Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Humboldt Crud and Bucket Lists

Well, where we live they call it the 'Humboldt Crud.'  We are taking turns with this sickness at our house, and evidently it's my turn.  Being under the weather affords a little 'think time.'  It would not be nice to attend church and pass around the bug today, so at home I sit, and help watch the little one and do this and that and think.

Watching the news the other night it was rather sobering to see all the celebrities and famous folk who passed away this year.  Added to this list were quite a few sweet people we knew personally who closed the final chapter in their earthly lives.  It makes one ponder as we start to turn to the page 2013 and begin to write upon it, knowing that life itself may take the pen and write what it wants to write, instead of what we had planned.

It's funny how many things on our bucket list are just that - things....experiences, maybe.  Wanting to do something exciting, go some place we have never been or achieving something is often at the top of these lists.  But when it is all said and done, and we turn that last page in our book, all we really want are close relationships.

So as 2013 comes into view, I'm thinking about relationships and realizing their development trumps any bucket list.  There are so many people in our lives to love and learn to understand a little better.  And as much as that means, there is a relationship that means even more - for we enter this life as an individual, and we leave it the same way.  And then we stand before the Creator of Life.  I would not want to stand before His presence as a stranger or acquaintance.  No, that is the relationship above all worth investing great time and effort.

So, 2013, here is to relationships, earthly and heavenly, human and divine.  May your year be rich with people whom you love, people whom you will forgive and may your year be especially made rich by the One who offers forgiveness to us all.  Happy New Year.     

Monday, December 24, 2012

Born into a Rocking and Reeling World

Hope was born on Christmas Eve into a world that was chaotic, rocking and reeling. "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light."  Isaiah 9:2a  To our minds, what a crazy way to save the world...sending a baby? "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;"  Isaiah 9:6a  Yet all these centuries later as we still see the amazing effects of this Christ-child upon humanity and how the concepts of compassion and mercy were exemplified through Him and made possible by Him. "And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."  Isaiah 9:6b  Even now we see great and powerful acts of love and heroism, inspired by His life, amid the turmoil, the chaos, the grief, the things we just shake our heads over... "There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace."  Isaiah 9:7a  The world is still rocking and reeling, and the story is not over. But because of this babe in the manger, we have true hope. Christmas is giving, because God have us Jesus. Happy Birthday to the baby born in Bethlehem. Silent night, peace to your souls, and Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Feeling Alone at Christmas?

Do you feel alone?  This rugged individualism isn't as romantic as it's cracked up to be.  At this time of year feelings of aloneness can become overwhelming.  We do well in those moments to cling to what we know to be true and not be carried away by our emotions.  And this is truth:  Into this dark world more than two-thousand years ago was born a vulnerable baby, completely dependent on His young, inexperienced, financially poor parents.  The world and culture into which He was born was a scary and violent one.  This little family was, in a sense, 'homeless' at His birth, having to use an animal stable for a birth room.  Talk about feeling alone.  Yet, the HOPE of the world was born on that dark night! 

This child grew into the someone who would divide history - B.C. and A.D.  The world's whole concept of mercy and compassion would come about through this One born on the day we celebrate 'Christmas.'  This One would so radically change millions of lives that there would be multitudes of works of kindness done in His name.  Hospitals would be built, the dying would die in the arms of tenderhearted strangers, educational institutions would be founded, the undeserving forgiven, words about Him would give hope to those in despair and His light within the life of millions would change the world for the better.

Sadly, there would also be those who oppose Him and the forces of evil would bring devastation to many.  Some would even do inconceivable wrong in His name.  Christmas accelerated an all out war between good and evil, and evil often has great power.  But God's power is greater and stronger and  broke through our darkness and helplessness on that first Christmas night.  In times of feeling alone or if we are experiencing a time of depression we need to remember that.  God is stronger than whatever we are going through!

God in the flesh, God with us, Emmanuel.  No longer would God seem distant but closer than one's own breath, and as hard as it is to imagine, He wants to be an intimate friend to each of us.  He never wants us to be alone of feel alone, again.

Having a rough day or a difficult season?  Christ knows what it feels like.  He's been there before us and if we invite Him into our lives He promises to be with us, always.  We never have to be alone again. 

"Don't be afraid, for I am with you.  Don't be discouraged, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand."  Isaiah 41:10 

As we see the Christmas lights peering through the darkness let it be a reminder to us, hope broke into our world on Christmas night.  The light of the world has come!        

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Horrific Grief and the Hope of Heaven

Grief is a constant part of life, although a part we don't like to talk about much.  We grieve loss in many areas but certainly the most profound and deepest grief is to lose a loved one.  And when that loved one is a child the sorrow is unspeakable.  As people of faith we too grieve and mourn the insane violence and loss of life that has thrust many families, a whole community and an entire nation into a season of deepest and profound sadness.  And although our hearts and emotions suffer through this time, as believers in Christ, we grieve with hope.  Our faith is made more real as we cling to God not necessarily for answers but for a trust that believes that ultimately in heaven.  In heaven there will be justice, the wrongs will be made right and in a supernatural way we can't understand, our tears will be wiped a way.  A glimpse into this heaven is when Job in all his suffering had an encounter with God, and suddenly it was enough.  We won't have that answer here on earth but the hope of heaven is everything when our hearts are so broken. 

In that picture of hope we visualize all those children running into Jesus arms.

The parents of a child who was born with many birth defects and physical suffering shared with me that what helps them to cope and stay away from depression is to serve others and they do so beautifully in many circumstances.  Their faith is made real for they do more than intellectually say "we believe," they demonstrate hope by investing in the lives of others.

In this horrific season of grief, we do well to imitate this families example, and through our questions, struggle with grief and hurt, seek to touch another life, uplift someone else and serve someone in Jesus name who can't return the favor.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Do Not Be Afraid

I love Streams in the Desert and have been reading it during my morning devotional for the past couple of years.  The book speaks do powerfully to me because the author really understood suffering.  It wasn't merely intellectual because she was living through difficult times as she wrote about keeping the faith when life is hard.  Mrs. Charles Cowman was caring for her dying husband during the years she penned this now devotional classic.  There is just something about someone who has "been there" to give us wise advice.  Suffering is a common denominator.  Suffering in one area of life gives us more compassion for those who suffer in a different way.  Suffering expands our perspective while enlarging our heart.  On December 13th, Cowman quotes J.R. Miller when she writes, "If you are in the shadows because of some strange, mysterious providence, do not be afraid.  Simply go on in faith and love, never doubting. God is watching, and He will bring good and beauty out of all your pain and tears." We can believe Mrs. Cowman because she writes from experience. 

How comforting to know pain and tears are not random or meaningless, but that tears touch the heart of God.  God does not simply weep for us, but intricately weaves purpose and meaning through our pain - carefully preparing us for what lies ahead.

Your suffering may be because of the loss of someone dear, the loss of a dream, declining health, the worry and concern over a loved one's well being, the anguish of watching someone self-destruct, a job loss with financial reversals,  a break in an important relationship, a myriad of troubles...or several seemingly disasters all at once.    

We can be sure that during the hours of our sufferings if we turn ourselves toward God, our hearts will begin to overflow with compassion for others.  He wastes not a tear, a broken heart, nor an anguished spirit.  Turned over to the hand of the Master, our suffering transforms into a beautiful tender sympathy that flows back to others in their time of need.  Do not be afraid. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Waiting is Not Our Default Mechanism

Waiting is so difficult for children at Christmas time!  The anticipation of opening those glittery gifts under the tree clicks some kids into overload mode.  Many a home echos with parental threats of Santa skipping their home because of such hyper behavior!  Child or adult, none of us like to wait, really.

When we have the medical test, we would like the diagnosis immediately, thank you.  How many drivers feel personally attacked when the light turns red on their road!  Having to make an extra round circle of the parking lot because there are so many shoppers is annoying.  Computers that take an extra few seconds to load are considered obsolete.  Waiting is not our default mechanism.  Food is fast, and we want it faster.  And waiting in lines?  Thank you for online shopping and small local shops.  We don't like to wait.

And then there is prayer.  We want the quick answer, the miraculous, the "sign" - a neon one if possible.  But instead, we wait.  Sometimes we seem to receive instant results for those incidental prayers (a close parking spot, Lord - it's raining...).  However, we wait for that unthinkable and mentally excruciating circumstance day by day, season by season and many a time for years.  When will that loved one come back to You, Lord?  When will I be able to get out of debt?  When will that job I wanted so badly come to fruition?  When will that teenager make a mature decision?  When will that person apologize for their actions?  When will my loved one's health improve?  And we start to think that perhaps God is not hearing.

Isaiah has some words for us about waiting:  "So the Lord must wait for you to come to Him so He can show you His love and compassion.  For the Lord is a faithful God.  Blessed are those who wait for His help."  Isaiah 30:18 (NLT)

Interesting that the Lord is also waiting for us.  Waiting for us is a time that either intensifies our faith or a time we choose to give up.  Waiting for the Lord is a time when He demonstrates His mercy, compassion and long suffering.  Isaiah goes on to say..."though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, He will still be with you to teach you."

Ah, so waiting is a time that we are learning.  What we learn pivots on our attitude as we wait.  The impatient driver may swerve around the slow moving car in front and into oncoming traffic.  The patient driver eventually sees the light turn green and moves forward. 

Mrs. Charles Cowman articulates in Streams in the Desert, "Our unbelief is always wanting some outward sign.  The religion of many is largely sensational, and they are not satisfied of its genuineness without manifestations, etc.;  but the greatest triumph of faith is to be still and know that He is God."

Our world doesn't place much value in stillness or quiet faith during times of adversity.  But a trusting patient heart gives our Heavenly Father delight and increases our ability to experience the fullness of joy at the time of His choosing.  May you have some quiet peace in your waiting today. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Helping A Friend with the Holiday Blues

We know for sure that the holidays aren't the happiest days for everyone.  For those with broken hearts and an "empty chair" in their lives, the holidays point to that which is missing.  The sights and sounds of the season intensify memories and that can be painful.

How to help?  Here are a few ways:
  • Initiate contact with your friend this holiday season, even if it is awkward.
  • Think of simple and practical ways to show you care...pick up something needed at the market, bring by a cup of coffee, send a card, send a daily "thinking of you" text, offer to fix sothing that is broken, bring them a Christmas ornament, a copy of an interesting article, a magazine or a baked good.
  • Help your friend fight against isolation...invite them into your lives...go shopping together, have a meal together, invite your friend to the Christmas service at your church.
  • Acknowledge their loss.  When we have lost a significant person in our lives through death, we want to know others still think of their loved one.
  • Donate to a meaningful charity in the name of your friends loved one and let your friend know.  Send your friend a card commemorating the gift.
  • Help connect your friend to someone stronger on their similar road.  Make an introduction and tactfully bring up what they have in common.
  • Give your friend uplifting reading material that shares Scripture.
  • Pray for your friend, and if they will allow it pray with them focusing on God's promises of hope in every situation.
  • Give cards with Scriptures that pertain to your friends circumstances.  The Psalms are wonderful sources of encouragement and strength.  For example, "My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!"  Psalm 121:2
  • Help enlarge your friends perspective beyond today, beyond the holidays and help them remember they will not always feel the intensity of the pain they have today but that with Christ there is great hope for every tomorrow.