself worrying about things and lying awake at night trying to figure out how to make life what I think it should essence, I'm calling God a liar and not taking Him at His Word. If I were, I'd be sleeping like a baby instead of tossing and turning trying to figure out how we are going to make ends meet or what tomorrow will hold. See what I mean?

A quote by Max Lucado caught my attention this week. He said, "Our problem is not so much that God doesn’t give us what we hope for as it is that we don’t know the right thing for which to hope." I can really identify with this. I remember times in my life when I have been disappointed with God. While part of me wanted to believe in His promises, a bigger part of me wanted to pitch a two-year-old fit. Now, if you've never been around a two-year-old perhaps this is a foreign concept to you, but for all of us who have ever dealt with a two-year-old who was not getting what they wanted, the picture is pretty clear. They will pout, scream, bargain, yell, plead.....pretty much anything to get their way. If you dare to act as if you know what is best for them...well, let's just say earplugs and a strong will come in very handy in times like that.

I can say this, because I remember very well a time in my life when I was disappointed with God. Tragedy had struck and to be honest, it just wasn't fair! I was being good and others weren't and yet somehow they were being allowed to hurt me! I did all the predictable 2 year old things....I bargained, pleaded, cried...I even shook my fist at God and told Him if that was who He was, I chose not to serve him. Now if I had been God, a lightning bolt would have made an appearance to straighten this little 2-year-old out! (Good thing I'm not God!) Instead, the very next day God poured out His love on me in such a real way that I knew....I had no idea who He was or how much He loved me. God wasn't unfair, He was simply my Father and He knew what I needed far more than I did. The situation didn't change, by the way, but I did.

So back to the question. Is God a liar? We know, of course, that the answer is no. So why do I act as if He is?My problem seems to come from either my two-year-old self that has placed my hope in the wrong thing, or in the fact that I am rehearsing the problems instead of His promises. It's easy for me to lie in bed and think about the bills or the plumbing or what tomorrow will bring. To lie there and think about His promises takes a bit more discipline on my part. First of all, I've got to know what His promises are and then focus on them! I also have to rehearse in my mind all the times I've seen God be faithful in the past - times He was faithful even when I was faithless. I have to remind myself that God does not lie. I also have to trust that God doesn't really need my help to figure all this out. He knows what tomorrow will bring.

This week, I also had a friend share something with me that resonated in my soul. She said something along the lines of "God has a plan for you that's if it's not good yet, He's not finished." The cake is still baking, the picture is still developing, the quilt is still being sewn..... He's not finished yet.

A song by Josh Wilson called "Before the Morning" came on the radio the other day and pretty much had me in tears before I got to where I was going. (Video link) It answers the question so much better than I ever could:

"Do you wonder why you have to,
feel the things that hurt you,
if there's a God who loves you,
where is He now?

Maybe, there are things you can't see
and all those things are happening
to bring a better ending
some day, some how, you'll see, you'll see

Would you dare, would you dare, to believe,
that you still have a reason to sing,
'cause the pain you've been feeling,
can't compare to the joy that's coming

so hold on, you got to wait for the light
press on, just fight the good fight
because the pain you've been feeling,
it's just the dark before the morning

My friend, you know how this all ends
and you know where you're going,
you just don't know how you get there
so just say a prayer.

and hold on, cause there's good for those who love God,
life is not a snapshot, it might take a little time,
but you'll see the bigger picture"....

The message has been coming to me over and over this week, so, I guess it's time for this two year old to start acting like I believe what I say I believe. It's time to trust God. Care to join me in the adventure?

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." Hebrews 10:23

"God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" Numbers 23:19

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Have you really lived today?

* From 2009....

For the past few weeks, I have had the joy of having a student teacher in my room. I love having student teachers because not only do they learn from me, I also learn so much from them. Of course, there's the usual new ideas of how to teach, but there's also so much more.

To begin with, I finally get to "take care" of some things I usually put putting away my files. There is an amazing amount of paperwork that goes along with being a teacher and to finally have time to get it all done is such a blessing. I will miss that, but I have learned how much better each evening feels with my family when I know that my desk at work isn't piled high with unfinished odds and ends. Now that I realize that, my next task will be to figure out how to keep up with the paperwork once my student teacher is gone.

I also learned what it's like to be a student again. I sit at my desk, observing for the entire day....and get very sleepy. No wonder my students act out at times. They are BORED!!! It was such a gift to be able to see things from the other person's point of view for a change. Keeping that in mind may help me be more patient and hopefully more creative with my lessons. School is the only place in the world I know of where you are required to sit, listen, and not get up without permission. That's asking a lot from anyone, much less from someone who has the energy of a small nuclear plant bottled up inside them!

In watching my student teacher, I learned there are other ways to do what I am doing. Perhaps they are very different from my way, but they work just the same. Sometimes it can be difficult to let go of the reins and allow someone else to take charge. Growing means allowing others to shine sometimes. I'll be honest, letting go is very difficult for me. Difficult can be good for you if it allows you to grow.

Mostly, I've learned how much I miss doing what I was created to do. When I finally got the chance to get back in front of my students, the rush was unbelievable! I absolutely LOVE what I do. Oh, I hate the paperwork and having to deal with discipline issues, but I LOVE TEACHING!!!! I think that is because it is what God created me for. When a person operates in their gifts, there is such a rush and a joy! I know when I am simply going through the motions, but when it flows....oh my!

For years, I ran from the idea of becoming a was the last place on earth I thought I wanted to be. I was amazed when the road of life finally led me into the classroom to discover this is where I was meant to be all along. I wonder how many others have run from the gifts of God because they thought those gifts would shackle them, or create a miserable life for them? When I was in my 20's, I was certain I knew what God had for I realize I'm just barely beginning to understand how the paths of life lead us to where He wants us to be.

Yes, I'm learning a lot from my student teacher....I'm learning to keep up with the little daily items that threaten to overwhelm my life...the paperwork and tiny irritants that if I allow them to stack up will steal my peace. I'm learning to get them out of the way as soon as possible. I'm learning to look at things from the view of the student once again. Living life in the other person's shoes isn't always what I imagined it might be. In that, I'm learning empathy. Mostly, I'm learning that I want to live my life with that sense of being used by God for what I was created for. I know that not everyone has the same gifts...what a boring world that would be. But what if we all allowed God to use us in our area of gifting every day? What if I allowed Him to use me to encourage others no matter what I was doing? What if I remembered that my job is so much more than just a job? It's the place where God has allowed me to use my gifts for Him!

God has promised that He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly...have you lived abundantly today?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

All for the want of a nail...

This is a reprint of a previous blog, but it did me good to read it again. 
Today was one of those, "I'm unmotivated" mornings. Actually, the entire weekend has been that way. I've got a lot that needs to be done, but I don't really want to do anything - except maybe play games on Facebook. I did finally manage yesterday to tackle a couple of the items on my list and "Surprise!" they didn't take nearly as long as I feared they would. You'd think that those small victories would have motivated me this morning, but they didn't. Instead I found myself just sitting there, staring at the computer and thinking to myself, "I just don't want to get up and get dressed to go to church this morning. I can miss one day - it's not that big of a deal." Then I read my devotional for today....

In this morning's devotion, the author mentioned that the enemy strikes us in our area of weakness. Yikes - I knew immediately what my area was - complacency! You know - that place where you get comfortable and just don't want to do anything. I'm not talking about comfortable on the couch - although that is a pretty good picture of the situation. I'm talking about comfortable with the way things are in your life but unwilling to do much of anything to keep them that way. I kind of picture someone floating along in a row boat, figuring they are in a good spot so they just stop rowing. Only problem is, boats don't tend to just stay - they drift!

I figured I was getting a bit of kick in the pants reminding me that I did indeed need to make the effort to get to church, so I picked my lazy self up and got ready to go. Once there, I listened to the worship song and one verse just jumped out at me - "We offer all to the one who saves..." Was I really offering all? If I offer my life as a sacrifice, how can I then say, "but You don't really need/want this's such a tiny thing." Can I say, "I just don't feel like doing this today" if I am a sacrifice? I'm not much of a sacrifice if I just keep on climbing off the altar and doing my own thing, now am I?

It's not that I am trying to be rebellious, I just figure my small part in the whole doesn't make any real difference. I can just sit this one out and it will be no big deal. Then I remembered this old proverb (no idea when the last time was I actually heard this so it MUST have been the Holy Spirit that brought it to my memory. It's not a Bible type proverb, but wise all the same.) 

For Want of a Nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

To me it may seem like such a small part, but if God wants it, how can I refuse? I want to learn to   live my life in such a way that I realize EVERY part is His and live my life as worship to Him. Can I have the same attitude in going to work as I do in going to church - that both are an act of worship? Can cleaning my house become as much an act of worship as singing in the choir (something you really don't want me to do by the way.) Can I even view exercise as an act of worship, giving Him the very best I have to give?

As I mentioned, the enemy attacks in our area of weakness, and for me that's complacency - taking things for granted. I wonder, have I become so familiar with church, the scripture, worship,  and those in my church family that I am taking them for granted...thinking they will always be there? What about in my work? Have I become complacent? Complacency at work leads to mistakes and missed opportunities. Complacency in relationships leads to not knowing one another and drifting apart. Complacency with eating habits can lead to unhealthy weight gain or issues with your health. Complacency in exercise can lead to loss of muscle mass and the ability to lead an active life. I can't really think of any area of my life where complacency leads to something good.
So what do I do? According to Romans 12, I need to offer up my ENTIRE life as a sacrifice and not become complacent...not conform to this world. I can't let the enemy convince me that some area is unimportant or that my small "nail" won't make much difference at all. It's time to get up off my spiritual, emotional, or actual couch and start living like a sacrifice....TODAY!

Romans 12

The Message (MSG) Place Your Life Before God
 1-2 So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.