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