Monday, November 30, 2015

Hope Again

Four years ago, I did an Advent series on Hope, Peace, Joy and Hope which I'd like to share again this year. Enjoy!

This holiday weekend was a very good weekend filled with family, friends, food, and tradition. In my family, the women all gather the day after Thanksgiving to shop ‘til we drop together. This year, as we went from place to place, we made a conscious effort to thank and compliment every employee who helped or waited on us. Amid the frenzy of Black Friday consumerism, we wanted to be the calm of the storm, the light peaking through the dark clouds letting each person know that they mattered and someone noticed their frustrations, their tiredness, their needs. It was great! It’s amazing the joy a small word of encouragement and a good portion of patience and understanding can bring to a weary individual.

Despite the fact that we spent all day Friday and half of Saturday Christmas shopping, I was completely unprepared to walk into church Sunday morning and see the Advent wreath. As we lit the first candle, I felt a whiplash of confusion. How could it be the first Sunday of Advent already? I should have known it was coming. I had plenty of clues. As a church secretary, I spent the first half of the week preparing a worship guide with a cover that prominently displays a single lit candle. Thanksgiving had come and gone. Christmas music was playing everywhere. Christmas is coming fast and I’m not ready. Then I realized that Advent is the time of preparation – four whole weeks to prepare for the coming of the King. Advent is a time of preparation – a time to ready myself for the coming of the Christ child. Yes Christmas is coming, but Advent gives me the time and focus I need to prepare for the celebration.

Traditionally, the lighting of the first candle symbolized hope, the hope that is ours in Christ, the hope that is Christ. Hope, not in the water-downed sense of the word where it mean nothing more than a wish, but hope in the sense of knowing that the God of the Universe came to earth as a human child for the purpose of expressing his indescribable love for me to me. I heard a missionary in church today say that a man he once encountered from an unreached tribe in Africa told him that “his god speaks his language” and that’s exactly what Jesus did – he came to us as a man to communicate with us and show his love for us in our humanness. My hope in Jesus is assured by his love, his power, and his desire to be in relationship with me.

This week will be about hope for me. Where do you think I’ll find it? And where will I find myself being the bearer of hope? Christ is coming! Happy first week of Advent everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2015

God Bless You!

God bless you.
No I didn’t think I heard you sneeze. 

It’s Thanksgiving week and I’ve been thinking a lot about how blessed I am and how grateful I am that God would lavish such attention on me. Yesterday I heard a wonderful sermon that reminded me that I am blessed to be a blessing and it started me thinking. What if at the Thanksgiving table this year, we each recounted not only a blessing we were grateful for but a blessing we have given?
As Jesus followers and God’s children, we have the ability and responsibility to bless others. It isn’t reserved for special people or for certain times—blessing another is for everyone all the time! I am fortunate to know a few exemplars in the practice of blessing. There’s the woman who tells everyone she meets, “Blessings on your day!” as she leaves their presence. Then there is the man who will often stop everything just to pray for and with you. The one whom I am most blessed by is my father. Every time I say goodbye to my father, he wraps me in his arms and says “God bless you” with such a raw authenticity that I feel his blessing surrounding me like a warm blanket. What he is doing is placing me in God’s hands until we meet again. Is there any better expression of concern and care than that?

What does this strange little word mean—bless? It’s one of those words we all say, but I’d be hard-pressed to define it if someone asked me. Bless mean to make holy (to set apart or to respect greatly). That’s why we bless things—to set them apart as God’s and treat those things with the respect that God’s personal property deserves. Bless also means to praise or honor as holy. That’s what it means in Psalm 103 when it says Bless the Lord, O my soul… (RSVP) It also means to ask divine care or protection for, to make successful or happy, or to provide for freely. God blesses others through our words, actions, and sacrifices. He acknowledges their existence and says to them, “You matter to me!” when we, in the name and power of Jesus, bless another person. That’s a lot of punch for a little five-letter word! 

So this Thanksgiving week, give some thought not only to how blessed you are, but how much of a blessing you are. Most likely, you will realize that you are much more blessed than you have been a blessing. Don’t worry if the two lists are unequal in length because no one, absolutely no one, can out-bless our God. But it just might give you the incentive to be more intentional in your practice of blessing. I know that it is certainly motivating me.

God bless and Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Law of Your Love and Grace

This week's news of the terrorists attacks in France has touched me deeply. So deeply that I just couldn't express my thoughts today. As deeply as it affects me, it breaks the heart of our Father even more which reminded me of a poem I shared a few years ago. Enjoy!

The Law of Your Love and Grace
How sad it must be for the Father above
To watch us hurt and kill
instead of love.
To see our self-righteous pride
reject and destroy 
the blessings He gave  
all for the sake of the sin we crave.
Before the beginning
He set in his mind
to share of Himself,
His love and His grace,
and carefully crafted this human race.
Brothers and sisters 
we all are in His name
bonded in Spirit
through Christ’s blood – 
For God’s Word went out
proclaiming His love and His grace.
The Voice that spoke the heavens 
and earth into being
has spoken forgiveness 
and my sins are erased!
We all want to know joy
to be loved 
and secure 
a longing created by God to bring us near.
A desire distorted by sin with
regret, shame and fear.
God’s Word is not about perfection 
but love and grace.
Condemning my brother 
would be my disgrace.
No matter the hardships
I may face in this time 
and this place
I pray my faith stay firmly set
in the law of Your love and Your grace.

Monday, November 9, 2015

My Name Is...

My Name Is...
My name is Israel—
he who wrestles God.
Struggling with my will, 
my way, 
with the words I pray.
Rolling round on the ground,
kicking up the dirt.
Yes, I am one who wrestles
until, my God, he blesses me.
And limping away
I follow his lead.
My name is David—
one after God’s own heart.
in my arrogance and pride
I take another’s bride
and think nothing of it,
when my sin might be revealed,
her husband’s life I steal.
My sin and guilt disguised,
but from the Lord I cannot hide
and my heart breaks.
Crushed by my sin, I cry.
In His name alone I’m justified.
My name is Paul,
once known as Saul—
one who knew the word
but didn’t know His voice
when my name He called.
“Why persecute Me?” He said.
“Let Me set you free
and send you out
among the nations all
to preach and teach
My love, My grace
and how in My Name
all can know 
the Father’s embrace.”
My name is …
and though I am a sinner,
in the power of Jesus’ name
His love, His grace
I will proclaim!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Our Best Investment

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells a story of a man who, going on a journey, entrusts all he owns to his servants. He gives most of it to one, a smaller portion to another and to a third he gives the smallest portion. The first works hard investing all he’s been given and doubles the investment. The second does the same. The third allows his personal concerns and fear to determine his actions and locks away everything the man entrusted to him. The man comes back and sees how the first two have increased his fortune by their hard work and expresses his delight by praising and promoting them. He chastises the third and fires him for not even safely investing his smallest portion in a low-yield savings account. Okay, so I took a few creative liberties, but if you read it yourself, you’ll find I’m not that far off.
Very soon we will be feasting on way too much food in celebration of all the blessings we so often take for granted. According to the Global Rich List, if your income is at least $32,400 (net annual salary plus benefits, pension, and student loan) you are in the top 1% wealthiest people on the planet, so it’s safe to say that we have plenty to be thankful for! But like the workers in the story, we don’t own our wealth. We are stewards of God’s riches which he has left in our care. Everything we possess, all our skills and abilities, every last breath and tick of the clock belongs to him and is only ours to care for wisely until we see him again. 
Some day we’re going to have the opportunity to tell him how we invested the gifts he bestowed on us. We’re going to have a few success stories but if you are like me, most likely you are going to have a lot of times when…well let’s just say—the market crashed. And we had to pick ourselves up again and start over and that is going to mean a lot to him. So this November, I’m taking stock of all the wondrous gifts he’s put in my charge and being thankful by investing those gifts in the reaching out to others in his name. 
As I was pondering all of this I realized that I’ve seen so many people giving me examples of how to do this and do it well. Here are some of those examples:
  • A nurse who developed a chronic, sometimes debilitating disease, can no longer work because of her illness. She started an after-hospital care ministry at her church in which she calls/visits people that first week after they are discharged from the hospital to make sure they have everything they need and often uses her medical knowledge to help in their recovery.
  • A print shop owner provides all the paper his church uses as part of his tithe.
  • A man who enjoys woodworking makes beautiful doll beds and his wife makes sheets, pillowcases and quilts for the bed. They got together with a couple who buy American Girl dolls and doll clothes which they then give to underprivileged girls at Christmas. They also provide $100 per brother so the parents can make sure the boys also have a happy Christmas morning.
  • A quilt shop owner provides free community service quilt kits for people to sew quilt tops and return and holds community service days at her shop several times a year where quilts are finished and stuffed bears are made to give to community outreach programs and hospitals.
  • When a successful business owner retired, he became the business manager of his church.
  • A retired couple offer rides to medical appointments to those who need a ride or just need company.
  • A woman who enjoys quilting makes and donates quilts to charity organizations to auction off.

So many wonderful examples of how to invest and increase what God has given. So what has God given you and me? And how can we invest it for his glory?