Saturday, December 31, 2016

Three Questions for 2017

How are you going to bring in the New Year? For the past several years, Kelly and I have gotten together with our friends Trish and Rholen. We eat too much, play 10 penny, and watch a movie together. Sometimes we share a little with each other and pray before we celebrate at midnight. 
I’m looking forward to that and remembered the 3 Questions in my Bible. They’re the perfect way to look back and evaluate the past year, and set goals for the new one.  

I have to admit they’re not original with me. They’re from a sermon my pastor, Jeff Doud, preached in 2014. I copied them from my sermon notes and have kept them on a 3x5 card ever since. My wording may be a little different than his, but I guess that’s a writer’s prerogative.  I hope they help you head into this New Year with fresh inspiration and determination.

Question #1: What one thing do I need to receive from God?
My answer to this in 2014 was “Confidence that comes from the infilling of the Holy Spirit, so I can forget myself.” I still need that, but with a New Year twist. 

This year I would say the one thing I need to receive from God is courage to disagree when lies are being spoken. I’m a people pleaser at heart and don’t like to argue or debate, but when people speak lies about God or misinterpret His Word (especially people claiming to be believers), I need boldness to lovingly declare His truth.

Question #2: What one thing do I need to let go?
In 2014 I said, “Control—over other people’s choice and circumstances.” As if I could change them anyway. Sigh. Feel my pain? 

This year I would say I most need to let go of comparisons. I work against being the best person I can be—the person God made me to be—by constantly comparing myself to others. In my mind, I’m always the loser. This year, I’d like to let go of that and be happy to be me.

Question #3: What one promise do I need to claim from His Word?
In 2014 I said, “Rest. And accept His invitation in Matt. 11:28-30, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’”

This year I’m claiming Jesus’ promise that His Holy Spirit will speak through me when it comes time to tell others about Him. Even though we supposedly still have freedom of religion in the United States, it’s becoming less and less popular to speak the truth and it sometimes feels like we are standing on trial for our faith. 

“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:10-11) and “…do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (Luke 12:11-12).

How will you answer these three questions? Make time to share with your spouse, family, or a dear friend, and make this a year of tremendous victory. You could even read this blog together before you talk about it!

Happy New Year !

#newyearsresolutions #goalsfor2017 #changesforthenewyear #outwiththeoldinwiththenew #oldmannewman

Friday, December 23, 2016

Let Earth Receive Her King

Songs are in the air this time of year. I find myself humming a variety of tunes—from, “Joy to the World,” to “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” It’s easy to absentmindedly hum along as I drive, shop, or work. But when I focus intentionally on the words, I discover new meaning, even in songs I’ve sung for fifty years.
Have you ever pictured the world as a giant receiving blanket? It just hit me this year. The familiar words say, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King.” Not just 2,000 plus years ago when Jesus first arrived, but every day. That’s the only way Christmas makes sense and the only reason we have for celebrating.

It’s not about the gifts, how happy or whole our family is, or whether our circumstances are cozy and comfortable. No matter where we are, no matter how rich or poor, we can receive our King. So open your arms wide to accept Jesus as King of your life. He is our reason for joy!

There are four ways we can do that as we close in on Christmas:

We Receive Him in Our Minds
Think about Jesus. What must it have been like for the King of the Universe, the Creator of the world, to come to earth in the form of a man? How He limited himself for our sake! He was willing to submit himself to all we experience in order to bring us the message in person. Even before His death on the cross, Christ showed His love by growing up in our world. After all, He could have arrived as a man—a King, a conquering hero—magnificent in splendor. But instead, He came as a baby.

We Receive Him in Our Hearts
Let the facts trickle down to your heart. They say the longest distance is the 12” from our head to our heart and I believe that’s true. It’s only when the message of Christmas touches our heart that it brings joy. The song says, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” Is there room in your heart for laughter, tears, songs, dancing, and shouts of praise?

We Receive Him in Our Words
You just can’t keep joy inside. It tends to leak out in what we say. What is the focus of your conversations: how crowded the stores are, what you’re having for Christmas dinner, who you’re celebrating with, elf on the shelf, or the glorious fact that the Lord has come?  

We Receive Him in Our Actions
Let your joy become active. I’ve heard some great stories this year of people who gave and practiced kindness—not just to brag about how they’ve “paid it forward” or got in the “spirit of the season” but because gracious giving is a natural outflow of their love for Christ. What else do you do with a loved and longed for child, wrapped lovingly in a receiving blanket? You pass Him around with pride, sharing boundless joy.

This Christmas, let earth once again receive our King, and continue to receive Him as our Lord and Savior every day. Let there be joy; let there be praise; let there be singing!

Merry Christmas to you! 

#joytotheworld #christmasjoy #receivingtheKing #christmassongs #theLordhascome

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Blue Christmas?

My worst Christmas ever was the year my husband left. In September he had informed me he didn’t love me anymore and in early November he moved out. I had no idea if he would come back or how to fix it; I felt lost and alone.
In December, I dressed up and put on my holiday face to attend my oldest daughter’s Christmas show. My mom, younger daughter, and I got to the high school early and chose a place down front so we wouldn’t miss anything. But I regretted that decision when the first performer began.

She positioned herself on a stool in the spotlight, and strummed her guitar singing, “It’s going to be a blue Christmas without you.” I could feel cold nausea rising in my stomach. There was no way to escape for a meltdown without everyone in the room seeing me, so I did my best to swallow the sobs. My mom reached for my hand and held me with her gaze. Even now, twelve Christmases later, that song thrusts a knife in my gut. 

Many of you are there now. You’ve lost a spouse to death or divorce; you’re estranged from ones you love; or you’ve experienced significant loss. Christmas can magnify the sadness because it’s supposed to be a time of hope and rejoicing. And it is. But even believers can get bogged down by the circumstances of life.

Through my divorce and bouts of depression, God has taught me how to weather the storm, and even shorten the duration of these dark times. There’s merit in healthy eating, getting regular exercise and rest, interacting with positive people, and staying in the Word. Reading and watching uplifting books and movies helps, as well as humor and the beauty of nature. But best of all is learning how to change the conversation in your head.  

Our self-talk and what we speak out loud, can feed either hope or despair. We can be honest about feeling sad, lonely, disappointed, or confused without focusing on those dark thoughts. Learning and repeating scriptural truth is essential.

In short: Don’t’ declare lies over yourself. Don’t give fuel to the Accuser. Check to see who you’re in conversation with—the God of hope who makes all things new, who will never fail or abandon you, or Satan who steals, kills, and destroys.

During my separation and divorce, the book of Isaiah comforted my soul. Many verses have dates written in the margins. God proved himself true and I continue to experience His comforting presence in sad times. Here are a few favorites. I pray, even in your darkest moments, you will know you’re not alone. You are loved and so very valuable. 

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

“I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

“Here is my servant, [Foretelling the coming of Jesus, whose birth we celebrate!] whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.” 

This is what the Lord says—he who created you…he who formed you…“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…you are precious and honored in my sight…Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

“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.”
This is what the Lord says—he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid. 

(Isaiah 40:1; 41:10, 13; 42:1-3a; 43:1-5, 18-19; 44:2, NIV)

#holidaydepression #bluechristmas #wardingoffsadness #griefattheholidays #christmasblues

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Season of Giving

I love the spirit of generosity at Christmastime. It’s just easier to give this time of year. Most of us are out buying presents anyway and with all that money flowing so freely from our pocketbooks, what’s a little extra, right? But it’s also easy to get overwhelmed by all those asking for donations.
There’s the Salvation Army bucket, Angel Tree, Christmas for needy families, toys for foster children, meals for the homeless, crisis care for those hit by natural disasters. Sometimes I feel like the little boy on the beach littered with stranded starfish; the need is so great and I am so small.

Recently I read a giving plan that’s perfect for this season, and all year round. It takes the pressure off December, with solid pointers on how to consistently and effectively give to meet the tremendous needs around us. It begins with our attitude.   

Be Eager, Cheerful Givers (2 Cor. 8:10; 2 Cor. 9:7)
This may sound like a no brainer, but how many times do we give because we feel obligated or coerced into giving? Even worthy causes can make us feel pressured, because the promoters are passionate about what they’re doing. And they’re probably doing a terrific job. But since we can’t give to every good cause, we need to ask God to lead us to the ones we can give to with joy and compassion.

Finish What You Start; Give Within Your Means (2 Cor. 8:11-12)
These are irrevocably connected. It’s easy to make promises in response to an emotional appeal, but it’s no good if we don’t follow through. Well meaning pledges don’t feed the hungry, give medical aid, or hope to those ravaged by despair. So we need to truly care about the needs of others, and give thought to our commitments.

Influence Others (2 Cor. 9:2)
One great thing about generosity is it’s contagious. When one person gives with joy, others will follow and the results are incredible. Even if you feel your contribution won’t go very far compared to the need, just think how much it will add up if others give that same amount or more. Even our loose change can make a profound difference if we’re willing to pitch in.

Plan Ahead; Don’t Wait for Reminders (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:5)
This is where it gets fun! If you set aside a little bit from every paycheck and designate it for giving, you will always have a little bit available when needs arise.  For instance, every Sunday our growth group takes a Sunday school offering as well as one for the Voice of the Martyrs, which serves the needs of persecuted believers worldwide. But this Sunday there was also a collection for our church staff, requests for money to send out Crisis Care Kits, a sign up to help with the Christmas brunch, and a list of food and gifts to supply for a needy family in our community. I started to glaze over, until I remembered, “Oh yeah, Kelly and I have money in our giving fund so we can give a little to all of these needs.” Planning ahead gives us freedom to give spontaneously.

Make an Investment that Lasts (2 Cor. 9:6, 10)
Food and clothing don’t last, but it’s hard for people to trust God for eternity when they are hungry, cold, and homeless. So when we share from our abundance with others who have little or nothing, we show God’s love in tangible ways that make an eternal difference.

Trust God to Supply (2 Cor. 9:8-11)
If we wait until Christmas when we’re already stretching every dollar to buy presents and special treats for our family it can get frustrating. But when we trust God to supply all our needs and do what we can, people’s needs will be met and we can give far beyond what we ever imagined possible.

How can you put these scriptural principles to work: In Your Community, In Your Family, Around the World?

#Christmasgiving #spiritofgiving #feedthehungry #poorandneedy #seasonalgiving #yearroundgiving