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Archive for December, 2012

Hope

Romans 12:12: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (NIV).

I started a ritual with our youngest at bedtime, not realizing I was creating something meaningful.  In all honesty, I was just trying to stop his tears.  In his mind, everyone else was still having fun but he had to go to bed and that wasn’t fair.  So, I started to distract him by talking about all the fun things he was going to do the next day, exciting activities he had already done, and sometimes, if his laughter was especially active, we would talk about all the fun things planned for the whole week.  For whatever reason, it would put a smile on his face, giggles in his belly, and he would settle down so we could pray, sing, and rock a little before tucking him in bed.  As I said earlier, I didn’t realize how much he enjoyed it, until he started asking me what fun things he would do the next day.

That was when I realized I was teaching him about hope.  Not on purpose, mind you, but instilling it nevertheless.  I started thinking…isn’t that what we all do?  Don’t we look forward to things to come?  Plan for the future?  Have goals in our personal life, professional life, marriage, and with our children?  Isn’t the goal to lose twenty pounds a sense of hope?  What about training for the marathon…hope that you will finish, beat your personal score, or maybe even come in first?  Getting the job promotion, saving for a house, planning a vacation, beating cancer?

Life without hope or something to anticipate brings about a completely different perspective.  I’ve had periods of life where I’ve felt “hopeless” about certain situations.  Thankfully, those periods haven’t lasted too long and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it long term, but I have had that feeling of hopelessness and I know how awful that can feel.

The Bible tells us that if we’re God’s children, we have hope in every situation, no matter how desperate it seems.  We don’t have to be hopeless, feel helpless, or worry about the answers.  With God, even diagnoses like cancer, financial hardships, wayward children, extramarital affairs – no matter what the issue, we can have hope.

The following is a concept that has always brought me comfort. In Psalm 139:16, we are told, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (NIV).  This assures me that years before I was even born, God knew what would happen.  He knew about this particular day, event, trauma, tragedy, or whatever it may be that wants to destroy the hope that I have.  In John 16:33, we are assured that, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (NIV).  God knew the trials we would be facing and He knew what and when we would feel like giving up hope.  But, He is here to remind us that He has overcome and we can rest in peace, knowing that He’s in charge.

The best hope of all is what’s to come – Eternity.  For those who are God’s children, which anyone of us can be if we accept His free gift through His Son Jesus Christ, we have the promise of experiencing things far greater than we can imagine for all eternity.  It’s hard to wrap my head around the concept of forever when I can barely keep track of my schedule this week, but it’s there, nevertheless.  And, that, my friends, is real hope.

The vacations, losing twenty pounds, or getting ready for a marathon are all nice to help break up the monotony of life, but Eternity in Heaven with God is the ultimate goal.

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Mirror, Mirror

Colossians 1:22: “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (NIV).

Last time we talked about how recently I have started to grasp God’s amazing love for each and every one of us.  I had grown up in the church and heard this preached throughout my life, but only recently, has that concept grown from head knowledge to heart knowledge.  You know, the kind of wisdom that you don’t just know something is true because you have been taught it and can verify the facts, but you know something is true because you believe it with all your heart and no one can convince you otherwise.  I have another example today that I think will clarify what I’m trying to say even better.

I have always known that when anyone admits they’re a sinner, confesses those sins to Jesus Christ, and admits that He’s the only way to get to Heaven, accepting Him into their heart, they are changed.  However, people still sin, mistakes are still made, and God is still a holy and just God who hates sin.  So…I have struggled with the contradiction of God loving me, a Christ follower, with a fierce protective love as one of his daughters with the fact that I still sin, I still upset/disappoint Him, and I still make mistakes, lots of them.  As a result, how can He look at me and love me when I mess up so much?  (Add to that my perfectionistic qualities and I tend to run away from God when I mess up instead of running toward Him due to my self-imposed guilt.)

However, in the last few months, I have had countless sermons and illustrations and messages point to the key that resolved the struggle for me, taking it from head knowledge to a heart connection.  One example that was given in our church was this:  Consider God a Judge in a courtroom.  He is a just God who cannot allow sin to enter Heaven.  Therefore, since we, as mere humans sin (none of us are perfect despite what some may think), there’s nothing we can do in ourselves to earn our way to Heaven.  So, when our life is over, we stand before God on Judgement Day and if He were to look at us and our lives and our mistakes, the clear choice would be to send us to hell forever.

But, the illustration doesn’t end there.  God is a just God, yes, but He’s also a very loving God.  He didn’t want us to spend eternity in hell, so He made a way for us to live in Heaven with Him.  That way was through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Now, as God is looking at us on Judgement Day, all of a sudden Jesus stands up and says to His Father, “Hey, don’t look at them.  Look at me.  Yes, the payment for their sins is death, but
I paid that price on the cross.  So, when You look at them, You need to look at them through Me.”  I love that mental picture.

God knows that’s true, His own Son paid our penalty.  Now whenever He looks at a Christ follower, someone who has asked Jesus to be their Savior, He looks at each of those individuals through the filter of Jesus.  He can only see perfection, He can only see love, He can only see His own sons and daughters.

That was what finally brought home the message of God’s love to me.  I had never thought about how God sees us through the filter of His blameless Son when we choose to follow Christ.  So, now when I mess up (and I still do way more than I like), I’m learning it’s far better to run toward God than away from Him.  I’m quicker to see my mistake for what it is – a mistake.  I’m quicker to take the blame, right the wrong, and move on.  I don’t get it right all the time, but that’s what I do more often now than I ever did years ago.  And, instead of rehashing my mistake over and over in my mind, I remember that God doesn’t remember it once I’ve asked for forgiveness, so why do I want to?

As I tell my children all the time, every choice we make either pleases our Father or pleases the evil one.  Who do I want to please more?  Do I want to wallow in self-pity and self-guilt and please the evil one?  Or do I want to rest in God’s love, knowing that Jesus paid the price I should have?  Instead of frozen by guilt, I can work toward changing my actions, my attitude, and my lifestyle to more reflect my Father, the Creator of the Universe.

I pray that illustration helped a fellow Christ follower today.  Instead of seeing yourself as a sinner and someone who repeatedly messes up, instead see yourself as God’s child, blameless through the filter of Jesus Christ.  And, if you have never made that commitment to ask Jesus to be the ruler of your life, He is waiting patiently for you to choose.  But as I always say, the choice is yours alone since God is a gentleman who won’t force Himself on you.

Next time you make a mistake, try looking at yourself through the mirror that God uses.  It might change your perspective just a little.  After all, you are an heir of the Most High.  Not everyone has those credentials.

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This Much

Matthew 1:21: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (NIV).

 

Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (NIV).

 

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV).

I was born and raised in a home where God was number one.  I grew up going to church twice on Sundays and every Wednesday.  I learned how to pray early on and accepted Jesus Christ into my heart from a very young age.  I learned how to grow as a Christ follower and obey His Word from my earliest memories.

However, despite the wonderful upbringing I was blessed with, I still struggled with feeling loved by God throughout my life.  Really loved.  Whether I deliberately chose to sin or inadvertently struggled with some form of temptation and failed, I had an underlying fear that God was mad at me and would somehow punish me for my failure.  Only as I have gotten older and started to fully understand God’s Word, claiming the promises in the Bible as written for me personally, have I started to understand the freedom that comes with truly accepting (not just acknowledging in my head but believing in my heart) that the love God promises in the Bible is for all of His children, not just those who have it more together than I do.

I want to let that sink in for a minute.  Does God’s love excuse our sin?  No, but it does cover over all our sins when we acknowledge them and ask for forgiveness.  That was a concept that was really hard for me believe for my own life.

I could tell this concept was starting to reach my heart earlier this month.  You see, the more I realize how much God loves me and wants the best for me, the more I want to obey His commands.  The less I want to hurt Him by deliberately sinning and the quicker I want to make things right when I do mess up.  Fear that He is going to punish me has been replaced by the close relationship we share and not wanting to hurt the One I love.

One particular time this past month when I messed up stands out. Nothing life shattering, but it was a flaw in my character.  Not my finest moment…not my worst, but certainly not my best.  I had planned on ignoring it and “doing better next time” since no one would find out, especially not the person I sinned against.  However, God gently nudged me, making me uncomfortable until I made things right.

First, I confessed to God my sin and then I knew I needed to come clean with whom I had offended.  That’s a lot harder than confessing to God, especially since I knew that person would never have found out otherwise since I wasn’t walking around talking about it.  Anyway, I did the right thing, confessed, and moved on.  In the past when I would screw up (even with things less important than this particular example), I would harbor fear of God “getting me” and walk around as though I had been convicted of murder when I had only “jaywalked.”

This time, however, I was secure in God’s love, knowing that He lovingly prompted me to confess, unaware of the results, but resting in peace that I was doing the right thing.  I was able to let go of my self-imposed guilt and move on, going about my day as the forgiven, and loved, person that I was.  I still don’t know the reaction of the person I wronged (whether or not they will forgive me), but I am secure in the fact that my Father doesn’t love me any less because of my mistake and I am motivated to change my actions so I don’t repeat it again in the future.

The above truth helps me to reflect on Christmas, my favorite holiday.  I have always loved celebrating this holiday, largely in part because of envisioning that first Holy Night when Jesus was born, thinking about Him as a baby, the animals, the shepherds, and the angels singing.  What a beautiful vision.  However, since grasping just how much God truly loves me, I can’t think about Christmas without thinking about the reason behind why Jesus came to earth, as an infant.  Yes, He came to experience life in human form so that we know He understands our pain, our temptations, our problems.  But, the most important reason why Jesus came to Earth was to fulfill the work of his Father, to die on the cross for our sins because of God’s amazing love for us.  The more I feel God’s love on a daily basis, the more I stand amazed that Jesus would willingly come to Earth knowing what He had to go through just so we could have eternal life.

Not only is He willing to do that for me, but He has also done it for you.  If you don’t already belong to God’s family, the only thing standing in your way is you.  God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, down to Earth in human form so that He would take our sins upon Himself.  He died a painful death so that we wouldn’t have to, and by accepting His gift, we are privileged to spend eternity in Heaven.  God presented His Son as the Ultimate gift, which can only be used if received, and that happens simply by accepting Him into your heart as Lord and Savior. So, when people ask me how much does God really love me (and you and them), my answer is, “This much.”

During this holiday season, if you haven’t already, may you and your family accept the best gift that will ever be offered, Jesus Christ as your Savior.  God is a gentleman.  He wants you to accept the gift He is offering, but will never force Himself on you.

 

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These Are the Moments

Psalm 68:3: “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful(NIV).

My mom was great at celebrating the big and little things in life.  We baked a cake for every occasion in our home: Christmas, Easter, birthdays, St. Patrick’s Day, our dog’s birthdays, good report cards, and any award we might have earned.  My mom loved a good party.  She even encouraged celebrating ordinary days by letting me “food color” the cottage cheese.  (Yeah, I learned from that one.  Now I understand why cottage cheese is white, not purple or teal or green.  It lost its appeal when it changed colors.)  Celebrating and hosting parties came naturally to my mom and I remember life growing up as fun and full of surprises.  I’m sure I got my love of baking from those special memories.

I married into a family where my mother-in-law knows how to throw a great party too.  She is another woman I admire because she turns the ordinary into extraordinary also.  “Just because” has become a favorite saying around our house.  My husband will come home with a “just because” treat for our kids and me; we will stop at Culver’s on the way home to bring their daddy a “just because” cooler or pint of his favorite ice cream.  Our kids even will use their own hard-earned money to buy things “just because” for other family members.

Despite all the great examples in my life, I have to work a little harder at what others in my family do so effortlessly.  When the kids were little and I did daycare, I was pretty good about mixing up the mundane with a good party.  We even made up holidays when winter got too long.  Ask my oldest if he remembers “Super Hero Day.”  We bought matching shirts and of course, there was cake.

Now that the kids are older and I have a more demanding job, I still celebrate Christmas and birthdays pretty well, but my attempt at a Super Bowl Party had everyone feeling a little queasy the next day.  Eating “all your favorite foods” doesn’t mean all combinations work well together.  I tend to undercook main meals and go overboard with the desserts or sweets.  I have been known to forget a special occasion here or there when my workload gets a little hectic.

I have to stop and remember that at least I’m trying.  My husband may always remember my crunchy potatoes, but hopefully my family will also remember our “Spring Break Spirit Week,” dessert for dinner every Sweetest Day, and their dad’s famous caramel apples every fall.  I may not remember to bake a cake for St. Patrick’s Day and our dog doesn’t get his own birthday party, but we do have our own family traditions and “just because” moments throughout the year that make life a little less dull and a lot more fun.

What about your family?  Do you just celebrate the big events in life or do you take time to cherish the little victories as well?  God wants us to live an abundant life and that means finding joy in the ordinary, day-to-day things as well as the holidays, vacations, and over-the-top celebrations.  What is one thing you and your family can celebrate this weekend?  Let me know what you planned and how your family reacted.

 

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One, Two, Maybe A Few

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (NIV).

Some people are naturally more introverted than others.  They prefer a small quiet gathering over a loud party.  Others enjoy the chaos of lots of activity around them, though they rarely join in and instead just sit back and observe.  Another person is the life of the party, able to make friends just as easily with a stranger at the store, friend-to-friend in a coffee shop, or with twenty people at a party, simultaneously.  No matter what your preference, I think we can all agree that people need people, family needs family, and friends need friends.

With the holiday season in full swing and family celebrations right around the corner, I challenge all of us to spend more time connecting with those around us in meaningful ways than worrying about how perfect everything is, or whether it’s exactly in the way you prefer.

I know for our own family, it’s bittersweet this year.  We are going through transition years, probably every few years now as teenagers grow up, move away, and may not be able to afford to come back and visit for the holidays.  I don’t want to miss out on time I could’ve spent making memories.  I don’t want to take for granted that life will stay the same and my loved ones will always be here.  I want to choose cherishing the here and now instead of assuming it will always be available whenever I’m ready.

Maybe our focus needs to shift from “getting through the holidays” to what kind of memories do I want to make for myself and my family and friends?  When people lose spouses, children, or other family members prematurely, they don’t sit around and reminisce about how difficult life was with those they miss.  No, they talk about wishing they could have one more day for the little things.  Sharing stories around the fireplace, the yearly Dicecapades competition, Grammie’s sticky buns, or caroling around the neighborhood when Aunt Sarah sang too loud or Uncle Rob was off key.

I’m not suggesting that if you have a volatile or unhealthy relative to put yourself in a dangerous situation to “keep the peace,” but if you come from the average family of dysfunction (admit it, we are all dysfunctional to a degree) why not try calling a truce this year and just enjoy the fact that you are all alive, healthy, and together?  Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, try giving thanks for one more year of memories.  Sometimes the most dysfunctional memories become the favorites.

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Fleeting Moments

Psalm 30:11-12: “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.  Lord my God, I will praise you forever” (NIV).

We have entered into the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  You know, that hurried time of buying and wrapping Christmas presents, preparing food and attending work parties, school parties for our kids, making out Christmas cards, and getting together with family and friends.  About a month ago, I started to feel overwhelmed because my schedule was already out of control – how was I going to manage to pile more on my plate without completely neglecting my family, my health, my sleep, my exercise program (or lack thereof), and my work…and I could forget about having time to get together with friends.

Then God showed me through two different sources (I always know He’s talking directly to me when He brings up the same message from multiple sources) that what it all boils down to, really, are moments.  I have only so many moments in my life and they are fleeting.

I have one chance, sometimes, to bless a stranger, to make a difference in a random child’s life, to share God’s love with a friend, or to show my family how much I treasure them.  These are all fleeting moments.

How do I want to be remembered? What am I going to want to remember?  Do I want to remember being chained to my desk, staring out the window at the snow-covered grass, admiring the snowman my children had to build themselves, or do I want to smell the crisp air, taste the snowflakes on my tongue, and hear their laughter as I help build a lopsided and very unique snowmen family?  Do I want to remember family movie nights with popcorn and hot chocolate and laughter and sometimes tears or do I want to remember my angry voice ringing in my ears telling my kids one more time to be quiet so I can get my work done?  Do I want to remember holidays spent with family reminiscing about the old, building memories for the future, and living with no regrets?  Do I want to achieve balance in my life so that I can fall asleep at night next to my husband and wake up wrapped in his strong arms?

Yes, after God gave me those images, I realized what was really important and what I would need to do in order to keep the right priorities, not just during this holiday season but also throughout the year.  I won’t get it right all the time.  The reality of life is that there will still be days that I’m chained to my chair watching the snowmen get built without me, but I plan on experiencing instead of watching more moments than I had in the past, because after all, they are fleeting.

So, if in the next half hour you need me, I’ll be cuddled on the couch reading books to our three-year-old.  Soon he will be in school full time like his siblings and these moments will also be gone.  I’m not going to miss out while I still have a chance to savor every last one.   Maybe, just maybe, tonight would be a good night for a rousing game of Spoons with the whole family.

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John 11:4: “When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (NIV).

Cancer…heart disease…chronic fatigue syndrome…adultery…unemployment…homelessness…poverty…death of a loved one…miscarriage…infertility…mental health issues.  Not one of these would be considered a blessing to the sufferer or their family members.  All of these issues are just symptoms of a result of sin in this world, not the original plan of the Creator of the universe.

They remind me of an ugly package that carries something beautiful inside.  God hurts alongside us when the packages we’re presented with in life sometimes are broken, bruised, or damaged. However, God loves us too much to allow it to stop there.  He is the God of second chances, a Healer of all things, and He can take the brokenness in our lives and help us use that to minister to others who are also experiencing pain and suffering.  Sometimes God calls us to help others while we’re still walking the road ourselves; other times it’s after we have traveled the path that we are more equipped to deal with others burdens when ours have had a chance to begin healing.  Whichever path we choose, we can help lift the burden for someone else.

God can heal us from the effects of those devastating events (He’s not going to force Himself on us, but is waiting for us to ask Him to begin the healing process).  He then shows us how we can best be used of Him to help others in return.  And what a beautiful cycle that is.

This holiday season – can you think of one area in your life that is battered, bruised, or damaged in some way?  What is one thing you can do, taking the knowledge and pain that you have experienced from dealing with a specific area in your life, to turn and bless someone else?  For instance, if you are a cancer survivor, could you find someone who is battling that horrible disease and cook them a meal, offer to babysit, or volunteer to shop for Christmas gifts for their family?  What if you know the sting of unemployment and pain of poverty firsthand?  If you are now more stable financially, what is one way that you could bless another family who is in the midst of suffering from the devastation of losing their job and possibly losing hope?

People who have walked in the shoes of others are more able to empathize, not just sympathize, with the path they walk on.  And, that’s what God calls us to do.  He wants us to be His hands and feet to those around us, and who better to do that for then those we can most identify with?  Think of how meaningful your blessing would be to someone dealing with something you have experienced firsthand.

That’s just one way God is able to take something that was meant for evil by the evil one, which caused your life to be battered and bruised, and instead turn it into a blessing for someone else.  The great thing is…you are usually blessed in the process.  I love how God works!

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