Friday, December 30, 2011

Perfect Peace in a Frenzied World

Christ followers have access to something that is foreign to the rest of the world.  It is something for which people greatly yearn. It is something so remarkable that people without Christ in their life would consider it “not normal.” Yet it is something they would love to have.  It is a true and deep human need, however this something cannot be achieved by natural means, for it is supernatural.   That something is peace and specifically inner peace in a turbulent world.

The truth is that our world has not been a place of peace since Adam and Eve chose to rebel from God’s perfect love in the garden of Eden. We see a world almost frenzied in a desire for peace but with no enduring way to achieve it. 

Even within our immediate families and extended families and with friendships there is conflict, disagreement and division. 

Like a Christmas song says, “peace on earth, goodwill toward men, every year we sing it again, such beautiful words, they’ve got to be true, but down deep admit it, you’d like to know when?”

Yet, the Scriptures talk about a “Perfect Peace.”  Isaiah 26:3  Says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you!”  So what is this inner peace the Scriptures talk about? 

 1.     First we have to recognize that peace comes at the point of surrender. In the spiritual realm, we end our private war with God.  

2. Secondly, to pursue God’s peace we “put on” behaviors and practice those things that help keep our minds on God.  The Scriptures teach us to “lay aside” things and “put on” things.  Kind of like changing clothes.  

3.  Third, we choose to carve out time for God. To keep our minds on God we choose to remind ourselves to think about Him.  He will help us on this, count on it.  He wants to spend time with us more than we can imagine.

4. Fourth, we pray prayers of victory focused on who God is, rather than our current circumstances Perspective is everything.

5.  Fifth, we grow in our trust of God.  A growing trust in God allows us to experience His perfect peace, in fact I would say that the amount of peace we have in a situation has a direct correlation to the amount of trust we place in God as we go through that ordeal.  Trust is not an automatic response.  It’s an act of the will, and it is a process.  We learn to trust. 

Inner peace in a frenzied world - what an incredible gift!

Ten Ways to Help a Discouraged Friend

1.  Be a good listener.  Restrain the urge to tell your own story.  Let it be about them.

    2.  Use gentle words  - and only a few words - to help your friend gain perspective.  When we are discouraged we tend to lose sight of the   whole picture.

    3.  Affirm your friend’s feelings.  Sometimes we just need to be heard or to    know we are not alone.

    4.  Pray for your friend.  Then write them a note and tell them you prayed.   

    5.  Let your friend know you are thinking of them in moments they would   not expect to hear from you.

    6. Sometimes a thoughtful (not expensive) gift can convey feelings that words can’t.  Something informational that they are interested in,   something made in the kitchen, a single flower, an offer to go out for   latte or a smoothie, are small ways to convey that you care.   

     7. Encourage your friend by pointing out their gifts and talents and remind  them of how they have influenced your life.    

    8. Share your favorite Bible verse with your friend.

    9. Be worthy of the trust your friend has extended to you by sharing their problems.  Consider that trust a compliment.

1  10. Point your friend to hope – not empty words but the true source of hope  that God has expressed through His Word.  A few examples are: “Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”  I Peter 5:7; “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 34:18;  “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;  from where shall my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121:1-2;  For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11   

Parenting Style

She sat at the stair step by my computer nook and drew happily, occasionally explaining in detail about the flowers and beginnings of alphabet letters she drew.  I was amazed at how unbelievably content she seemed - this "just being together" time.  The moments reminded me of my own childhood as I would spend hours drawing at the desk my father made me.  In fact some of my most treasured memories are of the times he and I would sit at the desk and design projects and dream of good ideas - drawing them all down on paper.  We had both times of togetherness and times of unstructured drawing - of creativity, brainstorming and exploration.  Part of the wonder of childhood is just that "dreaming time".  

As now a grandparent I appreciate anew how my parents provided both a loving stable structure for me, yet gave me the freedom of expression crowned with praise and encouragement for my efforts.  What a blessed child I was.  Because of how they treated me, I always knew children were special.      

When Jesus, "God in the flesh," walked planet earth - He demonstrated to a rough and adult-oriented world the great worth and value of children.  In the way Jesus treated others, and in particular - children, He shows us a parenting style that leaves no doubt that He delights in us, enjoys our company and loves us more than we can comprehend.  ""Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, "anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me""  (Mark 9:36-37 NLT).   

Monday, December 26, 2011

Surprise packages

Some of the best surprise gifts come in unassuming packages.  I'm reminded of the story of Ruth who had a mother-in-law who was elderly. Ruth chose to lovingly care for her mother-in-law in her old age rather than seeking her own desires for love and romance and the financial security of a new marriage. It meant that life was hard and she didn't have time to think of herself.  She worked and listened the the wise advice of her mother-in-law.  In a turn of events, Ruth ended up with both a loving secure home for her mother-in-law, and an incredible new marriage, and then a child.  But this all was accomplished in turn as Ruth choose to do the unselfish thing - step after step. By putting her own desires on hold, she received more than she ever could have ever dreamed.  Ruth's new life was a surprise gift in a package she never would have considered previously.  The people of her village remarked to her mother-in-law, "Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family!  May this child be famous in Israel.  May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age.  For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!  Ruth 4:14-15 NLT).  In that culture, that was the supreme compliment.  

And so as this time of gift-giving unwinds, sometimes we find the best gifts are the unexpected remnants of unselfish choices.  Can you think of something that made you smile because you put someone else's happiness first?  Bingo.   

Sunday, December 25, 2011

When This Christmas is "Different"

As the years go by our Christmas celebrations undergo change.  Even though there are treasured traditions that we often cling to, change is inevitable.  People who were once an intricate part of our Christmas time that are gone through death, divorce, a geographical move or estrangement can leave a cavernous hole in our hearts, especially this time of year.  Our culture, as a rule, doesn't grieve very well.  Yet, as much as that hurt can be we can probably think of someone in our lives who is having a much harder time than we are this season and just the thought of extending some comfort their way can disengage us, in a small way, from our own loss.  

But truly, as strong as all those memories may be, today is a day set aside to focus on someone else.  It's the celebration of Jesus' birthday.  "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on His shoulders.  And He will be called, "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6 NLT)."    

It's uplifting to consider, what kind of gift can I give to Him?  It may be a commitment to be more engaged with people this year and reach out where we normally wouldn't.  It may be to pray more often and more fervently.  Perhaps our gift will be in the area of trusting God more and taking to heart that He does have plans for us and rely on His promise that His plans are good.  Perhaps there has been a nudge in our hearts - something we believe God wants us to do, but it is inconvenient, so it sits on the back burner of our minds.  Perhaps this is the year to turn up the flame and take a bold step of faith.  Maybe that gift will be a resolution to take God's Word more seriously and notch up time spent reading the Bible and asking each day, "how does this effect me, and what would God want me to do today?  Maybe it's forgiving a grudge or showing someone grace that reflects the love of God, even if they do not deserve it - keeping in mind when it comes to deserving grace, none of us qualify.  

The legend of the Little Drummer Boy asks what kind of gift do I have to offer a King?  Gifts of wealth or possessions did not propel Christ's mission on earth.  It was the gifts of the Spirit and the heart that changed the world.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

It IS A Wonderful Life

Finally finished the movie, yet again.  This Christmas season my husband has been recuperating from surgery while I had the normal busy ministry pre-Christmas schedule.  And so we "fit things in" differently.  We didn't decorate or bake much and I certainly didn't keep up the house like I should.  But we enjoyed every minute of visitors, phone calls, those who came to help and dear hearts in crisis....people.  Like George Bailey we found that God does answer prayer, sometimes in mysterious ways.  We found that the love and companionship of the people in our lives means much more than any type of material possession.  And we definitely learned, yet again, that our perspective is so limited.  Adversity, a seemingly common thread in life, is the thing that really has opportunity to change us for the better.  Conquering life one step at a time often means coming out of the most recent storm stronger and better than when we went in.  And so as I think of all God has brought us through, despite my failures and missteps along the way, I can rejoice in some things that never change, like   God's faithful love for people like you and I. Yes, it IS a wonderful life.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Blues

Christmas – just mentioning the word can cause intense images to fill our imaginations. It’s a season laden with memories. For some the mental pictures are rich and sweet. For some, Christmas is a painful time of remembering, and the memories hurt.

There may be those in our midst who are mourning the loss of a loved one taken by death, or divorce. People around us may be experiencing the loss of love or attention from a friend or family member. Individuals may be lonely, suffering from rejection, feeling the heartache of a child going astray, or reeling from the revelation of bad news about their health, finances or marriage. Christmas can fan the flame of a memory one would rather forget.

How can we offer the hope and healing of Christ during this season that for some heightens painful emotions? Here are three things to consider:

1. Help resolve the immediate pain. Perhaps there is some practical help we can offer to someone around us experiencing the holiday hurts. Whether it’s an extra visit or offering assistance in an area of physical need, or being a sensitive listener, timely attention can help take the sharp edge off the loss.

2. Encourage growth. A natural response to pain is to withdraw. We can encourage a friend to stay strong in church by offering a personal invitation. This kind gesture helps him or her to stay connected to other people and to the Lord.

3. Help increase the coping mechanisms. The thought of normal traditions may be painful. It’s okay to start a new tradition or do something new and creative during the holidays. Offering our friends a fresh perspective or a shoulder to cry on helps him or her process the heightened emotions. ’We can help our friends discover the ways that God shows His goodness by helping us each step of the way on our journey of hope and healing.

Most of all we need to remember that God is the God of hope. His Word is the book of hope. Through the pages of the Bible we find help for our deepest needs, especially when we’re hurting. Jim Cymbala, in his book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, says “ I discovered an astonishing truth: God is attracted to weakness. He can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him”.

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

"and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6b
Feeling Thankful.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Positive and Optimistic and (gulp) Troubles

Uhggg...troubles again.  Seems like some troubles are like what they used to call a broken record that plays over and over.  Now, they may be likened to that skip on a CD that messes up the song every time it is played, never goes away and is very annoying.  That's what trouble is like.

Along come this guy named James.  He grew up with a perfect brother, and even though Jame's brother never did anything wrong, a lot of trouble came his way.  And to James, the whole thing was annoying - at least for a long while.

Later in life after he had been through a whole lot of things, James tells us that is the exact opposite of our normal experiences.  He ways, "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy".  Huh?  What's good about trouble.  The first thing we do when trouble comes normally is to pray or at least wish it would just go away and leave us alone.  James goes on to say, "for you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing (James 1:2-4 NLT).

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to stay put and endure something that is indeed troublesome.  This Scripture passage acknowledges that troubles come our way and not for the purpose of teaching us to dodge them or be in denial about their existence.  Then again we don't want to be so focused on our troubles that they tend to define what is James talking about?  Just hanging on until our troubles go away seems senseless.  So what is "joyful" about all of this?  

The joy isn't due to the bad things that have happened.  The joy is in what is happening to our faith as we are being tested.  Endurance, patience and maturity are beautiful things and they do not happen unless we are put through hard and difficult things. That's just the way it works.  The people whom we love and admire for having great characters probably became that way because they have suffered in some way.  If we can find even that small seed of faith to offer to God some trust when something bad happens, then He grows our faith and we become stronger - and more positive and optimistic.  This stronger faith allows us to see the hand of God working in even the strangest of circumstances.  The blossoming of our faith is precious to Him, and He delights in our growing trust of Him. And when we have found that the next time trouble comes and we are not shaken we realize our faith is stronger, we are more confident that God is going to faithfully take care of us no matter what, and that is reason for joy. 

And, by the way, did you know that the "perfect brother" of James was Jesus?  Yes, James learned these words from his life experiences.  James saw great and fearsome trouble turn into joy because of the outcome of Jesus' life.   

Go Home and Tell Everybody

He was the picture of torment.  "Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones."  From a slice of history, this man is not unlike some anguished people today.  It may be mental illness, it may be something amiss in the spiritual nature, or perhaps it is the effects of years of drug or alcohol abuse and the tragic choices that tend to accompany the lifestyle.  Insomnia was his constant companion.  He was indeed miserable and without a sense of hope, and people were afraid of him.  Even those with a touch of compassion didn't know how to deal with him, so alone he stayed.  Cut off from the warmth of social contact, finding strange familiarity among the tombs, and injuring himself.  Some say cutting eases the pain.  But more pain comes as a result.  In every conceivable sense, he was a mess.

And then it happened.  Jesus found him and dealt with his issues.  Jesus was not afraid of his condition or appalled at his choices.  Jesus showed tremendous compassion, dealt with the man's heart and healed that which was terrible injured, physically, mentally and spiritually.  And that's how Jesus works.  By the time the bystanders encountered the man they found him described as "fully clothed and perfectly sane."  In fact the change was so dramatic that the bystanders became afraid, because they knew this was beyond human.  It was miraculous.   

Jesus then had to leave, for He had much to accomplish.  The man who had just been through a remarkable transformation begged to go along with Jesus, but Jesus gave the man something of his own to accomplish.  "Go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful He has been (from Mark 5, NLT)."  

Even when we make bad choices...God is the compassionate Heavenly Father ever searching for His wayward children.  Be saved, be healed, be transformed.  Go home and tell everybody.     

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mary, Sweet Teenager

Mary sweet teenager, called upon by God
Mary, so vulnerable, what tumult did you go through?
The presence of the angel
The radiant warmth of God’s undeniable love
Must have been of such a magnitude
That it obliterated all fear and doubt.
Such faith.
Such conviction from someone so young.
She pondered this visitation, and obediently responded.
Her magnificat revealed a soul that yearned for God.
Did your heart skip a beat as you thought of the wonder?
Did your stomach knot at the thought of fear?