FINAL INSTRUCTIONS

We had an interesting assignment in our small group at church.  In preparation for Easter, we have been studying the chapters in the book of John that lead up to the crucifixion and resurrection, the final days of Jesus here on earth.  In these chapters, Jesus is telling his disciples the important things He wants them to remember after He is gone.  Our teacher challenged us with this thought: If you knew you had only one week to live, what would be five things you would want to say to your loved ones?  That question intrigued me.  

I remember the feeling I had when we dropped each of our three daughters off at college.  Had I done enough?  Did I teach them everything they would need to know?  Those eighteen years that seemed to last so long now seemed to be much too brief.  As someone has said, the days are long but the years are short.  And if I knew I was going to die next week, I am sure I would have those same feelings again.  The years went by so quickly, where did the time go?  Did I do all I needed to do as a mother and a grandmother?  So here are my five things.  Only five?  I might need more.

For my family,

Here are the most important things I want you to know, the things I want you to remember after I am gone:

  1. I love you so much, but I could never love you as much as Jesus loves you.  My favorite job on earth was being a wife, a mom and a JuJu, and I loved every minute of time I got to spend with you, every phone call, and text.  I will not always be here with you.  I know you understand that intellectually, but you won’t really KNOW it until after I am gone.  You will miss me, but you will always carry a bit of me in your hearts.  Just know that I will be waiting for you in Heaven.  I am so grateful that each of you has trusted the Lord for your salvation and that we will spend eternity together.  Until then, it is my desire that you love each other and keep the family close.  Family is important.
  2.  This life is not about your happiness, although I hope you are happy.  It is about your holiness, and I wish that for you above all else.  You will have good times and bad, mountains and valleys.  All of your trials have been custom designed for you by God to make you more like Jesus.  Like a sculptor who is creating a beautiful work of art, God is constantly chipping away at all of those pieces that need to go, everything that doesn’t look like Christ.
  3. While there is much in this world to enjoy, it is not your home.  Remember that you carry a heavenly passport and one day you will get to live there permanently.  In the meantime, you are on mission, an ambassador for Christ.  You will face scorn, ridicule, and maybe even persecution for your beliefs.  The world will call you ignorant, narrow-minded, and rigid.  They will tell you that the Bible is outdated and no longer relevant.  Don’t believe them.  Remember who you are and whose you are.  Try to memorize as much scripture as possible because a day may come when you no longer have access to the Bible.  And remember, you may be the only Bible some people ever see. 
  4. Find a Bible teaching church and join it.  Get into a small group and become a part of a faith community.  Find your ministry.  Get into a Bible study and look for good para-church organizations to join.  
  5. To those of you who are still unmarried, make sure you marry a Believer, someone with a biblical worldview.  Craft a mission statement for your marriage and spend your time doing things that have eternal value.  Decide early that you will go to church on Sundays, and you will never again have that Sunday morning debate.  Are we going to church today?  It will just become what you do.  Learn to tithe early.  Pray and read the Bible together.  Cultivate friendships with other Christians.  Do good in the world and be kind to others.

Whew!  That’s a lot, but certainly not exhaustive.  I could have included things like keep your little part of the world tidy, be a good citizen and vote, plant trees, and back up your hard drive.  But then, you already know those things.  Above all, go back to number one.  I love you so much!

For others of you who may happen to read this, I would love your comments.  What did I leave out?  I look forward to reading your answers.                  

WHAT SHOULD I PACK?

If you have ever traveled with me you know that I am not a light packer.  I like to be prepared for every possible occasion, so this might mean five pairs of shoes, multiple outfits per day and lots of makeup and hair products.  Making decisions about what to pack overwhelms me, so I end up packing way more than I need.  Or use.  I have just never mastered the travel system of three black pieces and a few accessories.  One time I got to Rome and discovered that my luggage was lost.  No change of clothes for three days!  I’m not going to let that happen again, so I bought a new carry-on that can hold enough for a couple of days.

I’ve always called myself a “more is more” kind of girl.  I like stuff and I have a lot of it.  Now I am trying to let go of some of my things and it’s a struggle.  A few years ago, when I was enthralled with Downton Abbey, I began collecting china teacups.  I was excited to find some of the patterns that I saw on the show, but now I wish I never started.  Those pretty teacups are taking up valuable real estate in my china cabinet.  And I never use them.

By now you may be wondering where I am going with all of this.  I don’t know about you, but I have found it hard to tear myself away from the drama in Ukraine that is playing out before our eyes.  I almost feel guilty for going about my daily routine when there is so much suffering on the other side of the world.  I watch the people, cold and hungry, sometimes walking for miles, while carrying babies and dragging a suitcase.  One suitcase!  What do they put in that one single suitcase?

I ask myself what I would pack in that situation.  What things would be the most essential?  I would probably pack a change of clothes, something sensible and warm.  I would not be concerned about having just the right outfit; warm and dry would do.  What else?  I would probably include essential paperwork and documentation and cash, if I had any.  Medications would be more important than mascara.  Since my electronic gadgets have become so important to me I would pack a cell phone charger and pray for cell service and Internet.  I would really like to take my laptop, but that might need to be left behind.  And a Bible.  I saw one man on television whose home was destroyed and he was crying over his lost Bible.  I get it.  I would hate to go through a war without a Bible.   

A war (even watching one from afar) causes one to re-examine one’s priorities.  What are the things that matter?  These people in Ukraine are going to lose every earthly possession.  It looks like there will be nothing left even if they are able to return.  They will lose their houses and all the contents, things they may have spent a lifetime acquiring.  Their cars have been blown up as well a their businesses and schools.  And those things are not trivial.  I think about family photos and mementos and little trinkets that children have made.  Some people must leave their pets.  And many are leaving behind precious loved ones, men of fighting age and those who are too old or ill to make the treacherous journey. 

So what are my essential things?  My family and friends, my two dogs, and some form of Bible.  My thing that is most precious to me is the one thing that can never be taken away, even if I lose my life: my relationship with Jesus.  That is the most practical thing I can ever pack.  It never gets old, worn out, or depleted.  It doesn’t take up any space, it is suitable for every eventuality, and it can never be lost or stolen.  And if I don’t have a Bible?  I would hate that, but I have spent years hiding God’s word in my heart.  As I watched that man who was grieving over his lost Bible, my thought was, “Now it is your turn to be a living Bible to those around you.”  

May America never experience what we are watching on television.  And may God bless all those impacted by this terrible war. 

“ For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39.

A CALL TO GRANDPARENTS

One of Satan’s oldest and most effective tactics is to go after the family.  It is as old as the book of Genesis.  In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve to live together in perfect intimacy.  That was God’s blueprint for marriage.  The Bible says they were both naked and not ashamed (Gen. 2:25), and I think He was referring to more than just physical nakedness.  They were real, honest, and open with each other.  But then came Satan.  They started blaming each other and hiding.  Hiding from God and from one another.  Genesis goes on to tell us they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves (Gen. 3:7), and men and women have been covering their true selves from each other ever since.  They lost intimacy — real, emotional, vulnerable intimacy.

But that was not enough for Satan.  He then went after their children.  One brother murdered another.  Satan knew if he could create conflict in our families he could distract us from our calling, our purpose.  If you have been a parent for any time at all, you know this to be true.  It is hard not to worry or be preoccupied when you have a child or a grandchild in trouble.  

For about a year I have been a part of a small group of women who meet every Monday to pray.  We have been praying big, bold prayers for our country.  We are pleading with God to bring another Great Awakening, a national repentance, a revival of the church and a harvest of lost souls to come to the Lord.  But this week we decided to shift our focus a bit and pray for families.  We are aware that we have poked the bear.  But the devil cannot have our families!  It has been said that as the family goes, so goes the nation and the whole world in which we live.  Satan seeks to destroy the nuclear family, and at the risk of getting political and acquiring haters, this ploy is straight out of the Marxist playbook.  Erwin Lutzer, in his book We Will Not Be Silenced, asserts that it is the nuclear family that is the biggest obstacle to cultural Marxism.  I highly recommend this book to every Believer.   

I am writing this post today as an exhortation to prayer, especially to grandparents.  Grandparents, particularly those who are retired, have the luxury of time that we didn’t have when we were in our busy child-rearing years.  It may seem that there is not much that this one ordinary woman can do to turn the tide of culture that is threatening our homes.  But I can pray.  Prayer may seem like the least I can do, but in reality, prayer is the most I can do.  

The picture I have posted is of the small table that sits beside my prayer chair.  If you look closely you can see a little plastic soldier.  It is there to remind me that as I pray, I am doing battle.  I ordered a bag of these so I could have some to distribute to my prayer sisters.  Also in the photo is the beautiful ornament with the Appeal to Heaven flag.  This ornament was created by the fabulously talented artist sister in our group.  The flag is a reminder that we are going before the court of Heaven with our pleas, appealing to our God.  Another of our group opens her beautiful home to us every week so we can have a peaceful space to do spiritual battle.  She has a quiet spirit and such a beautiful walk with the Lord.  A different prayer sister is the one I call our firebrand.  She enters God’s presence with the boldest of declarations and intercessions.  And she must read a book a day!  The fifth member is probably the biggest lover of children among us.  She laminated the verses I will share at the bottom of the post and I keep them as another reminder that I am doing spiritual warfare.  She also gave each of us a copy of the book I referenced above.  (I could write volumes about each of these godly women.  I have only shared a fraction of what they have given to my life.)

Grandparents, who will stand in the gap?  This is my call to arms.  We need to raise up an army of praying grandparents that will turn our nation back to God.  Your families need your prayers.  Will you stand with me?

EPHESIANS 6:10-18

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.  Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.  Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

THE GOODNESS OF GOD

When I am getting dressed in the morning I enjoy listening to Christian music.  Like morning devotionals, it gets my day going in the right direction.  And it is SO much better than non-stop news.  This morning I was struck by the lyrics to The Goodness of God by Bethel Music and Jenn Johnson.  If you are not familiar with this beautiful song, I invite you to click on the link and listen.  Even though I have heard (and sung) this song many times, it captivated my heart this morning.  The Lord filled me with a sense of His goodness and I wanted to praise Him for who He is, not just for what He does.  I wanted to sing of His goodness.  

God is good.  It is an essential quality of His character.  He is the very essence of goodness.  Exodus 34:6 tells us that God is abundant in goodness.  There is so much packed into that verse about the nature of God and His goodness.  In this passage the Lord is revealing himself to Moses, revealing so much of His glory that Moses, hidden and protected by God’s hand, could only look at the back part of God’s glory.  The verse tells us only a little about God’s goodness; it cannot be completely illustrated by mere words. 

 God is merciful, compassionate, and gracious, forgiving our sins.  He is longsuffering, slow to anger.  How blessed we are that God gives us time to come to Him in repentance instead of giving us the immediate punishment we deserve.  And He is filled with goodness, abundant, overflowing, and abounding.  His goodness is absolute.   God is goodness.  I don’t have adequate words to capture His goodness.  It is a goodness that overflows our deserts, fills our empty places, and calms our fears, a goodness that binds our wounds and a goodness that pours the oil of gladness on our grief.    

His goodness is enough.  It is a goodness that comes from a place of love and compassion.  Mercy.  It is enough for me in this life and the life to come.  But I am a mother.  I have concerns for my children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren and those who will come later that I will never know.  God’s goodness is sufficient for all of them.  The next verse goes on to tell us that His goodness and mercy go on to a thousand generations!  

The song tells us that God’s goodness is “running after me.”  How grateful I am, because there are times I run away from God.  He will not let me go; His mercy and goodness pursue me, run after me.  And that same goodness will run after those I love, my future generations.  I often wonder who among my ancestors prayed for me, who set his goodness in motion.  Thank you Lord for running after me!

And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, maintaining loving devotion to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin. Ex. 34:6-7a

ABIDING

Most dogs are loyal, and my Max and Ruby are no exception.  They are my constant companions.  As I write these words, they are right here beside me.  If I leave the room, they will follow.  If I go upstairs, they go upstairs; when I come down, here they come after me.  And when I get comfortable to read or watch television, Max especially wants to be cuddled up with me.  He takes his job of lap dog seriously.  As you can see, his favorite position for a car ride is right behind my neck.  There are times when I think, “Could you get any closer??”

Occasionally, Ruby will go off on her own.  Usually it’s to go take a nap in a new location; she has her favorite spots.  But the other night while Jerry and I were watching television I heard a strange noise coming from the bedroom.  Ruby had gotten into the wastebasket and had strewn the contents all across the floor.  When I found her she was happily chewing on a small piece of cardboard.  She hasn’t pulled a stunt like that in a long time, and she knew she was in trouble.  They both know what they are allowed to do and what is off limits.  But sometimes the temptation to do what they want is too strong.  When they are staying close to me they stay out of trouble.

This week our Community Bible Study focused on the 15th chapter of John, and the concept of abiding in Jesus.  We had to look up the meaning of the word abide.  I thought it means “to dwell” and that is actually one meaning.  Another definition is “to accept or act in accordance with,” as “I will abide by your decision.”  But I really like the way Rick Renner explains it in his book, Sparkling Gems from the Greek.”  The Greek word for abide is meno, and it means “to stay, to remain, or continue.”  It conveys the idea of being “rooted, unmoving, and stable.”  The Bible tells us in 1 John 3:6 that anyone who abides in Jesus will not sin.  It’s when we wander away that we get in trouble.  The temptations of the world become too much for us to resist.  

This problem of temptation goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, but Jesus has given us the remedy: abide in me (John 15:4).  When we abide in Jesus, He also abides in us, permanently and steadfastly.  There have been times in my life when I felt that Jesus was holding onto me while I was losing my grip on Him.  I guess Jesus is better at abiding than I am.  But what a wonderful promise! “Remain in me and I will remain in you” (NLT).  It’s like an extra layer of protection.  He knows I will not be able to abide without His help, because He also tells us in the next verse that apart from Him we can do nothing.  He doesn’t just issue commands and say, “Good luck!”  He comes to dwell in us to help us obey His commands.  What a wonderful and gracious Lord we serve.     

IT’S NOT SUPPOSE TO BE THIS WAY

We had an unpleasant incident in the back yard a few weeks ago and I am left with an image I can’t erase from my mind.  Before I relate what happened, I need to remind you of our ongoing battle with squirrels.  While I still think they are fun to watch as long as they stay away from my house, they have caused so much damage that I feel like I am at war with a cute, furry enemy.  I understand they are just doing what squirrels do and I really would like to peacefully coexist with them, but they are continually tearing up the cushions on my patio furniture in order to line their nests with the stuffing.  Pretty smart, but costly to me!  When they are not doing that they are trying to find ways to chew their way into my attic or antagonize my dogs.  As a matter of fact, Max and Ruby are sitting on the back of the sofa next to me, barking loudly at a squirrel who is sitting about a foot away, separated by a window.  I think the squirrel is laughing.

And this is where the story begins.  Max and Ruby have chased the squirrels since they were puppies.  I have always just laughed at it because those squirrels are way too fast and too smart.  Ruby especially pursues them.  As you can see from the picture, she has a long vertical leap and would climb the tree if she could!  Whenever I let the dogs out, she runs for that tree hoping to chase a squirrel.  

A few weeks ago when I let the dogs out, I watched Ruby run for the tree as usual.  Then I heard the scream!  I didn’t know a squirrel could make that noise, but I instantly knew what happened.  At first it looked like Ruby had nipped its tail, and I thought it would get away as it continued to climb.  But then it dropped to the ground.  I quickly screamed for Jerry to come out.  Max was barking and Ruby was shaking the squirrel like a rag doll.  Miraculously both dogs remembered the commands, ”Drop,” and “Leave it!”  

The next part is the part that haunts me.  I stood over the squirrel, waiting for Jerry to come and do something, watching it gasp for breath.  As it did, its eyes looked right into mine.  I remember thinking, “This shouldn’t be.”  Even as I stood there I recalled the verse from Matthew,

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.  Mt. 10:29 NLT

 I saw the dying squirrel and so did God.  I wonder if He too thought, “This shouldn’t be.”  As I have ruminated over this incident, I keep going back to the Garden of Eden.  The world was perfect.  There was no death, no killing between the species and no murderous intent between humans.  There was no COVID, no riots, no dirty politics, no anger, and no hatred.  You know the rest of the story.  Satan came into the garden, and humans began doing what humans do.  They disobeyed God and sin came into the world, and with sin, death.  Before you put too much blame on Adam and Eve, let me tell you something I know to be true.  I would not have done better.  That forbidden fruit, those lies from Satan…they would have gotten to me too.

Sin and death.  We have seen and experienced so much of it these last months.  How blessed we are that God provided a remedy when He sent His Son to earth to pay the price for our sins.  If we accept this payment, we gain eternal life.  When our earthly life is over we just slip into our heavenly life.  Romans 6:23 tells us that the payment for sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ. 

The things I see on the nightly news?  They shouldn’t be.  And they grieve the heart of God.  If he cares about a sparrow (or a squirrel) that falls to the ground, how much more does He care about our human condition?  His answer?  Repentance.  That’s a churchy word that means we agree with God that we are sinners, we ask for forgiveness and accept the sacrifice of Christ as payment for our sins, and we turn away from sin and follow Jesus.  

Repentance is the only remedy I can see for our country.  It will not come from a president or any elected official.  It will not come from Wall Street, our universities, or our entertainment industry.  It can come only from God.  I invite you to join me in prayer, for both personal and national repentance, asking God to send a new Great Awakening.  

Lord, we are a nation in trouble.  The blessings we have enjoyed have come to us not from our own goodness or superior wisdom, but solely because of your grace.  We have turned our backs on you and followed our own desires.  We have gone after that forbidden fruit, and it has left us broken and dying.  These things should not be. Please forgive our land.  Return us to you.  Heal us and help us to fulfill our destiny as a nation. We ask and believe in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, Amen.            

GOOD DIRECTIONS

Anyone want a refund on those black-eyed peas yet?  We are only one week into 2021 and already we need a do-over!  It feels like we have already made a wrong turn and have ended up right back into 2020.  It is hard to believe the events of the last few days.  This is the year things were supposed to get better.  If we could just endure 2020, make it to the finish line, turn the calendar over on January 1, things would be better, right?  And yet here we are with the brokenness of our world smacking us right in the face every time we turn on the television or pick up a newspaper.  Many of us have been praying for a revival, a new Great Awakening, but the world seems more sinful than ever.  Where is God when the world seems so dark?  Did we miss His directions?  

First of all, God is not bound by our human calendar.  He operates on His own timetable and the fact that our calendar has flipped over to a new year does not obligate Him to anything.  Secondly, God has His own agenda, His own plan.  If you read the Bible all the way through (and I strongly recommend that you do), you will see that God is moving all of history toward an end to this world.  I am not saying the end is today.  People have thought that we are in the last days ever since Jesus ascended to heaven, and we are.  There is no doubt that we are getting closer to the end of human history. 

In my last post, I shared a verse of scripture that has really spoken to me in these early days of 2021:

Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters— a pathway no one knew was there!  Ps. 77:19 NLT

Every year I ask the Lord to give me a verse or a word for the year.  I have been trying to hear from Him and settle in on what He is speaking to me.  The scriptures that have jumped off the page at me are ones that contain the word “path” or “way” or “pathway” so I have settled on “path,” understanding that it contains the meanings of all three words.  I am loving the idea of Jesus as a way maker, the One who creates a path.  When we think there are no good options, he shows us a way we have never considered.  

Jesus tells us that He is the way (John 14:6), and we understand that He is speaking about the way to the Father, the way to heaven.  But when someone tells you the way, there is still the journey.  I might ask the way to get from Tulsa to Dallas, but I still have to make the drive.  I need to know where to turn, what towns to drive through, and where the rest stops are.  I need to know the road conditions.  Is there construction?  Bad weather?  I need to stay on the path and trust that the directions will get me to my destination, even though I will drive through a long stretch of highway that doesn’t look like Dallas.  If the person who gave the directions truly knows the way, I can trust the drive.      

So that is where we are now.  We are beginning our journey through 2021, without much of a road map, but the One who created the road has the directions.   He knows the path.  We may not know what is ahead, what will happen next week or next month, but He knows.  He will show us the way, where to turn, where to stop.  And when it looks like we are at a dead end, when we are out of options, He will show us a way; a way we never knew was there.

Fasten your seat belts! The road ahead may be bumpy!       

PUTTING AWAY CHRISTMAS

Today I will begin the job of taking down all the Christmas decorations and getting the house back into its usual order.  This is a chore I always dread, and I have written about it before in my book Seasons.  I love Christmas and everything that goes with it: the lights, the presents, the music, the food… all of it.  I begin Christmas early, and this year I started earlier than I usually do.  I couldn’t wait to get the tree and all the lights up.  So what goes up must come down, and it is a backbreaking chore.  

I dread all the work that goes into putting away the decorations, but this year I dread it for a different reason.  More than ever before, Christmas has been a respite from the darkness of our world in 2020.  We have left our lights on all the time except for when we go to bed.  I have turned off the news and that has made me much more peaceful.  It’s been Christmas music and Hallmark movies, and thanks to YouTube, some wonderful messages from pastors I have discovered this year.  So putting away the decorations (and I sigh as I even write these words) seems to be a signal to return to what passes for normal this year.  An end to joy and a return to reality.

But every ending is also a beginning.  There is something energizing about getting the house all clean and free of the Christmas clutter.  It is a signal that a new year is just days away, and new years bring new opportunities.  Besides, returning to reality doesn’t automatically preclude joy.  That is a choice, and I choose joy!

I have been thinking a good deal about Mary and Joseph and all the characters in the Christmas story.  I have been especially thinking about the time they lived in.  That was a dark period for Israel as they were under Roman rule.  The government issued orders that were burdensome, especially the order to return to the place of one’s birth to be counted in the census.  So we also are under burdensome rules and recommendations in 2020.  Christmas was different for many of us, and travel has been difficult.  

But what a blessing it is to be living on this side of the birth of Christ.  The Jews who lived before Christ worshipped in their temple and synagogues, but when they left to return to their homes, they left God there.  Because God came to earth on that first Christmas, we don’t leave Him in our places of worship.  He is with us all the time.  Emmanuel, God with us!  I don’t think we really stop to consider how truly remarkable that fact is.  When we receive Christ as Savior, He comes to live inside us.  Jesus said in John 14:23:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

So when I put away the Christmas decorations I will not actually be putting away Christmas.  I am not putting God in a box.  Because of Christmas I can experience joy even in the darkest days.  And because of Christmas I can face an unknown 2021; God will be with me.  And so as I turn to this big chore before me, I resolve to keep Christmas.

THE WEARY WORLD REJOICES

One of my favorite Christmas carols is O Holy Night.  I heard it on the radio the other day and these words jumped out at me:

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn

The weary world.  I know there have been many times in history when the world has been weary, but this is the weariest I can remember it in my lifetime.  We have fatigue.  Pandemic fatigue, Zoom fatigue, crisis fatigue, election fatigue…these are all real experiences.  I think weary is an accurate word to describe what many of us are feeling in 2020.  I looked up some synonyms for weary: they include exhausted, drained, disillusioned, all-in,  worn out, my personal favorite: whacked.  Sometimes I feel like 2020 has just whacked me in the face.  When I look at the word weary I see the word wear, and I think that describes how I feel.  2020 is wearing on me.  And I am concerned that January 1 is not going to make all this weariness go away.   

I am weary with this rancorous political season, weary of identity politics, weary of the notion that if I disagree with you I must hate you.  I am weary of seeing people riot in our streets, tearing down statues and burning down cities.  Oh, and I am really weary of people getting offended!  When did we become so thin-skinned that there is acceptable speech and anything else is hate speech?  I’m not an anti-masker, but I am weary of wearing a mask and of the whole mask debate.  Weary of being told what I can and cannot do.  I don’t want to be told how many people can come to my house on Christmas Day.  And I sure don’t want to be told not to hug my grandchildren.  Many of us are weary of job and income insecurity. We are weary for our children, sitting in front of screens all day because they can’t go to school.  For those of us who are grandparents saddened to miss milestone events.  We won’t get these days back.  We are weary of the long lines we see on television for Covid testing and food boxes.  And we are so weary of sickness and death and grief.  Almost everyone has lost some one or some thing.  

When you become weary you get crankier, or at least I do.  So even the not-so-important things bother me.  I’m weary of this unpredictable football season.  My Sooners didn’t get to play last Saturday and it was a disappointment.  I was cranky.  I’m weary of shortages.  The stores are out of such strange things.  Peanut butter?  Petite peas?  I wanted to buy a new Christmas tree, one of those slim pencil trees, but I guess I waited too long because I discovered that there is a shortage of both real and artificial trees.  I went to every Hobby Lobby, Lowe’s and Home Depot before I finally found one online, but Wal-Mart summarily cancelled my order!  I’m weary of tracking down all the Christmas presents I ordered that are still out there somewhere.   Where is my package that supposedly was delivered? And why is there an unauthorized charge on my American Express card?   Yesterday I received a voice mail that was recorded on last Monday.  Where was it all week?  I’m weary of technical glitches.  Why did my outgoing email suddenly quit working?  And quite frankly, I am really weary of Medicare commercials and Joe Namath’s face on TV!  

Yes, I realize that my weariness is trivial.  First world problems for sure.  I have so many friends and family members who are dealing with major problems, so I feel blessed in the midst of my weariness.  This has been a year of losses.  For many of us Christmas is going to be different.  Maybe there won’t be a family celebration this year because of COVID.  Some of us will have an empty chair at the table.  Some are facing eviction and don’t know where their table will be.  Maybe there has been bad news from the doctor.  Some of us are privately fighting battles we cannot share.  And none of us knows what is going to happen in 2021.  

I don’t think anyone gets to my season of life without some weariness, and maybe it is the weariness that gets us ready for heaven.  Haven’t you had moments this year when you have been homesick for heaven?  Longing to see Jesus, longing to see those who have passed on ahead of you, but also longing to be away from the trials and ugliness of this world?   Well I want to give you some hope today.   

I guess I’m not alone in this, but don’t sleep very well these days.  That is not a complaint, just an observation.  I find that moving to the sofa and turning on the television help me go back to sleep pretty quickly.  It’s a surprise if I wake up in my own bed.  The other night I found a soothing YouTube channel that plays scripture with a background of ocean sounds.  It plays in a continual loop, and the same words kept waking me: “…we are more than conquerors.”  

Apparently, the Lord wanted me to really absorb these words, and so I want to share them with you.  They are found in the 8th chapter of Romans, along with these familiar words:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

That is a promise we cling to. God causing everything to work together for good.  He speaks into our circumstances.  The same God who created the universe can redeem even our worst situations. I have been reminding myself to look for the good in the midst of the bad.  Because there have been some good things to come out of 2020.  We have had more time for the Lord.  This shaking that the prophet Haggai told us we would experience in these last days, this shaking is waking us up to what is really important.  It is a call to return to the Lord.  For me, I have never spent as much time in prayer as I have this year.  I am in several different prayer groups, both locally and nationally.  And we are praying big bold prayers!!

Paul goes on to tell us that we may have to face many trials and ordeals in this life.  We may go through seasons of intense distress.  But if we belong to Christ, nothing can separate us from God’s love.  Even if we “have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death” (Rom. 8:35 NLT), we are overwhelmingly victorious!  We are more than conquerors!  

Paul’s words are so beautiful I want to share the rest of this chapter in the New Living Translation:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?  Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.  Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.   No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The weary world rejoices.  Some might ask how that can be in 2020.  The answer to that question lies in the words that come right before: the thrill of hope.  We have hope!   Because Christ came to earth on that holy night we are no longer under the condemnation of sin.  We can be in a right relationship with God.  And nothing, nothing, can separate us from His love.  Even though we may still endure the weariness of this world, we know there is a better world to come.  And even death is not the end of our story.  So whether we are walking through a difficult season or one of fruitfulness, we are more than conquerors.

Dear Father,

Thank you so much for sending your son to come and dwell with us in this weary world.  He is our hope.  And because of that Hope we can rejoice even in the midst of our trials because we have your assurance that nothing can separate us from your love.  Oh how we look forward to the day when we will see you face-to-face.  Until that day, we take comfort in the promise that nothing can separate us from your love.  We are more than conquerors! 

There is a footnote to this story, a God wink.  As I was writing these words, Wal-Mart sent me a text.  They found my Christmas tree.  

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Remember when you were a child how it seemed as if Christmas would NEVER come?  Oh the days and weeks and months were so long!  When my siblings and I were growing up, Christmas was really the only time during the year when we got toys.  Oh maybe a little something on birthdays, but Christmas was it!  It was an ironclad rule at our house that we put up our tree (a real one in the early days) two weeks before Christmas and not one day earlier.  My father grew up in a household where the Christmas tree went up on Christmas Eve, so he thought two weeks was a generous compromise.  I loved the night we went to pick out a tree and brought it home to decorate.  And then we had to wait two weeks.  Oh how those two weeks drug on!  Now two weeks before Christmas goes by in the blink of an eye. 

Those were days of waiting. 

When I was a child my father worked for Western Auto.  During the Christmas season the Western Auto stores carried toys and put out a Christmas catalogue just full of things to delight children.  Oh how we would pour over that catalogue, circling our favorite toys.  Days of dreaming and waiting, wishing and hoping.  There was so much hoping as a child at Christmas.  By Christmas Eve the waiting would be at a fever pitch, making sleep so difficult.  But finally the waiting would come to an end, and Christmas morning would be filled with shrieks of joy and the sound of paper ripping.

Of course those toys are long gone now.  I barely even remember them except for a few: a Western Flyer bicycle, a Toni doll, and later, a bride doll.  They brought me joy, but only for a short time.

This morning in my quiet time I was reading about two elderly people who waited their entire lives for Christmas, Simeon and Anna.  They are two examples to us of how to wait with godly expectation.  And for me as I am well into my senior years, they serve as an example that God has a purpose and plan for us in every stage of life.  In fact, the Bible tells us in Psalm 139 that God has a pre-ordained plan for us written in a book, and that every day of our lives has a purpose.  We have a day to be born and a day to die, and the days in between are days of God’s intention for us.  When we are in tune with God, spending time in His word and in prayer, He reveals these intentions to us.  Simeon believed that he would see the Messiah before he died because He spent time with God.  We are told in the Gospel of Luke that the Holy Spirit assured him of this.  But well into his advance years, did he ever doubt?  Some of us wait a long time, even a lifetime for our prayers to be answered.  Anna was married for only seven years before she became a widow.  I’m sure that was not the life she expected.  She could have been angry with God, but instead she devoted the rest of her 84 years to serving in the temple, worshipping and fasting.  She too got to see the baby Jesus.  

Today at the close of 2020, I am waiting for some BIG things.  I wait for God to send another Great Awakening to America, that we can once again be a nation that fears and honors God, and that we will fulfill our destiny of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  And I also wait for Jesus to come and rapture His church.  I too want to see Him face-to-face.  I wait to be reunited with loved ones who have passed on ahead of me.  I long for the Millennial reign of Christ on earth, to see this world as it was intended to be.  And I look forward to the wedding supper of the Lamb, and the new heaven and earth.  I can wait like Simeon, with certain expectancy, because God has promised these things in His word.  I am reminded of the words of John Wesley in the Christmas song, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

As believers we wait for the Hope of all the earth…Jesus.  He is the desire (and the need) of every nation and the joy of every longing heart.  It is a joy that cannot be found wrapped in pretty paper under the Christmas tree.  That kind of joy doesn’t last.  But the joy that Jesus brings lasts forever.  My Christmas wish for everyone is that they discover this long expected Jesus for themselves.  

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13 NIV

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