Sunday, December 29, 2013

Making a List, Checking Myself

I made a list today . . . 

a Sandra-type To Do List.

I'm thinking that may mean my brain is beginning to work again after four months of battering.

That's probably a good thing since there's still so much in front of us to walk through, sort out, submit to, learn from, and basically survive.

As I re-read that sentence I realize there's a problem with the last word. Survive is an honest word at this point in my emotions, but God has so much more planned for those He calls His own, for me.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  John 8:36

The Father's plan is for the salvation He offers through Christ to bring freedom to those imprisoned by sin. The days ahead of me are for me to be FREE.

And Christ tells us more about His rescue mission.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  John 10:10  ESV

Jesus the Christ intends for my life to be not only free from the oppressive power of sin. The Savior brings more to those who trust in His work and words, the opportunity for His sheep, for me, to live life ABUNDANTLY. 

In this last little while I have to admit that whenever I used the word abundant it was to describe all the woes and trials in my life. Something happens to the human perspective when we find ourselves under the discipling [sic] hand of our sovereign and all-sufficient God. 

My experience is that when I feel like I'm battling from morning 'til night the troubles somehow takeover the entire view finder of my vision. The only things that come into focus are all those that can and do go wrong, the struggles - even potential and imagined struggles. 

The really dangerous aspect of that process happens when the difficulties continue over a long period of time. The view finder seems to lose its ability to catch the image of anything other than the hard times. Negativity somehow takes over the entire screen and a viewing habit develops.

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to break a habit? And I find this one is particularly difficult for a couple of reasons.

1) It's easy to find something that has or could or will go wrong because we live in a fallen world. That's the nature of it. Perfection exists only with God. 

2) It's easier to follow a familiar pattern than to strike out in a new direction. Feet and minds find it comfortable to walk along a well-worn path.

Speaking hypothetically of course, I would suggest that it takes super-human (divine, actually) strength to put such a negative habit to death. That's why sometimes we don't have victory in the midst of the effort. 

If I ever happened to find myself facing such a dilemma, I think I would have to force myself to stop in my thought tracks, turn to God, and plead for the Spirit's intervention. 

Then, if I ever did find myself at such a crossroad, I might have to consider the suggestion of a friend and audaciously challenge the criteria of my view finder and the way I choose to respond to what appears.

So . . . just in case I might possibly have fallen into such a nasty habit recently, I've decided it might be worth it to put a fresh set of parameters in place. I'm calling it the Blessing List of 2014

I'm going to begin focusing my mind and heart and soul and spirit on the ways that God blesses me every moment of every day. Thankfully His Word lets me know I won't have any trouble at all collecting items to fill in my list.

I will bless them [my flock, v. 21] and the places surrounding my hill. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.  
Ezekiel 34:26  NIV'84

These crazy people will appear at the top of my Blessing List.

What would appear on your list?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas is a Rice Cooker

Christmas means different things to different people. Christmas has meant different things to me at different points in my life.

  • a special visit from my grandparents on the night before Christmas
  • a vacation from the demands of my school classroom
  • a time to find out if I got what I put on my Christmas list
  • a deadline for buying, wrapping and delivering a lot of gifts

It wasn't until I was grown and married that I came to understand the biblical message of Christmas - that the Son of God left His throne in glory to become the promised Messiah, Jesus the Christ, the spotless sacrifice and only possible atonement for the sins of the world and me in particular. 

Yesterday when we opened the Amazon box that arrived on the doorstep I was overwhelmed all over again at God's plan to glorify Himself, especially during this time of remembering Messiah's first appearing. 

We found a super-dee-duper electronic rice cooker inside the box. We wondered who would send us a rice cooker as we hunted for the paperwork. It's an answer that spans nearly 30 years.

A student God sent to us, a young pastoral family in a small church, in the 1980s hailed from Malaysia. No need to tell you that he ate a lot of rice. When it was time for him to return home he offered us the rice cooker he'd brought with him and used throughout his college career. We received his gift as a reminder of the precious friendship God had built between us.

As a young pastor's wife I welcomed the thoughtful present for more than just the memories. I never seemed to be able to time my rice with the rest of the meal. Thankfully for more than 25 years that thoughtful memento has done its job. Whenever rice was part of the menu it went to our table properly cooked at just the right moment. 

This dear Brother has become a well-known musician and successful business man. This Christmas he's away from his family because he's on a job in China. Yet in the midst of work and missing his loved ones, evidently he decided that it was time for our rice cooking process to be upgraded. 

[[Thank you, Mac. We are indeed very blessed by your kindness.]]

Yes, Christmas is a time to celebrate the arrival of the Light into this dark world. The Son came to ransom His people from the divine consequences of sin, the wrath of the Father. There's more to tell. The Messiah also came to serve.

... just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  Matthew 20:28  NIV'84

And God's Holy Word tells us we are to follow Christ's example of obedient service whether the Spirit calls us to reach across the street or around the globe. As we served God by caring for Mac so long ago, Mac is serving God by caring for us.

May the ongoing message of the Nativity be alive in you from salvation to service. Amen

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

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.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
     and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!
Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place
     and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
     in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
     to the glory of God the Father.     Philippians 2:5-11  NIV'84

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holes, Nests, and Mangers

We've been on the road since 4 November.  

That will be seven weeks tomorrow

and there's no ending date in sight.

I have to admit it's a bit draining to be living out of a suitcase as we maneuver through daily life along with making our way to medical and other types of appointments. Then there's church activities, a family birthday, Thanksgiving, a ballet performance, Advent blessings, Bible studies, prayer meetings, shopping, another family birthday, a trip to Maine, and a list of other responsibilities too long to mention. It's a bit stretching.

I don't mean to complain. I'm just sharing some observations I've been making. 

Well, okay, there have been days when my grumbling has threatened to become audible. On one of them recently when I was getting ready to call a pity party the following verse came up in a Bible study.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 
Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  Luke 9:57

Hallelujah for the Scripture that reminds me that Jesus was "tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin." Hebrews 4:15 

My loving Savior knows what it's like to 'live out of a suitcase' with many daily and additional activities and responsibilities to pursue. As a matter of fact, Jesus the Christ was born into a place that was only temporary, a stable not even set for human habitation. Once again the message that I am not alone penetrates my confused mind and lonely heart.  Deuteronomy 31:6

We moved in with our children and grandchildren a week ago and the blessings far outweigh the effort of combining two families and three generations under one roof. 

We continue to look to the Father for His plan and provision as Curt builds up his strength to undergo a nuclear stress test in mid-January. 

We have invitations to stay with friends in Massachusetts and in the home of a believing family in a nearby city. It appears we'll be moving from place to place for the foreseeable future. 

I confess this type of roving existence is not my first choice.  While I enjoy travel I also appreciate having a home base where I can lie down in my own bed and serve those the Lord brings to us there. 

How thankful I am for the Word of God. Its Truth reminds me that the Father has my best interests at heart which impacts His wisdom as He orders my life, every single detail of it.

From one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.  Acts 17:26-27

Please pray with me that the LORD will make His will known to me in these nomadic days. Surely He has deep messages for me.

What is the LORD using to cause you to reach out and find Him?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Here and There

It's unsettling.

I don't care what anybody says.

I don't even care if they think I'm just plain old.

There's a whole lot of stuff 
to get used to 
around here

which feels really odd since this is the land where I was born.

I know that part of the adjustment I'm having to make has to do with living in a different location. Now we need a car so I have to remember to check the gas gauge when we're out driving around.

LORD, thank you for having the little red light come on that one time.

Of course putting gas in the tank means another whole round of adjustments. Where can we get the best price? What is the best price right now? Oh, well, we need fuel right away. We better just buy it here.

Since our budget is increasingly being pushed beyond it's limit I spend a fair amount of time trying to coordinate trips to the store with dropping someone off or picking someone up from an activity. Our daughter, The Mom, has every errand combined with at least three other stops on a trip so I have no hope of competing with her.

I'm sure it's all a cultural thing. It seems this type of running here and there for one thing and another has become part of the warp and woof of life in the USA. 

I seem to spend so much energy organizing my days as efficiently as possible that I have very little spark left keep up with things when we get back to the house. Timing is a big part of that process. 

You see, sometimes I forget to buy (or discover I need) an ingredient for a recipe. When that happens I can't simply ask Curt to go downstairs and pick it up at the shop in our building - or walk to one of several shops in our neighborhood. That means I have to concentrate when I shop to make sure I'm buying everything I think I'll need for at least the next seven days. 

I confess I never realized how much the setting and general tone of the world around me affects my days. I was pretty good at it all myself when we lived here and I'm making progress in adapting. It's just that I was living very differently in Prague and now I'm not there.

I have to say though that there's at least one thing with which I'm not sure I can or want to become comfortable - speakers.

Speakers seem to be everywhere, in the doctor/dentist's office, the grocery store aisle, various shops, airports, malls, and now even at gas pumps.

Maybe that's old news to you, but when we stop to get gas there are now announcements being made while we sit or stand there. It feels INVASIVE.

The first time I realized what was happening to me was when an image popped into my head from a trip we made to Lithuania. On a day off we visited a Communist museum. It was a remake of an interment camp complete with buildings, fences, uniforms, propaganda materials, and so forth. At one point we were walking around the property, our eyes enjoyed the natural scenery but our ears were bombarded with messages in Russian. 

Speakers posted all around the area blared out pro-communist rhetoric. I couldn't understand a single word, but the overbearing fervor of the tone was quite disconcerting. We couldn't chat with our friends. I could barely hear myself think. 

It was odd and upsetting, to say the least, to be 'transported' from an American gas station in the early 21st century back to a Russian indoctrination center in the mid-20th century.

I felt an actual chill.

I decided then and there that I will not be adjusting to every aspect of the cultural context in which I find myself these days. Instead I will continue to read and meditate on God's Word, pursue a life of prayer and obedience, and join with the saints in holy fellowship.

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."  Romans 12:1,2

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Finding My Way.

What's going on in my life?

What does Scripture have to say about it?

Two questions with blog-type answers to share.

The last week was full of ups and downs.

pretty typical

But the ups were pretty high and the downs were pretty low

which brings back the roller coaster feelings.

God granted us a visit with dear friends we haven't seen in a long time.

We met mid-week for prayer with the local body, and worshipped our gracious God together on the Sabbath with our grandchildren (and their parents).  ;-)

We're looking ahead to an appointment my Honey has today with his gastroenterologist. We expect to hear good news in a more complete report of his US tests. We plan to ask lots of questions and receive loads of new and helpful information.

We finally got paperwork in place which ought to allow us to move forward with actually making plans for my Honey's cardiac care. The appointment to begin that process is set for tomorrow, 10 December. 

My Honey is feeling "100% stronger than when we arrived in the USA".

I continue to adjust to this culture - almost ran out of gas when we were out doing errands one day.

I need to move forward with another treatment plan to address the ongoing pain I'm experiencing in my lower back.

We're still struggling to get insurance coverage on the Loon Pond house.

We'll be leaving the home of our kind hosts and moving in with the Baggs five-some, humbled by their willingness and eager to fit into their routine.

There's a winter storm descending with snow and freezing rain that could easily disrupt the medical plans we praised above.

Just writing out these few details has me back in the vise-like grip I was sensing on Friday.

That's when God stepped in and caused the wild thoughts in my brain to gel. 

What I've been thinking when I get all tied up and then pause a moment to relax in the bondage I feel is that I canNOT sort out every detail. The task is not only overwhelming, but it's downright impossible for me. 

All I need to do is tend to them with my simple human resources. 

I recognize that I canNOT handle and evaluate and figure out every single aspect of our lives to determine where we're going nor what we'll do nor make the next thing happen nor tie everything up all nice and neat with a beautiful bow on top. 

All I need to do is be intentional about my next step.

As I settled a bit further into the constricting circumstances I realized I am NOT responsible to try to unravel the mystery of what Jesus would do. I only need to discover what God has for me.

As a matter of fact, I'm thinking of making a great big sign that says that.

What does God have for me?

Thankfully that assignment is not overpowering . . . mainly because it's not a solo mission.

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; 
I will counsel you and watch over you."  Psalm 32:8 NIV'84

"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'"  Isaiah 30:21 NIV'84

In this Advent season I pray the Father blesses you and your household, your relationships and your local body for your joy and His glory. Amen

Monday, December 2, 2013

Holidays OR Christmas?

I'm pretty happy.

I think I've found the solution to the debate about whether to say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" as we move toward December 25. 

The time leading up to the celebration of the Nativity, Christ's birth, which includes the four preceding Sundays, is actually called Advent. Therefore the most accurate greeting to offer during this season is "Blessed Advent". 

I came to this conclusion as the LORD has been drawing me into pondering the idea of waiting. The circumstances of my life certainly contribute to that process. We've been in the USA for a month with no definitive progress in having my Honey receive the cardiac care he needs. We're looking to the Father in expectation as we do our best to sort out way-too-many details.

I'm beginning to compare my meager efforts in the light of God's power and purpose with the efforts of the Old Testament believers. They lived under God's unfolding plan of redemption, but all they saw were foreshadowings. How did they manage to remain faithful day after day as they waited across generations for the promised Messiah?

I want to understand the ability of my forbears in the faith to toil in hope for literally hundreds of years of famines and feasts. They had to come and go, build houses, prepare meals, birth babies, mend clothes, welcome visitors, raise animals - all the normal activities of life under the Father's hand.

At the same time these diligent ancestors appear in my mind's eye, leaning forward toward heaven in fervent prayer. Their hands are clasped and raised, pleading for the expected Emmanuel to come and ransom His people from their mournful captivity in sin.

And so I want to be in my inner man.

I want to come and go, make a home, grocery shop, serve meals, do laundry, nurture grandchildren, weed gardens, encourage families - all the normal activities of life under the Father's hand. 

At the same time I want to be leaning forward toward heaven in fervent prayer. I want to keep my hands virtually clasped and raised, pleading for Christ to return and gather up the captives He has freed from sin.

Dear Father, please cause me to faithful in the mundane and the challenging. Lead me to persevere in duty and prayer for the sake of your Holy Name. 

"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand."  Ephesians 6:13

Hint: Enrich you Advent season with daily readings over at Lifework Forum