Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Be Our Guest

One of my favorite scenes in Beauty and the Beast occurs when the dishes and furniture are preparing the house for the dinner Belle and the Beast are going to share. I love the song, "Be Our Guest," and I've been singing it all week as I've been decorating the house for our Christmas Open House (come and go, Dec 7, 10 am-noon and 6 pm to 8 pm, by-the-way - please come!) and working on the Advent Guide we'll distribute at church.

Preparing for the arrival of Christmas is one of best things in life, to me. Not only because of the fun decorations, although that's definitely a part of it, but I also love preparing for giving the gifts, imagining the reaction that will occur on the faces of those I love as they open their presents. (Plus, I don't seem to mind getting the stuff I've been hoping for!) More than that, however, as I've been working on the Advent Guide, the time I've spent mulling over scripture to be included in it has further heightened my awareness of preparing my own heart for the season.

Since at least Junior High, I can remember significant ways the Lord has spoken to me in the Christmas Season. Sometimes it's been through a song I've sung or heard. Sometimes through a role I've played in a musical or play. Sometimes through a piece of art depicting the story of Christ's birth. Sometimes it's been a passage of Scripture that communicates a truth to me that I'd never seen before. So, for me, I anxiously await Christmas each year, because I expect to hear from God. And isn't that what Advent is all about?

Luke 2 talks about Simeon and Anna, two people who finally saw what they'd been waiting for all their lives. I think one reason the story of these two was included, was because the Lord wanted to show us that they were not only waiting idly by, thinking something might happen, but they were waiting actively, serving God and acting daily according to the Holy Spirit's instruction, expecting God to show them what they'd longed to see. I can't wait to hear what God has on his heart for me this year. I hope you feel the same way.

Well, I'd better get back to decorating. Unlike Belle, I actually have to do the work, my dishes don't dance their way into place.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Alumni Association

As the wife of a man who bleeds burnt orange (for the University of Texas), I don't often watch the Aggies play, but Darin and I had the opportunity to see them and the Longhorns on Friday with our friends the Beans. Unfortunately for Darin, the result of the game wasn't what he'd hoped, but we still had a great time. I've been to Division 1 games before, so the experience wasn't completely unfamiliar to me, but what always catches my attention is the spirit of unity that pervades those events. Wearing the same colors, shouting and singing the same words in unison, the simultaneous cheers of 80,000 people can be deafening, and often proves overpowering and intimidating to the visiting players.

As we walk through this holiday season, many of you, like me, will be lonesome for loved ones that have gone on to be with the Lord. For some of you, the grief is still so fresh, you pick up the phone to call them only to realize they won't answer. For others, the Thanksgiving meal was only a little less lonely this year, and for some, Christmas will be a chance to remember all the goofy presents they gave you and laugh at the reminiscence.

Those that are in Christ can cling to the assurance of knowing that not only will our Savior never leave or forsake us (Heb 13:5), but also that we are surrounded by the believers who have gone on before us (Heb 12:1). And I personally believe that they are cheering us on, even when the result of every "game" isn't what we'd hoped. Whether here or in eternity, in the body of Christ, there is a spirit of unity (the Holy Spirit) who never changes. We wear the same colors (the blood of Christ) and shout and sing the same words (Scripture). And what's even more exciting to me is that their cheers (prayers), combined with ours for one another, are often overpowering and intimidating to our opponent, Satan. He hates to be in the presence of unified worship of Holy God. Our loved ones in Christ have seen the victory. So, let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful, and let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Heb 10:23-24), and smile with me, remembering the joy set before us one day, when we get to be a part of the Alumni Association.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Worth More Than $8.00

Over the last couple of months Walmart inadvertently stole $8.00 from us: once due to my own foolishness and another time due to an error on the part of a cashier. The first incident involved my purchase of 2 gallons of apple juice (@ $2.00 ea) which I promptly left on the counter at the store. The second incident, however, occurred as we were trying to buy a bag of green apples for $3.99, but we were charged at the "per apple" price bringing the cost to nearly $8.00. (I'm noticing a trend with the apple thing, aren't you?)

These events were honestly what made today's decision a little difficult and provided an easy temptation to ignore the Holy Spirit within me. You see, we purchased a Christmas present for my sister that another family member had already bought for her. (I can't tell you what it was; she may be reading this!) So, this afternoon, I took back the item to receive my $24.00 refund. The cashier graciously took care of my need, handed over the cash to me, and as I turned to walk away from the desk, was greeted by Danica Chalk and her sons (hey, guys!). I put the money in my purse to hug her and introduce them all to my mom.

After a brief visit, Momma and I went to get a couple of items, and when we went to check out, I pulled out the money the cashier had given to me. Much to my surprise, I found not one $20 bill, but two. She'd given me $44.00, not $24.00.

Now, at first, I began to ask myself how this had happened; if I'd paid more for the item initially than I'd realized. But, after double checking the receipt, I knew what the error was. Immediately, the apple incidents jumped to my mind, and Satan began helping me "justify" keeping this money because of the money I'd lost recently. Before I could do the math to see if it would balance out, the Holy Spirit began pressing my heart as though he had laid a hand across my chest: "That money isn't yours. Let me even the score with Walmart; don't you do it." So, I went back to the customer service desk, found the cashier who'd handled my return, and interrupted a transaction to let her know what happened. Although she seemed sincerely grateful, the reaction of the customer she was helping was the most noticeable thing of all. Her jaw dropped to the floor. If I'd had half a brain I would have said something like, my faith in Christ wouldn't allow me to keep it, just to offer a positive testimony, but I wasn't that smart.
Nevertheless, I hope the Lord will use my behavior to have an effect on both the cashier and that customer in a way that can only be explained by his power and presence.

But most important for me tonight is knowing my integrity is worth more than $8.00.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Christmas Preparations

We started our Christmas shopping in earnest yesterday. Now don't think that I'm one of those that is so excited about Christmas that she ignores Thanksgiving. I love all that Thanksgiving represents and believe whole-heartedly in the holiday. It's just that growing up, all our eggs were in the Christmas basket, so to speak. You see, when you're in vocational ministry, you have to pick and choose what holidays you'll take off relative to where they fall in relation to Sundays and Wednesdays. And, my parents chose to put our travel time and vacation days where we could use them in bulk, at Christmas and New Year's. So, though we certainly always acknowledged and celebrated Thanksgiving, my fondest holiday memories are from the Christmas season with trips to Grandparents and seeing cousins, etc.

Now, as an adult who's still in vocational ministry, Darin and I typically find ourselves following suit. This year is no exception. In fact, we'll even be joining several others working on Thanksgiving Day to offer a friendly piece of pumpkin pie to folks in our community who may be down on their luck or who simply want to give thanks with others, and not be alone to do it. I'm excited about the opportunity we'll have that day to let people know that we believe church is more than a building or a group of elitists, it's about being a family. And my prayer is that on that day we will demonstrate exactly what Jesus meant when he said, "They will know you are my disciples, if you love one another." (Jn 13:35)

And isn't that what preparing for Christmas should be about, anyway? More than buying gifts, shouldn't our hearts be preparing to celebrate the Greatest Gift we ever received? I'm glad Abe Lincoln stuck Thanksgiving so close to Christmas. What better way to prepare for worship of the Infant King than entering his gates (or at least the month of December) with Thanksgiving (see Ps 100:4)!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Multiplication Magic

I've never been much of a math guru. Oh, I made it just fine (all As, in fact) through each of my required math courses in high school, but chose not to take any additional ones, knowing the misery I'd be inflicting upon myself. And, the day I made a C in College Algebra, I did the happy dance, knowing I'd never have another math class as long as I lived.

In spite of all that, I tutored a couple of Jensy's third grade boys in math this morning, and we had a great time! They've been working on the multiplication tables and much to their surprise, 6 x 10 equals 60. They were just as amazed to learn that 8 x 10 equals 80, 2 x 10 equals 20, and 10 x 10 equals 100. Lance quickly recognized that all you had to do was add a zero at the end to get the correct answer. The next thing we new, we were multiplying 23 x 10 and 61 x 10, just to add the zero (*see answers below, if needed). The excitement in their faces revealed the joy of knowing they'd "got it." Simply adding the zero at the end was like magic, they knew with certainty they'd gotten the answer correct as long as they didn't change the number and added only one zero.

I wish everything in life was that clear and assured. Multiplying by 10 is easy; but what about 13 or 16? Those more challenging and difficult problems are where error can easily slip in. And if the kids get in a hurry, they'll likely make a mistake. Just as those kids worried about whether or not they had the correct answer on their math problems, I find myself concerned about things that are difficult or challenging and make hurried decisions to provide answers, often making big mistakes in the process. I wish I liked math more, because maybe I'd learn better from Jesus. Apparently, he had an affinity for math. Consider the following:

"After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, 'Take this and divide it among you.'" (Lk 22:17 )
"So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away [subtract] your joy." (Jn 16:22)
"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (Mt 6:27)

So, maybe you, along with me, will ask Jesus along with the disciples: “Multiply our faith!” (Lk 17:5), and find that the problems we face are like the 10s tables to him. He simply takes what's there and adds what's needed to get the correct answers for our lives.

Ro 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

*230 and 610 for those like me who would much rather read than multiply anything!

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Follower of Jesus

One of the things I appreciate about our friend James Lankford, who spoke this weekend at Come Thirsty, is his careful use of the expression, "Follower of Jesus" as opposed to the description, "Christian." Certainly I'm not implying that the word "Christian" is bad or negative in any way, and James doesn't avoid using it altogether, but he also understands that different people have different perceptions about the meaning or definition of the word. Some people actually believe that by being born in the U.S. they are automatically Christians (no, that makes you a citizen). Others believe that having been baptized made them one (no, that makes you wet). Still numerous other fallacies abound.

Most significant for me is the reminder that just being a Christian doesn't give me license to act however I want, but that being a follower of Jesus means I act in accordance with his response to things. Immediately, that places into most minds the idea of a namby-pamby, yielding pacifist, but please remember John 2:12-17. Jesus cleared the temple grounds of profit-seeking marketeers. And I love how he didn't just do this on an impulse or whim. Verse 15 says he made a whip out of cords. He had time to think about what he was doing as he braided those cords together. Yet, this same Jesus knew when to act with vigilance and when to wait in silence. John 8:2-11 records a time when the Pharisees were demanding an answer from him, but he knew that he would merely be embroiling himself in a fray that would accomplish nothing but disharmony and bitterness and deepen prideful arrogance. As James reminded me this weekend, when Jesus calls people to himself, he doesn't say, "Be a Christian and do the following things...." He says, "Follow Me." So, when I woke up this morning, I asked him where we were going today. I hope you did, too.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Eyes I Saw

The old proverb that the eyes are the window to the soul is indeed true, but have you ever noticed how hazy that window can be? Recently, in the eyes of the friend, I saw something that haunts me and I still can't describe. Perhaps it was weariness, perhaps loneliness, perhaps fear or uncertainty. But that look remains with me. Each image I conjure up honestly saddens me and prompts me to pray for my friend. The truth is, I've never been much of an "eyes" person. The smile (or frown) of a person's mouth has always been the first thing I notice, and we all know how deceiving that can be. But every now and then, I see eyes that catch my attention for one reason another. I can probably count on one hand the number of people whose eyes I've noticed without someone pointing them out to me. Darin's eyes were some of the first that I ever remember really seeing. Their dazzling blue color intrigued, yet soothed me, simultaneously. A couple of weekends ago, I met a young man whose brown eyes were almost black. I couldn't even distinguish his pupils, but his eyes spoke comfort and confidence, even peace. I hope my eyes say half as much to others, though I fear that's not the case. Through my communication studies, I learned the importance of eye contact in relationships and conversation, so you'd think I'd be more alert. Jesus certainly was. The New Testament deals with eyes (in the literal and figurative sense) about 70 times. More than anything, he wanted to bring healing and hope to those eyes that couldn't see or viewed things dimly. I pray that I will have the wisdom Christ did to see past the haze to the truth that lies within each person, and to do whatever is in my power to bring hope and healing to them.

2Co 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (i.e. the souls of humanity).

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Taste of Humble Pie

On the return trip from Amarillo last Tuesday, Darin and I had a conversation about the inconvenient necessity of airport security checkpoints. I, weird as I may be, find them to be a fascinating study in sociology. He's not so impressed; he thinks it's a big hassle. True, it is bothersome to have to remove shoes, belts and all other "extraneous" accessories, but there's something remarkably humbling about the whole event. It's funny to me to see pilots and congressmen, executives and children all wandering around in their sock feet. It's a defenseless and mean position (not mean as in unkind, but as in lacking in dignity or honor), and it's amazing how quickly the adults want to get their shoes back on their feet and rush away from that spot in the airport. It's as though they are afraid that some of that humility will rub off on them, and they'll carry it throughout life if they're not careful.

Why are we so afraid of humbling ourselves? This phenomena even occurs among believers. People I knew with certainty to be ministers, pastors and church members still sought to rush through, and I couldn't help giggling to myself as Darin and another pastor friend tromped through the scanner. These same two ministers boldly shared the Gospel of Christ on Sunday, but for the moment they couldn't walk without slipping! Scripture mentions humility over 50 times; I don't think that's accidental. Paul tells us specifically to have the same attitude as Christ who humbled himself (Phil 2:5,8). Perhaps if we had to walk around in our socks more often, tasting that humble pie, we'd each be more compassionate and gentle.

Phil 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.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Too Cute to Keep to Myself

I know everybody thinks they've got the cutest nephew in the world, but I've got proof. Meet (nearly 3 year old) Russell ...

The Power of Silence

When I was in college, I had a wonderful roommate in the dorm who had the ability to study with the TV on. I tried numerous times, but I'm so visual, it was a constant distraction. Next, I tried with the radio, but it also was disturbing, because I wanted to sing along with every song instead of focusing on sine and cosine (which I still don't get, by the way). So, I tramped off to the library, thinking the quiet there was the best option for me. That lasted all of three hours, during which time I visited with David, Beth, Sharon, Matthew, Mike, Ginger, Steven, Bryan, Christi ... The only solutions left were to use either instrumental classical music or complete silence. Heading back to the dorm, I tried both approaches, and with success, I might add (although my algebra grade might prove otherwise). I was at least able to focus and think deeply about my topic for study.

I guess that's kinda what I've been doing the last week. Seeking opportunities for silence and fewer distractions in order to focus and think deeply on what the Lord is trying to say to and do in me. I know I haven't gotten things down 100%, as my attitude and actions will prove from time to time, but I think I'm hearing and seeing a couple of things a little more clearly. The power of silence is that I can recognize his voice and know his promptings more distinctly than my own preferences or influences.

La 3:22-28 Because of the LORD'S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. Let him sit alone in silence.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Challenge of Listening

The following is from the Michael Card radio show called, "Devotions From the Studio." I regularly need this reminder to really listen, and not just to speak. Maybe it will be a blessing to you, too.

17For everything that is hidden or secret will eventually be brought to light and made plain to all. 18So be sure to pay attention to what you hear. To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But to those who are not listening, even what they think they have will be taken away from them. Luke 8:17-18

If Jesus could be said to have had a motto it was, "Let him who has the ears to hear, listen!" His parables are an invitation to really listen, not simply with our ears, or even our minds, but with a fully engaged imagination. His life demands that we listen without our theological or denominational presuppositions, but with all our heart. The men and women He places in our path to love, each and every one of them, are an occasion to open the door of our lives to and listen with all the care we can muster.

"The best way to show someone you love them is to listen to them."