Month: December 2014

Sunday School Answers

I think everyone looks forward to a New Year. Well, maybe not everyone, but I think for most of us, a new year represents an opportunity to rethink how we are living, and take steps to make some healthy changes in our lives. We are all about resolutions and change when a new year rolls around. It’s a chance to say goodbye to old ways and try on some new habits.

imagesSome will join a gym. I’ve done that. Some will go on a diet. (Done that, too) Some will resolve to spend less money, take up a new hobby, stay in better touch with family and friends. Some go back to church or renew their commitment there, and resolve to work on their relationship with God. (Been there, done all of those, too)

Most of what we usually resolve to do this time of year has more to do with our outsides than with our insides. We want to change what can be seen or easily perceived by ourselves and others. Why? Because as hard as it is to change those things, they are easier to adjust than making changes on the inside, in our hearts and minds. But here’s the kicker, that’s from where real change has to come.

We face hard circumstances in this life. We have made so many technological, medical, economical, and social advances since the time of our grandparents, but I think they knew something we have forgotten. While we spend so much time struggling to make this world a haven, they knew they needed to focus on the life to come and on the person of Jesus in order to make it through this life. They knew this world would never be a substitute for their home in eternity.

“When we all… get to heaven… what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all… see Jesus… we’ll sing and shout the victory!”

I think that’s why my grandmother rarely let things that went wrong in this life keep her down for very long. Her eyes were set on Jesus. Her heart was set on her eternal home. She knew the temporary struggles of this life should serve to keep her focused rather than distracted.




I’ve spent my fair share and then some teaching children in church. For many years, as my kids were coming up through preschool and elementary school, it was my passion. I wanted them to have an encounter with Jesus from the start. I used to get tickled, though, when I would ask questions of my church kids about whatever Bible story we were studying, and more often than not, no matter the question, their answer would be, “Jesus”.moses_090919_1439

“So, who led the people of Israel out of Eqypt?”

“Jesus!”

“No… it was Moses. Moses led the Jews out of captivity. Moses… Not Jesus.”

“Who helped Noah tend to all the animals on the arc during the flood, feeding them and even cleaning up all that poo?”

“Eww! … Jesus!”

“No… No it wasn’t Jesus. Noah’s wife, sons and their wives helped. Jesus wasn’t on the arc.”

Sunday School answers. You see, the kids knew that Jesus was so often the answer I was looking for, that if they didn’t know for sure what I was asking, they answered, “Jesus!”. It’s a pretty good bet, though. Because here’s the truth, Jesus really is the answer to all of our questions. All of the problems and difficulties we face can find their solutions in him. The path to every change we want to make in our lives lies in the person of Jesus.

So as you look to 2015, I hope you will join me in turning your hearts again to the One who can help us make some real and lasting changes in our lives. I know it sounds like a Sunday School answer, but the truth is, Jesus is the answer to our problems, issues, trials, hardships, and unhealthy habits. He came to show us how to live. He came right into the middle of our messes and instead of pointing an accusing finger, he picked up a broom and began sweeping. It is in Jesus that we live, and move and find our being. It is through Jesus that we are made new.

Unopened Gifts

The Christmas gift exchange at my parent’s house on Christmas Day was super crazy when our kids were growing up. Between me and my brother, there are six grandkids. After we had all eaten our fill of my mother’s amazing cooking, the kids would begin begging to open presents.

In a matter of minutes, my parent’s living room floor would be covered in boxes, bows, and wrapping paper. It was a free for all. It was hard to tell who had more joy showing on their faces, the grandkids or the grandparents. It was both wonderful and completely ridiculous.

Invariably, after all the hoopla would die down, one of the kids would notice a present or two left under the tree. They would ask their grandma who it was for… hoping against hope it was a forgotten gift… maybe for them, as if they had not already received more than enough gifts. My mom would always tell them who it was for- either a friend or another relative they had not yet had a chance to see for the holiday.

“Oh.” The child would say.

After a few minutes, another child would see the gift and ask the same question. My mother would answer again that it was for someone else.

“Oh.” That child would say.

After another kid or two would spy the gift and ask again and again, my mom would gather the gift and go put it away, out of sight… out of mind. The absence of the unopened gift settled the kids and they could then focus on all the wonderful things they had gotten.

The unopened gift under the tree posed such a problem because who likes an unopened gift? It sits there beckoning to everyone. “Open me. Come on. I was meant to be opened! Don’t just leave me sitting here.”

When Jesus was born, his parents took him to the temple as was their Jewish custom. There, they met a man named Simeon. Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see the promised Messiah, the Savior.

Simeon was at the temple the day Mary and Joseph brought Jesus there. He took the child into his arms and looking into the face of God, he knew instantly he had lain eyes on the Messiah.

And he said,
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon saw the gift and new it was an important moment. He knew that child in his arms was the long awaited one… God’s gift to humanity.

At Christmastime, Christians often say that Jesus is our real gift. It’s trite, but it’s true. Through him we are made whole, connected once again to the Father, justified and made holy.

This Christmas season he beckons to everyone, Receive me. Come on. I was meant for you! Don’t just leave me here discarded or forgotten in the cloud of your distraction.

Let’s make sure we’ve opened all the gifts this year. The ones carefully picked out and chosen just for us by friends and family, and the one sent to us by our heavenly Father.

Many of us will acknowledge the gift that Jesus is, but many fewer of us will actually open it and experience him to the fullest. Like Simeon, we hold the gift in our arms, what are we going to do with Him now?

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Mom Can Fix Almost Anything

When my kids were little, they would often come to me with tears in their eyes and a broken treasure in their hands. They would bring it to me just sure that the treasure was done for… except I could fix it. Their eyes would light up, and I grew just a little bigger in their minds. I would tell them, “Why were you crying? Mom can fix almost anything.” When they insisted on growing up a bit and started to school, their problems became bigger, or so they thought. Time after time they would come to me just sure that all was lost, only to find that in true fashion, “Mom can fix almost anything.” I would ask them, “Don’t you remember what I have told you?”IMG_4593

It wasn’t that I was really all that, I just knew more than they did about everything. (This before they became teens and suddenly knew everything.) Still, they came to me for help, but they were not always sure that I could really fix their problem like before. And yet, I knew the answer for almost every problem they faced. (That is, until they started fractions and math that included letters.)

As my kids have grown, I am happy that they still come to me when things in life are broken. Now we figure out a lot of things together. The older they get, the bigger the issues, though. They no longer come to me with a broken doll or toy car. We talk things through, discuss options, but in the end, the truth is, Mom really can’t always fix everything… as much as I want to.

Sometimes the storms are just too big. One day, the disciples who followed Jesus faced a huge storm. They were out on one of their fishing boats with Jesus crossing a large lake. A storm came up suddenly and threatened to capsize their boat. (Mark 4) While the disciples stood in fear of their lives, Jesus slept soundly in the front of the boat. They woke Jesus, and brought their problem to him. They couldn’t see a way out of their desperate ordeal. Many of them were fishermen, familiar with the ways of those waters. They believed they had good reason to fear.

But Jesus calmly addressed the problem, and with a word, the wind and waves became calm. Then he addressed his followers, questioning their fear. Did they not remember, or did they not know that He could fix anything? Had he not shown them again and again His mighty power? Even after living with Him, watching Him, and learning from Him, they still had no idea what He was capable of doing in their lives.

We are like that. Dutch_Boats_in_a_Gale_1801As His children, we still come to Him with our problems, unsure of His ability to fix them. No matter how many times we have come before, and no matter how many times He has been faithful to care for us, we still act as if we don’t know who He really is. Many of us face humongous problems. Sometimes we just can’t see a way out. Panic sets in, and we believe we are about to be swept away by it all. We thrash around and do everything we know to do, and all the while, Jesus lays sleeping in our very own boat.

Do we really know who He is? Do we really know what He is capable of? With a word, He can control what appears uncontrollable, so where does the doubt come from? Jesus stepped out of eternity and landed precisely in the middle of our problems. He knows suffering. He knows betrayal. He knows about hurt, pain, and trials. But what He doesn’t understand is our unbelief. What more does He have to do that He has not already done to prove Himself to us?

 

Are You Ready for Christmas?

As the days of December fall off the calendar, this question is asked more and more frequently. In fact, it is likely the most asked question among friends, and among total strangers in crowded elevators and in line at the grocery store or where ever this time of year. “You ready for Christmas?” As I listen to the question being asked and then for the answers that come, I have come to realize that really what most people mean is, “Have you bought all the gifts you are going toimages buy this year?”, rather than, “Are you prepared to celebrate the birth of the King?”

For some, the question can reference whether or not your tree is up and the home decorated, or if all the holiday baking is done, but I think most frequently people mean when they ask it, if the holiday shopping is complete. The question can bring stress if the answer is no, and the stress grows the closer we get to the day.

You certainly don’t have to be a Christian to celebrate Christmas. Gift buying and holiday decorating can have little to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus and still be great fun. Answering the question in reference to gift purchases or holiday goody preparation is a much safer question to ask people anyway. If we ask the question in regards to being ready for the coming of the King, well, that’s a horse of a different color entirely. And yet, it is truly the question we should be asking of others and of ourselves.

So how does a person prepare for the coming of the King? I think we start where we should always start with these things. We start in the scriptures. We go back, way back, to the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah 9:2 which starts, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…” and continue in verse six with, “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..”images

Galatians tells us that at the fullness of time, God sent his son. Jesus didn’t happen upon the world, God waited until just the right moment in history to send him. His coming would serve to fulfill all of the Old Testament scriptures, and it would serve to explain all the things that up until then had not been made clear. The sin, the separation, the chosing of Israel, the captivity, the exodus, the law, the sacrifices, the failures.

It would all be made clear with the coming of the Messiah. Jesus was coming to set things right; to put what had previously been written upon stone tablets into our hearts. He came to fulfill the law of Moses that we might live an abundant life in a relationship with the very Creator of the Universe. He came to save us from ourselves and put us in right relationship with the Father. Jesus was to be our only hope.

So in light of these things, let me ask you the question. Are you ready for Christmas? Are you ready to receive the greatest gift ever given? Can you make room for him this next week? There’s still time for a shift in focus if it’s needed. The lights, colors and sounds of the season are wonderful, but they can distract us if we are not careful. We must not forget that the King’s coming changed everything. Are we ready?

When all the gifts have been opened (and exchanged), the food eaten, and decorations stored away for another year, we are still left with the forever-ness of the King’s coming.

“Of the greatness of his government and peace- there will be no end. He shall reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” Isaiah 9:7

I am sure this next week we will all continue to be asked, “Are you ready for Christmas?” How about we let the question mean something more. Let it touch our hearts. Each time we are asked, let it serve to remind us about the King that came to save us.

Stepping and Fetching

So I recently had a rant on a social media site. You’re not really supposed to do that, but I thought it was a good kind of rant, so I let it go. It went like this…

“I can appreciate someone’s dedication, accomplishments, or contributions, but I amimages not easily star struck by anyone. If any of us accomplish anything noteworthy I this life it is by the grace of God that we do.

Our accomplishments make us no more valuable to the Father than those who struggle to do anything of measure. If we are going to esteem anyone, let it be the One who grants the grace and mercy for accomplishment in the first place. 

Let’s stop making idols of mere mortals when we have the Savior of the world to adore and acclaim. So forgive me, ma’am or sir, if I am too thoughtless to bow in your presence. I hope to be so busy focusing my appreciation on Jesus that I just cannot find the time.”

See? Just a tiny little thing.

Both my husband and my best friend thought they knew about whom I was writing,  yet they were thinking about different people. The truth is they were both correct. My rant has nothing to do with anyone in particular, but everyone in general who believes at all that they should be elevated to any level of stardom because of any earthly accomplishment.

I don’t read People, Rolling Stone, or Star magazines. With the exception of a few, long running ones, I am at a loss to tell you the names of many movie stars. I mean, I might recognize the face of the guy that was in that movie about the thing, but that’s going to be the extent of my knowledge on the subject of him.

I agree with that pretty country singer (What’s her name? I’m kidding. It’s Shania.) when she sang, “That don’t impress me much.” Other than the fact that I wish she had used better grammar, her point is well taken.

I do actually appreciate sacrifice, dedication, and accomplishment. I can admire the hutzpah it takes to make it at anything in this world. I just don’t see the value in magnifying the person so much. At times, in the circles in which I sometimes travel or have traveled, I watch folks stepping and fetching for the “inhabitants of the corner office”. These folks may not actually have a corner office, but you get my drift.

Fame, recognition, acclaim… it is all temporary. That brass ring so many are reaching for? It’s going to tarnish. Its value will one day be gone. This life is fleeting, and the prevailing theory for many is we have to grasp as much as we can before it’s over. And if we can’t grasp it for ourselves, then we need to grasp the hemline of someone who actually can.

We are commanded never to esteem any thing or anyone above God. We are told that to idolize anything other than God is to break one of the commands given us that guide our lives and govern our society. Why were we told this? Here’s the deal. That guy or gal in the corner office? The one you see everyone falling all over themselves to step and fetch for? He has secrets. She has a history. That public persona that the world sees is not the real person. The real person has failings just like you and me. That real person has the same fears of failure that you have. That I have. They just might be better at hiding them than most.

We are called to serve one another, for sure. But are we called to give deference to the highly successful? Do you remember when, in the temple, deference was given to the rich? They were afforded the best seats in the temple. They were given the best foods at the feasting tables. Do you remember what Jesus said about all that?

He said to cut that stuff out.

Instead, who did Jesus esteem? Jesus told of a poor widow who gave a mere penance to the temple offering, and yet Jesus knew that while the rich and powerful had given out of their wealth and bragged about it, she had given out of her poverty and said nothing. She had given all she had. (Mark 12)images

No one would look upon the woman and think to step and fetch for her. Why? She had nothing to offer them. She was on the fast track to nowhere. She was a burden to her community, not a blessing. She had created nothing of value; she hadn’t brought wealth and prosperity to anyone. But that’s who Jesus esteemed. Why? Because he looked upon her heart and saw true gold, and real riches.

So I’ll tip my hat to the rich and powerful, to the successful and accomplished, but I won’t serve them… any more than I will serve the weak and poor, and hopefully not nearly as much. We are called to love all, but we are called to serve those in need. We love because we see the real value in a person, and that is the value placed on them by God, not by one’s accomplishment.

If we are honest, we generally serve the powerful or influential for what they can do for us rather than out of any real need they have. I think it is fine to honor them for their important contributions, and for their faithfulness to their mission, but we have to remember that every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights. Our accomplishments are really God’s through us, not our own. Now there’s a place to focus our esteem. There’s a Person for whom to step and fetch.

It’s all about focus. It usually is.

Creative License

I just recently watched the movie, Saving Mr. Banks. I had put it off, frankly because I wasn’t sure it would be all that good. I was wrong. It was an incredible movie. The movie chronicled the efforts of Walt Disney to convince P.L. Travers (Author of Mary Poppins) to allow Disney to make a movie of her written work.Unknown Travers held her work so dear that it took twenty years to convince her, and even then it was an uphill climb to get the movie made. Travers wanted to make sure that the integrity of her work was upheld in the Disney film. She was a tough cookie.

How many times have you been a fan of a book, only to see it made into a movie that is a far cry from the original story? If you are like me…

so

many

times.

I love to read, and when I find they are making a movie of one of my favorites, I look forward in hopeful anticipation that the moviemakers do the story justice. The problem usually lies in the area of creative license. When an author signs over rights for their book to become a movie to the movie producer, they mostly have to give up any say in how their story is told on screen.

It is understandable that everything on the written page does not translate onto the screen. Some adaptations are necessary. And in the big picture of things, the movies are generally alright… if you didn’t bother to read the book first, that is. I’ve been fortunate on a very few occasions to have something I have written put in publication. On those occasions, I usually find that someone has changed a phrase, or a formatting point. It is bothersome. Honestly, it’s a little frustrating. Okay. It makes me mad. Why? Because when you create something, you just don’t want someone else’s paws getting into it.

Last night, I went to see the new movie, Exodus: Gods and Kings. It’s quite well produced. The story of Moses and Ramses is well played out. BUT I couldn’t help constantly leaning over to my daughter and saying, “That’s not true. That didn’t happen.” Or “That’s not what the Bible actually says happened there.” I knew she was growing weary with my statements, especially when she kept saying, “I know!”

I wanted her to be sure and understand that the story unfolding on the screen, and the true account of Moses as he lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, were not lining up. Creative license strikes again.

Why does it bother ChristiUnknown-1ans so much for moviemakers to get these stories wrong? Remember how Christians blasted the makers of the Noah movie for their unwillingness to tell the story as it happened?

Why?

It’s one thing for producers to take creative license with a book by Stephenie Meyer, or J.K. Rowling. Those are just stories they made up in their minds and wrote down for our entertainment and their success. But the stories of Noah and the Great Flood, or Moses and the mass Exodus of Israel out of Egypt, are God’s story. To take creative license with God’s story takes some really big cohunes indeed. The stories of Noah, Moses, and so many others in scripture are there for us to learn and appreciate the character of God. To change those in any way to sell tickets at the box office, says so much about how our society esteems God’s story, or rather doesn’t.

I sat there in the Exodus movie thinking to myself again and again how the parts of the story they didn’t tell were some of the best parts. For example, they left out how after each plague was visited upon the Egyptians, that Moses went to Pharaoh and gave him the chance to change his mind and let the Hebrew people go. What a wonderful picture of how God gives us opportunity after opportunity to turn and follow him.

Much of what they left out was the very things that make the story of Moses leading God’s people to freedom so amazing. I think the moviemakers need to take a second look at how they handle the stories from scripture. The story of God is not open to creative interpretation. This story is different. It is alive and full of the power to point a dying world to a living Savior.

Have I Given Them Enough?

I love Christmas time for many reasons. It is an exciting season in lots of ways. There is so much preparation in the days and weeks leading up to the event. I think I like those days and weeks even more than the actual day that we celebrate the birth of Jesus. The day, itself, comes and goes so quickly. I think it leads me to prefer the anticipation of the whole season. I can’t help but think of Mary’s anticipation as she felt the savior of mankind grow and move within her womb. I think of my own anticipation as I carried each of my children, and looked forward to the day I would look into those little bright eyes. How much more Mary’s eagerness must have been. As a young teen, did she even fully grasp her situation? Could she? Could I have?

So yes, while I love Christmas Day, I really love the entire season of love, peace, and giving. Generally speaking, I don’t do a lot of retail shopping during the year.images I don’t have a lot of time to do it, and there’s just not a lot of extra money laying around to spend on it. As a ministry family with four kids, we have had to learn to be quite frugal with our spending. But every year, at this time, we let up on our restraint just a bit. Matthew knows that I am eager for the season in part because of my intense love of buying gifts for our children. I begin asking them fairly early to think of things they would enjoy having. They are all fairly well grown up these days, so I no longer shop at the toy stores for their gifts, but I still want to give them things that will make their eyes light up on Christmas morning.

I understand that this intense desire I have to give good gifts to my kids comes from the intense desire that God has to give good gifts to his kids. James tells us that “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights…” There is also a verse that says “What parent, whose child asks for bread would give him a stone?” (Matthew 7:9) Godly parents want to give good gifts to their children. It was probably not until I was a parent myself that I truly understood the adage, “It is better to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Before then, I was pretty much all about receiving gifts. It is a sad, but true statement. Now I understand the real gift that giving is.

Without fail, each year, after all the gifts are bought and wrapped, I have a moment of panic. After my kids are all in the bed on Christmas Eve, I set up our family room for Christmas morning. When each of my kids were born, my mother-in-law made them a beautiful Christmas stocking. I fill each stocking with treats for the kids, and place them in front of their “pile” of gifts. When everything is set up, I stand back and without fail, think “Did I get them all enough?” A small amount of anxiety creeps in each year at the thought. I have spent the last month and more thinking, planning, looking and shopping for just what my kids have asked for and will enjoy, and yet as I stand there looking at the fruit of my labor, I worry.

Why? Because there is a part of me that wants to equate the amount of packages with the love I have for my kids. If the piles of packages are in direct proportion to my love for them, then there is never enough. And so I fret. And then I pace. And think. And at some point each year, the Lord gently taps my heart and reminds me of something very important. While I give material gifts to my children, my love for them cannot be measured in material goods. My love for them is measured in other things I have given them.

As parents we have to constantly ask ourselves, have we given them enough?

Enough love.
Enough hope.
Enough boundaries.
Enough grace.
Enough inspiration.
Enough instruction.
Enough joy.
Enough peace.
Enough wisdom.
Enough wings.
Enough Jesus.

manger-babyWhile it is certainly true that I can, and have given, my children enough material gifts, I can never reach the point where I have given them enough of the things in this life that really matter. So I will keep on giving, just as my heavenly Father keeps on giving those good gifts to me. It is only through his generous giving that I can pass any of it on to my kids. So I hope that this year I won’t have that moment of panic as I set up my family room on Christmas Eve, because I know in my heart that I will never be through giving good gifts to my kids.