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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Today

Today I am thankful for good health and working bodies.

Today I am thankful for the love of family and friends.

Today I am thankful for humor and laughter.

Today I am thankful for gifts of all kinds.

Today I am thankful for too much food.

Today I am thankful for our country.

Today I am thankful for goodness.

Today I am thankful for kindness.

Today I am thankful for clothing.

Today I am thankful for warmth.

Today I am thankful for home.

Today I am thankful for grace.

Today I am thankful for God.

And everyday.



 

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But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. Psalm 42:8 (NLT)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

No Hesitation

“Let it be according to your will,” said Mary to Gabriel the angel, when he visited her with the news that she would be the mother of the Son of God.  I was not there when this scene went down, but it seems to me that Mary did not hesitate to say “Well, okay then” to Gabriel, once he had answered her question of how this could be possible logistically since she was a virgin.

Yeah, yeah.  Mary did not say “Well, okay then.” My Bible translation says she said, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants.  May everything you have said come true” (Luke 1:38, NLT).

But the feeling is there.  Mary knew that she would be used by God for something big.  Later we see that she was so excited about her pregnancy that she sang a little impromptu song praising God (v. 46-55).  And after Jesus was born, the stories from the shepherds who had been visited by an angel announcing Christ’s birth were noted by Mary, and she “quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often” (v. 19). 

She knew she was being used by God for something amazing, and she kept all these feelings close to her heart.  She identified closely with this appointment, and claimed it readily and often.

Mary did not hesitate because she knew clearly that God needed her to do something extraordinary.  She didn’t even have to do anything – God took care of all of it, right down to providing a place for her baby to be born on a night when all hope seemed lost.  Mary didn’t hesitate from the start, even when she wasn’t yet married and a pregnancy could well have meant that her life was about to go into the toilet.  In that day unmarried women who became pregnant were likely to remain unmarried and sometimes had to make a living by begging or prostitution.

Mary is an inspiration to me all the time, but especially at Christmas, when she shares the spotlight with her divine Son.  Her faith led her to great things, a role unmatched by any other: the mother of the Son of God.  Her life is an example of who God wants us to be – open to him, ready to take on any challenge that he equips us to handle.

Too often when presented with an opportunity to serve God, I hesitate.  I say “no” readily, only to miss the chance to serve him, to grow in his love.  God gives us chances to do for him what we would not (or could not) think of doing, either for ourselves or for others.  Our short-sighted nature is so far from God’s eternal view and our part in it.  I have missed opportunities because of my hesitation.  Ever faithful, God keeps presenting them to me.

I need to remember that God’s requests are to be taken seriously – they are designed to change lives, and always for the better.  In Mary’s case, God’s request changed the entire destiny of humanity.  He wanted her to bear a son who was destined to take on all the sins of the world so that all of us could live in God’s Kingdom forever.

Likely God is not going to ask me to do something so remarkable.  Probably not you, either.  But he is asking us to be open to his will; all he asks is that we say “yes” to the divine appointments that come our way, no matter what they are.  To not hesitate.

Well, okay then. 




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In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.  Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38 (NLT)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is a week away, and the holidays are in full force. 

November is a whirlwind, like any other month in the past few years.  We didn’t do anything really big, but this is the first month of the school year that I feel like we are finally in our groove and things are humming along.  And just like that, Thanksgiving is knocking.

Everyone I know is finalizing plans for the holidays: Where are you having Thanksgiving dinner?  Are you free for a holiday party?  When is your family coming for Christmas?  What can I bring for the party?  What do the kids want this year? 

I dole out answers as I know them, but many of them are unknown.  Some of them are left to the asker to decide.   I am thankful for a full plate of loved ones who are concerned about spending time with us, but I feel the holiday tide threatening to overwhelm me.

When I feel like complaining about the busyness of the holidays, I remember that there are many for which Thanksgiving or Christmas is just another day.  For each thing I write on my list to do, there is a person who doesn’t have anything to do but survive these days, someone who sees no difference between Christmas and the day that they got their only pair of shoes stolen.

As I’m fighting against the menace of EVERYTHING HOLIDAY RIGHT NOW HURRY UP YOU’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME there is a person who has nothing but time, hours ahead of him containing nothing but hunger.

My blessings are highlighted when I think of the needy.  I have so much – how did I get it?  What is it about me that I’m allowed to sit here in my warm house while there are people in the world who haven’t lived in a warm house in years, maybe never?

The answer is not that I’m smarter, or better, or luckier, or loved more.  The answer is that I don’t know.  I don’t try to find the answers.  I’m not sure that I want to know them.

But God does, and just as he made me, he made everyone.  Just as he provides for me, he provides for the needs of everyone.  That’s as far as it goes.  The rest is in his plan.

I feel like God has given me a responsibility to help and to give to others who don’t have.  Do I give what I have?  Maybe, if it’s appropriate.  What is more important is to give what is needed.  How can I know what other people need?

We can ask them.  We can ask others who have provided for them.  We can buy items off a list of previous gifts given and used.  Or we can ask God.

What is God telling me to do this holiday season?  What is my role in helping him provide for others?  How can I share my thankfulness?  These are questions that I do not have the answers to right now.  I trust that God will show me.

In the meantime, at the beginning of yet another holiday season, I am reminded to share and to give, all the while thanking God for what he has given me.


Dear God, show me what I can do to share your love this holiday season.  Help me to see clearly the opportunities that you have provided only to me.  Thank you, Amen.




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The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. Psalm 28:7 (NLT)

Always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:20 (ERV)

If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Romans 12:8 (NLT)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Loser

I have a healthy fear of losing things.  My wedding ring, my children, my mind – these things are all things that I hold onto at least mentally, making sure that I know where each of my valued items is all the time.

My mind is the one I’ve got the least handle on.

I'm very cavalier about getting rid of things, knowing that we have far more than we could ever use.  I am no saver, and sell stuff at garage sales prematurely, thinking that I will never use it again, only to buy that same item new later.   It drives my family crazy, and if they lose something, they assume that I sold it, gave it away, or threw it in the trash.

They’re usually correct.

I do hang on tightly to the things I value, however, and rarely lose anything – because I keep tabs on it.

The underlying issue for why I want to control my surroundings all the time by knowing where each item I have lives is the fear of change.  I’ve written about his before, that growing and changing is hard work – sometimes I’d rather watch the world go on changing from my comfy spot on the couch.  I don’t always want to be a part of change.  I’m fine right here.  It’s getting worse as I get older.  My roots are becoming firmly planted in this little box I constructed.

I think a lot of people are that way.  We work hard to create a life we love, and when things veer off in a different direction than we planned, when a wayward wrench is tossed into our gears, we feel out of control.  Nobody likes that feeling.  Each of us is the chief operator of our own efficient machine, and when it breaks down, we want to fix it.

But someday, we will lose a part of our machine, and it will stop working.  That’s just life.  I may lose my wedding ring, my children, my mind.  All of these are terrible things to think about, but our world is one in which terrible things can happen.  None of us is guaranteed a comfy spot on the couch.  We can’t keep tabs on everything, all the time.

Jesus said “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9: 24, NJKV).  This upside down idea, to give away our lives for the sake of preserving it, goes against my grain.  Losing myself and the unknown changes that will come makes me afraid to leap blindly into the arms of Jesus.  I hold back.

The promise is that we will each become more of ourselves if we throw ourselves into the path of God’s love, that when we hold nothing back from his work in us, we will become more of who we are than any well-tuned machine we have designed, any organized mess we have created.  We will become the fullness of who God intends us to be, not some compilation of scraps the world has to offer, gapping at the seams and of a personality that is ill-fitting and uncomfortable when the world’s tides change.

When I lose myself – my whole life – to Christ, I am free to be fully me, strong enough to “take up [my] cross daily” (v.23) with his help.  No amount of organization or fine-tuning I do approaches this achievement.  Saving things doesn’t make me strong.  Trusting God does.

When I see the logic of losing my life to gain it all back, it seems easy – and the right thing – to do.  But like anything, life is a work in progress.  I’d like to think that today I’m one step closer to giving it all up for the sake of Jesus, that soon I will fling myself at the base of the cross and pray for him to take my life.  That the first day of a pure life lived only for God is only breaths away.

But still.  I hold back.

Yet God is working on me. 

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Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God.” Luke 4: 23-27 (NLT)


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Loss and Provision

My Granddad died on Halloweeen.

I have a large family, lots of aunts and uncles and cousins and kids, from the biggest who duck to get through doorways to the littlest at six weeks old.  It was a good four days of family, memories, food, and tears.  No one wanted to be there for that reason, but we amassed as one at the funeral home and at family members’ houses and hung onto each other in our grief those four days even as we patted the casket at the gravesite to say good-bye to Granddad one more time.

It’s been almost two weeks, and one week since the funeral.  For my family, life has gone back to normal.  Our kids still have school, my husband and I still have work to do.  We live far from my family, so Granddad’s loss is not as first-hand, his absence relegated to quiet moments where we stop and think: he’s gone.

For my grandmother, who shared his life intimately, loss is felt every minute, every second.  Everyday activities are disturbed.  There is a new normal for her to learn.  Same with those who live close by, who are an everyday part of my grandparents’ lives.  Their new normal looks quite a bit different than mine, which is just slightly changed to reflect the hole in my history, the memories that come more often now because that’s all I have left of his life and I want him to stay close.  But all that goes on inside, where no one sees.

In my Bible I keep several pages from a daily devotional book that I receive each month; topics that stand out are carefully torn out and stashed between the pages.  Many of them deal with loss.  I find it meaningful that of all the pages I chose to stick in my Bible, the ones that speak of death and of God’s provision of comfort and peace during hard times are here for me.  I know this is God’s doing.

The world may not see me remember my Granddad and mourn his loss, but God does.  He comforts me through these pages just as he comforts the rest of my family members with whatever they need to feel at peace with the loss.  He reminds me that he is there as I make dinner, schedule doctor appointments, run kids to their activities.  He reminds me that he experiences my grief, too, and that Granddad is with him in heaven.

God provides for all of us in so many ways that we may not see or recognize, but as I open my Bible to those pages, I see his hand in even the smallest and the most innocuous places.

He did this wonderful thing for me.  He does wonderful things for all of us.


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Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.  Psalm 116:15 (NKJV)

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:57 (NKJV)

But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength.  They will fly high like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 (NLT)