Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

Everyone wants Christmas to be meaningful…

So…what is Christmas really about?

Love. A love so great we cannot comprehend. About God, who sent His precious baby Son into a world of sin. About the Son who would become the ultimate sacrifice so that man could witness this kind of love. So that many could accept the free gift of forgiveness and live in complete relationship with God. It’s so different than the kind of love we are capable of. But it’s the selfless kind of love we look to follow and to model. We are to give of ourselves in love to others.

That beautiful message often gets overshadowed by the mounds of materialism and the clutter of commercialism. To counter that this Christmas, we join with our church and with many others in the “Advent Conspiracy.” (See the video on YouTube.) We want to “Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All” to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas.

We just finished our study of Acts with our small group. After Jesus died, as we all know, that was just the beginning. The story continues with the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit in the formation of the Church. It’s the story of the Gospel Message being spread powerfully from Jerusalem to Rome and to the ends of the earth. In those early days of the Church, all the believers were one in heart and mind and they shared everything they had…the Bible says there were no needy persons among them. (Acts 4:32-35 NIV).

Contrast that behavior with the present day. The Advent Conspiracy video highlights the fact that the world spends $450 billion on Christmas, yet for only $10 billion we could solve the world’s water problem…

This Christmas, we are giving our loved ones simple gifts to show our love for them, because sharing our “presence” is more important than our “presents.” Instead of adding to the clutter of consumerism or the mounds of materialism, we were moved to help Samaritan’s Purse build wells so more people around the world can enjoy clean water.

We strive to share of ourselves and live the message that consumerism does not equal happiness, memories and meaning. We aim to worship fully by giving our “presence” and loving like Jesus.

We wish you all the true peace of Christ, even in the midst of whatever challenges and concerns you are facing. It is the true spirit and message of Christmas you can take with you all year long!

God, we worship you and thank you for the precious gift of your Son. We are humbled and amazed at your great love. May all come to know your peace. Let your Presence be in everything we share this Christmas…in Jesus’ name.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Love First

A work friend got married yesterday. The sun was shining and more than a foot of snow was hanging in the trees from our mid-week storm. Pine and holly adorned the church and she was a beautiful bride in her elegant white gown accented with dazzling red trim. The sparkles in her long train matched the stars in their young eyes.

The minister gave a thoughtful message. As was his practice during pre-marital counseling, he had asked, "Why do you want to get married?" The answer, as always, was "Because we love each other."

His followup question is, "Why do you love each other?" With this, he says, he gets different answers, but most couples talk about how wonderful the other makes them feel.

He told them what they are describing is "being loved," and yes, it is a great blessing to be loved and to know it. "But to love is quite different than being loved," he distinguished...

Being loved is only half the equation. (And not the half we need to worry about.)

To love is to put the other person before yourself. To love is to help your partner to be the best they can be. To love is to think of their needs and to think of what it means to make them feel loved always, through everything. Love often means sacrifice.

If more would remember these words, more marriages would be solid, more children would live in secure homes... What a great reminder to everyone who attends a wedding. We are there to support and encourage the new Mr. and Mrs. to make their marriage the best it can be. And in the midst of it all, we remember what it means for us to keep the sacred vows we made.

The world wants to tell us life is "all about me" and "getting what I need." If we listen long enough, we start to believe it. But Christ gave us a very different example. "We love because He first loved us." 1 John 4:19 NIV

He loved us when we were unlovable. Sometimes we are still "unlovable," yet how great it is that He still loves us. If only we would love the way Christ loves His Church. We are to love first!

"Give and it will be given to you... a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Luke 6:38 NIV.

Dear God, thank you for the marriage of our friends. And I thank you for a wonderful marriage. I pray for all our friends' marriages to be solid and strong. Would you please help us to love the way you love? the way you intended love to be? Help us to remember to serve our partners always and help them to be the best they can be. Help us to love first and love well. Thank you for your awesome example of real love.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Be Still

Job cuts are right around the corner at work. Will I survive?

So clearly God had led me to this job (see Where He Leads). But it doesn't mean forever... It means I need to trust Him for the next step, too.

It would be a great loss. A job I love and the people I do every day with. I so enjoy my routine. And if I do survive, the cuts will surely affect my colleagues and friends. Life will not be the same. We are living each day as if it may be our last, thanking God for what we have. He seems to say...

"Be still and know that I am God."

As we strive to prepare for the coming of Christ this Christmas, life is not without its weighty concerns. We have friends who are perplexed by job loss, pressured by illness, overwhelmed by financial struggles or relational chasms. Oh, Jesus, the world needs you so much now. And He seems to say...

"Press in, be still and trust me."

My sister gave me a small round delicate box with a scripture on the lid...and the same one inscribed inside: Be still and know that I am God. Ps. 46:10 NIV

As I admired it, I told her the verse was perfect for me right now. Just as I wondered, "what can I put in this beautiful little container?" she said, "I was trying to think of something to put in it for you."

Then it occurred to me, isn't that what we always do? But maybe instead of trying to "do" or "fill," we should appreciate "empty." Instead of planning every minute, crowding our schedules or filling the silence, I feel God is challenging me to preserve the time and space to just be still.

My little box is a new reminder to empty my mind of all the "to do's" and just be still...for a patient, pensive moment...and know that He is God.

Father God, thank you that you are in control. You know all our concerns. Let us be still and listen for your still small voice. Give us the peace that passes all understanding, the true peace of Christmas. You lead the way and we will follow. You are all we need.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas Child

In the land of holiday plenty as I pass by the treat table, I have a heart tuned to those less fortunate elsewhere. While we indulge, it's sobering to realize two thirds of the world doesn't understand the concept of "counting calories." Some survive on one meal a day and keep busy so they don't think about their aching stomachs. In the November issue of Christianity Today, singer Sara Groves wept while visiting Rwanda when she saw a whole family taking shelter in a room the size of her bathroom.

And while many American kids have few chores and lots of free time, children of other countries are tasked with walking several miles to get water, gathering firewood and hand washing the few clothes their families own.

Those are the jobs of 7-year-old Rwogose, a little girl in a family of 15 children living in Uganda. She is our special little "Christmas Child"...ours to pray for throughout the month of December and ours to promote to others in the hopes of finding her a permanent sponsor.

We've been having a wonderful experience sponsoring children through Compassion International. Our sponsorship provides the basic necessities for a child, along with a Christian education. Their simple joy bubbles over into our lives in the letters they send: "I greet you and your family with joy and in the name of Jesus…" These people have so little, yet they are so thankful and so happy to have a sponsor. Though many miles separate us, they are part of our family.

A small sacrifice on our part has made such a difference in their lives. How easily might we otherwise spend $38 (a small monthly fee to give a child all of the above)… a family meal out? a new article of clothing? a salon or spa treatment? sporting equipment? tickets to an event? (Certainly none of these are wrong in and of themselves, but it puts in perspective the abundant choices we have while others are looking to simply survive.)

"All I want for Christmas" is a special appeal from Compassion International this holiday season to give more kids the opportunity to know that they are loved...through meeting the most basic of needs.

What I want for Christmas is for more people to consider this life-changing experience. For more info, please visit their site, e-mail me or comment here. Maybe you are not in a position to adopt a child, but even a one-time gift would tide some kids over until more sponsors can be found.

You will change a life forever. How can we spend any better than that?

Heavenly Father, you know all your children's needs. We thank you for the love you have lavished on us when you allowed us to live in a land of plenty. Please tune our hearts and help us spread our resources to the "least of these." Help us to live more simply so that others can simply live. Would you find Rwogose a sponsor? Please release her and the many other children from poverty…in Jesus' name.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Insert Your Worry Here

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Gen. 18:14 (NIV)

My struggles weighed heavy on my heart. If I were really trusting God, then why did I let those worries creep in again?

It was then I opened my Bible and continued reading in Genesis, right where we had left off in our last study time. Sarah had just heard that she would bear a child to Abraham and she laughed because they were both well beyond child-bearing years.

But the Lord said, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

The verse came to life for me. Is it too hard for Him to… [insert your worry here] Mend a relationship? Resolve a problem? Heal my past? Change an attitude? Develop a talent? Find me a job? A good doctor? A sitter? A mentor? A friend? A roommate? A soul mate?

Absolutely not! I realized if God could make a 90-year-old woman – barren all her life – have a child, He could certainly do anything.

My prayers were refreshed with new hope. Nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37 (NIV)

Reflection: What is it in your life today that is too difficult for you…but not for God?

Thank you, God, that nothing is too hard for you. Your arm is not too short. Nothing is impossible for you. I will hope in you.

Monday, November 16, 2009

To My Delight

It began with a playful little prayer two weeks ago. Reflecting on good times of the past and wondering where some of those people are now, I asked God if He would connect me with someone I haven't seen in awhile.

Just three days later, I found Patti at the library in the Christian book section. Seven years ago, we had shared our faith and our interest in art, then lost touch. I thanked God for answering my prayer already!

While watching the news that same evening, I was thrilled to see a face I hadn't seen in 30 years! God had answered again, reminding me of a rich friendship, also rooted in our faith. (No, the news is not all negative!)

Then this weekend, I "divinely" bumped into a grade school classmate who had moved away 40 years ago. It was such fun to reminisce about childhood adventures!

My husband asked, "Why do you think God brought these people back in your life?"

"Relationships are important," I answered. I had made a request to my Daddy and He delighted in surprising me. "That's how God is, don't we know? He often answers in abundance!" I dismissed the question, but the sweetness of the answered prayers lingered awhile. He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine... (Ephesians 3:20 NIV).

Then late that evening, I looked to my husband for reassurance as I revisited a heavy situation, a yet unanswered prayer, that was once again consuming my thoughts. For a very long time I have prayed, and God's answer, so far, has been "Wait."

I remembered how God had come through so many times in wonderfully unexpected ways. I tried to stay positive, imagining the day this prayer would be answered too. It has been a painfully long wait -- I never thought I'd be languishing this long. I struggled with the logic on why this wouldn't be God's will now. Would I have to face it that this may never be God's will?

"His way is perfect and His timing is perfect," Ted comforted.

Aha! That is why God answered my little prayer! He wants to reassure me He has heard all my prayers. He can't end the long wait just yet -- I'll have to trust Him with the details -- but perhaps He answered my whimsical prayer to let me know He has been hearing me! He has given me a little something to sustain my hope.

Thank you, God, for your lavish love and great patience with me. Thank you that even one small request was important to you, Almighty God! You know my heart and its deepest desires, and I will trust you -- for however long it may take.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

See For Yourself

Ever been drawn to a photo of a beach in an exotic tropical paradise? The water so blue, the surf so playful, the sand so white, you could almost hear the waves coming in, taste the salt spray and feel the sun on your back?

Have you felt the call of a majestic snow-capped mountain photo, the green bluffs of Ireland, or the allure of the rugged Atlantic Seaboard? Did it take you into another world, at least for a moment?

When we read a devotional or some renowned-author’s Bible study, we can get a glimpse of another world. Those who have traveled before us help us know what to expect as we anticipate our own journey. They can entice us with attractive itineraries and lay out the best route for us as we navigate into new territory.

But just as all the gorgeous photos I had previously seen of the Grand Canyon could never fully replicate the experience of being there, the authors’ insights can never fully bring us the rich experience of going directly into the Word and seeing for ourselves.

Will you be content to see someone’s vacation photos or would you rather climb that bluff for your own breathtaking view? Will you be happy with a palm tree-lined post card or would you venture out to feel the warm sand between your toes?

Go directly to God’s Word – the Bible. Drink deeply of the refreshing cool mountain streams. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your travel guide, the Holy Spirit, who lives within you. It will be the trip of a lifetime!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Only One God

Last night my mind was racing with details and sleep escaped me. Yesterday, we had happily spent hours shopping for cabinets, countertops, hardware, lighting and paint chips to do some long-overdue remodeling of our bathrooms.

Now, all the various colors, patterns and options paraded through my mind like an endless merry-go-round as I listened to the gentle snores of my husband and my dog, in stereo.

If I match this part, then that part will no longer match... What parts can we keep "as is" so that we are being prudent with our resources?... I want color and character, but not anything that's going to quickly become dated... All these thoughts, and many more, revolved around in my head until the excitement of the decisions turned to torment. I was obsessing over making the right choices. I know it is a big investment and we will be looking at the results for quite some time.

As I heard the soft chimes of the antique clock strike midnight and then each quarter hour after that, I agonized over trying to free my mind and realized I had to give these petty distractions over to the Lord.

God, I know that you will help me make good choices at the right time. Right now I need to tell you, there is no God but you. I will not put this project above you; I will not let it keep me from focusing on you. I will not let the enemy tempt me this way. God, you are awesome, and I need more of you right now.

"You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you. "(Is. 26:3 NIV)

I thought about the word "steadfast," recalled my favorite scriptures about peace and reflected on how God is in control of all. Everything I ever had or ever will have comes from God, and He gives me all I need. I don't need all this detail right now, the one thing I need is God. Finally, I drifted off to sleep...beautiful, restful sleep.

When I awoke, yesterday's events crept back into my consciousness and I had to purposefully "Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5 NIV) so the merry-go-round wouldn't start again. These decisions will be fun, but they need to stay in perspective. There is only one God and I choose to keep Him at the center.

Can you relate? Is there anything distracting you and threatening to push God to the sidelines? Join with me in prayer...

Father God, you are the one and only! Help us keep our focus on you, and let everything else take its proper place. We know you provide for all our needs according to your riches. We love you and trust you on the throne of our lives!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where He Leads

About eight years ago, I was planning a Bible study with a friend. The study was all about learning to trust God at deeper levels. While we normally didn't talk about work, the time together had opened that door. He told me about a job opening at his company he thought I'd be suited for. I told him, "Thanks, but I am happy where I am."

I was loyal to my employer of 23 years, and planned to be a "lifer" there. It was a solid company and I had progressed through different jobs and really knew my way around. The work was interesting, the people were nice and it was comfortable. In fact, I was quite at home.

That's when these words distinctly popped into my head: "But...there comes a time to leave home."

I smiled. Yes, but it's scary uprooting everything and going to a new place! My life felt in upheaval in other areas (a recent move, teenagers going in different directions) but this seemed the one stable area! Shouldn't I hold on to the safe thing?

Plus, I had all kinds of loose ends leading up to a huge project that was culminating in the next few months. I couldn't possibly leave at a time like this!

Then these words: "But will you trust Me with everything?"

"Yes, Lord, with everything," I relented.

I turned in my application, made my way through a lengthy selection process, and slowly and surely, with each step of the way I received confirmation. While the anticipation grew, I struggled with leaving a large burden behind if I were to get this job and give my notice.

My friend offered, "Maybe God didn't plan for you to finish it. Moses led the Israelites 40 years through the desert but never did walk into the Promised Land with them. Are you willing to let it go? "

I decided I was, if need be.

But as it turned out, I was able to give a three-week notice when I was offered the new job. This allowed me to personally wrap up the project and accomplish what I had been planning for two years -- with two days to spare before beginning my new job.

What I could not have known while working in my secure job was that this new position would be a much better fit for me. It's a company where I have been able to use my talents more effectively, an environment where I love to go to work and a job that encourages me to grow. I've found wonderful new friends and mentors. I feel motivated and productive and passionate about my work. I have no regrets.

God had a wonderful opportunity in store for me but I would have never known it if I had been afraid to trust Him...with everything.

How about you? Is there something "safe" you are holding onto? Will you trust Him with everything?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Five Loaves, Two Fish

We read in the Old Testament about how Moses felt inadequate... “Who am I? I am slow of speech and tongue,” he said when God appointed him to go to Pharaoh and get his Israelites out of Egypt. (Exodus 3)

But the Lord said, “Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

Yet Moses fearfully replied, “Please send someone else to do it.”

Ever felt this way?

Now let’s move to the New Testament… In John 6:9, a great crowd followed Jesus, eager for the wondrous healings and the teachings they had heard about. It was now late and they were all hungry, and Philip estimated it would take eight months’ wages to feed the whole crowd.

A young boy had five loaves and two fish. The meager supply seemed inadequate to feed the hungry crowd at hand, but the boy willingly gave what he had… and Jesus blessed it, fed 5,000 and even had leftovers!

Reflecting on these two stories, I surrendered. “Who am I to decide if God can use my unpolished skills, my limited supply?”

Dear Lord, even when I’m anxious, I will give you all my skills, abilities and passions. While they may not seem enough to me, they do to you, because you already know their full potential. Use them for your glory.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Not an Introvert

I won a ticket to the Beth Moore"Living Proof" Conference. I was so fired up! Then I was asked to volunteer...I said "yes, put me where you need me." They said, "In prayer."

The first evening was fantastic. It was so fulfilling to hear nearly 7,000 women raising their voices in worship together with Travis Cottrell and his worship team! Beth framed her talk around Psalm 37:4, "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." She is an excellent Bible teacher, and has a real gift for relating to a crowd as intimately as if she were having coffee in a small group.

Bright and early Saturday morning, we were excited to return for the second half of the program. "Do it Lord, that your glory may be seen...In these days that we're living now, let your Kingdom come, may your will be done," we sang with great hope. Beth covered every emotion known to women (and as we know, they are many!) and opened scripture in a way that shored up our faith.

She called women to come forward if they wished to pray with someone. As a prayer volunteer, I prayed with several women with varying burdens and cried with one of them, wishing and willing to let the Spirit flow through me and minister to these hurting women.

Hey...wait a minute. I had always thought I was an introvert. I wouldn't be comfortable in a close personal space with someone I just met! I'm not good with words...I wouldn't know what to pray with someone...on the spot!

But the Holy Spirit had obviously made it possible when I yielded to let Him lead. I let go of my inhibitions and did what He asked me to do. It's amazing that I did not think again about inhibitions. I was not conscious of being uncomfortable or stretched in any way.

Whenever I look back on the event I am so fulfilled. I know God had planned for me to be there (He gave me a ticket!). My energy level has soared ever since. "I am not an introvert," I realized, "when I get my energy from the Holy Spirit!"

Of course, I still have introverted tendencies. But I realized that if I am willing, the Holy Spirit can overcome those limitations and use me anyway. Oh, what a feeling!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gracefully Aging

Gray hair is a crown of splender; it is attained by a righteous life... The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old. (Prov. 16:31 and 20:29).

But if gray hair is splendor, why are people "dying" to cover it up?

Today's culture makes us believe we should cover, hide or even lie about our age. When we celebrate our birthdays, we joke about being 39 again...or risk being called "over the hill." Our lives are bombarded with products to help us look younger or slow down the aging process.

I found it so refreshing at a recent Christian conference that many of the speakers and artists shared their ages willingly, both men and women: "I'll soon be turning 60"..."When I turned 50"..."I'm 48 and a half." (Remember when we were kids and we added every quarter or half?!)

It impressed me that these people were not only honest and open about their ages, but unapologetic...and very comfortable about where they were in life. What a good example they set for me, since I'm approaching one of those "significant" birthdays!

It made me eager to be like them, to anticipate being their age, to have attained the wisdom they possess, to see the world through their eyes.

Instead of being molded by the world, with all its reminders of getting older and all our ways of denying age, why not remember that while we live in the world, we are not of the world, and embrace each year, aging with grace?

I made up my mind to try to model for others what those wonderfully wise speakers and artists modeled for me. Since the Bible associates wisdom and splendor and respect with maturity, I will attempt to look at age as God does, and not as the world does.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Highest Authority

I was feeling stressed over a project I'd been working on. It was a day when I felt no one listened to my input.

I recalled some of the details as I talked to my friend Mary, who had picked me up for a walk. "It feels like I have no influence, no expertise and no authority!"

She immediately said, "I'm sure that's how Jesus felt at times!"

Yes... I remembered. We had just read about that in the book of John. Though Jesus performed MIRACLES, the most religious group of the day -- the Pharisees -- didn't even believe Him! Jesus was the HIGHEST authority and His own received Him not (John 1:10-12).

And God sent Mary as my little angel to remind me not to be discouraged.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Turning to the Light

As we were driving through western Wisconsin, we came upon field after field of sunflowers, their heads turned all in the same direction. My husband and I were reminded of that amazing little detail in creation -- how flowers turn toward the light, every one!

...but wait, it had been raining all morning and the sun had not shown its face. How did the sunflowers know to turn to the east if not drawn by the sun?

"That is a picture of faith," I said. Ted said it was "hope with confidence."

Just as the sun had risen in the east so many times before, it would appear again in the east, if it would appear at all.

We also have hope with confidence. We have God's Word and His promise that He will come again. We have the confidence from reading the scriptures. We are so blessed that God gave us the Bible and we don't have to rely on just oral tradition that could become distorted or lose its power over the years.

No, we have confidence and we keep our faces turned to Him while we wait in hope until He comes again.