Tuesday, December 24, 2013

He Came

From all outward appearances, it was just an ordinary night.  Shepherds slipped on their  cloaks, grabbed their staffs and went to work, out in the fields. Sheep grazed.   Innkeepers kept busy, filling rooms to capacity and turning away those who he could not accommodate.  Mary and Joseph travelled busy roads, with a throng of others, doing what they were ordered to do -- register for the census.  Cows mooed and donkeys brayed and they ate their food out of the manger trough, just like they did every day.  Dogs barked and kitties purred and mothers tucked their children in to bed. The stars twinkled, breaking through the backdrop of the night sky.  The wind blew.

People talked and walked and worried and laughed and cried and wondered about their lives.

It was just another night, following just another day, in the middle of just another week, part of just another year.

And then He came, unexpectedly -- at least from most of man's point of view -- in to the cold, dark, hurting, world.

He came.

He came for the lonely and the busy and the preoccupied and the forgotten.

He came for the the angry and bitter and unforgiving, and for the unforgiven.

He came for those who hurt and those who hurt others.

He came for those who lost loved ones and those who were lost themselves.

He came for those who wanted to give up hope or give up everything.

He came for the less-than-perfect and for those who thought they were perfect.

He came for those who were looking for Him and for those who never even gave Him a second -- or first -- thought.

He came for those who strived to please God and for those who thought they were so far gone that it would never be possible, anyway.

He came for those who made mistakes and for those who believed they were a mistake.

He came for the miserable and the meek.

He came for those who looked to have their act together and for those who never acted as they should.

He came for those who were broken and bleeding and brought chaos wherever they walked.

He came for the ill and the broken and the broken-hearted.

He came for those who were abused and confused and refused to believe.

He came for the neglected and the negligent.

He came for the weary and the wealthy and the poor.

He came for the restless and the resentful and for those who resisted love.

He came for those who felt purposeless and plain.

He came for the orphaned and the fatherless and the heartless and the helpless.

He came for the disabled and the abled.

He came for the ones who could not sleep because of their choices, and for those who could not get out of bed, for the same reasons.

He came for all people, all shapes, all sizes, all sorrows, all sins.

He came for people from the past and the present and the future, and for you and for me.

Sometimes I forget it, neglect it, don't believe it ~ I forget that Jesus came. When I am weary or lonely or stretched thin in the trials that the Lord allows in my life ~ I forget Jesus came.  When I feel restless or ordinary or useless or like giving up ~ I forget Jesus came.

I forget or neglect or don't believe, that He came for me, so that when I am hurting and hopeless, and even when all is well, I can have hope and rest and peace in Him.

Dear reader, wherever you are today, on this Eve of Christmas, whether in warm or cold weather, whether surrounded by loved ones or all alone, whether filled with excitement and joyful anticipation of Christmas or not feeling festive at all, remember ~ Jesus came.

He came, because He loves you.  Say 'yes' to Him, today. Allow Him to show you how His coming made all the difference in the world, and still does today. And take a moment to thank Him and take a moment to tell someone else, "He came."

Blessed Christmas, dear ones.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Coveted Life Saver Story Book

It was the early 1970's. For several years, shortly after Thanksgiving, as the teacher announced the great Christmas gift exchange, visions of Life Saver Story books began to dance through my head.

I pictured myself holding the rectangular, firm cardboard book between my hands and opening it up, setting my star-struck eyes on the delightful contents.  I imagined the neat rows of side-by-side Life Savers, in their colorful packages, stacked one on top of the other.  And if I really focused, I could even smell the cherry, lime and orate scents of the individual Life Savers, as my mouth watered.  Ahhh. Sigh.

I don't what exactly what it was about the wonder of rolls of Life Savers, bound in a book, but all I knew is that it was the greatest gift garnered at the grace school Christmas gift exchange.  At least, it was for me.  How sweet it would be to have my very own supply of Life Savers to relish in my room, throughout the Christmas season!

Here's how the gift exchange worked.

Each student brought in a gift with their name scratched in the 'FROM' space, leaving the 'TO' space specifying if it was to a girl, if you were a girl, or a boy, if you were a boy.  We didn't pick names, but rather were to buy a generic gift -- a gift everyone would like.  I suppose the teacher did it this way to prevent someone from getting a downer of a gift if someone who didn't like them, picked their name.

The gifts were brought in the week of the Christmas party, and placed under the small tree in our classroom.  Slowly but surely, brightly colored packages of all sorts accumulated under the tree, waiting for the big day.

I knew the shape, the size, the detailed dimensions.  And I didn't have to imagine smelling effervescent fruity scents; I was pretty sure I could smell them, through any thickness of wrapping paper, as the gift entered the classroom.  I kept a very close eye on the tree and it's growing pile of gifts. I watched to see who brought what and hoped beyond hope that I'd be the lucky recipient of the Life Saver Story Book.  Spotting more than one of the coveted cardboard books under the tree added to my joy, and some years, the odds seemed to be in my favor.

On the day of the party, the teacher sent us out for recess, right before the celebration. Oh, how the excitement mounted, as we stood frozen outside on the playground, waiting and wondering.

I remember coming in, chilled with goose bumps percolating beneath my skin.  I'm not sure if they were from the cold or my eager anticipation that it would be my special day.

I didn't care about the cookies or the Kool-Aid, all I wanted to know was -- would this be my year to get the Life Saver Story Book? Finally?

I slipped off my coat and held my breath as I slowly walked through the door, savoring every moment. While were were out, I knew the teacher would have set a present on each of our desks.  I don't know why she did it that way, other than maybe she didn't have to deal with kids trying to influence her or maybe there were never quite enough gifts, so she could pull a few extras out of her desk drawer, to cover for the ones who couldn't afford to participate that year. No student left behind when it came to the Christmas party gift exchange.

I tried to contain my excitement, while trying to brace myself for disappointment.

Rounding the corner of the door frame, my eyes drifted across the room and settled on my desk.

And each year, my heart fell.

Resting on my desk was a different gift than I imagined -- a smaller one or a bigger one or a softly wrapped, oddly shaped package.  And each year, I can remember forcing a smile, sitting down and opening the gift that was chosen for me, by my teacher.

I didn't want to hurt any one's feelings, surely not the person who picked out what was on my desk, or possibly offend their mother, who more than likely was the one who went to the store and picked it out.

I tried not to look around the room to see who got the gift I wanted. I tried hard not to be jealous; it was really hard.

I never did get the Lifesaver Story Book. I'm not complaining or dwelling on dashed dreams of the past.  Really, I've gotten over it, but every year when I see them on the store shelves I think of those days when the great gift exchange consumed my Christmas thoughts and my heart had to find contentment in what I was given.

I some ways, it's not so different today.  We hope for one thing, and sometimes, get another.  My heart no longer is set on material things, but rather less tangible, more valuable desires, like peace and joy and relief from stress. And some days, I still sit down and try and smile seeking to find contentment in what the Lord has given.

The reality is that we may not always receive the things we want at Christmas, but we have been given the most precious gift of all -- Jesus.  My heart still yearns, but it now finds restful satisfaction in Him -- let's face it, the One and Only Life Saver, in the "sweetest story ever told."

What did you wish for as a child?

Friday, December 13, 2013

And the Winner in the Compass Bible Give-Away is --

Thank you to all who entered the Compass Study Bible Give-Away (see previous post)!  I enjoyed reading many of your reflections on which Christmas Story character you can most relate to this Christmas Season.  

But before I go on, the winner is of the give-away this time is - Gina! 

I've known Gina for a long time and am excited to give her this copy of Compass.  She is a woman of God and I know she'll love using it! On an unrelated note, she and I share a passion for solid organ transplant and the gift of life that Organ Donation results in. It's one of the things I love about Gina!

And thank you to those of you who shared your thoughts on which Christmas character you can most relate to, this year.  I enjoyed reading your responses, so much that I am sharing a few of them here.  You've provided me with points to ponder, and am encouraged and challenged with what you've all said. Here are a few:

Karen said, "I think I would associate with the shepherds the most -- being afraid of the great host of angels, but wanting to go see what it was all about.  I can't imagine their astonishment and wonder as they looked at the King born in a feeding trough.  It just amazes me how God used such 'normal' people to carry His Son and to see Him for the first time.  Reminds me that God can use me, too." 

Brenda shared, "I think I most identify with Zechariah.  An angel shows up to tell him his prayers are answered and he doubts!  Doubts that God can do a miracle in he and his wife and sometimes I go through the motions, really wondering if I believe God does answer my prayers, also.  Zechariah paid a price for his doubting - but oh, how sweet the redemption at the end of his journey.  He experiences God in such a real and personal way and then he gets to be the father of John the Baptist. WOW!"

Fran commented on the last post, but I am so touched by her words, that I thought I'd share them here.  She said, "While I would love to identify with all the characters in the Christmas story, like the Wise men who showed up to lavish Jesus with gifts or with Mary who willingly bowed to unexplainable circumstances with amazing trust and faith, even at the cost of her reputation, I think I would hope to identify with the Shepherds who probably were often ignored in their seemingly menial, unseen work, yet were chose by God to be the first ones to be told Jesus had come to earth. I love how the shepherds did not hesitate to run and find Him and to tell Mary what the angel said about her Son."

Thank you, ladies for sharing!  Yes, God uses normal people, doubting people, even those who are often ignored in their seemingly menial, unseen work.  This truth truly resonates in my heart today, as I (perhaps) like you, face the ups and downs of life, questioning how God is at work and how He uses me.  

Keep on thinking and reflecting this Christmas, and above all, keep your eyes fixed on the One who came for you.  He loves you dearly! 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Compass Study Bible Review and Give-Away

Recently, I was asked to review Compass, a study Bible published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, and finally, I had a chance to sit down and soak in it for awhile. I don't know what took me so long, but what a delight it is!  A slightly different concept in Bible reading and study. Compass is interesting, informative and thought provoking, helping to apply God's Word to every day life and circumstances.

This Bible, using the "Voice" translation, relays God's Word in a fresh way, using biblical dialogue in a screenplay format.

Let me give you an example. Let's take a portion of the Christmas Story in Luke 2:8 - 19 --

8Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks from predators in the darkness of night. 9Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!

Messenger: 10Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. 11Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! 12You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough.

13At that moment, the first heavenly messenger was joined by thousands of other messengers—a vast heavenly choir. They praised God.

Heavenly Choir: 14To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God!
And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!

15As soon as the heavenly messengers disappeared into heaven, the shepherds were buzzing with conversation.

Shepherds: Let’s rush down to Bethlehem right now! Let’s see what’s happening! Let’s experience what the Lord has told us about!

16So they ran into town, and eventually they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough. After they saw the baby, 17they spread the story of what they had experienced and what had been said to them about this child. 

18Everyone who heard their story couldn’t stop thinking about its meaning. 19Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.


Robert Sanford, vice president and associate publisher at Thomas Nelson said, 'What makes Compass different is that it helps people connect with God by pointing them in the right direction and showing them how they fit into His narrative." 

In addition to the scriptures reading differently through this translation, Compass also incorporates a large number of Bible-reading helps, notes explaining the text, and even Bible search tools. It offers, along with a reading plan to help you read through the Bible in a year, a '40 Day Retreat with Jesus' study plan, and topical study guide to help direct you to God's truths regarding such topics as heaven, anger, jealousy, Jerusalem, missions, money and more!  One of my personal favorites about this study Bible, is the "Road Map to God's Promises" offered in the beginning of the Bible, to help anchor us to God's Word and ways.  What a valued treasure!

I would recommend Compass as a companion Bible to anyone interested in exploring God's Word, whether it's for the first time or the thousandth.  And I'd like to give my copy away -- not because I don't like it -- I do! -- but rather, in the Spirit of Christmas and giving. So, here you go --

Leave a comment (or email me here) and tell me which Christmas story character you see yourself most like, and why. I'll collect the names and pick one this coming Friday, December 13.  Go ahead, give it a try! Maybe you could even give Compass to someone else, just in time for Christmas! 

(Compass can be found at Walmart, and will be available on Amazon in February 2014).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Please Take a Compliment

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Knock. Knock.

Anybody there? I'm back!

It's been awhile since I wrote. (Yikes! July 29?  That was two seasons ago -- literally!)

I was deep in to the Book of Esther, studying, writing and teaching for the Women's Bible study at our church, looking at the Evidence of God's Providence -- not only throughout the story, but in our own lives. I'm sure I'll share more thoughts with you in the weeks to come. I learned a lot!

And I was busy with our Women's Christmas Tea.  Can I just say this? Working with the women at my church and ministering together is such an amazing experience. I cherish how God works in and through His people, as we share our gifts and serve Him.

I will say, though, I've had a lot of ideas bouncing around in this ole' noggin, waiting to get out.  I hope to access them out of my mental hard drive and boot them up, soon!

But for starters, I've been thinking about compliments.  Recently, my friend Amanda spoke on 'insecurities,' pointing out that, for many of us, it's hard to receive a compliment.  We minimize it, dismiss it, rationalize it, or even try and deny it. Yep. I'm guilty of this. Are you?

In response to listening to her speak, by friend Becca told me a story. (You can read more about her and her passion for health HERE).  At day, acknowledging the hesitation of humans to receive a compliment, she decided to do something different.  She printed off a pack of posters, and put them in coffee shops and spots around town.

She offered people a chance to -- Please Take a Compliment.

They had a choice.  No strings attached.  No verbal responses required.  They could just take a compliment by ripping off a little piece of paper on the poster, each offering a different compliment.

You are brave.  You are a great listener.  You made my day. I lover your persistence. You make me happy.  You are lovely. I like your dress. You have great taste.  I appreciate you. Your hair looks nice.

And then, awhile later, she went back to check out the posters, and you know what?  People had taken a compliment.  We don't know what they did with it. Maybe they walked around that day, smiling silently, cherishing a truth about them selves.  Or, maybe they passed it on.

Either way, people took a compliment.

I wonder.  Were they in need of a compliment?  Were they bone dry?  Had it been awhile since anyone noticed them?  Were they feeling down in the dumps that day?  Were they lonely?  Sad?  Feeling ordinary and not special?  Maybe it was easier for them to take it anonymously?  Easier to take one if they didn't feel compelled to explain it?

I don't know, but it has me thinking -- we need each other.  God gives us each other.

So, let's give and receive compliments -- freely.  Let's encourage one another, honestly, earnestly, truthfully, openly, frequently, not to flatter, but to build up and breath life in to.  Let's look for opportunities from the Lord AND let's also receive His gifts.  Let's work on receiving a compliment from someone, without feeling guarded, or insecure or weird.  Maybe, just maybe, the Lord is using someone to encourage our hearts today, if we would only allow Him to.  And maybe He's using us to do the same.

So, please take a compliment.  I may not know you, but I know Who does, and I think that you are an amazingly beautiful, valued creation, loved by the Father and made for a purpose!

Take that -- and believe it.  It's true!  (And then pass it along, too)!
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