Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'll Be Home for Christmas . . .

1 Thessalonians 2:17
But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.

"I'll be home for Christmas. You can count on me . . ."

A young woman is living a thousand miles away from family, working her first job after college.

Lonesome and homesick. Hoarding pennies like Scrooge to afford the flight. Praying the boss won't change his mind about her leave of absence.

Longing to reunite with family and friends.

Dreaming of snow. And mistletoe. And love.

The love and affection only mom and dad can give.

Sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents . . . more love.

Counting down the days . . .

"I'll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams . . ."

A soldier stands solitary watch. In Iraq. In Afghanistan.

Thousands upon thousands of miles away from home. Fulfilling his duties. Protecting our freedoms.

Lonesome and homesick. Counting his treasures - the cards and letters from family and friends which he reads and rereads. Knowing he has no leave.

Longing for the girl he left behind.

Dreaming of snow. And mistletoe. And love.

Imagining the hugs only mom and dad can give.

Sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents . . . an errant tear is hastily wiped away.

The days are endless . . .
~
Will your loved ones be home with you this Christmas or will they be far away?

Will you pray with me?
We give thanks, Father, for the love of family and friends. We pray for those who will travel home this Christmas and for those who are not able to. Let us especially remember in prayer the young men and women serving our country who will have to spend Christmas without their families. May You fill them with Your peace and comfort. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 119:1-24 or 12, 13, 14
Isaiah 2:1-11
1 Thessalonians 2:13-20
Luke 20:17-26

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"He Sees You When You're Sleeping, He Knows When You're Awake . . ."

Psalm 11:4
The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them.

We are all holly and jolly and decorating our Christmas tree. The scent of evergreen mingles with the aroma of homemade sugar cookies just out of the oven. Christmas carols ring gaily from my CD player. A wood fire crackles and pops on the hearth.

Six-year-old Daniel, my son, and three-year-old Sarah, my daughter, help hang ornaments on the branches they can reach and hand ones to me to place on the upper boughs. They giggle and chatter merrily together. Seeing them getting along so well prompts a smile.

The spirit of Christmas is surely infectious!

I am caught up in the ambiance of the moment. The glow of tree lights. The treasured ornament hung in the perfect place. Memories of Christmases when I was a little girl . . .

"Hey, Mom?" Daniel's voice shatters my reverie.

"Yes?"

"Are God and Santa Claus the same?"

Into a million pieces . . .

"Daniel!" I gasp, "Whatever would make you think that?"

"Oh, you know that song, Mom."

Daniel begins to sing and Sarah, never one to be bested by her brother, joins in.

"He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake; he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!"

I am dumbfounded. Tripped up by first-grade theology. Trapped by the Santa myth.

One I wish with all my heart I had never promoted at all.

Two weeks before Christmas. Two little Santa believers. Two little children of God . . .

This is not the time to expose Santa as an imposter.

"Daniel," I begin, "Santa sure sounds like God in this song, but he is not God in Heaven."

"Then, how come he has the same powers as God?"

Give me the words, Lord! Give me the words!

"Santa doesn't have the same powers of greatness. He has gifts God has given him, just like Sarah and you have your special talents."

Oh, Lord, I wish I could just tell them the whole truth and not break their hearts . . .

"Wow! God must love Santa a whole bunch!" Daniel exclaims.

"A whole bunch!" Sarah echoes.

"God loves everyone the same," I assure them.

The right words at last . . .
~
As adults, it's easy to forget how literally children view the world. We see no harm in perpetuating the magical persona of Santa Claus as one who knows all, sees all, and rewards good behavior.

This can be confusing to a child who is just learning about God and His love for him.

But, before we throw the jolly old elf out like the baby with the bath water, can we redeem him? Can we be specific with our little ones, right from the get-go, that Santa Claus embodies the spirit of giving? And, in this spirit, acknowledges the coming into the world of the greatest gift mankind has ever and will ever know?

As Christmas approaches, I pray you will reflect upon ways you can help your children or grandchildren embrace the true reason for the season.

And, still leave cookies and milk for Santa.

Readings
Psalms 5, 6 or 10, 11
Isaiah 1:21-31
1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Luke 20:9-18

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stainless

Isaiah 1:18
"Come now, let us settle the matter," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."

I love turtleneck sweaters. I have them in several colors. They are the mainstay of my winter wardrobe.

The one I wear the least, however, is my white one. Don't get me wrong. I like it just as much as the others. It's just whenever I wear something white, I know the Stain Demon is lurking right around the corner.

I wear white with caution. With trepidation. With fear and trembling.

The arsenal of the Stain Demon is formidable.

Ink. Ketchup. Mustard. Spaghetti sauce. Salad dressing. Grape juice. Cherry pie. Hot chocolate. Coffee. Red wine.

He's biding his time, holding out for the right moment to trip me up on just one of these. Or, maybe others I've yet to imagine.

Wait for it . . . Wait for it . . .

Wham!

Dang! Not coffee again!

I race for the laundry room. Grabbing the Spray 'N Wash, I triage the stain as fast as possible, hoping against hope to restore the sweater to its former, pristine self.

When it emerges from the wash, I hold my breath. Painstakingly, I open it to inspect the place where the spot was. Where I pray it isn't anymore.

There.

Ever so faint, the barest egg-shell on white.

Stain Demon: Eleventy-million. Me: Zero.

~

Our sins are like the coffee stain on my white sweater. We can try and try to erase them, to wash them away. But, we can't.

Only Jesus can wash away our sins. Only He can forgive. Only He can make us as white and pure as the driven snow.

Only He . . .

Is there a stain on your heart that only the Lord can remove?

Let us pray:
Sometimes, Father, we think we can do it all by ourselves. Remind us that it is in You where we live, breathe, and have our being. Take our sins, Lord, and create a clean heart and unblemished spirit within us. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 1, 2, 3 or 4, 7
Isaiah 1:10-20
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Luke 20:1-8

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Are YOU Expecting?

Matthew 25:13
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Today marks the first Sunday of Advent. Yes, it is unusual to have this season begin in November, but that's simply how the four weeks play out this year. While traditional Advent calendars begin on December 1st, I have place a link at the bottom of today's devotion which will start you on a journey of inspiration beginning this very day!

The season of Advent is a time of preparation. Our minds and hearts are once again on the road to Bethlehem. Our destination? Christmas Day and the welcoming of our beloved Savior into the world.

But, Advent is more than the Christmas story. It is also the time to prepare our hearts, minds, and souls for the day when the Lord will return. The Second Coming.

It is a time of watching. Of waiting. Of expectation.

We know not the day nor the hour . . .

It could be a thousand years from now.

It could be tomorrow.

It could be now . . .

Are you ready?

I hope you will take time this season to reflect, to pray, to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

There was no room for Him at the inn. But, will you offer Him room in your heart?

Will you pray with me?
During this season of Advent, Lord, let us not succumb to the distractions of the secular world. Allow our focus to stay on Your coming into the world to redeem us. Let us meditate upon Your promise to come again. Create within us clean hearts where there is plenty of room for You. Amen.

Daily Advent Study: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/Advent/Advent-Calendar.aspx

Readings
Psalms 146, 147 or 111, 112, 113
Isaiah 1:1-9
2 Peter 3:1-10
Matthew 25:1-13


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Take the Blinders Off!

Matthew 20:34
Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

I once was blind, but now I see . . .

Many years ago, when I was trying to secure a position as a paraprofessional in my county's school system, I became a substitute teacher. This role placed me with a wide variety of schools, classrooms, and age groups, sometimes with only an early morning notice. I had to be prepared for anything!

Anxious for a steady income, I accept a two-week call to fill in for a paraprofessional in a classroom for the blind. Who, me? As if I've had any experience with blind people?

I need the money. I take the assignment. I'm doubtful, though, as to any help I can possibly offer.

I am scared to death . . .

When I enter the classroom bright and early Monday morning, I feel like I've eaten butterflies for breakfast.

Thankfully, I am greeted by two warm, outgoing teachers who show me the ropes and put me at ease. Before I know it, the children, all seven of them, come clicking with their canes through the door.

Their day has already been a lengthy one. All ride a feeder bus to this special-needs school from a central location. Early!

I find myself wondering, since they can't watch the scenery as the ride, do they manage to catch some extra winks?

I feel sorry for them . . .

With greetings exchanged and introductions made, our day begins.

I enter into their world. The one of no sight. The one I fear will be dark and dismal . . .

Sunshine!

The light may be gone from their eyes, but not from their souls. They laugh, joke, play, sing, and learn as adeptly as other children.

When my two-week stint ends, it's so hard to say good-bye. The special bonds we have forged in that short period of time wish not to be broken. But, it's time to move on . . .

Not, however, without learning a powerful lesson. Not one I teach the children, but one they teach me.

Blind or not, they are precious in the sight of the Lord.

I was blind, but now I see . . .

Do you have misconceptions about persons with physical or mental handicaps?

Will you pray with me?
Lift the blinders from our eyes, Lord, that we might see every human being as a marvelous creation in Your image. Help us to not assume what someone can or cannot do because of a physical or mental handicap. Let us love them and see them as You do. Amen.

I am thankful that the Lord has opened the eyes of my heart.

Readings
Psalms 137:1-6 &-9), 144 or 104
Micah 7:11-20
1 Peter 4:7-19
Matthew 20:29-34

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Nose Knows!

Psalm 141:2
May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

We rely on our five senses to experience the physical world. Sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell. All are important; all work together to create memorable moments.

But, the one sense, often overlooked, which evokes the most powerful memories is smell.

I catch a whiff of freshly mowed hay. I am a little girl again, playing with my cousin, John, on my aunt's and uncle's farm.

I inhale the aroma of roasting turkey. I am sprawled with my brother in front of the television watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Recently, Danny's mother gave him a pack of old-fashioned Clove gum. Immediately, he was transported back to his grandmother's kitchen, watching her make pasta from scratch. She always chewed Clove gum. Even her purse smelled like it!

The ancients understood the power of smell. They burned sweet, fragrant incense to entice God, to arouse His remembrance of them.

Incense is still used in many churches, particularly on high holy days like Easter. For most of my adult life, I attended the Episcopal Church. I cannot light a stick of incense at home without seeing myself, sitting in the pews, observing the thurifer solemnly anointing the altar and the congregation with the pungent, yet pleasant, billows of smoke.

And, in breathing in its scent, the urge to drop to my knees and worship the Lord is overwhelming!

With hands raised, I praise Him. My prayers float up to Him, carried on the wispy clouds of incense.

Remember me, oh, Lord! Remember me!
~
What smells conjure up precious memories for you?

Will you pray with me?
Thank you, Father, for our five senses that help us explore and understand Your marvelous creation. Thank you for all the special memories they weave for us. May our prayers and praises ever rise sweetly and fragrantly to You. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 140, 142 or 141, 143:1-11 (12)
Isaiah 24:14-23
1 Peter 3:13-4:6
Matthew 20:17-28

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Black Sheep, Black Sheep, Will You Spoil the Day?

Psalm 133:1
How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!

Thanksgiving Day! The time for family, food, and fellowship. To recall Thanksgivings past and make future memories. To give special thanks to God for all His many blessings.

Regrettably, for some families, Thanksgiving Day heralds more stress than joy.

We may long for a picturesque, Norman Rockwell scenario of three generations gathered harmoniously around the dining table. That doesn't mean it happens for us.

Maybe, you have an Uncle Harold who drinks too much. An Aunt Rita who won't stop talking politics. Spoiled-rotten little grandchildren who trash your living room. A brother-in-law who always picks fights with your father. A cousin who criticizes everyone and everything, including the meal you just spent hours preparing.

Not so good and pleasant after all . . .

How do we deal with the black sheep in our family who predictably becomes the thorn in everyone's side?

First, ask yourself if you have any power to alter the person's behavior. No? Then, how about changing yours?

Begin with prayer.

Pray for this family member. Ask God to work mightily in his or her life.

Pray for yourself. Ask the Lord to grant you the peace and tranquility within to accept the person as he or she is. To be kind and understanding. To love as Christ loves.

Pray for each member of your family. Ask God to bless and keep each one.

Because, next Thanksgiving, there could be one less person seated at the table . . .

One less person to say grace . . .

To hug . . .

To hear you say, "I love you."
~
I pray today that your Thanksgiving celebration, in spite of any black sheep, is filled with joy, laughter, and the unity of love!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYBODY!

Readings
Psalms 131, 132, (133) or 134, 135
Zephaniah 3:1-13
1 Peter 2:11-25
Matthew 20:1-16

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

We're Number One!


Matthew 19:30
But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Who doesn't like to be in first place?

Whether it's a gold medal at the Olympics or a trophy for winning your town's 5K run, the feelings are the same - exhilarating!

We follow our favorite sports teams in hopes of a World Series win or a trip to the Super Bowl. We cheer on our alma mater's football team, hoping for a national championship. We root for our favorite competitor at Wimbledon, the Daytona 500, the Kentucky Derby, the Masters Tournament.

We want them to win! To be "Number One"! To place first!

Second place just won't do.

And, God forbid, they should come in last . . .

Because, nobody loves a loser. Nobody wants to be a loser. No one wants to be in last place.

~

This world judges winners and losers. Not so, the Kingdom of God.

When we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Savior, make Him "Number One" in our lives, the playing field is leveled. First and last do not matter. God loves His children with equal measure.

It's a "Win-Win" in God's Kingdom!
~
Are you judging people in your life as winners and losers?

Let us pray:
We thank you, Lord, for loving us all the same. Help us to remember that when we feel we are losing in the game of life, we are always winning with You. Amen.

I am thankful for blue skies after a storm.

Readings
Psalms 119:145-176 or 128, 129, 130
Obadiah 15-21
1 Peter 2:1-10
Matthew 19:23-30


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Comments From the Peanut Gallery

1 Peter 1:22
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.

My all-time favorite comic strip is "Peanuts" created by Charles Schultz. As a child, I couldn't wait to get my hands on the funnies in the daily newspaper. I would read them all, but save "Peanuts", the best, for last.

Charlie Brown? I always feel so sorry for him. Sensitive, inquiring, dumped upon. He tugs at my heartstrings . . .

Snoopy? Bring on the Red Baron and Woodstock! Smarter than the average beagle! The embodiment of suave.

Lucy? Loud mouth! Her psychological advice not worth the five cents she charges! Talk about personal baggage . . .

Schroeder? Introspective and patient. Beethoven is my most beloved classical composer, too.

Pig-Pen? What a mess! Reminds me of the mess we create in our own lives.

Peppermint Patty? Abrasive. Boisterous. Insecure beneath the bravado.

And, Linus? The thumb-sucking, blanket-toting philosopher. Innocence and wisdom in the balance. The character I love the most!

For years, I have a red-felt banner of Linus hanging in my room. The quote on the banner reads: "I love mankind. It's people I can't stand."

Isn't that the sad truth for so many of us?

We can be so altruistic and generous in our love for the human race. Yet, when it gets up front and personal, maintaining the type of love Peter describes in today's scripture is no piece of cake. The characters in the "Peanuts" cartoon reflect this all too well.

And, so do we.

Confrontations, disagreements, conflicts of opinion. At home, on the job, and, too often, at church.

Yes, you read it right: In the church.

Where we go to be fed the message of God's great love for us. To be reminded to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Bickering, arguing, gossiping . . .

Where is the peace which passes all understanding?

Competition, back-stabbing, power-struggles . . .

Where are the hands reaching out to help and heal?

A house divided cannot stand . . .

And, how will this broken and hurting world know of Christ's love, His gift of salvation, if we, as Christians, can't even share His love with one another?

It isn't enough to love mankind. We must love each individual as Christ loves us.
~
Will you say a prayer for your church today?

Let us pray: Father, we all sin and fall short of Your glory. Forgive us our sins. Help us to forgive others. Heal the wounds we have inflicted, knowingly or unknowingly, upon others. Heal our hearts by your saving grace. Amen.

I am thankful for the peacemakers in the world.

Readings
Psalms (120), 121, 122, 123 or 124, 125, 126, (127)
Nahum 1:1-13
1 Peter 1:13-25
Matthew 19:13-22

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sing Once, Praise Twice!

Psalm 106:2
Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord or fully declare his praise?

Sing once, praise twice!

That's my motto!

And, nothing floods my heart with joy more than singing praises to the Lord on Sunday morning at our contemporary praise service.

From the first chord to the last, I am fully engaged, fully present in the act of worship. I am simultaneously grounded in awareness of self and lifted, as on eagle's wings, beyond it. I am lost in the moment, in the words, in the music . . .

And, then . . .

The rush! The high! The Presence!

The mighty winds of the Holy Spirit course through my veins. My soul leaps, aflame.

I am alive, alive, alive in the Lord!

Oh, praise Him!
~
As the psalmist tells us today, none of us, in our human frailty, can completely proclaim the mighty acts of God. Nor, can we ever adequately declare His praise.

But, that doesn't mean we are not supposed to try.

When we do so with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, He meets us where we are. He raises us up to meet Him. He lets us know He appreciates our endeavors to praise and worship Him.

And, He tells us how much He loves us . . .


How have you felt the Holy Spirit moving in your life?

Will you pray with me?
Dear Father, we don't have the words or understanding to tell of all Your marvelous works or to give You the praise You so richly deserve. Thank you for accepting the ones we offer in our weakness and fragility. May Your Holy Spirit fill us with Your joy and peace. Amen.

I am thankful for the gift of song.

Readings
Psalms 106:1-18 or 106:19-48
Joel 3:1-2, 9-17
1 Peter 1:1-12
Matthew 19:1-12

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Use It or Lose It!

Luke 19:26
"He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.'"

We all have innate talents. All of us, without exception. We learn what those talents are through trial and error, through trial and success.

And, we usually clue into these when we are young. Our parents send us on the obligatory rounds of music or dance or art lessons. We play little league baseball or football, soccer or basketball. We bring home report cards bearing a teacher's praise for our prowess in math or creative writing.

When we discover, through our many experiences, a passion for a particular activity, chances are we have found our calling. But, it's a collect call. One for which we must pay. With blood, sweat, and tears.

And, practice!

Nothing can be accomplished without it. How many hours we are willing to devote to this each day will decide the final outcome. No matter how much natural talent we have, it will not, cannot, never will flourish without practice.

And, that's what separates the sheep from the goats.

It's intimidating for most of us to hear the admonition: Eight hours of practice a day if you want to succeed.

Eight hours? Really?

That's a whole work day, isn't it? Where am I supposed to find the time?

I need to work. I need to make money. I have a family to support.

Passion on the back burner.

Talent buried, not invested.

Then, God speaks: Use what time you have. Use what I have given you. Use it for my glory!

How can we turn down a request from the Lord? How can we not heed His call?

How can we not make the sacrifice?

After all, what did He not sacrifice for us?
~
What talent are you hiding? Will you pray to God to help you develop the gifts you have been given?

Let us pray:
We all have talents, Father, ones for which we need to thank You each and every day. Help us to develop them to your honor and glory. May they bless a broken world with the healing power of Your love. Amen.

I am so thankful for the gift of writing.

Readings
Psalms 118 or 145
Isaiah 19:19-25
Romans 15:5-13
Luke 19:11-27

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Timing Is Everything!

Revelation 22:20
He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon."
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

My husband, Danny, and I share much in common. That's a good thing! We even have the same pet peeve: People who are habitually late.

We strive to be on time for everything. From doctor's appointments to dinner parties, and, especially, church.

When I tell Danny I'll be ready in five minutes, he can set his watch. When he tells me dinner will be ready in ten minutes, I can count on it. It's just the way we roll!

Not so, my daughter, Sarah, and her husband, John.

Sarah will text: "We'll be coming over soon."

I have learned this can mean anything from fifteen minutes to over an hour. I used to worry when they were five minutes late. Now, I don't fret until at least thirty minutes have passed.

I text back: "So, when will you be here?"

Sarah writes: "Sorry, Mom, we're running late. Be there soon!"

At least, she apologizes. Always does. Still . . .

~

As Christians, we live with the promise that, one day, Jesus will return to earth. Throughout these ages of waiting, many have tried, and failed, to pinpoint the date of the Second Coming.

Because, we cannot know the day nor the hour. (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32)

God's definition of "soon" is vastly different from ours. When the infinite and everlasting decides to break through, once again, into earthly time, it will be completely on His own terms.

No sense in glancing at our watches, impatiently tapping our feet.

Rest in the knowledge of His return.

Pray that, when He comes, we are the ones who are on time. Prepared to meet Him!

~

What are your thoughts about the Second Coming?

Will you pray with me?
Lord, You have told us to be anxious for nothing. Please grant us Your peace which passes all understanding as we await Your coming in glory. Remind us that we are on Your time, not the one of our own making. Amen.

I am thankful for my son and daughter, and for my son-in-law.

Readings
Psalms 107:33-43, 108:106 (7-13) or 33
Isaiah 65:17-25
Revelation 22:14-21
Matthew 18:23-35

Friday, November 18, 2011

Led to be Fed!

Matthew 18:20
"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."

I'll always remember the date: First Monday. After Christmas. 2010.

I am in need of some downtime and some, I rationalize, well-deserved indulgence. So, with Kindle in tow, I head over to our local Chick-Fil-A. My mouth is watering at the thought of a hot, steamy chicken sandwich and crisp waffle fries. My heart is set on some quiet reading time.

I walk through the doors and head to the counter to place my order. I hear them before I see them. Laughing and talking animatedly. Is that Pastor Emily's voice?

I turn and see her and a group of college-aged students gathered in a generous corner of the restaurant. I don't know the names of the young people, but their faces are so familiar. They are regular attendees of the contemporary praise service where my husband leads worship. I have to stop by and say, "Hello!".

"Hi, Martha!" Pastor Emily greets me with enthusiasm. "We're holding our weekly Bible study. You're more than welcome to join us!"

I glance at all these youthful, eager, and smiling faces. I'm old enough to be their mother. Surely, these kids don't want an old lady barging into their group? Emily is just being gracious, that's all.

"Thank you, Emily," I respond, politely, flashing my Kindle. "Kinda have my mind tuned to some quiet reading today. And, I don't have my Bible with me."

"That's never a problem, " she assures me, "I always have extras. Maybe another time, then?"

"Sure," I say, thinking there would never be a next time. "Great to see everyone!"

A chorus of friendly good-byes follows me to the counter.

I claim my lunch and retreat to a far corner of the restaurant. I try to absorb myself in my reading. It is difficult to focus. The intermittent, happy sound of their voices punctuates my concentration.

Maybe, I should have accepted . . .

I feel a stirring . . .

I'm not currently in a Bible study. I need to be. Maybe, God, You are telling me something today? Is Emily really serious? Would the kids truly mind if I joined them?

By the time I leave, my mind is made up.

I send Emily an e-mail as soon as I fly through the door. She replies within the hour.

"Hi, Martha,
The college group would love to have you! They look forward to the times when my own mom and dad attend our sessions. Besides, you represent their service, you are part of their band. What could be more perfect than that?
See you next Monday!
Love and blessings,
Emily"

I attend, eagerly, the following week.

I have yet to be disappointed.

Our shared study and fellowship enhance my understanding of scripture. I bond with these remarkable young people, and they with me. We laugh, we cry, we share, we encourage, we pray.

We love.

And, each time we gather, I know the Lord is with us.

Whenever, two or three . . . it is enough.

~

If you are not currently in a Bible study group, will you seek one out soon?

Will you pray with me?
When we study Your Word, Lord, the insights and knowledge of others are so vital. This enables us to grow and learn together in spirit and in truth. We can support and comfort one another along our Christian walk. We can, in all humility, gain a deeper understanding of you. Amen.

I am thankful for my Bible study companions, my friends who walk the walk in love and who always have the courage to share their deepest convictions.

Readings
Psalms 102 or 107:1-32
1 Maccabees 4:36-59
Revelation 22:6-13
Matthew 18:10-20





Thursday, November 17, 2011

Through the Eyes of a Child . . .

Matthew 18:2-3
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

I love nothing better than spending time with m
y beautiful granddaughter, Virginia Rose. My daughter and son-in-law bring her by for frequent visits, but rarely do they ask us to babysit.

Two weeks ago, they did. I am beyond thrilled!
And, so glad Danny is home that day to take photos and help with watching her. She is a handful! A child of perpetual motion and boundless curiosity.

At fifteen months old, Virginia is not quite wal
king. She pulls herself up on chairs, the couch, and her playpen. She takes tentative, side-to-side steps, holding on all the while.

She has discovered my kitchen drawers. Here come the potholders, the towels, a pack of straws, the box of baggies, flying across the floor! I have to watch with hawk-like diligence to ensure she doesn't shut the drawer on her fingers.

Virginia likes to do, or try to do, everyt
hing on her own. She enjoys feeding herself and holding her own bottle. She has even learned to drink through a straw!

But, what Virginia loves the most is being outside. We set her playpen up on our deck so she can get fresh air and sunshine on this balmy autumn day. She enjoys playing with the colorful leaves I give her.

Soon, however, she grows weary of her playpen and she raises her little arms up to me to rescue her. That's when Danny has an idea.

"Let's take her down to the backyard and let her crawl around and explore."

I hesitate. We don't have a soft, lush, grassy lawn. Our yard consists of moss and leaves and acorns and rocks and hickory nuts and pine cones . . .

"Are you sure?" I ask.

"Why not? She'll love it!"

And, she doe
s!















All this exercise finally wears her out. She holds her arms up and I readily oblige.

~

I hope in viewing her photos here, you were able to glimpse the world through her eyes.

To see the child within yourself.

To raise your arms up to your Father in Heaven.

I am thankful for my inner child.

Readings
Psalms 105:1-22 or 105:23-45
1 Maccabees 4:1-25
Revelation 21:22-22:5
Matthew 18:1-9












Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney With Care . . ."

Matthew 17:27
"But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

When we were growing up, my brother, Bill, and I never knew fancy Christmas stockings existed. We would always hang a pair of my knee socks for Santa to fill. Of course, as I grew, and my socks grew with me, it was a boon for both of us!

I can still picture those navy, nondescript knee socks dangling, limp and lifeless, from our mantelpiece. The ones I either saw or wore on a daily basis. Nothing special here. Just ordinary socks . . .

Until Christmas morning!

Bill and I tiptoe down the stairs. It is still dark. The sleep that eludes us wraps our parents in blissful slumber.

"Is it too early to wake them?" Bill whispers anxiously.

"Let's check the clock in the kitchen," I whisper back.

"Don't you dare peek at the tree!"

"Me? Peek? No way! That would spoil the surprise."

Bill sits restlessly on the bottom stair as I creep into the kitchen. To read the clock on the stove, I have to flip the light on. I fumble for the switch on the wall.

I blink furiously as harsh light floods the room. It takes a moment to get my bearings. When I do, I realize that in walking toward the stove, I run the risk of seeing at least a silhouette of the Christmas tree and its spoils through the archway entrance to our dining room.

My hands become blinders as I approach the stove and peer at the hands on the dial.

"Five-thirty?" I groan. "They'll never want to get up this early!"

"Merry Christmas!"

"Dad!" I whirl around to see Mom and Dad, somewhat disheveled from sleep, standing in the kitchen doorway. Bill is peeking around them, grinning like the Cheshire cat.

"You woke them up, didn't you?" I point accusingly at my brother.

"Actually, no," Mom says. "You two have the loudest whispers I know!"

"Sorry," I say, blushing.

"Well, let me brew some coffee here and then we'll see if Santa came."

Worried storm clouds gather on Bill's face. I know exactly what he's thinking.

"Of course, he came!" I declare happily. "He wouldn't forget us, right, Bill?"

Sunny skies return.

With steaming cups of coffee at last in our parents' hands, it's time to begin (insert drum roll) "The Ritual of the Stockings"!

In our house, we always open them first. The difficult part is fetching them from the mantelpiece without catching a glimpse of the tree and what lies beneath it.

With our backs to the tree, Bill and I sidle along in the gloom. There is just enough illumination from a street lamp to make out our stockings' shadowy shapes.

Closer . . . closer . . .

Got 'em!

Full, heavy, bulging, the yarn of the socks stretched to absurd lengths.

Squealing and laughing, we hurry as fast as we dare in the dark. Straight to our parents' bedroom we go! There, plopped on the bed, in the warm and welcome glow of light, we unearth our Christmas treasures.

We take our time, savoring each toy, trinket, or goodie pulled from the stocking. As we do, my knee socks shrink and morph slowly back into their original shapes.

For a brief moment, they were magical vessels containing untold riches. Now, they are plain, old, navy, ordinary socks again.
~
What, for us, could be more ordinary than a sock? What, for Peter, could be any more ordinary than a fish?

Jesus challenges us to go beyond the ordinary, to see everything in this world with fresh perspective. With awareness. With appreciation.

He urges us to examine what is within, not just what is without.

He wants us to see the miracles all around us. All the time. In everything.

Behind the veil of "ordinary", great treasures await!

How can you look at ordinary objects and find the extraordinary?

Will you pray with me?
Grant us the vision, Father, to see beyond the ordinary. Let everything we see in creation remind us of the miracle behind each one. Help us to see others as extraordinary, remembering that we are all created in your image. Amen.

I am thankful for today's soft, gentle rain.

Readings:
Psalms 101, 109:1-4 (5-19) 20-30 or 119:121-144
1 Maccabees 3:42-60
Revelation 21:9-21
Matthew 17:22-27




Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Be an Energy Star!

Psalm 95:4-5
In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

Saving energy. It's so much more than reducing your electric bill or driving a fuel-efficient car. It is, first and foremost, about being good stewards of this world God so lovingly created. It is remembering that the earth belongs to Him, not to us.

We were placed in this Garden of Eden to "till it and keep it" (Genesis 2:15), not exploit and exhaust its resources. What kind and how much energy we consume today will affect the quality of life for generations to come.

So, how can we become better stewards of God's green earth?

For starters, let's ask my husband, Danny. Why? He's the Energy Star representative for the southeastern United States. If anyone knows about reducing energy cost and output, he most assuredly does!

These are the energy-efficient and green-choice changes Danny has made in and around our home over the years. He recommends you do the same.

  • Seal your duct work with Mastic.
  • Insulate your attic and/or crawl space.
  • Foam under sinks to seal leaks around pipes.
  • Install occupancy sensors on light switches.
  • Buy Energy Star appliances and electronics.
  • Use compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs.
  • Check furnaces and air-conditioning units annually.
  • Recycle metals, plastic, and paper products.
  • Start a compost pile for all raw food waste (if, of course, you have a backyard).
  • Dry clothes outdoors on a clothesline.

Okay! Okay! I can hear some of you now . . .

Say what? Hang clothes outside? Not use my dryer? Martha, you are out of your mind!

How do I know what you are thinking?

Whenever Danny presents to groups who are interested in saving energy, this is the one tip which meets with the most resistance. He explains that dryers are motorized heaters, gorging on energy, wasting their hard-earned dollars.

His audience remains reluctant.

Pop! Up comes a slide showing me, in coat, hat, and gloves, hanging out clothes in the dead of winter.

Gasps of disbelief rend the air! Some shake their heads sadly, muttering to each themselves. Others wonder if this constitutes wife abuse.

I don't think they believe Danny when he tells them I'm the one who requested a clothesline.

But, it's the truth!

And, though it requires a bit more effort on my part, the thought of conserving electricity energizes me for the task. I wouldn't trade my fresh, outdoor-fragrant clothes, sheets, and towels for the world!

What changes can you make today to start saving energy in your home?

Will you pray with me?

What an indescribably glorious world You have given us to live on, Father! Help us to be good steward of its bounties and blessings. May we till and keep it in ways that are pleasing in Your sight. Amen.

I am thankful for my energy-efficient home.

Readings

Psalms 97, 99, (100) or 94, (95)

1 Maccabees 3:25-41

Revelation 21:1-8

Matthew 17:14-21

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Wouldn't Want It Any Other Way . . .

Matthew 17:5
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"

How do you hear God speaking to you?

Is it a still, small voice within or, as in today's verse, a thundering, external declaration?

Maybe, you don't hear His voice, but you glean His message through other means. That recurring dream about something you should do. A suggestion from a friend. The peace which follows a right decision made. An answered prayer.

In a recent sermon, Pastor Wallace shared a remarkable story about meeting Susie Mayes, a life-long missionary. With introductions and small talk behind them, Susie's next question takes him by surprise.

"Wallace," she begins, "you're a pastor. How do you hear God talking to you?"

Feeling she deserves an adequate explanation, he plunges right in.

"He speaks to me through scripture. Sometimes, through a conversation with a friend. Other times, it's a sense of conviction in my heart that I'm on the right path, the one he's chosen for me."

"Do you ever hear him just like you're hearing me now?"

"No," Wallace admits, "I'm afraid not. Wish I did. How do you hear him?"

Susie pauses. There is a twinkle in her eye.

"Just like I'm hearing you," she says.

Wallace is impressed!

"When did you begin hearing God's voice?" He inquires.

"It all started when I was ten. I was playing in my backyard when he first spoke to me, sweet and clear like bells in a steeple. 'Susie, you are to go to Sarawak, Malaysia, and be a missionary there.' Sarawak? I was a little girl in south Georgia. I didn't even know where in the world this place was!

But, it didn't matter. God had spoken and I knew I would be going one day. I marched right into the house and announced to my family what God said. They had their doubts, but I never did."

Wallace, retrieving his jaw from his chest, manages to ask, "And, he still speaks that way to you today?"

"Yes, sir, every day, ever since that first encounter," she beams, then adds, "and, I wouldn't want it any other way."

And, I wouldn't want it any other way . . .

God is the original Great Communicator. He speaks to us as individually and as uniquely as He made us.

We need to do but one thing . . .

Listen to Him!

Will you pray with me?
No matter how we hear your voice, Father, may we always be prepared to listen. Help us pay attention to where we are when we feel closest to you. Quiet our minds, open our hearts, fill our souls with longing for You and Your wisdom. Guide us, day by day. Amen.

I am thankful for answered prayers.

Readings
Psalms 89:1-18 or 89:19-52
1 Maccabees 3:1-24
Revelation 20:7-15
Matthew 17:1-13

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hot Dog!

Luke 16:9
"I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."

"I wish I had a million dollars!" Shouts an exuberant George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life.

His hand slams down on the giant lighter in Mr. Gower's drugstore. Up pops the flame!

"Hot dog!" He exclaims.

Every time I watch this scene, I find myself longing for George's wish to come true. I know it doesn't. But, I feel the same way when I watch Romeo and Juliet. I think, surely, they'll find each other before it's too late . . . surely, this time . . .

Surely, this time, George Bailey doesn't have to miss the world travels about which he has fantasized. Doesn't have to give his money to brother, Harry, so he can attend college. Doesn't have to run the Bailey Building and Loan when he dreams of being an architect. Doesn't have to battle Mr. Potter.

If anyone deserves a break, it's George!

But, he doesn't get one. At least, financially.

And, yet, the struggles and strife he faces throughout the story never diminish the integrity of his character. He may get frustrated or discouraged, but he always acts selflessly, putting others' needs before his own.

Willing, even, to take his own life if it means a more secure future for his beloved wife and children . . .

George Bailey embodies the qualities of servant-hood and stewardship. His life is a non-stop commitment to helping others and managing his and their assets with the utmost care and trustworthiness. He does much with the little he has.

And, he is rewarded with a great gift. One that money can't buy.

Friendship.

Do I still wish George had that cool million?

Yes!

Because, in light of his character, I don't think he would have acted any differently.

He would have answered Christ's call.
~
What would you do with a million dollars?

Will you pray with me?
Even when we don't possess much in the way of material wealth, Lord, make us ever mindful of the needs of others. Give us a spirit of selflessness and generosity. Increase our faith so that we may do more good works in your name. Amen.

I am thankful for my wonderful life!

Readings
Psalms 66, 67 or 19, 46
1 Maccabees 2:29-41, 49-50
Acts 28:14b-23
Luke 16:1-13

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Well, It's About Time!

Psalm 90:4
For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is passed, or like a watch in the night.

"What time is it?"

I'm willing to bet that, next to "Hello, how are you?", this is the second most-asked question we hear, day in and day out.

And, that should come as no surprise.

We are dependent upon time in everything we do and everywhere we go. Without it, the civilized world as we know it would cease to function. Knowing what time it is, for the vast majority of us, is an absolute necessity.

Stop and think for a minute (there's that "time" thing again!) how many phrases we use in conversation or see in print that revolve around time and its passing. Here is a list, by no means definitive, of sayings which involve time. Feel free to add your own in the comment section.

Here we go!
  • It's about time!
  • Time out.
  • Time flies when you're having fun.
  • Time and time again.
  • Timing is everything!
  • All the time in the world . . .
  • Don't waste your time!
  • Time marches on . . .
  • Time waits for no man.
  • Working overtime.
  • Wait a minute!
  • Hold on a second!
We are people controlled by time. It sets our limits (there are only so many hours in the day). It dictates our schedules. We all grow older with its passing. We can't stop the clock . . .

Then, there is God's time.

Everlasting, eternal, unchanging; from age to endless age.

Timeless.

A thousand years in the blink of His eye. Or, a million. Or, a billion.

And, when it's our time to knock on Heaven's door, we won't need to check our watches.

God's timing is perfect . . .

I am thankful for the beauty of this day.

Readings
Psalms 87, 90 or 136
1 Maccabees 2:1-28
Revelation 20:1-6
Matthew 16:21-28

Friday, November 11, 2011

It All Begins With a Question . . .


Photo by Nina Powell Shields

Matthew 16:15
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

It is as clear and crisp a fall day as one can envision. As I drive to my weekly Bible study, I purposely leave the radio off. I need the silence.

My heart longs for solace, my mind, for peace.

The trees along the roadside explode with fiery colors. Red as burning embers, orange as ripe pumpkins, yellow as burnished gold. My eyes are set ablaze with their glory.

My heart encounters an unexpected tug of sadness. My thoughts grow pensive.

The leaves are dying . . .

As the end draws near, God clothes them in luster and radiance. Indescribably, vibrantly beautiful is their raiment.

Not even Solomon in all his splendor . . .

I am surprised by my sudden smile.

The leaves, quaking and rustling in the wind, remind me that death has no sting. It is a passing of the soul, from this life into bliss eternal.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for dying on the cross for me. For taking my sins away. For opening the gates of Heaven.

As I pull into the parking lot at the Chick-Fil-A restaurant where our study group meets, I am deep in reflection. My thoughts are centered on Jesus; who He was, who He is, what He did, what He does . . .

Who do you say that I am?

Entering the restaurant, I spot Pastor Emily sitting at our customary tables. We exchange greetings, I order my lunch at the counter, and return to take my seat. We chat casually as we await the arrival of the others we expect to join us.

I notice that Emily's Bible is open to Matthew, Chapter 15.

Hmmm. Last week, we were reading Judges; she has something new up her sleeve . . .

I open my Bible to the same place.

Within moments of doing so, the rest of the group troops in and settles down for study. We are ready to begin.

Emily flashes us a mischievous smile, her brown eyes sparkling.

"I'm going to start with a question today," she announces.

Everyone laughs, long and loudly. Why? Because Emily is notorious for answering questions with another question, constantly firing away! We tease her mercilessly about this, but she loves us anyway.

"I want you to tell me," she continues, looking around at each one of us, "who you think Jesus is."

Who do you say that I am?

I am beside myself. The very question I pondered along the way here is the focal point of our session. I can't wipe the smile off my face . . .

Who do you say Jesus is?

Let us go to God in prayer:
Thank you, Father, for all the times you lead us in the Spirit, preparing us for situations and circumstances we could never have envisioned. Help us, through reading scripture and through prayer, to know Jesus as well as we know our dearest friend. Guide us as we bring others into fellowship with You. Amen.

I am thankful for my talented friend, Nina, who generously shared her photo here today.

Readings
Psalms 88 or 91, 91
1 Maccabees 1:41-63
Revelation 19:11-16
Matthew 16:13-20






Thursday, November 10, 2011

SNOWPOCALYPSE!

Matthew 16:2-3
He replied, "When evening comes, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,' and the morning, 'Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times."

Where I live, in Georgia, snow is about as common as hearing the word "grits" on a New York street corner. If we get anything at all, it's usually the lightest dusting or the malevolent sleet which wraps everything in a slick, treacherous coat of ice. Last January, Old Man Winter decides to try a different tactic . . .

He sends snow. Tons of it. And, more than once!

And, thanks to my husband, Danny, we are prepared for it better than most.

One of his passions is studying weather maps and making predictions about impending storms, cold waves, heat waves - you get the picture! And, he's amazingly accurate. When it comes to weather, if Danny says, "Jump!", the proper response is, "How high?"

He can read the signs.

He pinpoints the arrival of the snowstorm, and the sub-freezing temperatures that will linger afterward, three days before it hits. Before you can shout "bread, milk, beer!", I am in the car making a mad dash for the grocery store. No standing in long lines for me!

I stock up for the week and then some. In the south, we have to. Snow plows, sand trucks, salt-spreaders, and chains are as easy to find as the proverbial needle in the haystack.

When it snows, as it does with this mega-storm, you can count on hunkering down in your bunker for days . . .

Ten-thirty, Sunday evening.

Snowpocalypse!!!

The snow to end all southern snows begins. Within the hour, three inches of icy, powdery whiteness covers the ground. By morning, the snow fall reaches six inches, a whopping record for us.

Monday is a glorious day! Schools are closed! Everyone is sledding, skiing and, believe it or not, kayaking down glistening slopes. Snowmen pop up like spring weeds on every lawn. Facebook is a-flurry with videos of winter activities and exuberant comments about the joys of snow.

Tuesday. We remain snowbound. The first, faint rumblings of cabin fever begin to emerge on Facebook.

Wednesday. Ditto. The rumblings advance to grumblings.

Thursday. Frustration! Every other cartoon, comment or photo reflects the exasperation of snowbound, snow-bored Georgians longing for relief.

Friday. The honeymoon is definitely over!
~
The negative reactions of so many to their confinement after the snow is a sign of our times. We are busy. Too busy. We feel we have to keep doing and doing and doing.

Whatever happened to simply being?

Being still? Content within our own skin?

God loves us not for what we do, but for who we are . . .

Will you pray with me?

Why is it easier sometimes, Father, to read the portents in the skies than to see the signs in our lives, in our times, that separate us from You? We want and we need to spend more time with You, still and quiet, listening for Your voice. For, it is in knowing You that we are truly able to know ourselves. Amen.

I am thankful the gift of smiles.

Readings
Psalms (83), 23, 27 or 85, 86
1 Maccabees 1:1-28
Revelation 19:1-10
Matthew 16:1-12




Happy Birthday, Virginia Rose!

Psalm 139:14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Seven years ...