Final Thoughts For 2015

On this last day of the year, I want to take a moment to express my thanks to each of you who have stopped in to check out my new blog these past couple of months. Your time is precious, and I am honored that you’ve chosen to spend some of it with me!

It’s a busy season (when isn’t it??), and for me that includes a trip out of town to visit family. But I’ll be back Monday with fresh blogs to get 2016 going strong. Until then, give thanks for what God has done for you this past year – even if it’s a “hidden treasure” so to speak!

Consider this quote from Brennan Manning, one of my favorite Christian authors, from his book The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedralled, Beat-Up and Burnt Out –

“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that He should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at His love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.”

God is good – always. Happy New Year to you!

Prepping for 2016 Pt 2

new-years-resolutionsYesterday, I wrote about my usual approach to planning for the new year. In a nutshell, it’s usually been an intense process that leaves me saddled with a big To Do list. Until recently, I’ve enjoyed the work involved. And when I’ve looked over a finished list, a sense of excitement has taken hold.

So many possibilities for the coming 12 months!! But possibility wasn’t enough to keep me going, and most of my great ideas would soon fizzle out.

But this December I’m going about this differently. It’s more than shortening my list, though. Inspired by Michael Hyatt, a gifted teacher in the area of time-management, I’m looking at the “why” of my goals. In doing that, I’ve uncovered some values – like gaining worldly success and pleasing others – that have driven my planning.

My next list was of the results that living by those values: frustration, discouragement and anger, among other things. The obvious question that came to mind was, “Do I really want to live like that anymore?”

The answer was a resounding “No”, so I set out to create a new set of values.

First, I had to admit that those old values showed a lack of connection and obedience to God. But, as a believer, I’m called to follow my Heavenly Father, not my own desires. Look at what He says in the Book of Isaiah,  “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go.”

That’s more than a commandment – it’s a promise that He will always be there, providing for me.

Comforted by that truth, I was able to see a need to change from focusing on myself to thinking more about others. Paul’s words in Romans 12 capture this mindset beautifully, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

A new sense of possibility and excitement stirred up in me as I wrote two new lists:

What do I want my values to be from here on?

  • Having a view of myself (including my identity, my worth, measuring my success, etc) based on what God says
  • Using my talents and gifts to build God’s kingdom and to build others up
  • Taking personal responsibility in areas like finances, health, household spending, etc
  • Showing care for other people each day
  • Using my time well each day
  • Spending time in God’s Word, reading, studying and memorizing it

The results of living by those values:

  • Deeper sense of purpose
  • More peace
  • More joy each day
  • Better relationships

Here’s to a truly New Year!

Prepping for 2016

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Value – “a principle or quality (that is) intrinsically valuable or desirable” Merriam-Webster Dictionary   

In honor of it being the last week of December, I am joining the “year-end review” crowd. That is, I’m reviewing how last year went for me and thinking how next year can be better. I’ve done this in a big way other years, starting with detailed descriptions of my dreams and my ideal day. After that would come the systematic breaking down of elements of that day into bigger then smaller chunks that would be accomplished each month, week or day.

Depending on your personality, that process could sound very interesting or very exhausting. I used to really enjoy giving myself the freedom to daydream – I actually came up with some pretty cool ideal days! And being able to reduce a big idea into achievable tasks was satisfying. I liked having end a map for the year ahead, full of action points.

Sounds good, right? But after the initial burst of energy, which ran out sometime in February, I’d look at my giant flowchart with a mix of fatigue and discouragement. Turned out, imagining what I wanted was much easier than the day-to-day work involved…

I’ve been reading Michael Hyatt’s articles recently. He writes a lot about goal-setting and time management, and one of the great points he makes is this – Know Your Why. In other words, we need to have a strong reason for each goal we set, one we can refer back to when doubt, confusion or just plain boredom sets in. Hyatt’s idea led me to approach my year-end review in a different way this time around.

Knowing the ‘why’ for all my goals made a lot of sense. But I soon realized that I needed to first step back and explore the ‘why’ behind my bigger dreams. Because, what good is it for me to know what I want to accomplish if I don’t have a motivation that will truly inspire me over the long haul?

That’s when the thought of values came to mind (Michael Hyatt touches on this, too). As the definition states, values are qualities that we consider desirable. Each of us has a set of values that have great influence over how we think and act. The thing is, we aren’t always aware of what they are. Perhaps we’ve inherited the values our parents held, or, we’ve adopted the values of our peers.

I decided to take an honest look at what my strongest values have been over the years, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Here’s my short list:

  • Success = financial gain + notoriety + importance in the world
  • Being considered valuable and needed by others
  • Proving myself by what I do – impressing others to feel good about myself

Those were values that acurately defined how I thought about and lived out my life – ouch. They were self and others-centered, just like I was. And I listed the results of living by those values:

  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Lust
  • Anger
  • Resentment/envy
  • Self-centered thinking

In my next blog, I’ll share share how I’m trying to reshape those outdated values.

In the meantime, take a few minutes to write out your set of values. Be honest with yourself – do you like what you see?

 

Mistakes & Mercies

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”   Isa. 43:18-19

I woke up this morning feeling pretty good: my joints weren’t as stiff as over the last few days, and I was somewhat rested. During my morning stretches, I felt led to thank God for His “new mercies”, so that I could really start the day fresh. Well, before I finished flexing my feet, I realized that I’d forgotten a family member’s birthday. Not by just a day or so, either.

A cold splash of embarrassment hit, followed quickly by shame, a familiar one-two punch for me. Then it wasn’t long before other goof ups I’d committed paraded in front of me. And I’m not sure which was worse – how I judged myself, or the judgement I assumed others have had about me.

If someone else were to share a struggle like this with me, I’d probably say something like: “Even if you did make a mistake, you’re being awfully hard on yourself. Beating yourself up isn’t going to change anything.  Make it right as best you can, then let it go.”

That sounds like pretty good advice. So why is it so hard for me to follow? Part of the reason may be low self esteem, or looking for worth in what i do. But I think another part of it is a lack of faith.

In many scripture passages, I can find God’s promises about this very type of situation:

  • He forgives our sins

he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness…” 1Jn 1:9

  • He removes our sins

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Ps 103:12  

  • He forgets our sins

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”      Is 43:25
It seems like God has a lot more mercy on me than I’ve had on myself. And as His child, I need to concentrate more on what He says than how I feel. Yes, I’ll send a card and maybe even make a  call to express belated birthday greetings. But then it’s time to move on to those new things He’s doing!

Getting Nearer To God’s Word

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All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”                                               2 Timothy 3:16

The Charles Stanley devotional I read this morning was based on this verse. The gist was that God speaks to us today through His Word, and so we need to turn to it regularly. Reading scripture ought to be one of the Christian’s foundational habits, it’s true. In the Bible’s pages, we can find the comfort, insight or sometimes a not-so-subtle nudge we need.

I’d like to say that I’ve always loved digging into scripture – but that wouldn’t be honest. In fact, as a new believer opening up the Bible brought on more anxiety in me than passion. Reading verses, especially in the Old Testament was like trying to decipher some sort of foreign language. And Paul’s letters seemed so dense and wordy – by the time I got to the end of one of his sentences I’d forgotten how it started.

My husband thought it might be helpful to read together, which sounded like a great idea. That lasted about a week. The final straw was having to sound out the genealogy in Numbers 1. As I slowly sounded out “Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai”, my voice took on such an irritated edge that my husband suggested we take a break. We never picked back up, and I have to say it was kind of a relief.

I felt a lot of guilt and condemnation for my lack of zeal about the Bible, and wondered why I had such a problem. Was it my lack of church experience growing up? Or was it my late-in-life conversion at age 30? I wanted to ask advice, but was too embarrassed. Having been a believer for about 20 years now, I’ve come to understand that my issue with God’s Word early on was nothing to be ashamed of. It was simply an indication of how young I was in my faith.

Another aspect to scripture being “God-breathed” is that we need God’s Holy Spirit to understand it. He has filled His Word with treasures, and we need His help to discover them. Yes, learning my way around the Bible was important, as was starting to memorize certain key passages. But it was in asking for His guidance as I read that verses really started coming to life and having deeper meaning.

Do you feel intimidated or overwhelmed by God’s Word? Don’t despair – God intended for you to be blessed by it. As you open your Bible, lift up a quick prayer for His leading. He’ll be delighted to start opening your eyes, mind and heart to the richness that lies in the Book’s pages. This holy habit will begin to ignite passion instead of angst.

2 Christmas Gifts

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‘Tis the day before Christmas and all through my house, everybody’s going crazy…just kidding. So far, it’s actually pretty relaxed here – my husband is mixing up waffle batter after sleeping in for a couple of hours (WooHoo!). And I just heard my son clomping sleepily down the stairs from his room. Our vacation schedule has kicked in.

Amidst the busyness and anticipation of this week, an essay of E.B. White has settled into my thoughts. I first read White’s prose work a few years ago when my husband printed out a copy for me of one of his Christmas pieces. By the end of my first reading of it, I was beaming with delight at his blend of sharp humor and heart. And I’ve gone back to it every year since.

Today, I’d like to share a link to another one of his Christmas essays with you. I found it on Senseijfk’s site, right here on WordPress. In it, White gives us a great lesson in holiday evangelism. I hope you enjoy his writing – and check out Senseijfk’s other posts while you’re there, too!

https://senseijfk.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/eb-white-on-christmas-and-relative-pronouns/

As another little gift, I’m putting up a link to a song by Third Day called “Born In Bethlehem.” I used it as part of a recent devotional I gave at church. Like all beloved Christmas songs, it tells the gospel story, from Jesus’ birth to His sacrifice for our sins. I feel renewed excitement and joy each time I hear it.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Av7fPUem190

Wherever you find yourself this season, whatever life is sending your way, my prayer for you is that you find moments of joy right in the middle of it all. Jesus came for you, and now He lives for you – take time celebrate how much He loves you. Merry Christmas!

Godly Giving

 

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“…be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble…”  1 Peter 3:8

Someone knocked on my front door the other morning. I had been writing, and the sound broke my train of thought. So as I got up to answer, I let out a small  huff of annoyance. It was my neighbor from across the street, with a present for me.

Ellen was the first person to visit us when we moved into our house, bearing a little cake and a friendly welcome. Over the years, we’ve chatted on the sidewalk and dropped into each other’s homes. I’ve prayed with her about cares and concerns she was burdened by, and shared my own as well. And I’ve come to know how sweet and giving she is.

This day, she was bringing me porridge. We’d talked recently about how healthy quinoa is, and I’d commented that I didn’t like the taste. Well, Ellen had tried making a batch of breakfast cereal out of it, and decided to make extra for me. She excitedly told me about adding pumpkin spices and just a touch of maple syrup, hoping that would help me enjoy it more. My impatience vanished as I thanked her for the sample, and then we spent a few minutes catching up.

I could call what Ellen did ‘a nice little thing,’ and it certainly was. But it felt really special to me for a couple of reasons. It’s always nice to be thought of, for sure. But this was an intentional, planned gift specifically for me. She had  listened to what I’d said in that quick conversation, remembered it later, and taken action to respond at an opportune moment.

I have seen Ellen do this again and again in our neighborhood, and I’m certain she her reach goes beyond. She isn’t flashy or bold, but sincere, and that’s why it has impact. To me, Ellen has captured the essence of godly giving. And by the way, the porridge tasted great!

O Holy Night

nativity_2One of the things I enjoy most about the Christmas season is the songs. Hearing “Santa Baby” over a store loudspeaker starting right after Halloween is a bit much, I’ll admit. But for me, singing carols and songs is a big part of celebrating the holidays.

I decided to do some research into the background of some of my favorite Christmas songs, and it’s been fun to learn more about a couple of them. In the case of one, “O Holy Night”, how the tune came into being is only the start of a very interesting history.

The lyrics were written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, the resident poet of a small town in France. He had been asked by the parish priest to create something for the Christmas Eve mass. So, he started by reading through the Nativity Story in the book of Luke for inspiration and the words came to him quickly.

Cantique de Noel, as it’s called in French, was embraced by the Church at first, until it was discovered that Cappeau was a socialist. The leadership officially banned the song from services, but the people loved it, and continued to sing it anyway.

The song got introduced to a much wider audience when John Dwight brought the song over to the United States. During the Civil War he worked for slaves’ rights, and so the lyrics “Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother…” caught his ear. The song actually turned into a rallying cry for the North.

Back in France the song became an olive branch of sorts. On a Christmas Eve during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier entered the battlefield unarmed and began to sing the song. After he had finished, a German soldier joined him and sang a hymn from his own country. Fighting between sides actually stopped for the next 24 hours to observe Christmas.

When a song touches that many people, it’s because of more than just a pretty tune or nice lyrics. I think the key lies with where Cappeau started his writing process. He didn’t look at his surroundings or even his own thoughts first – he went right to God’s Word. In scripture he saw the beauty and deeper meaning of Christ’s birth. His words reflect the amazing truth of God’s love for men – and that’s why they’ve resonated so much with people ever since.

I learned more than I expected from this one search. Maybe I’ll expand this into a mini Bible study for next year’s Advent season.

What’s your favorite holiday carol or song?

 

I’m Like The Cowardly Lion

 

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I caught a couple of minutes of The Wizard of Oz this weekend – the part where Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tin Man meet the Lion. He was all bluster and bravado until Dorothy smacked him on the nose and he turned into a scaredy cat. It’s an amusing moment in the movie, and it hits a little close to home for me.

It’s not that I go around trying to frighten people. But I have often put on a facade of being strong and totally in control, especially around other people. But, like Lion, when I’ve been faced with unexpected challenges, that mask crumbles pretty quickly. I’ve even blubbered like him a few times!

When Lion went with his new friends to see the Wizard, he had no idea what a journey he was beginning. They all imagined the yellow brick road would be smooth, and the great and powerful Oz would quickly grant their wishes. But, as we all know, it wasn’t that easy. Each of them had to go through some trials and tests before learning that they possessed what they needed all along.

I can relate to that. I’ve been praying this week that God would give me more courage and boldness to speak His truth. But instead of just receiving a  spiritual “download”, I’ve been put into some situations where I’m being challenged to speak up. Why? He knows that when I learn by experience, the lessons will have more value. The qualities I asked for are already ther by His design, waiting to grow.

Lion faced his own fears as he helped take down the wicked witch. In doing that, He discovered a deeper pool of bravery beyond his surface. His growl changed from an expression of pride to a confident statement about himself. And part of the reason was a new focus away from himself to those he cared about and the greater mission.

Do you want more courage or more heart? How about more patience, or joy or peace? God has already put those qualities inside you, and they’re waiting to be discovered. Will you let Him send you on your own journey?

In Times Of Waiting

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I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him…it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”                Lamentations 3:24,26

How are you at waiting? I think one of our biggest challenges in life is waiting well. Think about it – so much of our daily life is spent waiting for all sorts of things. We’re forced to slow down until it’s our turn at the grocery store checkout, or to get a haircut, or talk to a “live” customer service person on the phone.

Then there are the bigger things we have to wait for, the requests near to our hearts that we’ve been lifting up to God. We may believe He’s heard us and that He has a good plan. But we can struggle if there’s a stretch of time between praying and receiving.

Waiting is going on in our house this morning. My son is waiting for news from a college he applied to. My husband and I are waiting for news about a family situation. In both cases, getting the answer feels like an urgent necessity because we really want resolution.

Well, I have to confess that I am not very good at waiting. If I’m not careful, my attitude can sour from one day to the next, and I’ve been known to whine during times of long heavenly silences. God knows I need growth in this area – and He’s been providing ample opportunity for me to work on it.

Two major emotions swoop in to make my waiting time difficult – fear (What if God doesn’t give me what I want?), and impatience (I need to do something right now to move this along!). In those moments, I focus on myself and my wants.

So how does God want us to wait instead? In Lamentations it says “quietly”. In other places we find descriptors such as “in expectation” (Ps 5:3), “in hope” (Ps 33:20), and “patiently” (Ps 37:7). All of those are positive and peaceful, no sense of rushing or worry. What a relief that would be! And what a difference from my usual reaction.

Waiting well seems to come down to trust. God already knew what I’d be asking for before I said anything, knows what’s best for me, and is working whether I see evidence of it or not. The question is, do I lean on God and His word, or my own understanding (what I see or feel at any given moment)? Can I let God be God?

Today my goal is to stay close to God, and to re-focus on Him as many times as I need. His promises may not include getting everything I want, but they offer His goodness and grace. Maybe this time of waiting can become a chance to worship God instead of questioning Him.