Monday, December 22, 2014

10 Ways to Know Your Christmas is Out of Whack

It's not too late. Christmas will be here in a few days and it's a good time to sit back and think about where my heart is. Here's a list of reflections from my own life for knowing when Christmas is out of whack:

1. When I think more about the how-when-where-what of celebrating and activities than I think about Jesus and His love for me.

2. When I am irresponsible with my resources—I am at the end of my money, my energy, my time, my patience, my ability to cope with life.

3. When I become consumed with how I appear to others (Did I get the cards out on time? Do I have a new dress for Sunday? Will the neighbors “die for” my goodie plate?).

4. When I mistreat those closest to me in an effort to impress others.

5. When my schedule is too full to tend to daily, regular obligations.

6. When I don’t see or have time for those who are hurting.

7. When I am regularly disappointed at others’ lack of gratitude for my efforts.

8. When I am no longer troubled by the world’s focus on more, bigger, better, mine, can’t-touch-this.

9. When I have failed to consider the real cost of Christmas.

10. When worship is no longer "Jesus;" it’s "Jesus and…."

Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.  Hebrews 13:9-17, 20-21

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Grumpy with God

I was grumpy with God the other day. Maybe it had to do with the fact that my plan wasn't happening according to my timetable or that other people had ideas of where I should be and what needed to be done. Maybe it simply crunched my sense sense of...yeah. My agenda. Maybe you know how it feels.

The inner irritation and frustration reminded me of the times my husband, David, would travel and come home--or, nowadays, get out of the tractor after harvest. It's an adjustment. "Re-entry"can be a bit shaky at times. Re-entry means I step down from being in charge, from manning the ship, hoisting the sails, turning the wheel. I acknowledge the captain and resume my post. If only it were that easy.

It's no different with God. Too often I forget He's there--really there--and I execute plans as if I'm in charge. I run up the sails, set my course...and the winds rise. The rains fall. Plans run amuck. And I get grumpy.

If only I would remember, acknowledge, submit and follow. How hard could it be?
So I'm thankful for the Holy Spirit and God's loving, faithful hand and perfect goodness.
'Nuff said.

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:

“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. 
James 4:1-10

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sleeping Giants

If you have children, you probably know that they grow when they sleep. Really. They can be busy, busy, busy during the day, but the hormones that cause growth are released after they fall into a deep sleep.

Lately, I've been watching spiritual growth occur and making observations. Spiritual growth typically happens after times of increased stress and difficulty. As we come up against hardship, we have a choice. We can submit to the Lord's work in our lives with joy and an attitude of submission or we can do our own way. At the time we don't see change, transformation and Christlikeness, but as the situation deflates and we fall into a new routine, we find we're different people than before. Maybe.

The maybe that affects spiritual growth is how we respond in the midst of trials. It seems we don't grow when we work and work and try and try to handle life our own way. We want something specific. We want what we want and we're determined to get it. Maybe it's relief, or recognition; we want someone else to change or we want to reach thus-as-such-a-goal as a result of the pain we've suffered.

Those of us who want what we want worry and fret. We come up with this idea and that plan. I'll be the first to say making an effort and coming up with a plan are important steps of growth and change, but the worrying, planning and effort don't actually change us. Take a look in the mirror of God's Word and ask, "Am I any different at the end of the crisis than I was before?" If I am part of the problem, trusting myself doesn't work. Trusting others is no better, but leads to failure, discouragement, bitterness and resentment.

copyright certified-child-sleep-consultant

The people who visibly grow and change are the ones who put aside equations and formulas. They take God at His Word and live by grace, courageously doing it His way. There's no "Plan B." As they rest and put themselves in the Lord's hands, the spiritual sleep hormones kick in. Sleep is perhaps one of the best examples of humility. When we sleep we are defenseless, entrusting ourselves to the Lord. Is it any wonder He calls us to rest in Him?

As I watch those who do what seems reasonable and responsible (free of manipulation), it's not particularly comfortable. Is it easy to let go of the outcome? No. Is it difficult to take that first step of obedience against past experience and one's personal understanding? Absolutely. But faith is like most things. It takes practice. And as we move forward, it takes less effort than before resulting in different--and far better--outcomes than we ever thought possible.

What does it look like? Walking by faith in trials means saying, "Lord, I don't want to do this, and I don't know how, but if it pleases You, help me _______." That may mean changing my attitude from one of irritation to acceptance. It might mean praising others and speaking with gentelness instead of snapping or clinging to silence. We might have to give up what we think is best--or what we really want to do--to be at peace with others.

The children's song, "Read your Bible, pray every day," isn't far off--but the proof is in walking by faith, submitting to God, resting in His plan and outcome. As we fall into the deep sleep of faith, we will find peace, joy, love, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control--the image of Jesus Himself--growing and becoming more evident in our lives.

Thus says the Lord,
“Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind 
And makes flesh his strength,
And whose heart turns away from the Lord.
“For he will be like a bush in the desert
And will not see when prosperity comes,
But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness,
A land of salt without inhabitant.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
“For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
 “I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds...." (Jeremiah 17:5-10)

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the Lord,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

“For you will go out with joy
And be led forth with peace;
The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
“Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up,
And instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up,
And it will be a memorial to the Lord,

For an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:6-13)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why? Because...

I used to tell our children, "Because." "Because I said so." "Because I'm the mom." "Because. Because." I was a terrible parent. So bad, in fact, that I hid our early family movies for fear of the influence they would have on our younger children. Oh, my.

Thankfully we attended a wonderful parenting class--with real people, a loving pastor and a LOT of Scripture. And by the grace of God my answer changed from "Because I said so" to "Because I love you." The wonderful thing about that answer is that it still works. It's true. And it's multipurpose.

Why do I have to wear my coat? Because I love you.
Why can't I go with my friends to XYZ? Because I love you.
Why? Why? Why? Because I love you.

Lately I've been reviewing Elyse Fitzpatrick's book, Counsel from the Cross, and discovered a grown up version for believers in Christ. It sounds like this:

God, why do I have to love that neighbor? Because I love you. Remember Jesus?
God, why am I stuck in this place with these people? Because I love you.
God, why this trial? Why this situation? Why this heartache? Because I love you. Jesus.

And the fact of the matter is, God's love shown to me through Jesus is timeless. Eternal. Immeasurable. Free. Full. Complete. Now. And it's enough. So much more than enough. It's all the "why" I'll ever need.

When I need to do what I don't want to do and I hear the whine beginning in the back of my head, I'm learning to say, "Because Jesus loves me. That's why."

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (1 John 4:7-21)