Saturday, December 31, 2011

Joy and Hope

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

It just doesn’t seem possible that once again, we’ve found ourselves on the threshold of another brand new year -- 2012. As the years go by, I sometimes feel like I’m in a sci-fi novel when I have to write out or type the latest numbers, like I will be doing shortly: 2012.....what in the world ever happened to 19 whatever!?

Looking back, people may breathe sighs of relief, saying how thankful they are that the year is finally over because of how awful or stressful it was, and how they’re looking forward to a new year; a clean, fresh slate.

I’ve often found myself doing the same, remembering the hard times, trials and difficulties that came my way, peppering my life with sadness and discouragement, yet holding on to hope that better, happier days and times are coming.

However, there are two important things to keep in mind:

(1.) Our joy comes from the Lord. “Whatever happens, dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord give you joy …” Philippians 3:1 (NLT)

Did you catch that? WHATEVER happens. Joy comes from within, where the Holy Spirit of the Lord resides. Joy, unlike happiness, is not dependent on our outward circumstances.

(2.) Hope CAN be found the midst of trials. Hope is what we must hold onto, no matter what. There is ALWAYS hope. It’s that joyful expectation of and belief in what God has promised to us, whether we receive those promises in this life or in eternity with Him. It’s believing that He’s in control of our lives and that He makes ALL things work together for our good, even when everything in our lives practically SCREAMS the exact opposite. And that hope, like joy, also comes from the Lord:

“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you HOPE and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

As we head into and move through this new year, to whom or what will you look to bring you joy? People, places, things, material posessions?  As 2012 looms on the horizon, what do you need hope for? A rocky marriage? A wayward, prodigal child? A strained relationship with family members or friends? A devastating health diagnosis? An overwhelming financial situation? A stress-filled job or the loss of a job? Unsaved loved ones, friends, coworkers, neighbors?

Will you join me in looking to Jesus, our true source of all hope and joy? He loved us enough to die for us, and we can trust Him with our lives, with every harsh reality, every situation, circumstance or person that threatens to steal our joy and crush our hope.

It’s my prayer that in this brand new year of 2012, trusting in Jesus for these things and more will come easier to you and to me; that we’ll make time to spend with Him in open, honest, sweet conversation and ingesting His Word into our hearts, minds and souls. I’m praying for all of us to be touched and changed by the Master this year, unlike any other year.

Hear the sound of our chains
They come crashing down
There’s freedom in Your name
The cross erased our guilt and shame
The past can’t condemn the ones
Who bear Your name

We found our hope in You

You make all things new, new life found in You
You restore the years that we have wasted
You make all things new, Your love breaking through
There’s healing in Your wake and we are changed ~ 'All Things New,' by Elevation Worship

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Resolve Not To Burnout in 2012

Singer Neil Young once said....uh, make that sang:

'It's better to burnout than to fade away'

Sorry, Neil, but I must respectively disagree with you on that one. There's nothing good or better about it.

Burnout is no fun. I speak from personal experience.

Some years back, I found myself on the hamster wheel of life. Running.  Running.  And running even faster.  Always running.

If there was a job to be done, a need to be filled or someone to be served, be it at work, at my children's schools or at church (ESPECIALLY at church) -- honey, I was there and on it.  "Sign me up!" became my motto and war cry. I hated to turn anyone down or away. So I wouldn't. 

I can remember (with much chagrin) many, MANY a Sunday when I'd feel like a human speed boat, flying from one thing to another: set up, serving and cleaning up at our Worship Cafe, then off to serve as an usher one week, or a volunteer cashier and salesperson at our church's former book and gift shop the next week, or to play a part in a church skit.  I'd wave to people in the hallways of our church as I sprinted, a la' OJ Simpson in those old Hertz Rent-A-Car commercials, from one task to the other. Sometimes, I didn't even have time to sit in worship or listen to a sermon.  I rarely had a intimate, serious conversation with anyone in those days.  I mean, who had the time to sit and chat and LISTEN when there was just so much to do for the Lord???  Work and school were much the same.  It seemed like no one wanted to sign up for anything that needed to be done, so there I was -- Super Woman/Mom to the rescue!!!  After some time, not only did I become seriously exhausted, but I found myself becoming angry, bitter, resentful and, even though I was surrounded by people, very lonely.  There was no time for deep, meaningful relationships with anyone -- but most especially with Jesus.  I did lots of things in His Name, but my time and relationship with Him suffered greatly.

God waved LOTS of red flags in my face, but I ignored them all.  He whispered in my ear to slow down and to search my heart for the true motive behind all of my extreme busyness.  But I would swat Him away like some pesky gnat, although I did know, way deep down in my heart that I was trying to fill a void, trying to take away the emptiness I was feeling in my marriage to a man who did not share in my faith, and in other areas of my life.  I just didn't want to admit that.

So finally, God stopped all the flag waving and the whispering and although I'm sure it hurt Him to do so, He had to take me down in a big way.  One day in April, almost 4 years ago, I woke up in the ER with absolutely no memory of how I got there, missing several weeks of memory which, to this day, I've never recovered, and having received a vision from the Lord.  It's a long story which many of my friends already know, and a blog post to write for another day.

Maybe someone reading this today is on that very same hamster wheel.  Maybe you're seeing those red flags waving before your eyes, and hearing God's whispers in your ears, but you're pretending you don't see them or hear Him. Maybe you're feeling exhausted, rundown as you head for the Land of Burnout...but you can't/won't stop running and doing. Maybe you've found yourself stuck in what Christian writer and speaker, Beth Moore refers to as 'the captivity of activity.' 

As someone's who's been there, done that and bought the hideous, ill-fitting T-shirt, I'm here to implore you:  PLEASE STOP.  PLEASE LISTEN.  PLEASE BE STILL.  And place yourself at the best and only place to be: at the feet of Jesus.

Yesterday, I came across a fantastic post about preventing burnout from fellow blogger, Dale Roach. His blog is called 'Like A Team,' and can be found here:

Below is Dale's post.  And I'm so grateful to him for allowing me to share this here with you, dear readers. As we head into a brand new year, I pray that someone here will read his words and will seriously propose to apply his wise advice to their life.  Because really -- it's NOT better to burnout than to fade away.  It's better to live life this way, remembering what Jesus said in John 10:10: The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows). ~ Amplified Bible 
Burnout: 10 Ways To Prevent It ~ by Dale Roach

Burnout and physical, mental exhaustion have been around for some time. If not addressed burnout can lead to depression and extreme fatigue. Esther Schubert wrote about this problem when addressing the problems that missionaries deal with (What Missionaries Need to Know About Burnout and Depression, Olive Branch Publications; New Castle, Indiana, 1993).
Burnout and some cases of depression can be prevented. Here are ten ways that Schubert suggests for burnout prevention:
  1. Learning to “off load” emotionally. This requires being in touch with ones own feelings, keeping short accounts (not allowing grudges and frustrations to build up in personal relationships) and dealing with issues as they occur.
  2. Learning to say “no” is OK when you are asked to do more than is reasonable.
  3. Being alert to desperate feelings and understanding the emotional implications of those feelings. It may help to consider a “worst-case” scenario to defuse the subliminal unconscious fears. This will help any person face the “what if” and to acknowledge the adequacy of God’s grace.
  4. Eating a regular and balanced diet is certainly a great resource for good health and burnout prevention.
  5. Making time for meaningful relationships and fellowship is necessary.
  6. Keeping the capacity for laughter alive. Remember “A merry hear doeth good like a medicine!”
  7. Exercise. Good exercise releases body chemical called endorphins that lift the mood and help in preventing depression.
  8. Devotional Life. A strong prayer life provides us with encouragement. It creates a sense of God’s presence in our good times as well as our bad and challenging times.
  9. Sleep Patterns. We must never forget that God is far more interested in us than He is in our work habits. We are not God’s pets; we are his “beloved.” If we wear ourselves out we will miss a wonderful opportunity of fellowship with the Lord. Self-destruction was not in His creative design.
  10. Honor the Sabbath. All of creation is geared to one day of rest per week. Never forget that the Creator of the Universe took a day off himself.
These ten points can help prevent burnout from taking place. The first step however, is to acknowledge what is important to you. If you can understand that burnout and exhaustion were not part of God’s plan for your life this will be the first step to avoiding it.
Dale Roach

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Worship Song Sunday -- Here With Us, by Joy Williams

'This is how God showed His love among us; He sent His One and Only Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.' ~ 1 John 4:9-10

A very Merry Christmas to all of my precious friends here!! 

Christ is come -- let all creation sing!  May you have a wonderful, joyful and blessed day, spending time with the family and friends our Lord has gifted you with; worshiping our King, Jesus; celebrating His birth and the fact that He came for us. He loves us. He is here with us. 

'Birth of The King,' by Michael Dudash

Saturday, December 24, 2011

O Come Let Us Adore Him!

We are one day away from Christmas!  It is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday.  When I was a child, I would be so excited, I couldn't WAIT for Christmas to finally arrive!  Now that I'm somewhat (cough cough) older, I still feel the same way -- but for entirely different reasons.  Over the years, my perspective of this wonderful season has been radically changed.

Christmas Eve -- such a beautiful, special night. A precious, holy night. There's an overwhelming feeling of anticipation that I find almost tangible, as if the whole world is collectively holding its breath.  And waiting.......

Tonight, some people may still be in the process of traveling back home or heading over the river and through the woods to someone else's house.  Some may pull out and don their holiday finery to head out to dinner with loved ones or friends, while some may just stay at home, order a pizza and finish up wrapping those few, final gifts.  Others may invite family, friends and neighbors over to their homes for a joyous open house celebration, or perhaps there are people gathering together to share a big family dinner as my family did, back in the day.

Thinking back to my childhood, I can remember my dad, my mom and myself bundling up and driving over to my Italian grandmother's house on Christmas Eve and finding it filled with all of my mom's relatives, for the 'festa dei sette pesci': The Dinner of the Seven Fishes (yes, fishes -- okay, so it's not grammatically correct, but that's what it's called, so please just go with it).   Everything that my grandmother and my aunt, who lived with her, put out on the table to eat was so incredibly delicious and entirely homemade -- a result of days of almost round-the-clock preparation and cooking (and all of which I totally did not appreciate until I reached my twenties). 

Christmas Eve, my cousins and I were allowed to open ONE GIFT each.  And how we were oh-so-breathless with anticipation, hardly able to sit still at the 'kids table' while we waited and waited and WAITED some more for the grown-ups to finish up with dinner, then dessert and coffee and brandy and their seemingly ENDLESS adult chit-chat, so we could tear into that one gift.

There was also (and still is for me) a very sweet, hushed reverance and holiness about Christmas Eve, as we'd all silently (well, as silently as a rowdy Italian family like mine with a bunch of little kids hyped up on Coca Cola and hot chocolate can be) make our way out from my grandmother's house to the church up the street for a beautiful, joy-filled, candlelit midnight service, stopping in awe to look at and admire the near life-size Nativity scene outside on the church lawn, with the spotlight shining on Baby Jesus.  Once inside, such singing that went on of all of those wonderful carols! I'd loved listening as my mom, who had the most beautiful singing voice, would harmonize along with everyone else. Such a wonderful, magical night!

However, last year I heard something on TV about Christmas Eve that just about gave me an extreme case of agita (and for all you non-Italian bloggy friends, that means a feeling of agitation or anxiety).  I had heard that the media was hailing Christmas Eve as 'the new Black Friday,' which honestly just made me cringe, because it's yet another bullet shot straight through the heart to kill off the true meaning of Christmas.

And what exactly IS the true meaning of Christmas?  Literally, if you take apart the word, you have:

"Christ" - obviously, that's the One and Only Jesus Christ, LORD and Savior, Who came into this world as one of us, leaving behind all His glory and honor in the Kingdom of Heaven to dwell with, love on, rescue and redeem us.

"Mas" - an Olde World English term referring to a celebration or a festival.

Translation:  it's a celebration of Christ...Christmas!!!'s NOT supposed to be all about door buster deals on iPads, iPods and LCD HD TV's at stores open as late as possible on Christmas Eve (with some actually opening again on Christmas Day);  it's not supposed to be all about frenzied crowds of procrastinating shoppers stampeding like wildebeests through stores for those last minute, drastically reduced in price (and oh-so-thoughtful and heartfelt) gifts;  it's NOT supposed to be all about a jolly, white haird and bearded, overweight gentleman in a wooly red suit who hangs out with elves and flies a sleigh attached to 8 (supposedly) tiny reindeer, nor is it supposed to be about dashing through the mall JUST to stand in a 20 minute line to buy gift cards or get those tons of purchases professionally wrapped.   It's not supposed to be all about 24 hour holiday movie marathons (as entertaining as they can be).  It's not supposed to be all about the perfectly decorated house or tree, the perfect outfit or the perfect dinner!!!!

But it IS supposed to be all about the Perfect Child -- Jesus -- born some 2,000 years ago to the humblest of parents in the humblest of places and circumstances: for us. All for us.

Jesus.  Oh Jesus, You ARE our Perfect Gift.  Are we too stressed out, distracted and drained to receive You?  Will we sprint through our already overloaded lists and daily agendas AGAIN this year, find we are running late as usual, swoop up our families and make a mad dash out the door to church for Christmas Eve services, flinging our exhausted bodies into our seats with our minds still spinning?  I must sadly and shamefully admit that I've lost count over the years of how many times I'd fallen prey to doing all those things.

Or...will we instead make a decision to pare down our lists to bare bones necessities to simplify our day and take some time out to quietly make room in our hearts, our minds, our souls to receive the greatest and best, most perfect gift of all? 

Can we join together tonight to joyfully, peacefully make our way over to the foot of that crude, dirty manger; to humbly kneel and to gently draw close....holding our breath in wonderous anticipation of the sweet beauty we will gaze in awe upon and give our worship to our precious newborn King, Jesus?

Jesus, the Christ.  He alone is the Ultimate Gift.

O come!  Let us adore Him!

It's still a mystery to me
That the hands of God could be so small,
How tiny fingers reaching in the night
Were the very hands that measured the sky

Hallelujah, hallelujah!
Heaven's love reaching down to save the world
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
Son of God, Servant King
Here with us
You're here with us

Jesus the Christ, born in Bethlehem
A baby born to save, to save the souls of man~ Here With Us, by Joy Williams

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sounds of the Season -- Joseph's Lullaby, by Mercy Me

The Christmas story. 

Not 'A Christmas Story.'  But THE Christmas story. The very first -- and most important one.  The story of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We know it so well, don't we?  We've read the accounts in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, heard it preached in countless sermons, watched movies and documentaries about it, listened to songs proclaiming the great news that came on that holy, silent night (silent -- really though, how silent could it have been with hosts of magnificent heavenly angels singing in the skies?). 

So many songs have been written about Jesus' birth -- about the infant King, His young mother, Mary; about the angelic hosts' appearaning to the shepherds and the journey of the wise men.  But there's one person that sort of seems to get lost in the literary and lyrical shuffle here:


Not too much has been written or sung about the man.  Yet to me, Joseph was a pretty central player in the Nativity scene.  Yes, indeed -- Joseph has his own story.

Think about it.  Joseph, no doubt a hard working carpenter from the House of David,  chooses a young, local girl, Mary -- a virgin -- to be his bride, only to later find out that his beloved betrothed is pregnant with a child that is NOT his!  Man of integrity that he is, he decides to divorce her quietly, so as not bring disgrace upon Mary and her family. An angel invades one of Joseph's dreams and tells him:

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

Can you imagine? When we dream, how much of what occurs in it do we actually take to heart?  When we dream of something so bizarre, so utterly off the hook, so 'this-can't-possibly-be-for-real!', don't we just chalk it up to something odd we must have eaten before we went to bed?

Yet after Joseph woke up, he did exactly what the angel told him to do.  And months later, Joseph finds himself en route to Bethlehem with a very pregnant Mary in tow.

When they finally get to their destination, there are no cushy hotels to rest in and call for room service.  No place to put up their tired aching (and in Mary's case, swollen) feet, no jacuzzi for Mary and Joseph to relax in with a complimentary glass of wine after their long, arduous journey.  Instead, they find lodging within the confines of a cave a the bottom of a hillside home.

(Interesting sidenote: I grew up, as I'm sure you did, hearing that it was a stable or a crèche in which Jesus was born.  However, I just did some research and found this bit of info at 'Joseph and Mary probably stayed with Joseph's relatives in Bethlehem, but because of the large influx of people, the house would have been crowded and the kataluma (guest room) was full. Consequently, Joseph and Mary would have been relegated to living in the lower level of the house. ....Some homes in the Judean hill country were built right into a hillside, so the lower level may have even been a cave, with the house built on and around it.').

When Mary goes into labor, there is no House of David Hospital or Bethlehem Medical Center around the corner and down the street for Joseph to rush her to.  There are no helpful, encouraging midwives on hand, no skillful doctors waiting to help deliver the Messiah into the world. 

There's only Joseph.  A very tired carpenter.  Experienced in woodworking.  Not so experienced in helping his wife through labor and delivering an infant.  And the infant Son of God at that! 

What do you suppose that was like for him? Awkward? Frightening? Thrilling?

I wonder.....what could Joseph have been thinking? How did he feel, being the very first person to look upon the tiny, newborn face of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate? Even though Jesus wasn't his flesh and blood child, did Joseph's heart skip a beat or two? Did he instantly form a bond and fall in love with the precious, flailing Child in his arms?

At that moment, did Joseph remember everything the angel had foretold to him and to Mary about Jesus?

None of us will ever know, this side of Heaven.  I guess those questions will be ones we'll be asking when eternity becomes our reality.  Until then, you and I can only wonder and imagine.

I'm guessing Bart Millard, lead singer for the Christian band, Mercy Me, must have wondered about Joseph, too, because he wrote and recorded with his band the song, 'Joseph's Lullaby.'  It's a beautiful song, whose music and lyrics (I've included both) touch my heart and make me cry everytime I hear it.  It's become one of my very favorite songs of the Christmas season.  A song of the love of a father for his newborn son.  And God's One and Only Son.

'In The Arms of Joseph', by Simon Dewey

Perhaps this song will become one of your Christmas favorites as well.  Just keep a tissue or two handy.

Go to sleep my Son
This manger for your bed
You have a long road before You
Rest Your little head

Can You feel the weight of Your glory?
Do You understand the price?
Or does the Father guard Your heart for now
So You can sleep tonight?

Go to sleep my Son
Go and chase Your dreams
This world can wait for one more moment
Go and sleep in peace

I believe the glory of Heaven
Is lying in my arms tonight
Lord, I ask that He for just this moment
Simply be my child

Go to sleep my Son
Baby, close Your eyes
Soon enough You'll save the day
But for now, dear Child of mine
Oh my Jesus, Sleep tight

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sounds of the Season -- Mary, Did You Know? by the Katinas

I've heard many different versions of this song, but this one is my favorite.

When I listen to this song, and think about what I've read over the years in the Gospel accounts of Mary's encounter with the angel Gabriel, I have to wonder -- did Mary have any notion at all of what it was going to mean and all that would take place in her life when she chose to say 'Yes' to being the mother of the Son of the Most High?

Did she know -- did she wonder -- what it would cost her?  Or what it would ultimately cost her Son?

Did she have the slightest inkling what it would be like to be the mother of the Son of God? That indeed, when she would kiss the sweet, tender, baby soft skin of her infant child, Jesus, she was kissing the very face of Yahweh?

Mary had no time to run and ask for wise and godly counsel from anyone about what she should do.  She just said "Yes."

As I live my life, I can only hope to be as trusting, as obedient and as willing as Mary was, responding with her same simple, childlike faith when called to the Lord's service:

“I am the LORD’s handmaiden. May it be to me as you have said.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

No Gift To Bring

December 25th is just around the corner, and if you're a procrastinator extraordinaire with regards to shopping for gifts, I'm sure your adrenalin is beginning to pump and percolate right about now.  Crunch time has begun.

The other day on the news, they ran a story about how all those folks who left their homes well before dawn, braved the Black Friday crowds and bought several shopping cartloads of mega sale stuff were now returning most or all of it, because they are now finding themselves heavily strapped for cash.  

With a floundering economy and so many people out of work, I'm not surprised.

Even for those of us who did not rush out en masse late on Thanksgiving night or early on Black Friday morn to join the Shop 'Til You Drop crowd, it can still be a challenging time.   Because after all, Christmas is, we're reminded over and over via endless TV ads and Hallmark Christmas movies, 'the season of giving.'

But what if, like me, your bank account has nothing more than a fistful of dollars and some lonely tumbleweeds rolling around in it?

What if, like The Little Drummer Boy, you feel you have no gift to bring?

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

I know this may perhaps sound unequivocally trite and completely lame, but you DO have something to give.  And it will basically cost you nothing.

Give someone your smile.  Have you ever had someone smile at you, totally out of the blue, be it a friend, neighbor, coworker or just some random person on the street, in a store or in a doctor's office? Didn't it just make your day, especially if your day was headed down the toilet and on the fast track to Nowhere? Having someone catch my eye (proving I wasn't invisible after all) and flash me a thousand watt smile makes me feel special, noticed, and well....happy.  And I've seen people walking towards me with some pretty harsh and stoney faces suddenly transformed into such pleasant and approachable looking folks, just by sharing my smile with them. 

Give someone a hug.  All of the above applies to this act as well. God gave you two, good arms.  Use them to lovingly surround someone in need of comfort and joy and healing.  Yes, there are some out there who are hostile to forms of physical demonstrations like this.  Tread lightly, go with what the Holy Spirit inside of you leads you to do.

Give someone a rideWhile I'm well aware that gas is uber-expensive and being a taxi driver/chauffeur may not be your thing, if God has provided you with a reliable vehicle, why not consider using it to give a lift to someone who may need one to school, a store, church, a youth group event or to the doctor's office?  It might not seem like much to you, but believe me, it means a lot.

Give someone the benefits of your time or your talentsWe all have people in our lives who are going through a rough, lonely or a sad time.  Why not invite them over for some tea or coffee and some cookies, or some popcorn and a rented movie? (Redbox movies cost a mere $1 if you bring them back by the next day) Don't fret over the condition of your house with its vast dust bunny collection -- no doubt they have a collection of their own. Or if these folks are unable to leave their homes for whatever reason, why not bring those things over to their place?  

Can you style hair or manicure nails? Do you enjoy playing with children?  Do you love animals?  Do you have a talent for decorating?  Offer to do someone's hair or nails for free; babysit somebody's kids while they Christmas shop or go out for a date night and don't charge them; walk someone's dog(s) for them once or twice a week for a month or so, free of charge; or offer to decorate a friend's or family member's Christmas tree.  I did that for my husband's older sister, who was in a lot of pain that year and couldn't move much.  She gave me free reign to decorate their tree AND their living room with all of their Christmas decorations.  She was so grateful and I had SUCH a blast!!!  We both came away blessed.

Give someone encouragement.  Often during the Christmas season, people may experience what is referred to as 'the holiday blues,' due to health or financial problems, loneliness or the overly high expectation to have 'the perfect family Christmas' like the ones shown on so many Christmas movies. If you have the gift of encouragement, share it with someone who needs to be uplifted, through a phone call, a card with a sincere, positive message from YOU, or an offer to come and pray for them.  The New Living Translation for Ephesians 4:29 says: "Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them."  And The Message version of the same verse says it this way: "Say only what helps, each word a gift."  Indeed.

Below is a picture of a lovingly handmade, handwritten Christmas card I received today from my sweet friend, Laura.  Laura's mom, Janette, was a dear friend, sister-in-Christ and Bible study buddy, whom I had the wonderful pleasure of praying for and with, and serving alongside of at our church's now defunct book and gift shop.  Janette, whom I wrote about in my blog post, 'It Takes A Strong Woman,'  is now in the arms of her loving Jesus, after succumbing to cancer last year.  Laura, a freshman at a college in Pennsylvania, and I have kept in touch through facebook and sometimes, like today, through snail mail.  She's young enough to be my daughter, but she has a way about her that is wise, understanding and compassionate  beyond her years, and she has been SUCH an encouragement to me.

These are all simple gifts that again, basically cost you nothing.  Except for maybe a bit of your time, effort, talent and heart.

No gift to bring?  In the song, 'The Little Drummer Boy' after admitting to being a poor boy with no gift to bring, the tiny drummer realizes that he DOES have something to offer the newborn King -- the gift of music.  A gift that God blessed him with. He played his best for the infant Jesus and he was rewarded with a smile from Him.  While yes, this is a fictional character and account from a Christmas carol, may it cause us to look within our hearts while using Holy Spirit supplied wisdom, discernment and imagination to find a gift that we can bring that will delight both Jesus and those special people in our lives.

And a loving thought sends us out to find
Something special for someone on our mind
And we think of friends and family
As we hang our gifts on the Christmas tree

It's the thought that counts when the thought is love
It's the thought that counts when you're thinking of
How the money flows in vast amounts
When the thought is love it's the thought that counts

And a loving thought sent a snow white lamb
To a little town known as Bethlehem
And the little lamb thought of you and me
As He hung His gift on the Christmas tree

It's the thought that counts when the thought is love
It's the thought that counts when you're thinking of
How the money flows in vast amounts
It's the thought that counts when the thought is love

Think of the precious gift He gave
Think of the life He thought to save ~ ‘It’s The Thought,’ by Twila Paris

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Worship Song Sunday -- Christmas Offering, by Casting Crowns

Have a beautiful and blessed Sunday as you offer yourself in worship to our King, Jesus

We are an offering of worship to our King
No one on earth deserves the praises that we sing
Jesus may You receive the honor that You're due
O Lord, I bring an offering to You


Friday, December 16, 2011

Sounds of the Season: How Many Kings, by downhere

Here's another Christmas song I'd like to share.  A song that I've come to love over the past several years, sung by the group downhere (yes, they do spell it with a small 'd'), a Christian band from Canada.

The lyrics from the chorus, which I've included below, just blow me away:

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Only One did that for me.

How many fathers gave up their sons for me?  No one I know of. 

No one but God, my Abba, gave up His Son, Jesus.

All for me.

All for you.

Such a great love! And for us!

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.~ 1 John 4:10 (NLT)

We love, because He first loved us.~ 1John 4:19 (NASB)

Think on these things, these truths, as you listen to and enjoy this beautiful Christmas song.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Struggle

One day long ago, God's Word came to Jonah, Amittai's son: "Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They're in a bad way and I can't ignore it any longer."  But Jonah got up and went the other direction to Tarshish, running away from God. He went down to the port of Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went on board, joining those going to Tarshish—as far away from God as he could get. ~ Jonah 1:1-3, The Message

Sitting here at my kitchen table this morning, sipping my coffee, I am struggling.

Struggling with obedience. Obedience to the Lord. My head is in a knock-down-drag-out, no holds barred battle with my heart…and with Jesus. WWF has got NOTHIN’ on me today.

I'm struggling with a true 'WWJD - What Would Jesus Do'  moment -- and I’m thinking, “Hellllloooooo, me!! This SHOULD be a no-brainer!!“  Because this is Jesus we’re talking about here. It’s Jesus calling. And I’m not talking about the devotional book.

It’s Jesus calling -- and He's calling me!  It's Jesus Who is doing the not-so-gentle nudging right now, tapping me on my shoulder and telling me I need to do such-and-such. It’s Jesus Who continues to place the face of this particular person before my mind’s eye and to place their need upon my heart.

Yet… I sit,trying to make excuses, trying to find my way around and maybe even out of this ‘dilemma’, almost literally covering my ears with my hands and chanting, “Nah na, nah na, nah na -- I can’t hear You!!!!!” like some foolish, stubborn and spoiled brat. As if THAT’S going to shut out His still, small Voice.

Smack dab in the middle of a season that’s SUPPOSED to be about giving from the heart, not the wallet; right in the midst of a season when I’m encouraging others to prepare their hearts, minds and souls to celebrate the birth of and welcome for the One Who was -- and still is -- the greatest and best gift of all, I’m wrestling with what I know I MUST do (the Difficult thing) and with what I would much RATHER do (the Easy thing). This is pretty much a shameful and embarrassing confession to put into words and to share here. But confessing this is akin to slicing into a snake bite to suck out and spit out the poison.  It begins the process of healing.  It's cathartic for me. And enlightening.

Yes, Jesus is calling -- but I'm not responding as I should.  At this moment, I’m not feeling much like Isaiah, waving my hands and shouting, "Here am I. Send me!"   Actually, I'm feeling more like Moses, offering God not himself, but his laundry list of lame excuses by the light of the burning bush.

Or more like Jonah. If there was a boat pulling out of port towards Tarshish anytime soon, I’d be on it in a heartbeat and high-tailing it below deck to hide, because I really DON’T want to head for Ninevah. It’s certainly not the destination to which I've dreamed of being sent.  

But also at this moment, I’m being BOMBARDED with the Word of the Lord:
I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices ~ Hosea 6:6 (NLT)

Samuel said, "Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. ~ 1 Samuel 15:22 (NIV)
And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law." ~ Mark 12:33 (NLT)

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV)

"If you love Me, you will obey what I command. ~ John 14:15 (NIV)

Ouch, ouch, OUCH!!!!!

Basically, I can pat myself on the back for all I do and have done in the past for other people; I can post all kinds of really cool and wonderful writings on my blog, using big, flowery, twenty-five cent words; I can blab all I want about my relationship with Jesus and how much I love Him, and encourage other people to surrender themselves to Him and partake of His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness, but if I’m going to talk the talk, dear ones, I had also darn well better walk that walk. In love. Christ’s unfailing, unconditional, selfless LOVE.

I do not wish to anger or irritate the Lord with my stubbornness and unwillingness.  I do not wish for Him to send a huge storm to shake me out of hiding or out of my procrastinating. I already have enough storms in my life through which I'm currently riding the waves.  

And I certainly DO NOT wish to wind up overboard, like Jonah, suddenly finding myself within the dark, lonely, sticky and smelly confines of something larger than me.  Believe me-- I’ve been there before, too; most definitely NOT on my list of 'Places I'd Like To Visit Again'.

So instead of just sitting here wasting time being wishy-washy and drinking coffee, whining, hiding, pretending I don’t hear that still, small voice of the Lord nor feel His ’push‘, or emailing other people to ask them, ‘What do YOU think I should do about this?’ and checking back to see if anyone's responded yet, I need to get up off my keister and


I’m well aware that there is a cloak of fear wrapped around all of this. A cloak that, every time I think about this person and their situation, feels as if it gets tighter and tighter, completely enveloping and smothering me.  And I realize that the outcome of my obedience will more than likely cause some issues and upheavals within my family.   

But as preacher Charles Stanley says, “Obey God and leave the outcome to Him." 

Jesus is calling: "Do you love Me, dear one?"

Yes, Lord, I do love you.

"Then JUST DO IT."

But Lord, I'm afraid. 

"Fear not, for I am with you.  So JUST DO IT."

But Lord, how in the world is this all going to work, anyway? I don't even LIKE this person!

"Trust Me, little one.  And JUST DO IT."

But Lord, what if I mess everything up?

"Child, if you love Me, then obey Me and leave the outcome to Me.



Sunday, December 11, 2011

Worship Song Sunday -- Wonderful Merciful Savior by Women of Faith

This song came on the radio the other day.  It's been too long since I've heard it.  Both the melody and lyrics are just so beautiful and moving. 

As you listen and perhaps, even sing along in worship, contemplate the words -- meditate on their meaning.  May it bring you closer to our Savior, Jesus Christ, and give you a greater sense of His presence in your life.

For He is indeed all of these things to us: our Lamb, our wonderful, merciful Savior, precious Redeemer, Friend, Counselor, Comforter, Keeper.  He is all that and so much more.

Wonderful, merciful Savior
Precious Redeemer and Friend
Who would have thought that a Lamb
Could rescue the souls of men
Oh you rescue the souls of men

Counselor, Comforter, Keeper
Spirit we long to embrace
You offer hope when our hearts have
Hopelessly lost the way
Oh, we hopelessly lost the way

You are the One that we praise
You are the One we adore
You give the healing and grace
Our hearts always hunger for
Oh, our hearts always hunger for

Almighty, infinite Father
Faithfully loving Your own
Here in our weakness You find us
Falling before Your throne
Oh, we're falling before Your throne

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Prayer To Christ Our Teacher

Christ, our Teacher,
You reach into our lives
not through instruction,
but story.

Open our hearts to be attentive;
that seeing, we may perceive,
and hearing, we may understand,
and understanding, may act upon Your Word,
in Your Name.  Amen

(This prayer, by Janet Morely, is taken from the book, 'The Beginning of Wisdom -- Prayers for Growth and Understanding.')

During this season of Advent, may our eyes, ears and hearts be open and attentive to

His Voice 
His Word
His Mercy
His Grace
His Forgiveness
His Peace
His Joy
 His Love

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Battle Is On!

United we stand, divided we fall.

Satan, the enemy of our souls, know this truth all too well -- sometimes, seemingly more so than we ourselves do.  And since he also knows his time is getting shorter and shorter, he works hard and fast, doing whatever it takes to fulfill his mission -- to steal, to kill, to destroy our unity.  Unity with our parents, our siblings, our spouses,  our children, our neighbors, our coworkers, our church family (from its congregants on up to leadership).

And ultimately, our unity with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

All you have to do is take a good look around you to see how this is being played out in your own life and in the lives of those with whom you live, work, play, love and serve.  The battles are fierce and heated; the attacks relentless and the casualties of war continue to rise daily.

This has been on my mind a lot lately, as I recently became aware that it's been quite a while since I reached out to gather my 'prayer peeps' together to pray.  I've been so busy with 'other things' in my life - things I deem to be oh so important in my little sphere of the world -- that I've fallen by the wayside and been disobedient to what the Lord called me to do some time ago. And that was to be His prayer warrior, as well as to be the one to 'round up the troops' to keep us all united in prayer.

I know there are those of us who feel as if we've been in the trenches for much too long. I know there are those of us who are weak and exhausted from the hand-to-hand combat we've experienced and are looking to either hide in the nearest foxhole or are ready to just wave the white flag of surrender and become the enemy's prisoner of war.  If you find yourself a member of this group, as I have, I encourage you right now to

Take heart!
Stand up!
Stand firm!
Unite in prayer!
And keep on praying some more!!!

For we have a Warrior King -- Jesus -- to fight for us!!  The battle, ultimately, is God's.

In the Old Testament Book of 2 Chronicles 20, we learn that the Moabites and Ammonites made plans to attack Judah's king, Jehoshaphat.  Men came and informed Jehoshaphat that a huge army was on the way to destroy him and capture his land.  The NIV says that Jehoshaphat was 'alarmed' - and hey, who wouldn't be?  So what did he do after hearing that information?  Did he begin making detailed, strategic battle plans, calling all warriors to gather 'round to prepare for the imminent attack?  Did he send the people of his kingdom away to find safety elsewhere, much like King Théoden did for his people when he sent them to the Helm's Deep stronghold in 'Lord of the Rings?'

No.  Here is what it says he did in 2 Chronicles 20:3-4 ~

'Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.  The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek Him.' 

And then, in verse 12, Jehoshaphat says this to the LORD:

'For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.'

Jehoshaphat, wise king that he is, knows that there is no way in the world that he and his army are going to have victory in this upcoming battle against the enemies that are coming against him and his kingdom.  He admits to being powerless against the impending attack.  But he knows who does have all the power -- God.  And Jehoshaphat makes sure to do something the enemy can't stand: he calls together ALL the people of Judah, uniting them before God:

'All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood before the LORD.' (v. 13).

After that, it says that the Spirit of the LORD came upon a man named Jahaziel, son of Zechariah, and he tells the king and all the people:

'This is what the LORD says to you: "Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army.  For the battle is not yours, but God's."  You will not have to fight this battle.  Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Go out to face them tomorrow and the LORD will be with you." ' ~ 2 Chronicles 20:15;17

Dear ones, when we find we are weak and exhausted, without hope in our spiritual battles and ready to give up, we can be encouraged because, just like King Jehoshaphat and his people, our hope and strength lies in trusting God and in the faithful promises we find in His Word.

God is with us, so we don't have to be afraid or discouraged.  The battle belongs to Him and the victory is His, not the enemy's!  It states very clearly here in the Old Testament and the New Testament, in Ephesians 6, that we are to stand firm with the full armor of God firmly in place on us.   The apostle Paul encourages us to:

'Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.' ~ Ephesians 6:10-11

Take up your armor, put it on and look to the Lord for His strength to stand your ground firmly when you are under attack.

-Seek Him BEFORE the battle to prepare your self for what is to come.

-Seek Him in the midst of the battle. December 3rd's 'Jesus Calling' devotional entry said When you are in the thick of battle, call upon My Name, "Jesus, help me!" At that instant, the battle becomes Mine.'

-Seek Him when the battle is over (for the moment anyway) to thank and praise Him.

God is our Commander-in-Chief and we need to stay in constant communication with Him.  Paul also states in Ephesians 6:18 that we are to

'pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.'

When we're under attack and being relentlessly bombarded, it's so easy to want to break from the unit and run and hide.  'Yeah, let somebody else fight the good fight.  Let someone else be the one to lift up holy hands and pray. I've had it.'  Believe me, I've been in that place more times than I care to admit.  It's a cold, dark and lonely place, devoid of all hope.

And it's EXACTLY where the enemy wants us to be.  Don't give him what he desires!!  Remember, dear ones: we are MORE than conquerors through Him Who loves us!  So don't be afraid or discouraged.

Have you ever noticed when you begin to pray for something or someone in earnest, enlisting an army of prayer warriors to join you on the battlefield, that the situation or the person suddenly seems to get worse?  I've seen it happen to other people and have experienced it personally.  I've often wondered why that is, and I've known other people who have just thrown up their hands and ask, 'Why bother to pray? Things only seem to get worse.'  And to be honest, there have been times I've thought that myself.  A while back, I read a fictional work by Christian author Robin Lee Hatcher.  The book was called 'Beyond The Shadows,' and the main character had this to say about her prayers for her alcoholic husband:

'But the harder I prayed, the more Gideon's life seemed to spiral out of control.  The more I prayed, the sicker he seemed to get, the more he seemed to drink, the further away from me he pulled. I can see now how reluctant the enemy was to let go.'

Don't you see now how reluctant the enemy is to let go of what or of whom we are praying for, for those things in our lives and those people that we love which we are faithfully bringing before the Lord?!!  It isn't as if the very things and situations and people we're praying for are hopeless.  It's not that God isn't listening or doesn't care. It's just a vicious, tug-of-war with Satan.  He is reluctant to let go.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil ruler and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12, NLT)

But: remember in Whose grip we rest. And in Whose grip we can place everything.  Ourselves, our loved ones, our worries, fears, our needs.  Everything.  We are in God's hands. And He NEVER lets go.

Yes, my friends. This is war. The battle is on and shows no signs of letting up.  I know there are so many of you who have just been pummeled lately, hit again and again by those flaming arrows of the enemy.  But again -- don't be afraid or discouraged.  The Lord, our God, is on our side.  Let's take up our positions, stand firm in the battle, stay alert and unite with one another with fasting and with BOLD prayer.  And then watch what our amazing God will do!

United we stand, divided we fall.  So stand firm. Stand strong. Stand together.

Do you have the patience, the faith and the trust in God to let Him work in situations and with loved ones while you stand still and watch?

'Be still and know that I am God.' ~ Psalm 46:10

If God is on our side
Who can be against us?
If God is on our side
We won't be afraid
Though the mountains may fall
And the sky will crumble
There ain't nothin' gonna stand in our way ~ On Our Side, by Chris Tomlin

Monday, December 5, 2011

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

And [Isaiah] said, Hear then, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary and try the patience of men, but will you weary and try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, the young woman who is unmarried and a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us]. ~ Isaiah 7:13-14, AMP

December is upon us and, as Bing Crosby croons in the classic song, ‘it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas/everywhere you go!’

Over this year's Thanksgiving weekend, our New Jersey area experienced some beautiful weather with unusually high, almost summer-like temps. As I sat outside on my front steps, I watched as many of my neighbors were unloading their vehicles stuffed with all their ‘booty’ from Black Friday sales, or decorating the outsides of their homes or heading out to local tree farms to find and bring back the perfect Christmas tree, all in frantic preparation and anticipation of ‘the big day.’

But there’s another kind of preparation that we need to consider as we head into the Christmas season -- the preparation of ourselves. Because in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is this other, sometimes forgotten season. The season of Advent.

Advent, which comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning 'coming,' is a time of hushed and hopeful expectancy and preparation among the church body for the birth of the Christ child. It is a time to prepare our hearts, minds and souls for the greatest gift ever --Immanuel. God With Us.

I’ve been observing, with great delight, the young couple who recently moved in next door to us, as they ready their new home for the birth of their son. The past few weeks have been a flurry of moving, cleaning, painting, rearranging, decorating and baby furniture purchases. Purging what is unnecessary and replacing it with only what is necessary, making room for their new baby. They are preparing their home, with great joy, to be a clean, fresh and loving place to welcome their infant son into.

Can we do any less in the preparation of our own hearts, minds and souls to welcome Jesus as we move through this holy season of expectation and anticipation of our Savior’s birth?

In all the hustle and bustle and insanity that is way too often associated with the coming Christmas season and which can sometimes threaten to push us over the edge, please don’t lose sight of what and of Who is most important.

Instead, may I invite you to take some time in the coming days to cleanse and prepare your own heart, purging what is unnecessary and replacing it with ONLY what is necessary? May I invite you to joyfully make room in your own heart for Jesus and to welcome Him there?
Take time to fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, focusing on Him as the True Reason for the season. And rejoice! Because of Jesus, this is to be a season of hope, love and comfort and joy! And it is ours. So rejoice!!

O come, O come Emmanuel
And ransome captive Israel;
Who mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
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