Monday, December 31, 2012

Making resolutions?

T'is the last day of 2012. Time to look back through the journal to see what progress or what weaknesses lie exposed. Do you review the year as I do?

I started the year exhausted, working 10-14 hours, 6 days a week, on my dissertation. Once that was done, I partied. I've never celebrated as joyfully as this year - the dragon was slain, the un-doable done.

Then I rested. My journal shows a lack of momentum for months afterwards. I was so mentally drained that it was hard to focus. So I did very little. I puttered. I played piano. I painted a bit. I read a lot of nonsense and light fiction. I watched Korean dramas and followed Spy and Arrow on Hulu+

In November things started to heat up again. "Take up your bed and walk already!" was the message I heard during devotions. I started Monvee (from "mon vie," a spiritual discipleship program hosted by our church) and began to read enriching books. Someone added me as their accountability partner and a friend coached me through some sessions of a "Get Unstuck Bootcamp." (Click here for the website.) I added some exercise classes.

And suddenly I was in motion again. Thank God!

My 2013 resolutions are intended to foster spiritual life, better physical health, strong relationships, and mental vigor. Real Simple says we need 4 tips to keep our resolutions (click here for the full article):
1. be specific
2. make goals public
3. substitute "good" behaviors for "bad"
4. keep track

I don't have any earthshaking goals. It seems that keeping the ones I always choose is hard work enough:
  • read more scripture
  • pray and wait in expectation
  • be more grateful
  • read and write
  • do art
  • be hospitable
  • and work hard at whatever is at hand

What is your most desired resolution for 2013? Why?

Read more:
*Some wandered in the wilderness lost and homeless. Hungry and thirsty, they nearly died. 'LORD, help!' they cried in their trouble, and he rescued them from their distress. He led them straight to safety, to a city where they could live.

Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things" Psalm 107:4–9

*My eyes fail with watching for your promise; I ask, “When will you comfort me?” Psalm 119:82

*Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Proverbs 3:27

*Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. James 1:22  

*May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Moravian Prayer: God of endings and beginnings, may we bring glory tonight as we close this year and begin another. May our faith in your promise remain strong as you breathe your spirit upon us.

Gracious and giving Savior, forgive us when we withhold our power. Forgive us when we act on the behalf of a brother or a sister. Let us be fed by worship this day and go out to be your hands and feet. Amen.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thank you!

It's almost the last day of 2012. I want to say a special "Thank you!" to faithful readers of Peacefulones. I'm especially grateful for:
  • comments that inspire and teach readers and me, whether sent privately or via the blog
  • feedback on what helps or inspires you
  • your prayers for requests mentioned in the blog
  • sharing your story with me - everyone is intertwined in God's Story
I love writing and would write even without readers. But having you on the other end has made me a better writer. I'm so thankful for you.

Wishing you a final day of reflection on the past year and a wonderful New Year in 2013. If you have a tradition of looking back or making resolutions, we'd love to hear about it.

God is good!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Daunting work

Friends of our just found out they're having a boy. The soon-to-be Mom and Dad posted their delight and anticipation. What will life hold for their little guy?

Today Roman Catholics celebrate the day of Holy Innocents, remembering the boys two years old and under in Bethlehem, slaughtered by Herod in his fear of displacement by the Newborn King. What mourning as the ruler exercised his right to the life and death of his subjects!

As I pondered the RC morning reading, I wondered at the lives changed by Jesus' arrival.

Joseph, like our young friend, had a challenging task ahead of him. He had been assigned to watch over and raise Jesus, a son.  What made Joseph's duty so daunting was that his boy was God's son, entrusted to Joseph's family during his childhood.

Not all adoptive fathers are equally receptive to the children in their homes. Many (including step-dads) nurture and train the kids. Some hold them at arms' length and never bond. Others abuse and mistreat them: their children hate men and grow up with a warped version of God as Father.

Judging from Jesus' interactions with people, Joseph did a good job. Jesus learned faithfulness, adherence to Jewish worship and customs, and was favored by his neighbors. My father certainly is my hero -- he cared for each of us four siblings and continues to love us to this day.

Will you pray with me that our friends -- and others about to be parents -- grow in faith and the knowledge of God to raise their child well? It takes the wisdom of Solomon and the leadership of Moses to do a great job of parenting!

Think about how your family, especially your father/s or lack of a father still influences your view of life. Do you think of God in light of your father?

Read more:
*Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;  even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:5-8 NIV

*May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, and may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

Moravian Prayer: God of love, let us learn love, profound and defining, that gathers us when we are scattered. Anchor us in a loving and faithful community of believers that we may be at home in you. Amen. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The rest of the story

When's the last time you heard the whole Story? Has your pastor preached through the biblical narrative lately. Please take my quick anonymous survey: I'm doing some research and would love your help. (Please click here to take the VERY short survey.)

Since the advent of Children's Church and the end of Sunday School, many children don't learn the Bible stories I grew up with. Oh, there's a Veggie Tale video and great crafts. But do they learn the story? Nope.

In one Christian university, a faculty member told me she orders Bible story books for students taking Old Testament survey. Most freshmen have very vague ideas about biblical characters. The students knew David and Goliath (as the little guy wins over a giant). They heard the names of Abraham and Moses, but knew little about their lives and spiritual legacy.

I'm plowing through scriptures like a starving person. My husband began reading great chunks of the Bible last spring. And my mom's on her fourth read-through this year. WHAT A STORY!!!

God with us. This Christmas we celebrate the coming of God among us. He clothed himself in the person of an unknown household. God chose a mom who would obey God's wishes and think deeply about raising her son. Chose a faithful husband who would provide for his family. Chose to be born in a village that overlooked a major trading route. To devoutly religious Jews.

The mystery of Good News fascinates me! God with us. Read all about it in your Bible!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The mortification of sin

I've been reminded of what I've known since childhood when I first became a Christ-follower. It's been easy to ignore the basics of Christian life in the busyness and the greedy pursuit of acquisition encouraged by our culture.

John Owen, a Puritan writer from the 1600s wrote a book called "The Mortification of Sin." It hardly seemed interesting when I picked it up, but it shook me.

This is what I remember from reading it this week:
  • We are fully redeemed and declared free from sin by Christ's accomplishments. 
  • However, we must struggle to put sin to death (mortify it) every day. Otherwise sins will slowly kill our spiritual life.
  • We placate ourselves with small victories while ignoring other sins. We are easily satisfied and appeased, declaring peace before we have genuinely repented and turned from all sin ... and before God has declared peace to us.
  • This happens because: 
1) We do not recognize that we know little about God. We see only a glimpse of his greatness and mystery. Thus we are satisfied to remake Him in our image - finite, willing to overlook sin, and pliable, easily manipulated by human demands rather than an enduring perfection of Being and Doing.
2) We are not disgusted with the nature of sin, how it separates us from God, destroys our desire for His companionship, and refuses to yield so He can remake us to our full human potential - body, soul/will/emotions, and spirit.
3) We become so calloused by sin and sinful culture that we are no longer appalled by our filthy helplessness. We do not throw ourselves on God's mercy each day but assume we are doing okay because it seems there are no immediate consequences beyond occasional inconveniences when we get "caught" in sin.
4) We enjoy our sins so much that we refuse to believe that lusts of any and every kind (food, drink, sex, pleasures, money, etc.) must be put to death.

Owen suggests the following:
  • We must resolve to put sin to death daily = with God's help, not by our selfish efforts or mere human resources. Our tools are spiritual - but they are only tools. Spiritual disciplines are only useful under the Spirit's guidance. We become more bound and discouraged when applying them through our own strength.
  • God's Spirit brings us to life, day by day. Only through Jesus' accomplishments and the Spirit's power can we hope to live in freedom from sin. Eagerly, God offers us these wonders to set us free from the law of sin and death.
  • God reveals enough of Himself to create our hunger for relationship and our quest for holiness (separation from anything that separates us from Him.) If we seek to please Him above everything else, willing to leave behind EVERY thing that holds us from full humanity in relationship to God, He will answer us with the wisdom and power to mortify (kill) the sin that lies in wait to destroy us.
The book greatly encouraged me. I want to please God. I long for any separation between us to be removed. How about you?

Read more:
*And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Joel 2:28 (NIV)

*Jesus said, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” John 14:26

Moravian Prayer: O God of light, on this the darkest day may our hearts find lightness of being in the gift of your Son and the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who attends to our darkness and who offers a way. Amen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Are you okay with changing times?

A quiet corner in the living room
It's the quiet morning after the party.

Last year I could not bear the thought of "interrupting" my writing with Christmas. I took two days off to prep the feast and celebrate with our family; then it was back to work. Everything else was off the calendar.

This year I began to anticipate Christmas festivities in October. I could hardly wait for USA Thanksgiving to be over so we could put up the tree and decorate the house. The guys hauled up 11 bins of ornaments, garlands, and lights from the basement. I had fun sorting and giving away the ones I didn't treasure. (6 bins full!)

A peek through the sliding windows
to the conservatory
It took a week to get Christmas-y things settled throughout the living room, dining room, and kitchen.

My husband and sons moved the LR sofas to the conservatory in preparation for our annual faculty and friends party. (Hmmm. I overheard our married sons telling their wives how wonderful they are because the gals leave their furniture in place, unlike I do.)

This was the best week of all. Out went everyday necessities from countertops and windowsills. In came the festive tablecloths from the guest room closet. In came the bin of ornaments reserved for table decor. In came the Christmas dishes and serving pieces. In came the tasting cups and cake plates.

Tables are set for company
As usual, there were a few hiccups. Breathe in. Move forward.

Sunday, our son and daughter-in-law got the stomach flu so wild-baby-mover-and-shaker slept at our house overnight. Good Opa went to pick BabyK up while her parents suffered in peace. W got up a few times Sunday night to check on her while Oma slept with earplugs and a clear conscience. This rested Oma went to an early exercise class, cooked the meat stuffing, and when BabyK woke, added her to my party prep. BabyK played in her bath with her light-up duckies and Tupperware measuring cups after the brined and stuffed turkey left the big kitchen sink for the oven. Good Auntie Kirsten returned our granddaughter to her parents after lunch. A family effort and unexpected fun!

Appetizers: ranch dressing topped with
salty and savory

Once the turkey was baking, the counters cleaned, and the baby toys were put away, I relaxed by putting appetizers into tasting cups. Beautiful things feed my soul: ordering the food, colors, and rhythm of cups on glass trays energized me rather than feeling like "work."

We love having our guests here. We had some first-time guests this year, but some have attended every one of the last 25 parties. We've cancelled only two times in 27 years: the first to move into this house and the second to write my dissertation. Several old friends have sat at our table in little rentals before we moved into this home 18 years ago.

Those gifted for hospitality know it's not the size of the place but the intentions of the heart that call company to our homes. We also learn when it's time to play and time to do other things.

Glass cake servers re-purposed as
appetizer trays
Whether you are a carer, a pastor, a host, a server, or an administrator in a season of "Can't this year!" please don't worry. Your gifting will be renewed in due season. The God who made us soothes us and settles our hearts in changing times. Whether grief, loss, or other obligations overtake you, WHO you are will reemerge when things settle down.

This year if you're in the chaos of crisis, rest in God's goodness. He is enough. False guilt over others' expectations cannot help us move through busy times, stress, or unplanned challenges.

Candy canes hung on a painted
Royal Doulton vase
You'll be all the happier when you once again can "play" at what is most natural and satisfying to you.

I'm feeling utterly rested, utterly content this morning. Thanks, dear friends, for coming over to create another great memory with W and me! (And a special thanks to our whole family who work together to make such pleasures possible.)

Read more:
*Job answered the Lord: “See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.” Job 40:3,4

*The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 NIV

*Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1 Peter 3:10-12 NIV

*Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:4

Moravian Prayer: Gracious God, at times we feel unable and unworthy to speak on your behalf. We feel ashamed or afraid. Instead, Lord, fill us with your words and your power and strength and we will speak. Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Need counsel?

Daily quote from Real Simple
"If everything went the way it was supposed to, I'd be happy." Many of us approach school, marriage, and other parts of life with the blind optimism of the inexperienced.

"Real life" is a shock! We hurt and get hurt. We hunger and thirst. Our families suffer. Our finances become undercut or in disarray.

"What happened?" we cry. "Life wasn't supposed to be this way."

In light of last week's shooting of youngsters, I agree. We are created for so much more. God made us to be moral, upright, and kind. He set us in family units where we find safety and peace. He designed human communities that are supposed to love and nurture us.

But we have chosen our own way. We decide each day whether or not to live within God's boundaries. The tides of our minds tug us here and there, yet each person must define how obedience or disobedience will affect self and others.

Our struggle against God takes many forms: anger that God allows free will of others which destroys and tears down. Sometimes we rage when He hedges us in and doesn't let us rampage through life in purse selfishness and greed. Often, we're confused when He doesn't give us a checklist of "do this, do that" and we feel like we're muddling through our options in the dead of night.

Jesus showed us how to live in relationship with God. He came as our Wonderful Counselor to demonstrate the flexibility, gracefulness, and justice of his Father. When friends betrayed him, he forgave. When disciples sought power, he empowered them with the Spirit not political clout. As he walked the roads of Israel, he lived every moment to the full.

We treat the Beatitudes and similar teachings of Jesus as metaphorical and impossible to live up to. Yet Jesus doesn't say that turning the other cheek, not worrying about tomorrow, or being meek are ideals that we can't achieve. In dying to self, he brought us new life. That's the abundant life we bring to others through self-denial, godly living, and alignment with God's truth.

Jesus calls us to do the radical. The unthinkable. The holy. In the middle of horror, grief, and despair, he pulls us into his Presence (if we'll let him) to transform us with his Goodness and Mercy. How will you make time for your transformation today?

Read more:
*For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

*I have loved you, says the Lord. Malachi 1:2

*May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. 2 Thessalonians 3:5

Moravian Prayer: O faithful and steadfast God, you are unmoved. You are rooted to us and bound to us by a divine love and we humbly offer you our worship and praise. Amen.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Changed by the Spirit ... temporaily

One of the most encouraging (yet saddest) Bible verses has to be this one: "At that time the Spirit of the LORD will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them. You will be changed into a different person. After these signs take place, do what must be done, for God is with you." (1 Samuel 10:6–7)

Samuel is blessing Saul and predicting his spiritual awakening and opportunity. Reading the wonderful start of Saul's kingship, we are amazed as this shy and insecure young man leads a group of shepherd and farming tribes into a new era of statehood. Continuing the story however, Saul regresses to jealousy, defensiveness, and fear.

That happens to a lot of us. We make a great beginning in the faith. We experience God's presence, devote ourselves to serve him, and are empowered by His Spirit. Some of us see miraculous interventions of God's hand. Our worship is fervent and heartfelt. We can't wait for time to read the Bible and ponder about God's goodness and the mystery of a relationship with Him.

And then the troubles of life ensnare us. We see others thriving beyond our gifting or coming up on our heels to claim the work we love to do. We get upset with the behavior of fellow believers and label everyone as hypocritical (ourselves excepted, of course. Our bad behavior is "only a response" to others?) We're disappointed when our prayers are answered differently than hoped. We change our focus from life with Jesus to life around us.

Slowly we drift from our first love of Christ. We depend on Sunday services and a "verse of the day" to feed us. And we focus more and more on the shallowness of others, even as our toes become pointed from spiritual depths of living water to the worldly shores of self-indulgence and pleasures. Or, like Peter, we find our eyes on the impossibility of walking on the waves instead of on Jesus and sink out of sight.

How can we prevent our precious faith from becoming mere religion?
  1. Approach life with Jesus as just that: Life With God. Salvation is a walk beside God, listening to what he says, loving what he loves, and enjoying his presence in good days and bad.
  2. Meditate on God's goodness. Be thankful. Marvel at the privilege of knowing a Good God. He's not a demanding idol like the gods of other world religions, who insists on more and harder and "never enough" to satisfy the gods. Our God paid the price in full for our salvation. And he gives us a day of rest in which to enjoy him ... every week. Imagine such a joyful approach to his creatures!
  3. Affirm God's nature. Have a sense of wonder as you explore how God reveals himself in scripture. For example, the 10 Commandments list qualities God values, such as holiness (recognition that God is above all and separate from His creation); truth and honesty (don't bear false witness); faithfulness (don't cheat on your spouse and family); honor and respect (of parents, who represent the various authorities we submit to); and of contentment (not envying others).
  4. Turn quickly from failures and sins. God forgives us. After confessing sin and making it right with God and others, we should move on to live life to the fullest. Constantly groveling and talking about how lousy we are only causes more damage.
  5. Trust that God will accomplish his purposes in us and others. Relax and face up to it: you're not a god and never will be in control. But our Good God can do anything and His strong arm holds us safe in sunshine and storms.
  6. Look forward to the day with God. Approach each morning with the anticipation of partnering with God. Who knows how wonderfully you will be His hands extended.
  7. Include others in your journey. Studies show that the unchurched are surprised that their Christian friends don't talk about their faith. They see how shy and embarrassed we are and wonder if Christ is worth following. Most would attend church with us if we asked a few times.
 Read more: 
*Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you. Deuteronomy 8:5

*Don't envy sinners but always continue to fear the LORD. You will be rewarded for this; your hope will not be disappointed." Proverbs 23:17–18

*While the son was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20

Moravian Prayer: Parent God, our teacher and protector, let us learn from our mistakes. Help us be open to correction as we receive your forgiveness. Amen. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What's in your head?

After 6 months of waking with an empty mind and no agenda, my head is full again. This morning, it was full with:
  • The calendar is packed this week. Do I have the gifts ready for my friends, the material studied for the discussion, the appetizer ingredients ready to prep for the party? Bzzz.
  • Are my workout clothes clean and laid out for the morning session? Bzzz.
  • Our daughter comes home today. How will her body respond to Seattle weather? Is the bed made up? What else can we do to make the room comfy? Bzzz.
  • A daughter-in-law, our daughter, and I visit the spa tomorrow. Are our Groupons in hand? Bzzz.
  • Husband's work party? Do I need to do anything but show up?
  • Next Monday's turkey dinner? When to set up tables? How shall I decorate them? Are the serving dishes washed? When to thaw out the 22 lb. turkey? When to make the stuffing? Bzzz.
  • Are the gifts wrapped for Sunday's family Christmas? Bzzz.
  • Oh yeah, I'm a writer and speaker. Are the presentations close to edited so I can send them off before conference deadlines? Bzzz.
  • I babysit our 1 yr old granddaughter Fridays. We have to move the crib from Kirsten's bedroom to another room before K arrives today.
  • etc.
There's a lot of buzzing in my brain.

I'm sure your head is as full as mine is, spilling ideas into the day. How can we manage the details that flood us in such seasons of celebration and change?
  • Schedule quiet time - at least 15 minutes of reflection and prayer - each morning before the whirlwind begins. This settling of the heart allows us to align ourselves with God no matter what the tugging and pulling of obligations throughout the day.
  • Watch and listen to how wise and godly friends and coworkers handle the pressures. Copy what is good and ask for advice if you're getting overwhelmed.
  • Take time with your calendar to sort and prioritize. Write detailed agendas for items that require advance preparation. Schedule NO more than 3 evenings out per week, say the experts.
  • Cut cut cut! anything and everything that doesn't serve your priorities. Some years require intense focus, while others let us drift through holidays at a measured pace. (Last year's journal, while I was in the thick of writing my dissertation, reports many more no's than yes'ses. That was the only way to stay sane and keep moving forward. Everyone survived and I got the work done.) 
  • Give away stuff that doesn't serve you as you clear and declutter. Got old cameras? Clothes that don't fit? Seattlites, the (or 800 - 992-2060) will come to pick it up from your porch. Maybe your kids have been eying a favorite teapot or piece of furniture. Do you really need it? Give it away with a smile. (See, you feel lighter already!)
  • Enjoy the pleasures of the season. The meaning and blessings of Christmas - God with us! The visitors! The lights! The decor! The ribbons and wrappings! The clean house in which guests feel welcome! They all require effort ... but nothing is free (according to my mother). Since we work so hard, let's relish the results.
  • Focus on the good things. Peace on earth, goodwill to those around you. Share God's love in every way that comes to hand. Forgive those who have hurt you as God forgave you when you hurt Him. Hug and kiss your family. 
  • End each day with a prayer of gratitude. God is good. He gives us the night and rest. Let's not squander it in worry and sleeplessness. Morning is coming and your head may but full again.

Read more:

*One day Kish's donkeys strayed away, and he told Saul, 'Take a servant with you, and go look for the donkeys.

... Finally, they entered the region of Zuph, and Saul said to his servant, 'Let's go home. By now my father will be more worried about us than about the donkeys!'

But the servant said, 'I've just thought of something! There is a man of God who lives here in this town. He is held in high honor by all the people because everything he says comes true. Let's go find him. Perhaps he can tell us which way to go.' 1 Samuel 9:3, 5–6

*Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Psalm 84:3

*But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:8-9 NIV

*So then, a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God. Hebrews 4:9

Moravian Prayer: O God, when we are weary, you invite us to rest. In our anxiety and busyness, let us take your invitation seriously today. Make us stop. Let us rest in your embrace from our labors and be renewed. Amen.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The hazards of God's "Yes"

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you begged God for it? Kept asking, perhaps even trying to blackmail God into a response using the parable of the widow and the unrighteous judge (who gave in to her request because of her nagging)?

Be careful what you ask for.

Jesus promised that His followers that if they lived in truth, doing the work of the Father, that they could ask anything in His name and it would be given.

That's a lot different from things we really really want because they sound good to have, move us forward in ambitions, or seem to prove to us that God likes us. We don't want to be ill. We don't want to lose our jobs. We want a bigger house (or to keep the one we have). Don't we deserve a good life if we are Christ-followers?

The Israelites thought they knew what would help them stay on track. They asked Samuel to find them a king like the nations had around them. Samuel prayed about their request and listened to God's response:
So Samuel passed on the LORD's warning to the people who were asking him for a king. …

But the people refused to listen to Samuel's warning. 'Even so, we still want a king,' they said. 'We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.'

So Samuel repeated to the LORD what the people had said, and the LORD replied, 'Do as they say, and give them a king.' Then Samuel agreed and sent the people home."
1 Samuel 8:10, 19–22

Even though God warned the nation about what would happen if He gave permission, they recklessly persisted in their request. So God said, "Yes." Subsequently, Israel's kings turned the nation to idolatry and war. Within 3 generations, the tribes split into two countries. After a few centuries, both were dragged into captivity and the Promised Land lay in ruins.

He also allowed Lot to become the father of two enemy nations of Israel through his daughters: we're talking about Lot, the nephew of Abraham (who was promised great blessings.) Moabites and Ammonites were Lot's descendents. 

God also let Hagar become the mother of Abraham's son Ishmael. And what a mess that's made of Middle East peace!

God allowed Hosea's wife to be a prostitute. He let Judas betray Jesus. He let well-intentioned Pharisees kill Stephen. And let churches choose to be lukewarm and indifferent. 

He warned against all of these things but didn't' prevent people from making choices that had severe consequences. 

Are we insisting God give us something (or allow us to indulge in behavior) that may bring more harm than good? Let's be careful what we ask for this Christmas season!

Read more:
*Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. Psalm 25:8

*Yet how quickly they forgot what he had done! They wouldn't wait for his counsel! In the wilderness their desires ran wild, testing God's patience in that dry wasteland. So he gave them what they asked for, but he sent a plague along with it" Psalm 106:13–15

*“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 1:18-20 NIV

*Through Jesus forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Acts 13:38

Moravian Prayer: O God, we sin, we speak too quickly, we give in to anger, we hold hate in our hearts, but you stand calm. May we feel the calmness of sin forgiven and may we be made clean now, today. Amen.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Staying focused at Christmas

The holidays are busy times.

Think about it. More meetings. Parties. Home. Office. Starbucks. Restaurants. Food. Diet. Children. Parents. Relatives. Money. Presents. Stockings. Wrapping. Gift bags or paper. Late nights. Early mornings. Sleepovers. Travel.

How do we stay focused? I love this tip from John Carmack:  
 Focus is often a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.

1. Recognize "Yes" as an option. It's merely an alternative to your other option: "No."
2. Align all holiday possibilities with your values. If you are saving money, buying expensive (or unnecessary) presents is not an option. Staying up late at the office party may not serve your value of getting your work done that week.
3. Where will you meet people? If your house needs cleaning, invite people over and get stuff moving toward organization. (My mom's tip: no matter what the rest of the place looks like, the LR, kitchen, and bathroom have to be clean!) If you'd be stressed out by having people over, find a favorite coffee shop and restaurant for meeting friends and coworkers.
4. Be considerate of others. Don't choose a pricey place for someone barely making ends meet - unless you're willing to foot the bill. Some people would prefer visiting a home while others are too shy to show up at a house.
5. Emphasize hospitality over status. Whether or not you put on the Ritz or go all-out with glitz, don't intimidate others by pointing out your ability to host a great party. Make sure everyone feels welcome. Make everyone feel special: connect people to each other by sharing their best traits and accomplishments.
6. Choose what gives you pleasure. You might have to show up at the office party and that difficult relative's place. But you can space those "MUST"s with visits with beloved friends and calls to old acquaintances.
7. Schedule down-time and close family time. Find time to rest and relax so you are refreshed for obligations. Put those hours on your calendar and don't let anything interrupt them that you wouldn't allow to interrupt other appointments.
8. Be thankful. For what you have. For what you don't have and don't need.

In general, make the season simpler rather than more complex. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Read more:
*The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. Proverbs 4:18

We are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 1 Thessalonians 5:5-6

Moravian Prayer: Dear Jesus, as we awaken from our sleep and the light of day streams into our window, may you be our first thought. Before we even stand, Lord, may we praise you. Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Finding peace

The holidays are here. No matter how you'll try to avoid him or her, they're going to show up where you're going. What now? How do you keep your heart at peace?
  1. Remember that Jesus came to bring peace and goodwill to humanity. He is the source from which we draw peace. No self-help list or book can give us inner peace.
  2. Settle your heart by making time alone with God. My rushed and stressed agitation sets me up for conflict and inserting bad history into the moment. You and I need to hear from Him what he desires for us ... AND for our "difficult" person/s. He loves them as much as he loves you and me. (Incredible and hard to believe, isn't it?)
  3. Be humble. Our perspective is not the only one and it's not all about me (or you). We probably set people's teeth on edge as they do ours! Don't get your dander up if someone disagrees or cuts into you. Who knows what else they've encountered before meeting you?
  4. Be Jesus to those you meet. "By your love for one another everyone will know you are my disciples." (Jesus) Before heading out the door, read Galatians 5:19-25 and Ephesians 4:31-32. That's your armor for the event ahead.
  5. Remember that it's God's job to do makeovers. It's not your duty to make someone else nicer, prettier, or better socialized. (It's your responsibility to allow God to transform you and only YOU! and how long is that taking?)
  6. Be thankful. Who in the room who refreshes you and brings harmony to the gathering? Focus on the good things - abundant resources, positive relationships, and Jesus' birthday celebration - rather than bad memories or past conflicts. God is Good and you are His. That alone is worth a party!
  7. Cut your losses. Forgive and forget if things go wrong. That means forgiving our own failures and flaws along with everyone else's. Thank God for his mercy so that we are not consumed but live in grace and freedom.
A beautiful Pileated Woodpecker is tapping against the tree outside my window as I write. His red head flashes a festive contrast against the green of the forest.

Ouch. Thinking of such pecking gives me a headache. I couldn't do what he does, beautifully adapted to carve holes in trees:

"How can these birds hammer away like they do without suffering brain injuries? Scientists think that they have the answer:
"The birds have little "sub-dural space" between their brains and their skulls, so the brain does not have room to bump around as it does in humans. Also, their brains are longer top-to-bottom than front-to-back, meaning the force against the skull is spread over a larger brain area." (Click here for more.)

God's made us all different. The person you struggle with is God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) just like you are.

Thanks be to God. Now go have fun. And be nice.

Read more:
*The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. Psalm 138:8

*For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." Isaiah 57:15 NKJV

*Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Romans 8:33

Moravian Prayer: O Lord and God, as we encounter the unbelief of those we love, let us stand firm in our love and in our faith, knowing that each of us is your son or your daughter. Amen.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The season of desire

The season of Advent is also called "the season of desire." I've never picked up on that phrase before, but this year have noticed it in blogs, a few articles, and a devotional.
"What do you desire?" asks my mentor. (I'm reading Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton.)

Here's my desire list for Advent:
  • Renewed intimacy with the Presence. Sit, love, be loved. In all the busyness of the dissertation and tasks, it was easier to focus on doing rather than being with.
  • Be present with guests. I love hospitality tasks but find it hard to sit down with company for any length of time.
  • Discipline for health: good eating and exercise. Lose 8 lbs.
  • Declutter Christmas "stuff": give away ornaments, garlands, and other excess. End up with 4-5 storage bins (from 10).
  • Read and watch uplifting things. I want to resist junk on TV and in books.
What's your bucket-of-desire list?

Read more:
*If you obey the Lord your God: Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Deuteronomy 28:2-3

*May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 NIV

*Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” Luke 11:28

*I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints. Philemon 4-7 NIV

Moravian Prayer: Dear Jesus, you came to fulfill the law, to give the commandments a human body. You obeyed the law and infused it with love. May we know the freedom and joy of obedience. Amen.