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

WE HAVE BUTTERFLIES!

 

Do you feel like 2020 has been a season of waiting?  Waiting for this pandemic to be over.  Waiting for a vaccine.  Waiting to go back to work or school.  Waiting to take a trip.  And waiting for this contentious election to be over.  Waiting.  I don’t like it.  I don’t like waiting in line, waiting in traffic, or even waiting for the clothes dryer to buzz. And I sure don’t want to wait for a Covid test or election results.  I know I can’t be alone in this.  We live in such an instant, fast-paced, everything-at-our-fingertips world that we have become conditioned to expect things to happen on demand.  So even waiting for the microwave to ding sometimes seems interminable.   We multi-task, we check off our to-do lists, and we become human doings instead of human beings. 

This year God has decided to teach me about waiting, about being still and quiet, and how to wait well.  Every year right around the beginning of the New Year I ask God to give me a Bible verse, a scripture that I can hang my hat on.  It is usually something that He wants to work into me, and it usually takes a year to do it.  But this year I got a word: “Wait.  On.  God.”  Emphatic, like three distinct sentences.  Wait on God.  And when God gave it to me, I knew it was from Him.  No, I didn’t hear an audible voice, but I heard it deep in my spirit.  When you have walked with God for a while things like that happen.  

But what did those words mean, wait on God?  I had no idea in January.  But as we all know, 2020 has been a year of waiting.  There have been many lessons for me about waiting.  The first one being it is okay to be still.  When you are a Type A, “Git-R-Done” girl, being still doesn’t come naturally.  But I learned the value in it.  And while the rest of you were cleaning out closets and baking banana bread (and those are good things) I was being still with God.  I spent time in the Bible, time reading, and learned a new way to journal His word.  And I have prayed.  A lot!  I learned that some of the things I thought were important really don’t matter very much.  I think I have grown stronger in my walk with Jesus.  Maybe He is preparing me for a new assignment, or maybe He is getting me ready to meet Him face to face.  He will reveal it in His own time.  The quarantine has taught me that we can spend a good deal of time waiting for the next big thing and miss the precious things that are right in front of us.

So what does any of this have to do with butterflies?  I was on my patio earlier today on a Zoom call (and haven’t we had a lot of those?)  It was a national prayer call, and the devotional theme today was about waiting.  Seriously?  It’s October and we are still working on waiting?  When God wants to teach me something He comes at me from all angles.  While I was on this call I happened to look around and see that we had butterflies.  Lots of them, fluttering around.  You might not think that having butterflies in your yard is very remarkable, but I was excited!  We have worked for those butterflies.  

Our butterfly journey began this spring when I was visiting my friend Sally.  She lives in a rural area, across the road from The Euchee Butterfly Farm and a garden area known as The Tribal Alliance for Pollinators.  Their mission is to restore plants native to the Oklahoma prairie and to establish habitats for Monarch butterflies.  We had already planted one little anemic milkweed plant (which is now flourishing), but after visiting with Sally we planted some Black-eyed Susans and Coneflowers that just happened to be on sale at Lowe’s.  

As I was praying and looking at those butterflies (yes, my eyes were open while I prayed), it occurred to me how much of a butterfly’s life is spent waiting before it finally gets to soar.  It starts out as an egg that eventually hatches into a caterpillar.  The caterpillar eats and eats until it finally quits growing and then forms itself into a pupa or chrysalis.  And there it waits, but not passively.  God is at work transforming it in a process called metamorphosis.  Lots of growing and changing is taking place until finally, the butterfly breaks free and soon flies.  Then the whole process starts all over again when the butterfly lays eggs.  By the way, if you are ever tempted to help a butterfly out of its chrysalis, don’t do it.  The butterfly needs the struggle to develop wings strong enough to fly.  

Sometimes all we can do is wait.  Earlier this year when we were on full lockdown, I certainly felt cocooned.  But if we make good use of that waiting time, God will transform and develop us into the person we need to become for the next chapter of our lives.  Maybe He is developing our trust muscles.  It hit me today, that the God who planned so intricately for something as small and insignificant as a butterfly, has a plan for me.  He has a purpose in this waiting season.  The same God who cares about a butterfly cares for me.  And it is more than okay to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).  In fact, sometimes being still might be the most important thing we can do.           

GENERATIONS

For weeks the song, “The Blessing,”  has captivated me.  I keep listening to it over and over, and when I am not listening, the song goes on in my head.  If you haven’t heard it (and you might be living under a rock if you haven’t), you can listen here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9VL7AhXBKY

 

For the last few days I have been especially riveted to the lyrics about generations:

 

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
Your family and your children
And their children, and their children

 

God has richly blessed Jerry and me with a large and active family.  We have three daughters, nine grandchildren, and we are about to welcome our second great grand, a little baby boy, in a few days.  Jerry’s 98-year old mother has been visiting so we had a family dinner the other night.  Five generations together!  My mother-in-law was a little overwhelmed by all the activity.  “There are so many of them!  And they all came at once!”  Yes, Mimi, that is how our family dinners go.  Loud and active.  Jerry and I pray the Lord’s blessing for all of them every morning, as well as future generations.

 

So I was thinking about a thousand generations.  I looked up several definitions of the length of a generation and found most sources accept 20-30 years as a generation.  If I accept 25 as a benchmark, a thousand generations would be 25,000 years!  Somebody check my math, but I think that is accurate.  Many Biblical scholars believe a generation is longer, say 30-35 years.  Genealogists have used the number 30 to estimate how many ancestors we would have if we go back 1000 generations.  In theory (and it can only be theoretical) I would have over a billion people in my family tree.  It is an interesting concept to research, but warning, you can fall down the rabbit hole!  And so much math!  And then there is the whole young earth/old earth debate.  Either way, I don’t think it would be possible to actually have over a billion people in my family tree.

 

Over the years my siblings and I have had the conversation, “Who prayed?”  You see, we were not raised in church, or even in a Bible-teaching household.  There was a period of about two years or so when we went to church, but that collapsed along with my parents’ marriage.  And yet, all of us are Bible-believing, born again, evangelical Christians.  Someone, in a previous generation, received the blessing and passed it on through prayer.

 

That doesn’t mean coming to Christ happens automatically, like a bequest in a will.  One has to have a personal encounter with the Lord and make a decision to receive Him as Lord and Savior.  Scripture teaches us that we have all sinned (Romans 3:23), and because of that sin we deserve death (Romans 6:23).  However, God loves us so much that He sent His Son to take on our sins and die in our place (John 3:16).  If we truly believe this in our hearts and confess it with our mouths, we are saved (Romans 10:9-10).  This is what I did when I was 18-years old, and Christ came to live in me and has never left me.

 

Now fast forward to my old age (And the years did go by so fast!).  I now have the privilege of praying for my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  I also pray for the generations to come, those I will never meet.  I pray for their health and prosperity, for their future mates, and for a life of purpose.  But the most important thing I pray for is their salvation.

 

Now as I write these words I pray for baby Brodie Alexander who surprised us all by deciding to be born yesterday.  Lord, I ask your blessing upon this child.  I pray for him, as I pray for all my children, these words from Ephesians 3:14-19

 

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 

Lord, please extend the blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE HALLMARK FIX

I have a confession to make: 2020 is beginning to wear on me, and I suspect I am not alone.  I’ve really noticed it for about the last two weeks or so, and it is so vague it I can hardly describe it.  Ennui comes to mind…weariness with the world in its current state.  I feel irritable and out of sorts.  As a psychologist I have tried to check my thinking because I know how much our thoughts influence the way we feel.  But why do I feel so down about things?  Because for the most part we are now living our lives as normally as we can.

 

We were pretty strict about being locked down when the quarantine first began.  After all, we are supposedly in the high-risk group.  But I got really tired of not being able to see my family, so on Mother’s Day I declared that our house was “open” and the whole clan came over.  Being with my family helped immensely.  Then slowly we began to find our new normal, although there is nothing that feels “normal” about wearing a mask.  We are coming and going, doing things like grocery shopping, eating out, trips to Lowe’s and the nursery, but we haven’t been in any large crowds.  I’m not sure there have been any large crowds to be in.  Our church has still not completely opened, but we are moving in that direction.  We have only been physically to church twice and maybe that is part of what feels so off, even though we have stayed connected electronically.  My friend groups and other organizations are meeting via Zoom, and I have met friends for occasional lunches, coffees, and dinners.  So why do I feel so off kilter?

 

I don’t have to tell you what is going on in our country.  Just turn on the news (something this former news junkie can hardly do any more).  The level of hate is something I have never seen among fellow Americans before.  It just makes me sad, and I don’t see any end in sight.  So one thing that has lifted my spirits is Hallmark’s Christmas in July.  Yes, I have been watching Christmas movies, in fact, I just finished one.

 

What is it about those Christmas movies that make me feel better?  The same 20 or so actors regularly appear in plots that are so predictable (and unrealistic) even I could write one.  Boy meets girl, they usually don’t hit it off at first but later begin to fall in love (with an almost-kiss) until there is some sort of misunderstanding that sends one of them packing.  However during the last fifteen minutes they get things straightened out, have a real kiss, and it snows.

What I love the best are those charming, picture-perfect Christmas towns.  There are quaint main streets filled with mom-and-pop shops (or shoppes), carolers, cider, and always snow.  Not dirty, slushy, day-old snow, but pure and pristine snow that doesn’t even make the cars dirty.  The part that always gets me are the Christmas Eve pageants, choir performances, or school plays.  Don’t these people have to be at Grandma’s on Christmas Eve?  Doesn’t anyone leave town?  This is where Jerry reminds me, “It’s only a movie!”

 

There is a psychology to why these movies make us feel better; in fact there is a psychologist who has studied it.  Dr. Pamela Rutledge is the director of the Media Psychology Research Center at Fielding Graduate University.    Dr. Rutledge says one of Hallmark’s cinematic shortcomings is the thing our brains love: predictability.  And oh, how we crave predictability in these chaotic times we are enduring.  And we forgive the unrealistic story lines because they allow us to suspend our own reality for two hours.  These movies allow us to experience a variety of positive emotions such as connection, empathy, love, warmth, and compassion that serve as a buffer to the stress of real life.

 

However, the feel-good doesn’t last very long.  As much as I love me a good Hallmark Christmas movie, there is something much better.  I know what to do when these negative emotions start to get to me.  I go to the One who has the answers.  I turn to the Bible, prayer, and my spiritual books.  I have been reading through a beautiful little devotional book, The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times (thank you, Paula Carter).   There are study questions at the end of each section, and one reached out and grabbed me the other day.  “If you knew Jesus was literally standing beside you right now, how would you feel differently about your current Red Sea problem?”

 

That question has made a big difference, because of course, Jesus is here right now, in the person of the Holy Spirit who lives in every Believer.  Nothing about the world situation has caught Him off guard.  He’s got this.  When I feel worried or depressed it is usually because I have forgotten that He is present, right here with me.  Yes, the world is stressful right now, and may become even more difficult in days to come.  But Jesus is walking with me.

 

I did a little Word study on the presence of the Lord.  Here are some of the verses that spoke to me:

 

The Lord is near to all who call on Him… Ps. 145:18

 

The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything.  Phil. 4:5-6

 

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.  Gen. 28:15

 

These verses and many more allow me to reset, to gain equilibrium.  The world may seem to be spinning out of control, but I can rest.  I feel much better.  God is right here.

 

 

A CLEAN SLATE

A clean slate.  A blank page.  A do-over.  Another New Year.  A new decade! As Oprah says, another chance for us to get it right.  What will 2020 hold for us? 

We all hope and pray for many of the same things: health, happiness, prosperity, peace, and the list goes on.  For those of us who are Baby Boomers, a new year is not as easily taken for granted as it once was.  We now think of life in terms of how much time we have left.  For some of us, a new year may mean the figuring out retirement (although fewer of us are retiring in the way we once imagined).  It may mean a second career, a new hobby, or it may bring the beginning of Social Security and Medicare.  There may be the lurking fears of declining health and finances.  But a new year also brings a new chance to live our lives with purpose and meaning; a chance to do life intentionally.  

As a Christian, I believe that God has a plan for my life.  Since I am still alive on this dawn of another year, He must still have a purpose for me here on earth.  The way to live this year to the fullest is to seek His purpose for me and begin to live it.  There is nothing that changes your life more than the discovery of your purpose.

While we may have an over-arching purpose that spans our entire lives, we also have specific purposes at different points in time.  What is my purpose now, in my senior years?  I want to be all that I am capable of becoming; all that God has planned for me.  A friend of mine says the tears that God will wipe from our eyes are the tears we shed as we enter Heaven and see the life He had planned for us that we failed to live.

Whatever wrong turns I have made on this journey, I am confident that He has used them to make me the woman I am.  He is still the God of second chances; his purposes toward me are always redemptive.  Lord, help me to treasure and not squander the New Year you have put before me.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:  Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV).  

No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us.  Philippians 3:13-14 (TLB).

KEEPING CHRISTMAS

We got our Christmas decorations put away over the weekend, and when I say we it was really ninety percent Jerry.  I always hate it when it’s time to take down the Christmas decorations.  It makes me a little sad.  For one thing it’s a lot of backbreaking work.  We have to get all the Christmas things put away and back into the attic.  Then I have to find all the things that are usually out and remember where they go.  I’m still missing a few things but I guess they will turn up.  If they don’t then I don’t need them.  But those reasons are not really why taking down Christmas makes me sad.  You see I really love the Christmas season.  I love the celebrations, the music, and the anticipation.  And people are just nicer.  I guess what really makes me sad is that Christmas is over. 

I think the things I enjoy most are the lights.  One of my favorite things to do is to have my morning coffee with the tree lights on and a fire in the fireplace.  But it’s not just our own lights; I like the lights in our neighborhood and the lights around town.

The best lights of all are the lights from the candles at our church Christmas Eve service.  What a beautiful picture of Jesus, the Light of the World, coming into a dark world.  It gives me hope.  During the Christmas season I can push that dark world back a bit.  But when the decorations are packed away, reality comes back.  Sunday morning we awoke to the terrible news of an attack at a Hanukkah celebration and then later a shooting at a church.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it best:

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

So my prayer is that the Lord will help me keep Christmas in my heart.  Joy to the World shouldn’t be just for a few weeks of the year.  The Lord has come!  He is with us.  Yes, the world is still dark, but He has overcome the world.  A few years ago I came across this work by Howard Thurman that beautifully express keeping Christmas: 

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

A RACE WELL RUN

When she was a little younger, our daughter ran marathons.  She still runs for fun, but doesn’t do the rigorous training any more that a marathon requires.  Before she started running I had realized what a fun spectator sport a marathon is. We would go with her to her races to be her cheering squad.  We would map out her route and pick strategic spots to wait for her in order to cheer and encourage her.  Marathons are fun!  There are crowds all along the route, cheering, ringing cowbells, and playing music, even if they don’t personally know the runners.  We would see her at the starting line and then drive ahead in our car, or in big cities, take the train in order to arrive at locations ahead of her. Sometimes she would ask us to be at certain spots where she knew she might need an extra bit of support, maybe a particularly difficult segment of the route.  And of course we wanted to be at the finish line, to witness her crossing the finish line and to hear her name announced.  To see her receive here medal.  Proud parent moments.  

There are multiple verses in the Bible that compare living our lives to running a race.  The writer of Hebrews encourages us to run with endurance the race that is set before us.  We each have our own race to run.  Parts of it may be relatively smooth, even joyous, while other parts are tough, like running uphill with a strong wind against us.  Sometimes it is all we can do to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

I was thinking about these things this morning as we prepare to celebrate the life of a friend who has crossed his finish line. If I use the marathon analogy to think of our friend Don, he could be compared to those special runners called elite runners.    They are different from the other runners; they are world-class athletes.  And they live their lives differently, spending hours training and recovering, and eating healthy foods.  They are committed, keeping at it even when they don’t feel like it.  They are dedicated to running well.  My friend lived his life differently too, spending hours studying and teaching and living the Bible.  He was committed to his Lord.  He ran his race well.  

As I have been thinking about these things, I have been wondering again what the death process is like. I suppose people have thought about that since the beginning of time.  What is it like to cross over from this life into the next?  For those of us who are Believers, we know that when we leave this body we go into the presence of he Lord (I Cor. 5:1-8).  But how does this happen, what does it look like?  In my mind, death is like the last leg of a marathon.  The spectators are the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews.  They are cheering us across the finish line.  In my imagination, those who are waiting close to the finish line are our loved ones who have gone before us, cheering us home. And at the end stands Jesus. Instead of receiving a medal, I want to hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”  No doubt, my friend Don heard those very words.  Today as we celebrate a life well lived, there is a celebration in Heaven also.  A saint has crossed the finished line and arrived at home. 

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.  Psalm 116:15

Easter…So What?

It is the Monday morning after Easter.  I hope you all had a glorious Easter Sunday celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. I hope you had the opportunity to attend a church service.  Our church was overflowing at each service, and I suppose your church was full also. Maybe the music was glorious, and moved you as you thought about the amazing sacrifice our Lord made for our sins. Maybe you got together with family and friends, everyone decked out in Easter finery.  I imagine there was good food, flowers, and children with Easter baskets, looking for eggs.

But today is Monday. Most of us had to get up and go back to our normal routines.  Maybe it’s another Monday of fighting traffic and getting into the Monday morning work grind. If you are a student, it is probably back to school, with finals looming around the corner.  Maybe you are a stay-at-home mom with a busy day ahead. The dishwasher and the washing machine are running, you are picking up Easter grass and candy wrappers, and mentally making a grocery list.  Easter is in the books for another year.  What does it have to do with my Monday?

I was eighteen when I received Christ as my Savior.  I knew I was a sinner, and I was grateful, so grateful, that through His death I could be forgiven.  I believed that I would go to Heaven when I died.  And that was it.  I compartmentalized that event and got on with my life.  It was about five years later when Jesus began to woo me into a Bible-teaching church.  It was there that I began to realize the claim that Jesus had on my life…my entire life, not just my Easter Sunday life.  And I also learned the rest of the story.  Christ didn’t just save me and leave me to navigate this life on my own. There are so many benefits to Easter in addition to salvation that I’m sure I will only scratch the surface naming them.  But even if salvation was the only gift, that would be amazing, incredible, and so much more than I deserve!  

  1. The first benefit that comes to mind is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  When we receive Christ, His Spirit comes to dwell in us.  Think of it…the third person of the Trinity living in me!  I talk to Him all day long.  And He talks to me though I don’t always listen, and sadly, do not always obey.  He guides my steps, He comforts me, and He interprets God’s word to me.  He leads me in my daily decisions.  If I need to buy a new air conditioner, He has ideas about that. If I am worried about my children, He reminds me that there is One who cares about them even more than I do.  When I am concerned about the future, He assures me that He is in control. 
  2. Access to the throne of God.  He hears my prayers.  Because of Christ’s death I have been reconciled to God.  We are no loner enemies.  And because that temple veil was torn from top to bottom, I can go straight to Him in prayer.  At any time, on any day.  I do not need a human mediator because I have a High Priest who sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for me.  I have the amazing privilege of prayer, and I confess that I am not very diligent about it. It is very hard for me to sit for an hour (or even a half hour) and pray. But I am really good at carrying on a continual conversation with the Lord.  We talk all day long.
  3. Death is not final.  I have the peace of knowing that when my appointment with death comes, I will slip from this life into the next.  And I will be reunited with family and friends who have passed before. How I look forward to that! Sometimes I ask God to deliver a message from me to them.  I’m not sure that is scriptural, but I do it anyway.  
  4. The church.  I have fellowship with other believers.  There is nothing like the body of Christ!  Not only can you share spiritual things, what God is doing in your life, and prayer concerns, but also your church family cares about your practical needs and will rally around you in days of trouble, sorrow, or joy. Church ladies excel at casseroles and pies!
  5. There are many more benefits, but I just want to name one more big one: The Bible.  What would I do without the Word?  It is full of God’s promises, it comforts me, and it is “a lamp unto my feet.” The Bible is the main way God speaks to me.  It is the story of redemption, for Genesis to Revelation.  And even though I’ve read it many times, it is always new!  I will never completely plumb the depths of God’s Word.

So today, as you are putting away the things of Easter, the dinnerware, the clothes, the baskets and bunnies, I hope you will put on all that Christ offers you because of Easter. As you go about your workday, on your commute to work or school, as you face the trials of this world, I hope you realize there is One who wants to be a part of every facet of your life.  I hope you can celebrate Easter 365 days a year. He is risen.  Hallelujah.