Saturday, December 13, 2014

This Christmas

Recipe for a Simple Christmas:

1 Dash of no dashing

2 Moments of sitting still

3 Minutes enjoying the tree that took three hours to decorate

To have a simple Christmas, eliminate things that are making the season hectic rather than bright. And then shift the focus back to where it belongs: on the Saviour. If Christmas includes everything but spending time with Christ, press pause.

The One person that often gets squeezed out of Christmas is Christ. That TUG you've been feeling on your heart is coming from The Ultimate Gift (T.U.G.). The Birthday Guest of Honor is waiting to have some of our time. He would like to minister to the needs of our hearts, and He is still offering Himself as a ransom for those who need salvation. "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Matthew 21:28) 

Have we crowded Christ out for Christmas? We can put Him back anytime.

If you are searching for God, find Him in Christ:
1. Understand that we are all sinners. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

2. There is a penalty for sin, but Jesus paid it all. "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23)

3. God sent His only begotten Son to save us. "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:17)

4. Realize that we all need a second birth. "...Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

5. Salvation is The Ultimate Gift. "And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." (Acts 16:31)

Sincerely pray, asking the Lord to forgive you for the wrongs you've done, as well as the right that you've left undone. Ask Him for His free gift of salvation. And then find a good place to call your very own church home so that you can have help as you grow in your new relationship with Christ. Go ahead. You can speak to the Lord from your heart. He already knows what you need anyway.

If Christ is your Saviour, share The Ultimate Gift with friends and loved ones:
"And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." (1 John 4:14) The gifts under the tree are temporal. The gift of God is eternal. Bibles make excellent gifts for those who are searching and trying to satisfy that TUG in their hearts. Help others find The Ultimate Gift. Christ wants to spend time with us this Christmas and beyond. How amazing is that?

Christmas is the gift given to us by God through Jesus Christ. "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1:17)

Happy Christmas.

"Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." (1 John 4:11)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Such a Weighty Matter

I remember being a spindly child. We could eat whatever, whenever, and then top it off with ice cream and still wake up looking like willowy branches. That lasted until middle school, when I suddenly experienced the changing body of a teen. Now instead of being shaped like a twig, I was shaped more like a growing Twinkie (and I loved Twinkies in the twin pack, so this made sense).

Weight is such a major focal point, and it has been ever since the scale became an instrument for weighing people instead of it's original design for weighing cargo. Most days, the average woman is thinking, if not fretting about her weight. Even women who are naturally thin will confess to engaging in a bit of weight obsession.

We are not what we weigh, but since people operate on first impressions, many of us have faced the "body scan." You know the routine: You meet a person and they look you in the eye, and then they look you up and down.
October 2013
Is weight a big deal to God? I think we'd have to stretch to say that, but temperance matters. Instead of working on weight alone, I decided to work on being temperate in several areas. This project led to an interesting year of experimenting, managing, and self-correcting. At the end of the year, I weighed less, but I also gained a lot:

1. I gained a keen awareness of how very self-indulgent I have been.
We tend to think of temperance in terms of controlling what we eat, but there is so much more to it. For instance, it is vitally important that we learn how to control our emotions: "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls." (Proverbs 25:28) This verse is often quoted by not so frequently practiced. The mind, will, and emotions need bossing around, and God gives the ability to those who are willing to apply themselves to the task.

2. I gained a knowledge of how much temperance impacts and permeates practically all areas of life.
How many times have you wanted to have a pity party, so you just went ahead and slumped down into one without stopping yourself? Or how about those times when we've given someone a tongue-lashing because we felt like "they had it coming to them"? These are displays of a lack of mastery of self. We can really hurt others when we lack this essential fruit of the spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is..." and at the end of the list we find "temperance." (Galatians 6:22-23) This passage has been memorized by many, but the verse that follows is often forgotten: "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." (Galatians 6:24) Could this be a big part of our problem? Are we still flesh-covered wrecking balls, going through life doing more harm than good?

3. I gained the ability to tell the toddler in my head "no" and "wait."
October 2014
Why is it that we feel like we must have and do everything right now? Like the child who interrupts a conversation with, "Mommy, Mommy!" we are like petulant children who have to be told to be quiet and wait without interrupting. When we can't wait, we lose the strength that comes from "wait training." Have you been trying to press a matter that simply needs more time? You'll find yourself feeling frustrated and worn out. There is another option: learning to wait: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31) Maybe you're overly tired because you've worn yourself out by failing to wait on the Lord.

I have a really keen sense of how easy it would be to regain weight, and will never considered myself as having "arrived." Cultivating the fruit of temperance is so much like weight loss: you have to keep up the good habits that got you to your desired location. Otherwise, you may find yourself back at square one, with heavy heart (and heavy body). 

The marvel is not when a person loses weight. We all know people who have done that. The truly amazing feat is if the person can maintain the loss. So it is with temperance: it's not just a matter of mastering it for today. We have to work at it for the rest of our lives. But temperance gives many rewards, so it's not long before a person unwraps the gift of temperance and finds that the fruit inside is sweet and worth the effort. 

Temperance is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) that we're instructed to "add to our faith." If temperance is missing, our lives lack balance. Imbalance will tip any scale.

"And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity." (2 Peter 1:5-7)

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Elastic Waistband Living

I have a love-hate relationship with the elastic waistband:  

Love how it is so comfy.

Hate how it lies to me.

The elastic waistband makes room for me to eat and eat until I've reached its stretchy limit. It won't warn me that I'm about to eat my way into another clothing size. In fact, with a few adjustments, I relocate it to a higher altitude until I don't even feel it anymore.

The trouble comes when it's time to put on a standard waistband; you know, the ones with no give. And if we've been living in elastic waistbands for too long, we may be shocked to discover that the static waistband has developed a great gulf between the edges of the zipper. And we can't close it no matter how long the breath is held.

Willful sin is like an elastic waistband: you don't know how far you've gone until the gap becomes a great gulf. And the gulf is not just between you and others; it's between you and God. "Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance." (Psalm 90:8) God sees our stretching routine, and He also knows that we think it's a great big secret.

News: It's no secret. Elastic waistband living is plainly visible to God, and you'd be surprised how many others are onto the charade as well. Like the person who imagines that they are thin because elastic keeps stretching to fit the growing shape, we can deceive ourselves if we keep up the false front long enough.

It is a wise practice to examine ourselves regularly for areas where we may be stretching in ways that are harmful to our spiritual lives. If we won't examine ourselves, we may begin to imagine that we are better off than most, and that's when we'll stretch to embrace bad old habits like they are good old friends.

Self-examination is a tool given by God to allow us to check the condition of our faith. "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Corinthians 13:5) It's way too easy to look around at others, questioning whether or not their walk with God is "real." What about the person in the mirror? Is she a real Christian, or just fantastic actress?

We may examine ourselves, but God examines us as well: "Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart." (Psalm 26:2) The word "examine" in this verse means to "try or test," as well as "to scrutinize." God is paying close attention not only to our private conduct, but also to our motives. God also has the all-knowing insight that also allows Him to  "search" our hearts for habits that could cause us pain and sorrow. This form of searching is not only a deeper examination; it's also an investigation into our lives: "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24)

Have you examined yourself lately? Here are a few common "Ifs" to begin the self-exam:

If we're pretending that we care about biblical principles when we're in church, but disregarding these principles in our private lives, then we've grown comfortable in our stretchy thinking. "What's so bad about this?" we ask, as we adjust the elastic to fit around the swelling rationalization for our self-directed living. Are we walking "in the law of the Lord" or are we making up our own laws? Attempting to stretch Scripture to fit whatever we want to do is hazardous folly.

If we're watching things on TV, DVD or the computer that we wouldn't want others to know that we're viewing, we're stretching the waistband to fit the convenient lie that says, "I can handle this." Many things that are entertaining or otherwise stimulating are not good for the soul, and the harm done cannot be easily undone. Remember: the mind does not have an "erase" or "delete" key.

If we're justifying sin in our lives, while condemning it in the lives of others, we are stretching to the limit. "How could they do something so idiotic?" And then we move the elastic waistband higher so that we can have room to breathe as we commit errors just as bad if not worse.

Have you been stretching to make room for sin, while squeezing out your spiritual life? This is not a good idea. Life has enough tight spots without us creating new ones. People may think we're the most rock-solid Christians of our era, but God knows who we really are. He has seen us stretching to make things fit the way we want to live. Because God loves us, He will eventually chasten us to deliver us from ourselves. "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." (Hebrews 12:6) Chastisement may not feel like love, but it is enormously loving, as our character needs molding and shaping as we grow. We all need firm correction from the Lord now and then.

I wore an elastic waistband skirt on vacation years ago. When I got home, I was shocked at the number on the scale! I was so "good" during that trip, carefully eating my fruits and vegetables. Key Lime Pie is a fruit, right? And everybody knows that onion rings with ketchup equals two veggies...

S t r e t c h.

Elastic waistband living is artificially comfortable. It's deception. Give it up.

"Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults."
(Psalm 19:12)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

You're Too Late

"Thank you for your lesson, but you're 11 years too late."

These were the words of a lady whose husband had passed away 11 years ago. In a ladies' conference workshop for wives, I warned about being the kind of woman that no one would want to live with. She confessed that she was that woman.

Are you headed down the same road?

We only have this moment. We don't have forever to get things right. So ask yourself: How am I treating the ones that God has placed in my life? Would they say that they enjoy living with me? Am I a blessing?

Here are a few examples of things that can keep us from being what God wants us to be in our relationships:

1. Thinking that we're better than others.
The term "entitled" is being tossed around a lot today, but often it is being employed by those who accuse others of this flaw. When we feel that we have a "right" to be held in high esteem by others, we are suffering from a superiority complex. We are not better than anyone. This kind of thinking leads to enormous amounts of discord. People on pedestals fall harder. It's better to keep ourselves and our thinking closer to the ground level of humility. "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves." (Phil. 2:3)

2. One-sided thinking. 
When we fail or refuse to consider the side of the other person, we will repeatedly cause strife as we pull for having things "our way." "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." (Phil. 2:4) This kind of behavior often stems from a person who just won't stop talking. How can we hear what others have to say if we won't be quiet long enough for them to finish a thought? The best way  understand someone is to listen to them. Really listen, without thinking about what you're going to say next.

3. Contentiousness.
There are several verses in Proverbs about the "contentious woman," but there is a verse for the contentious man as well: "As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife." (Prov. 26:21) Both men and women have the ability to be contentious. All that's needed is fuel for the fire in the form of angry words. In every disagreement, there is an undertow of competition to win the point. What if we gave up our selfish desire to be the winner and instead considered how we could come to a good resolution of the conflict? Power struggles end when we stop tugging on our end of the rope. 

It will be a while before I'll forget that sad look on the woman's face as she uttered the words, "You're 11 years too late." I asked her if she had any adult children, and she said, "Yes, and they're all married." 

"All right," I replied. "You have a teaching opportunity. Tell your children that you now understand that you were wrong, and that they don't have to copy you. The rest is between them, their spouses, and the Lord." 

She agreed, but there was still a sadness behind her eyes as she looked at me one more time before walking away. Regret makes a cloudy countenance. Don't wait until someone is gone from this side of Heaven to demonstrate your love. And if you've been locked in a running battle with anyone in your life, stop it now, while you may. 

When a person passes away, it's too late to say, "I was wrong. Will you forgive me?"

"This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." (John 15:12)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Be All There

A friend of mine taught me this saying: "Wherever you are, be all there."

Do you live like that, or do you try to borrow from tomorrow?

There are times when I catch myself trying to live several days in advance, worrying over this and distressed about that, but the Lord has been teaching me to give up this anxious habit. I wasn't more productive by worrying ahead; I was just more stressed out. We don't control how many numbered days we have, so it's best to live them wisely one at a time. "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." (Psalm 90:12) Planning is fine; fretting over plans is not.

We will all have many events in life, but will we "be all there," or will our bodies be present while our minds go elsewhere? We only have a limited amount of time on this side of heaven. Wouldn't it be a shame to miss out on the precious moments by failing to focus on one event at a time?

Our youngest son Collin graduated from Bible College in May of 2013. While I sat in the auditorium waiting for his name to be called, I enjoyed the moments of watching every student graduating. It was so much fun to be there...all there.

Our oldest son Austen announced his engagement in June of 2013. When his fiancée Jessica showed us the ring, I was transported back to the moment when my Norman gave me my ring and asked me to marry him. I was here and there!

Our daughter Hillary moved to Virginia to attend law school later that same year. The day we were unpacking the moving truck, the clouds opened up and a downpour drenched us! We put on baseball caps, and in dripping clothes we unloaded that truck in record time. It was a milestone moment, and we were "all there." We were all wet, too.

Norman H. kisses me goodbye every day before he leaves for work, and I capture that kiss in my mind. And when I give him a snack after work, I kiss his forehead while he's sitting in the chair. These are loving moments that keep us "all there" in our relationship, right here and now. How do we know if we'll have each other tomorrow?

When your loved ones leave for the day, do you pause long enough to look at them and really see them? We assume that we'll say good morning and goodnight, but in reality, we only have this moment. Are you all there?

Life is a vapor that vanishes fast enough without us trying to live in the present and the future at the same time. It takes some thought, but with practice we can train ourselves to focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking is highly overrated. Just live the moments God grants you, one at a time. Plan ahead, but don't try to live ahead.

"Wherever you are, be all there." It's a motto that makes good sense.

"Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." (James 4:14)

Friday, January 31, 2014

Master of Meltdown

Have you ever had a meltdown? You know, one of those moments when the gaskets blew and you were just losing it? Most of us would have to admit that we've melted at least once or twice. But I wonder...why is it that meltdowns are often over trivial things? Many people can recall having had some enormous trials that they endured with the utmost of calm, only to be toppled later by something less than inconsequential. You know what tipped me over and poured me out?

Lost cell phone contacts.


Sadly, yes. I confess that I had a mini-meltdown over the loss of an electronic phone book.

My "ancient" (2-year-old) cell phone kept shutting itself off, showing its senior-status. I keep my phone for a long time because I happen to like knowing how to use it. So, you can understand why I was reluctant to change to the latest technology, which includes things like "swype" and "shake" and "bump." 

"Come on, Old Bessie! Hang in there for just one more conference. You can do it! Don't die on me, pleeeeaaase..."

But it's inevitable. Two years is the pre-programmed date of fritz, and at the two year mark to the month, my cell phone was on life support. As much as I travel, this is not something I can live without, so my Norman H. took me to the phone store for that ritual of buying something I never want: a new phone.

The young salesman assured me that he could move the contacts, but first he had to say this: "Whoa! Old cell phone here!" Since we were changing phone companies as well as phones, I knew we didn't have that seamless transition that usually happens when you're just getting another phone from the same company. I was even more nervous because our daughter had prophesied doom: "Don't do it before you travel, Mom," she warned. "They'll lose your contacts and Dad won't be able to fix that." (Dad can fix most tech problems.)

I tried to listen, but my phone wouldn't work with me. Fritzed without a farewell.

The next thing you know, Salesman Quickdraw McGraw took my old phone, removed the SIM card (the little brain-card that contains the phone book, among other things), did a little of this and some of that and then PRESTO: 

"Your contacts have been moved."



When my new phone burbled (you know, the text message sound) and I saw a message from my daughter's number, I wondered why her name wasn't next to that phone number. Cold shiver of realization: My contacts had only been partially moved. The others were lost forever somewhere in outer space where all things cyber go to rest.

And I was tired. And I was behind schedule. And it was past my bedtime. And I hadn't finished my chores for the day. And I lost the phone number for the person picking me up at the airport the next day...

...So I tipped over and poured out. I chewed my Norman's ear off with questions, wondering how the salesman could do such a thing. How hard was it to move a list of numbers? And he assured us that he could easily do it! Now what was I going to do when I went on the next trip and didn't have key phone numbers? He gets paid to lose things? I can do that all by myself on half the caffeine! Waaa waaa waaaaaaah...

Was it really about the cell phone contacts?

Not really.

It was about being overbooked, under-rested, and frazzled. People tend to have a tipping point. It's that limit where pushing just one more button brings out their "franky" side. "Franky" is a word our son Collin invented. It's a cross between frantic and cranky. Franky Francie doesn't like to be franky, frankly. (Say it fast five times.)

How do we avoid meltdowns? On this side of heaven, it's not possible to go through life without having "one of those days." So instead, we can choose to learn how to settle down. It's an art called "ruling over the spirit," as mentioned in Proverbs 25:28: "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls." This verse gives hope that it is possible to learn how to have dominion over our sometimes-irrational minds.

Here are some additional verses that show us the real possibility of developing emotional temperance:

Controlling anger: "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." (Proverbs 16:32) Similar to Proverbs 25:28, the ability to press the pause button before blowing up is a sign of spiritual strength. I wanted to chew my husband out for a transgression he didn't even commit. I had to pound the pause button!

Moderating our tone of voice: "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger." (Proverbs 15:1) A great way to get people yelling is to yell, but it's not a productive form of communication. A soft answer defuses the anger bomb. Norman uses a very soft tone when he is trying to get me to back away from the edge of an emotional cliff.

Budgeting our words: "Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding." (Proverbs 17:28) Similar to Proverbs 10:19, there is such a thing as talking too much. With words, less is enough. If we have been ranting for more than five minutes, we aren't holding our peace; we're disturbing it.

God makes it possible to rule over the unruly spirit that lives within each of us. By His grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can minimize the meltdowns until they are reduced from frequent fires to rare bursts of steam. God is orderly, and He can teach the willing ones to be more like Him. Are we willing, or would we rather keep melting?

It takes thoughtful temperance to keep small matters from becoming big triggers. It also takes alertness to those times when we may be tempted to blow. Overbooked, under-rested and frazzled are like three burners turned on high. Add one more burner, and you could have a meltdown.

"If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small." (Proverbs 24:10)

Do You Know What You Have?

Someone out there may be struggling with this holiday called Valentine's Day, and I can relate.  This is my third Valentine's...