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

Monday, December 28, 2015

To Be Afraid

           I am afraid of spiders and snakes and most creeping, crawling things.  As a young person I was afraid to speak in front of my peers when it was time for book reports or any other reason that placed me in the lime light.  My fear would strip me of my voice so that all a person could hear was a whisper.   I was afraid of writing papers because I was certain mine would never hold a candle to the girl who sat behind me in class and had a writing flair I positively envied!

            It seems we are all born with what some call a “powerful, motivating negative” fear.  Some people are afraid of heights, darkness, elevators, dogs, thunder and lightening, germs, the unknown, Friday the 13th, clowns, loud noises, failure, God and a whole list of other things!  Fear is generated from a belief our well-being is in some kind of danger, whether it be perceived or real.  The goal, when this emotion looms in front of us, is to respond in some form.  It could be described as “flight or fright.” 

            Fright tends to cause us to run away, or depending on the situation become paralyzed in place and scream (like when I see a snake or mouse)!  The other response is to fight which means “dig our heels in” and focus on whatever oppositional option is before us, saying, “NO! NO! NO!”

            It’s interesting how God manages to use our fears to “grow” us, giving us courage to do those things we absolutely loathe!  Consider Aaron who was certain he could not speak, Jeremiah who was sure he was not the one God called and made all kinds of excuses not to follow God’s directive, or Moses who was afraid to be the man God called him to be. Yet God used each of these men to make a difference in the lives of many.  They are proof God can change us when we face challenges, we are certain we are unable to complete successfully. 

            To be successful against our fears, as Christians, we need to place our fear and then our trust in our Powerful God and step out in faith, facing what is before us, knowing even if we are not “perfect” the first time out, God will use our gift to bless others if we are following His will.

            On the other side of this, when we choose to ignore a calling God has given us because we are afraid, we are unable to produce the good fruit we are capable of producing.  We run from God, (like Jonah) and end up in a painful and sometimes more frightening situation than if we’d listened to God in the first place!   In truth, as we run in fear, we should recognize our biggest fear is really fear of “sacrifice!”  We are afraid of submitting our whole self, including desires, needs, possibilities, and everything about us, to God.  When we focus on our fears instead of on God’s call for our lives, we are demonstrating a self-centered mentality. 

            So I challenge you to consider your greatest fear.  How can God use your abilities?  If you listen closely, can you hear Him calling you to service?

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Best Christmas Gift

          Christmas is this week.  Children are beyond excited as they dream about what might be wrapped in the pretty paper with sparkling bows.  The sparkling lights on the tree reflect in their bedazzled eyes as they fantasize about all the items on their wish list.

            I attended a Christmas gathering recently and part of the festivities included sharing what our favorite childhood Christmas toy was.  The answers were varied, although given the room was filled with women, a doll was probably at the top of the list.  Others named a bicycle, rubik’s cube, Barbie’s and hula hoops; etch a sketch and color-forms; Easy Bake ovens and the magic 8 ball!

            Of course there were those, like myself, who had a very poor childhood and gifts were not memorable.  Still there were a few we could remember.  I remember one Christmas when my parents told my sisters and I Christmas would include no gifts, since we were taking a trip to visit relatives, and money would be needed for gas.  Still as a young child, I had expectations of gifts, even if they weren’t much. 

            Christmas morning I learned how honest my parents were!  My older sister and I received a single gift, a small bottle of perfume from the products my father peddled at the time.  Honestly, I was crushed!  Of course, my sister and I pasted our best smiles on our faces and accepted the gift with all the exuberance we could muster.  I haven’t any idea what my three year sister received that year, but I was sure disappointed.

            It’s interesting how important gifts are when we are children.  When I was young, the really big event before Christmas was the arrival of the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Catalogue, along with the J.C. Penny and Montgomery Ward editions.  As a child I spent hours, literally, scouring every page, choosing specific toys or clothes, right down to the color and size of the shirt, matching shoes, or dress I wanted.  This was followed by all the items I would buy, if I had my own house!  The truth is, Christmas in this environment, was all about me!

            As a child, we don’t think past what we want right now.  We want the happiness that can be unwrapped from under the tree.  In the corporate world it’s all about making as much money as can be made with as little effort as possible, regardless of who is hurt.  As parents, it’s about making sure our young ones have the best Christmas ever.  We shop and wrap, keep secrets, decorate and do all within our means (and sometimes beyond our means) to make sure our children have the Christmas of their dreams!

            But Christmas is not about me, making money, the gifts, decorations, parties and social life and secrets!  It’s about Jesus!  It’s about the promise of the Messiah being fulfilled through that tiny babe in a manger.  It’s also about why He came.  Our Savior came as a humble child to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins on the cross at Calvary.  We were given the gift of Christmas to have the gift of salvation at Easter!  This is the best gift, ever!

            Where is your heart today?  Is it tied up in the secular materialism known as Christmas to the general world or is your heart given to the Risen Messiah?  Your answer will determine your eternal home.  

           Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Challenged By The Enemy

          I heard a discussion yesterday about how “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was completely misinterpreted.  One person thought “A Charlie Brown Christmas was about a lonely little tree.  What it is really about, is the gift of the Messiah, which is demonstrated when Linus reads Luke 2 and then looks at Charlie Brown and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about.” (paraphrased) 

        Everyday our lives are being threatened, even as our beliefs are being challenged.  The enemy is all around us trying to destroy us, luring us into a slavery of sin.  The enemy is plotting and scheming in every way possible to steal our joy, our faithfulness and everything that is good.  There is a very real war for our souls going on between heaven and hell. 

        Satan seeks to destroy our belief in God’s promises, but we can know with absolute certainty the enemy cannot do this, unless we allow him.  God's Word is true.  We can also know the enemy will be destroyed one day by God.  Our freedom is rooted in God's promises!

        Sometimes, with all the “drama” in secularism the enemy has added to the Christmas holiday, it’s hard to stay focused on the meaning of Christmas. With the shopping, decorating, entertaining, mailings, cooking and baking and all the other “must dos” on the list, we often feel overwhelmed and lost in the wonder of it all.  We lose sight of the “why” we are doing all that we are trying to get done.

        God promised he would send the Messiah to save His people.  He kept his promise, although not the way many people expected and therefore, they missed the fulfillment of this promise.  Jesus is the Greatest Gift every given.

        I heard the most interesting analogy in a sermon recently.  God told his people to multiply and share His message.  Yet how often do we hold back?  Imagine seeing a centipede, and in our dislike of the little critters we step on it to kill it.  Because of the weighted impact, we are sure the critter is dead.  When we take our foot off, however, each section has now reproduced. So instead of one squished bug, there are thousands of little centipedes and no matter how many times we step on it, the centipede sections still reproduce.  That is how God’s people should be. No matter how many times we get “stepped” on, we should reproduce God’s people, by sharing the Word, as we continue sharing God’s Greatest Gift.

         So as you put the finishing touches on your Christmas tree, wrap the last of the presents and complete the last minute baking, I challenge you to remember God’s promises, especially when satan lurks behind every corner just waiting to see a twinge of doubt, a momentary lapse in good, Godly judgment, or the weakness for a sinful behavior we still haven’t given to God.

         God is at our side, waiting to give us Jesus again, again and again.  While Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birth, Easter celebrates His resurrection and offer of salvation.  This is reason to celebrate Christ.  These holidays are so connected, it’s impossible to believe in the one, without believing the other. Christ came, Christ died, Christ is resurrected.  Be the centipede.  Share this incredible gift.  It is the Greatest Gift ever given and received.  And, you can know God will not fail His people because God keeps all His promises!

Monday, December 7, 2015

We Are Family

I just attended the funeral of an aunt I haven’t seen in years.  It isn’t that she lived so far away or that we’d ever had a disagreement, or words or anything unkind.  It was simply we allowed “life” to get in the way of a relationship as we both grew older. I’m sad about that even as I remember with much fondness the joy she brought me as a young child.

What was even more special was the “reunion” with cousins and other family I hadn’t seen in years.  We chatted, embraced and promised to stay in touch.  They reminded me I am part of a much larger extended family that I don’t see on my day-to-day basis.

I doubt my family is much different than most others.  We have those we stay close to, sometimes from sheer proximity, but other times because the relationship was strong enough to sustain distances, and the desire to cultivate the relationship was greater than the consequence of not doing so.

One cousin attending had me mixed up with one of my siblings.  Once we got that straight, I asked him about his.  Obviously grieving, he said, "I don’t know.  I haven’t seen my sister in twenty years, and my brothers don’t return phone calls even though I leave messages on the machine."

Why do we allow this to happen?  I was overwhelmed with the love and affection from family I haven’t seen in so long!  What keeps me from staying connected?  Our days are getting shorter by the moment.  Even the fact that we were all attending my aunt’s funeral should drive that home.  We are mortals.  We never know what day we will breathe our last.  We deprive ourselves of relationships to people we have a blood connection to, yet we hold back and sometimes make excuses to avoid them.

Lineage was important to God.  It was important enough to list them in the Bible.  Not only is lineage important to The Lord, but family is grounded in all that is God!  He made Eve for Adam, and joined them as one.  Even out of the Garden of Eden family existed as they had children, grandchildren.  God told Abraham he would be the leader of a great nation, as many as numbered the stars!  This is family!

I commented to my son this morning, I didn’t realize or perhaps had forgotten that I meant anything at all to my extended family!  How sad!  Surely I’m not the only one who has felt this way!  But feelings for another can be buried deep within us if we only see someone ten, twenty, or even thirty years in between connections.

This heart warming reunion, despite the reason for the reunion, reminded me how much I miss my extended family and how important they are to me.  It also made me determined to stay connected much better than I have been. 

We are only here a moment.  Our lives have value to each other and we need to recognize that.  This too, is part of the Christmas story!  Jesus came as part of a family.  He was son to Mary and Joseph and had many brothers and sisters!

I challenge you to remember families are important!  Especially remember your family is important.  Make memories this Christmas; hold each member close and make a deliberate attempt to stay connected all year long.