Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sometimes, You've Got To Move On

"So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking."  Ephesians 4:17

I had a rather strange dream last night.  In this dream, my family and I were driving on a vacation somewhere when we ran into someone we knew at a gas station.  This person was lost, they were running away from things in their life, and searching for answers and truth. We counseled as best we could, and suggested places that they could turn to for help.  Our suggestions were not well received, and in the end, we did what we could.  We filled that person's vehicle with gas and then drove on to our destination.  While we were concerned for this person, we did what we could, and the time had come for us to move on.

Isn't our walk through this earth kind of like that sometimes?  I've been thinking on Facebook as of late.  It's become quite the tool for me for communicating with groups and with people in various organizations.  I really like using it in that regard.  But what I'm really not a fan of is the whole "connecting with your past" thing that they've got going on.  I'm just not interested in connecting with little Susie that I went to elementary school with.  And yet, there she is popping up from time to time in my sidebar, with a suggestion that we be friends.

I honestly and truly think that way too many people are caught up and stuck in the past.  I can't even imagine wanting to think in that regard- every day that we get to be here is another wonderful day- I love my today's, I look forward to my tomorrows, but I almost always am happy to move beyond what has already happened.  I know that a lot of Christians have all these friends on Facebook with the idea that they can reach out to the unsaved through Facebook.  And I have no doubt that God can use that tool in just that way, but I think that sometimes, you do what you can, you plant the seeds you can, but then you've got to move on.

Because what happens if you don't move on is that you can have your focus distracted or broken.  Samson was a great man of God with supernatural strength.  His focus was on doing what God asked of him- which included keeping his hair unshaven.  Look what happened to Samson when his focus was broken.

"Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and have not told me where your great strength lies.” 16 And it came to pass, when she pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, so that his soul was vexed to death, 17 that he told her all his heart, and said to her, “No razor has ever come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”  Judges 16:15-17

Samson's focus on God was broken by his focus on this woman who was trying to do her best to weaken him and steal his strength.  And she succeeded.  

"Then she lulled him to sleep on her knees, and called for a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. 20 And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” So he awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him."  Judges 16:19-20

When we allow ourselves to get tangled up in the unbelief of others, it can cause our focus on Him to be broken.  We can become consumed with trying to sway the minds of others that it becomes almost an obsession- and not something that comes from God.  Oh, I have no doubt that if we see something in error, that God would want us to say something, but He doesn't want our focus to shift from doing His Will to doing our will- to focus completely on the issue that's bothering us.  In my dream last night, we realized that nothing we could say or do was going to sway this person.  We had an original focus of getting to our vacation destination.  While we took the time for an aside, to try and offer assistance, when we realized that our assistance was not going to be taken without considerable effort on our part, we refused to be swayed from our focus of getting to our destination.  We did not allow our focus to be broken.

Our focus should be on Him.  All the time.  When we are focused oh God, and what He would have us do, He will guide us correctly every single time.  We don't need to make it our personal mission to badger all of our Facebook friends over and over about going to church and getting saved.  By focusing oh Him, He will guide us as to when we should be planting those seeds.  He will let us know when the moment is right- when the soil is properly prepared to receive our seed.  We do not need to chip away at the boulders that may be blocking the soil- instead, maybe that's an opportunity to simply commit that person to prayer.  It's not the moment to allow ourselves to get all worked up, because it's not even our issue to get worked up over.

The thing is, the devil will use absolutely anything and everything to try and break our focus off of doing what God would have us do.  And if the devil can use another person, under the guise of "that person needs to be saved" he'll do it.  Any time we allow our focus to be shifted away from God and what He has for us, the devil rejoices.   I myself have been quite guilty as of late about worrying about what other people are saying or doing that goes against my faith.  I've decided to just move on and stop thinking on it.  Oh, I'll still shake my head from time to time when I see something that causes me to pause- but my task at that moment is simply to put the issue to prayer.  To lift it to God and then continue to keep my eyes on Him, and not let them be shifted to this new distraction.  Sometimes, we can try to do what we can, but then we have to move on, we have to keep on striving for the prize, because that's the point.

"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it."  1 Corinthians 9:24

Focus on the prize.  When a runner runs a race, they do not get distracted by the runners and the goings on around them.  Their eyes are on one thing, and one thing only.  The finish line.  Do not allow the things of this world to cause such a distraction that it would take your eyes of the prize.  The finish line that Jesus Christ is preparing for us.

Monday, January 30, 2012

First Love

"But I have this [one charge to make] against you: that you have left (abandoned) the love that you had at first [you have deserted Me, your first love]."  Revelation 2:4

I love it when I'm sitting in church, listening to a message, and a verse and an idea come up that I've been thinking about for some time. It always confirms for me that my thoughts have been in the right direction, and it also always brings me to a little more understanding about the verse that I've been thinking on.

I've had several dreams over the past few months about first love, about the idea of first love.  At this stage in my life I found each and every one of them odd and strange.  As a more-than-happily-married person, it's been some time since I experienced the actual process of first love.  But I think that was the point, and I don't think, (now that I think on it some time later) that the dreams were anything about love between two people.  It was love between myself and God.  First love that maybe has lost it's luster.

So what is first love?  It's an excitement, an expectancy, a shyness.  It's discovering a person for the first time, getting to know their likes and dislikes.  It's thinking on that person all the time- it's waiting by the phone impatiently, waiting hours for them to call, and then squealing in delight when they finally do.  It's spending an entire day thinking about the person you'll be going on a date with later, and then after the date, you can't stop thinking about them then either.  It's being completely consumed by someone else.  It's going about your day, doing your work or your tasks, and then pausing to reflect on something the other person said that made you smile.  It's saving a small note that they wrote you and reading it a thousand times over, even though you have every word memorized. 

Gosh, the more I think on this idea of first love, and think about what it actually is, the more I very clearly see a relationship with God.   Andy and I have been together for... just over thirteen years... and the love we share has matured greatly, it's different, but the same in many regards.  And I think that's what God is after with us.  So many Christians get saved, they meet Jesus and experience God's love, and get all excited in the newness of the relationship for a time, but then the excitement fades, and God just becomes another aspect of that persons life, instead of the consuming focus He should be.  With God, He wants us to experience that first love each and every day with Him.  Every time we open up our Bibles to see what He's written, we should be squirming in excitement and anticipation, to see what He has to say to us today.  Instead, so many of us have relegated Bible reading to a chore, something that has to be done for a set time every single day. 

God wants us to experience First Love with Him each and every day.  Think about that- the excitement and the joy and the happiness that comes with a new relationship.  How could we not want that every single day? God wants that for us, and He wants it with us. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Crazy Weather

" If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him."  James 1:5

The weather has been completely bizarro and strange these last several months.  One day it's 50 degrees in winter and the next week it's 20 below zero.  In the last 24 hours we've gotten rain, sleet, freezing rain and right now the biggest, fattest snowflakes you have ever seen are falling from the sky.  They look like cotton balls, and they're not even gracefully falling- more like plunking.   In the south part of the country last night, they experienced thunderstorms and tornadoes.  In January.  What on earth?

That may be the wrong question.  What on earth should actually be what on heaven?  Because God is doing something.  You know, we can think we know everything, can think that we understand the way the earth works, the way the weather is going to go, and the reality is that only God knows. And you know what?  It's really interesting to watch.  I know that the "experts" are all out there scrambling, trying to decide if global warming is to blame for this mild winter so far, and I say phooey on them.  Because God is alone responsible for this mild winter.  

Admittedly, I have no idea, really, what He's up to.  I can read verse after verse in my Bible about weather events and ideas, and I can read what different preachers and pastors have to say, but the truth is, all I can do is smile and ask God if any of this is something that He wants to tell me. Right there in James, chapter one, that's exactly what it tells me to do- to simply ask God.  And you know, I've kind of been half-heartedly asking, to be honest, because I'm just in a place where I'm enjoying the mystery.  The weather is making me smile, and I can't help but wonder what's coming next.  The gardener in me would like to know exactly what's going on,because if we're going to have an early spring, it would be wonderful to have plants started early for the vegetable garden. 

But honestly, I'm just enjoying God's wondrous creation right now.  For once when you talk to other people about the weather, it's not a normal conversation, and it's kind of fun.  Only God knows what He is up to,  and what we can pray is that the unsaved people around us will see the hand of God in the weather.  Maybe this will open up doors and opportunities to talk about God with our neighbors.  Mother Nature has been sent on vacation and God has the reigns.  I can't wait to see what He does next!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Let My People Go!

"And the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me."  Exodus 8:1

All week long, God's been reminding me about the plight of the Israelites, and their flight from Egypt so long ago.  It seems like everywhere I look there are references to this- from other people's Facebook status, random verses I find online, and even Andy has been building a set for a musical based on the life of Joseph.  It's just everywhere I look, and I feel like God is getting ready to free His people from a lifetime of servitude, and about to set them free! 

When Jacob and his sons first went to Egypt, it was a great thing for them.  They were in danger of losing everything- of starving to death, and watching their family and livestock starve to death.  God used Jacob's son Joseph to bring the family to Egypt to save them- and preserve God's promises to Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.  But after years and years, and several generations, the Israelites were still in Egypt, only they were slaves to the Egyptians.

In the exact same way, debt comes to us.  We go into debt because we're doing something good.  We're going to college and getting an education, so we take out student loans.  We buy a car or a house, doing something good, and we take out loans for those.  We get credit cards and use them, because everyones says we need to build up a credit score to be successful in life, and the way to do that is through credit cards.  But as the years go by, we get more and more encumbered by this debt that was good in the first place.  And now, so many have been completely enslaved by this debt.  When we work our jobs and bring home a paycheck, it all goes to pay down debt instead of being used to help the poor or even take care of our own basic necessities. 

Over and over, the Israelite people tried to get free of their captives, but it took some amazing works of God to set them free in the end.  Over and over, the people around me have tried to get out of debt, only to find themselves in an even worse situation.  God is going to take care of His people.  God is about to do something really incredible that will cause us to be free of our captors.

Even better, when the Israelites were finally free of Pharaoh, the didn't just flee Egypt empty-handed.  They plundered the Egyptians.  The Egyptians filled the Israelites arms with gold, silver, fine clothes, and whatever they could carry. 

 "Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. 36 And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians."  Exodus 12:35-36

We are going to rise above this debt crisis and when we do, it is not going to be as destitute and penniless servants of God.  Instead we are going to rise up and find ourselves in an abundance that can only come from God above.  And then we will be able to reach out our hands to our neighbors and our friends and family and help them through their own periods of captivity. 

Take heart children of God.  The day is coming when we will be free of our oppressors, and that will be a mighty fine day, indeed, worthy of much rejoicing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lift Your Eyes

"I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
         From whence comes my help?
 2 My help
comes from the LORD,
         Who made heaven and earth. "  Psalm 121:1,2

It's a classic scenario.  The hero or heroine is in their most desperate hour, doom is upon them, and then, they look up, and salvation is before them in one form or another.  In our own lives, when we're looking for hope, I often find myself just looking to the sky.  Even though I know that God is all around, for some reason I always find myself looking up- or to my Bible, of course.  But the simple act of looking up can just fill me with such a peace... I couldn't explain it except for verses like this in the Psalms.  Just read that- I lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help?  This is a rhetorical question, because we know exactly where our help comes from every single time.

Our help comes from above- every, single, time.  Oh, God will use various people, angels and circumstances to do the actual act of ministering to us, but it always comes from God.  From our God, the one who created the heavens and the earth.  Our God- the one who spoke our every fiber into being.

Zander and I have been reading early history, in particular right now the Greeks, who had a dozen little gods who they credited with different aspects of life.  Every time we read about these Gods, Zander just shakes his head- especially when we're reading about how people would offer sacrifices or favors to different gods in order to make their way through life.  We talk about how wonderful it is that we have the One True God with us, that we can know that He created everything and will always be there for us.  And even better, unlike the Greeks and their gods, and the ancient Romans and their gods, the ancient Chinese and their many gods, we don't have to offer sacrifices and favors to idols and statues.  All we need to do is look to the hills, and our help will be there.

Our help, which comes only from God above.  Just think about that today.  Think about the ease with which we have in our faith in God.  Other religions have requirements, works, acts, and programs that are necessary to follow their path.  We have Jesus, and that's it. Our one and only requirement is that we believe that Jesus died for us, and that's it.  We have such freedom in Him!  There isn't a big long litany of things we need to do, we can just be.  We can develop our own relationship with him that doesn't require sacrifices at an altar or idol, or a penance when we do things wrong. 

I love thinking about that, and I love that Zander and I are learning about how easy it is to love God as part of his schooling.  And the best part?  God is for everyone.  He doesn't care about the past, He doesn't care about the wrongs we may have done, all He cares about is that we accept the love that He had for us in sending His son to die for us.

Our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


"Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
         All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
 8 The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
         And in the night His song
shall be with me—
         A prayer to the God of my life."  Psalm 42:7-8

I had a dream last night that a great wave billowed up in front of me.  It was absolutely massive- as tall as the tallest building.  And yet, when I saw it, I was not afraid in the least.  I stood fast and mentally prepared myself for this wave to come.  And as it came and swept me up, I was filled with an amazing peace and calmness as I rode along with the wave.  I was hidden within the wave, calm and relaxed.  When the wave deposited me elsewhere, I was with the one I love most, and not one was lost to the terrible wave.  Even better, as the wave dissipated, I discovered that I had a new nephew, and was filled with great joy at this new little life.

I'm not sure how I feel about this dream, to be honest.  I take great comfort from the idea that there was this terrible wave, this horrible event happening, and it didn't even faze me.  It was almost as if I'd hopped on an escalator, and I was just waiting for it to deliver me to my destination.  I didn't experience any fear or terror for even a millisecond, those things simply weren't there.   And the idea that at the end of this experience I would find great joy is wonderful.  But I don't like the idea of the wave itself.  That there could be some trial or tribulation headed my way... If we haven't currently been going through such a trial, I cannot imagine what could still be coming!  But at the same time, maybe the dream was speaking of the current season of trials.

It's been really, really difficult to stay above the murky depths this time.  There's been so many moments over the last several months that I just wanted to curl up and cry and just... I don't know... give up, maybe.  But I would go to church, and every time something would be said that would speak to me and give me encouragement to go another few days.  And in the midst of all this awfulness, I've also had the wonderful distraction of family- my nieces and nephews, so new and so full of wonder that I just love spending time with them and loving them. 

And when I think on it some more, that wave in my dream was indeed an outside force.  It was something in the natural that was going on around me, and it didn't affect me in the least.  Thinking about that... now that's wonderful.  To think that whatever comes my way, I can just close my eyes and rest in His Peace, that gives me such a boost this morning, such a comfort, because I'm tired of these tough trials. 

But the more I keep my eyes on Jesus, the more I think that I'll be able to experience what I experienced in my dream- the great calmness and peace no matter what comes my way.  It's a perk, if you will, of keeping on the straight and narrow.  I think I can handle that, and I'm really, really looking forward to the joy at the end of the trial.  That right there also gives me great encouragement this morning.  And if I look at verse 8 that I posted above, that makes me smile too.  That I would experience God's loving kindness in the daytime, and His Song in the night.  Not a night goes by that I don't find a worship song in my head as I drift off to dreamland.  And I would pray this morning that He would continue speaking to me in the night.  It's been a while since I've really had an intense dream like this- and while it did cause me concern for a bit as I thought on it, it felt good.  Like doing a workout after a few months off.   And may he share that same thing with everyone reading this today.  May you have wonderful God dreams that will speak to you and give you encouragement for the days ahead.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Faith In People

"And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun."  Exodus 17:11-12 

I didn't hardly post at all last week.  On the one hand, I was quite busy for some reason.  But on the other hand, I was terribly distracted last week, and I don't know why I let that happen. 

The kids and I have a radio station that we prefer listening to when we're driving around.  It's got the most upbeat and contemporary Christian music of any other (though it's still got a long ways to go in that regard, really), and the kids enjoy it. Not too long ago they started a small talk show in the mornings, and we're not out driving often when it is on, but every once in a while, we'll catch a snip of it before I turn it off.  I've listened to it a few times on my own, and honestly, I really don't like it.  It's one of those shows that is all about warning Christians about this and that.  They warn against things they think are false, they warn against certain preachers or books that they think a Christian should stay away from- or movies or TV shows that they think go against basic Christian principles.  It's really not a good show, in any regard, because they are so full of stirring up fear within the body of Christ.   This past week I heard rumors of some of the things they'd been sharing and it just really, really bothered me, and I spent far too long thinking about it and dwelling on it.  Quite honestly, I don't understand what they think they are doing trying to get Christians to be afraid of the world around them.  Fear does not come from God in the least, and yet here they are, trying to get Christians to fear one another- to fear the church down the street because their worship is too contemporary for their taste. 

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."  2 Timothy 1:7

The fact is, there are far too many of these types of people out there trying to stir up fear in the Body of Christ today.  And as I thought on this further, the thought came to me that it really is a sad state of affairs in the church today.  When good Christian people decide it is their personal mission to basically tell the church that they should have no faith in each other, because that's exactly what they are doing.  They are telling us that we should suspect our Christian brother who prays in tongues of consorting with the devil, because tongue talking is not so common today.  They are telling us that when a woman shouts out in a church service, she is actually listening to demons, because it's disruptive of the church service.  Truly, these are the kinds of stories they are telling, and they are not alone in doing it!

The more I thought on this, the more it just made me sad, because you know what?  I have great faith in my fellow believers.  I have great faith that my Christian brother and sisters would know when they are doing something that goes against the word of God.  I have faith that Christians as a whole are smarter in their walk with God than all these fear mongerers make them out to be.  Were I to walk into a service where there was in fact, things of the devil going on, I would trust that the Holy Spirit would stir right up within me and tell me that I do not belong there, and to leave.  I have the exact same faith in my brothers and sisters in Christ- that they would listen to the Holy Spirit, and trust in His counsel to guide them out of a dangerous situation.  

We do not need talk shows and organizations who basically tell us to eye one another suspiciously.  It's absolutely preposterous that there are people out there warning the church as a whole to be careful of each other- because we never know who is in the devil's pocket.  Shame on them.

I have faith in people.  I have faith that people of all walks of life know better and will heed the Holy Spirit should the need arise.  We do not need the aspect of fear introduced- we should not be afraid to walk into a new church on Sunday morning, for fear that they are not following the words in the Bible. Instead I should be excited to see how God is using this group of people.

I was reminded of the story that I posted a snip of in Exodus, chapter 17.  The Israelites were battling the Amalekites, and to keep the battle turned in Israel's favor, Moses needed to stand with uplifted hands the whole time.   Every time his arms began to lower, even a little, the battle turned in the favor of the enemy, so Moses absolutely had to keep his hands lifted up.  How does a man do this all day long?  It's absolutely impossible without help from a brother or sister in Christ.  Moses' friends did what any Christian would do.  They came beside him, one on either side, and they bore his burdens with him.  Aaron held one hand up, and Hur held the other hand up, and in the end, Israel was victorious.

THAT is exactly what we as Christians should be doing for one another.  We should be coming beside each other, sharing in the burdens of those around us.  We should lift each other up.  We absolutely should not be tearing each other down by spreading fear.  We should have faith in each other, and not hear about something new that God is doing for someone, and instantly think that they're being possessed by demons.  God can and does work in mighty and mysterious ways, and we should have faith in each other, as human beings and fellow Christians.  We should purpose to come beside each other, lift each other up as the need arises, and rejoice in the truth of Jesus, our Savior. 

I, for one, choose to have faith in people.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

To Have Dominion

"What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of [earthborn] man that You care for him?
    5Yet You have made him but a little lower than God [or heavenly beings], and You have crowned him with glory and honor.
    6You made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet:
    7All sheep and oxen, yes, and the beasts of the field,
    8The birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatever passes along the paths of the seas."  Psalm 8:4-8 (AMP)

Whew!  Time has been an issue for me this week!  I feel (blessedly so) that the month of January has been going really slowly.  This is wonderful, I'm happy for a bit of a slowdown, but the last two days as a whole, I've just felt like I'm always looking ahead to what has to be done next.  Today is nice, I get to relax just a bit this afternoon, get some housework done, and then it's off to mid-week service at church.  I thought that maybe I should pop on here and post some thoughts, less anyone think I'm doing poorly or anything. 

The last few weeks have seen our family relishing in some time with our favorite fantasies.  We've spent time both watching and reading about the land of Narnia, spun by C.S. Lewis, and Andy and I have also spent time in Middle Earth, watching Tolkein's world brought to life on the big screen.  I particularly like both of these series' in multiple forms, because they are the ultimate example of good triumphing over evil.  Good, and light always wins, every single time.  The struggles along the way may be impossibly difficult, but in the end, the struggles are worth it.

But a few weeks ago when we watched The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, something struck me with one of the last lines of the movie, "Once a King or Queen of Narnia, always a King or Queen of Narnia".  And then I really looked at what I was seeing.  This fantastical place, this Narnia, is place where there are no humans, and when the humans show up, every creature bows and follows the commands of the new Kings and Queens- and very matter-of-factly at that.  It made me think of when the earth was created, and God set man to have dominion over the earth, and I thought this display of Narnia was the ultimate display of that very thing.  Even to the point where one of the characters in the story passes a message on to another by asking the trees to share the message.

It made me wonder, just what all would really be possible if we really got a revelation of what the Bible tells us about being the sons and daughters of God.  I think that line in the movie could very easily be changed to "once a son or daughter of God, always a son or daughter of God".  Oh! Now doesn't that just sound absolutely wonderful?

"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name "  John 1:12 (NKJV)

Then when we were watching The Two Towers, and the trees started marching to war, I just felt such a stirring in my spirit- what if such a thing were truly possible?  I struggle sometimes just to get a seed or two to sprout, I can't imagine how much faith it would take to make a tree move!

Yet, when I read the books by these two authors- or watch the dramatizations of their works, I can't help but wonder how much these men understood of their Bibles.  The Psalm I posted above says that God has put all things under our feet- all things. As the sons and daughters of God, it should not be fantasy that we can affect the things around us.  It shouldn't be impossible that I go and spend time out in the gardens, blessing the plants, commanding them to grow, and they do.  It shouldn't be an impossibility to go out to the backyard and command the rabbits to leave my plants alone.  Yet, when I fail in maneuvering a silly little rabbit, I feel discouraged, and wonder how on earth I'm to do something grand like calm a storm.

Calm a storm?  Why not?  Jesus did it!  And yet, I cannot get some simple basil seeds to sprout.  Jesus said just a few words to a fig tree and the whole thing shriveled up and died.  Surely I can get one measly little pepper seed to sprout and send out it's shoot. 

I love reading fantasy books, because I like to think that with God, all things are possible, and I'm always wondering if God whispers to fantasy authors and gives them different glimpses of what heaven might be like.  And then I open up my Bible and read about all the things that Jesus did while He was here on earth, and I know He was connected with Heaven the whole time.  What does Heaven have for us here on earth?   That's such a fun thing for me to think on, because while there are many fantasy worlds I'd love to explore in person, I know that Heaven is going to be beyond all expectations, and truly be paradise for all eternity.

What IS man, that God cares for us so?  He cared for us so much that He gave us this amazing instruction manual for life- a living, breathing instruction manual that always has something new to tell us.  If I experience for myself none of the other miracles found within the pages of my Bible, at least I get to experience the miracle of The Word itself.  That every time I open it, I find something new.  In that way, it is so unlike the fantasy novels that I read over and over.  I always know what those are going to say, their words never change.  But every time I open up my Bible, I find new secrets hiding within.  New thoughts, new ideas, and new desires to want to be more like Jesus each and every day.

And Jesus had dominion over the earth around him.  Someday, I'm going to understand how.  And I'm going to find those answers in one place only- in my Bible.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Christmas Reflections

"But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them."  Luke 2:19-20

It's been a few weeks since the whirlwind of Christmas, and I'm still thinking about it.  This was one of the most unusual Christmases for us, and yet, it was also wonderful, and leading up to it, there certainly wasn't much hope of it being wonderful.  When Andy got laid off for the season so early, we were truly unprepared for it, and the closer Christmas crept, the more we realized that we were really looking at trying to figure out how to celebrate Christmas without gifts under the tree.  Oh, we've had lean Christmases before.  Two years ago, in fact, we had a tight Christmas, but it was nothing compared to this one.  As December kicked off and the decorations went up, and the countdown began, it literally broke my heart to have my kids move the countdown and exclaim how excited they were for Christmas.  Would the still be excited if the only gifts under our tree were the few that might be sent by family?  We were definitely on pace for finding out.

And then a nice gift card showed up in the mail.  I'd posted about it before because it gave us such a thrill to find it.  I took that gift card and put it in my purse, but to be completely honest, I put it there and didn't use it right away because I was wondering if there would be more.  Would something else show up that I could put towards gifts this year?  Because this gift card was nice, but between two kids it wouldn't go far at all. Nothing else showed up, but something else did.

As the days got closer and closer to Christmas, the kids would move the countdown, and were suddenly not exclaiming how excited they were about presents.  They were more excited about Christmas Eve, they were excited to get to spend time with their cousins, and aunts and uncles, and their newest cousin from Hawaii that they'd never met.   When we would discuss Christmas, it wasn't about what gifts they wanted anymore.  It was all about hoping that we could spend a lot of time with family during the holidays.  It was a definite shift in thinking for our whole household.  Instead of focusing on our lack, we turned to focusing on what we already had.  We spent extra time together playing a game or two, and the kids were more than excited to spend time decorating cookies to share with family.

It finally came to the point where I realized that if our kids were going to have any Christmas gifts from us, it was thanks to the kindness of someone who sent us that one gift card.  That was it, every other penny we had was spoken for and needed to be used elsewhere- and many pennies were spoken for twice.  The day I decided to go use that gift card I spent quite a bit of time talking to God about it.  I asked him to really help me to use it wisely, to find gifts that my children would really appreciate and be happy to find under the Christmas tree.  When I was actually shopping, I was honestly dismayed when I saw the reality as to how far this gift card would go.  It didn't go far at all.  And yet, the few gifts that were picked out for the kids were picked thoughtfully.  None of them were something that went in the cart just because, they were specific things that I knew they would enjoy.  In the past, there was more of a thought to just get a whole bunch of gifts that met a particular dollar amount or quantity.  This year there was no such ability, and as a result, for the first time ever, each and every gift the kids opened up, they really and truly were excited.  They'd desired each and every gift, and appreciated them so much more. 

I thank God for the kindness of that person who sent that card, and I have asked him to really and truly bless them, and to let them know how much it was appreciated.  I'm not sure how my momma's heart would have fared had there been no gifts under the tree for our kids.

I shared a little about physical Christmas gifts because it was really, really interesting to see the shift this year.  Like Mary, I've spent a bit of time just treasuring these things in my heart and pondering them, because I've been wondering why.  God is a really big God, and he could have had random people send us dozens of gift cards.  He could have had expensive gifts just show up at our door for the kids.  He could have placed the actual money into our bank accounts so we could give to our heart's delight.  And yet He didn't.  What were we to learn from this season of lack?  It truly was a wonderful Christmas.  We were really able to enjoy family, and each other.  For the first time ever we had the kids open their gifts here at home late Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning.  What a fabulous idea that was, because we woke up Christmas morning, went to church and REALLY celebrated Christmas.  God even gave me a little Christmas gift of my own Sunday morning when I was asked to whip out the drumsticks.  As hesitant as I was to play the drums in the first place, I've become a little fond of it again, and was delighted to be able to spend Christmas morning worshiping the King from the drum set.   When I think about Christmas, my heart floods with such warmth because I really think that we were able to just focus on each other and on God's love for each one of us.

I really think that yesterday was the first time I had a glimpse of why we had such a lean Christmas.  Maybe some people would look at it and say that it was a lesson for us in money management, that we should do a better job of saving throughout the year.  And yes, that may be one of the lessons, but I really think that God used our Christmas season for a bigger purpose.  I think He wanted us to know how the less fortunate really feel. 

We've spent Christmases in the past buying gifts for donating- I'm a sucker for those giving trees, and I've always enjoyed buying the requested gifts.  But what would it feel like to be that person in the crowd who is watching people load up their shopping carts with gifts, knowing that the few dollars you have is ALL you have to spread thinly among a household of children.  What would it really feel like to have to tell family and friends that you just can't give gifts this year?  What would it feel like to be unable to even afford the necessities of life?  Oh, we've been there these past months too, and the thing is, the reality is not at all what I would have expected.  Do you know, yesterday I took the kids out shopping because we had to buy winter boots.  Snow is coming eventually, and someone had been kind enough to send a little money our way to buy them, so we went to pick them up before they were replaced in the stores by swimsuits. As we walked in the door of the store, I remembered that I wanted to get toothpaste while we were there, and mentioned that to the kids.

I've never seen kids so excited about toothpaste.   Each and every one of us in the family have been trying to make tubes of toothpaste stretch for some time now.   So we go to the toothpaste aisle and I tell the kids to pick their preference, and they both had such huge grins on their face as they each picked up their favorite tube- and look! They were full!  Then they both glanced wistfully at the toothbrushes.  Do you suppose...?  Well, I certainly did.  I told them to each choose a new toothbrush. Now, I expect these types of reactions from a three year old who may be choosing a special toothbrush for the first time.  But from an eleven and nearly-eight year old?  It totally slammed home to me that what people who are truly in need want is the basic necessities of life.  Something as basic and simple as a toothbrush and toothpaste really brought joy to my children.  This morning Zander told me how excited he was to brush his teeth again today because he really liked his new toothbrush.  

This is the verse I thought of this morning:

"But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?"  1 John 3:17

In the past, I would look at these lists of things that people need and kind of turn up my nose at them, to be honest.  I would see the toothpaste and toothbrushes, the cleaning supplies, the soaps on the list and think I knew better.  I would get something else for these families, something I truly thought they would rather have- things like gourmet coffees, restaurant gift cards, gourmet food baskets, and on and on.  When really, all these people really wanted was to be able to brush their teeth or wash their hair or mop the kitchen floor with something other than water.   It's all well and good to bless a family in need with a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, but how can they have company over to share that dinner if they don't have the tools to clean their homes first?   People who really and truly are in need need the basic necessities of life.

When I look around our home, and look at my family, I would most definitely not place us in the category of being an "in need" family at the moment.  Yes, there is no money to buy anything right now, every dime is being used to take care of keeping the power on, the water running, and keep a roof over our heads.   But we also know we're in a temporary season too.  Andy will go back to work eventually, and when he does, we'll be able to catch up on the things that we've run out of.

God has used this past Christmas of lack to open my eyes.  And open my family's eyes, I think.  We all would have loved an extravagant Christmas.  Quite frankly, we would have loved even to be able to buy gifts for other people in our lives.  But God had other plans for us, and when we look back at Christmas, we don't see lack.  We see love, we see each other, and we see an appreciation for even the smallest things.  But more than that, there is an awareness now that is waking up, and it will be very, very interesting to see where this takes us.  In the weeks and months to come, how will we take this new awareness of what it is really like to be needy and use it to transform other people's lives.  How will we use this knowledge to share the love of God with those around us?  I pray that God would show us what He would have us do.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Year of Truth

"Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God."  Ezekiel 1:1

Today after the kids and I finished with school I found the strangest lyrics running through my head.  It was the first few stanzas of Ezekiel Saw The Wheel, which was made popular at some point by Woody Guthrie. 

Ezekiel saw that wheel
Way up in the middle of the air
Now Ezekiel saw that wheel
Hurling way in the middle of the air

Now the little wheel run by faith
And the big wheel run by the grace of God
In the wheel and a wheel hurling
Way in the middle of the air

The song itself was actually a slave song.  It was one of the many, many spiritual songs sung my slaves while they worked in the fields.  When I was a freshman in high school we sang a version of this song in one of my choirs, if it weren't for that, I don't know that I would really know the song.  But I do.  And I found myself singing it.  I thought that very strange, because it literally came from nowhere.  The more I thought about that though, the more I thought that it had to have come from somewhere.  Random songs don't just happen.  So I decided I needed to open up my Bible and turn to the book of Ezekiel.

I didn't get very far.  :) 

In fact, I read the first verse, and right away, I had a few thoughts about it.  I proceeded to read the whole chapter, but I ended up right back at verse one, which I've posted up above.  It's just that, as soon as I read it, I thought of this idea of visions from God, and I thought of how many times I've heard people criticizing those who claim to have had visions from God.  But here we have, very prominently displayed in the first verse of a book of the Bible the words " the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God."  There it is.  A Godly man had visions, right in the Bible, and yet far too many Christians hear about visions and run screaming because they're certain that the idea of visions comes from the devil.

If one were to go on and continue reading the book of Ezekiel, they would read account after account of vision after vision- including the spinning wheels mentioned in the song above.  The more I read Ezekiel, the more the whole idea of dreams and visions from God become real to me- and a real possibility.  I've never really had a vision, that I know of.  Dreams, yes, but a vision, no.  To me a vision would be something visible- something that I see with my naked eye.  God's never blessed me with that, but I don't discount that someday He could.  He's shown my husband a few visions- a few wonderful bits that are not my story to tell of, but he's had them.  

As I thought on these ideas of visions and dreams, it just had me think that maybe this will be the year that God will reveal truth to His church.   I've been reading a fictional book set in the time of the Civil War here in the US, and one of the subjects addressed is the idea of witch hunts.  I saw a distinct parallel, as there are some Christians out there who have decided that it is their purpose and calling in life to accuse other Christians of dining with the devil, so to speak.  Men and women who pray to God, in the name of Jesus for people to be healed of all kinds of afflictions have been accused of using witchcraft.   That totally makes me think of the Puritan movement, and how they would accuse anyone who seemed not quite right of witchcraft and dealing with the devil.  That was a horrible time in the history of our country, and we're on the edge of repeating the exact same thing.  Oh, we may not have the physical burning at the stake anymore, but the media sure does a good job of completely ruining people with just a few words and a few days of spin.

So I would pray today, with my first post of 2012, that this would be the year of truth for America.  That God's Truth will be known throughout the land, and that those who would bring slander and harm to Godly men and women would be stopped in their tracks.  We have an election before us this year.  I would pray that the truth will become crystal clear to the American people, and that the right person for the job of President will become apparent to each and every voting citizen.

I found a simple truth in Ezekiel today- the simple truth that God can speak to a man with a vision.  God can open up the heavens and show a simple man truths that is needed for the time at hand.  I would pray that visions would become commonplace for the faithful, and that these visions will speak important truths just when they are needed.  May those truths free those who need to be freed.

"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."  John 8:32