THANKFUL

I awoke this morning to a chilly reading on the thermometer and a light dusting of snow on the ground and housetops.  With Thanksgiving less than a week away, I decided today would be a perfect day to make my dressing.  The house is redolent with the aromas of freshly baked cornbread, along with celery and onions sautéing in a bath of melted butter.  Short of a turkey roasting in the oven, I can’t think any smell more evocative of Thanksgiving.  Even though it is a gray day outside, the lights from the Christmas tree create a festive atmosphere indoors.  The sounds of glorious Christmas music fill the air while the dishwasher is hums along as it gives my holiday glassware a good cleansing, necessary after a year in my Great Aunt Fannie Belle’s china cabinet.  This is my happy place and my heart is overflowing with gratitude.

We will have 18-ish at our table this year.  It’s a moving target, but there will be plenty of food for anyone who shows up at the last minute.  We are grateful for everyone who can make it, and will miss those who cannot.  With grown children and mostly-grown grands, we have a lot of moving parts now.  I try to stay flexible, thankful that I can host this holiday and mindful of my days getting shorter.  Next year is not guaranteed.  I can remember my grandmother saying the same thing at holidays in the passed.  I dismissed it as something an old woman says, but mostly because I just could not fathom a holiday without her.  Oh how I wish she could be with us this year.  

As I think back over the year, we have many reasons to be thankful on this day of thanks.  Has it been all lollipops and roses?  Absolutely not!  But Jesus has walked with us every day.  There have been days of laughter and fun, but also days of tears and grief.  We have had days that surprised us with joy and days that kicked us in the gut.  Days of celebrations and days of terrifying uncertainty.  There were nights that robbed us of sleep as we gave way to fear. And there were days that left us scratching our heads in dismay.  Although we don’t enjoy the bad days, they make the good days all the more sweet.  And there were more good days than bad! 

If I try to list all my blessings I will certainly miss some, but here is a start.  I am grateful for an enduring marriage and my husband Jerry who survived a near-fatal illness a few years ago.  Every day one of us says, “We got another day.”  We know these are bonus days and we don’t take them for granted.  I am so thankful for my growing family, and grateful for extended family scattered across America.  To those who can’t be with us, I wish you a very happy thanksgiving.  We have an empty chair at our table this year as our Mimi left us to join her beloved husband in Heaven.  Mindful of others who have left us, I can still say God has blessed us.  

When I think of all our friends, my heart could almost burst.  We have precious life-long friends, and those who have come along more recently.  I am grateful for a Bible-teaching church and a fellowship of Believers who hold the ropes for each other.  I am thankful for 48 years of affiliation with Stonecroft Ministries and the opportunities to share the Gospel.  I love my Tulsa Woven girls!  I am blessed to attend Community Bible Study, where I have deepened my relationship with the Lord and made deep friendships.  Bible Quilt Journaling and the ladies who are a part of it bless me with a different method of meditating on Scripture.

It is noon and the alarm on my watch has just alerted me to pray for America.  I have thought many times how grateful I am that I was born in the USA.  Oh how I love this beautiful land of ours, and how I long to see another Great Awakening.  Jerry and I have been blessed to see a good deal of America, but there are still National Parks we hope to explore.  I am grateful for the freedoms we have, and for those who died to protect those freedoms.

Most of all, I am thankful for the privilege of knowing God and His Son, Jesus Christ.  He has provided me with everything I need, and kept every promise He has made to me.  I don’t know what the future holds, but I know the One who holds the future.  And for that I am indescribably thankful.

I will be your God throughout your lifetime— until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.  Is. 46:4 NLT

THE MESSY MIDDLE

It has been awhile since I have written anything.  It’s not that I haven’t had ideas that have come to me.  It is because my writing time has been absorbed by a hobby.  It all started a few years ago when I was introduced to Bible Quilt Journaling, created by my friend Dianna.  Briefly, this is a method of journaling and meditating on scripture in an “artistic’ manner.  I put quotes around artistic because believe me, I am no artist.  In the beginning my pages could have been done better by a first grader.  But over time I got better at it.  

Bible Quilting has nothing to do with sewing for those of you who may be allergic to sewing machines, but it does require some supplies.  Since I have never been a crafter, I didn’t even have a decent set of colored pencils, so I started acquiring a few things.  Those who know me well are laughing at “few things”, because this pursuit has taken on a life of its own, and I have acquired a lot of things I never knew I needed.  Along the way I discovered beautiful papers and fell down a rabbit hole!  I wanted to learn different ways to journal and find ways to use up all this paper I was ordering.  

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I started making all different kinds of journals…jot journals, gratitude journals, pretty daily journals for every season…and then, I discovered junk journals.  That was when the little space I was using in a spare bedroom became too small.  I got rid of all the bedroom pieces and created a craft room.  All that paper and those supplies take up a LOT of space!  

When people ask me to describe junk journaling I usually direct them to a video on YouTube, but junk journalers are all over social media platforms.  It is hard to describe, but basically it involves using bits of this and that, things you would normally discard, and using them to create journals.  I started to think twice before throwing things away.  Suddenly the most exciting thing about an Amazon delivery was the packing paper. (Unless the box contained craft paper or washi tape).  I found a group of talented junk journalers that I follow regularly.  They are mostly in the UK and I love listening to them talk as I work on my journals.  Several of the artists have formed a consortium and they create challenges for their followers.   Currently I am about to complete Junk Journal July, and my journal is getting nice and chunky.  There is a journaling prompt for every day of July, and I am almost at the end.

I could go on and on about journaling, but that is not the purpose of this post.  This morning I was working on the prompt, “stencils.”  The medium you see in the picture is a yummy concoction called stencil butter.  I had to pause to let it dry and I was thinking about what else I want to add to the page.  Right now I am in the messy middle.  I really don’t know what the finished page will look like.  My pages seem to gradually come to be on their own.  I have learned to trust the process.

It hit me that most of us live in the messy middle.  We move from one situation to another, and on a larger scale, one season of life to another.  We may have entered adulthood with a plan for our lives, firm thoughts about how things should go.  And God laughed.  Things rarely go the way we think they should.  In fact, I spend a good deal of time with my therapy clients helping them to let go of the “shoulds.”  It’s not that our plans and ideas are wrong.  It is just that life has a way of moving us from one messy middle to another.  It is sometimes hard to see how things will turn out.  And it is in the messy middle that we develop our trust muscles.  We may not know how our current page is going to turn out, but God does.  We just trust Him and trust the process.  

It is fine to make a life plan, to have goals and dreams.  But God has dreams for us too.  We become much less frustrated when we discover God’s plans for us and get on board with them.  We find true fulfillment when God’s desires become our desires.  It is then that we are in sync with our Creator, the Artist of our lives.

You know what I really love about junk journaling?  It is the taking of something of no value, something discardable, and turning it into something lovely.  That is exactly what God does.  He takes the mess of our lives and repurposes it into something beautiful.  

 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Prov. 19:21

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Jer. 29:11

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.

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