Monday, December 24, 2007

December 24

The flip side of yesterday's blog (about what we expect of others--especially of God)--is that God expects a lot of us. All too often I think people accept Jesus into their heart thinking that life will instantaneously be perfect, they will have no more problems and they won't have to change anything about their lifestyle. As a new believer there is no way to fully understand the actual cost of becoming a follower of Christ. But it's well worth it, and we aren't alone in our struggles.

Here are a few of the expectations that God has for all of us as believers:

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12

Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:13
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...Matthew 5:44

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself...Matthew 6:34

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

Although there are lots of universal expectations--like the ones listed above, God sometimes places individual expectations on us based on his biblical principles. These expectations are according to our gifts and talents. It may be to preach and teach or to be a long term missionary or to be a great example as a stay at home mom or to live in a certain neighborhood to witness to your neighbors or to attend a certain church to make an impact or to take a new job or to stay in a difficult one. The only way you'll know what these expectations are--either individual or universal--is by having a daily quiet time of reading the bible and praying.

It cost God everything to send Jesus down to earth, in the form of an innocent baby. Why shouldn't he have high expectations of us, too?

What expectations does God have for you, in your life?

How are you living out his expectations?

What is your attitude towards God's expectations? Resentment? Discouragement-- I'll never be able to live up to them? Or, hopeful--"I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13"?

How will you work on living up to God's expectations--to serve him fully--in 2008?

God can do a mighty work in us and through us, if we only let him. Will you?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

December 23

Sometimes the expectations I place on others are too high. Unrealistic. I expect them to behave in a certain way or do something that is not really possible. There are times when I expect Joel to buy me a gift that I've dropped hints about, but haven't clearly communicated to him what I want. Or I want a gift that we simply can't afford. Neither are very realistic. Just high expectations. I might expect a friend to call me out of the blue when I'm having a rough day. How would they know to call? At one time or another, we've all placed high, unrealistic or just plain impossible expectations on another person.

Oftentimes I find that my high expectations come with wrong motives. I want something out of the deal. I need something.

There are times we may do this with God, too. Help me win this game, just this once. I want to win the lottery. Please give me this new job. Heal my family member. But are these really unrealistic expectations for God? Or just demands?

All too often we place demands on God or we place unrealistic expectations with the wrong motives at his feet. When was the last time that worked for you? It's a good thing he sees through all of our games!

On the flip side, there are times when we place limited expectations on God, thinking "there's no way God can do that for me." Or, deep down, we think it's just not possible for God to complete our request, even if it is asked with the right motives.

But think about it, he is the God that has parted the Red Sea for more than a million people to walk between. (Exodus 14). He's also the God that helped a young shepherd kill a mighty giant. (1 Samuel 17). Don't forget all the people he's raised from the dead (Matthew 9:18-26, John 11:38-44, John 20:1-18). Or, the number of people he's healed (Matthew 8:1-4, 8:14-17, 8:28-34, 9:1-13, 27-34, etc...).

He's amazing. He knows when to meet our expectations--our needs, if you will--and he knows when to say "no" to our demands. He helps us change our motives to see that our expectations are not right--or are simply too low.

When I was in college, I really needed a car. I was about to start student teaching in a couple of different schools across the Chicago-area and it just wasn't possible to take city transit. I had high expectations on God. But I also had no expectations that he would provide one for me. I just didn't see how that was possible. In the end, my parents and sister & brother in law had already worked it out behind my back. Gary gave me his old car as a gift. It was really amazing. If only I had trusted that God could and would provide.

When was the last time you made a demand of God? How did that work out?

When was the last time your expectation for God was too low and he went above and beyond to answer your need?

What happened when you presented a request to God with the wrong motives? How did God work in your life to change your motives?

What is your response when God doesn't live up to your expectations? What is your response when he does?

And finally, what are your expectations of God for 2008? Are they too low--limiting God's power? Or, are they expectations that have turned into demands?

How will you prepare your heart to allow God to blow your expectations out of the water for 2008?

"My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Philipians 4:19

Saturday, December 22, 2007

December 22

Learning about God's personality has been a great reminder to me this week. It's so easy to get caught up in all the wrong things this time of year--cleaning house, buying gifts, school finishing, vacation from work, family visiting--and that's just my list! It's also easy to get focused on the wrong parts of the holiday--decorating, buying food, baking, Santa...instead of the season of Advent.

Obviously, the 5 "p's" of God's personality I touched on this week are only a part of his entire being. I bet you could focus on one attribute a day and it would take you all year. But the five I did talk about--power, peace, pausing, planner, and present (generosity) are pretty good ones to start with.

I will finish this week with the same questions I started with in the context of the coming year. How could you apply these to your quiet time in 2008?

What do you already know about the personality of God? What do you need a better understanding of?

How have you learned about God's personality?

What does having a better understanding of God mean for you in your life?

How will we teach it to our children (whether it's your own or nieces and nephews or cousins or neighbors...)?

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:10-11

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him." 2 Corinthians 2:14

Friday, December 21, 2007

December 21

Did you know that 35 million Americans will begin their Christmas shopping today? That causes me a lot of stress! By this time of year, I like to be at home watching a movie and eating popcorn, not braving the mall parking lot. Most should be declared a Federal Disaster Area from December 20-25.

I like to give presents. For the most part, I enjoy making a list and buying gifts for friends and family. Often I really wish we had more money to be able to get everyone else what I'd really like to get them. I enjoy wrapping presents and putting name tags on them and placing them under the tree. The only part I don't like is going to the post office! (This year was a great year--I only had to go once to mail one gift--I had planned in advance!)

There are times when the present is perfect. So much so, that I don't want to share it with anyone. I got two boxes of Ferrer Rochers for Christmas already. I'm not sure I'm willing to share. Joel received a really awesome backpack/briefcase from his mom for Christmas. He loves it. It's perfect and I'm pretty sure he's not going to share with his bag-loving wife.

Sometimes I get the wrong present. The wrong size or color or something they don't like. That's OK, let's exchange it and get something you'll use. Some people might be offended by gift receipts or even gift cards. I'm not. Get something you will really use or something you really need. No need to have something sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

Ultimately, whether we remember it or not, Christmas (whether it really occurred on December 25 or not) is really about God's present to us. Salvation. Free. Unique. Fits perfectly. And it's exactly what we need, whether you knew it or not.

His present to us tells us a lot about who God is. Giving. Merciful. Forgiving. Powerful. Generous. And we can be all of those things, through God's strength, if we only accept his present to us. Amazing.

Where's God's present been this year? On the shelf, collecting dust? Or is it well-worn and used?

Have you passed along God's present to someone else this year? Or have you saved it all for yourself?

Do you view God's present as your most previous gift or down the list somewhere below big screen TV or family?

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." John 3:16-18

Thursday, December 20, 2007

December 20

Recently I attended a 2-day conference for work about communication. One entire section was devoted to learning about different personality types. This particular presenter used a very basic personality chart with four sections: socializer, relater, thinker, and director. Socializers & relaters are more informal people, while thinkers and directors are more formal. Socializers and directors are more extroverts, while relaters and thinkers are more introverted.

The point was, the more you know about what category(ies) you fall into and the more you know about your co-workers or family members, the easier it is to relate and communicate with them. (This has kind of been the theme for the week--learning about God's personality)

For those of you who may be wondering, I fall under the "director" category almost 100%. I wasn't really surprised and I'm sure most of you aren't, either. :) I like planning, details, lists, being in charge, seeing projects through, all with a little mix of socializing.

So why, then, do I have such a difficult time trusting that God has a plan for me? Sometimes, in the thick of things, I'm completely unable to trust that God knows what he's doing. My "director" personality overwhelms me and I take over. We all know the results of that--absolute failure, every time. In the end, I'm glad that I fail, so that I have nothing left but to trust God.

But God really does have a plan for me and for you. It begins in Genesis 1:1 and is still being carried out today. His plan includes a savior, born unlike any other king--in a manger. His plan also includes a death for that king unlike any other--death on a cross to save us from our sins. For his believers, the plan also includes a beautiful place called heaven. He's got it all under control.

What is God's plan for me? If I don't know, am I willing to ask God and then trust him with the answer?

How am I fulfilling God's plan for me each day?

When God's plan isn't exactly what I want it to be, what is my response?

What's God's plan for me in 2008?

I'm not sure why I'm on such a kid-song kick this week--maybe because I've been looking for some kids CD's for my niece. But, this is the song that came to my mind today as a "verse for reflection". :)

He's got the whole world in His hands,
He's got the whole world in His hands,
He's got the whole world in His hands,
He's got the whole world in His hands.

He's got my brothers and my sisters in His hands,
He's got my brothers and my sisters in His hands,
He's got my brothers and my sisters in His hands,
He's got the whole world in His hands.

He's got the sun and the rain in His hands,
He's got the moon and the stars in His hands,
He's got the wind and the clouds in His hands,
He's got the whole world in His hands.

He's got the rivers and the mountains in His hands,
He's got the oceans and the seas in His hands,
He's got you and he's got me in His hands,
He's got the whole world in His hands.

He's got everybody here in His hands,
He's got everybody there in His hands,
He's got everybody everywhere in His hands,
He's got the whole world in His hands.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

December 19

I'm not quite sure how it is already December 19. I really can't believe it's only 6 days until Christmas. Even though I have 99.9% of my shopping done--and wrapped, I'm not quite ready for Christmas to come yet. I have lots of cleaning to do and some errands to run and some last minute baking to do before my family arrives in the next few days.

Our schedule, like yours, I'm sure, has been horrendous. Joel's new glasses have been ready at the eye doctor for over a week and we haven't been able to make it over there to pick them up. The postman left a slip saying we had a package to pick up at the post office. Haven't made it over there yet, either! We've been running from one event to the next and even skipping a few just to get everything taken care of.

When did December turn into "Do way more than every other month of the year and try to enjoy the holiday season with a joyful, rested heart?" I missed that memo.

Simply put, it's not the way God designed life to be. God specifically designed a pause in our life that we all too often ignore. Even though it's not necessarily a personality "trait", I do think that it's a part of God's desire for us--to pause and take a day to rest.

He made the importance of pausing pretty clear at the beginning of the Bible when he created the earth in 6 days and rested on the 7th. And, if we were in doubt about the importance of that rest day, he included it in the 10 Commandments. Can't get much clearer than that. He didn't say a few hours of rest, he says an entire day. When was the last time I did that?

Don't worry, I am very guilty of working--a lot--on Sundays. It's my catch-up day for everything I didn't get done on Friday or Saturday. It's my day to get ready for the next week. Often I still find myself going to the grocery store on Sunday afternoons, even though I don't work on Fridays. How did that happen?

I don't really think God meant for us to just sit around and do nothing, although sometimes that is great. I think that God really intended us to do something different from our normal busy week. Take some time to rest--watch TV, play games with your family, do something quiet like sew or scrapbook or read a good book. Have a quiet time, read the bible, pray. Stop running around with your head cut off. And for me, it means I really should set aside my "To Do List" and enjoy some down time. Reflect on all that God has done for me in the past week. This may occur on Sunday, or it might be a Saturday for your family. I'm not sure it really matters, as long as you're doing it.

This year, Sunday is the day before Christmas Eve. You've got one last chance to take some time off before Christmas comes.

How will you be intentional this weekend to take time to pause before Christmas? What will you do (or not do) to help prepare yourself for celebrating Jesus' birthday?

Are you willing to set a "New Year's Resolution" for you and your family to take time to pause in 2008?

What does "pausing" look like for you and your family?

"There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience." Hebrews 4:9-11 (The first 13 verses of chapter 4 are all very good about A Sabbath-Rest for the People of God)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

December 18

It's no secret that I love Ferrero Rochers--those two-bite pieces of heaven-on-earth chocolate wrapped in golden foil. I love them! One day during my first year of teaching, things were chaotic. When you put 30 sixth graders in one room with a tired teacher, that can happen. I don't really remember the details of why things were so chaotic, I just remember it was one of those moments I wasn't quite sure what to do. And then it dawned on me--how could I be so foolish?

I had a Ferrero Rocher in my lunch!

It was like a scene from a movie where time seems to slow down and the camera circles the main actress and ethereal music plays in the background. I unwrapped the candy and placed it in my mouth. It was like time stopped and all craziness in the room (and it was pretty bad at this point) seemed to fade into the background. Heavenly peace flooded me and all was right in this world.

For about 10 seconds. Then the music stopped and the chaos of the room enveloped me again. I regained my composure and started class again. The moment was over as quickly as it had begun.

But, I had such peace for those 10 seconds. Amazing.

Funny story. Biblical truth. In the maddening chaos of the world, there is only one way to experience true peace and it's not with a piece of chocolate. While some religions may teach violence and protest or exclusion, Jesus came to teach peace.

We often look for that peaceful feeling from the wrong places--a hot bath, a mountain hike, a good book, an entertaining movie, drugs, caffeine--whatever it may be. But that's not really true peace. It may help us feel better, but it's only temporary.

During this chaotic time of year, "Peace" is used on Christmas cards, wrapping paper, signs, etc...but I'm not sure that most people get it. It's not something you do at certain times of the year. And it's certainly not something you can do alone. True peace comes from when we allow God to truly be in control of our lives. And His peace can be permanent, if we allow him to work in our lives.

What will you do today to allow God's peace to become a part of your life?

How will His peace be evident in the chaos of your life?

How will you show His peace to others who don't have it?

"Peace I [Jesus] leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid!" John 14:27

Monday, December 17, 2007

December 17

Sometimes I get too caught up in the "stories" of the Bible--the parting of the Red Sea, the awesomeness of Jonah being swallowed by the whale, the ability of David to slay "tens of thousands"--or even just Goliath, the miracle of Jesus' conception, and the best one of all--the resurrection of the dead--Lazarus, Jesus, etc... I think of them as just "stories"--like Santa Claus or Fairy Tales.

But that's not the point of the bible, is it? They aren't just a collection of stories. It is a history book of what God has done in the lives of people. His power displayed on earth. And he is a powerful God. All-powerful. Meaning, having power over everything.

When I am able to recognize the power of God displayed in the Bible through these events, it seems hard to believe that he still displays his power in our lives. My own inability to believe he displays his power on earth stems from an inability to recognize him as the source. It almost seems easier to give credit to a fictional "Mother Nature" when fierce storms come. Or to give credit to "Father Time" when time marches on too quickly or something falls into place at the perfect time. It seems easy to fall into the trap of "Santa Claus"--giving him credit as the "spirit of Christmas". All of these things are just Satan's way of taking our eyes off of God and robbing us of experiencing the true power of God. This limits our belief in God and it limits the ability of God to work powerfully in our lives.

The amazing part is that we aren't cut off from God's power. He had a perfect plan for us. When when Jesus ascended into heaven after he was resurrected, he left us God's power on earth--the Holy Spirit. We have the power of God within us, if we will only accept it. There is a big difference though, that I think we often get wrong. Having the power of God doesn't make us God. It simply enables us to do God's work while we are on earth.

Do you believe God is all-powerful? Have you experienced his power in your life? Maybe you haven't killed Goliath or been swallowed by a whale or seen anyone raised from the dead, but I can assure you God has done some powerful things in your life--whether you recognize it or not! His amazing grace that saved you from sin is pretty powerful!

How will you recognize the power of God in your life? Will you give Him credit?

Will you allow the power of God to yield your will to the Holy Spirit to work in your life? How? When? Today?

How will you teach others to recognize God as our source of power?

As I'm looking for a verse to wrap up today's blog, I'm reminded of a kids' song, so I'll leave you with the words to that.

My God is so BIG,
so STRONG and so MIGHTY,
there's nothing my God cannot do.

The oceans are HIS,
the mountains are HIS,
the stars are HIS handiwork, too!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

December 16

When Joel and I were first married, we thought we knew each other. Like most couples caught in the bliss of love, we were perfectly content with each other. To some extent, we had no faults and life was good. For about 5 minutes! Life changes very rapidly when you're first married. There are so many things to learn about each other--and even yourself--that you have to keep a sense of humor.

Joel and I have had lots of fun--and frustration--over the past 3.5 years learning about each other. The more we learn, it seems it's easier to love and trust the other person. You know why they do the things they do and what to expect from that person.

It's the same way when we enter into a relationship with God. We may know some about his personality before we accept him into our hearts, but it's not until we really begin to dive into his Word, pray, attend church and have fellowship with other believers, that we truly learn about his ways. Like with our relationship with our spouse, it's only through experiences and over time that we learn about their true personality and what the promise means when we say "I do"--to God or to our spouse!

Over the past few years I have learned so much about God's personality. His truly is unique. The more I learn, the more I am able to trust him and am able to be blessed by him. And, in all reality, the more I know about him, the better my worship is of him.

Unless we have a true understanding of who God is--what he loves and what he hates, about his kindness and his wrath, about his gift and about his judgment--we cannot worship him fully and truly appreciate all he has done for us. I hope that this learning can continue for my entire lifetime.

This week as we await his coming--or at least the celebration of it--my hope is to focus on the personality of God. And maybe, when Christmas comes I will have a better understanding of what he has done for us by sending his own son to earth for us. And, that my knowledge would spill over into appreciation and love for my God who loves me so much.

What do you already know about the personality of God? What do you need a better understanding of?

How have you learned about God's personality?

What does having a better understanding of God mean for you in your life?

How will we teach it to our children (whether it's your own or nieces and nephews or cousins or neighbors...)?

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:10-11

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him." 2 Corinthians 2:14

Saturday, December 15, 2007

December 15

Yesterday on the nightly news there was a short piece about a man from Florida. He was in the drive-thru line at Starbucks and the person behind him was honking and yelling at him. So, instead of returning the favor with a rude gesture or yelling back, he decided to pay for the guy's coffee. I guess it lasted all day. A car would pull up to the window only to be told "the car in front of you has paid for your drink". And feeling so good about it, they would, in turn, pay for the car's coffee behind them. What a nice, heart-warming story, especially at this time of year.

But isn't it sad that it made the news? Shouldn't there be so many acts like this each day that we're not so surprised when it happens? And maybe it does happen regularly, it's just not at a large corporation that stands to benefit from the advertisement on the news. I'm not sure. Either way, I want to be on the lookout for more ways to do nice things for other people.

I found myself in a very, very, very slow line at a restaurant this week. Without naming the store, it was one of those fast-food places where you watch your food being made and you tell them what you want on it as you go down the line. There were 2 people in front of me--one family and one woman ordering 2 sandwiches to go. Let's just say it took so long for her to get her food and for me to get my 3 sandwiches to go, that the family in front had time to get their food, sit down, eat it and leave with me when I was done ordering. Arg! I was in a hurry, too!

There were 2 teenage-looking kids working the counter, one said "it's my 2nd day". "Really?," I thought, " I couldn't tell." Woops. I almost missed a chance to be a friendly customer. I was pretty proud of myself for keeping my cool. When I finally paid and turned to leave, I made sure to smile and say thank you. However, I don't think I really "practice what I preached" this week on my blog.

Not being mean and doing something really nice to possibly show the love of Christ to someone else are 2 different things. I certainly wasn't rude or mean. I was very pleasant and said thank you in the end. But that's different than striking up a conversation and reassuring the workers that they were trying their best and then saying "Merry Christmas" at the end.

This may be an extreme example, but my point is, showing the love of Christ means being different than other people. Not in a proud of boastful way, but it means going beyond avoiding being rude. I know it takes a lot of energy and I am often moved out of my comfort zone in order to do this. I have to make a very conscious choice to move beyond just avoiding rudeness. And there are some days it takes a lot of energy just to not be rude. We've all been there, right?

This week I hope you found some ways to take the opportunity to do some outreach for others--which was the theme for this week, in a roundabout way. My hope is that as I continue to prepare for Christ's birthday (that is the point, right?), I can see the value in taking the extra time or energy to show others why my life is different, and how they can have that life, too.

I didn't quite make it to my 100 ideas for serving others this week, but I made it to 65--not too bad, right? I'd love to know what you were able to do so I can add it to my list!

"He [Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, during them with the towel that was wrapped around him...'Do you understand what I have done for you?' he asked them. 'You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these thins, you will be blessed if you do them.'" John 13: 4-5 and 12-17

Friday, December 14, 2007

December 14

Often my bad attitude gets in the way of serving others. I find my exhaustion or the amount of things on my "to do" list get in the way. At home, I personally find it difficult to serve Joel when I think "he hasn't lived up to his end of the bargain". It's almost impossible to serve others when I'm not feeling well or they aren't in a good mood. And when the other person is just downright rude--forget it. I'm justified, right? Help me out here?

I have to admit that I'm sitting here laughing to myself a little because it feels comforting to say those things, but I know in all reality it is ridiculous to think that way.

I'm sure Jesus was exhausted most of the time in his ministry. His days were filled with needy people and naysayers. And, not to mention his own "to do" list--I'm sure it was a mile long--"save everyone from their sins, turn them away from Satan's manipulation, heal the sick, convince the Pharisees, avoid death a little longer..." I'd rather keep my regular list of "wash sheets, go to the grocery store, pick up dry cleaning..."

Jesus' family--his disciples--weren't the cream of the crop, either...outcasts, uneducated, doubters and even a traitor. Could you be a trusted friend of someone--for 3 years--knowing in the end they are going to betray your life to your enemies? I think I would be cranky about that. I don't know how Jesus felt most days--it doesn't mention that in the Bible, but I would assume he was overwhelmed by the people's needs on most days. Being overwhelmed doesn't usually put me in a "let me go serve everyone else today" kind of mood.

Lastly, I mentioned above, that when others are rude, the option of serving them is out for me (most of the time). And I don't even face that many rude people in my life. Jesus' rude people followed him around. They knew where he was and watched him. I don't know if you've observed a group of middle school girls recently. Often they stand around in the corner of the playground or a room and whisper and giggle and then every once in a while turn and point at someone and whisper and giggle some more. It's difficult to know if they are talking about you. That's basically what the Pharisee's did to Jesus. All the time, relentlessly. But instead of just pointing and giggling they "went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus" (Matthew 12:14). Pretty heavy stuff. I'm sure I would just say "OK, forget it, I give up! You win!"

I often forget that Jesus is our perfect example. He didn't just come to give us the gift of salvation--and let me tell you--that's a pretty awesome gift. He came to be an example for us. How to live out this life he called us to lead. He didn't just come to earth say, "this is what you're supposed to do, Good luck!" and ascend back into heaven. He lived the life, too.

But God's plan was even better than having Jesus come down to earth, show us how to live, save us from our sins, and ascend back to heaven. He gave us the Holy Spirit to help us do it! We're not alone. Pretty amazing stuff. The perfect plan.

It reminds me of the Nike ad--"just do it." No excuses.

What gets in the way of you serving others? Will you give it over to the Lord?

How will you remember what your priorities are? I often have to remind myself (especially at work)--"People first, phone second, paper last (including email)."

How will you ask God to help you avoid these "service robbers"--things that prevent us from serving others (see paragraph #1, above)?

Service Opportunities
1. Allow your spouse to sleep in while you take care of the kids (or the dog, in our case).
2. Make breakfast in bed for your spouse or your kids. What a fun tradition!
3. Do a chore for your spouse or kids (or coworker) that you know they don't enjoy. When Joel goes to the grocery store for me it is such a great act of service for me--we both hate it!
4. Watch your friend's or neighbors kids for them so they can have some time to shop or just have some time alone.
5. Bake a double meal and bring it over to a neighbor's house. Wouldn't that be a blessing?
6. Ask your friends "What could I do for you today (or this month) that would be a help to you?
7. Volunteer in your child's classroom. Teachers need all the help they can get.
8. Write a note (& mail it) to a friend--even if they live close--and tell them how much you appreciate them. What a nice change of pace from the regular stream of junk mail.
9. I've found that baked goods can go a long way to make someone's day a little brighter.
10. Smile while you're doing whatever act of service you do. This can be tough, especially when the other person may be grumbling, but it goes a long way in making my attitude better.

"Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--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

Thursday, December 13, 2007

December 13

Last night I went with Joel and my mother in law Rhonda to the D'Evelyn High School Choir Concert. Kudos to them, by the way--they did a great job. It brought me back to my own choir days--all through jr. high, high school and college! Thanks to my parents for attending all those concerts!

At the end of every Christmas Concert at D'Evelyn, they ask all alumni to join them on stage. All of the choirs, plus a small orchestra and piano sing a beautiful version of the Hallelujah Chorus. What a great tradition. It was so well and done and very moving. As a Christian, it truly was a great worship experience.

As you may know, there is a time honored tradition to stand when this piece is played. The story goes (although it cannot be confirmed to be true) that when the piece was played for the first time, King George II of England stood during this piece and the audience followed suit. Another story says that it was the composer Haydn who bean this tradition saying "He is the master of us all". Either way, it's a long standing tradition and one that I like.

As the piece began, an older gentleman in the front of the auditorium stood first, followed by the remainder of the audience. I settled in for a great performance. And then I noticed that the young high school student--the very same one who had been messing around the entire concert--remained seated. With his hat on (this is another big inside-the-building no-no for me)! I couldn't believe it! I began to get so angry. And then I realized, I, as a teacher, had the responsibility to teach him the proper musical etiquette--we are in a school after all.

So at the end of the piece, I leaned over and whispered "It's appropriate to stand during that song." I received the typical "high school glare". If you're not sure which one I'm talking about, you'll know when your child hits about 13. It seems to plague all high school students at one time or another.

I believe it is our responsibility as adults to help educate those who are younger. We have learned many lessons throughout our lives and I think we should share those with others. I have learned a great deal from older, wiser adults and for that, I am grateful.

I think this is especially true in the Christian world. I am saddened when I see retirees move off to retirement communities because they are no longer a part of our churches and neighborhoods. Their wisdom is isolated to a small community of their peers. Who will I learn from? And who will be my child's role model? The learning doesn't just have to come from retiree-age people though. It can also come from those who are more mature in their Christian walk.

Finally, I think we, as Christians, also have a responsibility to teach those who do not know Jesus about the love of God. Even when we may be afraid to offend someone or that the truth will be rejected, we still have a responsibility. If we don't teach them, who will?

What older or wiser Christian do you have in your life to help lead you through this difficult life?

What younger person do you have in your life that you can be a positive Christian influence on?

What non-believers do you have in your sphere of influence? How will you teach them about the love of Christ this week?

Service Opportunities
1. Ask God to provide an opportunity for you to mentor someone in your church.
2. Seek out someone (or a couple of people) who can help be a positive influence on your life.
3. Take advantage of opportunities to thank God specifically in front of your non-Christian friends. It might sound like "God really protected me when I got a flat tire on the highway." Or, "God really blessed me this Christmas by..."
4. Study some of the great mentor relationships in the bible--Paul and Timothy might be a good place to start.
5. Be gentle when teaching others. (I know sometimes I simply get angry when I think someone should know something--like standing during the Hallelujah Chorus--but they may honestly not know. You can't fix something you don't know you're doing wrong.)
6. Go out on a limb. Be a Sunday School teacher. Volunteer to work with the jr. high or high school group at church. It's not as scary as you might think.
7. Bake a birthday cake for Jesus and invite some of the neighborhood children over to celebrate. Invite their parents!
8. Ask God to soften your heart so when others teach you, you are ready to listen.

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens antoher." Proverbs 27:17

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

December 12

Often during the month of December I find myself standing around thinking about all of the things I have to do. And that's good and all--coming up with a plan, making a list, etc...but I'm still not getting any of it done! I'm paralyzed by the amount of things I need to do that I don't get anything done! Ever feel that way?

After Jesus was crucified, the disciples and Jesus' followers were confused. They doubted. They were baffled and frankly, they too were paralyzed into inaction. I'm sure I would have been in the same position had I been there. It's easy to look back at them and think "What were you thinking? Jesus laid it all out for you during his years of ministry!"

They didn't have a complete understanding of Jesus' mission and his teachings or the fact that he had died, so they just sat around wondering what to do. It wasn't until Jesus came back and appeared to them that they had a fuller understanding of his plan. It was then that they were able to move into action. And when they did, they really moved.

The thing that is different for us, than it was for the disciples, is that we know the whole plan already--we have the whole Bible! Why, then, are we paralyzed? Why do we wonder what we're supposed to do? In Erwin McManus' book, Chasing Daylight, he talks about just doing something! Get up, do something for the Lord! He says to try doing something (as long as it's biblical) and if it's not the right thing, God will show you. I think there is a lot of wisdom in that. Instead of sitting back and thinking about all of the things we could be doing, get up and actually do it!

What category do you fall under--paralysis or "in action? (or maybe you fall in the "combat" zone of doing too much--this blog entry is not about you)

How can you move from paralysis to "in action" today? Don't wait! So many times we wait to start our New Year's goals until January 1. Don't wait--start today!

What will you do to prepare your heart to serve others? How will you allow God to open your mind to the opportunities that are out there?

What will it really take for you to get started? Asking a friend to do it with you? Prayer? I have to be honest with you, the phone probably isn't going to ring with someone on the other line saying "How would you like to serve your community today?" I wasted a lot of time waiting for that phone call. You've got to pick up the phone and call yourself.

Service Opportunities
1. Help at the local rescue mission this holiday season. Make a great memory with your family while serving others.
2. Help at your local church--most churches have lots of ways to get involved from teaching Sunday School to helping out in the bookstore, or seasonal projects such as toy drives or Christmas food baskets. There is always something for everyone to do--we are the body of Christ.
3. Donate your money. Things are usually tight in December. Find the joy in giving some away, even when it doesn't seem like you have much to give.
4. Keep your eyes open and be ready to jump at the opportunity. So many times I fall into the pity category-- "There's nothing for me to do". And then God opens my eyes to numerous ways I can serve. And sadly, sometimes he reveals all of the things I've missed.
5. Get involved in something you are passionate about. Tutoring neighborhood kids. Helping with the local gardening club. Organizing a home school program. Getting involved on the board at your local school. Organizing a block party for your neighborhood. Heading up a boy/girl scout group. You can serve the Lord doing just about anything.
6. Pray for opportunities to come to you. With your heart in the right place, God can open up your heart to new ways of serving.
7. Go on a missions trip. Take your family with you. Step out in faith as you serve others in another country. If that's too much for you, there are great missions opportunities right here in the US. Extreme Home Makeover & ABC don't have the corner on this market.
8. Make a meal for a family in need.
9. Pick up the phone and call a friend. Just "check in" to see how they are doing.
10. Offer your car to someone who is having car trouble. This is a tough one for me. I like my car. But it has been a huge blessing to me when someone has helped us out in our times of car trouble.
11. Share with others what you are doing. Don't be boastful about it, just tell others so that maybe they can join you. Going with a friend makes it a little easier to get started.

"Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are may form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's figt is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully." Romans 2:4-8

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

December 11

This past weekend, as many of you may know, there were two shootings at churches in Colorado (one was actually a Youth with a Mission Center). This first one happened less than 2 miles from our house. It's actually the second murder to occur on that street corner in less than a year. And it's not like we get a whole lot of murders in our little suburban city.

I said to Joel, kind of off the cuff, "It's like God has a hold of that street corner (there is a large mega-church that sits on this corner) and Satan really wants to get a hold of it." But I really got to thinking that there may be more truth to that statement than I realized.

Here in America we do not give enough credit to spiritual warfare. It's not that it doesn't exist--it's just less talked about. More covert. Definitely not "politically correct". And not your typical dinner conversation. It makes us uncomfortable. And often seems a bit "voodoo doctor-ish" or something.

But I believe it's real and because it's ignored in our churches and conversations, it runs rampant in our lives. There is a battle going on for our hearts, and unless you are prepared, you may lose.

Ephesians 6 talks about preparing for this war with the Armor of God:
Belt of truth
Breastplate of righteousnesses
Feet fitted with readiness that comes from the gospel of peace
Shield of faith
Helmet of salvation
Sword of the Spirit
And PRAY, be alert and oh yes, pray some more

We must come to know our enemy and call him what he is--Satan. We must understand his evil ways--the deep, strong desire he has to win our hearts and distract us from knowing Jesus' saving grace (see Genesis 3 if in doubt). And we must learn to reject his manipulation and flee from his temptations. It's a dangerous world out there. Be ready.

It's only against this black, dark backdrop that we can truly come to know and appreciate our Lord and Savior's light, bright righteousness. His light shines brightly against the backdrop of the evil, sinful blackness of the world. He came to be a light, so that we may learn to be lights for him, too.

How bright is your light? Or is it burning out? Is it time for a "re-charge"?

Do you keep your light shining brightly all the time or just on Sundays? or in comfortable situations with other Christians? Would you be ashamed if someone knew you were a light for Jesus?

How is your Armor of God? Is it all shined and polished sitting in the closet? Or is it dented and falling apart and fits like a glove from use?

What will you do today to ready yourself for the spiritual battle we face constantly?

How will you prepare for the coming Christmas knowing that all Satan wants to do is destroy your experience of worshiping the newborn king?

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Ephesians 6:12

Service Opportunities (this isn't necessarily the topic I had planned on talking about today, so this may be a bit difficult!)
1. Learn more about spiritual warfare and talk about it as a family. You can use kid-friendly words and talk about how strong and mighty our God is!
2. Post scriptures around the house, in your car, where you work, to remind you to flee temptation.
3. Pray for God to protect your heart and the hearts of your loved ones.
4. Go on a walk around your neighborhood (maybe not today--it's like 20 degrees with 7 inches of snow on the ground here) and pray for your neighbors, school, church, etc...
5. Write a thank you card or bake cookies and deliver it to your local police office or fire station.
6. Talk about the shootings with your neighbors. Maybe this is a great conversation starter to talk about the Lord.
7. Whether you have kids or not, make cut outs or pictures or visual reminders of the Armor of God. Place it on your nightstand or in the shower or on the mirror and "put on" the armor every day. Help your kids to remember, too.
8. Be in God's word. Commit to doing this every day. It's the only way (along with prayer) that we can learn how to defeat our enemy.
9. Be ready to say out loud "Away from me Satan" when faced with temptation, as Jesus did in Matthew 4:10.
10. Tell someone you love them today. Really tell them.

Monday, December 10, 2007

December 10

Sometimes in a period of waiting, such as Advent, our tendency might be to just want to "wait around" for the event...to sit by idly, thinking about the great event that is to come. And yet, sometimes in the waiting, there is a lot to be done. My current checklist includes:

1. Buy a few more gifts
2. Go to the Post Office--not my favorite chore!
3. Clean house--my whole family is coming into town for Christmas
4. Do some baking
5. And many more errands and projects that seem so pressing right now

But that's not really what Advent is about, is it? Getting my check list of day to day items completed? Jesus is coming--that's what Advent is about--the coming or the important arrival of Jesus. We should be so excited about his coming that we should want to tell everyone. Just as I am so excited for my family to spend Christmas in Colorado with us, I should be equally and even more excited that we are celebrating the arrival of our Savior.

On a side note, Joel & I have a strange tradition of getting KFC on Christmas Eve. It started one year when I didn't want to cook on Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day, so we decided we would blow the bank on calories for one night and eat fried chicken to our heart's delight. Yesterday Joel & I were talking about how excited we were to get KFC--we never have it otherwise. I had to ask myself, "Am I more excited about getting to eat KFC than I am for Christmas itself?" Yikes!

So what do I do to "get excited" about Christmas in this world of "Happy Holidays" and "Family Trees"? And how do I share my excitement with others?
Here are a few ideas I came up with. I'd love to hear yours.

Service Opportunities
1. Read the Christmas story (or parts of it) every night as a family. Matthew 1:18-23 or Luke 1:1-2:40
2. Read the Christmas story with any and all guests who might come into your home this December.
3. Better yet, invite your friends and neighbors over for dessert or dinner with the intent of sharing the Good News with them.
4. Invite your friends and neighbors to attend a Christmas Eve service with you. You're going anyway, right? Even though our church doesn't have a Christmas Eve service, it has 5 great services on Saturday evening & Sunday morning. The gospel is given at every service. You're welcome to come to our church--Grace Church.
5. Be specific about saying "Merry Christmas" this December. A quick story: our Children's Ministry Pastor spoke at church this weekend and he said he was at the mall recently when a young child walked passed and said "Merry Christmas" to him. The mom then grabbed the young child and said "It's Happy Holidays". Our pastor wasn't sure if the mom was worried about being offensive or what, but it was very disheartening.
6. Pray for our missionaries living in countries where Christmas is not celebrated. They are often separated from their families and it can be a lonely time.
7. Pray for your family and friends and neighbors who don't know the Lord. It's a great time of year to open that conversation.
8. Pray for your pastor(s). It's a busy time in churches and they have family and friends to take care of too.
9. Pray for your family--whether you have kids or not--that you will be able to focus on Jesus' arrival.
10. Even though it's already December 10, it's not too late to make a paper chain to count down the days until Christmas. Even though we don't have kids, we still find this fun to do to helps us generate some excitement.
11. Eat dinner as a family--or invite some people over--and talk about the Christmas traditions you celebrated in your home and why you celebrated them. Which ones do you want to be sure to do each year?
12. Choose one night a week for the next 2 weeks (or more) to "fast" or eat a light meal for dinner. Donate the money you would have spent on food to a homeless shelter or another great charity. We have a great homeless ministry right here in Denver--The Denver Rescue Mission.
13. Even though it may seem selfish, take time to pray for yourself--it's not selfish at all. Pray that you would be able to see past the busy-ness of the season and be able to praise and worship God for all he has done for us, and all he has yet to do.

What will you do to create some Christmas excitement in your life? How will you help those around you to be focused on the right things this Christmas?

What will be your response--with actions and words--to those around you who aren't focused on the right things?

How will you glorify God in the day to day items you have to take care of in the next two weeks?

"After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him..." Matthew 2:9-11a

Sunday, December 09, 2007

December 9

Now that our hearts, minds & homes are ready for the holidays it's time for us to do something. I know, I know--my schedule is full, too. I just emailed a friend to see if we could do dinner and I think it will have to be in January! How can we be that busy?

A friend reminded me recently that you make time for what you love. For some, that may be scrapbooking or sewing or cleaning house or shopping or baking or yard work (yes, a man down the street thinks a yard should be mowed year round--I say our yards look the same under the 7" of snow we got this weekend and we didn't do any work on ours!)

If this season really is about Jesus' birth, we should do something special to celebrate it. I love it when people do something to help celebrate my birthday, so why wouldn't Jesus feel the same? It's just that we should be doing serving others all year round, not just at Christmastime. Well, here's your chance to show others the love of Jesus. A week of serving others.

By the end of the week, I hope you will be able to look back and say, "I loved Jesus by serving someone else". My hope is to give you at least 100 ways to love Jesus by serving someone else.

How will you allow God to open your eyes to the needs of others this week?

What will your response be when your service is met with criticism or a negative attitude?

Is serving others really worth the time and effort?

"I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine (stranger, sick person, someone in prison) , you did for me." Matthew 25:40 (the rest of this parable is worth reading in Matthew 25:31-46)

Service Opportunities
1. Scrape someone else's car. (maybe at church, probably someone you know)
2. Make breakfast in bed for someone you love.
3. Smile at the check out clerk and say "thank you for your help".
4. Bake something and leave it anonymously in your neighbor's mailbox. Or leave it in your own for your mailman.
5. Volunteer in the nursery at church for the busy Christmas Eve service.
6. Pray for someone every day for the next week.
7. Shovel your neighbor's walk or driveway for them.
8. Send someone who has served you recently a thank you card.
9. Send your child's teacher a thank you note.
10. Have your child send their teacher a thank you note.
11. Leave a co-worker a candy bar on their desk anonymously.
12. Sponsor a child through World Vision or Compassion International for the next year.
13. Write a personal note to a friend who is a missionary thanking them for their service.
14. Allow the Holy Spirit to use you for God's work today without selfish motives.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

December 8

This week's theme has been about hospitality and the home. I grew up watching my mother display lavish hospitality on our guests--and there were many throughout my childhood. I'm not talking about fine china and crystal dinner glasses or even fancy 5 course meals. But, what I do remember was that guests were always welcome, whether it was just for a meal or for a week-long stay. Guests were made to feel like they belonged there and were a part of our family.

No matter where we lived--and we lived in a lot of houses growing up--we always had a guest room. Sometimes it was in the basement and one time it was even in a "closet"--just big enough for a bed. But, we always had a space for people to come stay with us. I'm rather grateful for that because it meant never having to give up my own bed for guests!

It is just so natural for my mom--it truly is one of her spiritual gifts. She set a great example for me. So now, I am trying to create the same environment. We have a large guest room--it just worked out that the guest room is the biggest bedroom in the house--and I love cooking and having people over. I wish we were able to have more people over. Hospitality doesn't come quite as naturally to me as it does to my mom, but I do enjoy it.

When we practice hospitality, we can show others, in a tangible way, the love of Jesus by welcoming them into our homes. It can create an inviting forum to share what is going on in our lives. And even to share the Good News with them. We can make our guests feel like family, like they belong. Our hospitality to others can be an outward display of what we are feeling in our hearts--a desire to serve Jesus and that Jesus "belongs" in our hearts and lives.

Romans 12 says:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (vs. 9-13)

(This section goes on to list many more commandments about "love". It's worth reading, especially at this time of year. )

How will you show hospitality to someone this December? How will you serve them in response to Jesus' command to "practice hospitality"? How will you make them feel like family?

How will you show hospitality to Jesus this December? Will you get your "guest room", with clean sheets, towels and an extra blanket, all ready? Or will you have him stay in a closet--out of the way?

What will you do to make Jesus your most honored guest this Christmas? And how will you tell others that he can be a guest in their heart, too?

Friday, December 07, 2007

December 7

In the summer of 2006 we moved into this home. We have done a lot of work on it--new lights, new floors, lots of paint, new baseboards, curtains and I'm sure other projects I've now forgotten about. We're pretty proud of ourselves, too. We've done most of the work ourselves (I will give credit to friends & neighbors who helped us along the way with advice and tools).

When new guests come over to our house I like to show it off. Most people politely oblige my need for giving house tours. Thank you; you are are too kind. I show off all of the rooms upstairs, my craft area in the basement and our bedroom. All the parts I'm proud of.

I choose not to show off our storage room--it's pretty embarrassing how much junk we have stored in there. I also do not include closets or the garage on the tour. Would you? Our bathroom is also pretty much neglected--I don't really like it because it's so small and it needs a bit of work. Our backyard doesn't get any nods of attention either. It's pretty bad. I would avoid the front yard altogether, but it's on display 24:7.

As I've begun to prepare my heart for Advent and Christmas this year. I've come to realize it needs a lot of work. There are parts of my life that are always on display and I tend to allow the nice, cleaned up, fixed up parts to show. I'm pretty organized--most people would be able to identify that characteristic pretty easily after one "tour" of my heart. I love teaching and being with kids. That's pretty obvious, too. I enjoy spending time with people--that's my #1 love language. You might only know that if you got the more in-depth tour that included one or two of the "off-limits" rooms.

But what would you find out if I showed you the storage room, my bathroom or heaven forbid, the closet in my study? I'm afraid that part of my heart-tour would be mortifying. We might not be able to be friends anymore. I know I would be filled with shame.

However, I've found that the more I share these dark-filled corners of my heart with other, trusted friends, the more it releases me from that shame and embarrassment. Other people have closets, garages and ugly bathrooms too. And sometimes they are willing to share theirs with me.

Ultimately, I am learning to recognize that God knows all of those corners and hidden places. He knows intimately all of the cobwebs (I found a really nasty one in my basement last night-yuck!) and dust and dirt. And He wants to clean it up for us.

I serve a God that chose to come down to earth--in human form, no less, and serve US. He wants to clean up our shame and embarrassment. And more importantly, our sin.

What rooms in your heart are off-limits? What causes you the most shame and embarrassment?

Would you be willing to share it with a friend? To whom will you share it with?

Will you share your hurts, habits and hang-ups with the One who can rid you of them forever? He's listening. He's waiting. And, he's willing.

What is preventing you from feeling his amazing grace? Let him clean up your heart today so you can be fully prepared to worship him this Christmas.

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:12-13

Thursday, December 06, 2007

December 6

Recently Joel and I have had a number of conversations with friends who have young children. The topic has mostly been about "What to do about Santa Claus". A couple of conversations have even turned to the origins of other traditions, including the Christmas Tree. Although many of the traditions may (or may not) be rooted in pagan traditions, I personally think, some of them may still lead us to the real meaning of Christmas.

I don't need a Christmas tree or snow on the ground or wreaths on the door or stockings hanging over the fire to make it Christmas, but it sure seems to help put me in the mood. I certainly don't worship these items, like many do in our commercialism-driven America. Although, I do have to admit that I was a bit irritated with myself the other day for my inability to produce a red bow while decorating for the holidays. How hard can that be?

These decorations and traditions, when done with the right motivation and intent, can help lead us to the real meaning of Christmas. Maybe it is what you make it. Two "traditions" that seem to point me to Jesus this year are red ribbon and the Christmas tree. Yes, red ribbon and the Christmas tree. Stick with me.

As I was trying to make a bow to hang on the wall the other day (out of the velvet type ribbon that is so hard to work with!), I was struck by how deep the color was. Like blood. We like to think about the beautiful, miraculous, albeit non-glamorous way Jesus was brought into the word. But even from day one, his entire purpose for being on the earth was the cross. For his blood to be shed for our sin.

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding." Ephesians 1:7-8

As I look to celebrate Jesus' first coming, I can already begin to celebrate his second. And I can only celebrate his second coming because of his blood and his forgiveness of my sins. Amazing.

The second decoration or tradition that has caught my mind this year is the tree. It might have caught my mind even more if we had actually purchased a real tree this year. But, I must admit, I do like my fake one. As a kid, both Joel and I frequently had a real one. I can remember the smell and feel of the tree and watering it to keep it alive long enough to enjoy it. That's what's amazing to me--it's alive even in the dead of winter. Not much is living outside right now. Including our yard. Everything has whithered up and fallen over. But here are these beautiful evergreen trees that live all through winter when all other trees have lost their leaves and beauty.

We serve a God that is alive. Even after his work was done on the cross, death could not contain him.

"For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit..." 1 Peter 3:18

I know this blog may seem more appropriate for Easter time. But I think as we look towards Christmas--the arrival of Jesus--we have to know the whole story. Without knowing the whole story--of Christ's death and resurrection and the powerful work he did for us on the cross--the birth of a baby boy in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago means nothing. The birth is only a part of the story!

All of the decorations and glitz and glamor and festivities of Christmas can get in the way of our minds focusing on Jesus during this time of year. But if we pray and ask God to help us to focus our minds on him and his glory, we can see past, or even through, all of the mess. We can focus on Him and the work he has done for us--and that's why and what we can celebrate on December 25. Changed lives.

Has your life been changed by the power of God? Will you let him change you today?

Have you experienced the saving power of Jesus' blood? Will you let him save you today? What in your life is worth holding on to when you can be saved for all of eternity by letting it go?

What symbols or decorations or traditions help lead you to celebrating Jesus this Christmas? What will distract you from celebrating him? How will you rid yourself of these distractions?

How will you worship our risen Savior today?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

December 5

It's a tradition in our house (as is in many houses across the US, I'm sure) to decorate for Christmas over Thanksgiving weekend. After Thursday's big meal, of course. I have lots of Christmas decorations--thanks to my mom starting me early. I love getting boxes out and looking through everything that has been packed away for the year. It's like a pre-Christmas gift opening.

I have pyramids from Germany, ornaments from Sweden, handmade crafts from when I was a child, and some of my favorite--ornaments given to me by students over the years. My favorites are the ones that have the student's name on them. It helps me remember.

I love finding a special place for everything throughout the house. My favorite decor goes in the most prominent places. Some things appeal to me more one year and then not so much the next. I don't even have a place for all of it, so sometimes it just goes right back in the box.

One of my favorite decorations is the creche set my mom has bought for me over the past few years. It has all the main char- acters-- Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, shepherds, sheep, donkeys, camels, and of course, baby Jesus. There's an angel above and a light to illuminate the scene. And, of course, it has a wooden manger to put it all in. Wrong, I know, but I like it all the same. I know that the Wise Men may have come months or even years later and that Jesus was more likely born in a cave, but it's a 3-dimensional representation of the greatest love story. And it's displayed prominently in my dining room. (Not a great picture, but at least you can see what it looks like)

I sure wish I had more courage to display Jesus more prominently in my life the other 11 months of the year. It seems that from December 1 to December 25 it's politically correct to talk about God, Jesus, Christmas (although that is becoming less and less true these days). But what if I spoke up more often about him at work or in the grocery store line or showed more patience with my waitress at the restaurant? (See my blog entry, Service Opportunities, about this) How could God use me to impact a lost soul?

How can I open my mouth today to show others God's love, given to us in the flesh through Jesus?

What would I say? What would my actions look like?

What prevents me from giving Jesus a prominent place in my home and heart and life all 365 days of the year?

"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my father in heaven" Matthew 10:32

December 4

Sometimes house guests are messy. Or lazy. Sometimes guests are just a lot of work. They disrupt our schedule and our regular routine and sometimes even critique the way you do things or clean your house. Sometimes they just plain overstay their welcome. Sometimes they even arrive unannounced!

The above paragraph is from yesterday's blog. But I got to thinking that this paragraph really describes Jesus. He really was the unruly house guest. He called people from their comfortable lives, jobs and homes to follow him. When he arrived in people's homes, large crowds followed him. And the crowd's weren't these friendly, outgoing, clean-up-after-yourself type people, either. Mostly they were sick, demon-possessed, paralyzed, or the sickest of them all--Pharisees. He often brought with him outcasts of society--like tax collectors, prostitutes, and children and women. His arrival was often unannounced or delayed, such as the case was with Lazarus. A few days delayed. And people like Mary & Martha welcomed them into their homes.

In the end, those who did welcome Jesus in to their homes were blessed. Sometimes even healed, as was the case for Peter's mother-in-law in Matthew 8:14-15. Jesus healed her with such power that all he had to do was "touch her hand and the fever left her." And then "she got up and began to wait on him". I would have rather laid around in bed for a while longer, myself.

Jesus is a demanding house guest. He requires a lot. Well, everything. Our time, our resources, our relationships, our dreams, and most importantly, our heart. He comes when we least expect it and demands our attention.

In the grocery store parking lot when you're in a hurry...one close up parking spot and one elderly driver can make for a demanding situation. At the toy store when you're looking for that must-have gift of the season your child can't live without...one last toy on the shelf and one tired looking mother racing you toward the shelf can make for a demanding situation. One quiet evening at home, alone with your family...interrupted by a call for a ride to the airport or a meal dropped off to a family in need can make for a demanding situation.

Which do you choose--to serve this demanding house guest named Jesus or yourself--taking that up front parking spot--you were there first, right? grabbing that toy of the shelf--your child deserves it right? Not answering the phone--I earned this night at home, right?

As I prepare for this busy holiday season--there are so many demands on my time, my money, my energy and yet Jesus says "Freely you received, freely give." (Matthew 10:8)

How can I argue with that?

What will you do today to recognize that Jesus is your ultimate house guest?

How will you give him 5-star service today?

And most importantly, how will you let others know they can have this unruly house guest come into their lives and clean it up by making it messy?

Monday, December 03, 2007

December 3

What's that old saying? Fish and house guests are good only for 3 days?

Sometimes house guests are messy. Or lazy. Sometimes guests are just a lot of work. They disrupt our schedule and our regular routine and sometimes even critique the way you do things or clean your house. Sometimes they just plain overstay their welcome. Sometimes they even arrive unannounced!

It takes a lot of work to serve them. We have to bite our tongue at their criticism or show an extra measure of patience when they need yet another pillow or new towel.

Yet at other times we have great guests. Ones we really look forward to and are sad when they leave. They are helpful and flexible. They understand when the dishwasher breaks and everything has to be washed by hand. Or when the car breaks down and they have to find a new way to the airport. When they leave we feel refreshed!

As hosts or hostesses we can lose ourself in service to any guest. Much like Martha, we can lose ourselves in the preparations for the guests. While her sister, Mary was "at the Lord's feet listening to what he said" Martha was "distracted by all the preparations that had to be made". (Luke 10:30-42)

During this busy season, I know I need to remember Jesus' words, they call to me.

"Sarah, Sarah (Martha, Martha)," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Who is coming to your house to visit this Christmas? What are you doing to prepare for their visit?

What if it were Jesus who were coming to eat your food and sleep in your guest bed? What would you do differently?

How will you sit at the feet of Jesus today to prepare for his coming?

"Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed." 1 Peter 1:13

December 2

As we prepare for the coming of someone special, such as an honored guest, we might do a number of things to get ready. One thing might be to wash the sheets and towels, to make the guest bed, prepare a yummy meal or vacuum the floors. (or for some of us, it might be all of these things) But, in any case, we get ready by cleaning our house.

I know I need to do a little "housekeeping" myself. I have a lot of cobwebs that have built up over the year...I've completely shut the door to some rooms and allowed the dust to settle. I've neglected areas of my life that need some nurturing. My patience has worn thin. My compassion has been all used up. And my self control has been lost.

As I prepare for the coming of Christ--both celebrating his first coming and anticpating his second, I need to allow him to come through my heart and clean up. To remove the build up and grime. Only he can make me clean again, ready to start again. I'm not talking about salvation--I can never lose that--I'm just talking about a conscious choice to let go of the stuff that junks up my life.

Will you allow God to come through your life and sweep away your dirt from 2007?

Will you prepare your heart to be a welcoming place for him to arrive?

How will you do that starting today?

"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10 (the rest of Psalm 51 has great imagery of "cleaning", too)

I'm Over It

It's December 3 and I'm over it. Christmas, that is. Actually, I'm over the holiday hustle and bustle. I'm tired of being bombarded with "Christmas" songs at the store--including the grocery. Did you know you can now buy a full fake Christmas tree with all the trimmings at our local grocery store? And actually, at one retail distributer they are called "Family Trees". But that's all for another blog.

What I am ready for is Advent. The dictionary I have on my computer says it is "any important arrival, approach; coming". It also says "the first or expected second coming of Christ". I really want to prepare my heart for this season.

So, I'm setting a goal: 24 blogs in 24 days. One for each day of Advent. So, I know I'm two days late, but better late than never, right?

So, I hope you will join me on this quest over the next few weeks. I'd love your insight and experiences and thoughts.

Here goes.

We'll count this as my first blog, for December 1st.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Geeky Husband

I knew it all along. It's just that now I have video proof. My husband is a geek. I'm so proud. So for all of you who had your doubts, watch away. This is from the D'Evelyn Homecoming Last Teacher Comic Standing.

video

For those of you still doubting his geek-level. He won the contest by way of dance-off.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Service Opportunities

Last weekend we went to a surprise birthday party at restaurant here in town. The party was great. The service was, well, not. I will choose to take the higher ground and leave it nameless. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt that this was a semi-isolated incident. I doubt it, but we'll assume.

You see, this wasn't the first time we received bad service at this restaurant. And by bad, I really do mean bad. A couple of years ago, Joel and I went to the this particular dining establishment because it is close to a movie theater. We went about 2 hours early, purchased our movie tickets and then went to eat. I mention the time frame because we really did have plenty of time. One would think.

We ordered our meal and then waited. And waited. And waited And waited. I know I tend to exaggerate, but we really waited about 45 minutes for our food. And it's not like we ordered filet mignon or Joel's favorite to say "duck al oronge" or anything. We're talking about burgers and fries. At 45 minutes we finally found our waiter (Joel was about ready to just walk into the kitchen at this point). We got our food about 15 minutes after that. Something about not putting the order in the computer...It was so late at this point we had to get the food packed up and we ate it in the movie theater. I'm all for eating in the movie theater. Popcorn. M & M's even milk duds. A burger & fries? Not so much. And we got no apology or compensation on our bill.

So it was with much anticipation that we arrived at this restaurant on Friday night. Thankfully, the husband of the "birthday girl" had made reservations since it was going to be about 30 people. We were optimistic. They knew we were coming, so they would have plenty of happy, helpful, quick-footed servers, right? Wrong.

Joel & I were the first ones to arrive at about 6:50pm. I am, in fact, an overachiever. Other guests began to arrive and we settled into our seats. And the wait began. And I'm not talking about for the guest of honor. She came right on time--about 30 minutes after we arrived.

And then we waited. At about 7:45 we got our drinks. So much for being home by 8:30. We finally got some yummy appetizers. They were very delicious. Or was I just so hungry that calamari would have tasted good? I'm not sure.

During all of this time, we did have a great time visiting with friends and sadly, making fun of the service. There were times when our waitress would come over and take an empty glass from the person next to me, I would raise my glass to hand it to her (being empty and all) and she would turn and walk away. She would then get upset when I asked her, upon her return with my neighbor's full glass, to fill up mine too.

In the end, we did get to eat some dinner. Joel got the wrong salad--he ordered one with no avocados (he's very allergic to them) and some cheese. His came with avocados and no cheese. Very disappointing. You know that feeling--you ordered something from the menu and you think about it for the entire time you're waiting for a meal and then it doesn't live up to your expectations. Our friend ordered a side salad and was given a dinner salad. It cost $6 more than she wanted to pay. The waiter did apologize because it was his mistake, but then charged her full price for it anyway.

We got home about 10:00pm.

I began to think "What did I really expect from this experience?"
Here's my list:
1. Fast, quick service, responding to my every need
2. Please do it with a cheerful attitude. I get enough grief in my life from other people, I don't need it at a restaurant.
3. Stay out of the way when I don't need you

WOW. I'm annoying. Some people might call it other names, but that's what I'll say here. And don't think you're getting off scott free. I know that's what you'd say you wanted from a waiter or waitress or airline attendant or grocery clerk or telemarketer or a customer service agent...We all want that kind of service.

Yet, how often do we give that kind of service? That might be what our waiter or waitress or airline attendant or grocery clerk or telemarketer or a customer service agent want from us. I'll throw in your child's teacher, too, just for good measure. What about God? Doesn't he want that kind of service from us too?

Let's look at that list again.

1. Fast, quick service, responding to my every need.
I am reminded of 1 Samuel 14 when Saul waits around to attack the
Philistines. But Jonathan knows what God wants & climbs over a cliff with his young armor bearer and ONE sword and picks a fight with an entire army. Saul was waiting around back at camp trying to decide what to do. Talk about fast, quick service and responding to God's every need.

2. Please do it with a cheerful attitude. I get enough grief in my life from other people, I don't need it at a restaurant (or from my chosen people).
2 Corinthians 9:7 "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." I hope I'm not mis-representing this verse. But I do think "giving" means not only our money, but also our time & talents.

3. Stay out of the way when I don't need you
So I don't really have a verse about this, but what I mean by this is don't get your nose in business that doesn't concern you. We often try to do the work of God and we just mess it all up because it's not what God asked us to do. God doesn't really need us to do his work. He just chooses to use us because he's a gracious, loving, merciful God. If you have a good verse or bible story, let me know.

In the end, this is the verse that comes to my mind:
Philippians 2: 3-4 "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."

So my hope for myself is that during this busy, frantic, over-commercialized season I can remember my list of wants and try to do it myself. We can hope.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Handwriting Epedmic

Warning: This blog is written by a teacher (and an opinionated one, at that), not a doctor.

I am not a handwriting expert. Far from it. I think I even went to handwriting summer school one year. I just thought this information was too important not to pass it along.

Some of you may know that the world of education is always changing its mind. For a long time, phonics was all the rage. Then it was whole language. Now it's back to phonics. If you don't know the difference, it's OK, because you're reading this. If you can't read this, then we probably need to talk.

We also see trends in education because of what is happening in the culture around us. For example, one of the third grade reading assessments we give is about beavers. The kids have to read and comprehend a fictional story about a beaver family. About 5 years ago, kids could care less about the story. Then, The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe came out in movie form and boom! just like that, kids love the beaver family story!

Sometimes culture has a negative impact on our education system. Sadly, even in the 6.5 years I've been teaching, the number of kids with divorced parents has skyrocketed. This equates to a big challenge for teachers. Who do you call when the child is sick? in trouble? Who gets the report card? Often times the parents have had such a messy divorce, they don't communicate with each other, making for a sad situation for the child(ren).

But I digress. The point of this blog was not to complain about the status of society or our education system. What is the point, you ask? Well, read on!

We are seeing a new trend in education. In the past few years doctors have instructed mothers of infants to place children on their backs--not their stomachs--when they sleep. They have also been told to eliminate small toys and objects from their reach. Kids have also been more "contained" in car seats, chairs, or simply laying on their back. Take a look the next time you are in a restaurant--kids are sitting in their car seat, staring at the ceiling. Not an overly stimulating view. What they are often staring at are flashing lights and whirling objects, placed there to keep them occupied.

But, I'm getting a bit off topic again. All of these things are good--lowering the risk of SIDS, choking and eliminating other potential hazards from their reach are good. Listen to your doctor!

However, I do want to tell you about the flip side. This is where the education part comes in. Our occupational therapist informed our teachers this week that America is in the middle of an epidemic. A pandemic, even. Kids can't write. It's not that their teachers didn't teach them. It's not even that the students didn't learn how to form the letters. They can't write because they are physically incapable of doing it.

Because babies are not placed on their stomachs for long periods of time, they never develop the shoulder muscles to hold themselves up. Therefore, they do not have the muscles in their arms to hold a pencil properly.

Because babies do not play with small objects like blocks or clothes pins, they do not develop the dexterity and strength to stabilize the pencil in their hand.

Because babies are often limited to a car seat or laying on their backs for long periods of time, they don't fully develop the neck muscles that babies in the past had from looking around (when they were being carried around on mom's hip for most of the day). These neck muscles also (amazingly enough) are needed for handwriting and other simple tasks.

Kids literally do not have the ability to write. It's quite sad, actually, when they get to first or even second--and now, even third grade--and they can't hold their pencil properly. And it's not for lack of trying, or for lack of teaching.

Anyway, I don't think that doctors or parents mean any harm in how they are raising their children. Quite the opposite, I think they mean well for their children and I know I never would have related any of the above practices to handwriting.

Now that I've thoroughly caused alarm and some mass-hysteria among mothers of infants or young school age children, take a deep breath. Take a minute to relax and keep reading. There's hope. Here's what you can do, if you are so inclined.

1. Have your kids (even at a very young age) lay on their stomachs to watch TV or play a game. They have to prop their heads up on their hands/arms. See how long they can do it. (How long can you do it?)

2. Have them play (well supervised) with smaller objects, like small macaroni noodles. You can take an old plastic tub, punch holes in the lid and then they have to put the macaroni noodles in through the holes.

3. For kids a little bit older (5-7), you can have them hold a cotton ball with their ring & pinkie fingers (against their palm). Then using their thumb, index & middle finger (like a claw), have them pick up small objects (like #2). These are the three fingers they need the most for holding a pen/pencil.

4. For a long time, I was a big proponent of "If the pencil is shorter than your thumb, throw it away". But, our occupational therapist has changed my mind. It's GOOD for kids to practice with tiny pencils & broken crayons. It takes more work and strength and dexterity to hold a small pencil than it does to hold a longer one. So, live on, small pencils!

5. Clothes pins are great. It helps them develop strength in those three fingers mentioned in #3. Have them put clothes pins on and off the edge of their bed sheets or comforter.

6. Don't be afraid to let them use scissors--there are lots of kid-friendly scissors out there and it really helps them to develop fine motor skills. Just don't let them near your new curtains or favorite blanket.

7. Crafts! Crafts! Crafts! Scissors! Glue! Paper! Coloring! Stamping! Painting! Buttons! Snaps! Sewing! It's good for their little fingers and their brains! It's cheap and it's fun! A bit messy, yes, but isn't that what childhood is all about?

I could go on, but I will stop here. Like with all things in education and life, a balanced approach is best. Don't "go to a level 10" (I hear this a lot from Joel), just do a few things here and there to help set your child up for handwriting success. Your child (and their teacher) will thank you for it later.

One more note. Please leave me a comment about this blog if you have any other opinions or information. I would love to have it. I am, after all, just a teacher, not a mom!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reflections on a Teacher Conference

This weekend I attended a teacher conference in Colorado Springs. In my short career as a teacher I have attended over a dozen of these events, so I consider myself pretty much an expert on these experiences.

Have you ever attended a teacher conference? Every time I attend another conference, I get a little more embarrassed to be included in this profession. I hate to say it, but it's pretty much a geek-fest. I am reminded how many jean-jumpers and apple sweaters teachers wear. It's like we need a booth with Stacey & Clinton from "What Not to Wear" at every conference. We need help, people.

Teachers are also freaks over free giveaways. It's like we are so deprived at school for lack of scissors, paper and pencils, we feel a God-given right to each and every free-be given away at the conference. Yesterday, at the end of the conference, they gave away free materials. You wouldn't believe the shouting and yelling that went on when someone's number was called. And watch out, because if you didn't have a good enough shout of jubilation, you got booed. (I think they even took away your free-be.) It's like they were on The Price is Right and they just found out they were playing Plinko or something. Calm it down a notch, it's just a free coloring book.

The conference I attended this year is one I have been to almost every year for the last 6 years. I have attended it in Nashville, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Washington DC, and now Colorado Springs. It's usually a great conference. They didn't plan so well for this one. They planned for 700 attendees and 1,400 showed up. The hotel was not large enough to accommodate all of the teachers. It almost turned ugly. We are talking about teachers here.

People were upset if they couldn't get into a session. And what I mean by not getting into a session is that literally every seat was filled, including the front row, the aisle was crammed with those sitting on the floor (hopefully the fire marshal didn't come through or we would have been shut down) and the door to the room was so crowded, the wall dividers swayed with the push of the crowd. So, literally the teachers "couldn't get into the session". Overachievers.

It's actually quite comical, if you think about it. Here are the educators of America, teaching the future leaders of our country. Armed with geeky teacher-bags in hand, pushing and shoving to get to the front row seat of a session entitled "Synthetic Phonics". On Monday mornings, our schools are lined with warm and friendly faces sweetly remind our children of how to be good citizens. "Good morning Johnny", "Don't forget to tie your shoe Susie," "Please have a seat quietly Matthew". But watch out on Saturday morning. It's a whole different animal.

I mentioned above "geeky teacher bags". This may not be a well-known accessory outside of the teaching profession, but it is an accessory. Must have. Every season. Goes with all outfits. Can be accessorized further with pins, buttons, etc... to raise the level of geeky-ness. And the best part, it's FREE with your registration to the conference! And, they are required for the all-too familiar "teacher conference walk-through ". Funny name, serious business.

If you don't know about this "walk-through", simply sign yourself up for a teacher conference, announce yourself as a "first time-attender" and you will be shuffled quickly into a back room to be taught the "walk-through". I will teach you a couple of key elements here.
1. Place teacher bag, full of free materials from the Exhibit hall (which you arrived to the conference early to browse so you wouldn't have to miss any sessions), on your shoulder. Using the hand of the arm you've placed your bag on, hold on tightly to your bag, ready to use it to swing at anyone moving too slowly or headed to the same session as you are. Front row seats are top priority here.
2. Elbows bent and stuck out, slightly. These assist with the "walk-through" portion.
3. Head down, slightly.
4. Scowled face. You do want to get into that over-crowded session, don't you?
5. Walk briskly, using elbows to force your way through the crowd. These are weapons, here people. And we have to get where we're going. You've got to be able to "walk-through" the crowd.
All of this is done under the assumption that you've downloaded the schedule before arriving at the conference and used no less than 2 highlighters and 3 colored sticky pads to mark your first, second, and third choices for each session time and a pen to mark the location of the rooms before hand.

Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. And not getting into your first choice session would fall under "poor performance".

In the end, I am reminded of a wise old saying taught to me by some great teacher of my past: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

And if you are wondering about that session called "Synthetic Phonics", I can tell you all about it. I have 3 pages of notes.