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Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Lost Gift

“I am the vine, you are the branches:
He that abides in me, and I in him,
the same brings forth much fruit:
for without me you can do nothing.” 
John 15:5 KJ 2000 Bible

Very soon after New Year’s Day I get busy with the task of taking down all the Christmas decorations. I love putting up the decorations but loath taking them down! This year I think that I will try something new. As I put away the decorations I am going to try to focus on the year ahead. This New Year I want my mind to be filled with hope. I want to raise the bar in my life in many ways, especially in my spiritual life.

The fact is Christmas is over. My daughter and son-in-law have loaded the car with suitcases, unwrapped gifts, and my grandchildren, and have headed back to Maryland. My son has boarded an airplane that is bound for California. Sadness is creeping its way into my emotions. Even though I have just experienced a wonderful Christmas holiday; it is hard for me to shake off the heaviness that is slithering into my heart. I am now faced with the gray of winter, boxes to be filled and carried to the attic, and a house to be restored to normal. This type of melancholy is natural but I must NOT remain here! I must be on guard because my spiritual progress could be hindered by my emotional state of mind.

As I begin removing decorations from our Christmas tree, I notice that there is one lonely, unfamiliar gift that has been shoved to the back of the tree. It had previously been hidden from view but now a corner of this lonely gift peaks out from under the folds of the red and green fabric that has skirted the base of our tree. I’m a bit curious but I decide to retrieve the gift later.

I begin winding up the shinny red and gold garland as I remove it from the tree branches. As I wind the garland, my mind pleasantly begins to remember the wonderful memories that our family made this past Christmas. But in an unsuspecting moment my mind skips from positive thoughts to negative thoughts as I wonder what the future holds. I am reminded that life has a way of changing on a dime. Numerous people I know are experiencing heavy emotional burdens that have been brought into their life because of unwanted life change. Many of these changes have left them reeling and grieving for what has been. Fear grips my heart as I realize – I’m not exempt!

Then in a split second, the Holy Spirit whispers in my mind’s ear, “Abundant life can be yours.” I am a little taken back because I’m already a believer and have been for many years. Then a quiet whisper of truth came to me, “Yes, salvation comes as a free gift from Jesus Christ, but abundant life comes from abiding in Jesus Christ. Abiding is the essential key.”

That thought has given me a little bit more to chew on than a leftover Christmas cookie. What is the Holy Spirit trying to teach me? I started to reflect on what it would mean if I raised the bar in my spiritual life by seeking to abide in Jesus Christ every day of the coming year. First, I realized that simple prayer is a must. Perhaps more prayer for my spiritual needs and less focus on my material and physical needs. Then, of course, reading God’s Word. Maybe I should endeavor to read God’s Word looking for more personal application. I think that seeking to know the mind of Christ would also be a benefit. I must learn to consider how God observes my attitudes, how he sees this world, how Jesus views my overwhelming life changes, my concerns, and my fears. I become conscious of the fact that I must form the habit of listening intentionally for the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit.

My thoughts are racing as I continue to carefully remove each Christmas ornament and loveingly wrap it in tissue paper for safe keeping. I begin to reminisce over the significance of each ornament and I become uniquely aware of a spiritual application that parallels my life. For forty-two years we have collected ornaments for our tree. There are ornaments that signify marriage, birth, faith, and ornaments from special friends who have been people of influence in our life. I treasure the handmade ornaments that were made by our children in elementary school. There are also ornaments that remind me of special vacations and ornaments that denote hobbies and interests of each family member. I even have ornaments from my own childhood. Our Christmas tree is a “timeline” of love!

This discovery reminds me that my life also has a “spiritual timeline”. If I were to draw it on paper I would have to begin with my birth and my first memory of God. I would have to include the influence of my godly parents and my siblings. I would note God’s blessings of marriage to my wonderful husband, the birth of my two children, the addition of a son-in-law, and last but never least, the blessings of my two grandchildren. On this spiritual timeline I would have to place the names of many people who have influenced me for Jesus. I would also include one very special lady who mentored me with amazing love and wisdom. I would also mark on this timeline the darkest days of my life and then the times when God pulled me up and out of my despair. I would make special notes regarding the people God sent into my life to help me through those dark days. I would mark the churches I have attended and the heavenly messages I learned in each place. There would be stones of remembrance placed all over this spiritual timeline reminding me of God’s provision and protection for me and for those I love. My personal spiritual timeline serves as a visible reminder to me of God’s faithfulness. All of my days have been ordered by him, even before a single day came to be!

Today I am considering the very real possibility that God has allowed all of these things to come into my life for a reason. I am shocked to realize that life altering change has proven over and over again to be my very best teacher. My entire life God has been changing me, experience by experience. The person that I am becoming in Christ Jesus is being shaped by the continual divine touch of God’s creative hand in my life. God is a master of using both the good and the bad circumstances of my life to refine me for his eternal purposes. God is in the process of changing me from glory into glory. He is preparing me to meet him face to face.

Nevertheless, I am a master at taking each change in my life and immediately gift wrapping it in my own expectations. I know what I want, what I do not want. I know when I want God to show up and what I want him to bring with him.  I know exactly how I want things to end. It is always the same; I want things to end well! No matter how good my intentions are or how right my desires may be, I am learning that I cannot experience God’s peace unless I am willing to give up “when” I think things should happen and “how” they should end. When I am finally able to hand Jesus my gift wrapped package of control and expectations, he then unwraps the package and rewraps it the beautiful pure white paper of his grace and ties it with a gorgeous gold bow of his faithfulness. This box holds the contents of my broken heart, but little by little God will fuse the pieces of my brokenness back into place as he perfectly repairs and prepares my heart for eternity.

No matter what may come my way I will always be tempted to question God. However, past experiences has taught me that the acceptance of God’s will for my life will be the only thing that will bring me peace of mind. Most likely I will never be free of the memory of what happened to cause me so much sorrow. But it must remain, only a memory. Not an open wound to be relived daily. When I am able to surrender the future to God, the difficult circumstance of my life may still remain the same but by some mysterious work of God’s divine grace, my outlook regarding my pain always changes for the better.

I am beginning to see that I must seek to see the unwanted life change from the eyes of Jesus. I am very well aware that I see negative life change as painful, but how does Jesus see this change? I believe that first of all he weeps with me. I then believe that Jesus sees the pain in my life as an opportunity and if I will allow it, he than begins to use that circumstance to develop my character. God desires that I become a believer that is better not bitter. This is not easy when every thread of my being screams out, “No God. Not this!” Still I must remember that some day all tears will be wiped away forever, but until that day there will be pain and sadness because we live in a fallen world. I remember that God’s Word tells me that I am never alone. Jesus will never leave me or forsake me! That is his promise to me and to you.

It has now been a few hours since I began putting away decorations and thinking on things above. My curiosity has gotten the better of me so I crawl under the Christmas tree that is now looking quite naked, to retrieve the lost gift. Sitting cross legged on the floor, I look closely and see that to my surprise it has MY name on the tag. Now my hands are shaking in anticipation of what is inside. I carefully begin removing the wrapping paper. The lost gift is amazing! Nestled inside soft tissue paper is a beautiful crystal heart-shaped paper weight. Engraved on the crystal is one simple word, “HOPE”. I open the card that is attached to the gift and slowly I read His words, “Abide in me, surrender to me, and hope in me. My precious daughter, this is abundant life! Love, Jesus”

This lost gift is a treasure! This crystal heart and this beautiful note is going to be placed on the center of my desk as a daily reminder that all of my problems must at some point leave my heart and end up under the paperweight of Jesus Christ, who is  my hope of glory. Jesus, I want your abundant life today and everyday as I abide in you and place my hope in your capable hands of love!


  1. Does the New Year make you anxious?
  2. Is there a life changing burden deep within your heart?
  3. How long have you carried this burden?
  4. Do you see the need to surrender your control and expectations to Jesus?
  5. What are the benefits of abiding in Jesus every day?
  6. This week draw your own spiritual timeline and save it as a tool to remind you of God’s faithfulness to you in the past. It will give you hope for the future!
If you are a new believer, you too should consider starting your own personal “spiritual timeline”. It may go back only a few days, months, or years but it will move forward your entire life. Over the years this timeline will prove to be a precious document of God’s faithfulness to you.


Dear Jesus,

I confess that it is so difficult to trust you with life change. I am afraid to trust you because I do not know the future outcome. I so desperately want my way! Jesus, is it so wrong to want things to turn out well? I am reminded that you too wanted things to turn out well. You desperately wanted to avoid the pain and suffering of the cross. Yet, through the eyes of your Father you were able to see the eternal good in an outcome that was not personally good for you this side of heaven. Jesus, I know that I must abide in you so that I will be strengthened. Father I want to raise the bar in my life so that I will abide in you moment by moment and day by day. Jesus I am profoundly thankful that you do not expect me to be thankful for the pain in my life. I know that you understand my pain and weep with me. So today Lord, I am not thankful for the pain or the loss in my life or for the suffering, but I am thankful for the knowledge that by some mystery that I cannot understand you are going to take all of the stinking, miserable circumstances that come into my life and use them for my eternal good. For this truth I am thankful.  So today Jesus, I pray for your grace to enable me to trust you and to surrender the outcome of every difficult situation to you. Help me to trust in your unfailing kindness because I know that you alone are sovereign. Father, help me to abide in your love and treasure the hope I have in you.
It is in your name I pray. Amen. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

He Who Gives - Let Him Give Freely

“he who gives, let him give freely”
Romans 12:8b (Bible in Basic English)
Without a doubt, Christmas is a time of giving. Sometimes we give to our children and grandchildren to a fault. But basically, giving is good. Giving gifts to others tells them that we love and appreciate them. It is a joy to give someone something unexpected. It is a greater joy to know that they really love what you have given them.
Aside from giving to our family, friends, neighbors, people who serve us, and the individual whose name we have drawn out of the hat at work, we often give to people in need during the Christmas season. The Bible is full of stories about people giving large amounts of food and treasures to those whose favor they hoped to gain. The Bible encourages us to give to those in need. We are not to give for personal gain.
Giving to the needy at Christmas is widely encouraged in our culture. In our attempt to give to those in need we write checks, gather groceries, purchase and wrap gifts for children we don’t know, fill shoe boxes to be sent to children in foreign countries, serve meals in shelters, hand out toiletries to the homeless, visit nursing homes and leave small gifts for the residents, and the list goes on and on. All of these avenues of giving are to be commended. Many lives are blessed because people give generously.
But my question today is have you ever been in need? Have you been on the receiving end of giving? How did that make you feel? There are many emotions that can surface when we are on the receiving end in a time of need. It is easy to enjoy a gift when we don’t need anything. But then again, when we are in need we sometimes feel inadequate, embarrassed, or our pride kicks in and we want to refuse the gift that is being offered.
I experienced this on Christmas many years ago. Our children were small and my husband and I were struggling financially. After all the gifts had been unwrapped one of our family members handed us a check of a sizable amount. My first response was to refuse the gift. I think perhaps I experienced many negative emotions but for me pride was at the top!
We graciously accepted the check but I purposed in my heart to never cash it. God began to speak to my heart regarding this issue. I stumbled upon a scripture, in of all places, a Christmas cookbook. The verse said, “he who gives, let him give freely” Wow! I knew this scripture was from God because I was not seeking confirmation, not to mention that God seemed to be speaking to me from a cookbook! This verse hit me so strongly that it sounded more like a command than a statement.
After thinking about the scripture verse for awhile, I began to realize that perhaps the giver was being obedient to God. Who was I to refuse something that God had orchestrated? Furthermore, I remembered that when I have been the giver, God always blessed me. Who was I to rob this giver of a blessing? If God wanted to provide for us, who was I to say thanks, but no thanks? Why was I so determined to decline this gift? Then as out of nowhere the Holy Spirit spoke words of conviction to my heart. “Pride is a sin.” Needless to say, I confessed my pride, thanked God for his provision, cashed the check, and expressed heartfelt thanks to the giver. Appreciation and gratitude replaced my pride.
Giving is a two way street. The Bible teaches that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35 NIV However, that Christmas I also learned that from my point of view it was definitely more blessed to receive than to give.
  1. Do you enjoy giving?
  2. When was the last time you gave to someone in need?
  3. Have you ever given to a family member in need?
  4. Have you ever been in need?
  5. How did you feel as a recipient of a gift that was given to help you?
  6. Have you ever been too proud to accept the gift?
  7. Did God change your thinking regarding the giver of the gift?

Dear Jesus,

I confess that I do not give enough. Please forgive me for my selfishness. I pray Lord that I would become a giver because giving pleases you. Help me also to look for needs and rise to the occasion of meeting the needs that you put on my heart. Father, I thank you that have you blessed me in the past by others giving to me in my time of need. Father when it is my time to give, may I give unreservedly. When it is my time to receive I pray that I would set aside pride and allow the giver that you have sent to give freely. Jesus I am reminded that you have given the greatest gift of all, your life, to redeem and rescue me from the bondage of sin. I thank you Jesus that I am a recipient of your gift. This Christmas and every day I want to give of my time and my resources for your glory.
In your name I pray. Amen.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ordinary Mary

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.
“May it be to me as you have said.”
Then the angel left her.”
Luke 1:38 NIV

I am amazed at how ordinary Mary, the mother of Jesus really was. She was not from a big city. She was from the small town of Nazareth. Actually, Nazareth did not have a very good reputation. Her family was not wealthy or well to do. There were plenty of other young women who were her friends that God could have chosen to be the mother of Jesus, but he didn’t. It makes me wonder, why Mary? Simply put, Mary was ordinary, so what was it that set her apart?
I imagine that Mary was going about her business, dreaming of her wedding to Joseph the carpenter and planning her future that no doubt included many of Joseph’s children. Mary was raised in a typical Jewish household and was taught the importance of respecting God and trusting him for his provision and protection. Mary was also taught to look for the promised Messiah. She believed all that God had promised regarding the Messiah would come to pass.
Mary’s days were most likely routine. Perhaps she helped her mother care for younger children, bake bread, fill water jars, and perform other tasks for the family. Yet one day out of the blue here comes the angel Gabriel, straight from heaven with news that was not the best. Mary I know you are a virgin, but not for long. You will become pregnant, not by Joseph, but by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. It will be a mystery to you but nevertheless, trust me, it will happen.
God in his wisdom sent an angel. The angel Gabriel was a very visible sign for an invisible experience that was soon to take place. Gabriel’s beginning message was pleasant enough, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Now I’m guessing that when you are in Mary’s position it would be good to know that she was highly favored. But in the days ahead it would be even more important for Mary to know that the Lord was with her.
“Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” She may have thought, “I’m glad he knows my knees are knocking!” And there it was again, that word “favor”. What will that mean? Then here came the words rolling off the tongue of Gabriel, the words that would change her life forever! “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” Good to know! In a world absent of sonograms, here was an angel standing before her with divine information, a son, and on top of that a name already chosen.
Now at this point, ordinary Mary may have gone straight back to fear! How can this be? What will Joseph say? What will my parents say? My father will be angry. My mother will cry.  This is shameful. I may be stoned when Joseph finds out. Mary’s thoughts invaded her mind with such speed that they had no chance of becoming words. Fear? Are you kidding me? Of course I’m afraid! I’m petrified!
Then more information from the bearer of bad news! If I were Mary I think at this point I would want to grab a scroll and something to write with, then grab some young boy who could write and have him take a few notes! Gabriel continues, “He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Now in the middle of this horrific storm of life change Mary hears what Gabriel is really saying.He will be great.” He will be God’s Son. “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever;” He will be a ruling king. The implication of that statement pointed to her precious baby boy as being the promised Messiah! “His kingdom will never end.”
I’m not sure if Mary really believed that God would take care of her, but for sure she knew that he would take care of his Son, the promised Messiah. For Mary those words may have been the very words that dispelled her fear. Basically, Mary was just an ordinary young virgin that was available. God knew her heart and knew that she would respond to him in humble faithfulness. She was not chosen because she was holy. Mary was chosen because she was available to be a vessel for God’s use.
Mary’s response to Gabriel is priceless. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. I wonder how much time passed from Gabriel’s arrival until his departure. Was it five minutes, fifteen minutes, a half hour, an hour, an afternoon, an entire day? I do not know but I do commend Mary on her quick obedience. Sometimes I argue with God for days, months, and even years. If Mary was extraordinary on any level it was in her immediate response to obedience. She quickly sent a message back to God via Gabriel. “May it be to me as you have said.” Oh, for a heart like Mary’s. A heart that was not only available to God but also a heart that quickly responded to God in loving obedience.
Do you marvel at Mary’s heart for her God?
Has God ever asked anything of you that you thought was impossible?
Was your first response fear?
If God asks you to do something, do you believe he will be with you if your are obedient?
Are you impressed with Mary’s quick response of obedience?
Are you available to God to be used as a vessel for his service?


Dear God,

I am encouraged to know that Mary was just an ordinary woman. I see also that Mary was not perfect. She had negative thoughts and fearful responses. She didn’t want to disappoint her parents or Joseph. But God, above all others, Mary didn’t want to disappoint you. Mary so wanted to please you that her response could be nothing less than yes Lord, I will be obedient, use me. God, I see that Mary was able to set aside selfish concerns and bow in humble obedience to your will for her life. I pray God that you would help me learn from Mary. God, I want to be available to you. Help me Lord to cast out all fear when you ask something of me. I want to be obedient to you because I love you. Forgive me God when I procrastinate regarding my obedience.  I thank you God that you have recorded Mary’s example of obedience in your Word so that I might be encouraged to set aside fear and choose the path of obedience. God, I don’t want to be just a believer. I want to be a believer that trusts you in all circumstances. I want to trust you because I believe with all my heart that you love me and will always be with me even when life would give me every reason to doubt.

In your Son’s name I pray. Amen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas Miracles

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.  
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.”
Isaiah 9:6-7a NIV
What better place to witness the miracles of Christmas than in the garden? Yes, it is a bit chilly but without a doubt worth the experience. Pure white snow, dark evergreens, shades of gray blending into the black tree trunks that support empty branches standing in silence as they wait for spring. Moonlight cast filtered shadows on the red holly berries. The chickadees and cardinals have tucked their heads under their wings for the long winter night. Early tomorrow morning they will wake up singing their praise as they fly about adding interest and color to the drab days of winter. As you know, since my heart’s garden not an actual garden, my mind is wide open to add additional beauty. If I want snow...there is snow!  It is possible for me to enjoy poinsettia, amaryllis, paper whites and snow drops all in the same garden bed!
It has been a busy shopping day for me so I am getting to the garden a little late. Large wet snowflakes of a million different patterns are beginning to fall. Dusk is succumbing to night and the moon is climbing high in the black velvet sky. One by one the stars begin to twinkle and shine reminding me of the message of a Christmas miracle that happened over two thousand years ago.

Tonight I will  sit a spell in the gazebo and contemplate Christmas miracles of long ago. My thermos of hot chocolate is steaming and each swallow warms me inside and out. I also feel the loving warmth of God, my Heavenly Father. Memories of that first Christmas night begin to flood my mind. What were the miracles of that special night?

The greatest miracle was the arrival of God to live among men. It was also the miraculous appearing  of the heavenly host of angels descending from the realms of glory and hovering over the Bethlehem hillside as they delivered God’s holy birth announcement to the sleepy shepherds. It was a manger made of wood that would begin a journey that would eventually lead this Christ child to a wooden cross. It was Joseph, a loving earthly father, who against all odds took on God’s assignment for his life even at the risk of personal humiliation. It was Mary, a simple young woman who considered herself to be blessed by God among all women even though her predicament had raised eyebrows and placed her in a position of shame. It was a tiny newborn baby who had created all life, but now was dependant on those he created. It was a holy night of prophecy finally being fulfilled! These are only a few of the miracles of that first Christmas so many years ago.

Tonight I am amazed when I realize that the same stars that shown over two thousand years ago lighting the way for the Messiah are the same stars that are still in place for me to enjoy tonight. Glancing around the garden I am reminded that my winter garden contains holly berries, cardinals, poinsettia, and amaryllis which are all brilliant red reminders of the blood that Jesus shed for all who would believe in him and accept his free gift of salvation. The pure white snow reminds me that even though my sins are as scarlet, the blood of Jesus washes away my sin and makes me whiter than snow. As the wind whistles through the trees it seems I can hear the distant song of the angels and the message they sing is for the entire world. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11 KJV The snow topped evergreens surrounding me are celebrating God’s message of hope for everlasting life. These are indeed the miracles of Christmas. How blessed I am to be in the garden this wonderful night! How comforting it is to know that this very day God is still in the process of fulfilling his prophecy. As prophesied, Jesus came to this world a long time ago and every day we live we are one day closer to him coming again!


  1. What miracles of Christmas amaze you the most?
  2. Why are those miracles so meaningful to you?
  3. As Christmas nears will you make time to reflect on the miracles of Christmas by spending time with God in the garden of your heart?
Dear God,
What an amazing plan you have for this world! God, it was you, who put on the skin of humanity and came to earth in the simple form of a baby. No fanfare only simplicity.  You used the simple to baffle the wise. It was a simple handmaiden and a man who was an ordinary carpenter that brought glory to you because of their obedience. God you rode into the little town of Bethlehem nestled in the womb of Mary, who road on the back of a common donkey. You chose to use a smelly stable for shelter and a hay manger to cradle your precious Son on the night of his birth. Your birth announcement came from the heavenly angels to the lowly shepherds. This heavenly announcement was the only splash of magnificence on that dark starry night. The message was simply go to the busy city of Bethlehem, where there are more people than rooms, find a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Because the shepherds believed the message of the angels they quickly went without hesitation to find Christ the Lord and to worship him, the Messiah, the Son of God, The Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, and The Prince of Peace. God, I want to thank and praise you tonight for your wonderful gift to this sinful world. Jesus, is the miracle of Christmas!
It is in His name I pray. Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Trimming the Tree

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  …for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:6-7, 11b NIV
When my children were growing up I think that next to eating Christmas cookies trimming the tree was their favorite part of Christmas preparations. The Children loved decorating the tree. Not only was the tree pretty, the lights seemed magical and they both loved hanging all of their special ornaments on the tree. I believe for them, decorating the tree signaled the beginning of the Christmas holidays. As their excitement peaked, their spirits danced right out of their bodies into a room that was soon to be filled with their hyper activity! On the other hand, my husband put the tree in the stand and then escaped to TV and Christmas cookies. That always made me a little sad because I wanted decorating the tree to be a family activity.
The decorating of a beautiful tree and corralling two children high on Christmas cookie sugar (back then, I didn’t know that sugar made children fly off the walls) was my responsibility. The scene went a little like this. Before the tree was secured in the stand they wanted to know, “When can we put the lights on the tree?” Before the lights were completely in place they wanted to know, “When can we hang our ornaments on the branches?” Before all of the ornaments were hung they wanted to know, “When can we string the garland?” Before the garland was finished they wanted to know, “When  can we place the beautiful angel on the top of our tree?
In the meantime there was always tears and arguments as to who took whose spot on the tree for hanging their own special ornaments. My frustration always seemed to escalate and my patience wane as the evening progressed. All day long I had dreamed that trimming the tree would be a perfect Christmas card scene. You know those cards where the house is in perfect order, the fireplace is cozy, everyone is dressed in beautiful clothes, and there is a table with candles lit and hot chocolate and cookies waiting to be enjoyed by every member of the family. Can’t you just hear the Christmas carols playing in the background?
But in reality, with each impatient question and every tearful argument, my spirit would deflate and sink deeper into the depth of my heart. You might remember me saying before, my husband was watching TV. As a result of what I considered to be his lack of involvement and the children’s bad behavior I become very dissatisfied with the entire situation. On one particular occasion I shot up a prayer to God and said, “God, I can’t believe this, I really can’t believe this special evening has turned out this way!”
And then the Holy Spirit whispered the “God Lesson”! Contentment my dear daughter, contentment is what you need. Take joy in the fact that these children are just excited. They are only little once. Enjoy the moment. Paula, you shouldn’t even dream dreams that are reserved only for Christmas cards. Make your own Christmas photos.” As a result of the chiding of the  Holy Spirit I began to look around. Everyone was dressed in comfortable jeans, silly kids danced around to the sound of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, cookie crumbs were falling on the carpet, and hubby was cozy in his chair instead being an absentee father. God then seem to whisper, “Love, don’t forget the love!” Yes, love illuminated this scene into the perfect Christmas snapshot.
The Holy Spirit reminded me that Jesus is the reason for the season and that I must not forget to share that with the family. After the tree had been trimmed to semi-perfection, as a family we pulled out our nativity set. After the figures were placed inside the creche and the children had placed the baby Jesus between Joseph and Mary we talked about why we are trimming our tree on this very special holy night.
  1. Do you recall any Christmas experiences in the past that have left you feeling frustrated?
  2. How did you get past the frustration and disappointment of that experience?
  3. Are there any holiday expectations that perhaps you need to rethink?
Dear Jesus,
Christmas is such a special time of year. Forgive me when I feel frustration. Help me this year to practice contentment in all my holiday preparations. Jesus, when I wrap gifts I want to remember that you are my very special gift from the Father. When I decorate the tree, help me to remember that you became the sacrificial lamb who died on a tree for my sin. As I drive to and from my responsibilities, I want to enjoy the message of the carols that are being sung on my favorite radio station during this beautiful Christmas season. Help me take time to feel your peace every morning as I bow in prayer and reflect on this very special time of year. As I bake cookies for my family help me to remember that I must taste of your goodness everyday because if I do I will see that you are indeed sweet and good. When I write Christmas cards to friends and family I want to whisper a prayer that you will bless them in the coming year and pray for any special needs they may be experiencing. Jesus, help me to love my family and be content with my life stage. Help me to delight in every memory and snap priceless photos to place in the scrapbook of my heart.
In your name I pray. Amen.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Less Is More!

“You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in you.”
Isaiah 26:3 NIV

 Thanksgiving is over and the last of the leftovers have been enjoyed. My mind now starts racing to all that is to be accomplished in the next thirty-two days. I have begun this day by putting on my armor which consists of my warm bathrobe and fluffy slippers! In addition I have also armed myself for battle with hot coffee, calendar, my Bible, cook books, note book, pen and markers, and now I will begin the task of making lists. I make lists for cleaning, decorating, menus, baking, shopping for gifts, shopping for miscellaneous holiday items, grocery lists, parties, concerts, and activities to attend, and entertaining others. There is also the Christmas card list, and last but not least, a list of things I would like to do for others. Now comes the huge task of scheduling days to shop, decorate, grocery shop, bake, write cards, wrap gifts, attend and host functions, holiday hair cut, housekeeping, and my writing schedule, plus reserving some time to serve others.
I don’t mind telling you that the day after Thanksgiving I am a woman on a mission! High gear would be an understatement! Now it begins. The lists are piling up one on top of the other. The very last list on the top of the pile of many lists is “the complete list of all of my other lists”! I know this process is insanity! Truth be told…I just can’t help myself.
Oddly enough, the multiple lists have piled up and have completely covered my Bible. I now frantically search for my Bible as I multi task by shooting up a quick prayer to God asking for his help to get through the next thirty-two days. I flip open my Bible hoping that I will quickly land upon some “magical” verse that will put the wind in my sails that will be needed to push me to the front of this holiday marathon! Why wouldn’t God give me a verse above all verses to make it all happen?
Glancing down at my Bible I begin to read from Isaiah, “You (God) will keep in perfect peace him (me) whose mind is steadfast, because he (I) trusts in you (God).”  At that point I am stunned by the timeliness of this scripture. It doesn’t take me but a moment to realize that I am being influenced by obligations, traditions, and pressures that will soon send me flying down the dreadful path of stress and insanity. Yes God, that is exactly what I need. Peace! Zap it to me! At that moment, it was as if the Holy Spirit whispered, “Not so fast Paula, this is a two part promise. God will give you peace but you must first keep your mind and heart on him!” Great! One more thing to do!  How can I spend time with God when there is no time? I am now feeling even more stressed as I get up for another cup of hot, flavored, caffeine. Standing in the middle of my kitchen, it was as if a light came on in the very dark tunnel of my brain! Peace is the absence of stress. Huh! Imagine that. This calls for re-evaluation of all that I have put on my many lists. Let the writing of "God’s Priority List" begin. Prayerfully, I bow my head and pray before I attempt to separate the good from the best. My good - God's best. 
Do you relate to over extending yourself as you prepare for the Christmas holiday?
Are you longing for peaceful preparations to replace the stress that you are beginning to feel even before you begin your Christmas preparations?
What can you eliminate to make “less” Christmas preparations allow for a “more” meaningful time for you and your family?
Do you understand that to keep stress under control during this time of preparation it will require you to make time daily for God to refresh you with his peace?
Will you pray for God’s guidance and direction as you write out God’s “To Do” list for this Christmas season?
As you attempt to simplify your Christmas preparations, are you willing to eliminate things of less importance so that you can pursue the tasks that God considers to be of value?

Returning to God’s Word I turn to Isaiah 9.“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” Isaiah 9:7a NIV I again bow my head and begin to pray to the Prince of Peace, asking him for the gift of his inner peace in my life during this time of holiday preparation.
Dear Jesus,
I pray that you will help me to make your work my work. Help me to weed through and re-evaluate all that I have considered doing for this Christmas holiday. Show me what I should cross off my list and what should remain. Help me to see that less is more and that little is much when you are in the plans. Father, give me one list, your list. Jesus, guide me as I rewrite my “To Do” list so that my holiday preparations will be manageable, meaningful and enjoyable. Jesus, as we celebrate your birth I want to plan to do things that will glorify you and bring joy to my family.  I want this list not to be my list but rather Your “To Do” list. Today I ask for your peace. Peace that passes all understanding. Peace from you Lord, the Prince of Peace.
It is in your name I pray. Amen.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Foretaste of Heaven

“However, as it is written:
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him”
I Corinthians 2:9 NIV

Of all the holidays, I seem to enjoy Thanksgiving the most because it only lasts for one day. It celebrates faith, family, friends, and food! Thanksgiving is a special day that I focus on my many blessings and offer up my gratitude to God for his provision. Although I enjoy Thanksgiving it is not my favorite holiday. Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but because Christmas seems to last for months it wears me out! The preparation and the clean up just about ruins the meaning of this holy holiday. I find that I must always guard against that scenario. Easter is an amazing holiday because it signals the arrival of spring and the message of our risen Lord. Easter gives eternal hope to all believers! For that reason I would have to say that Easter is my favorite holiday.
Thanksgiving is a special American holiday that is set apart from other days. It is a day for all of us to focus on our blessings. Being thankful for the good things in life are always at the top of my list! I am ashamed to say that sometimes I verbalize that I am thankful for family, health, and financial provision before I even think to be thankful for my precious gift of God’s forgiveness and my hope of eternal life. I neglect to express thanks for the graciousness of God as he continues to give me his love, joy, peace, comfort, and guidance. In reality all of the things that I cannot put a price tag on are my most treasured possessions. My faith, family, health, and God's provision for me cannot be purchased and they are my greatest blessings. I must remember that I do not have a single blessing outside of the hand of God. I am so thankful that God loves me so lavishly and extravagantly. I will never understand why God is so incredibly good to me.
There is no doubt that sometimes life hits us hard and throws us for a loop! Sickness comes, we experience personal loss, bills pile up, and natural disasters destroy our homes and communities, wars separate us from those we love, and death robs us of someone dear to our heart. Still God is good.
God has so much in store for those who love him. A new Heaven and earth, and his Kingdom, will be ours to enjoy for all eternity! It will be a world without end. We will enjoy forever a life void of conflict, tears, pain, abuse, misunderstandings, stress, and struggle. Sickness, suffering, and death will be left behind.
Even on my worst day, I am still so blessed! It is sometimes hard for me to imagine more blessings. I can always imagine more wealth and happy endings but I cannot imagine more of what God has planned for me! The blessings that God has so richly bestowed upon me now serve only as a foretaste of what God has in store for me in eternity.  My blessings in this life is a little like pinching off a bite of the turkey before mom has placed it on the table. Or a bit like tasting the stuffing before it is served. For sure it is like licking the beaters after the sweet cream is whipped and then sticking my finger in the pumpkin pie! The yummy before dinner bites is just a little foretaste of what is yet to come. Soon most of us will sit down to our traditional family feast. We have waited all year for this meal and anticipated all day actually eating the delicious food that has been tantalizing our nostrils as we have patiently waited to be called to the table of blessing. Finally, the moment is here and it is above and beyond all we could have ever anticipated or hoped for.
I can only imagine that heaven will be the same way. We read God’s Word and learn about this wonderful place. We especially tune in to the words of Jesus as he tells us he is going away to prepare a place for us, a place with many rooms; so that where he is we may be also. In the book of Revelation we read John’s description of heaven and the Lamb of God, and we dream, anticipate, and look forward to Jesus coming again. Believers long to be a part of the rapture that will sweep us up to heaven before our death, but even if death takes us first we still are comforted with the blessing of our hope of heaven.

This life offers many tantalizing blessings of many earthly pleasures that come straight from the hand of God. These blessings are but a foretaste of heaven divine! Jesus wants us to experience the love of family in this life so that we can better understand his love. Jesus wants us to plunge deep into our relationship with him now so that when we meet him, our Lord and Savior, we will behold his glory in an even greater capacity. God wants us to experience the beauty of his creation and the bounty of his provision now, so that we can look forward to an even more magnificent perfect creation and his limitless provision forever. God is a God of abundance! As we experience this abundant life now, we still look forward to an even greater abundant life in heaven that will last forever. For all these things we give thanks not only on Thanksgiving but on every other day as well!
What are your top three priceless blessings?

Even on your worst day, do you still feel blessed?
Have you taken time to tell God how grateful you are? 
Dear God,
I am privileged and blessed to experience amazing blessings from you loving hands every day. I thank you God for your goodness to me. God you are good all the time not just in plenty but also in want. Father, forgive me when I become so self absorbed that I forget that all things are from your hand. God, I thank you for your forgiveness of my sin. I even thank you that you take my misfortune and make it into opportunities to change me and develop godly character within my heart. Heavenly Father, I am so blessed to know that even when the circumstances of life seem to be more than I can bear you are still there. God you come along side of me and weep when I weep. You see my need and always provide more than enough.  You provide for many who are not able to work and also for those who cannot find work. You give strength to the weak and weary when it seems that their strength is almost gone. You give comfort in loss and hope for tomorrow. Today God, I pray for all those who today may be alone, hungry, cold, sick, suffering, and feel they are at the end of their rope. Father, send someone to help them in their darkest hour. I pray Father, that all of us will look to you whose heart is good all the time, and give grateful thanks.
In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Arriving Without A Gift

“See! I am coming soon!
My reward is with me
 to repay everyone according to his work.”
Revelation 22:12 ISV

Sometimes, when I am sitting outside my house, I will look up and see the most magnificent, brilliant blue sky full of large, fluffy, pure white clouds in all shapes and sizes. These puffs of fluff often remind me of cotton candy. A sky like that always sets my mind to thinking about heaven. I am reminded that Jesus left this world in the clouds and he promised that he would return in the same manner in which he was taken away. As I think about heaven I often wonder what it will be like to meet my Savior. I know for certain this is one party I do not want to miss.
In my lifetime I have been invited to many parties and events that required that I bring a gift to give to the guest or guests of honor. If I were to arrive at the party without a gift, I would be very embarrassed and I would feel very sad that I had nothing to give to honor the individual or individuals who were being honored.
I would likewise be very sad to enter heaven and stand before Jesus empty handed. I am reminded that this life counts! This life is my opportunity to live for Jesus in such a way that I will be rewarded in heaven. The Bible teaches that believers will be awarded crowns for the work they did on earth. These crowns are not for me to enjoy but are to be laid at the feet of Jesus. If I arrive in heaven without having earned any crowns I will have nothing to give to the One who gave his all for me.
It is important to know that salvation is free but rewards must be earned and they must be earned in this life. After we become a Believer, the remainder of time that we spend on this earth is a time of preparation for heaven. The days I live on earth will be used by God to refine my character and change me in ways that will bring glory to him. My days on earth are filled with opportunities for me to earn rewards for the work I do for my Heavenly Father.
The Bible teaches that all of our works will be judged by God. “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NIV
If I find myself working for rewards for my own personal gain or if I have an attitude of pride as a result of my work, that work will burn up in the fire and will not stand. It will only be the selfless works that will withstand the fire when tried by God. These selfless works are pure and will result in eternal reward. However, if my work proves to be selfish and prideful I will suffer loss of reward. As a forgiven child of God I will be safe, but I may experience sadness at the judgment seat of Christ when I realize that my works have been burned up in the fire because I have served God selfishly and in a spirit of pride. In addition, I will be sad because I have nothing to give to my Savior when I enter heaven.
At one time in my life this truth left me feeling very uncomfortable. I didn’t feel like I had anything great to offer in service. Others were more gifted, and far more talented than me. I really didn’t think there was much I was qualified to do.  Much of my small work in the church was done for all of the wrong reasons. I did some work well but then I realized that I couldn’t be trusted with a compliment! Compliments made my head swell with pride. Yuck! Other times I had a poor attitude because I felt like I had to do all the work. At times I carried guilt that I must win large numbers of people to Christ because this was the only acceptable pure work. The fact was I wasn’t a preacher or a missionary. I didn’t even have the gift of evangelism, so what was I to do? The answer was clear. Suffer loss and enter heaven empty handed! I was very sad because I so desperately wanted crowns to lay at the feet of Jesus. I no longer was trying to work my way to heaven but now I was trying to chalk up God’s approval by doing works that hopefully he would approve.
The Bible teaches that there are four separate crowns for which we as believers should make every effort to win. The good news is that these crowns are not out of reach for any Christian that strives to please God. I would like to suggest that most likely, this side of heaven, I will not even realize that something I have done is worthy of receiving a crown. Isn’t that beautiful?
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trails because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12 NIV The crown of life is given to Christians who endure their trials in this life. God takes note of our faithfulness to him during difficult times. If we leave this world as faithful overcomers of the difficulties we experience in life we will win the crown of life because we have done the selfless work of faithfulness.
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even (you) in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” 1 Thessalonians 2:19 KJV When we get to heaven there will be much personal rejoicing over others who are there because of our influence, our testimony, and our invitation to accept Jesus Christ. Some of us are better at this than others. Some have the gift of evangelism and other do not but all of us can choose to exhibit a godly witness that is seen by others as they observe the choices we make and the attitudes we display. When we exhibit peace and joy regardless of our circumstances God is glorified and others are influenced to find and follow Jesus. At the very least if we have children, we have the responsibility to teach them the way to the Father. In this life we may never know the many lives that we have touched but God does. God will not miss a single soul that is in heaven because of our influence and for the work of godly influence the Father will reward us with the crown of rejoicing. Even our silent testimony is of value if a life is changed because of our life.
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be, not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” 1 Peter 5:2-4 NIV Ministers, Elders and Deacons are most certainly shepherds but that does not leave the rest of us out. Being a care-giver to someone we love, encouraging and praying for our family, training, teaching, and sharing what God has opened our eyes to see, and being an example of faithfulness to God is without a doubt shepherding. In the simplest of terms a shepherd cares for his sheep. Each one of us cannot reach the entire world but God has given each of us a certain number of individuals who fall within our circle of care and influence. These are the sheep that God has given each one of us to care for. For sure it is our immediate family members, then our extended family members. At times that may seem selfish to put those we love first, but in reality what a tragedy it would be to minister to the whole world and loose our own family!
We also have opportunity to serve our co-workers, neighbors, and church friends each week. Most of us frequent the same stores and often have contact with the same individuals. Don’t worry about shepherding the people you don’t know simply reach out in love to the people you do know. Also be on the look out daily for new people that God may send your way. There are also many opportunities to give of our resources so that others can go and serve where we cannot. Our ability to shepherd others does not have to be perfect it only has to be sincere. God knows the work we do for others and he knows if it is self-centered or if it is done for the glory of God. If the latter is true then God will award us the crown of glory. God rewards selfless obedience.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV The crown of righteousness will be given to believers who seek to live pure lives and are longing for the second coming of Jesus Christ. This life does matter. If we are endeavoring to make good choices in life and if we are longing for our Savior’s return we will be given the crown of righteousness.
Our works are not to be burdensome. We should not walk around feeling guilty saying, “I ought to do this or that”. However, we should be intentional about striving to obey God when he entrusts us to even the smallest of tasks. If God puts something or someone on my heart I want to believe that he thinks it is an important assignment. Therefore, I should take seriously his request and carry through for him. Because I am a list maker I often keep a “To Do List for God”. This list serves as a reminder of the things that God is prompting me to do no matter how great or small. When the task is complete I cross it off. This list is different than the other lists I keep. Crossing things off of this list does not signify my accomplishment. It does however signify my obedience. I must admit that there are still many “God Suggestions” on my list that have not been crossed off. It is my goal to cross off each and every God assignment.
In a nut shell, God basically calls us to do four things for which we will receive crowns. I am delighted to realize that none of these works are impossible or out of my reach! We must remember that God wants us to succeed.
-Persevere and remain faithful to God during our trials.
-Invest our life in the lives of non-believers by pointing them to Jesus.
-Shepherd, disciple and care for believers.
-Seek to live a pure life and long for the return of Jesus Christ.
Crowns may or may not be literal, I do not know. But at any rate, what they represent is of utmost importance. Those things are so important to God that he is willing to reward us for our obedience. Our works will either be credited to us or taken from us and burned up in the fire. Much of what we do is certainly important, but God seems to indicate that faithfulness, godly influence, shepherding, striving to live a pure life, and longing for Jesus’ return are the things that will withstand the fire. These things in themselves seem to already stand alone in purity because they are void of selfish motive. Selfishness cannot abide in faithfulness, selfishness is not a part of godly influence, and there is no shepherd that thinks of self ahead of others. Pure living is void of self. Although, longing for Jesus’ return may be selfish. I imagine that if we don’t long for his returning it most likely will be because we love the things of this world too much.
I can’t help but think that we too will somehow benefit from the significance of the crowns that we lay at Jesus’ feet. Though we will surrender to Jesus the crown of life we will still possess eternal life and perhaps have a greater capacity to enjoy heaven. When the crown of rejoicing is laid at Jesus’ feet our own personal rejoicing will be beyond our imagination and it will last throughout eternity. We will most likely have a greater capacity to comprehend and enjoy the glory of God because of the crown of righteousness.  At long last we will truly see what righteousness really looks like in the eyes of the Father and we will be amazed. When I stand before God at the believer’s judgment my clothing will be the filthy rags of my sin, covered over by the blood of the Righteous One. God will not see my sinful rags because he will only see the blood of Jesus that covers all my sin.
Salvation is a free gift but our works will be examined by God to see if they will stand the fire of purification. If God sees that our works are pure they will be stored up for us in heaven for all eternity. Our works are important not in number but rather in purity. God will be looking for our works that involving selfless obedience, our concern and love for those he has given us to care for, and our faithfulness to him.
Are you remaining faithful to Jesus even in the midst of your current trial?
Are you being obedient to God’s assignment for today?
Are you currently shepherding someone?
Do you look forward to Jesus’ return?

Dear God,
Today I pray that I will remember every day that this life counts. God, search my heart and reveal to me where my works are impure because they are tainted with selfishness and pride. God, I do long for crowns that I can lay at the feet of your precious Son, Jesus. He alone is worthy to receive glory, power, honor, and dominion. God, I do not want to arrive in heaven without a gift to lay at the feet of my Savior. Father, I thank you that you have loved me enough to entrust me with your holy assignments. Help me to be obedient to you by serving and reaching out to those you have given me. God, I do long for the return of your son, Jesus Christ.
It is in his name I pray. Amen