Monday, December 27, 2010

A Week Off

I've been thinking about this all weekend, and I think that I've decided to take a week off from blogging here at Heart & Soul.  Normally, when I take time away, it's because I'm busy or we're on vacation.  This time, we're decidedly not busy.  We have no plans, and I think I need a week away from the blog to recharge and to seek God for what He would have me do with this blog in 2011.   I've been feeling lately that when I blog, I hold back sometimes, I don't share what truly is on my heart, and it could be because I worry too much about what people think.

So while I'm taking this little break, no worries, because this will be a week of seeking for me.  I'm feeling drawn towards a fast for the new year of some kind, but am not sure in which direction yet, and that will definitely be something to benefit the blog. As we enjoy this week together as a family, I pray that you will have your own moments this week.  That the righteousness of God will become ever so real to you and your family.

Have a wonderful week, as we say goodbye to 2010 and look ahead to 2011, know that God has awesome plans for you! His love is going to reach to the furthest corner of the globe this year, and maybe you'll be a part of that!  Happy New Year, and I'll see you in 2011. :)

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Very Merry Christmas

"And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”
22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, “God with us.”"  Matthew 1:21-23

God with us.  That is what Christmas is all about.  It is my prayer and wish this morning for all my Heart & Soul readers and stumble-uponers that your Christmas will be full of "God with us".  No matter what circumstances you are facing today, I pray that the joy and peace of God will overwhelm you this Christmas, and that you will know just how much He loves you.

Because He does, ever so much.  I pray that He wraps you up in His loving arms and shows you His amazing love in a tangible, physical way. 

Have a very, very blessed and wonderful Christmas, from my heart to yours.  I love you so much, and know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family this Christmas as well. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Words, Words, Words

"So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.'  Isaiah 55:11

"And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God"  Ephesians 6:17

"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."  Hebrews 4:12

I was thinking about this last night as I fell asleep.  I was thinking about a few of these verses above, and thinking about the power of simple words.  I was thinking about the last few days and how I was trying very carefully to watch what I said.  A few nights ago Zander got pretty sick at bedtime, and then the whole next day he was definitely down for the count.  One of my first instincts, and normal behavior was to tell people that Zander was really sick, and could they pray that he get over it before Christmas.  But do you know what?  I didn't, because I didn't want my words to acknowledge the fact that Zander was not whole and healthy and walking in the perfection of Christ.  I didn't mention a word to anyone outside of our home that Zander wasn't well until he was on the mend.  And then a friend shared with me Psalm 91 when I jokingly mentioned that I hoped what Zander had wasn't the plague, because I didn't want to spend Christmas week dealing with vomiting family members.

I was reminded why I didn't want to say anything in the first place about Zander being sick.  Because the truth is that sickness is not of Heaven, and as I pray things and say things like "on earth as it is in heaven" I am proclaiming that my home and my family is sickness free.  And just like that I forgot myself for just a brief second and mentioned my concern about the rest of the family getting sick.  Why did I do that?  Because it is the normal everyday thing to do.  I can go on facebook right now and show you six friends that I have who have logged on in the last two days and shared how their child is sick.  That's what we do.  That's what moms do, we share our troubles with each other, looking for prayers, compassion, and maybe advice.  But I think we actually have it backwards, and we need to start learning to use our words to get sickness out of our families and out of our bodies.  Instead of confessing to everyone we know that our children are sick with earthly disease, we need to confess with our mouths that our children are whole and healthy.

"Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
 10 No evil shall befall you,
         Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
 11 For He shall give His angels charge over you,
         To keep you in all your ways."  Psalm 91:9-11

I know that sometimes, when it comes time to pray or speak out loud, we can often feel like we are at a loss for words.  We try really hard to come up with the right words to make our prayers effective.  I know I think like that, I worry that I am using the wrong words when I talk to God.  But the fact is, He already gave us the very words we need to use.  We don't need to go on into a long, lengthy prayer and we don't need to get all flowery and poetic.  What we need to do is dig deep into our Word and speak the words that He already gave us.   Like these verses in Psalm 91.  When I expressed my fear about the rest of the family getting sick, my friend gently corrected me by showing me the very verses I needed to speak over my family.  No plague shall come near our dwelling, for the angels have charge over us and will keep us in all our ways!

Our words are incredibly powerful.  With simple words we can totally build someone up, or we can totally tear them down- and it's not even difficult to do, we just open up our mouths and let stuff come out.  Instead we need to be thoughtful and really and truly think before we speak.  In all instances.

I have another really simple and basic example as to how our words can have a great impact without our realizing it.  And my example has to do with the dining table and children.  Children are the best example to use because as children, they tend to believe the words of adults- and often take them as gospel.   Well, when Zander was new to eating solid food, we were having a wonderful time introducing him to new foods, he was an adventurous eater and surprised us often with the things that he would eat.  Well, as he got older, we definitely developed a liking for specific foods, and then there were some that he just didn't seem to care as much for.   I'm sure you have all been to an extended family meal time with children where the kids turn on the pickiness, and mom and dad have to explain how junior doesn't care for this or that.  Well, that's what happened here, as time went on, I found that ZanderZander doesn't like potatoes, so that he wouldn't have any put on his plate, and we could just avoid the food he doesn't so much care for.

Except that not too long after I started saying that, I was serving up a dinner that included potatoes, knowing full well that he would only take a few bites (and I was okay with that).  And when I handed Zander his plate, he didn't even take one bite of potatoes, and when I called him on it, he looked at me baffled and said "but I don't like potatoes" .  I tried to correct him and explain that he just didn't like them as much as say, strawberries, but it was too late.  He'd heard me say over and over that he doesn't like potatoes, and now he still believes that he doesn't like potatoes.  And I think of all the people and all the kids we know, and of course each child has their list of likes and dislikes, but how many of those dislikes were actually placed there one day when little Polly didn't eat her green beans and mom said out loud "I guess she doesn't like green beans".  The more I think on this, the more I am convinced that our world of notorious picky eaters might have actually been created by the careless and thoughtless use of words.

Our words have meaning and power.  The Bible is full of examples of our words having power.  If you go to book of Numbers, chapters 22-24 you can read the story of Balaam who was hired to use his words against the Israelites, only when the time came, the words that came out were words of blessing and not curses.  Words are so powerful that they were military strategy all those years ago!! We need to be more aware and watch our words carefully- whether they be casual words about something simple, like the foods our children eat, or words of encouragement to a friend or family member.  And as we go into this Christmas weekend where we will be surrounded by family and friends, I want to encourage each one of us to think before we speak.  Speak words of life and love and of salvation and healing one to another, and lace those words with the words that God already gave us to speak.  It may mean a world of difference to someone this holiday season.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Warfare Wednesday: Peace On Earth

"Glory to God in the highest,
      And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"  Luke 2:14

That sounds so simple, doesn't it?  The very first Christmas, all those years ago, and the angel of the Lord specifically says "on earth peace, goodwill toward men".  Here we are over 2000 years later, and peace on earth still seems like a figment of our imagination.   My heart breaks this morning as I headed over to the news headlines and saw that communities in Iraq have cancelled Christmas celebrations, because they feared attacks from Al Qaeda.  It wasn't that long ago and the idea of Christmas wasn't available to these people, and now they are free and able to celebrate, and they had to cancel their celebrations.  My prayer for these communities is that their own quiet Christmas celebrations at home will be full of Christmas joy and full of God's peace.  My prayer is that the plans of the enemy towards those who want to celebrate will be thwarted, and that the enemy- the terrorists themselves will come to know the love of God this Christmas season.

And as we're praying for world peace this morning, my attention also focuses on the African nation of the Ivory Coast.  The country is perched in a precarious position on the edge of civil war.  A recent presidential election has left the incumbent president refusing to leave office, though he lost the election.  Tensions are running high in the country, banks have been frozen, and it could truly be a matter of a few hours before the country is actually involved in a civil war.  Adding to the troubles are fighters from the neighboring country of Liberia positioning themselves to get involved as well.  I pray this morning that God will bring His plans for this country into fruition.  Of course He has great plans for this small country perched on the African coastline.  I pray that His plans will supersede all others, and that through it all, God will get the glory and that His love and His peace will be known throughout the Ivory Coast.  God is peace, and God is love.  I pray that those precious people will know that.

I am also praying for this world peace to infect the Korean Peninsula.  South Korean troops are on high alert and are preparing in new ways to defend their country against North Korea.   While they are only preparing to protect their own people against aggressive attacks, they are being criticized by world leaders for doing so.  And as they prepare to defend, I'm sure that those in the north are preparing to attack.  Tensions have been tight between these two countries since 1950- and it has gotten about as tight as it can get before something is going to pop.  What a Christmas miracle it would be to have peace flood the nations of Korea!  What a gift of love to the people who live in these two countries if peace could come between the north and the south, and only God can bring this peace about. 

As we celebrate the Christmas season, it is my prayer that the people living in these troubled areas of the globe will know real peace this Christmas.  May they find the peace that only Jesus can give, and may they find the love that only God can give.  God loves them so much that Christmas came in the first place, may they see that and know that.  And may this be the best Christmas ever all around the globe.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Shepherds In The Fields

"Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
       14 “ Glory to God in the highest,
      And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”  Luke 2:8-14

What was it about these shepherds? I was reading the account of the birth of Jesus in the book of Luke just now, and as I came to this part of the story, I wondered why shepherds?  What was it about these shepherds that the angels appeared to them? It's interesting to me to think that of all the groups of people that the angels could have appeared to, that they chose some of the lowliest of the community.  The shepherds, while they were necessary to the way of life for the people, were not some of the most favored people.  So I was thinking about these shepherds, and considering that they were living near Bethlehem, the city of David, I figure that God was showing his favor to the people of David.

"And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither.  12And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he."  1 Samuel 16:11-12

David was a humble shepherd who became king.  Joseph, the husband of Mary was a direct descendant of David, and became the earthly father to Jesus, the ultimate shepherd.

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:"  John 10:27

The shepherds were given a real honor, to hear directly from the angel of the Lord, and then to witness the multitude of angels praising God.  What an amazing thing that must have been to witness! Just think about what it might have been like to be a shepherd, to be going about your everyday business.  You're tending your sheep, staying awake through the night (because after all, you are the shepherd assigned the night shift) and keeping an eye out for predators and making sure the sheep stay close.  Perhaps your having a conversation with your fellow shepherds over a fire in the night.  And then all the sudden, there are angels all around! 

So these shepherds watched and listened, and I imagine hearing those angels praise God was one of the most beautiful things these shepherds had ever seen and heard.  But those practical shepherds, once the angels had gone, had to know just what all the fuss was about and went to find this baby born in a manger.   They went and saw this precious baby, and then we come to the part that shows me just why the shepherds were chosen to receive the angels.

"Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them."  Luke 2:20

The returned to their posts, glorifying and praising God.  What a day that had to be!  They were praising God with everything they had.  I imagine that was the best day at work ever for them, and it's a wonderful reminder to us, this holiday season, of how our days are supposed to be.  We celebrate Christmas during the month of December every year, but we really should be celebrating it every day of our lives- and all day.  Praise and glory for God should be on our lips and minds at all times.  As we go about our everyday business, we should be giving glory to God, and praising Him with our mouths and our hearts.  That day was a day that those shepherds probably never forgot- nor did it ever stray far from their minds.  And yet, once Christmas passes us by, we give a sigh of relief that the holiday is over, and we banish it from our thoughts until the following fall when the decorations start showing up and the shopping countdowns begin.

Christmas should be a part of our thought life each and every day of the year.  Every day we should give praise and glory to God for the gift of His Son, who saved us all from eternal damnation and torment through His sacrifice.  Each and every day.  Maybe this year we can remember that as we take down the Christmas trees and put away the decorations and the nativity sets.  Jesus is every day, and every day we should remember to praise and thank Him.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Week

"I was watching in the night visions,
      And behold,
One like the Son of Man,
      Coming with the clouds of heaven!
      He came to the Ancient of Days,
      And they brought Him near before Him.
       14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
      That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
      His dominion
is an everlasting dominion,
      Which shall not pass away,
      And His kingdom
the one
      Which shall not be destroyed." Daniel 7:13-14

It's Christmas week for us, and I'll tell you, a few weeks ago I thought we would never get here.   We had so much busy-ness going on, that I looked forward to today so incredibly much.  And now it's here, and now I can really rejoice and be glad that Christmas is upon us.  I'll confess that I didn't want to get up this morning, sleep just felt so good last night, and extra sweet.  But when I did decide to rise out of bed, it was with thoughts of joy, and of thanking God for another new day of life.  And looking forward to spending the day just doing whatever comes to mind with my wonderful children, who worked very hard this past weekend to put together their Christmas program for church.

As I peeked at the calendar this morning, I couldn't help but smile.  It IS Christmas week, and I'm simply amazed, yet again.  One month ago, I looked at the calendar and I just couldn't see how we were going to be able to have a nice Christmas for the kids.  Purchasing gifts just didn't seem like it was going to happen.  But then God totally blessed Andy through his employer, and what do you know, we have gifts to put under the tree come Christmas morning.  I am so thankful to God for that, because as Christmas crept closer, and the kids would talk about presents, I was almost getting angry and annoyed.  Thank God for his provision, which even includes gifts to make Christmas special for children.

Then I thought about Christmas week and about how we do celebrate the birth of Christ all around the world.  And we hear the story of His birth in a manger with the shepherd in the fields and the wise men a short while later...but we don't hear about the reason He came on Christmas morning.  Jesus came be King of the Kingdom of Heaven.  He came, so that the mistakes the first Adam made could be rectified, and earth and all its inhabitants could be freed of the treachery of Satan.  And we are free indeed!  The vision that Daniel had years before Jesus' birth was the real reason that Jesus came.  He came so that we might have eternal life in the presence of God the Father.

As I read these verses in Daniel, I just get so excited!  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away! And! We get to be a part of that.  His kingdom will not be destroyed, and there's nothing the devil can do about that.  Jesus has already won, and that's what we're celebrating this Christmas week.  We're celebrating the greatest love of all, and I think it's going to be a great week.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Hawk

"These all wait for You,
         That You may give
them their food in due season.
What You give them they gather in;
         You open Your hand, they are filled with good."  Psalm 104:27-28

Two days ago, we witnessed the remains of something exciting in our yard, and I'm still delighting over God's mysterious ways.

It's winter here in Wisconsin.  Very much winter, with cold and snow, and as such, my thoughts turn to spring, as we begin planning for next years gardens and plans for the yard.  One of the things that has really been on my mind is exactly how to thwart all the wildlife that spends time in our yard.  We easily had a dozen different rabbits spend time eating my garden last summer.  We also have dozens of squirrels, who see bare dirt and use it to bury whatever they can find in it.  Then we discovered that we have raccoons in the area- which explains some of my half-eaten tomatoes later in the summer.  How to foil these animals?  Some have been trapped and moved away, some have been dispatched, but there are still so many!  My plan is to return to a method of gardening that I know works, and use fencing to keep the critters out.  I know my plan, and yet, I still find myself dwelling on those rabbits who like to eat everything I plant.

God is just so cool.  He knows of my desire to garden and grow vegetables for my family and for others, and He has decided to help me out a bit.  Because what we found in our yard the other morning were some hawk tracks and the remains of a good-sized rabbit.  It was just crazy to find, but it completely delighted me- so much so that I'm still delighting in it. 

Matthew chapter 6 talks about worrying, and I guess I was worrying about my garden.  We're really missing the garden produce that I usually preserve and put up for winter time.   And I also think every once in a while about all the money I spent on seeds and plants last year only to have them go to feed the bunnies- and not my family.  So I guess I was worrying a little about spending money on more seeds, only to have it go to waste.  But God knows the plans I want to come to fruition in my backyard.

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?"  Matthew 6:25-27 

God took care of one of those very birds of the air by showing him a fat, juicy rabbit in my backyard.  And if God will provide food for the hawk, with the flesh of my enemy, God can help me keep the critters in general from decimating my garden next year.  It's just so exciting to think about.  I saw those remains, and my first thought was that my enemy has been devoured.   Not only did it give me great encouragement garden-wise for next year, but it gave me a great spiritual boost as well.  It made me think that indeed, the enemy has been devoured.  Satan may think he has power here on earth, but the fact is, he still has to bow to the power of Jesus Christ.  The enemy has already been defeated, and I think that was one of the things that God was telling me with that hawk.  That I don't need to fear the enemy at all, I don't need to worry about what the enemy has waiting around the corner, because God's already got the hawks all lined up in my future to swoop down and take that enemy and devour it and his plans to devour something of mine. 

Every day I seem to find myself saying over and over that God is just so good!  And it may be repetitive, but it really is so true.  God is so awesome, and every day it seems He finds some way or another to show this to me, and that makes Him even more awesome!  When I think about His goodness, it just warms me up from head to toe- despite the freezy cold that has crept upon our neck of the woods.  I am just so thankful for His goodness each and every day, and today I am reminded yet again how wonderful He is as I look at my children playing together so wonderfully, enjoying their Christmas break together.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Warfare Wednesday

“Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”” - Luke 1:30-33

It's the Christmas season, and this week as we continue to pray for President Obama, I want to pray for Christmas to really and truly come to the White House and Washington DC.  Everything these days is so politically correct, and it's just time for this nation to stand and up and say that our country was founded on Godly principles, and we recognize Christmas as in important part of those principles. Without Christmas, without the birth of our Savior, we likely wouldn't be where we are today.

And yet, while so many claim to not celebrate Christmas, there are also a great many out there complaining and grumbling about the hassles of the season.  Presents, and concerts, and family gatherings, and parties, and more presents... I just pray that these people will receive great joy this season.  As they think on the birth of Christ and as they select gifts to give to their loved ones, may they experience the joy that comes from knowing the greatest gift of all.

For our family, we've decided to celebrate simply this year.  Oh, we'll get some gifts for the kids, but there won't be anything extravagant, and we've reigned in on the number of sweets and treats and cookies that are being made as well.  We just want to focus our time on spending time with each other.  Christmas should not be about the kids doing their own thing while mommy is in the kitchen slaving away and daddy is sitting and cursing all the time he has to spend assembling gifts.  We just want to celebrate love and Jesus together as a family.   We are spending the season learning new games together- both video games and board-type games.  We're watching endless movies together, snuggled up on the couch in front of the fireplace.  It's just simply magical.  It sounds so simple and uncomplicated in this go-go-go day and age, but it's wonderful.

And I want to share it!  It is my prayer that the joy and the wonder that we have been experiencing in our home as a family is not unique to our family.  May it envelop our neighbors, our friends, our family, our many acquaintances and co-workers.  May it infect our city, our state, our country, and may it spread to the furthest corners of the globe.  There is peace and love and great joy in knowing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and as the center of our family. This is a unique gift that is so unique- it is available to every single person on the planet!  How cool is that! 

Every winter we watch a version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and there is a line in the movie that "Christmas doesn't come from a store, perhaps it means just a little bit more" and every time I hear that line being said, regardless of which version we are watching, it makes my heart leap for joy.  Because the greatest gift is Heaven on Earth that was made possible over 2000 years ago in a town called Bethlehem. 

I pray this week that this Christmas will show the world that Heaven is indeed on Earth, that Jesus who came so long ago is alive and living and just waiting for each and every one of us to cry out to Him.  I pray that Christmas will come to each and every branch of the United States government, and that love, peace and joy will triumph over the darkness that threatens to take over.  The darkness will never win, because Jesus IS Lord!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ups And Downs

"To everything there is a season,

      A time for every purpose under heaven:
       2 A time to be born,
And a time to die;
      A time to plant,
And a time to pluck
what is planted;"  Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

Wow, what a difference a few hours makes.  Yesterday started out in such a wonderful way.  We all were in a great mood, and were planning a busy day of not doing much.  But you know that God knows what He is doing All. The. Time.  We had worked really hard the last few weeks to wrap up some schooling so that we could take 3 weeks of for Christmas.  Little did I know that God had plans for us for our days off of school.  Yesterday we spent most of the day with my nieces and nephew in our home, because their grandpa unexpectedly passed away.  Had we been doing a school day, that would have created such stress for us.  But as it was, we were able to completely relax, open up our home, and just love on these kids who are going to miss their Papa so much.

I couldn't sleep last night because I was thinking about that.  I was thinking about my sister-in-law and what she is going through, and about all the blessings that have been in place in their life just for this time and season.  Circumstances recently brought them to move in with her parents, and in hindsight, what an incredible blessing, because they got to spend so much time with him, and what an incredible blessing too that now they are there living with her mom when she really is going to need family to be there.  

To everything, there is a season, and the longer I go through life, the more I realize that God really does His best to prepare us for each and every season in our life.   When we look at the calendar and the things going on outside, we can physically prepare for the seasons around the calendar.  We can prepare for winter, we can prepare for spring.  We can prepare for each and every one accordingly, because we always know that they will come around.  In the exact same way, God prepares us for the seasons of life that come upon us as well.  Even though this family has a lot of grieving to go through, and some rough times ahead, God has been preparing them all along, and His peace is there with them and is surrounding them every minute of every day.  Sometimes we don't exactly realize what He is preparing us for until it arrives, and then it gets here, and we find that we are suddenly able to deal with has come at us.

But  there is a key to making it through the seasons, and it is found in Psalm 150.

"Praise the LORD!
         Praise God in His sanctuary;
         Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
 2 Praise Him for His mighty acts;
         Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
 3 Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
         Praise Him with the lute and harp!
 4 Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
         Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
 5 Praise Him with loud cymbals;
         Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
 6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
         Praise the LORD!"  Psalm 150

In everything, we give Him praise.  We praise Him in the morning, we praise Him in the evening.  It is our praise that will carry us through the seasons and struggles we face.   I've definitely seen the work of praise firsthand myself.  I can be having one of the worst days ever, and the second I put on mp3 player and start listening to great praise or worship music, I can literally feel all the yuck of the day melt away.   It's so easy to praise God when things are going great, it's so easy to look around and see that life is grand and feel like we want to praise God for all the goodness.  And that's great, we should do that too.  But if we want to go from mountain to mountain and get through the struggles and valleys that come along, we need to focus on praising Him when the times are rough too.  We need to praise Him for His goodness and mercy which are never-ending and are abounding all the time.  We need to praise Him for His son and His love and His joy, which is our strength in times of need. 

Praise is the key to helping us make our way through the valley.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
         I will fear no evil;
         For You
are with me;
         Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."  Psalm 23:4

Though there may be times where we may feel on the outside like God is just not with us or hearing us, He is always there.  He is always wanting us and waiting for us to take the moment to lean on Him and let Him comfort us in our times of need.  And we can praise Him for his comfort.

God is good all the time.  We need to remember that,and sometimes we need to repeat that over and over.  God really is good all the time.  While our family moves ahead this week to say goodbye to a loved one, we can remember that this man knew Jesus as his savior, and is now dancing and rejoicing in His very presence.  He is walking those streets of gold and he no longer is suffering with all the ailments that have plagued him these many years.  He is in paradise.  Those of us who are left behind simply don't understand why it is that some people are taken when they are, but we do know that all of us will follow someday and what a family reunion that will be. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow Days

"God thunders marvelously with His voice;
      He does great things which we cannot comprehend.

 6 For He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth’;
      Likewise to the gentle rain and the heavy rain of His strength."  Job 37:5-6

A week or so ago I was looking at the calendar for December and regretting how busy it was.  This past weekend we just came through in particular.  After a very busy week of Nutcracker, I was really regretting how busy our next weekend was looking, and wishing that we hadn't had so many things going on.  And yet, most of those things that we were going to do involved other people, and we couldn't just not do them.  But then as last week began we did drop a few of the things, it just had to be done.  Our weekend was looking less busy, but still busy.

God had other plans for our family.  :)

It began Friday morning with a phone call that my new nephew, Samuel, had arrived almost four full weeks early!  What a wonderfully joyous and blessed way to begin a weekend, rejoicing at the arrival of a new family member.  And the weekend just went up from there.  The kids and I had a great Friday.  We spent the day cleaning up a bit, playing games, and getting ready to spend a little time with Andy later that evening after he'd been gone for the week.   And then the weather started rolling in.

Saturday we woke to a snowstorm warning, and a few inches of snow.  I still had a few things that I had to go do that day, but they only took a couple of hours.  Everything else had been cancelled because of the snowstorm.  By later afternoon, we were no longer in a snowstorm warning, but a blizzard warning.  But there we were, at home, all of us, safe and snug, and we had a great day just spending time together. 

Then we woke up Sunday morning to get ready for church- still blizzarding outside, but if church was going on, we were going to go.  Nope, a few phone calls later, all services for the day had been cancelled, and we had another entire day all to ourselves.  Our busy weekend was completely fizzled, and we ended up spending the entire weekend at home.  Now normally, by the end of three days all together, we're getting on each other's nerves just a little bit.  We're looking at doing something different or just going somewhere.  That is not the case here, as we all feel like we've celebrated Christmas this weekend.  Because our weekend is still going.

Because of the blizzard the last two days, Andy is not working today, so we have yet another day to just hang out at home, doing whatever may strike our fancy, and we're all happy about it.  Later on, Abigail has her Monday dance classes, but in the meantime, we just get to enjoy each other and celebrate this Christmas spirit that seems to have taken over our household. 

There is joy here- such great joy, though if we looked around at the natural circumstances, there might not be joy.  It might not have been joyful for Andy to spend a few hours digging out yesterday, but I daresay he had a good time doing it, and getting the vehicles prepared for icy cold weather. 

It just reminds me that God is so good, and so incredible.  Just when we had this busy weekend in front of us where we weren't even going to see Andy very much, we were all so busy, God decided we needed some quality family time together.  And did we get it!  Honestly, I feel like I've had a vacation, only better, because I don't have a mountain of luggage to unpack and laundry to get done. God knew exactly what we needed, and He made sure that we got it.  And now, we don't have all that busy of a month to look at.  We have a few things, enough to keep us busy, but it's not overwhelming.   And that gives us time to just spend together, reflecting on this time of year.  Reflecting on the miracle that Jesus' birth and life and death really was for us.  When I think on my new baby nephew, tiny and perfect, I can't help but think that Jesus was exactly like him.  A tiny, helpless babe, who was born with the weight of all the world on his shoulders.

I am so thankful this Christmas season.  I'm thankful for God's provision and for the new things that He is showing me each and every day.  As I look around at the newly fallen snow, it speaks to me, it tells me all kinds of things about  the goodness of the God who said to the snow "fall on the earth".  Mostly though, I'm thankful for the miracle of Jesus, that He came so that we could live the abundant life in Him.  And I'm thankful that He was so willing, because of love.  Had He not had love, it would have been a great burden for Him, but He lived a life that was an example for all of us, and did it more than willingly, because He so loved each and every one of us.

Happy Snow Day!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bring The Best

"And in the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground.
    4And Abel brought of the firstborn of his flock and of the fat portions. And the Lord had respect and regard for Abel and for his offering,
    5But for Cain and his offering He had no respect or regard."  Genesis 4:3-5 (AMP)

I remember reading these verses years back and thinking how unfair this exchange was for Cain.  Here Abel was, the man with the gift for raising animals, and Cain was the master gardener.  When the time came to present an offering to God, I always had it in my mind that of course God preferred the meat over the vegetables.  Who wouldn't?  Most people (with exceptions of course) when presented with a platter of fine meats and a platter heaping with fine vegetables would prefer the meat.  I always thought this whole scenario was a little skewed in Abel's favor right from the get-go.

But as time goes on, and I've read more and more in my Bible, I see the little keywords and phrases that are missing from this passage, and I see that Cain was in error here in more ways than one.  I notice how Abel brought the firstborn- the best  and finest of his crop.  Cain just brought some of his crops- it doesn't say anything about how he brought the best or the finest.  In fact, when I play this scenario in my head, I can see Cain working the fields, tending the crops, and thinking about how he needs to present a sacrifice to God, so he wanders around and just picks a few things and adds them to the basket.  Where I can see Abel, tending his flocks, knowing it's about time to present the sacrifice to God, and searching out best of his herds.  I can see in my mind, Abel, loving choosing the best, while Cain just grabs something, thinks it will be good enough, and heads out to present it.

God wants our very best at all times.  This very exchanges shows that.  God wants our very best from us, which is sometimes something material, but most often, He just wants our full heart.  It's like going to a worship service and only half-heartedly participating.  When you worship God with all your heart- that pleases Him greatly.  But when you sort of worship, letting your mind wander to this and that, and let yourself be distracted, that's not so pleasing.

But there was more to the exchange of Cain and Abel than Cain simply not offering the best.  He was missing faith.

"By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks."  Hebrews 11:4 (NKJV)

For Cain, this business of preparing a sacrifice to God was just another day on the job.  It was just something he was supposed to do, a ritual, so he was going to do it. His heart was not in it at all.  Abel on the other hand, offered the best he had to offer- which included his whole heart.

As we head off into another weekend, this is something excellent to ponder on.  When we come before God, what are we bringing Him?  You know, our Sunday morning church experience can become all about ritual, and just doing what we are "supposed" to do, which could include any myriad of things, I won't go into that.  But how often does our communal time before God happen with our full heart?  Even with something as basic as thanking God for a meal- it's usually a ritual, that we must say, but really, we just want to get to the food.

Let's give God our whole heart.  Simple as that.  When we present Him with an offering of ourselves, our time, our money, or our praise, let's give it everything we've got, and load it up with faith.  That's what He's looking for, and our desire should be to please our Papa.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Honoring Our Husbands

"IN LIKE manner, you married women, be submissive to your own husbands [subordinate yourselves as being secondary to and dependent on them, and adapt yourselves to them], so that even if any do not obey the Word [of God], they may be won over not by discussion but by the [godly] lives of their wives,
    2When they observe the pure and modest way in which you conduct yourselves, together with your reverence [for your husband; you are to feel for him all that reverence includes: to respect, defer to, revere him--to honor, esteem, appreciate, prize, and, in the human sense, to adore him, that is, to admire, praise, be devoted to, deeply love, and enjoy your husband]."  1 Peter 3:1-2 (AMP)

I think that sometimes, as people, we sometimes take each other for granted.  You know, as we grow and mature in life, we step into these roles and just become them, and that's how it is.  Right now, my primary role in life is caregiver for my children, as well as their primary educator.  In addition to caring for my children, there are all the other duties set forth for me by the fact that I stay at home. It is my job to keep the household maintained in some semblance of order, keep it clean, and teach my children to do the same.

My husband's job, on the other hand is as the sole provider for this family.  His job is to do his job.  To work hard each and every work day to bring home an income so that we can pay our bills and buy necessities like food and clothing.   These are the roles that we chose over ten years ago when we brought Abigail into this world, and we keep on with it, every day, for better or for worse.

But I think it's important to remember and honor the effort that each person puts into a partnership.   And this week, it's especially been at the forefront of my mind.  Andy is not even "supposed" to still be working at this time of year.  He's almost always laid off by this time- but this year, God has shown that He's a big God and can provide Andy work year-round if He wants to.  The thing is, this week, Andy is away from home, several hours farther north from here, and it's cold out.  It's very cold out, like single-digits cold, and all he is doing, for ten hours a day is standing still and holding a sign out to traffic.  Cold indeed.

And I'm appreciating this this year.  I've appreciated it in the past, but when I don't even want to go outside to bring the garbage can to the back because it's so cold out, I'm really appreciative of the efforts that my husband is going to to provide an income for his family. And while I'm already grumbling on the inside about having to shovel snow later on today or tomorrow because he's not here, it's really because I appreciate the fact that when he is here, that is his job.  Never once, in our married life, has he turned to me and suggested that I either help him shovel snow or do it for him.  Never once, has he suggested that I be the one to take out the garbage.  He just does these things, because they are little ways that he can bless me, by making sure that I don't ever have to worry about doing them myself.

Even the kids seem to appreciate their daddy more this week with him out of town.  They always miss him when he is gone, but this week their is something different about them.  They both were practically in tears on Sunday when they said goodnight to him, and they're counting down the hours until they get to see him next.  Yet  they are also both old enough to understand exactly what he's doing.  That he's working hard to bring in much needed income for his family.

As I read these verses in 1 Peter, I am at first reminded that I really hate the word "submissive" or "submit".  They always make me bristle, because in my mind the first thing I see is a slave and his master.   But I love this Amplified version that adds so much more to the verses by explaining deeper what is meant.   Submissive doesn't mean I obey my husband's every whim, but it does mean that when it ultimately comes down to it, he is the head of this household.  Most often, we share those duties, but there have been times where I have just known that I needed to step back and let him make the decision for the family.  But what I really love about these verses is verse two, and what the amplified adds to it.  That as wives, we should revere, honor, esteem, appreciate, adore, prize, admire, praise, devote ourselves to, and deeply love our husbands.  Wow! That says a whole lot!   And it is an excellent reminder that these are not just things that we should be applying on occasion, but each and every day of our lives.

Marriage is practice for us.  Marriage is an example of our life in and with Christ.  And just as each and every day I should thank God for the new day,and I should appreciate His wonderful creation that surrounds me, I should also take time each and every day to appreciate my husband.  Maybe there are some days I don't quite do that, and I just have become to complacent about our roles in life.  But I do know this.  This week, God has kept my husband and his sacrifice for his family at the forefront of my mind.  While he stands in the frigid cold and counts the hours away slowly each and every day, I am so thankful to him for his work ethic and his willingness to work, whatever the cost, so that the kids and I can live in this beautiful home in this beautiful city. 

So ladies, let this be a reminder to you today.  I know sometimes being a wife can be an exasperating thing.  Boys will be boys, you know. But remember that we are partners in life with our husbands, and we need to honor and respect that each and every day- not just when it suits us.   We need to appreciate each other in our unique abilities and gifts that God has given to us, and we need to be constantly lifting each other in prayer.  There is no prayer ally more powerful to have than that of a husband or wife.   And just as I know my husband prays for me and the kids as he goes off to work everyday, I am praying for him while he is at work.  And this week, I've been praying for supernatural warmth to flood him from his head to his toes. 

What can you do for your spouse this week?  You can pray.  And then you can see if maybe there's some way that you can show your appreciation for them just being them.   God may just have an idea or two about that.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Warfare Wednesday

"Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me"  John 14:6

I think I want to keep it simple this morning.  I feel like my heart is being tugged in a million different directions this morning.  When I pop up the national news headlines, I see that there is trouble on Capital Hill in Washington, and our President and Congress need our prayers to come to Godly understanding and agreement.  When I look globally, I see there are protests in the country of Haiti because of who was eliminated in the elections.  I see that many have died in a prison fire in the country of Chile.  I see that there are talks going on between the countries of Turkey and Israel to repair relations between those countries.  When I look further East, I read that two trains collided in Bangladesh, killing many people.  At the same time, my mind itself is dwelling on the fact that it is December, and we're just over two weeks away from a major gift-giving holiday, and my heart hurts for those people who are unable to buy gifts for their children and loved ones.

So this morning, I'm going to continue to pray for President Obama.  I will continue to pray that he will seek Godly counsel and that those leaders in Washington who already rely on the Lord to guide their footsteps will become close to the president and help him see that Jesus is the only way to go.  I am praying that the Holy Spirit will invade the White House like a hurricane, that He will start at the top and spread out and cover the whole building with the truth of God.  And then it will spread.  It will spread to Capital Hill and Congress.  It will spread to the Supreme Court and even to the political analysts and lobbyists who spend their days traveling from meeting to meeting.  May the city of Washington DC find itself in a firestorm of Holy Spirit love and truth.

And I am praying that President Obama would also seek out and maintain a strong relationship with the nation of Israel.  Just one week ago I read about an Amish delegation who traveled to Israel to apologize for their behavior during the holocaust, and pledging their support for Israel.  It was such a touching article to read, and then today I read that the country of Turkey is trying to repair a damaged relationship.  Our country needs to lead the way in support of Israel, and I pray that President Obama will see this and understand this and implement this. 

But you know what keeps going through my head this morning?  That more than anything, especially given the time of year, the president and all those who are in Washington trying to make and create policy need a good old-fashioned does of joy.   May the joy of the Lord sweep through the political arenas this holiday season and remind each and every person what it is we are celebrating this Christmas.  May the joy of the Lord sweep through the political buildings, not just in Washington, but in state capitals and the nations capitals of the world.  May it infect the most important people at the top, all the way down to the person who scrubs the toilets at night.  With the joy of the Lord present in our political arena, all things can be possible through Him who made everything possible.   God is just so good! And I pray that His Goodness will be evident in the weeks ahead to each and every person in this country. May the love of God overwhelm the United States of America.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

You Get What You Wish For...

"Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 1 Samuel 8:4

"And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. 12 He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. 14 And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. 16 And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men,and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. 18 And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day.” 1 Samuel 8:11-17

The Israelites decided they wanted a king.  Samuel prayed to God, and then warned the people what life would be like with a king.  They didn't care about the words he told them, and insisted that they wanted a king- so that they could be like all the other nations.

Keepin' up with the Joneses much?  No really, they wanted an earthly king so they could be like all the other nations around them.  God apparently wasn't king enough for them.  They really were trying to keep up with the neighbors, and of course, this was one of those times where God answered their cries and prayers for a king even though it was not the best course of action for them.  God gave them their king... Sometimes, I wonder when we ask God for things, or wish for things, if God gives us things that really aren't good things for us.  When we read on in 1 Samuel we see that the words of Samuel come true for the people of Israel.  Saul as king commands the sons and daughters of the people for his own purposes.

"Now there was fierce war with the Philistines all the days of Saul. And when Saul saw any strong man or any valiant man, he took him for himself."  1 Samuel 14:52

Any strong or valiant man he took for himself.  Families lost members of their families because the king put them into his service, just as Samuel foretold.

Sometimes we may have the exact same experience, we just don't realize it.  While we don't ask God for kings and queens, maybe we ask for property, vehicles, vacation homes, entertainment systems,success, wealth, etc. (To keep up with the neighbors, of course.)  And sometimes God works things out just so that you can have those things.  He helps you to get a raise at work so that you can afford that extra payment every month, or something along those lines.  But then you get that thing, and it becomes your "king".  It steals your attention from God, first of all.  But then as time goes on, you find yourself enslaved to the very thing you thought you desired.  Keeping up with the neighbors can be very costly in so many ways.  When you have to work so hard all week long just to make the payments on things and needs, and you're just not quite catching up, maybe that's when you have to stop and think about what is taking your attention in your life.

That's when we look, once again, to those Israelites who were so sure they wanted a king so that they could be like everyone else. I think in these instances, we need to look at our desires and think about what we are asking God for, and look at the reasons behind the request.  Why do we want to be wealthy?  Is it so that we can have money to do fun things and live comfortably?  Or is it to help those around us who have so little and need help? Why do we want that new car?  Is it a necessity to get to and from work?  Or is it simply to try and keep up with the neighbors who get a brand new car every few years and can't help but show it off.  I think in those instances where we think we want something because someone else has one and maybe we've seen it, think it's neat and want one for ourselves... those are the instances where we need to re-examine.

You know, I can't help but think way back- about nine years or so.  We were living in a duplex with a wonderful landlord who offered us the opportunity to buy the place.  It was really more than an offer- he really wanted us to be able to buy it from him, and was willing to wait until we could afford it.  Oh, we prayed about that so hard!  We were so excited at the idea of owning that duplex!  We had ideas and plans in our head, except that God had other plans.  The answer from God was a resounding no, and now, in retrospect, I am to thankful for that.  Had we somehow been able to afford to buy it, a few years later, Andy had a really rough year at work where he was off for almost a full six months for winter.  In that amount of time we probably would have lost the house and a whole lot more.  God saw that, He saw into our future and knew that house would have been a purchase we would have regretted.  And boy, would we, because now we're living in a completely different city where we are so incredibly happy.   

Last night as I was driving home from dance class, I was looking at the sights of my city, and as usual, just thanking God for bringing us here.  (We're definitely still in the honeymoon phase of living here.) As I looked at the neon signs, traffic lights and crazy rush hour traffic, I thought briefly about what it would be like to live in quieter times.  While studying history for school, we're just getting to the invention of automobiles, and I was thinking about technology and how God really is the one who allows it to unfold as it does.  It made me think of those cultures of people who eschew technology for various reasons, like the Amish.  I often say I would like to be Amish, because I'd love living a simple way of life, except that I wouldn't really.  I like my computer, I like being able to use a phone to call someone to ask a question.  I like being able to drive my car to get from place to place.   But there is a balance between enjoying technology, and being enslaved by it.

When we spend all our waking hours with that technology, making it a king in our lives, we are enslaved by it, and that's where everything goes wrong.  Or when we have to work so hard to make an income just to pay for all these material things in our life... that's when we need to stop what we are doing and re-assess.  What exactly are we doing?  What is our priority?  And then we need to ask God for forgiveness for our attitude and our desires that caught us up away from Him.  Sometimes we have to live with those choices and decisions for a long time, and that's okay.  But what ultimately and truly is important is to recognize that Jesus is Lord over our lives.  Not our house.  Not our boat or vacation home.  Not our credit score or savings account.  It's Jesus.  He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and sometimes other worldly kings and lords try to steal our attention.  There's a great program out there right now about saving money and getting out of debt.  It is wonderful for many people- I've seen it in action, but if we're not careful, building that savings account and paying down that debt can become our king for a time.  And that's not right.  Our focus should be on God!  And when He says, save a certain percentage, we do.  When He says give a certain percentage to the homeless, we should.  There shouldn't be a long thought out process about how giving money to the poor will make that savings account build so much slower.  We are to make Jesus our King, and He told us to take care of the poor, the leper, the orphan and the widow. 

Instead of wishing to keep up with the neighbors and having the latest and greatest (flat screen HDTV- I'm talking to you!) we need to recognize the real King in our lives and see that He is more than enough for us.  That we don't need the latest and greatest.  Sometimes those things can and do come into our lives, because God wants us to enjoy life.  But they shouldn't rule our lives.  They shouldn't be our focus, and they shouldn't be what we are living for.  Let's learn from the Israelites and see that living for worldly kings is not all it's cracked up to be.  Let's live for the King of Kings.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Upon Waking

"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you."  Philippians 4:8-9

What are the first things you usually think in the morning?  The very first thoughts before getting out of bed? Are they negative thoughts or positive thoughts?  Do you grumble about the time, the long day ahead, or having had a rough night of sleep?  Or do you reach for that alarm clock and think "Yay! A new day!"  Or think positively, a new day, new opportunities to get to know Jesus more.  Or how the day may be full and busy ahead, but it's going to be wonderful.  Your thoughts can set the pace for the day.  They really can, and if you find yourself filling your brain first thing with negative thoughts, you may want to try another route- try thinking of something positive right off the bat instead.

Over the last few days, I saw this working first hand.  We had a very busy end of the week last week with the annual production of the Nutcracker.  Usually during the process, the kids get worn down and tired, and by Sunday morning we're all on edge and short with each other.  I took a different path this year.  Normally, I would anticipate the crankiness, and simply brace myself for the crabbiness ahead.  Not this year.  When I would tuck the kids in at night, I would tell them that it was a great day, and they would get a great night sleep and then tomorrow would be a wonderful day ahead.   You know, I found that several times Abigail mentioned how tired she would be, and I just know it was because she remembers years past and heard Andy or I say such things.  So I spoke other things to her.  I simply encouraged her and told her that if we were careful to eat right and rest when we could, that she wouldn't be tired at all, just excited from a busy day.

Saturday night after the longest day, as we all got into the van to head home, it was like the dam broke.  Oh, they got short with each other, and it took every effort to not join right in.  But I reminded them how wonderful their day was, how they did such a good job.  And then I told them that we were going home to go to bed and get a wonderful night of sleep so we wouldn't be tired tomorrow.

So when yesterday rolled around, and my alarm clock went off.  I turned off the alarm and made myself think "Yay, Sunday!" And then I got myself up.  I let the kids sleep as long as possible, and as I saw each one in turn, I simply said good morning, gave them a hug, and then told them they looked like they got a great night's sleep and today was going to be a great day.  We went to church yesterday morning as cheery and happy people- not the people that we honestly expected to be.  But our thoughts and our words changed what was a certain outcome of tired and crabby people.  By the end of church last night, the kids were definitely tired and ready for bed, but with all the things we did yesterday, they really were not crabby. They were only short with each other once, and that was something that on a normal day they argued about, so it passed and things were quiet again.

When I read verses like the one above in my Bible, I am always reminded that there are no verses in the Bible whatsoever that tell me to focus on the negative.  Not one.  And yet we as people are almost trained to do that.  We encounter a situation, and rather than focus on what's positive, we almost always lean towards focusing on the negative first.  Why do we do that?  Because that's what the world around us wants us to do.  Because when we're focusing on the negative, we're not focusing on all that's good, and all that is God.  When we focus on God, it's all good.  Sometimes though we need to get ourselves into the mood to focus on the positive.  Look again at that verse above.  It says if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on that.  Sometimes it may be difficult to find even one thing, but if we can find just one thing, just one anything to be praiseworthy, that one thing could very well change the momentum of our day.

Whatever things are lovely.  I choose to think on the lovely. This is a time of year for me where that can be a little difficult.  I really don't like winter.  I don't like cold and snow, and sometimes winter just drags on and on.  But when I choose something small and positive to dwell on instead of the mountains of cold white stuff covering my garden, it does make a difference.  When I look at the icicles dangling from the shed and see how pretty they sparkle in the sunshine, it gives me something positive to focus on instead, and it can at least get me to smile.

Did you notice the very end of these verses though?  There's a promise there.  If we think on the positive, if we think on these wonderful things, Paul says that the God of peace will be with you.  That in itself is worth trying to get your mind to dwell on the positive.  When that alarm clock goes off, and you can muster yourself to think something positive, the peace of God will flood your mind and fill you with the perfect things that you need to go about your day.  I love that promise, and I think I'm going to hold God to that.  That right there is a great thing to think on first thing in the morning.  If you can think of nothing else, think about how great it is to be filled with peace as you go about your day.

Your thoughts can make a difference.  Let's think on purpose.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Never Thirst Or Hunger

"And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst."  John 6:35

Never is a pretty big word, yet in this verse right here, it is used twice.  This is also one of those verses where I read it at first and I see the words hunger and thirst and I wonder how it can be applied in both natural and spiritual circumstances. 

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled."  Matthew 5:6

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  And yet, in John we read that those who come to Jesus will never hunger or thirst?  That tells me that ALL who come to Jesus will be filled.  And it also tells me, by combining the two verses, that those who don't know Jesus yet are blessed.  Think about that for a minute.  Your unsaved neighbor is blessed.  The people you walk past at the grocery store who don't know Jesus are blessed.   Think about that the next time you are walking through the mall and you're getting irritated with all the pushing and shoving and people getting in the way.  They are blessed- each and every one of them.  And every single one of them hungers and thirst for righteousness- they hunger and thirst for Jesus, the one who is the bread of life.  They can spend their lives searching for that perfect thing or activity to fill the hunger and desire inside of them- but it isn't until they find Jesus that  they are truly satisfied.

What a wonderful thing to think on.

And yet, this verse also speaks to me about the physical needs of mankind.  We all need to eat and drink- it's a fact of life.  You know, if I look back at the past several months, and think about things like finances and such, we should not have a stocked pantry and freezer right now.  And you know, other than once or twice, I have not specifically bought anything to stock up with.  But do you know that our freezer is fairly full right now?  Oh, there's some empty space where our two turkeys were before Thanksgiving, but we have quite a bit in there that could go a long way in feeding our family.  It's remarkable, because only God could have put those things in the freezer.  Whether they be from getting an unexpected invitation to dinner, so the things I'd purchased went in the freezer.  Or finding a really great sale price on several packages of something- that's also from God, and it just shows me that He really does care about His children.  He sees us and knows us, and I know that He knows that I have faith in His provision, but that I also worry less (read: less stress) when the freezer is nice and full.  And it is. And it shouldn't be.

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope."  Jeremiah 29:11

I talk about this verse from Jeremiah a lot, but it's become such a comfort to me,and it's one of the best ones to get into your head and repeat over and over.  Something goes wrong?  Recite this verse to yourself- it works wonders!  Last week when Andy didn't get paid?  This verse went through my head and I didn't worry about it.  An unexpected expense comes up?  I recite this verse, and I am reminded that God knows all things, and He has a plan.  Some dreadful thing comes up in a relationship with another person?  This verse can be very comforting then, and when we can overcome negative thoughts about someone with scripture, it helps the relationship to heal much faster.  In all situations, this verse can be a great one to give comfort, peace, and assurance, and I have truly felt it's soothing balm as I start to get panicky and anxious about something- and then I think on this verse, and my worries literally melt away.

We need never worry about thirsting or hungering.  God has our back.  All the time. He knows the thoughts He has towards us at all times- and that's a wonderful thing to think on.  It's a great thing to take into our busy weekends when we're surrounded by people and busy-ness.  Think about how God knows His thoughts towards not only you- but those around you.  Think about all those people who pass you by on a daily basis and they don't know that they are blessed.  Boy, wouldn't it be great if someone would tell them? 

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Seeds To Plant

"He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one."  Matthew 13:37-38

The last few days I feel like I've had a one-tracked mind.  I keep thinking about seeds and gardening.  And yet, I'm not leafing through those catalogs yet or spending time looking at the assortment online.  I'm simply thinking about thinking about it.  And I'm thinking more about the harvest than the planting anyway.  I even have been dreaming about harvesting from a garden, and last night I had a dream that I walked out to a garden that I had known was bare, and instead found a whole garden full of ripe and ready things to harvest- beautiful tomatoes and apples specifically.

The tomatoes intrigue me, because do you know what they were originally called here in the United States?  The were called Love Apples.  And in the ultimate of irony, everyone thought they were poisonous because it is a cousin of plants that are poisonous and toxic to consume.  And yet, I am thinking about that love apple, and I'm thinking about how in the last few days all I seem to think about is my future garden, and how my heart is literally racing when I think about planting, and I have to say, I'm thinking that God's trying to tell me something.  And it's not that I need to start planning my garden.

It's that it's time to sow some seeds of love, and the seeds that Jesus sowed while He was here on earth.  Do you know that I prefer to garden with heirloom seeds?  Those are seeds that are original- some of them go back hundreds of years, they haven't been crossed and mutated to produce a perfect specimen.  They are unique, and as I said, many of them are old.  Jesus planted perfect seeds, and those seeds are still there, just waiting for the people of God to pick them up and start spreading them.  And I believe the result of that seed sowing will be beyond our expectations.  Just as in my dream, I thought that my garden was barren, suddenly, all the seeds that had been planted were bearing abundant fruit.

It's time for a harvest!

And all these thoughts I'm having about sowing seed and tending a garden?  Why, it's only because I'm thinking about being like my Daddy!

"Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner."  John 5:19-20

God, the Father is the ultimate gardener.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned."  John 15:5-6

This is something to think about.  When we're out and about, doing our day-to-day in the world, what seeds are we sowing?  Are we sowing any seeds at all.  When we share joy, love, patience, compassion, we're sowing seeds of the Kingdom of Heaven!  Or are we too busy complaining, or judging, or picking out what we don't like?  Our thoughts and our words become the seeds that can take root and can make a difference in some one's life.  Let's choose to make those seeds good seeds that will fall on good ground!

“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. 5 Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. 7 And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”  Mark 4:3-8

Sometimes our seed may fall on stony ground, or among thorns, but sometimes, that seed falls right where it needs to, and it grows, and blooms, and multiplies.  When one seed of a vegetable is planted, it produces a plant that itself produces hundreds of seeds.  We can take hope in that.  We can know that what we see in the natural with our eyes can also take place in the spirit.  As we sow the seeds of love and compassion, some of them will fall in places where they are not wanted.  But some of them will fall into those people who really need it.  And that seed will grow, and they will want to know more, and just like that, they've grown into their own seeds and start scattering them themselves.  That's how the Kingdom of Heaven will bloom and grow on this earth.  One person is all it takes to start scattering good seeds- the seeds of Jesus, and it can make a world of difference to an entire community. 

So let's sow some seed- and let's expect a return on our sowing.  Let's expect a harvest!  When I sow seeds for my garden, I don't plant them expecting that I will get nothing for the effort of sowing.  I expect that with proper tending, watering, and weeding, I will have a garden full of fruits and vegetables.  When we plant a seed, we need to carefully tend it, water it and weed it.  We need to encourage the tender young shoots and seedlings with careful care- not by being brusque and brash.  It only takes the slightest movement in a garden to tear out a tender seedling.  So to, do we need to be careful among those who are new to faith in Jesus.   We need to approach those newly sprouted seeds with love and care. 

And we can know that we are doing exactly as the Father would have us do.  Happy Harvest Time!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Warfare Wednesday

"Vindicate me, O LORD,
         For I have walked in my integrity.
         I have also trusted in the LORD;
         I shall not slip.
 2 Examine me, O LORD, and prove me;
         Try my mind and my heart.
 3 For Your loving kindness
is before my eyes,
         And I have walked in Your truth."  Psalm 26:1-3

Happy December morning!  The snow is lightly falling this morning, and although I'm not crazy about it, the change in the seasons is always a reminder to me that God is ever-faithful.  And He is ever-faithful to hear our prayers as we take time each week to pray for government leaders and officials.  God hears our prayers when we pray for protection over President Obama and his family.  God hears His people cry out for mercy and for God to show Himself and His glory to President Obama.

A few weeks ago, Abigail and I did a study on President Lincoln for school.  We really enjoyed learning more about this president.  He was such a good man, though often misunderstood.  In fact, when he first took office as president, he hadn't even won the popular vote.  He ran against two other candidates, and combined they had more votes than him, but since he had the most electoral votes, President Lincoln took office.  He took office at the beginning of the Civil War, and while we may not be in a civil war in our country, we have been in the midst of a "political war".  As we read more and more about President Lincoln, I couldn't help but see lots of parallels to President Obama.  There was so much trash talk about President Lincoln by the people who didn't vote for him- and the same is going on today with President Obama.

Shortly after President Lincoln was elected to a second term, he was assassinated.  Two weeks before his assassination, he'd had a dream that he died in office and the whole country was in mourning.  He didn't heed the warning, and said that he wasn't going to increase his security because if someone really wanted to kill him, they would find a way.  Two weeks later he was dead and a country grieved the loss of a great man.  The praying people let down President Lincoln, and I suspect it was because many of them hadn't voted for him.  The let their personal feelings get in the way of the fact that despite the fact that they voted for the other guy, Abraham Lincoln was their president.  He was the president of The United States of America, and instead of trash-talking him, they should have offered him respect and prayers.

And here we are now.  I know many of the praying population did not vote for this president, but that doesn't change the fact that Barack Obama is President of The United States of America.  He has the job, we should respect that, and regardless of whether or not we agree with his politics, we need to pray!! We need to pray for this man, that he would seek Godly counsel, and we need to pray that those who give him bad counsel are removed from his presence.  We need to pray for divine protection for him at all times, because there are many, many adversaries who would love to see this country divided by removing the president from office.  And we need to pray for his family.  For his wife, First Lady Michelle, and his two daughters, Sasha and Malia.  It cannot be easy for his girls to grow up in a fish bowl and have their every move open to the American people.  We need to pray for peace and love for their household, because love always wins!

I know sometimes I maybe sound like a broken record, but here we are two years into this presidency, and people are still whining about the president.  God doesn't listen to our whines.  He doesn't listen to our complaints, and in fact, He probably dislikes hearing them.  What He wants to hear are our prayers.  He wants to hear our prayers for peace among our elected leaders.  He wants to hear our prayers for President Obama to focus on our alliance with the nation of Israel.  He wants to hear our prayers for protection for the first family.   I pray this morning that President Obama will walk in the very Truth that is spoken about in these verses in Psalms.  As we begin the last month of the year 2010, may the year close out with truth, understanding, and Godly wisdom in the White House.  As we look ahead to a new year and a hope for the new beginnings, may 2011 be a year where our country truly begins to understand that we are truly One Nation, Under God.