Friday, December 31, 2010

People Everywhere

I just got back from Chicago - a quick, two-day trip with my husband and the kids. We did a little shopping (who could resist the after Christmas sales?), ate at a beautiful restaurant, took the kids to see "Wicked", went to the Aquarium, had Chicago pizza and came back home. Oh, and we fit in a few games of cards, as well. It was fast, but very fun.

In the midst of our hurrying from one thing to the next, I found that the only obstacle to overcome in Chicago was all the people. There were people everywhere. People in the elevators, people in the parking garage, people on every corner, people packed in the stores, people in the restaurants, people jammed in the Aquarium. (Well, not in the Aquarium per se, but in the building.) I know it is the holidays, so there were more people than usual, but I was really taken back by all the people.

People. People. People.

There are a lot of people in this world. A lot. Sometimes I get busy in my own little world and I forget how big the world really is. But then I lift my head and look around, and reality strikes.

A lot of people.

Which equates to a lot of sin, doesn't it? A lot of hurt, a lot of pain, a lot of sickness, a lot of questions, a lot of choices, a lot of paths.

So then I wonder, how many of these people know Jesus? How many of them have given their lives to Him, have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, have been reconciled to the Father through the blood of the Son, know the joy of forgiveness and restoration?

Matthew 7:14 says that the gate to life is narrow and few find it. Few.

Well, it is the eve of a new year. My friends, we have a lot of work to do. I understand that "few" will find the way to life, but that should not limit our mission. When God says "few", He's not giving us license to pick and choose who we want to be a light to - salvation is His choice. It's His business. Being a light in a dark world is ours. We have the remedy to what ails the world. We need to get out there and share it.

In addition to our calling to spread the gospel, we also need to respond in gratitude for God's leading us through the gate to life. If few find it, and you're through it already, then you've been blessed beyond all measure.

All measure.

I want to wish you all a mission-filled new year, a year where you and I both take our calling seriously and live with hearts of gratitude for what our great God has done for us. I don't have enough space and you don't have enough patience to allow me to share all the Lord has done in my life in the past twelve months, but I will say, if last year is any indicator of what this year will be like, then I can't wait to see what lies ahead!

Happy New Year, and may God's blessing and the fruit of His Spirit richly permeate your life.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Open Mic

Okay, friends...I've done this before and I'm sure I'll do it again. This is your chance to share, so I'll keep this brief.

A little over a week ago I gave you a Christmas challenge - to pick a gift to give Jesus, write it down, wrap it up and put it under the tree. So, here are my questions to which I want you to respond:

1. What did you give?

2. What was the reaction of your family?

3. If you didn't, then you have the opportunity right now to publicly give a gift to Jesus for His birthday.

I'll start - I gave the gift of memory this Christmas. As I thought through my options, every single one of them benefited me! It was like giving a gift to myself. However, I do know that there is great value to hiding God's word in your heart and though I do it periodically, I am not consistent. So I told Jesus I would memorize a verse a week. It doesn't sound like much, but I think as I go it will compound.

That's my gift. My family's reaction? I thought they'd roll their eyes, but they handled it fine. I was worried they would think I was preaching at them, but I think they realized that I was sincere. Hopefully next year there will be an additional gift for Jesus under the tree, alongside mine. It's a great way to have accountability in your spiritual walk. I am sure they will encourage me as I work on this all year.

All right, here goes...and by the way, silence will mean that you didn't do it...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Wisdom = Pain

"In much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain." Ecclesiastes 1:18

This statement is sad but true.

Think about it.

Look at a simple park playground. The children playing on the equipment are relatively naive and innocent. They do not understand or even consider the dangers of their adventure. Hanging upside down on the bars, they can't imagine losing their grip and the consequences of gravity to their tiny bodies. They climb the ladder to the slides without a care in the world. Oh, and you've seen those kids that swing as high as they can and then flip backwards out of their seat at the highest moment, only to land in a heap on the ground. Who in their right mind would do such a thing?

Because adults understand the big picture a bit better, because we have learned by experience and academics what gravity can do to a body, because our knowledge is greater than when we were children, we avoid playgrounds. You don't see parents hanging upside down or flipping off a swing. We also understand that there are dangers drawn to a park that we never want our children to experience, so instead of playing with abandon, we watch with careful, discerning eyes.

Because we know the evils of life...because we is a bit should I say this...enjoyable.

It's part of being an adult.

Some would testify to the same truth about marriage. You've all seen the starry-eyed bride lose her sparkle, as the increased knowledge of the choices she and her husband have made reveal the devastation they have created. Poor communication, too much spending, too much time on the internet, not enough foundation laying, no respect, no security...marriage in shambles.

"I thought marriage would be easier than what it turned out to be."

"He's not the man I thought he was."

"We grew apart."

Increased knowledge and wisdom brings sorrow. In other words, the more we understand the effects of sin, the more we realize that sin stinks. It messes up everything it touches.

But there is good news. Within the sorrows of life, God has chosen to reveal Himself to man, thereby giving us a way to have joy within the sorrow. Read it again: Joy WITHIN the sorrow.

Until we shed this flesh, sin will remain. Just because we know Christ, doesn't mean that our children are safe from predators. And just because we know Christ, doesn't mean that marriage is suddenly a breeze.

But it does mean that we can produce the fruits of the Spirit despite the sorrows of sin.

I think that if we can grasp this concept, then we won't expect something of God that He doesn't promise.

The author of Ecclesiastes concludes with this: "...fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person..." The only worth in life comes from a true relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

So, go ahead and increase in wisdom and knowledge, as well as obedience to the Lord. Then and only then will you be able to endure the sorrows and pain of life.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Our Response

"But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons." Galatians 4:4,5

"It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am the foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." I Timothy 1:15-17

"But prove yourselves doers of the Word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves..." James 1:22

Merry Christmas, Friends...


Luke 2:15-20

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us." So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.

When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.

The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Luke 2:8-14

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flocks by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."

Luke 2:1-7

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son' and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Challenge

It's Monday, December 20th.

I'll bet if I polled my readers, we'd be all over the place on our Christmas shopping list. Some of us are done, wrapped and already sipping hot cider by a warm fire, waiting for Christmas day. Others of us are just beginning our shopping, claiming outwardly that the best deals are the week of Christmas, all the while knowing we just haven't had the time or motivation to get going on the list.

If you're like me, the shopping is mostly done - just the finishing touches left to pick up and the occasional "Uh, oh...I'd better run and get them something" gift. I'm finished a little later than I like, but all in all, I'm ready for Christmas.

Well, I'm going to throw a wrench in your Christmas preparations today.

Why? Because it's what I like to do and I'm kind of a stinker.

And here's the wrench: I have another name for your list.

It's not going to be an easy gift to get because it's going to take some thought and effort.

I want to challenge each of you to give a gift to Jesus this year.

"Oh, come on, Kristen. I've already given my life to Him. I give Him 10% of all the money I make - gross pay, not just net! I go to church and I even pray every night before I go to bed, as well before every meal. What more does He want?"

Really? What you just listed was the proverbial obligatory underwear, socks and tie gift that dad gets every year. How about we make it a bit more personal?

Put some thought into this and decide what the very best gift you could give to Jesus would be and then give it. What does He want this year? What does He want specifically from you?

Maybe He wants you to stop doing something: Stop nagging, stop surfing the web, stop watching a certain t.v. show that is offensive to Him, stop worrying about finances, stop gossiping, stop assuming the worst in people, stop talking so much, stop the sarcasm, stop spending too much money or time or effort on fleshly pursuits.

Or maybe He wants you to start doing something: Start serving, start giving, start spending time with Him every day, start forgiving, start listening, start singing, start praying, start submitting, start loving, start making your family a priority, start slowing down, start reaching out to those around you.

I don't know what it is, but that's the great thing about a gift. You get to pick it out, wrap it up and give it. It's personal and it's from you.

So do it. Figure out what you want to give Jesus this Christmas, then write it down, put it in a box, wrap it, and put it under the tree with His name on it. Then when your family is opening gifts, let someone open it for Him and read your gift out loud.

You see, when you do this, you make your gift known publicly, and then the accountability starts to flow. This will insure that you follow through on your gift. None of this, "I gave it to Him in my heart and He knows" - nope, I want accountability!

See where I'm going? Are you willing to do this? Are you up to the challenge? Aren't I a stinker?

After all, it is His birthday...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

He went to...


We've all seen the commercials. Excited young woman flashes her ring finger at her best friend, who in turn, jumps up and down, squealing and hugging her newly engaged friend.

Have you shared excitement with a friend before? Perhaps it was an engagement or the announcement of a pregnancy. Or maybe you celebrated a new job or a new car. Sharing the joy of something exciting is great, but not quite as great as being the recipient of the good news. Imagine if it were your engagement or your pregnancy - the level of joy would be much greater. It would fill your thoughts and conversations - it would become a focal point of your life.

This morning at church, Dave made an interesting point about the joy of the angels as they announced the good news to the shepherds. Their joy and excitement was overwhelming as they praised and glorified God.

And they weren't even the recipients of the good news.

He said that not one angel was offered salvation from sin. Not one angel found their redemption in the blood of Jesus Christ nor did even one angel benefit from Jesus becoming a man.

And yet they rejoiced with a passion and fervor that brought the shepherds to their knees.

So what should our response to Jesus be? Are we the friend who rejoices in the good news and then goes on with their life, or are we the actual recipients of the good news?

Where is our joy as believers? Why do we let life overwhelm us? Have we so quickly forgotten the good news?

We are the recipients of the gospel. That tiny baby was given to us. The angels rejoicing should be a fraction of our rejoicing, since we are the receivers of the good news and not just bystanders.

And just like a newly engaged couple or a newly expectant couple, let's make this good news the focal point of our lives - let's talk about it, let's dream about it and let's long for its realization. Let's not wait for faith to become sight so that we can say, "Oh, now I get it."

May our praise be lifted high by living lives of gratitude and passion for the One who came two thousand years ago and gave us the gift of life. And may we not be outdone by the angels, but rather respond to this gift in a manner that brings glory to our heavenly Father.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

One of the Perks of being a Pastor's Wife

Okay, so the smooching was there before he formally became a pastor...I just thought it was an eye-catching picture.

The past couple of days Dave and I were down in Chicago for some meetings and last minute Christmas shopping and as I engaged the various sales clerks in the stores I found it remarkably easy to talk about Jesus.

Not because of Christmas, but because of being a pastor's wife.

The conversations would go like this:

Clerk: Are you from Chicago?

Me: No, we're visiting from Michigan.

Clerk: How are you enjoying Chicago?

Me: Oh, we love it. We were both from the Chicago area originally. My husband did some real estate deals here in the city, and knows it well.

Clerk: Really? So how long are you around for? The weekend?

Me: Not quite a weekend, since my husband is a pastor - we need to get back home for church.

Clerk: Oh, a pastor? I thought he was a business man.

Me: Yes, he was, but when God calls you into full time ministry, He makes it very clear.

Clerk: (Quizzacle face)

That face was my cue to talk about Jesus. Oh, so easy! Every conversation ended with a "Merry Christmas," not a "Happy Holidays." Most people were smiling and pleasant, which made it easy as well.

Friends, we are called to be seed throwers. We just studied in our ladies study the parable of the seed and the sower. I don't know if any of the seed thrown this weekend fell on good soil or not, but I don't have to worry about the soil's condition. I just need to be responsible to throw the seed.

So, what's your lead? I'm going to use this new found conversation starter, but I am curious what you use to open the door to toss some seed on the ground. If you have one, comment on it. If you don't, find one.

Because the Word of God can be planted during any time of the year, but with the added fertilizer of Christmastime, we all really have a great window of opportunity.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Wow Moment

"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows." Psalm 23:5

The Spirit brought this verse to mind this morning while I was teaching Bible study. Literally - He popped it into my mind. It wasn't part of my notes, but it very quickly became a part of our lesson.

Today we were looking at the story in Luke 7 where Jesus had a meal at a Pharisee's home named Simon. A woman, who was a known sinner, washed Jesus' feet with her tears, wiped them dry with her hair and bathed his feet with costly perfume.

In preparing the women for this scene, I explained how a guest of honor would have been treated in that day - their feet would have been washed or at the very least, a basin of water would have been provided for cleansing, they would have been greeted with a kiss and their head would have been anointed with oil - perhaps a touch on the forehead which would denote the guest's honored state.

When this "sinner" displayed such worship of Jesus, the Pharisee scorned Jesus in his heart and Jesus called him out. After teaching a short parable about the one who is forgiven much versus the one who is forgiven little, Jesus went on to explain that though his feet were not washed when he entered the Pharisee's home, the sinner washed his feet with her tears. And though he was not greeted with a kiss, she had not stopped kissing his feet. And finally, though he had not anointed Jesus head with oil, she anointed His feet with perfume.

The imagery was clear. Jesus was not treated with honor by the Pharisee, but was held in high esteem by the sinner - the one who understood forgiveness.

It was then that the Spirit put the words to Psalm 23 in my mind: You prepare a table before me...You anoint my head with cup overflows. Within the context of this scene from the life of Christ, I was able to explain to the women that God treats us with honor at His table - He prepares it, He anoints us as honored guests and He never lets our cup empty.


Yes, it was one of those wow moments for me.

Wow because He loves us so much.

Wow because He treats us in ways that He was not treated Himself.

Wow because He has invited me to His table, when so often I act like it is the other way around.

And wow because when you hide God's Word in your heart, He brings it to mind at just the right time.

What a wonderful Wow kind of God we serve...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bethlehem Star

As David and I were heading to the airport on Tuesday to catch a flight to Florida, we passed a certain community building that never fails to tick me off...not the building but the sign on the outside. They have a little portable marquis that prides itself in offending believers...not the marquis but the "spiritual leader" who puts the sayings on the marquis.

Have you figured out who I am talking about yet?

This time the marquis read: The story is a myth. The message is real.

Now, being Christmastime, I don't think it's a stretch to assume that they are referring to the Christmas story.

(Wait a minute...I need to let my blood pressure settle down...)

Twenty-four hours later, I found myself sitting in a room full of women, listening to my mother teach on the wisemen, and she touched on one of the supposed myths - the star of Bethlehem. Here's what she said:

"The heavens were declaring something specific to these men. Perhaps it was a comet, a light appearing in the midst of a conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and Pisces (occuring every 805 years), a supernatural light that the Chinese astronomical tables record with no explanation, an interpretation of the constellations (lost to us today), or the Shekinah Glory that departed years before from the Temple...travelling to the east. This light came back from the east to the west. It might have been an angel (often referred to in Scripture as stars) because it was pretty specific when it stood over the place where Christ was."

Though the whole study was fascinating, this particular picture of an angel standing over the place where Jesus was has stuck with me. By the time the wisemen show up on the scene, Jesus is most likely a few years old. Mary and Joseph are living in a house. Can you imagine the wisemen and their entourage entering tiny Bethlehem and a spectacular, somber angel suspended above their home, with a stately outstretched finger pointing the way, as if to say, "Hey, guys, He's right here!"?

Matthew 2 tells us that the star stood over the place where Jesus was - sounds like a being, doesn't it?

It really doesn't matter to me what the star was. The fact that the star was really there and that the story is not a myth but true is what matters to me. There is a movement within Christianity that is trying to move away from the literal interpretation of the scriptures and join that certain man from Spring Lake in saying that even though the Bible is full of myths, it contains a great message.

I'm just not falling for it.

I choose to walk by faith, whether I can fully understand things or not, if God said it, then I believe it.

Truth be known, I have no idea which part of the "story" he thinks is a myth. I might be way off in my assumptions and if that is the case, I apologize for misinterpreting his sign. But if not, friends, study and know the Word so that you can be ready, in season and out, to defend it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Spiritual Candy - 3 'bout this one:

"So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:11

There are some sentences in scripture that are so rich and full of doctrine that my mind can barely contain their fullness. This is one of them. Now, I need to share with you the three verses beforehand so that you can have a running start into its truths: (You may actually be surprised at which verses come before this one...)

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are My ways your ways," declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:8-11

So here's what I glean for starters:

*God's Word produces exactly what God intends for it to produce

*God's thoughts and ways are different than my thoughts and ways

*When He sends the rain, it is to water the earth so that the earth will produce

*Just like the rain does its job, so do the Words of God

*When God speaks, He speaks for a purpose and His desires are always accomplished

So, who's in control? God.

Who accomplishes anything good? God.

Who makes the Word effective? God.

Who gets credit for changing lives through His Word? God.

Who doesn't have to bear the burden of not being eloquent enough or clear enough or patient enough or wise enough when sharing the gospel, so as to possibly turn people away from the Lord to everlasting punishment? Me.

Why? Because God always accomplishes what He desires, I just need to be obedient.

Yum - I like this one!

As for the boomerang, when I was a child I tried to throw a boomerang. It never came back.

Just another visual example of how His ways are not my ways - this verse tells us that His boomerangs always return...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Spiritual Candy - 2

Here's another little treat for you today:

"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." I Corinthians 15:58

Every get weary?

It's that time of year when lists abound - grocery lists, address lists, shopping lists, christmas decorating to-do lists...just when you check an item off of one list, four more seem to appear. When you've had a particularly productive day, the exhaustion is good - but on frenzied days, the exhaustion only adds to the wear and tear.

And then you find yourself asking yourself questions, like: why am I doing this? Why do I bother to send cards to people who I never see or talk to - do they even like me? Why am I buying her a gift? Why won't half the tree light up? Why do ornaments explode when they hit the tile floor? And soon the focus is off the celebration of our Savior and is wandering aimlessly down some half-decked halls whose boughs of holly look more like sticks of plastic greenery.

Okay - take a deep breath - move away from Christmas for a moment.

Sometimes in our daily lives we become a bit frazzled towards our call as believers. There are nursery schedules and conferences to organize, (did I fill out my membership application?), I am expected to turn every day simple discipline moments into spiritual lessons for my children, it's much easier to simply make the decision and deal with the fall out later than wait for HIM to make it, (have we given to the church this month?), I'm expected to be in a small group with people I don't even like, (why can't I find fifteen minutes a day to read my bible and what would I read anyway?), and I can't even remember the last time I didn't fall asleep while praying in bed - is any of this really worth it?

It's so easy to get caught up with lists of expectations and rules to live by, that we lose sight of our calling - we were made to bring glory to God and we are called to make disciples. Let's keep it that simple. I love this verse in I Corinthians because Paul has basically knocked the church in Corinth over the head with a baseball bat for fifteen chapters and then throws in this simple little sentence. Let's look at it a bit closer:

"Therefore (in other words, in light of what I have just written to you, now do this), my beloved brethren (loved by God and family in Christ), be steadfast (a settled conviction of an objective truth), immovable (fixed, unchangeable, not yielding to pressure), always (100% word) abounding (exist in large numbers or amounts) in the work of the Lord (committed service to the commands of Christ - remember in John 15 Jesus says that you are His friends if you keep His commandments), knowing that your toil (oh, so it's not easy work, huh?) is not in vain (producing no result) in the Lord (the three most important motivational words ever!)."

Bottom line - don't get discouraged or overwhelmed with life. Yes, there are lists, but there is something much greater behind everything - God. He loves you and wants you to stay focussed and immersed in His work. We do not labor in vain - faithfully pointing our children towards the Savior, submitting to the leadership of our husbands, service in the local church, giving, meditating on His word, prayer - all of these , when done in the Lord, have value. Eternal value.

So be steadfast, my friends - have that settled conviction of an objective truth - stand on the Word and continue the battle, knowing that God loves you, knows what is best for you and is in complete control.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Spiritual Candy

"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." Galatians 2:20

Which one would you take? These are old school candies - Bazooka gum, Lemonheads, Fireballs, Tootsie Rolls...I can remember that my mom used to buy these individually wrapped hard candies that were a creamy, coffee flavor. It was a real treat to get one of those from the bottom of her purse!

The great thing about gum or hard candy is that it takes a while to eat it - even tootsie rolls are tough to chew and then it seems like you are picking taffy out of your teeth for an hour afterwards.

It stays with you.

Well, I thought I'd give you a piece of candy to swish around for a while today. Galatians 2:20 was a verse I learned in AWANA years ago and I even know a song that goes with it. Right now, that song is in my head and it probably will be throughout the rest of the day.

This is a great little verse to mull over - the truth and the consequences are worth spending some time digesting:

*What does it mean in your life to be crucified with Christ?

*We claim to serve a risen Savior, but do we recognize that He is living within us?

*Flesh needs faith to live

*The flesh and the spiritual are inseparable

*Love drove Christ to sacrifice - what does my love drive me to do?

*He gave Himself for me and now He lives in me - fantastic!

We have been discussing in our Luke study that we are ambassadors for Christ here on this earth. We represent Him. This verse goes one step further and claims that we not only live for Him but He lives within us. We know that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, so that takes this to an even greater level.

For the person who is lonely, this verse must be a comfort. For the person who feels they are without direction, this verse must give them renewed sense of purpose. For the person who feels unloved, this verse should fix that.

It's a great treat that should stick with you for a while...hope you enjoyed it!