Saturday, January 7, 2023

The Three-Week Gift


Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

Stuck on the couch for three weeks with coughing and fatigue. Missing special activities. Sleepless nights. None of it fulfilled my holiday plans.

However, as I read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 a different purpose unfolded. Looking back on the frustration of my extended isolation, I understood that God used my trials for good.

While I snuggled on my couch, a pile of books kept me company. One after another I devoured them as important messages filled my head.

A few were feel good novels which I rapidly read. But most delved into important matters and touched my heart.

A friend’s book, Where No Roads Go by Carin LeRoy, took me to the jungles of Papua New Guinea where she and her family ministered for thirteen years. The constant struggles they faced made my temporary illness seem insignificant. I thought of missionaries all over the world who face dangers, loneliness and heartbreak as they follow God’s calling.

Then I read A Stubborn Hope by Jeanne DeTellis, who served many years as a missionary with her family in Haiti. Extreme challenges faced them but they also felt the call of God for the impoverished of that country.

Tortured for Christ the Complete Story by Richard Wurmbrand graphically detailed the horrors he and his wife faced during years of imprisonment. They never renounced their faith but continued to share the Gospel and began Voice of the Martyrs that continues to assist persecuted Christians around the world.

Each additional book I read about persecuted Christians helped me see the agony they faced but also the joy in following God’s plan. Some of them were released but many gave their lives for God.

A book about teen immigrants, First Crossing edited by Donald Gallo, gave me a perspective on the difficulties of entering a different culture. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper was about a girl with cerebral palsy which helped me understand living with a condition that most people don’t understand.

As soon as I finished one book, I began another one.

Christian stations kept me informed as I watched several pastors, learned more about ministries, Israel, and our Jewish roots.

My daily devotional time lengthened since I had nowhere to go. I read more of the Bible as I started reading through my Chronological Bible again and studied Scriptures along with daily devotional readings. I hungered for more of the Bible and prayed more often. With fewer distractions, I listened to the Holy Spirit more intently.

Books on religion also gave me insight. I read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel as my mind absorbed information from many scholars. My list of books continues to grow.

At times, I longed to be with people and resume normal activities.

But today, God revealed to me that I have been on a three- week spiritual retreat. What a magnificent new year’s gift!

As I reflect on what I have learned and experienced, I pray I will be more bold in my faith, pray for guidance daily and become more like Jesus.

Loving Father, thank you for slowing me down so I can know You better. Show me each day what Your plan is for me.

Amen

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Crumpled Creatures


Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

During the days of frigid temperatures and dreary skies, I nursed my continuing cough, sniffles and fatigue. But bright sunlight and balmy breezes beckoned me. After almost two weeks wrapped in a blanket on my couch, a walk would be freeing.  

            Leaving behind my cup of tea and box of tissues, I headed to the door. Warm sunshine caressed my weary face. A lighter shirt and pants felt less cumbersome than heavy clothes and a blanket. 

            Yellow mums smiled at me when I examined my front yard for signs of damage. Because I covered them, they survived the below freezing nights. Exposed plants turned brown and didn’t fare as well. 

            Being outside rejuvenated me. With weeks of no exercise, my body trudged along. My pace slowed. Coughing began again. Breathing became labored. I felt like a slug. Frustration set in. 

            Then I noticed a yard with Santa face down on a bench. A reindeer and elf crumpled on the ground beside him. Across the lawn, a snowman resembled a huge wad of paper. At night, the figures filled with air and created a jolly scene. Magical lights illuminated each of them. However, during the day the deflated bodies formed a forlorn picture. 

            As I stared at the miserable display, I compared it to my crumpled attitude. 

            I can concentrate on the misery of not feeling well for a prolonged time or be thankful for what blessings I do have. 

            Although I walked slower after my illness, both legs worked. I didn’t have to use a walker or wheelchair. I live in a normally sunny climate with bright, blue skies. I have a comfortable home with plenty of food. I am able to walk safely outside with no concern about falling on the ice or being hit by a bomb. Friends and family check on me when I am sick. 

            My list of complaints is much smaller than my numerous blessings. When problems seem overwhelming and life doesn’t go the way I planned, it is easy to focus on what I don’t have. 

            Focusing on thankfulness changes my perspective.

Heavenly Father, help me focus on all you have given me and to appreciate my blessings. Being thankful reminds me of all you have done for me. Amen

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Christmas Request


What do you want for Christmas? That question is common around the world. Long lists are often recited. A shrug of the shoulders for some. For others a few items. 

            After our community recently bought hundreds of gifts for local charities, a new family moved into an apartment at a transitional housing facility. Of course, we wanted to provide them with gifts for Christmas too. 

            When the single mom and her children were asked what they would like, there was only one answer. A roof. 

            For most people, that seems strange but not to this family. A roof would mean they no longer lived in a car. They would have beds to sleep in and a kitchen with food. The roof would protect them from freezing temperatures.

            That thankful family received a most important gift of being safe and together. They were content and didn’t look to a pile of gifts to make them happy. 

            Two thousand years ago, a young couple searched for a roof too. Mary and Joseph didn’t find a roof at an inn but over a lowly stable—probably a cave. They knew God placed Jesus in their lives and were content with His provision. 

            For many people this year, there will be no large family gatherings or in person church services because of dangerous weather conditions and a slew of illnesses.  

As we celebrate Jesus’ birth, may we be content with whatever our Christmas looks like this year. God provides what we need but not always what we want. 

Merry Christmas to all. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

Who is the Most Important Guest?


Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough. At that moment, the first heavenly messenger was joined by thousands of other messengers—a vast heavenly choir. They praised God. Heavenly Choir: To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God! And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!

Luke 2:11-14 (The Voice)

For a week, a cold kept me on my couch. Gray days made it a little easier to stay isolated. My fuzzy blanket kept me company on the couch. 

            Each day I hoped to feel better. Finally, warmer temperatures and sunshine enticed me to spend my devotional time on the patio. 

            Wind rustled leaves. Sunlight glowed on the wrinkled lake. Even brown needles on the almost bare cypress trees enhanced the picturesque scene. 

Thankfulness filled me as the wonder of God’s creation held me captive and rejuvenated me. While reading Scriptures and surveying the scene before me, I sang songs of praise which included verses from the Bible. 

Then I read David Jeremiah’s daily devotional. “The Greek word for evangelize means ‘to announce glad tidings’ good news which results in ‘great joy’.”

For years I have heard and read the angel’s words. However, I had never thought about it as evangelizing about Jesus. 

The devotional continued. “The angel didn’t connect ‘great joy’ with activities around Jesus’ birth. The ‘great joy’ was tied directly to the birth of Jesus Himself.”

My seclusion forced me to miss several Christmas activities. But through the time at home, I realized how much emphasis I placed on the acts of the season like parties, decorations, volunteering, gifts… All things that are enjoyable but can distract from the true joy of Jesus’ birth. 

People often try to fill voids with endless activities like too much shopping, parties that are not really fun, gifts that aren’t needed, bills that add up…

When bellies are overly full, wrapping paper litters the floor, exhausted people snap at each other, where is Jesus? Do we invite Him in or slam the door lest someone be offended? 

Around the world, many cultures adopt the elaborate trappings of the holiday season whether Christian or not. Of course, most people are more kind and generous during the holidays. But the main effect seems to merely increase a bonanza for businesses. Unfortunately, large numbers of people don’t actually even know the real reason for Christmas. 

When everything else is stripped away, Jesus remains. Our simple Christmas should truly focus on celebrating His birth as our Savior.   

How will you celebrate?

Lord, thank you for your Son who came to save us. Help us make Jesus the main thing for Christmas. Amen

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Simple Christmas??


He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.

Isaiah 40:29-31(Message)

A Simple Christmas?? The thought from our sermon series kept battering my mind while I attended one activity after another. Every one brought enjoyment. Singing in our community’s holiday show. With my granddaughters, assisting parents as they selected gifts for their children at our church’s Christmas House. Shopping for gifts and collecting them at the clubhouse for various local charities. Ushering at my church for two presentations of a Christmas show. Buying and wrapping Christmas gifts for family and friends. A delicious Christmas lunch with my Bible study group. 

            “Slow the season so we don’t miss the reason,” from Pastor Josh’s messages admonished me. 

            I loved everything I was doing and knew the activities touched people too.  But I certainly wasn’t slowing down. 

            A cough began. Fatigue set in. With no energy, all I wanted to do was stay in my pj’s wrapped in my fuzzy blanket on my couch. That is what I did for four days. 

            Instead of attending my church, I worshiped online and then watched a series of other services on TV. While friends celebrated at Christmas parties, I drank tea and saw holiday movies. 

            At first, I bemoaned my forced isolation. Then I embraced the quiet time. Although I had one phone call and multiple text messages, most days were spent in total seclusion. Dreary weather made my home feel cozy and inviting. 

            One morning I laughed at my involuntary solitude. When my pursuits increased instead of decreasing, my illness stopped me. Only when I got a nasty cold, did I listen to reason. Then God got my attention. 

            The days at home were not part of my plan, but I needed the rest.  

            Mary and Joseph had plans change dramatically after hearing from the angel. They could have ignored the news and proceeded on their own ways. However, each of them listened and accepted God’s way despite the struggles, doubts and questions of their own and of their families and neighbors. 

            Often, we know what we should do but think our plans are more important than God’s. We can remember the young couple two thousand years ago who put aside their own arrangements, depended on God, and were part of the most magnificent birth ever. 

            Our Lord can use us in amazing ways when we depend on Him and not ourselves. 

Loving Father, sometimes you have to use drastic measures to slow us down. Help us listen and accept Your plans for our lives. Amen

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Wonder and Anticipation of Advent


 

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

Luke 1:26-34 (NIV)

Mary pondered the angel Gabriel’s proclamation to her. His visit seemed like a dream. His announcement went over and over in her mind. A baby? She would carry the Son of God in her body? How could that be?

            She finally believed the unthinkable but wasn’t ready to be a mother. Yes, she was betrothed to Joseph but not yet married. How would she break the news to him? 

            Gabriel gave her other unimaginable news. Her relative, Elizabeth, would soon have a baby even though she was past child bearing age. Two miracles. 

            All night long a series of questions occupied her young mind. Would Joseph believe her implausible news? Would he divorce her? Would she be stoned for having an out of wedlock child? Sleep eluded her for hours.  

            Finally, she realized if God sent an angel with such a wondrous message, surely, He would protect her and the baby. Then she rested in His peace.  

            At dawn, Mary arose from her bed and began packing for a journey into the hill country to see Elizabeth.  

            When Mary reached Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home, she called out loudly, “Mary, blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. When I heard your voice, my baby leaped with joy.”

            Elizabeth’s greeting confirmed the angel’s announcement. The two expectant mothers embraced. Concerns slipped away. Joyfully, they shared their experiences. 

            For three months, Mary stayed with Elizabeth as they shared precious moments. Both young and old experienced God’s favor and love while they prepared for their sons to be born. 

            Mary and Elizabeth questioned the news they received, they accepted it and joyfully waited. It was a time of wonder and anticipation. 

Life doesn’t always go the way we plan either. Even when good news comes, there may be concerns, questions, and a time of waiting and preparation. 

Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation. But we often become overloaded with concerns about buying gifts, having the right decorations, preparing the most delicious meals and creating the most spectacular Christmas ever. During Advent, we need to take time to relax, read the Bible about the coming Savior and focus on the wonder of Jesus’ miraculous birth. 

Father, what a wondrous gift you gave to the world with your son, Jesus. Show us how to open our hearts and share his love with the world. 

TheAmen.

Read Luke 1and 2 to get more of the wonderful story. 

 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Last Butterfly


The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
    the plans of his heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Psalm 33:11-12 (NIV)

Butterfly cages waited on the patio to be scrubbed and stored for the winter. Their job done for the year. 

            Since spring, I diligently searched often for rice sized butterfly eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves. My cages became incubators after I carefully placed the leaves inside and waited for eggs to hatch. 

Emerging caterpillars kept me busy supplying more and more milkweed for their voracious appetites. When numerous larvae filled the cages, I searched the garden for food several times a day. Along with gathering milkweed, I had to constantly clean their cages of unpleasant waste so they would not get sick. 

The work, though sometimes difficult and demanding, brought pleasure when I watched their progress and change into beautiful butterflies. 

Although I wanted to continue caring for them, the remaining ones needed to migrate to a warmer climate. Florida ones only go to southern Florida and not the longer trip to Mexico. 

Last year, I continued assisting them later into the year. Then cold weather hit and I worried about their survival. Research said that their food source should be cut back in October so they would migrate. 

This year I waited until the last day of October to prune most of the milkweed plants. However, a few chrysalises remained at the top of my cage with a small number of larvae still eating. Each day, I gathered enough food for the late bloomers. 

They hatched one at a time. When the last chrysalis darkened, the time of emerging drew near. 

I had mixed feeling as I opened the habit for the last time of the year. The beauty of the creature flying on its own brought joy knowing I had a part in its life. However, there was a touch of sadness knowing I would miss their presence.

Parents love and care for children for years and years. We watch them develop and mature. Then one day it is time to release them into the world. Mixed feelings come then too. We pray we have nurtured and taught them well. Instilled values and the love of God so they can thrive. 

Like my butterflies, we have to let our children spread their wings and soar. 

Loving Father, just as we love our children and try to teach them the right way to live, You do the same for all of us. You are with our children even when we aren’t.

Amen