Sunday, January 18, 2015

The perfect gift

Pete, Judi, and me August 7, 1999

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father. – James 1:17 NIV
When I opened the card from my sons on Christmas Eve, I cried. I totally didn’t expect a round-trip airline ticket to Montgomery, Ala., where my brother Pete lives.
I haven’t seen Pete since our sister’s memorial service nearly 11 years ago. You never know what’s around the next bend, so it’s a crying shame that over decade has passed since I’ve spent real-time, face-time with the only sibling I have left.
But life gets busy, and a trip to Alabama was more of an item for the bucket list than the do-list—for more reasons than I just couldn’t find the time.
First, the expensive airfare. Second, after my last flying fiasco, I vowed never to fly again unless it was absolutely necessary. Third, we didn’t have a vehicle that was trip-worthy until last year, and a drive to the Heart of Dixie wasn’t feasible or affordable. There were too many other, more immediate needs and concerns.
But when I bought myself a used elliptical machine two weeks before Christmas, my boys had to come up with another gift idea for me.
It was my husband who suggested it. He knew my brother, who is 5 years older than me, has been dealing with health issues for several years, and the past couple of months brought a few scares.
So today I’m flying out of Pittsburgh—first class—for a one-week visit with my brother and his wife—and I’m not taking my laptop. Work is not on the agenda for the next week. I’m going to spend the time with my loved ones.
It’s the perfect gift. My boys have not only given me something I couldn’t afford, they have also given me the precious gift of time with my brother.
Time is an excellent gift. It requires sacrifice—giving of something that you can’t get back, something that costs nothing in dollars and cents, but is priceless in terms of value.
You give the gift of time:

  • When when you stop what you’re doing and listen—really listen—to what someone is saying. 
  • When you put away what you’re working on and play a game with your grandchildren, even though you’re on a deadline. 
  • When you have lunch with a friend. 
  • When you make a pot of soup for a neighbor who’s ill. 
  • When you crochet afghans for each of your grandchildren. 
  • When you make your son’s favorite pie from scratch. 
  • When you make homemade noodles for your husband’s birthday dinner. 
  • When you do something that’s on your wife’s to-do list so she can have time to do something she really wants to do. 
  • When you stay with a young mother’s children so she can get some precious time to herself or go grocery shopping. 
  • When you spend two weeks at your daughter’s home while she recovers from surgery.

Look at the list of birthdays and anniversaries coming up. Where can you give the gift of time?

Father, show me more ways to give the gift of time. Amen.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Setting the record straight

Image courtesy of Free Bible Bible Images


Special-Tea: Read Matthew 2:1–18

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. – 1 John 5:11–12 NKJV

“I, Jesus, … am the Bright and Morning Star.” – Revelation 22:16 NKJV

The more I study the Christmas story, the more I see where tradition has trumped the Word.

Take, for example, the Magi, whose kingly figures are incorporated into Nativity sets as soon as they’re set out.

When I was growing up, the three wise men weren’t added until January 6, when the church celebrates the feast of the Epiphany. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were no longer in the stable. They were in a house (verse 11). Biblical scholars estimate Jesus was possibly two years old.

Unless you read the Word, you can get the story wrong. As a writer, I cannot stand to get a story wrong. So let’s examine this part of the Christmas story—the Magi and the king.

First, the wise men were not kings. They were high ranking members of an Eastern priestly class that originated in ancient Media and Persia who studied the stars, their alignment and what that alignment meant to men on earth. They served kings, but they themselves were not kings.

Their homeland likely was Babylon—the land from which God called Abraham, the land where the Israelites were taken into exile, the land where the Jewish prophet Daniel served high in the government, the land where the descendants of those Jews who didn’t return to their homeland after the exile still lived.

So the Magi were not unfamiliar with Hebrew culture.

In the months before the blazing star appeared, the Magi noticed a rare phenomenon in the sky: Two wandering stars appeared in the constellation Pisces, which represented the Hebrew nation. These moving stars were the planets Saturn, which designated the capital city of Jerusalem to the Hebrews, and Jupiter, which denoted royalty to the Hebrews (A Scientific Approach to Biblical Mysteries). This alignment occurred three times.

The Magi knew what this meant: A Hebrew king was to be born.

They did not follow the blazing star, which some believe was a nova (an exploding star), all the way from Babylon. If indeed the star had led them, they wouldn’t have had to stop in Jerusalem to ask for directions and they wouldn’t have been so overjoyed when they saw the star again after their summons to Herod (vv. 9–10).

Because there were three gifts, it is assumed there were three wise men. But Scripture doesn’t indicate how many there were. And they didn’t come alone. Three men, bearing expensive gifts, traveling alone on highways fraught with bandits wouldn’t have been safe. No, they brought their entourage of servants and bodyguards.

Image courtesy of Free Bible Images
When they arrived in the capital city, they didn’t go to Herod first. They asked the citizens of Jerusalem, who had no clue what they were talking about. Word got to jealous Herod, who summoned the wise men to get more information so he could get rid of this possible threat to his throne.

So you see why Herod and all of Jerusalem were disturbed (verse 3) when the Magi arrived.

Okay, now that we’ve set the record straight, what does this all mean to us today?

In addition to making sure we get our information directly from Scripture and not count on tradition to give us the truth, I see in this story two ways to respond to Jesus.

Like Herod, we can perceive Him as a threat—to our way of life, to our control of our lives, to our beliefs.

Or we can worship Him as King and Lord. Think about it: Kings aren’t worshiped. They are to be obeyed. God alone is worshiped.

What about you? How do you perceive this person called Jesus?

Lord, may I always follow the Bright and Morning Star. Amen.

Photo by Justin Ng

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Road to Nowhere


 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 NIV
Eighty years ago private landowners in Swain County, North Carolina, were forced to give up their property, which had been in their families for generations, when the government created the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Entire communities had to relocate. Access to ancestral burial grounds was lost when the Fontana Dam was built and the route was submerged beneath the waters of a vast manmade lake.      

To appease the people, the government promised to build a road through the park that would give them access to the ancient cemeteries. And so construction on Lakeview Drive began—and halted six miles into the park when environmental issues arose. The promised road ended with a tunnel and has remained that way to this day.

Although eventually the environmental issues were resolved and the feds paid the county $52 million in lieu of finishing the road, the locals, feeling betrayed, renamed Lakeview Drive to “The Road to Nowhere.” A sign was erected: “Welcome to The Road to Nowhere. A Broken Promise. 1943 – ?”
We visited The Road to Nowhere last fall during our camping trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and we walked through the dank, dark tunnel. True, the paved road ended when we emerged on the other side, but I wouldn’t call it “nowhere.” Golden trees framed hiking trails which wound through the mountains. True, this wasn’t what was promised, but it is what it is.
Life can be like that. Sometimes the road we’re on doesn’t lead us to where we expect or where we want to go. Sometimes we run into a dead end. Broken promises break our hearts and our trust. We can’t see how we can go on.
But it doesn’t lead to nowhere. All roads lead to somewhere. Just sometimes not where we’d chosen.
The older I get, the more I understand the wisdom of accepting and adapting. And moving on.
I’m not saying it’s easy—giving up those dreams, rebuilding your life after hope has been shattered.
But it can be done—with guts, gumption, grit—and God.
You see, I believe in a God who can transform what’s bad in your life into something good, what’s broken into something usable. A God who can turn your weakness into His strength (2 Corinthians 12:9) and loves you far beyond what you can comprehend (Romans 8:35–39).
He’s always in your corner (Romans 8:31) and wants to bless you exceedingly abundantly above all you can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). He’s a faithful Father who showers you with fresh mercies every morning (Lamentations 3:23) and who doesn’t break promises (2 Timothy 2:13).
So, dear child of God, “do not fear. Do not let not your hands grow weak. The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives great victory. He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on the day of a festival” (Zephaniah 3:16–17)
Remember that it’s God who’s in control, no matter what road you find yourself on.
Remind me, Lord, as I walk this uncertain road called life, that every road I walk with You will lead to somewhere wonderful. Amen.
Special-Tea: Read Lamentations 3:19–26

Sunday, December 28, 2014

My bucket list

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
One of the things I did this past year was to compile a bucket list.
On it I put hiking, kayaking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding in the Colorado Rockies, spending a month in Alaska and visiting the Canadian Rockies. Perhaps I should add “getting and staying in shape.”

I was hesitant at first to list anything. Unlike the two characters in the movie, I don’t have a billionaire to fund the fulfillment of the list of things I want to do before I kick the bucket. So phrases such as “we can’t afford it” and “be realistic” kept popping up.
We humans can come up with all kinds of reasons our deepest desires and wildest dreams won’t or can’t be fulfilled. So we plod on, not allowing ourselves to hope or dream because we don’t want to deal with disappointment. Or we make a bucket list of “safe” things—those that don’t border on impossible.
I had to push the hope-sucking words out of my mind with another phrase: “If money were no object…” and set my mind free to dream.
When I got brave enough to write my dreams down, I began to see the possibilities—how they can be fulfilled. I began to hope and dream again like I did when I was much younger.
What is life without dreams? Without hope?
In 626 B.C. God’s people thought they were without hope, too. Sent into exile for persistent willful disobedience, they were given these words: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
The next 70 years weren’t going to be pretty. Babylon would be a far cry from the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey God had helped their ancestors conquer. But don’t give up hope, He told them.
Hope—what we need to get us through our Babylon times, what we need to get us through life even when it isn’t tough.
There may be those who say this verse isn’t for us today—that it was meant only for God’s people at that time. There may be those who say this verse has been so overused, it’s become cliché.
But these 29 words say so much—and I believe they are for us today, too, for “the grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
“For I know the plans I have for you” —God has a plan for your life, a purpose for YOU.
“…to prosper you and not to harm you.”— Although life includes pain, God’s purpose is not to harm but to help you to grow. God’s plan for you is good.
“…to give you hope.” Life without hope is like soda without the fizz, like a long, dark night with no sign of morning. Hope comes from God, so ask Him for it.
“…to give you…a future.” God has a future planned for you, but He reveals it one day—one moment—one step—at a time.
Plans, hope, a future—Isn’t that what a bucket list is all about? It gives us hope that someday our dreams may come true.
So go ahead—let yourself dream again. Make up your bucket list. Then give it to God and watch your hope begin to grow.
Teach me to dream again, Lord. I’ve forgotten how. Amen.

Photo courtesy of Murray Pura

 Special-Tea: Read Psalm 139