Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Celebrate: To Observe a Notable Occasion with Festivities

“They will celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.”
(Psalm 145:7 NIV)

Come with
Eternal Hallelujahs!
Bring loud
Enter in!

One way to welcome Christmas is to celebrate. As the years go by, and as our family has grown up, our celebrations have transformed. As a young wife and mother, I wanted traditions to observe that would be just ours. Advent piqued my interest as it was a new tradition for me.

I remember making my first Advent wreath out of greenery, votive candles arranged in a wreath form and a single candlestick for the white Christ candle. My husband and I lit the candles each Sunday and read from Christ in Christmas: A Family Advent Celebration. Later when the boys were big enough they would fight over who got to blow out the candles. We did the crafts and activities that went along with the readings.

A couple years ago, each one of us took a Sunday sharing a Scripture and devotional thought. The last year or two it has been harder to gather together. And just when I think that some traditions have been outgrown, I find out that my twenty-one year old son still wants a chocolate Advent calendar to count the days until Christmas.

In a moment of feeling “better” from my cold, I ran around town this afternoon to find him one. But they were sold out. Not to be discouraged, I came up with an alternative. I found chocolate foil wrapped ornaments. I decided to pull out our little tabletop tree and decorated it with the candy. I had another little tree, which I decorated for our twenty-three old, so he won’t feel left out.

I have a sweet little arrangement on the buffet. It’s starting to feel a little more like Christmas around here. I also dusted off the Christmas music, which is playing in the background even now. It’s time to celebrate! Let the festivities begin!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Amplify: Increase the Volume Of

“He will bring us goodness and light. . .”
 from Do You Hear What I Hear?
(Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith)

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8 NKJV)

“And the Word (Christ) became flesh (human, incarnate) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us; and we [actually] saw His glory (His honor, His majesty), such glory as an only begotten son receives from his father, full of grace (favor, loving-kindness) and truth.” (John 1:14 AMP)

It is the third day into the Advent season and I haven’t dug out my Christmas music yet. What is wrong with me? I am taking a little longer this year to warm up to my usual Christmas traditions. I am between two worlds—finishing my degree and welcoming Christmas.

My student status soon comes to an end. I am thankful. It was a lifelong dream to go to college, and even though I waited until my forties, it has been a great experience. Yet I am ready to move on to a new season. The thing with going to school is that you have to squeeze your regular life in around the academic schedule. Amazingly every year Christmas still gets celebrated, and I carve out moments of reflection between reading text and writing papers.

As this season ends, my prayer is that God would amplify Himself and His word in my life. I need to hear from Him. I want to see His goodness in the land of the living. I have seen Him as a student, but now I want to experience a fresh measure of what He has in store. I am expectant.

Today in my Advent journey, the book of the Bible highlighted in the devotion was Exodus. The subtitle gave this invitation: Consider The Lengths I Go To, Just to Be With You. Isn’t this invitation the essence of Christmas? Let’s consider the length, breadth, height and width of His love together this year.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Grouse: Complain; Grumble

“An inward grouse is a devastating thing.” Amy Carmichael

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise:
be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting;
and his truth endureth to all generations.

Psalm 100:4-5 KJV

Thanksgiving comes but once a year, yet I desire to cultivate a thankful heart the whole year through. It’s not easy. I came down with a whopper of a cold over Thanksgiving break. My tendency is to whine and moan between the fits of coughing. I’ve heard somewhere that it helps to thank God for the bad, as well as the good. But I heard even better advice today. Thank God for his goodness and grace.

This evening I watched The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The transformation of the Grinch’s heart speaks to me of the transforming grace of Christ. The episode opens with the townspeople singing: "Welcome Christmas"

To welcome Christmas. . . that is what I’d like to do over the next few weeks. Will you join me?

It takes conscious effort to move from grousing to rejoicing. I know this from personal experience. Even this morning, I almost gave in to wallowing in self-pity. “Woe is me, I have a cold.” My plight is not unusual; probably the majority of us will have a cold this winter, as it is called the “common” cold.

Part of my complaint was common; I don’t have time to be sick. I got things to do: cleaning, studying, buying, decorating and apparently now—resting. I chafe against rest. If had pushed myself today, I wouldn’t have had time to reflect on the devastating effects of grumbling. I would have missed out on practicing the art of giving thanks on all occasions. So maybe I didn’t thank God for my cold, but I did thank Him for his goodness in reminding me that rest is an important part of life.

Usually I pick a devotional book that has daily readings for the Advent season. This year I picked up a book, I read earlier this year. It’s called God’s Love Letters to You: A 40-Day Devotional Experience written by Dr. Larry Crabb. Each day focuses on a different book in the Bible. Today was Genesis—a very good place to start—the beginning. Written from the first person perspective of God, the subtitle for today’s reading warms my heart: I Have a Plan: Trust Me. The devotion raises the question of why doesn’t God immediately relieve our pain. It didn’t answer the question, but gave me space to contemplate it. The last sentence offers food for thought: “You must live now in the tension between anguish and hope.” Again, I found no direct answer, but something to mull over. How can I live in this tension? Will I trust God’s plan?

My expectation after Thanksgiving was to gear up for the end of the semester at the highest speed possible, but my health has slowed me down. After a day of resting in God’s presence, reading books and ruminating on God’s words— I give thanks for His grace for this day.

I am ready to welcome Christmas at a pace that embraces the goodness of God.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Coming Soon!

Kel Rohlf loves WORDS! In this little devotional book, she invites you to “see” God through definitions, Scriptures and everyday experiences. She points out ways to notice God more. So grab your Bible and a dictionary, and relish the adventure of Defining Moments Overflowing with Living Words.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Occasion: A Favorable Opportunity

“Taste and see that the LORD is good.
Oh, the joys of those who trust in him!”
                           Psalm 34:8 NLT

photo by Kel Rohlf

“Don’t save anything for a special occasion.
Every day you’re alive is a special occasion.” (Unknown)

“If it’s worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now.” (Ann Wells)

What is it about keeping things for a special occasion? I have this beautiful museum quality journal that a dear friend bestowed upon me. It remains on my shelf. One of these days, I will put my most beautiful thoughts in there, right? Fine china collects dust in the buffet. Craft projects beckon to be finished. And I used to make homemade bread. Today on my drive home, I wondered why I’m waiting for a special time or uninterrupted life to do things that I enjoy.

I stopped by the grocery store for my weekly groceries and made sure to pick up some yeast. When I got home, after unloading the food, I searched the internet for a Pumpkin Yeast Bread recipe. Gathering the ingredients, pulling out my Kitchen aid mixer and preparing the dough took little time. While I puttered around the house the dough doubled in size in its bowl. I divided the dough into a loaf and twelve rolls to rise again. The process of waiting really didn’t hinder me from doing my usual meandering around the house checking email, working on a craft project and just relaxing. By dinner time the aroma of bread, ginger, pumpkin and cloves filled the house. I slathered butter on the tops of the rolls and bread. Then I munched on a roll as soon as it was cool enough to pop into my mouth. Mmm…so good!

Another thought that occurred to me this afternoon had to do with spending time in God’s presence through His word. Why do I keep looking for a particular Bible study? I keep searching for the perfect “read the Bible in a year” plan, but in my quest I neglect to read it at all. I read devotional books, snatching bites of the Word. Yet I long for a full course meal. My Bible intake comes in spurts or on special occasions like Sunday morning at church. I want more. I don’t want to save God’s word for certain occasions like celebrations and Bible studies. His word is my daily bread.

I am not sure how I will accomplish it, but I want to wake up tomorrow, grab my Bible along with my cereal bowl in order to savor God in the moment.

"For He says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor , now is the day of salvation."
                                                             2 Corinthians 6:2 NIV

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sustain: To Give Support or Relief To

Would your wealth
or even all your mighty efforts
sustain you so you would not be in distress?     
Job 36:19 NIV

Your frustration with everything, including yourself, makes it possible to turn in deeper dependence [upon God]. Your weariness requires the strength of supernatural love to continue serving [God]. Your haunting sense of futility shuts you up to a kind of endurance that can be sustained only with hope in [Jesus’] return.             
God’s Love Letters to You, Dr. Larry Crabb

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.   
Psalm 51:12 NIV

How can it be November already? I am in the last weeks of my final semester at UM-St. Louis, looking ahead to the freedom from the pressure of meeting deadlines. Amazingly, I feel fairly calm. God has sustained me thus far, what will keep Him from continuing to do so? I will rest in His faithfulness.

Even though I am not facing a major trial, I find myself facing common frustrations of daily living. Like, when will my house ever be clutter free? I dread the weariness of waiting for the next season. And often, I am taunted by the futility of organizing and reorganizing my life, my stuff and my schedule. The mundane seems harder to manage than the unknown future.

Lately God has been pressing my heart about a tendency to seek blessings instead of His presence. He confronts me about my practice of thanking Him for things, rather than expressing a deep gratitude for forgiveness and grace. He reminds me that joy comes from experiencing His salvation, more than from the comfortable pleasures of this life.

These human experiences of frustration, weariness and futility come upon us like labor pains. We want to them to cease, but if they do, we will not be brought to maturity. Instead, we need to breathe through the pain in order to experience joy of relying on God’s strength. Remember, weeping lasts for the night, but joy comes in the morning! How I long for the morning when Jesus shall return and take us from this weary world. Until then, I will depend on His sustenance.

Whether I am struggling, suffering or sliding through life with ease, I need God to sustain me. Only His love can keep me from despair. Hope pours into me through the Holy Spirit. His word nourishes me. Will I give up my own striving, and rest in His presence?