Friday, December 31, 2010

No Resolutions Here...

New Years Day is traditionally one of those natural dividing lines in life, a day that invites a fresh start, a chance to do something differently or better. We optimistically write out our list of resolutions, those things we hope to accomplish in the coming year that we were not able to do previously. I personally stopped making a list a long time ago, not because I'm already doing everything the way I want, but because a resolution, to me, invites failure. You really hope you are going to accomplish something, but a resolution without a plan is just a really good dream.

Last year I went with the One Word Revolution, and that seemed to work for me. I chose the word "endurance" and found so many places to apply it in my life. I let the word lead me and not give up on things because they got hard. The word "endurance" lead me through training for the Danskin Triathlon which lead to a healthier lifestyle in the process...never a bad thing. It took me through the whole event, even though the day didn't go as I had planned. The word "endurance" took me through some tricky days in my personal life, helping me to make godly decisions when it would have been easier not to. My favorite scripture that goes along with endurance has been Hebrews 12:1-2, which basically says to lay aside everything that slows us down, and run with ENDURANCE the race that has been set before us, looking to Jesus as we do it. I like to joke that the hard part is knowing which race is ours to run.

I am prayerfully considering another word for the upcoming year. Prayerfully, because my idea of what I need and God's idea of where I need to grow might not be the same. Once I settle on a word, I will find some scriptures to memorize. It is the process that takes God's Word from the level of information to transformation, which is His goal for be conformed to the image of His Son. (Romans 12:1-2).

As different words flash through my head, I find myself rejecting them outright based on my own perceptions and limitations. Or, I look at my past failures and decide already that I can't do something. Can I challenge you to come along with me on a journey of a fresh start? Looking to the Bible, God has a few things to say to all of us that I know I am finding helpful at this time of new beginnings:
  • "Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old." (Isaiah 43:18) God's plan for you is not limited by your past failures. Don't put that burden on yourself.
  • "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;" (Lamentations 3:22-23) Just because you screwed up today doesn't mean tomorrow can't be a fresh start. God's mercy (kindness to one undeserving) begins anew each day, so why don't we?
  •  "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26) If God is bringing something to your attention, be it a dream or a life change, don't decide on your own strength what is possible. God is not limited by our strength or abilities. Check out this post for some serious encouragement on dreaming God's dream for yourself. 
I don't know yet what my new word will be, but I know that God has great things in store for me. Not because I am so cool or deserve them, but because I know that all of God's plans for me are good. Since I woke up breathing this morning, I know that He isn't through with me yet. I have an idea what I would like to work on, how I can continue to grow in the likeness of His son, but the list is long. I will be praying for God to lead me in the way He wants me to go. I'm sure 2011 will have a few surprises in store, maybe even some that I won't be grateful for at the time...who knows? But I know that with God, the best is always yet to come. What a way to start a new year!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Shepherd's Invitation

I have taken time this Christmas season to imagine life from the perspective of a shepherd. Not everyday life...but the amazing gift they were given with the invitation to come to the manger. They were just minding their own business, hanging out in the fields, living a fairly solitary life taking care of the sheep. Even though we picture old guys with crooks and staffs, they had to be diligent and aware at all times, on the look out for anything in search of a midnight mutton snack, definitely not wimps. Anyway, imagine yourself right now, just doing whatever it is you do, making dinner, doing laundry, helping with homework, basically just living one day to the next.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, blinding light splits the night wide open, and angels...not cute little cherubs with robes and haloes, but biblical angels, messengers of the Lord on high, fiery fearsome creatures...come with an invitation,  an invitation to an event that has been prophesied about for two thousand years, but no one has really mentioned lately. It had seemed as though the party wasn't really going to happen...God had been eerily silent for the last seven hundred years. The shepherds, in all their humdrumness, have been invited to the gala to end all galas, to see the Messiah on the night of his long-promised arrival. Do you think the shepherds worried about what to wear, how their hair looked, or the fact that they probably hadn't bathed in some time?

The invitation we receive is maybe not quite as dramatic as angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus in the night sky, but it is a spectacular invitation all the same. We are invited to take part in the celebration that is Christ, the celebration of victory over sin and the grave. A celebration over death, to partake in the eternal promise that God promises through Christ. What are you going to do with it? Will you spend endless time worrying about what He sees when He looks at you, worried that you aren't properly dressed for entrance into such an event, wondering why He summoned you to come? 

Or will you go, just put everything on the back burner, and go? Accepting this invitation requires only one thing, and it isn't a big house, fancy clothes, or a big bank account. It requires a believing heart. The only thing you need to accept the most important invitation of your life is a heart that believes that Jesus is the Son of God. He is not waiting for you to clean yourself up first. We can never be good enough, clean enough, rich enough, nice enough,  anything enough, to gain entrance into Heaven on our own, so God sent His Son to lead us in. Like the shepherds invited the night of the first Christmas, Jesus is our Shepherd, protecting us from prey, watching over us, leading us in the direction of safety.

As this Christmas season winds down, will this be the year you don't pack up Jesus with the Santa Clauses and the Christmas ornaments? Will you make a place for Him in your heart, accept His offer to come and dwell forever? There is no fancy dress code, no gold ticket required, just an open and believing heart.

"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."
John 1:12

This blog is being posted on Rachel Olsen's blog carnival. She has invited us to post who Jesus is to us, and He is my Shepherd. This was a difficult post, because He is my everything, and choosing one aspect hardly does Him justice, but it is my hope and prayer that your heart will be touched by Him, and that you may choose to seek Him, to find out for yourself who He is.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Gift of Time

I'm supposed to be playing in the backyard right now...I can see my son's little red face tucked into his hood through the window. We were delivering cookies to the older couple next store. They have boys my age and have enjoyed watching my boys grow up. It reminds them of when their kids were younger. As a matter of fact, my boys sleep under the comforters that my neighbor made for her sons...she always wanted them to go to another set of brother's. They sat, safely wrapped, for 30 years, waiting for the right little boys to cover up. Tonight one of my boys will be sleeping under a blanket made with love for someone who is no longer with us.

When my neighbor opened the door to accept our gift of treats, I learned that one of their sons passed away yesterday from cancer. They knew it was coming, but the grief and shock are evident. It was a mercifully quick journey through the disease, less than a year. He was a dad and a husband...his daughter is just a little older than Connor.

While my little boy is waiting for me to gather myself together, my heart breaks for a family planning a funeral instead of a holiday. Lord, help me to remember what really matters. Not how many presents or how good the tree looks, but to celebrate the relationships. We just never know how many more Christmas's we will have together.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Quick Thought

This week I allowed myself the treat of having a few friends over to watch the movie The Nativity. In the season where every second is accounted for, and there is never nothing that needs to be done, just taking the time to sit with friends is a luxury.

It is not the first time I've seen the movie, but each time something new hits me. This time it was the wisemen. They planned, plotted, and journeyed for a very long time, just to see the long prophesied King. While they had the resources to do so, it required the sacrifice of their time. It made me reflect on what I am willing to sacrifice to spend time with my King.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas "Surprises"

I remember the Christmas of 1979 like it was yesterday. I was twelve years old and had “discovered” where my mom was hiding the presents, “discovered” being used very loosely. Each day after school, I had about an hour on my own before my mom got home from work, which left me plenty of time for snooping. My diligence paid off as I found a pile of department store bags in the back of her closet, behind her dresses. I remember opening a bag and finding the most beautiful sweater, all the shades I would choose out of the crayon box to color a sunset. Surveying the wrapped gifts under the tree Christmas morning, I wondered which one contained the sweater.

I didn’t have to wait long until the box was opened.

By my sister.

Ugh! Positive a mistake had been made, I snuck a look at the tag to check the size. Nope, definitely not a mistake. It was my sister’s size, and it fit her like a glove. I would like to say that when I opened the sweater meant for me, because we always got the same stuff but in different colors, I was just as enamored, but I don’t remember. All I remember was the disappointment of wanting something so badly that I thought was supposed to be mine.

Every time I saw my sister wearing her sweater, I wanted it. I would try it on while she wasn’t looking, my arms hanging out of the sleeves, the bottom edge skimming my belly button. When we try to wear something that wasn’t meant for us, it rarely fits. I know. I tried to be something that I wasn’t for awhile, and it was really uncomfortable. You smile and pretend that you didn’t notice that something is wrong with the fit, until you can’t do it anymore. There is a relief that comes with wearing your own clothes, physically and metaphorically speaking.

Has that ever happened to you? If your whole life was wrapped up right now and sitting under a Christmas tree, are there “gifts” you’re pretty sure weren’t meant for you? You probably didn’t ask for cancer, but there it is. I’m sure you didn’t have a child with special needs on your wish list, but now you would not trade that gift for anything else. Some of us have experienced things that we are still coming to grips with, but we can see the goodness of God at work in the worst of situations.

Has someone else been given something you are sure had your name on it? Maybe you never married or had kids, but that is not the way you had planned your life. Maybe you had a career path all picked out and you are not doing the things you thought you would be. Did you get passed over for something that you were so sure was the perfect opportunity meant for you, and now you are watching someone else in your place? It’s just hard sometimes to be wherever you are when it is not the place you planned on being, if that makes any sense.

Maybe you are looking at the pile that is left, hoping beyond hope that the thing you want most in the world is in one of those packages. Time is running out, but you still hope to accomplish that one thing. Sometimes we call it a bucket list…those things we always wanted to do. I’m hoping that seeing the Northern Lights, learning to play the flute, and seeing my loved ones come to Christ is still in my pile of presents.

On the other hand, have you begun to open something, shake the box a little for a clue, and been amazed at what might be in that package? My favorite encouragement is knowing that God’s best present is still waiting to be opened. I don’t know what gift that will be, but I know that when He is done giving me the gifts He has for me in this life, He will call me home. At this point in my life, there is a box that is just beginning to open. I’ve been shaking it a little, trying to guess what it really is, but it is more like the Russian dolls…inside each beautiful work of art is another one. God is the best secret keeper ever, too, because as much as I want to see this gift in its entirety, I can’t. No amount of whining, cajoling, or pleading will make Him tip His Hand.

I wish I could say that I learned my lesson that Christmas, and stopped snooping. I honestly just became better at it, checking the sizes to avoid Christmas morning heartbreak. I suppose I am still a little like that, wanting to know what is coming next in life. I wish I could be content in today, with today’s gifts, and not be snooping around the corners.

I know three things, though, that make it easier to wait until all my gifts have been given:

• God is sovereign. That is a fancy word for totally, irrevocably in charge. Whatever comes my way, He already knows and has decided that I can handle it. Good or bad.

• God has a plan. As a matter a fact, a plan that has been set in place since before the beginning of time. (Ephesians 2:10) A random “gift” may be part of a larger picture, and we have no idea how it will all fit together in the end.

• God loves me. Period. In this season when we celebrate Jesus’ birth, it is easy to remember that the biggest gift of all has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with me, all at the same time. And when someone loves you that much, all gifts are the right size.

It is my prayer this Christmas season that all of the gifts that have found their way under your tree are truly received as gifts, gifts from the Father of Lights (James 1:17). And that you resist the urge to snoop.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Sliver in the Darkness

Standing outside this morning in the predawn chill, dressed in my robe, my winter coat, and my mukluk slippers, waiting for my dog to do her business, I looked up for a moment to see the moon. It is one of those slivery crescent moons right now, but with a planet or star shining just above to the upper left. It sort of looked like the Proctor and Gamble logo. That wasn’t what got me thinking though.

The moon, if you don’t know, produces no light of its own. The glow of the moon is reflecting the light of the sun. No matter what phase of the moon it is or where it is placed in the sky, it reflects the light of the sun. Even though we can’t see the sun, we know it is still there because we see its light reflected. As I looked at the tiny sliver, it made me think of the light we are supposed to reflect.

I began to imagine that I was the moon, called to reflect the glorious light of the Son. Am I just showing a sliver, little glimpses of light but mostly in the dark? Do I shine like a harvest moon, reflecting the full glory of all that is possible in the Son? Does how much light I shine changes with different phases in the month. (Ouch!)

I thought of places in the real world where the sun doesn’t shine for six months out of the year, and the only light seen is the light of the moon. They know the sun is still there, even though they can’t see it, because of the moon. There are people in our lives living in spiritual darkness. They can’t see the Son, but they can see His glory and beauty reflected through our lives, if we let them. We can give a glimpse of what is really out there to someone who otherwise wouldn’t know.

I bet the moon doesn’t hang there in the sky, being all proud of its bright shining light, either. If the moon could think, it would probably be so grateful for the sun, keeping it from living in eternal darkness. As I begin to shine for God, and things along my path are lit up, I sometimes get confused. I start to think that I am responsible for the light and goodness working in my life. I’m sure the moon doesn’t have an ego problem.

My prayer this morning is multi-faceted. Lord, please help me to remember to shine for You, to reflect Your light into the darkness that fills this world. Use me, Lord, to point the way to the True Source of Light, to be a beacon of hope in the night. And Lord, keep me humble. (Always a brave prayer, I know.) Help me to keep You at the forefront of my life, remember that it is only Your Light that I reflect, Your Spirit in me that is seen, that on my own I am nothing. It is Your grace in my life that gives me light for this journey.

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”


Listen to the words of this Matt Redman song. What can you do today to reflect the glory of God into your surroundings?