Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday, December 31, 2010 - Whisper His Name

Do you have someone in your life who demands or expects more from you each time you give a little? It’s part of our selfish nature to let others take care of what we don’t enjoy and don’t want to handle. I’m thankful Tom does the research and shopping related to long term matters and major purchases like insurance, phone services, appliances, cars, and computer-related issues. I handle the day-to-day stuff like paying bills, grocery shopping, laundry, cooking and cleaning which gets old but at least these responsibilities are within my comfort zone. 
     A news report last night explained how the U.S. government is going under trying  to solve every problem and answer each demand made by small interest groups and lobbyists with money and/or tenacity. It seems people and companies spend inordinate amounts of time and money trying to persuade the government to take an interest in their pet projects when they could be gathering forces and finances on their own. While these needs may be important and seem urgent, our government can’t solve every domestic and global problem. The U.S. government is a super power but that doesn’t mean it’s  omnipotent or omniscient.
     As 2010 fades below the horizon, we need to remember the One who governs our lives is  not only omnipotent and omniscient but works around the clock to lovingly fill our every need. He knows the difference between what’s essential for our well-being and what’s a frivolous waste of time, energy and money. He gives us grace and counsel to live well in spite of problems we’d rather He remove. He gives us Peace when we focus on His Hands holding the world and His Shoulders carrying the government of the universe. He’s our Super Power working from within us to be all we need. He delights in our built-in weaknesses that draw us to Him for His Wonderful Counsel, His Strength, and His Peace. We don’t have to wine and dine Him, throw money at Him, go through miles of red tape, or carry clever signs to get His attention: we need only to whisper His Name.

Father, thank You for all You’ve done in 2010 to grow us into the people You designed us to be. Thank You for taking responsibility for paying the debt we owed and solving an eternal problem we couldn’t solve on our own. Thank You for Wisdom and Peace in a topsy-turvy world bent on confusing needs and wants. Glorious, Mighty, Everlasting, Prince - we put all our trust and hope in You for 2011, knowing You are our all in all.

“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do no let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:26-27

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010 - Diverging While Merging

    Atlanta traffic and freeways are always daunting but never more so than at a mall exit during the post-holiday sales when there’s snow on the ground. It would have been much easier to go with the flow and end up at the mall than to fight the traffic to get to the restaurant across the street where our daughter and son-in-law were announcing whether they’re having a boy or a girl. Quick lane changes, left turns, and impatient drivers could have ruined a perfectly lovely evening but we were determined to fulfill our mission. 
     For believers, this idea of fighting traffic and moving in and out among the pack while moving toward different goals is all too familiar. Christ blazed His unique new Way through throngs of people moving in ancient directions. Judas tried forcing Jesus into a different lane but only succeeded in crashing. Peter tried setting up a roadblock when Jesus turned toward His destiny of death by crucifixion, but this outspoken disciple found himself in a head-on collision with Jesus' Purpose. All of the disciples refused to believe Jesus would go against the natural flow of self-preservation to risk driving through Jerusalem's treacherous streets filled with road-rage, fear and the inebriation of self-righteousness. Two thousand years later, Jesus' narrow one-way road stands open and clear through the masses.
     God’s Word teaches me I’m always on a mission through crowds going the opposite direction. I can let the mob make me doubt, question or give up my mission to join them or I can patiently fight the flow to fulfill God’s unique call in my life. The saying “If you’re not the lead dog, the view is always the same” reminds me I don’t want my life to be one long view of other people’s backs as they lead me farther from God’s plan for me, but neither is my goal to be “lead dog.” I want my life to merge with and diverge from the world's traffic according to God’s map for me.

Lord God, help us stick to Your plan in spite of the honking and angry looks surrounding us. Help us complete all the missions and good works You’ve prepared for each of us along the way. Open our eyes to enjoy the scenery You’ve planned along the way and open our hearts to know and love other travelers You bring to the same places. Help us remain in You so You can produce all the fruit You’ve planted in us. You’ve filled us with Your Love so show us how to be the new creatures who go new directions.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4;7-8

“Remain in Me, and I will remain in you, No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.” John 15:4

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - Milemarkers and Crossroads

   We're having a granddaughter: a baby girl swaddled in soft cloud pink. Julie and Nick and the rest of our family have been sitting at the crossroads waiting to find out whether to let our minds wander into the sugar and spice of ballerinas and Barbies or to gear up for camouflage and the vroom-vroom sounds of vehicles. Yesterday we set out to find the perfect outfit for our new doll to wear home from the hospital. As we shopped, we let go of the little suits with tiny ties for now and turned our full attention to the delicate, soft pink dresses with roses and butterflies on them. The list of boy names was set aside for now and both serious and funny girls' names (Ima Shirley Akin) moved front and center in our conversations. After trusting God in this life-altering decision, He decided the Akins needed a girl first just as He knew the Nolands needed a girl first. It worked out beautifully for the Nolands just as it will for the Akins.
     Nothing reveals a lack of trust in God more than constantly questioning His decisions on major matters. Nick and Julie will make wonderful parents to whomever God sends them, girl or boy, birth child or adoptee, an only child or the first of ten, but in His wisdom and for His kingdom's sake, God chose to knit this first child together with pink yarn. Now that the pink or blue question has been answered, the real trip of trust begins as they place this little girl in His hands on a daily basis, trusting Him to lead them as they nurture and guide her to fulfill her purpose in God's kingdom.
     Many people discover their faith only at the crossroads of major decisions and life-changing events while others plod along trusting Him daily in the details. If God had to choose one or the other, He would prefer our consistent, daily growth. Remember, the tortoise won the race while the rabbit napped between sprints. Does our trust in God shine brightly only at the crossroads or does it gleem a tad more with each passing mile marker?
     Father, You know best about everything and Your choices benefit everyone involved. You have big plans for all Your children which require our daily trust. Keep us loving You with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. We want to exercise more trust in You for not only the big questions but for the ones we make without a second thought. Change our habits and remind us to ask for You input on a consistent basis and not just for the biggies. May today be a new day of building or rebuilding our houses on You, the Solid Rock.
In the name of Jesus, our Answer at every crossroads and for each step of the way!

"Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge." Psalm 62:8

"Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods."Psalm 40:4

"When I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?" Psalm 56:3-4
"You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD is the Rock eternal." Isaiah 26:3-4

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - Living on the Edge

    Not long after networks began airing news on a 24 hour basis, a friend told me about her fearful neighbors. Two aging sisters in next door barricaded themselves in the house while the television blared news reports around the clock. The multiple locks on the doors stayed locked to anyone who didn’t call ahead to let them know they were coming. These two women fed on a steady diet of negative media  determined to depict the world at its worst. They lost touch with real relationships with loving people. In trying to lock danger out, they only succeeded in shrinking their world to worst case scenarios.
    I’ve always heard that each of us lives on the edge of insanity. If that's true, focusing on newscasts 24 hours a day would be just the catalyst to push me over the edge. We generally respond to what we can’t handle in one of several ways: we close our eyes and hope it passes; we cave and go crazy; we become calloused; or, we count our blessings as we learn to hide in the reality of God’s Presence. Not only is He our safe place and our security, He's the Joy that counteracts the fear and anxiety crouching in our hearts because of what may wait outside the door.
    Sovereign Lord, You rule! When we forget this simple and amazing fact we find ourselves wadding up in fetal positions of fear and anxiety. But, when we remember and proclaim You as God of heaven and earth, we remember the myriad of times You’ve poured Your miraculous blessings on us and those around us. Recounting the ways You’ve loved us, we unwind and release ourselves into Your Loving Light. Dark doubts evaporate as we keep our hope anchored in You. You are Jehovah God, “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”  
In the Name of Jesus, the Solid Rock, the One who never leaves our rocking boats!
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Selah Psalm 46:1-3

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You, who walk in the light of Your presence, O LORD.” Psalm 89:15

Monday, December 27, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010 - Eyes Wide Open

     When I told Daddy I needed to find a wifi hotspot to post this morning’s blog, he raised his eyebrows and asked, “You have to work on vacation?” I thought about taking this week off but then I would be asking God to be quiet for six days. Scary and not happening.
      We traveled 11 hours and visited four states other than Arkansas on our trip from Benton to my parents in Jefferson, GA. We told Nick he might see snow on the trip for the first time in his 12-year-old life but there was none in Little Rock, none in Memphis, none in Tupelo and none in Birmingham. We were on the long, dark stretch of I-20 between Birmingham and Atlanta when we considered stopping for the night. The moon peeped out from behind a cloud just long enough to light a field to the right of us and I sat up straight and waited. Peering through the glass to make sure, I said, “Nick look outside.” Since he didn’t know what he was looking for, I guided him to notice how the ground and trees glowed in an unusual way. The light came on and he asked “Snow?”  When I confirmed his suspicions he commented on the irony of seeing his first snow in Alabama. After all, we moved from living 12 snow-less winters in Alabama then returned as visitors and found it.
     We had to stop  to play in the snow. So, in spite of the cold and the late hour, we found an exit with no traffic and pulled into a church drive. Nick was out and in it, grinning from ear to ear. Tom did the protective man thing and checked out the area we had chosen. Little Mac, undaunted by the white stuff, made his own explorations. The church sign for  New Hope Baptist Church lit the snow where we played with the message “Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” I walked up the drive singing “Winter Wonderland” and thanking God I could sing it in the right setting. When I turned back toward Nick I saw the back of the church sign had a different message. There, glowing just for me were the words  “May all your dreams come true.”  Of all the great ways God as some great ways to communicate with me but the most unexpected is when He just comes out and says it. He allowed us to be a part of the snowy celebration. He woke us up and refreshed us to finish our journey and when we arrived at my parents’ house, we trudged (yes, I can use that word!) through snow to get to the door with our luggage, laughing all the way.
     This morning I stepped into the sun room to see the barn across the field wearing a snowy roof as a gusty wind blew snow mists across the yard. I fully expected one of today’s verses to be about snow but again, I can’t keep up with God. Instead, today’s verses provide a lovely three-stranded bow for these extra gifts: God acts in our behalf, He’s made us clean like fresh-fallen snow; and just when we stop chasing dreams He surprises us with our eyes wide open.

Father, while other people give up on their greedy gods, we keep reaping Your Love and Joy. Thank You for snow this Christmas and for surprises that still thrill. Thank You for beauty and the sense to appreciate it when we see it. May we never be too sophisticated to make snow angels or to take in Your seasonal gifts. Thank You for making us clean. Help us trust Your way for us and to catch every personal message You etch along the way. We trust You enough to know You can accomplish all You want to accomplish through us and bless us as You do so. I love you, Lord Jesus, and I thank You for making dreams come true.
In the Name of Jesus, who taught us to be childlike and to appreciate our God who gives good gifts!
 “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, Who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.”  Isaiah 64:4

“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”John 15:3

“For with You is the fountain of life; in Your Light we see light.” Psalm 36:9

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010 - Tweak, tweak

     For Christmas yesterday, I felt inspired to don my poet's cap, dip my pen, and whirl some words on the page. Inspiration doesn't guarantee perfection (just ask Thomas Edison) so this morning I changed lines and rhymes because everything I write is a work in progress. I often re-read and edit entries on this blog long after publishing them. Editing may mean tweaking a word choice or correcting punctuation, but sometimes it means deleting whole paragraphs and starting again because what made sense when I wrote it reads like gibberish later. 
    "Classics" are works that stand the test of time and millions of readings. They're more often written in painstaking stages than in sudden, passionate outbursts. Each of us is a manuscripts under God's inspired Hand and He writes only classics. He fills us with His breath, His Spirit, His inspiration but our sin nature guarantees gibberish in need of heavy editing. He calls us, His living words, to step fearlessly into His embrace where He loves us unconditionally while His everlasting Arms shape us into masterpieces who'll stand the test of time.  

Dear Father, we're blessed to have You care enough to edit our lives and make them more useful for Your purposes. Love through us and all our imperfection. Drive out fear of punishment and reprisals to free us to love as You've called us to love. We want to live in the embrace of Your Everlasting Arms. Delete from our lives what doesn't make sense. Capitalize what's important. Help us make You the theme of everything we do.
In the Name of Jesus, Inspiration of the Ages

"If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." 1 John 4:15-18

"The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you, saying, "Destroy him!" Deuteronomy 33:27

"But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation." Psalm 13:5

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Saturday, December 25, 2010 - Christmas Contrasts

Christmas Contrasts 
An empty world said there's no room,
For heaven's King from a virgin's womb.
Peace came to earth amid Bethlehem's bedlam;
In an earthly stable bloomed the Rose of Heaven.
A band of shepherds heard an angel choir.
A midnight sky birthed a bright new fire;
A carpenter protected the Architect of earth,
And Mary, first-time mother, held our Hope for second birth.
Man grabs greedily for God's lone rights, 
But God became man one holy night
To pay the price His law demands,
Our Father wrapped Grace and laid Him in our hands. 
"For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:6

"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." Philippians 2:6-7

"Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the the highest,, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.'"Luke 2:13-14

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich." 2 Corinthians 8:9

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010 - Christmas Eve - BFF (Best Friends Forever)

     One of my favorite sayings is "With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone." My friend-list always includes people I can trust and many times that means older, wiser people, but sometimes it means people wise beyond their years due to experience. Once upon a time trusting someone meant I knew what I shared wouldn't go anywhere else, but my ideas about trust have expanded. My dog, Little Mac, lives up to the "man's best friend" legacy: he listens and keeps quiet, always seems excited to see me, and he'll stay close when I've blown it so badly no one else wants anything to do with me. But, dogs aren't equipped to do what only a true friend can do: speak and act courageously from a heart filled with love and wisdom.   
    Trustworthy friends know your heart, know when you're doing your best and give you the benefit of the doubt. They also know when you're slacking, pulling back, wallowing in self-pity or allowing your pride to blind you to the truth. Trustworthy friends look for ways to encourage you rather than picking you apart to find what they can criticize or discredit. They also don't let you get away with blaming everyone else for your problems. Trustworthy friends forgive you when you ask because they're wise enough to know anyone can make a mistake at any moment. They also expect you to forgive them when their humanity comes forward full force. People who've been around long enough to enjoy a few quality friendships have learned that true friends are hard to find and impossible to keep without honesty and wisdom.
     God Almighty became the Son of Man to extend His Hand in eternal friendship to a world wallowing in sin. He speaks to us in pure wisdom "from everlasting to everlasting." He is agape Love which always acts in the best interest of others, making His friendship trustworthy. He is the definition of Trustworthy, Faithful and True. God Almighty neither coddles our egos by avoiding harsh truths nor holds back His Love until we're perfect. He sees our sin in all its ugliness yet forgives us when we ask. He's available to help us out of any slippery pit and will shine His Light into any dark place we hide when we ask for His help. He came as Someone to be held and  became Someone who holds us in the unbreakable grip of His Peace and Presence. What a Friend we have in Jesus!
Lord, Who You are provides exactly what we need. We wouldn't choose so much honesty if it were up to us because we'd rather downplay our own sin and spotlight other people's sins. Thank You for loving us as we are, yet not letting us get away with anything that hurts our character, our witness, and ultimately Your kingdom. Jesus, You said, "You are My friends if you do what I command" (John 15:14) so strengthen us to accept Your Wisdom and obey all You command. You, Forever God, are the Friend who exceeds all our hopes and expectations. Please, keep us from assuming on or taking advantage of Your friendship. May we give You, who've given us eternity in heaven, our trustworthy friendship in return.
In the Name of Jesus, Son of man and Friend of sinners!

"Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God." Psalm 90:2

"To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Colossians 1:27

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." Colossians 3:15

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010 - It's All About the Baby

     Julie and Nick fly back to Atlanta today. It was our last Christmas as the five of us: Tom, me, Nick N., Julie and Nick A. They will have a seven month old with them next Christmas and it will be all about the baby. Seeing Julie's "baby bump" and feeling Little One moving inside her definitely kicked up the anticipation. After the May miscarriage she didn't feel it was real until Little One moved and she felt another life inside her own. The results from the most recent ultrasound lay sealed and wrapped under the Akin Christmas tree for the two of them to open Christmas morning. We'll find out whether we have a grandson or granddaughter on Monday evening when we arrive in Atlanta and share dinner with Nick's family. For  dessert we'll have cake with white icing. When we cut into it we'll discover either pink or blue cake. What a "sweet" way to announce who's on the way.
     God sent Mary, a virgin, the confirmation she needed to prepare herself emotionally and mentally to have His Child. He sent an angel with the news, normal physical changes to confirm her pregnancy, her older cousin Elizabeth to testify to the Truth, and her own Joseph with his own angelic revelation. Still, how much "pondering" did it take to absorb the fact that God Himself had joined with her to conceive the kicking Child inside her? A couple of years later, when she was more than likely changing His diaper or trying to keep him from injuring Himself on Joseph's carpentry tools, strange men showed up at the door to worship her little man. They knelt and laid before Him gifts fit for a king, reminding her again why it was all about the Baby. 
    Father, You're with us to guide us in paths of Peace through the days that seem miracle-free. The chores and work get us down but Your Presence can make it all worthwhile if we'll stop and remember it's all about You. You are Emmanuel, God with us, and we celebrate the 24/7 vigil You keep over us. Help us do the same with You: gazing at you in silent adoration or bowing before You placing our best gifts at Your disposal. Lead us and keep leading us. Give us eyes to see the guiding stars You place in our skies and help us follow with resolve and exceedingly great joy!
In the name of Jesus, God in flesh, God forever!

"The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God." Luke 1:35

"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

"After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." Matthew 2:9-11

"because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace." Luke 1:78-79

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - Why Shepherds?

      One of the verses for today's "Jesus Calling" devotional answered a question I've turned over in my heart for years each Christmas: Why shepherds? I know shepherds were low on the social ladder, but so were many other people: why not carpenters or milk maids? I know shepherds were out in the fields under dark skies which made the perfect stage for an angel bulletin and concert, but Gabriel appeared to Mary and Zechariah privately and to Joseph in a dream. Why shepherds?
     Picture a wide-eyed flock of out-of-breath men stopping short in the stable doorway as they spotted the equally wide-eyed couple inside and little Lord Jesus in a manger. Maybe it was even comical as the men in back slid into those who had stopped, asking "Are we there yet?"  Had being in the fields led them to forget their manners and social skills or was their obvious interest and openness a breath of fresh air to Mary and Joseph? Were these shepherds shy or did they bustle inside and overwhelm the new mother and protective father? Why shepherds?
      Then, today, I read Psalm 95:6-7 and it took on a whole new meaning three days before Christmas: "Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care." Psalm 95:6-7
    These men, rough but suddenly tender, crept toward the manger and took a knee to get a better look at the "Savior. . . . Christ the Lord:" a flock of caretakers for helpless sheep worshiped the One who would care for them in their helplessness against sin and death; men just in from the pasture fell down before the Prince of Peace whose glory had shone into their night. One day kings would follow a star to bow down and worship the King of kings, but first shepherds bowed before the Good Shepherd to remind us He came to care for all of us and to be Who each of us need Him to be. He's the Teacher to teachers and students alike; the Preacher to preachers and anyone who will listen with open hearts and ears; a simple carpenter to people who work with their hands; the Great Physician to those in the healing profession and to those who need healing; the older brother to those who need family; the One who had no place to lay His head to the homeless; Living Water for the thirsty and the Bread of Life for the hungry. He didn't become human to understand us better but to show us He already understood us and everything we need is in Him. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests."  Merry CHRISTmas, favored one!
Savior, thank You for the Love that sent You to earth. If You changed the world in 33 years, what will You do in heaven for all eternity? Thank You for letting shepherds in on Your plan first. How comforting to know we don't have to be cleaned up and in our Sunday best for You to speak to us or for us to worship You. Help us to reach out to others as You reached out to us. Teach us to use every opportunity You give us to tell the Good News to anyone You put before us. Give us the gift of communicating Your Love to all kinds of people in whatever ways are needed most. 
In the Name of Jesus - Shepherd-King Who lived in flesh for 33 years but Who alone is immortal!

". . .which God will bring about in His own-- God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To Him be honor and might forever. Amen."

"Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care." Psalm 95:6-7

"He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all --how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:32

"And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." 2 Peter 1:19

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - I'll Criss, You Cross, Then We'll Swap

     Baptism is one of my favorite ways to worship at our church. This past Sunday, five young men gave visual testimony to their new faith in Jesus. They took turns stepping into the baptismal water and standing quietly as a relative or friend read their testimonies aloud for them. At the conclusion of each testimony, the minister asked all friends, family members and neighbors to stand. He asked the new believer's former and present Bible Study, VBS, choir and missions teachers and leaders to stand. He invited pre-school and school teachers, coaches and administrators to rise. When everyone in the congregation who served as a thread in the fabric of the new believer's life had stood, the pastor pointed them out and allowed time for the new Christian and everyone else to see and absorb the network of people who helped this soul find Jesus. 
     God's plan for each of our lives unfolds in intricate patterns requiring time and forethought. He doesn't reach each one the same way or with the same people. Nor does He use us the same way each time He reaches someone. My thread crosses your thread in a person's life and God becomes clearer at the intersection. Your thread reinforces someone else's thread in my life and I'm encouraged to stick with God's plan. Miracle upon miracle of criss-crossing patterns bring us to faith in God and help us trust Him to use us to point lost people to Him. Realizing we can't fulfill the Great Commission by ourselves is the starting point for fulfilling the Great Commission. 

Sovereign God, Great God - You bring us together to glorify You and to do the good works You've planned for each of us in advance. Your own life on earth was pre-designed to cross the paths of men, women, children, Jews, Gentiles, the rich and the poor, the healthy and the diseased, the whole and the disabled, the spiritually hungry and the self-satisfied. You followed Your unfolding Plan though it seemed to make no sense to most people at the time. Your obedience led to miracle after miracle until people noticed and many felt compelled to follow You. Please, help us patiently follow Your intricately detailed Plan and let You cross our paths with people we can lead to You, even if our part is small or seems ineffectual at the time. Use us to make a difference this day, this season and in the New Year.
In the Name of Jesus who brought us together in Him!

"I have seen You in Your sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory." Psalm 63:2

"We live by faith, not by sight." 2 Corinthians 5:7

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010 - That Strangely Wonderful Son

     Like most mamas I know, I love to brag on my kids - all three of them. They're smart, talented, funny, beautiful, spiritually in tune, and great with people. I wonder how in the world Mary managed to contain herself when the Jewish mamas gathered at the well to brag about their kids. Can't you see her biting her lip or tongue as she lowered her head to avoid making eye contact? She wouldn't be able to explain either the twinkle or the tear in her eye, depending on what that strangely wonderful Son had done lately. The other mothers probably felt a little sorry for her, since Jesus was a little "different" and somewhat of a loner who had been seen wandering out of Nazareth alone early in the mornings with no hunting gear. Sure, he was a great kid who never caused trouble but something wasn't kosher about the boy, something made them uncomfortable. Those who pried couldn't get answers and probably assumed it was because the answers weren't good. 
     Mary must have cared deeply about the wedding hosts at the Cana wedding because she finally broke and asked Jesus to reveal His glory by helping them out of a potentially embarrassing situation. How did she know what He could do? Had they had the "talk?" If so, who said what? I'll definitely want to see the high def DVD of this part of Jesus' life when we all get to heaven. Jesus' first public miracle - turning water to wine at a wedding - led His disciples to "put their faith in Him" just as Mary had already done. The miracle, like all Jesus' miracles, was performed to help someone besides Himself. Not one time did Jesus' use His power to brag, get Himself out of a dilemma or put people in their places. I can't imagine the willpower it took to refrain from letting holy sparks fly on a daily basis much less when physical pain and emotional humiliation enveloped Him on the cross as mere humans sneered and jeered at Him. And why did He hold back and let death and His enemy win this skirmish? All for me and all for you. He saved us from having to suffer this pain and humiliation ourselves. Even though we're nothing to brag about, He saved us to share His Glory and Power with Him, King of kings, and Lord of lords. Forever, and ever. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
   I sing praises to Your Name Lord Jesus for the 33 years You walked the earth holding back Your full Glory and Power for our sakes. Thank You, Jesus, for knowing best how to turn the world on its ear. We're blessed because You were cursed. We'll live forever because You died. We're declared pure because You overcame every temptation and ignored every attempt to undermine Your Purpose and Your Father's Will. You AMAZE me! Pour this virtue in me and help me live for others' sakes. It's like pulling out a million splinters to have You remove the pride that keeps me living for myself, but I thank You for never giving up on me. I want to be a child You can be proud of for all the right reasons.

 In the Name of Jesus, the Silent Lamb led to the Slaughter, King of kings, and Lord of lords forever and ever!
 "This, the first of His miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee.  He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him.'"  John 2:11

"The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, 'He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.'" Luke 23:35-36

"It is good to praise the LORD and make music to Your Name, O Most High, to proclaim Your love in the morning and Your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp. For You make me glad by Your deeds, O LORD; I sing for joy at the works of Your Hands. How great are Your works, O LORD, how profound Your thoughts!" Psalm 92:1-5

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010 - Mrs. O. and Mrs. C.

    Our gift to Julie and Nick this year is to experience Arkansas for the first time. We call it the Akin/Arkan Tour. The idea for this Christmas gift popped into my head one day as I realized neither of them have been to this area and Tom, Nick and I haven't yet had time to do much of the "fun" stuff in our new state. The experience of making memories together is my favorite gift to receive, so I started praying about how we could give this to them and make it meaningful. My two opposing personalities, Mrs. Organized and Mrs. Creative, immediately began tug-of-warring over how to  handle the tour. Mrs. O. reminded Mrs. C. that our pastor says "Give your time and money a name or it gets away from you." Mrs. C. grudgingly agreed but insisted that Mrs. O. not plan every minute but build in some "down" time and some flexibility. I was a little afraid they would squabble and ruin the experience but planning the Akin/Arkan tour has actually brought them closer together and helped them learn to trust each other more. 
     Yesterday, Mrs. O. had planned a tour of Little Rock to begin at the Clinton Presidential Library before heading into the River Market District to ice skate, shop and eat lunch. Then we were to go over the river to North Little Rock for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra Concert at 3:00. A late start had Mrs. O. getting tight-lipped and nervous but Mrs. C. whispered, "None of it is 'necessary.' Let's go with the flow." When we arrived at our first destination we saw a trolley decked out for Christmas heading our way and a handful of people waiting at the stop. Mrs. C. squealed as she recognized the blessing and pulled the car along the curb as Mrs. O. fought to think it through: "It'll throw us off schedule. We don't even know where it's going or when it will come back. What if we're late to the concert? We won't have our car!"  But Mrs. C. had taken the reigns and we were on the trolley with brochures in hand. She was right to take charge. The trolley ride included a tour guide who helped us get our bearings and showed us everything we needed to know about the area, even making restaurant recommendations. Mrs. O. relaxed and even smiled a little when she realized the trolley would save little pregnant Julie from having to walk too much, keep us all out of the cold, and relieve the stress and expense of parking. Tears of joy sprang to her eyes when Tom bought day passes so we could relax about finding the right change each time we used the trolley. The two Nicks ice skated and we had pizza at Iriana's (voted best pizza in Little Rock three years in a row, according to our trolley conductor) before walking across the street to ride the trolley to our concert. Perfect timing; wonderful fun. Mrs. O. and Mrs. C. high-fived each other and praised God for the way the day brought them together.
     After an incredible show, Mrs. C. was over the moon to see the now-lighted trolley heading to our stop. (Mrs. O. was more thrilled to see the trolley roll up just as we walked to the stop.) We boarded and enjoyed the amazing Christmas Spirit found only among city strangers filled with music and thrown together in a trolley. A group of teens arrived a few stops later and the remainder of our glowing ride became a rolling caroling party. The garland and red bows inside the wood interior of the trolley created a surreal yet quaint experience. Mrs. C. said to Mrs. O., "Thanks for the part you planned but thanks for going with the flow." Mrs. O. said, "Thanks for going with the flow and making the plan even better." 
     We all knew the  day was a gift from God. Too many beautiful details dove-tailed to bring many unplanned experiences. God is good to help us order our days when we learn to go with His flow. If we plan away every moment, we plan away opportunities for Him to surprise us with trolleys, carolers, and the goodwill of strangers. If we don't let Him help us make plans we end up forfeiting His blessings and carrying the heavy baggage of regret that comes with unfulfilled ideas and intentions.  

Father of Christmas, thank You for the Christmas we experienced with all our senses yesterday. Thank You for the surprises, the blessings, the joy, the gathering, and the Love. Help us let You plan for us and free us from the endless details and lists that eat up precious time. Bless our efforts to find balance and to put You first every moment. The big picture will be worth giving up the reigns now.   

In the Name of Jesus, Prince of Peace, Fulfillment of the Plan, Lord of Love
"Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." Proverbs 16:3
"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010 - **** problems!

     "Math" is a four-letter word I use only when under extreme stress. I was an "A" student until one fateful day in fifth grade when fractions showed up in our happy classroom to destroy any illusions of future academic perfection. The world as I knew it crumbled when the teacher I trusted tried to convince me that one whole piece of pie now had several aliases, depending on how many pieces of pie came out of the pie pan. In this new communist regime where **** ruled, all pieces of pie were cut into perfect clones of one another; there were no bigger pieces to fight for or little pieces to call "slivers" or "bites." From that day on, "****" became my personal enemy and a menace to my previously idyllic school life. At first I tried ignoring it away like a bully who couldn't get a response, but it continued to mock me into corners I couldn't escape.  My pride kept me from asking for too much help because I was in a special class where children weren't supposed to need much help. In fact, I was a reading tutor for first graders. However, as the **** problems increased in difficulty so did my "****" anxiety. I learned to adapt by doing homework with a friend who seemed undaunted by all the pieces of pie on the page. In spite of my efforts, **** pummeled me until I cried "uncle." My hand stayed in the air during class for help and the teacher wore a path in the wooden floor from her desk to mine. I learned to memorize the steps and rules but never comprehended why you turned fractions upside down for some problems but not for others. All the way through the remainder (did I just use a **** word??) of my public school education and even through the one college m---, ahem, arithmetic class  I HAD to take in college, I adapted and coped to get a good grade before the tests. However, unreasonable teachers made me take the tests alone and my "lack of understanding" became obvious, toppling my grade.   **** problems!
     I thought my days of battling math and feeling inadequate were history, then I had children and my old enemy came after them. You can call me names and hurt my feelings - but DON'T MESS WITH MY KIDS! Now, I'm Nick's best friend when he has **** homework. I understand exactly what seems ridiculous to him. I know that glazed look and I feel his pain. For Julie and for him, I let my own wall down and managed to lower my anxiety level. Math is no longer my personal enemy. I've even come to its defense a few times, touting its necessity to getting a bargain or . . . well, that's the only example I can think of right now, but you understand that I now see how math occasionally comes in handy.
     I guess you could say I've learned a lot from math that had nothing to do with numbers. Most of the problems God allows into our lives come down to this same idea: It's not about solving the problem but about what we're learning in the duration and struggle. Problems change their names but we grow and change with each challenge when we stop treating the surface problem as Public Enemy #1 and start looking for how God's using the problem to make deep and lasting changes in us. I wasn't thankful for math classes but struggling with this subject year after year made me a more compassionate friend, tutor and teacher. I didn't enjoy having to ask for help but God knew my pride meant I needed to learn to ask for help - from Him and from other people. In heaven, I'll be another Einstein but for now, I'm thankful for all the people who can configure, reconfigure,give precise answers, tell the difference between Trig and Calculus, and excel in Probabilities and Statistics. I do a little dance when I balance my checking account since God's still using those **** problems to keep me humble and dependent on Him!

Teacher, Rabbi, Lord - Your syllabus seems impossible but You will never leave or forsake us and You equip us to please You. You encourage us to ask for help - any and all the time. Thank You that life is about more than solving problems. Give us patience with ourselves and compassion on those who struggle with what seems simple to us. Provide who and what we need to learn what You're teaching us. We want to absorb Your Spirit and draw on Your Strength so keep us from developing anxieties and trust issues. You are God and You only allow into our lives what perfects and polishes our long-term usefulness in Your kingdom. Thank You for counting us as worth all the patience and effort we require from You.

"Although the LORD gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the way; walk in it." Isaiah 30:20-21

"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that afar outweighs them all." 2 Corinthians 4:17

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010 - Pre-lit And Plugged In

     We bought a new, "pre-lit" tree this year. Our old tree lasted about 15 years but didn't fare well in the move from the attic to the first floor so a trip to Arkansas was out of the question. We brought our new tree home and  decked it out with the ornaments we could find among our boxes, but something's not quite right. It's skimpy. I can see entirely too much light from the window coming through the tree and that pole in the center looks like a pole no matter how I arrange the branches. I'm envisioning a Charlie Brown Christmas tree for the Nolands in the next few years but it's a beautiful tree if you don't look too closely or too long.
     Since an unlit Christmas tree is a depressing sight to me we leave ours on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It glows in the front room picture window so people driving at all hours can see it and feel a little warmer because the people who live here cared and left the lights on for them.
     I'm a bit like our Christmas tree. Passable from a distance but spiritually skimpy and imperfect when you get up close and personal. I rearrange my branches in an effort to keep anything artificial from showing but I fail miserably. I was born pre-lit but not plugged in. When Jesus saved and  cleansed me, He filled me with His amazing Light and set me in a world where people pass me in the middle of their dark nights. If I'm willing, God uses me to warm and encourage them. Other people come closer in the harsh light of day and see the empty places, the imbalances, the chipped and superficial ornamentation and crooked star. I've got plenty of faults to find without looking very hard but praise God, He promises to fill us with Light, Knowledge, Righteousness, and Christ Himself. Once we're plugged in to Him, we lack nothing from His point of view. Even if we lose needles and branches over time, we just leave more space for Him to shine!  

Father, shine brightly in us today. Yes, we sin, but Your Power  is greater than our weakness and Your Light can outshine any and every failure. May we depend completely on You and stop trying to hide the places we need You most. Expose us in all our "gaping emptiness" and fill us to overflowing with all You have to pour in us. Erupt in our lives and encourage those around us to plug in to Your Power! Because I can breathe, I will praise You!

"For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made His Light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing  power is from God and not from us." 2 Corinthians 4:6

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . .Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." Matthew 5:3, 6

"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority." Colossians 2:9-10

"Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD" Psalm 150:6

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010 - The Great Egg McMuffin Crisis of 1983

     A couple from our church says God brought the two of them together so He could get a good laugh in every once in a while since they're polar opposites: Venus and Mars learning to meet on Earth. Dr. Gary Chapman's course on the five love languages revealed they give and receive love differently. From what I've seen through the years, I think this couple is more the rule than the exception, since God uses our relationships as the fire over which He hammers us into His divine likeness.
     One Saturday morning shortly after Tom and I first married, he went to McDonald's to get us breakfast (act of love). I told him what I wanted before he left (not an Egg McMuffin - his favorite). He returned smiling and handed me one of the two Egg McMuffins from the bag. World War III commenced before 9:00 a.m. You can imagine this scene in the drama of a newly forming marriage. To me that Egg McMuffin symbolized the honeymoon was over since he obviously didn't care WHAT I wanted for breakfast. I envisioned a future filled with gifts I couldn't appreciate. Why? Why? Could I only like what he liked? Hadn't he listened? Didn't he care? Did he think I should give the famous Egg McMuffin another try in order to acquire a taste for it to simplify future breakfast orders at McDonald's? We've long moved past the great Egg McMuffin Crisis of 1983, thanks to God and cell phones, but of course, years of other more serious issues have stretched and shaped our love and marriage. I've done my part to cause trouble and grief (though nothing as serious as messing up a breakfast order) so the Lord could hammer on Tom a bit, too.
    The Egg McMuffin story made me think of our cat, Polly Two-Toes, who regularly brought us baby rabbits and squirrels, a mouse, and small birds and insisted we take them. Someone informed me that these were her "cat love language" gifts to us so I tried not to gag in front of her, realizing her intentions were good and her resources limited. Try to remember this could be true with many people during this gift-giving season. Someone may express love to you in ways you don't recognize or even appreciate. If you open a box and see a gaudy sweater or nose hair trimmer,  just remember the giver probably had loving intentions but may be a "few fries short of a Happy Meal" in the gift-giving department.
     A  one-size-fits-all package directly from God's hands arrived in Bethlehem one night. Inside the swaddling wrapper lay a helpless baby Who encased Love. Because a young girl and a simple carpenter carried the Gift, Bethlehem had no room for Him. As Jesus grew,  He didn't meet the Jewish leaders' wish-list for a warrior to free them from their external enemies so they rejected Him. God's Gift spoke all the love languages equally well: He touched the lowliest lepers, spent quality time with close friends, served His followers by washing their feet, gave bread and fish to hungry crowds, and preached encouragement and hope to oppressed people. In spite of all His giving, scoffers cursed Him as He died the only death that could buy their eternal life. May we stop a while at the manger where the Light of Love lay wrapped in swaddling cloths, surrounded by angels and amazed shepherds. It's the perfect place to fall in love with our Savior again for everything He has become to us.
Father, thank You for speaking our language on our level and at our needs. May we clear the calendar to spend time in Your Presence and loving you in return for the amazing ways You love us. Teach us to speak Your love language to other people, especially this time of year. Make us gracious, thoughtful givers and gracious, thoughtful receivers. Lord Jesus, thank You for the many gifts You've given us we'll never fully appreciate until we're with You in heaven.  Show us how to spread the good news and other gifts You intended for us to share.

"The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning." Isaiah 50:4

"Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love." Revelation 2:4

"See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and His glory appears over you." Isaiah 60:2

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - Graduating with Honors

     The believer's brand of "hope" has nothing to do with wishful thinking. Our hope is based on knowledge and not "wouldn't it be nice."  Our hope means God is spiritually present with us strengthening us to live our lives knowing we'll be in His physical Presence one day. Our hope leads us to sacrifice for the Giver of Hope, knowing He'll reward us then. We witness now because those who accept Christ will share eternity with us then.
     My love for learning leads me to think like a student and a teacher so I compare living out our hope to choosing whether or not to study in college.  First of all, if we've accepted Christ we've already passed the most important exam and we're in "college" so to speak. Now it's up to us to see what we can do with this amazing opportunity and responsibility. Will we sacrifice and work hard to earn greater benefits and rewards or will we slack and hope to scrape by with minimum effort? God won't kick us out of "college," but maybe we need a reality check on how a life overflowing with hope could make an eternal difference for us and for those watching us. Something tells me we'd hit the Book, complete our assignments, tutor anyone who needed help, find ways to succeed in each class, join a service club, and look forward to a strong finish at graduation.
     Father, You've blessed us with opportunity after opportunity. Show us how to make the most of them.  Fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in You to empower us. You're our Anchor, our Holy of Holies, and we love and praise You. Thank You for the glimpses of heaven You give us now. May we bless You with our willingness to be used by You today.
     In the Name of Jesus whose sure hope led Him to change the world.
"Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." Romans 8:23-25

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." Hebrews 6:19-20

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 - Because He Lives

     Yesterday I had to face two experiences I've never had to face before. First, we had to decide whether to put our black diva cat Zorra to sleep or help her face a future in which she would have no quality of life. She had been hit in the back legs and both legs were broken (one was shattered) and her pelvic bone was crushed. She hobbled home Sunday after we missed her for two days, dragging her back end to get here. Not knowing the extent of the damage at the time, we coddled and cuddled her and she patted my face with her paw, glad to be home and out of the dangers of freezing weather and speeding cars. The next day Tom dropped her off at the vet's office, hoping they could simply put a splint on the leg that was obviously broken but the news we received later wasn't good. After seeing the xray and hearing the prognosis, we knew there was only one choice. I was determined to be with her when she left us because she deserved that much after entertaining us and loving us so well over the years. Again, she let me know she was glad to see me and we visited a bit. I held her head in my hand as our vet did the rest. It was over quickly and quietly and I cried most of the rest of the day. 
     My second run-in with death put the cat in perspective. We walked into the funeral home for Baby Lyla's visitation and there she lay in a little casket hardly bigger than a shoe box. She was like a porcelain doll in the gorgeous bright pink dress her parents had selected, black headband and bow, black patent leather shoes, little tights, a bracelet and a white heart necklace. Her mama, Brittany, was wearing the other half of the necklace - a larger white heart with a heart shaped hole in the center: part of a mother's heart now missing. Baby Lyla was a miracle. She wasn't supposed to make it through the delivery, or live more than a day or two, or survive the surgery much less the removal of her life support. She is the perfect example of how God designed our bodies and spirits to fight death and live. 
  Death could appear to be the winner if we haven't yet turned the page. While we are designed to survive, God tells us to rest from the struggle because there's more than this life.  We could see life on earth as meaningless when death shakes our world and steals those we love. God says, "I am the same through eternity and I'm waiting in all My Glory on the other side of this door that seems dark and strange to you." God's final victory is the reason we can keep living and know life and death have meaning and serve a purpose in His eternal time line. 
Father, hearts are broken now but time will show us the purpose of our suffering. May we always be tender toward one another and not grow calloused to the suffering and death of others. You are never callous to people. Guide us to rejoice that our hearts feel and hurt when they should. Help us love those who are with us and who need love. May we live with purpose because You are God.
In the Name of Jesus who loved and blessed the little children.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives. 

And then one day, I'll cross the river,
I'll fight life's final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to vict'ry,
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He live

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!" Ecclesiastes 1:2

"In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:6

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010 - F.O.C.U.S.

    Part of my French language education included a three-week immersion program at LSU during the summer. I was petrified as I unloaded my luggage in front of a dormitory filled with strangers from around the world. I came within a breath of changing my mind about staying in a place I could speak only French when the instructor told us we had to even "dream in French." However, those three weeks turned out to be the most productive time I've ever invested in my language skills and by the end of the program, I couldn't remember the English word for suitcase. Setting apart three weeks to hear and speak only French helped me achieve a greater fluency than I ever imagined I could achieve without leaving the United States. Immersion taught me what the mind can do when focused on one goal.    
     God calls us to set aside time to immerse ourselves in His Presence and focus on Jesus. "Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest." (Heb. 3:1)  Sarah Young's entry in Jesus Calling today begins with "Take time to be holy."  Holiness isn't a garment we can put on and take off, it's an internal lifestyle. It isn't a stained-glass voice, a hellfire and brimstone sermon or a resume filled with good deeds. Holiness takes shape as we dedicate our hearts, minds, souls and time to God for His transforming purposes within us, His temple. Immersing ourselves in God's Presence does the following:

    *Fosters our emotional and physical healing;
    *Opens the way for God to bless us with every good gift He's prepared for us;
    *Cleanses us as God's temples so He can do "more than all we ask or imagine;" 
    *Unites our hearts with God's Will;
    *Strengthens our faith and fills us with God's Peace;
As we focus on Him, His holiness pours out of our lives, setting us apart from the world. Maybe the reason Christmas has the potential to bring out the best in us is because we set a season apart from the rest of the year to focus on Jesus. 
Holy Spirit, fill us with the desire to spend as much time as possible in Your Presence. Override every other pull. Help us dedicate ourselves to experiencing You and show specific ways to focus on You. We're already Your holy people; help us live up to who You've called us to be today. Make the most of this Christmas in our hearts and in the ways Your holiness pours out of us into those around us. We love and praise You Lord!

In the name of Jesus, the Centerpiece of the Season!

Take Time to Be Holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word:
Make friends of God's children, help those who are weak;
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret with Jesus alone:
By looking to Jesus like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

Take time to be holy, let Him be thy guide,
And run not before Him whatever betide;
In joy or in sorrow still follow thy Lord,
And looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.

Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul;
Each tho't and each motive beneath His control;
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou shalt be fitted for service above.
Words by William D. Longstaff

"on the day He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you." 2 Thessalonians 1:10

"One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my  life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple." Psalm 27:4

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;"1 Corinthians 6:19

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us,"Ephesians 3:20

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010 - That Was RaNdOm

     A new friend here in Benton called one day and wanted to know if I'd like to ride to Little Rock with her to run an errand and to get some lunch. After receiving my enthusiastic two thumbs up on the opportunity of a visit, she asked, "Do you like Mexican?"  Doesn't everybody? So off we went. As she drove on back roads that were new to me, I filed shortcuts, street names, and store locations in my brain for later use. We arrived at the restaurant and I laughed at the gall of someone who'd take the minister of music's wife to a place called "Senor Tequila." Then I tasted the fajita chicken nachos, stopped laughing and started praising God for the wisdom He gave the entire history of Mexican culinary geniuses who contributed to the perfection of this dish. My reputation was at stake, but I no longer cared.
   The next day I had an important appointment early in Little Rock with the agency that provides substitutes for our county. I was thrilled to see that Map Quest revealed my destination was in the same neighborhood we visited on our excursion. In fact, the building I needed was located next door to the infamous Senor Tequila. My "spur of the moment," random lunch date ended up being part of God's plan to get me where I needed to be on time the next day without the added worry and stress of navigating new territory. I drove to my appointment feeling God's Arms around me and I praised Him for His loving control over the details in my life. I thanked Him for my friend who had followed His prompting, not knowing her invitation would be a two-day blessing. And, yes, I thanked Him for using even Senor Tequila to show me the way. 

Sovereign God, You make me laugh with joy when You let me see how You've put together a day filled with bits and pieces that all make divine sense in the end. Help me trust You when it takes longer than two days to see the big picture. Guide me to rest in Your care and bless You with my faith. My little brain can't begin to see all the ways You're working around me and for me. Forgive me when I'm miffed or panicked that something goes "wrong," as if my Almighty, Unlimited Father isn't on top of things. Help me accept the bumps in the road for which I can't see an immediate purpose. I want to trust You completely as You weave them into Your pattern and plan for my good and Your glory.

In the Name of Jesus, Whom Mary and Martha questioned for waiting so long to come to the side of their sick brother. 

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell Me, if you understand. who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?" Job 38:4-7

"Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7

"We live by faith, not by sight." 2 Corinthians 5:7