Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Blueprint for the New Year---2015

Our Father says…
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
  (Isaiah 43:18-19)

My response should be…
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139: 23-24)
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3: 13-14)
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12: 1-2)

My Goal and Year's Verses for 2015...
Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.
Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced

(I Chronicles 16: 11-12)

Monday, December 22, 2014

What Makes a Blessed Christmas?


                            Oh, Come let us adore Him!

 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us
John 1:14

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Pre-Christmas Check Up

Christmas is in what?....something-teen days?   
Are you ready?  Not the usual "ready" of decorations, presents, groceries, travel plans, etc. etc.

Are you ready inside to celebrate the season of Christmas--the birth of the Christ?
This semester at work had been a good one, busy but fairly quiet as semesters go. Then suddenly, about a month ago, things with which I will not bore you changed. Deadlines loomed large. Students who were supposed to submit their work weeks ago didn't. My house suffered, my sleep suffered, my "peace on earth good will to men" suffered (significantly).

It came to a head on Thursday when I drove to my office in a fog of concern about what I still had to do and what I had forgotten to do. There is a little fire station on the outskirts of the city where I work that has a marquee where they post birthdays, other important occasions and announcements.
Thursday's notice read...DO NOT OVERLOAD YOUR OUTLETS.

I get it that they were talking about electrical circuitry --- but they were really talking to me. I was there--in Outlet Overload Land! Does that sound familiar?  Have you ever been there?
I drove on by that fire station and began to think about the deeper truth and wisdom in their message----a message far more profound than, "Don't plug in too many connected strings of Christmas lights," like the Chevy Chase Christmas movie. 

If your outlets and circuits are nearing overload (or there already like mine were)  on this December 13th with something-teen more days until Christmas, here is our invitation for renewal and hope from the Master Electrician.

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul...
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
Psalm 19: 7a-8

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
I Peter 5:7
Be still, and know that I am God;
Psalm  46:10
You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
Isaiah 26:3
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!
I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

There is certainly a lesson in that!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

On Giving Thanks

I’m looking at the representative Thanksgiving symbols sitting on the mantle in our den as I type this…a Pilgrim lady and gentleman, each clutching pumpkins and other samples of the bounty of the season.   

Between them stands the ubiquitous turkey gobbler, this one not looking very endangered and dressed in somewhat strange colors for the turkeys in real life I have known.  (I learned a long time ago NOT to accompany Granddaddy out in the farm yard to deal with the Thanksgiving turkey…a bit too violent for my tastes.)  

Turkeys and Pilgrims all have their places, as do pumpkins and other signs of the holiday. I’m a follower of holiday decorating, having watched Granny Cole place little candle Pilgrims on her Thanksgiving table.

My personal “turkey” theme continues in various settings around the house as fat, stuffed cloth turkeys find their roosts or nests, waiting for the big day, safe in their knowledge that their cotton stuffing will never make it to the dinner table.

Thanksgiving decorations notwithstanding...due to family constraints, I’m skipping traditional Thanksgiving celebration this year.
Under the circumstances, I don’t have a problem with that.

But the “Thanks” part, I don’t want to miss out on that.

#Giving thanks is not optional. We are commanded to do so.  

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. (I Chronicles 16:34)
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  (Colossians 3:17)

#Why give thanks?  Benefits to us and to others. 

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. (Psalm 28:7)

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.  (2 Corinthians 4:15-16)

You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11-12)

#When should I give thanks?
give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 
(I Thessalonians 5:18)

Who is worthy of my thanksgiving?
I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. (Psalm 7:17)

Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.  For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. (Psalm 95:2-5)

And again…

Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.
(Psalm 106:1)

I'm sure there's a lesson in that.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Manger Scene: A Christmas Short Story

One of my favorite Christmas decorations are Nativity sets or Manger Scenes. I'm amazed at how many depictions of the birth of the Savior are available--fancy collectable Fontanini figures, carved olive wood treasures from the Holy Land, even tiny creche scenes to go with Christmas house displays. I have a special set made of yarn and pipe cleaners---a gift from one of my children.
Over the years, I've gathered several pieces I love. Two sets stay out all year round---a dark brown pottery one and an odd assortment of vintage chalkware figures---including two well worn angels standing watch over the little family, the shepherds, visiting wise men and a variety of animals. of the most recognizable symbols of Christmas. But that's not the only role these heavenly beings fill. I believe, (and I'm not the only one--David Jeremiah and Billy Graham), that one of the important jobs of angels may be to accompany believers from here to their heavenly home when their time on earth is over.  What a comforting thought!

The Christmas season is upon us. 

 The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.
                                                       Luke 16:22

 For he orders his angels to protect you wherever you go.
  Psalm 91:11

Praise the Lord, you angels of his, you mighty creatures who carry out his plans, listening for each of his commands.
  Psalm 103:20

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Despite our fears....

Halloween has a great marketing plan. It feeds on our fears.   

While a lot of the hype of Halloween is made up, most of us do have a significant set of real fears. As Christian believers, we are not exempt from fear.

The Old Testament story of the return of a group of Jewish exiles to their homeland after a long enforced absence has a great lesson embedded about how to handle our fears, which sometimes are very real.
The exile was long and lonely. It lasted seventy years, more than a generation, and the ancestral home of the Israelites was five hundred miles away. No doubt some of the captives finally resigned themselves to their new home in Babylon and decided to fit in as best they could. Some likely even prospered. But for others, being a stranger in a strange land was never to be accepted and there was always the call of home.
So when Cyrus of Persia assumed the Babylonian throne, God moved his heart to make this surprising proclamation:   

“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them’ ” (Ezra 1: 1-3).

The waiting ended. Imagine the exhilaration in the hearts of those who prepared to take the long journey home. Imagine the apprehension. The trip alone would take months. Would they all survive, this company of more than forty thousand travelers? And what new worries might their destination hold? The desolation of their homeland? Its occupation by those who had no interest in welcoming the former owners back? How would they live? Where would they live?
Destruction of Jerusalem
WD Hole
Still, wasn’t it their LORD who was leading them? Was He not able?  They traveled on, and at last they were home.
When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled together as one in Jerusalem…” and a first order of business was “ build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God” (Ezra 3: 1-2).
And here’s the part I love: “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices.”
Their fears were justified, and the threats were well founded. Surrounding neighbors were hostile to them and to their God. Nevertheless, “Despite their fear...,” the Israelites did what they were supposed to do and in the manner it was to have been done. They didn’t wait until the threat had passed or until their fears subsided. They were obedient to their God in spite of the threat and the fear. They did it anyway, not knowing what the outcome would be.
What do we fear? Do we fear losing face with others, losing our jobs or security, losing our influence? Do we fear facing situations over which we have no control or losing our freedoms? Do we fear losing our lives or the lives of those we love?
Hebrews 13:6 reminds me, “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?’ ”
The Israelites kept steady on in their mission to rebuild God’s temple regardless, and a few months later, the foundation was laid. What a momentous occasion. The priests and Levites “with praise and thanksgiving … sang to the LORD: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever” (Ezra 3:11).
So excited were the people at this milestone that they “gave a great shout of praise to the LORD,”  and some were moved to tears and others to joyful shouts.  Despite their former fears, the Bible says that “the people made so much noise… the sound was heard far away (Ezra 3:14).
Have you ever been so afraid that you felt you had to whisper or walk softly so that the object of your fear would not “hear” you? I know what that kind of fear feels like, whether real or imagined. The fear that had been felt by the Israelites was real and justified, but as a result of their obedience to God, it sounds to me like their fear was replaced by great and loud rejoicing.       

Yes, they continued to face opposition and barriers, both from within their own ranks and without, as they began to rebuilt their decimated city of Jerusalem.  But so faithful was their God that when the wall around the city was completed, Nememiah reports, “ When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God” (Nehemiah 6:16).
What an interesting turn of events. Now the fear rested with the Israelites’ dreaded enemies.

There’s a lesson in that.