“No Wallet, One Shoe, So Grateful . . . . “

When I woke up this morning, it was the first time in ten days that I felt no pain in my head.  In fact, I only remembered my accident after glancing at my reflection in the bathroom mirror–though improving after passing so many days . . . oh my, what a shiner!  This week has been full of lessons about gratitude, humility and the difference they make in how we navigate our lives:

LESSON ONE:  Last Monday, while visiting my daughter and her family, I took a bit of a tumble.  Okay . . . truthfully, it was more like a crash and burn on concrete . . . SPLAT.  I counted it a blessing that I could pick myself up and made my way up the stairs–nothing broken except maybe my pride.  I kept an ice pack on my head and laid low for several hours, but was grateful to enjoy a good finish to our visit.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:16-18

LESSON TWO:  On Tuesday, I was no worse from my “tumble/crash” so was grateful to fly home with my husband.  As we traveled I saw several reports in the news about a study done by the Pew Research Center’s findings titled, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”  According to the report, while Christianity still dominates the American religious identity at 70 percent, “dramatic shifts” have taken place as “people move out the doors of denominations, shedding spiritual connections along the way.”  (USA Today)  I watched an interview featuring a thirty-something year old man, who was “raised in the church” but who “had no need” of “religion.”  None of this was a surprise to me, in fact, it confirmed what I have witnessed in my own community.  What caught my attention though, was the countenance of the young man who was interviewed–I saw a joylessness (a spiritual deadness) that weighed heavy on my heart.

Reflecting on the report, I shuddered as I wondered about the correlation between such spiritual deadness and the horrific violence being reported around the world.  It was then that I remembered the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote in his final letter to his young friend Timothy:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive,
disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving,
slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous,
rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—
having a form of godliness but denying its power.
Have nothing to do with such people.

 II Timothy 3:1-5

How are Christians to respond to such a world?  We are called to love others when given the opportunity, as Christ has loved us, in grateful humility–

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless,
Christ died for the ungodly . . . .
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

(Romans 5:6, 8b)

LESSON THREE: Wednesday morning, we woke up to the news of a deadly train derailment that occurred the previous evening.  Eight people were killed and hundreds injured.  The reports were grim, however, one bright spot stood out to me.  It was a tweet from one of the survivors at the scene,

“No wallet, one shoe, so grateful . . . . “

“No wallet, one shoe, so grateful….”  

As I processed the words of the tweet, I was surprised when I realized that tears were welling up in my eyes–what was that about?  It struck me that sometimes it takes our being stripped of everything we hold dear–truly humbled--that brings us to the point where we are grateful for the gift of our lives.  But here’s the proverbial “rub”:

What is the focus of such gratitude?

Is our gratitude simply for life itself?

Or, is our gratitude extended to the Giver of life?
Is there a difference?
Absolutely!  

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines gratitude as, “Having a due sense of benefits received; kindly disposed toward one from whom a favor has been received; willing to acknowledge and repay, or give thanks for . . . a grateful heart.”

The problem is:

♦  When there is no appreciation of favor having been extended to us by a merciful God, we end up serving ourselves (or others) as we fulfill what has become popularly known as our, “bucket list”.  

♦  With that, the benefits of gratitude and humility before a Holy God are totally lost on a world that is self-focused rather than esteeming God as Creator.

So what is our call?

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken,
and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship,
with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  
Hebrews 12:29,29
(ESV)

LESSON FOUR: Remember that “tumble/crash” experienced on Monday?  On Thursday morning, I was shocked to see a dark purple “shiner” around my right eye when I looked in the mirror.  (Remember, I hit my head, not my eye!)  Also, the shooting pains in my head were increasing, growing from those sparklers used to celebrate special holidays to an ice pick.  Pride started to creep in when I thought about the Clients I had promised to see that day–should I cancel?  I remembered the Thessalonians 5 passage that encouraged me on Monday, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances . . . .”  With that, I started to put my makeup on extra thick–hoping they would not notice.

Of course, they did notice . . . but God was faithful in blessing both Sessions.  However, towards the end of the second Session my head started to throb.  I called my doctor; he sent me to the Emergency Room where I was immediately humbled when told, “Anyone in their sixties who hits their head needs to have a CT-scan.”  I was also told, “The idea that being fifty or sixty is ‘the new forty’  is a lie–period.”  I was too miserable to argue.  Thankfully, they found no fractures or blood clots formed so I was released to go home.

Since then, I learned that the flight may have exacerbated my symptoms.  In any case, even though I did not hit my eye when I fell, I did enough damage in my head to cause the internal bleeding to move to the soft tissue around my eye.

So what have I learned about gratitude and humility from all of this?

  1. l am grateful for how the accident caused me to slow down enough these past ten days to begin thinking about their importance before God.
  2.  I guess it all boils down to the reminder in Lesson Three: “No Wallet, One Shoe, So Grateful . . . .”  If God is the focus of our gratitude, our response will keep Him at the center of what we think, say or do.

All to His Glory!

Christmas: A Call to Worship

When thinking about Christmas, what comes to your mind?  Like many, I get wound up when it comes to Christmas.  Between the gift buying, wrapping and mailing of packages, the meal planning and the sorting out of “who is going to do what and when” as we make our way through the Celebration–Christmas can be a bit daunting!  However for others, Christmas conjures up painful memories and can be a season of heightened loneliness–for them, Christmas is a season to get through.

Whether you embrace Christmas or you dread it, I write to remind you that Christmas is not about friends or family–Christmas is a call to worship (celebrate) Christ!  Only as we make Christ the focus of our worship, as we humble ourselves before a holy, loving God, do we discover the glorious heights of experiencing Christ in this Holy Season.

In a conversation that took place between Jesus and a Samaritan woman true worship comes to the forefront.  The woman was a mess by any cultural standard–married five times and the fellow she had been living with was not one of the five!  Many Commentators suggest that the reason she came to the well in the afternoon heat, was probably to avoid being shunned or looked down upon by other townspeople.  Jesus knew this when He started a conversation with her and quickly got her to thinking less about herself and more about her relationship with God.  Verses 25 and 26 stood out especially to me last night:

“‘God is spirit and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.’
The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.’
Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you, am He.'”
John 4:25,26

Jesus not only taught on the subject of worship, He pointed to Himself as the rightful Heir, deserving of that worship!  Inspired by Jesus’ reminder, I remembered the words of one of my favorite hymns, O Come All Ye Faithful:

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Hungering for more, I hit youtube.com looking for more opportunities to worship Christ.  Finally, I came upon this Christmas Eve service, recorded in King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England.  It was a perfect fit for me, having been there many times.  The last time I was there was especially meaningful to me when I attended an evensong communion service with my friend Maggie.  What I love about the recording is that it captures the smallness of men being surrounded by the gargantuan holiness of God–worship that fills and satisfies!  If you get a chance set some time aside (the entire recording is about 45 minutes) and be blessed as I was.

May God bless you richly as you remember His Son . . . .

All to His Glory!

The Blessing of “Hiccup Moments”~

To chose to laugh when things don’t go exactly the way we plan is a valuable skill to learn–especially when it involves what I like to refer to as, “hiccup moments.”* I experienced such a moment last week, and every time I think of it I still find myself with a cheesy grin on my face!  Here’s what happened:

I was attending my Bible study’s special Christmas Luncheon with about ninety women and 40+ children.  Prior to coming together for lunch the children sang several Christmas songs for the adult class, concluding the program with a rousing rendition of “Go Tell It On The Mountain” (one of my personal favorites.)  Their performance was loud and heartfelt, putting us all in an especially festive mood as we went into the multipurpose room for lunch.

One of the contributions I offer to the yearly Christmas Luncheon is a Birthday Cake for Jesus.  It takes a bit of planning and preparation but it serves as a beautiful reminder of the true meaning of Christmas:

Birthday Cake for Jesus

One cake iced with white icing.
Washable plastic holly or other greenery to go around the cake
21 red birthday candles (hard to find but worth the effort)
Any other relevant addition you have that tells part of the Christmas Story–I have a plastic star and a small baby in a manger I place in the middle.

This was the second year that the children were part of the luncheon (in previous years they had their own party) so they eagerly gathered around as I started lighting the candles.  I had planned to have some of the older kids light the candles as I talked about what each part of the cake symbolized.  However, I only had one of those lighter wands so I decided to light the candles myself, as quickly as I could, while talking about:

The white icing ~ Represents the Purity of Christ
The greenery ~ Represents Life Everlasting for all who trust in Jesus
The 21 red birthday candles ~ Remind us of the Royalty of Christ and the Twenty-One Centuries that have passed since Jesus walked on the earth 

Well, the candle lighting went more slowly than I planned and when I had about 12 of them lit I realized the lighter wand was running out of gas.  I grabbed one of the lit candles and asked a couple of the older kids to do the same on the other side of the cake to finish lighting them all.  I was down to the last candle when I noticed the littlest children in front of the cake were looking at me with slightly worried expressions on their faces.  I glanced down to see that one of the silk pieces of holly decorating the front of the cake had caught fire (hence the requirement for plastic that isn’t so flammable!)  I quickly tried to blow out the growing flames of the holly (as did several of the children) and suddenly it got very quiet in the room . . . the candles were all blown out and the cake was, quite dramatically splattered with the red candle wax across the top!

The children looked at me wide-eyed and stunned as I surveyed the damaged cake with lopsided candles that were too melted down to re-light.  I swallowed hard, and in the next moment found myself laughing as I heard these words come out of my mouth:  “Normally the candles would stay lit as we sang, ‘Silent Night’ and then ‘Happy Birthday to Jesus.’  Today we are going to use our imaginations as we think about Jesus as the Light of the world and sing our songs to Him.”  And that is exactly what we did!

Reflecting back, the memory of what Christ did was not lost, if anything, I think the messiness made it all the more precious.  The Christ Child was born in a barn filled with hay and smelly animals to parents who were tired and doing the best they could. There were no red candles, no greenery surrounding the feeding trough that held the baby.  Even so, it was an evening of divine mystery that caused the heavens to open up as angels sang and shepherds left their flocks to see the newborn King.

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright
   round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
   sleep in heavenly peace,
   sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight;
   glories stream from heaven afar,
   heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

I have probably made forty or fifty Birthday Cakes for Jesus and have enjoyed the wonder of family, friends and strangers gathered to sing and savor those wondrous moments.  Yet for me, seeing the worried looks of those little children turn to wonder as we sang, was the best reminder of God’s Perfect Plan of Redemption.   Sometimes we have good intentions and get upset when our ideas do not pan out.  What I am learning is that there are times when we take ourselves too seriously . . . that blessing abounds in those “hiccup moments” as we learn to trust God more.

All to His Glory!

*A “hiccup moment” can be determined by answering the following question: “In the light of eternity, how big is this?”  If the answer is, that it is truly not all that important, then that can be referred to as a “hiccup moment.”

Finishing Well: It’s a God-Thing

You may wonder why, at the advent of a new year, I would write my first post about finishing well.  My answer is simple: It’s a God-thing.  God cares about the choices we make and wants us to finish our lives well before Him.  I love the beauty of Psalm 147:10, 11 as it describes the way God looks at His people:

“His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor His delight in the legs of a man;
 the Lord delights in those who fear Him,
    who put their hope in His unfailing love.”

Put simply, God delights in those who trust more in His Sovereign Goodness than in themselves or others.  That, my friend, is finishing well.

In the last several months of 2012 I became increasingly convicted that I needed to be more intentional in making God-pleasing decisions as I resisted “going with the flow” of our culture.  As I have prayed about entering 2013, I am a little scared (yet also excited) about a radical change that the Apostle Paul has inspired me to make.  Here is what Paul wrote from a Roman prison cell to encourage friends who faced challenges similar to what you and I face today:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed . . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.  Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life–in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not labor for nothing.”  (Philippians 2:12-16)

Paul urged his friends to continue to live their lives well, in obedient faith, trusting and honoring the God who had saved them out of crooked depravity.  How was this to be accomplished?  Right smack dab in the middle of the text is our key to finishing well before a holy, loving God:  “Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God.”  It struck me (like a royal kick-in-the-head!) that God hates grumblers and He hates when we make excuses for our sins . . . yet I do both!     It’s a bad habit that began that day in the Garden of Eden when Adam blamed God for his sin (see Genesis 3.)   The wonderous thing is that through Jesus, as children of God Most High, we can (and must!) resist grumbling and blame-shifting.  In the process, Paul declares that the world will see us as distinctively different, shining “like stars in the universe” as we hold out the Word of Life to the world around us.

 How about you?  Have you thought about making changes in your life bent toward finishing well before God as we enter 2013?  Is the idea of “shining like starts in the universe” at all appealing to you?  Are you crazy enough to join me?  (I pray that you will!)  Happy New Year one and all!

All to His Glory!

Holy Love

Christmas morning, Love divine;

born a Savior, glory shines!

He came with purpose, to save the lost;

amazing Grace paid an awful cost.

Blessed are all who embrace the Savior,

Holy Love . . . there is none greater!

Joy-filled Love, redemption ours;

Grace-filled manger led to a Cross.

Do you know Him, can you see?

He came for sinners like you and me.

Holy Love how great the sound,

sing His praises all around!

“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.
 Of the greatness of His government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over His kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.”   (Isaiah 9:6,7)

All to His Glory!

A God of Celebration . . .

One of the things I love about God is that He is a God of celebration.  I marvel at all the ways God prescribed creative and meaningful celebration for the Israelites during their forty year wilderness treck.  (Check out Exodus after the holidays to see for yourself.)  Celebration in the Bible served to remind God’s people and future generations of His faithfulness.  I suppose that was the motivation behind writing “De-Schlucking” Christmas: Focus on HOPE!    To “de-schluck” Christmas is really an effort to simplify and creatively bring out the true meaning of the celebration of Christ’s birth.  I found that in my “de-schlucking” effort the process was very personal.  Were you to come to my home you would see some rather oddball things displayed–like a palm tree and a red apple on my Christmas tree.  This is where the personal part comes in, because those things serve as reminders of God’s kindness to us in the past.  That is why no one should ever attempt to “de-schluck” someone else’s celebration– it’s personal!

For me, the most meaningful celebration in our family takes place after our Christmas Day dinner.   The meal varies (I think we are eating Caribbean this year) but dessert is always the same:  Birthday Cake for Jesus.  Now I can see many of you rolling your eyes with disappointment at the suggestion of a “schlucky” birthday cake as the grand finale of your Christmas dinner.  Just hear me out!

~ BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR JESUS ~

  • Any size or shape cake frosted with white icing  (White Icing represents the Purity of Christ)
  • 20 red birthday candles  (Serve to remind us of the twenty centuries that have passed since Jesus was born, the red stands for His royalty and, of course, when lit we are reminded that He is the Light of the world.)
  • Washable greenery such as holly or evergreens to put around the sides of the cake (Reminds us of Life Everlasting that is promised to all who look to Him as Lord and Savior.)
  • Anything else that serve as a reminder of the Christmas Story

As we light the candles we review the meanings of the white icing, the twenty red candles and the greenery.  Once the candles are all lit we sing Silent Night and then Happy Birthday Jesus.  I have enjoyed sharing this tradition with many groups, young and old.  My favorite was after caroling in our village while living in England.  The tradition in the village was to serve oxtail soup (a hearty finish after being out so long in the cold.)   When we brought out the cake and made the presentation they all loved it.  When I think of that night, I still have to smile . . . .

Do you have a tradition that holds special meaning for you at Christmas?  Please share so it can be passed on . . .

All to His Glory!