Saturday, December 31, 2011

Land That I Love



As the year rolls over to 2012, I think we all look with a mixture of hope and apprehension at the year that is unfolding.  In keeping with that mood and with great affection for America, the land that I love, I whisper prayers tonight for her well being and healing from the wounds of war and division that have been with us throughout this past decade.  

Here are a few famous quotes that make me think of all that is good and noble about America.


Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. 
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
 And when this happens, 
when we allow freedom to ring, 
when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, 
from every state and every city, 
we will be able to speed up that day when 
all of God's children, black men and white men, 
Jews and Gentiles, 
Protestants and Catholics, 
will be able to join hands 
and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 
"Free at last! Free at last! 
Thank God Almighty, 
We are free at last.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. 
 I Have a Dream Speech, August 28, 1963

Let every nation know, 
whether it wishes us well or ill,
 that we shall pay any price, 
bear any burden, 
meet any hardship, 
support any friend, 
oppose any foe, 
in order to assure the survival 
and the success of liberty.
John F. Kennedy, Inauguration, 1961


Freedom is never more than 
one generation away from extinction. 
We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. 
It must be fought for, 
protected,
and
 handed on for them to do the same.”
Ronald Regan, 40th President of the United States



There are those who look at things the way they are,
 and ask why. 
 I dream of things that never were and ask why not?” 
George Bernard Shaw, as often quoted by Robert Kennedy




In this New Year, I pray


for many things that are dear to my heart, but  


Especially for the beautiful land of the free that is


my homeland.


Let there be peace on earth


and let it begin with me...










  








Friday, December 30, 2011

UNFORGETTABLE!




I saw glimpses of God while I was watching you today!

You were...

A brand new first grader, showing off how well you can read.



Watching Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer for the 100th time tonight.


Dancing with your Daddy to 
Steven Curtis Chapman singing 
"Cinderella".



So excited to be starting sixth grade.

Dreaming of marrying Justin Bieber someday.



So excited to be on the Cross Country Team.




Capturing the lead in Hamlet at the start of your freshman year in college.



Pretending you're an only child, 
ruling the roost, 
as your 2 sisters left for college.




A young actress, portraying one of my favorite real life heroines, Anne Frank, 




in your sophomore year of college.





Tenderly, gracefully, untying 
the apron strings of your heart 
to let your babies fly from the nest.


                 





Selflessly, lovingly, 
giving to me out of your own small resources.



Laughing with me, crying with me, 
understanding unspoken words.



Pretending you didn't notice I was a little on the crabby side that day. 
(okay, okay, maybe more than a little!)



Bringing Christmas to my house
 after a very long day on Christmas Eve.





Cooking for us all on Thanksgiving Day 




(You're such a Renaissance Man!)




Singing Christmas Carols 
in bed at midnight 
with you giggling and excited 
about the wonder of Christmas.





Sharing girl talk with you on Facebook.

Calling me Christmas Day from Romania.

So excited 
to welcome your first grandchild into the world.

Such a beautiful bride. 

Trying not to cry 
as you said goodbye to your daughter 
at her wedding
 - not a dry eye in the house.

The beautiful mother of the bride.

My constant friend, 
loving me, prodding me, encouraging me, 
teasing me, forgiving me, 
refusing to let me off the hook.

YOU. Unforgettable YOU!

Of all God's blessings, 
I count YOU among the sweetest...






"JUMP IN"  This section is for you! 
Jump in and leave a comment about your memories of 2011 
(only 'good' ones allowed!)

 What will you cherish as you say goodbye to 2011? 

Did you see 'glimpses of God'
 loving you, drawing you, encouraging you?


May you see His face smiling at you, 
everywhere you look in the coming year!


Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wars and Rumors of Wars


As 2011 draws to a close, many would say, looking back, this year has been a whirlwind of catastrophes worldwide. We have witnessed financial turmoil that has rocked the worldwide markets and brought many, seemingly wealthy nations, to the brink of disaster. Some would say, the United States isn't far behind other debtor nations that have gone down in the flames of their own greed.

Wars and rumors of wars abound, reminding me of the words of Jesus speaking to His disciples who, even then, wondered about the signs of the times: “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows...” Matthew 24:6-8

Jesus went on to teach a good deal about the end times and the great tribulations the world would go through as the end draws near. He also cautioned us to beware of false prophets, of which He told us there would be many. We even saw a few surface this past year. But to anyone who knows the Word of God, we know that Jesus declared very clearly: “But of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” Matthew 24:36

It is tempting to stand by and think that we are helpless victims of the events unfolding around us. But Jesus Christ has not called us to stand idly by, nor to assume the position of helpless victim. Rather, He has called His disciples to be wise stewards of the gifts and talents He has given us to prepare us for whatever is coming. We are called to watch the signs of the times and to be ready to meet Him whenever He comes. In the world we live in, it is so easy to get caught up in the culture and the demands of our everyday lives that we may forget to look for the Bridegroom – to be prepared to go out and meet Him whenever He comes. To keep “the oil burning” until the hour of His return. Not an easy calling in these frivolous, often, self-centered times we live in. But He has given us fair warning. The consequences of failing to heed His warning will be eternally significant. “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!' But He answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.' Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” Matthew 25:11-13





What Do You Think?: Do you ever find yourself sinking into complacency like the five foolish virgins, who grew weary of waiting for the Bridegroom to return? What do you need to do to “keep the oil burning in your lamp” until He returns? What does that mean to you?

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Innkeeper Makes Excuses...



Here's a little poem that I really love about missing Christ, written from the Inn-Keeper's perspective.  Teaches us to always be aware that He comes to us disguised not as a King but as a beggar, poor and in need and when we least expect Him.  Wonder how astonished the Keeper of the Inn that night will be on resurrection day when he discovers Who it was He turned away.  Wonder if we will be too...

The Inn-Keeper Makes Excuses

Edgar Guest 


"Oh, if only I had known!"

     Said the keeper of the inn.
"But no hint to me was shown,
     And I didn't let them in.


"Yes, a star gleamed overhead,

     But I couldn't read the skies,
And I'd given every bed
     To the very rich and wise.


"And she was so poorly clad,

     And he hadn't much to say!
But no room for them I had,
     So I ordered them away.


"She seemed tired, and it was late

      And they begged so hard, that I
Feeling sorry for her state,
     In the stable let them lie.


"Had I turned some rich man out

     Just to make a place for them
'Twould have killed, beyond a doubt,
     All my trade at Bethlehem.


"Then there came the wise men three

     To the stable, with the morn,
Who announced they'd come to see
     The great King who had been born.


"And they brought Him gifts of myrrh,

     Costly frankincense and gold,
And a great light shone on her
     In the stable, bleak and cold.


"All my patrons, now are dead

     And forgotten, but to-day
All the world to peace is led
     By the ones I sent away


"It was my unlucky fate

     To be born that Inn to own,
Against Christ I shut my gate

     Oh, if only I had known!"


From Collected Verse of Edgar Guest

NY:Buccaneer Books, 1976, pg. 614

The Blessing...


After all the gifts have been opened and the day is drawing to a close, Christmas Eve always finds me quiet and still - awed by the beauty and majesty of the power of God to transform us by the so common happening of the birth of a little baby boy named Jesus.

What gifts can we give each other that have more meaning than a prayer whispered in love and hope - that God will yet bless His people?  Those are the sweet, simple prayers from the heart that I pray over my children and grandchildren this Christmas.  And also over you...

"May the Lord bless you and keep you;
May He make His face to shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace."
                                                                                                                           Numbers 6:24-26





Thursday, December 22, 2011

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel



If ever the world was crying out for a Savior, it is now.

One doesn't have to be a prophet to see that the world is headed in a downward spiral.  World economies are crashing, millions of people cannot find work, and we watch in horror the steady march of governments that rule by terror and inhumane cruelty, the aborting of millions of unborn children, the enslavement of women and children for sexual exploitation, the erosion of morality that even ten years ago was not imagined, and on and on.

Into this world of sin and despair came our Savior on a cold, harsh night so long ago.  Was He uninformed?  Did He think it would be a much 'kinder, gentler' place than it really was?  Was He shocked at the horrifying realities of the world He was born into?  Did He wonder how He ended up in a stable on the night of His birth?  Did He know He was born to die for the very sinners who would hate Him and nail Him to a cross? Was He sorry He was ever born?

If it had been anyone other than Jesus, the answer would surely be, yes.  But the incredible reality is that Jesus knew it all before it happened and fully consented to be the Lamb that was born that night - the same Lamb to be brutally, mercilessly slain on the cross.  Why would anyone do this?  Why?

The Gospel of John tells us the reason: "For God so loved the world..."  Amazing, incredible, unbounded love that would agree to take on our corrupted flesh and live among a sinful and rebellious people. He so loved us...  How amazing a truth is contained in those few words.  May I never get over the miracle of His love for me, while I was yet a sinner with no redeeming grace to be found without His love for me.

This is what we really celebrate on the night of Jesus' birth.  He came to die.  For a world that had lost hope and descended into the hell of sin unbridled.  He came to be with us.  Emmanuel.  He still comes into the same kind of world.  We can't fix this world.  We so need our Savior.  Come, Lord, Jesus.  Come quickly and save your people from our sin.

Scripture Reference:  John 3:16   NKJV

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Follow Thee More Nearly



I'm reading a little book, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg. I commend this book highly to any of you who love to read and are looking for a book (short read) that will spur you on in your walk with Christ.

I have always been fascinated by Jewish culture and heritage, especially as the origins of Christianity. I did not realize, however, until I read this book, how different is the Western culture from the Jewish culture that Jesus lived in. You might be inclined to ask yourself, as I did, why is that significant? Because our interpretation of the biblical stories about Jesus, the parables that Jesus spoke, the expectations that He laid down for His disciples, grew out of the Jewish faith that Jesus learned and practiced throughout His lifetime. I have found a deeper understanding of why Jesus said this or that, what Jesus was calling His disciples to, and subsequently, what He is calling me to as a servant of Christ, called to follow my Master.

In some ways, this little book has awakened a much deeper understanding in me of what it means to be a “disciple” of Jesus Christ. The lights have suddenly come on, highlighting areas in my life that are not at all pleasing to my Lord and Savior, and then, to do something about them!  I will admit, I didn't expect this when I started reading the book!  Before I read this book, I was quite comfortable in my ignorance, thank you very much! But, now, I cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube! So be forewarned, if you do decide to read this book, you might just have to face the man (or woman) in the mirror and make some attitude and behavior adjustments! Don't say I didn't warn you!

Here's a few quotes from the book that I found very challenging!

“Sometimes, we hear the word 'disciple' and conclude that it is too hard to become one. But think of the alternative. To refuse to become Jesus' disciples is to consign ourselves to perpetual childhood and condemn ourselves to a wasted, frustrating life... It may not always be easy, but it will certainly be good, and, as we follow Him, we will find ourselves living with greater passion and purpose, experiencing a life of greater fulfillment.” (P. 64)

Suggestions for growth at the end of Chapter Four:

  1. Discipleship involves gradual change over a period of years. Ask a friend who knows you well to comment on changes he or she has observed in you as you have matured as Christ's disciple. (risky, I know!)
  2. What of your parents' traits, even those you dislike (!), are evident in your own life? Ask God to show you how to improve the example you are to others.
  3. Who are you being discipled by? Who are you discipling?

This is not a hugely difficult book to read, but it is for serious followers of Jesus who want to grow in that relationship. If that's you, I hope you check it out. Let me know what you think!

I'm considering starting an online book club on this blog. Let me know if you are interested!  I'm open to suggestions on books, etc.  This might be something fun to do for the New Year!

Scripture Reference: Mark 8:34 NKJV

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me...”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Christmas to Remember...


That year was a memorable one in our lives as a family and not for reasons I was proud of. As a newly divorced single mother, only two months into the realities of single parenting, I had zero dollars to spend on Christmas and four kids who had been accustomed to very generous Christmases up until that year.

I was depressed. Not only was I grieving the loss of my marriage, but the thought of Christmas was sending me over the edge. I didn't want my kids to be on the receiving end of any further losses. The break up of our family had forced me to sell our home, move the kids into a tiny apartment, get rid of our family pet, since the apartment wouldn't allow dogs, and forced me to take a job that took me out of the home and left the kids as “latch key” kids for the first time in their lives. Now, Christmas was chasing me down and I was dreading telling my four children they shouldn't expect gifts this Christmas. I was broker than broke and feeling pretty miserable about it all. I was wishing, if there were any way possible, could we just skip Christmas that year?

But, sometimes, our kids surprise us in the most amazing ways. And that was the case that year. I sat them all down and laid the cards on the table. We didn't have any money for Christmas. Period. Just that simple. Sorry, but, that was the reality. No way to fix it. Or so I thought.

In the middle of my explanation of why we would have to cancel Christmas, my youngest son, then only ten years old, smiled at me with a grin that spread across his face from ear to ear and said he didn't see why we couldn't still exchange gifts. He suggested that we pull names from a hat and buy a gift for the person whose name we had pulled, limiting the gift to no more than five dollars. I wasn't too big on the idea but the enthusiasm he had for the plan was contagious. All the kids jumped on the band wagon and playfully embraced Matt's plan, all pretending it would be the best Christmas they had ever experienced.

They sat and mulled it over for quite awhile, as if it were a master plan requiring hours of thoughtful, strategic planning. I marveled at these kids – so willing to accept,with grace and love for each other, the hand that had been dealt to them that year – the worst they had ever experienced in their young lives.

I could not have imagined the care that these kids put into their shopping that year. On the smallest of budgets, they shopped for just the right gift for each other, chosen to tickle the heart of the one on the receiving end of the gift. The entire month before Christmas was a ritual of playful teasing and guessing who had who and what had they purchased. I'm not sure they ever had more fun with Christmas.

I could not tell you today what any one of those gifts was that night. As their mom, I sat and watched the love of these kids so beautifully on display as they wished each other a Merry Christmas, ending a year of heartache and pain that none of us would ever forget. The little five dollar gifts we gave each other that year were just cover! Wrapped over and under and in between those silly little gifts was the priceless message “I love you – no matter what...”

As I watched my kids celebrate Christmas that year, I realized God had used my children to teach me the meaning of real love. It cannot be broken - not by divorce, not by hardship, not by the experience of “poverty” that we found ourselves in that Christmas.  'Love never fails!'  

Christmas was simply never sweeter...

Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 NKJV

Love suffers long and is kind;
love does not envy;
love does not parade itself,
is not puffed up;
does not behave rudely,
does not seek its own,
is not provoked,
thinks no evil;
does not rejoice in iniquity,
but rejoices in the truth;
bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never fails...!”

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ready?



Anybody out there getting a little cranky? It's six days before Christmas and I'm getting dangerous.

My granddaughters were over yesterday. If they played Justin Bieber singing his Christmas Song one more time, I definitely would have put a hole in the wall! Anybody know what I'm talkin about? They just can't get enough of Justin, 'Baby-Baby", Bieber. After perhaps the 10th time in a row of hearing the Justin dude slaughter (in my humble opinion!) a series of Christmas classics that I have always loved, I suggested they play some of my Christmas CDs... When I pulled out an old Elvis CD, they responded with, 'Who is that guy?' and 'He needs to do something about his hair!' Are they kidding me - really? Have they even looked at Justin Bieber's hair?!

And so it went. Generation clash, Christmas over-kill, too much music, too much noise, too much pressure to buy, buy, buy, too little money, too little patience, too little emphasis on the real reason for Christmas!

Even the kids, normally very cute and adorable, were getting on my nerves!  They were jabbing each other verbally and physically, restless and crabby.  Even they were showing the signs of too much stress and unrealistic expectations! They seem to instinctively know that all this emphasis on shopping and gimme, gimme, and gimme some more, isn't satisfying. We really aren't made to go on an all out “lets see how much I can get” binge without becoming sick on our own selfishness.

Christmas just has to be something more. If we allow Christmas to completely dissolve into a pagan spending ritual, please excuse me from the holiday. If that's what we celebrate, then count me out – it's nothing more than an ode to greed.

I do long for a simple, old fashioned Christmas - one that doesn't cost much but is a priceless treasure.

I just want to enjoy the gathering of loved ones around the family table, grateful for each one that is still with us and remembering those that are gone before us who are dearly missed this Christmas. I want to watch the snow fall outside while being warmed by the light of the love of family and friends around me. I want to remember that my Savior came for me this night, so long ago. He knew I would be cranky if you push my buttons one too many times! He knew I would need His arms around me, loving me anyway, forgiving me for my very real limitations this time of year and others as well! He knew me. He loved me. He came for me. That's what I really want to celebrate this Christmas. The older I get, the more I realize the beauty and gift of Christmas is in the simplicity.  Jesus was born this night for me.  A simple and glorious truth to celebrate!

How about you? Got all your Christmas shopping done? Wrapped? Broke yet? Got the house all cleaned and decorated?  Baked the homemade cookies, candy and fudge yet?  No?!  Me neither! Feelin a little cranky? Take a deep breath and say a little prayer.  Jesus still loves you.  He still forgives you. He is still the reason we celebrate.

I hope, after Justin Bieber has grown old and grey (or, maybe even bald!) the world will still remember why we celebrate Christmas. It's all about Jesus. It always has been...

Scripture Reference:  Mark 1:3  NKJV

"The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 
'Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.' "

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In the City of David...



The First Christmas Letter...

Greetings to my loved ones far and near. I must write down my thoughts tonight. My heart is racing and my head is spinning at the events of this day – even this year! I hardly know where to start to tell you about the amazing things that have happened in the life of this lowly carpenter in this past year.

Let us begin at the beginning. As many of you have no doubt heard, Mary, my Mary, my beautiful bride to be, was found to be with child while we were yet betrothed to be married. I cannot begin to tell you the thoughts that ran through my mind when she told me this news. I could not even comprehend what she was telling me. Knowing we had not yet been together as husband and wife, I knew the law would find her guilty and ascribe to her the death penalty for her condition. But, how could I do this to Mary, my sweet Mary? I was so hurt at the thought of Mary being with another man. But what she told me next was almost too much for me to comprehend. Mary, my darling, the love of my life, told me that an angel had appeared to her and told her that she would have a baby boy, by the power of the Holy Spirit. I was speechless at what she was telling me. How could I take this seriously? No man had ever had his beautiful wife to be tell him such a tale. And yet, I know Mary to be so honest – I have never found her in a lie... Yet, these events seemed too much to believe.

Vicious rumors had already begun to fly. She had cheated on me, she was playing me for the fool, she was no better than the girls that slept around and than lied to cover up their sin. It broke my heart to hear the filthy things that were being whispered about her. I was in agony, not knowing what to do for my beautiful bride to be, caught in this nightmare of ugly circumstances. Yet, to watch Mary was a thing of beauty. She never wavered from her story. She seemed to delight in the memory of it...I had never seen her more beautiful than she was as she carried her baby for those nine months.

I turned to the Lord in agony, begging Him to help me in my decision about my Mary. Gloriously, He answered my prayer! An angel appeared to me while I was tossing and turning in my sleep. I hadn't been able to eat or sleep for weeks, fighting the decision of putting away my darling Mary from me forever. But then, suddenly, out of nowhere, there stood an angel of the Lord right before my eyes! All of you who know me, know that I am a simple man. I have never been given to visions and such. But, I know what I saw and I know what I heard! Here was an angel telling me 'not to be afraid to take Mary as my wife!' I don't need to tell you how absolutely thrilled I was to hear those words! He confirmed that Mary was with child from the Holy Spirit! He told me the child she was carrying would be a boy and that I should name him, Jesus “for He shall save His people from their sins...” I am sure I didn't hear a word anyone said to me after that! I wanted to go to Mary that night, and take her to be my wife!

I do not understand all that is going on in our world. I am a simple carpenter and my wife just a simple carpenter's wife. But, God has chosen us – Mary to bare the child that prophets foretold from of old. She is the virgin that they spoke of saying “a virgin shall be with child...!”

Who are we to be chosen for such a glorious task – to bring safely into the world the Son of the Most High? Tonight, after many days of travel, my beautiful Mary gave birth to her first born child. The King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, Emmanuel, Our God is with us! I wept when I saw Him for the first time! He is tiny and wrinkly and cried so loudly when He entered this world. It was as if He was announcing to all the world – finally – I AM HERE!

I am so humbled by the birth of this little Jesus. I do not understand even half of what has happened in my world this past year. I have so little to give this little King. I am a poor man. I could not even give Him a bed on the night of His birth into this world. His beautiful mama and I shivered in a cave under the starry sky tonight, whispering a prayer of thanksgiving that God, our God, has blessed us with this baby. I do not know what the future holds for my little family. I only know I love this baby and His mama. I will give my life to take care of them as long as I am able.

Please pray for me and my wife. We need the Lord to strengthen us for whatever lies ahead. I know it will not be easy. His very birth was scandalous. Poor Mary has already suffered greatly from the vicious rumors that circulate about her. But, no matter what the future holds, Mary and I are in it together. We are in agreement about this one thing. Our Jesus is worth it. He is worth it all...

Joseph
Scripture Reference: Luke 2: 10-11 NKJV

Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”