He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40:3a

Monday, November 30, 2015

Christmas Expectations

         In a group discussion one Sunday afternoon, a couple asked for prayers for their family get together during the holidays.  It seems they were having an “event” at their home and whenever the family came together, it often ended with hostility or at least sharp words exchanged between two or more family members.  Some family members even chose to avoid the gathering completely because of the ill feelings and others would attend but would give the person they had an issue with, a very wide berth!

         Even in our own family, there are times when family members choose to make other plans during a family event to avoid attendance.  There is a history between some members who can’t seem to come to grips with the situation and even years after the occurrence are unable to be in the same room with out the hackles on the back of their neck rising!

          The Christmas holiday is officially upon us and celebrations are part of the season tradition!  We each in our own minds, have personal expectations.  We decorate our homes and trees, sign Christmas cards and address envelopes, cook unbelievable desserts, clean our house better than any other time of year and still we wonder if we’ve done enough!

         Aside from that, we dream of what we might get for Christmas from our loved ones or even wonder what is inside those beautifully wrapped boxes and ask if it’s possible any contain what we really, really want.  And on the other side of the equation, as we wrap gifts for others, we wonder if we’ve bought the right, or even perfect gift, for the recipient, or the reverse: will they even like the gift we've chosen?

         Why are we so consumed with “perfection” at Christmas?  I was at "that place" some years ago.  My Christmases as a child weren’t stellar and as my own children were growing I stressed myself into a state every year!  It got so bad, I would lose my voice for the duration of the season!  It took some amount of counseling to finally realize the problem with my loss of voice was stress!  I didn’t recognize it for what it really was!  And before we finally discovered the culprit, I worried about the lack of voice, causing even greater stress! 

         My situation isn’t unique.  As humans, Christians and non-Christians alike, we put the emphasis of Christmas on all the glitz and trimmings instead of where it truly belongs: on Jesus, the Christ Child.  So when we put our focus on the material side of the holiday we’ve completely missed the point!

         So I challenge you during the next few weeks, as Christmas Day draws nearer, to take a few moments every day to just Stop!  Reflect on why you are celebrating this holiday.  Is the glitz and glitter getting in the way of the real reason we are supposed to be celebrating?  What is blocking your view?  Then take it a step further and make a genuine effort to change your perspective!  Remember that “Jesus truly is the reason for the season!”

Monday, November 23, 2015

How Do We Worship?

          Many years ago, when I first joined the choir, a friend of mine said, to my complete surprise, “When you sing, you sing like you mean it!”

            Perhaps I’m a little odd, but it never occurred to me, to not sing like I meant it!  Isn’t that what worship is all about?  We are told in His Word to “Worship in Spirit and Truth.”  We are a people created to worship our Creator, although it can happen in a variety of ways.  We may sing, pray, lift our hands, be quiet and still; but also we worship when we honor God with our lives.  However we choose to worship, it’s supposed to be an activity of the heart.

            I admit when I was part of the choir I was often surprised when I noticed those people in the congregation who not only did not sing, but seemed bothered or even bored during the worship time.  The other side of this is the child who sings with all the gusto they can muster because they are uninhibited and just love to sing!  We should sing like the child!

            Prayer and lifting up of hands is another form of worship.  Many adults restrict their blessing because they choose to not lift their hands in adoration of their Savior.  When an adult has not grown up with the practice, they feel like they are singling themselves out when they raise their hands.  Yet Biblically, we are called to raise our hands in praise.

            Another form of worship is to just be quiet and be still.  This is so hard to do since our world is so busy.  We have television, cell phones, video games, email, face book and a host of other Internet sites.  With all the distractions our minds are often in overdrive and it’s difficult to quiet our minds to all other sounds so we can hear God’s still small voice.  But when we can, feeling the presence of The Lord is amazing!

            As we ready our tables and homes for Thanksgiving, I encourage you to consider how you and your family worship.  I know many families will stop and bless the food before eating.  Some have the tradition of going around the table and allowing each person to share one thing for which they are grateful.  Other families have other ways of demonstrating a thankful heart.

            When we express our gratitude we are honoring God and we are also expressing a form of worship.  When we stop and thank God for all the gifts and blessings whether big or small we are worshipping Him.

            So I challenge you to make a list of all the blessings you can think of.  Begin with waking in the morning, for your next breath, the water you drink (or coffee or other beverage), the food you ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner; clothes you wear, shelter, family (list each family member separately and try to name one specific thing you are especially thankful for, regarding them), church family, pastor, education, reading material –specifically the Bible, and every single thing you are thankful for. 

            Even if you don’t have everything you want or even feel like you need, chances are you are better off than many others, perhaps in your own town or even your community.  Thanksgiving is a special time---a time to have a thankful heart with friends and family!

            Praying yours is a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Changing Directions

         I have a wonderful scientist friend who is also a wonderful steadfast Christian.  In his words, “How can a person, knowing so many of the intricacies in Science, NOT believe?  God’s presence is all around us.  It seems every day science is proving the validity of the Bible.” 

            I read about another young man, a Yale law and science student, who along with many of his chemist friends, was progressive, with broad worldview attitudes and lifestyle beliefs.  He made a decision, despite his previous educational status to follow his heart to divinity school.  His decision brought resentment, disenchantment, ridicule and even rejection from those he’d known for a great many years.  It seems the idea of expressing faith seemed so foreign to his peers, they found the matter of understanding and “tolerance” to what they didn’t understand, easier to reject, than to accept.

             Changing directions and pathways are not that uncommon in our very transitory world.  It’s as normal to change degrees in college as it is to change shoes!  I admit writing was not what I expected to do when I graduated from High School, yet here I am. 

            People change careers all the time.  Sometimes it’s by choice, other times it’s mandated by where we work.  The business where we live and work closes or upgrades, and necessary education or a move, requires change.  This can be very difficult.  

            I remember years ago when my mother-in-law was given this ultimatum. She was told she’d have to drive an extra ninety minutes further (on top of her already ninety minute drive) in order to stay employed with the store or she’d simply have to move.  She opted to retire, and it completely changed her life.

            Retirement for some, is a great option.  It opens the door for travel opportunities, and often a less stressful lifestyle.  For others, it’s a mandate for health issues to head downhill.  It seems once the reason to live, or purpose in life is altered, or in some cases extinguished, health issues seem to roll over us like a giant snowball without any stopping it!

            A change in direction isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact, there are times, when change is the perfect solution.  It’s how we handle change that is important.  It’s how we see our lives, and if it is centered around God.  We need to remember whatever changes are made, good or bad, God knew it was going to happen and when we depend on Him for guidance, he will lead us to places we couldn’t even imagine!  

            No matter where we are in our lives, we have the ability and obligation to further His Kingdom.  Our age or circumstance is totally irrelevant.  We are each given skill sets that enable us to reach out to others if we are open to God’s leading no matter what our age!

            Consider where you are this very moment.  How do you stand with God? Are you where He wants you to be?


Monday, November 9, 2015

Fear And Respect

          A friend of mine shared an uncomfortable experience recently regarding her children.  It seems she, her husband and small children were visiting another family and during the course of the evening, the children misbehaved; nothing drastic, but differently than what was expected by the parents of my visiting friends.  Taking the children aside, they were clearly told they would behave appropriately or face the consequences.

            When the hosting parents discovered what had happened, they were outraged!  Their children were given much more freedom and believed the visiting children should have the same acceptance.  Feelings were shared between the couples and they parted ways.  Later they reversed visiting locales.  The children were playing together and again, my friend and her husband felt the need to speak to their children.  Once more, displeasure was voiced at the way my friend was raising their children.

            What made this worse was when my friend received a detailed note from her friend saying since they were causing their children to be fearful with such strict rules, they would no longer be sharing the company of each other’s families.  My friend, of course was very hurt, but she and her husband stood their ground because they believed it was necessary to teach their children right from wrong.  They also believed “fear” of Mom and Dad was warranted when it came to what could be expected if they misbehaved.

            It has nothing to do with abuse, but it has everything to do with creating boundaries.  If children know no boundaries from their parents, they become rude, cruel, obnoxious, disrespectful of any authority figure, and have problems with self-control for their rest of their lives.1  Our culture has taught our children they have the right to stand up to their parents when they disagree with them.  This puts the child, who no longer believes the parent knows best, in charge instead of the parents.

            As a Christian parent who believes God’s Word is clear on disciplining a child, discipline is not meant to create a fear in the sense most people think “fear.”   But if a child knows without question bad behavior will demand some kind of consequence, the child will often at least think twice before following through with the misbehaving act. 

The same is true about adults.  We are told in the Bible to have a fear of The Lord, because “fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10 and many other places.)  But to fear God is to have respect, awe, trust and have the willingness to obey.   This doesn’t mean we are afraid to go to Him in prayer, but we, like the children in the opening paragraphs, know that misbehavior will bring consequences!

God has given us very clear guidelines and boundaries within His Word.  There is right and wrong, black and white and as His children we are expected to follow the rules.  When we do, we demonstrate our love for Him.  When he disciplines bad behavior, He demonstrates love for us.

So I challenge you to determine where you feel you stand in your relationship with God.  Do you believe you need to tell God what to do in some circumstances because He isn’t doing it right or fast enough or even give you an answer you didn’t want?  How are you responding?  Is it in awe, with respect and even fear of God?  Are you in obedience to Him or are you suffering the consequences of bad behavior?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Truth Has Become Relative

I am a bit of a History buff who enjoys reading old history books or articles about ages old civilizations, other lands, people, and how this country was founded, developed and grew.  The people who lived centuries ago have amazing stories of courage, vision and drive, some with a political agenda or desiring religious freedom and sometimes, just the desire to experience the new and unknown, on an adventurous journey!  Those who trekked across this land those many years ago, I suggest, would be greatly surprised with where our leaders have taken this country and the direction it continues to travel!

The United States was founded on the principle of God as our Creator, but there has been a revolution in our culture.  Each year we fall further away as laws are created and enforced which further alienates us from God’s Word and what is considered good and right.  This is all done in the name of progress and success for any person who develops a strategy where clawing and scraping to get to the top is the ultimate measure of success without regard for anyone else in the process.

We’ve developed an attitude that “all truth is relative” while we compromise and say “if it’s okay with you, then it’s okay with me.”  There has been a huge shift in the attitude of right and wrong.  There is rarely any black or white clear and distinctive lines or boundaries.  Our choices have become gray and clouded with being “politically correct.”  Our culture demands we are all inclusive.  It’s a war, we as Christian’s, are losing.  We are blown off course with no shame.  Whatever the conflict, we are encouraged to compromise and keep comfortable.

God is a jealous God and our world is increasingly creating other “gods” whether it be success, money, material goods, sports, food, style, drugs, gambling and more.  We are as the people described in 2 Chronicles because we are doing what is right in “our own eyes.” 

More than ever we Christians need a battle plan!  We need to search the Word and ask “Who will fight?”  Who will pray?  Who will witness?  Who will lead?  Who will go?  Who will be obedient?

Satan wants us to feel powerless.  He wants us to become complacent and frustrate our attempts to be on the trail for Christ.  He even has strategically placed people among the believers who look and sound like a believer but is actually in the enemy camp against God.  We are told in His Word this would happen, so it shouldn’t really surprise us.  But it should encourage us to diligently seek His Word and be in prayer!

So I challenge you to consider ways you might be being “politically correct” when God is calling to be strong and faithful.  Are there areas in your life where your attitude is ‘everybody’s doing it’?  Have you blurred the boundaries of right and wrong?  We are accountable for our choices.  Jesus will return soon and we each must “own” how we handled life on this earth.  Are you ready to face Him?