Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Advent Adventure

Advent has just begun. I have to admit that, even though I knew that Advent was the time before Christmas meant as preparation for the coming of Baby Jesus, this was not something that was emphasized during my growing up years. For some reason, my family did not pay much attention to this time so I missed out on the richness of the season. It wasn’t until I moved to the United States that I realized the value of these weeks in helping me focus on the reason we celebrate.

Over the years I’ve been trying to be more intentional during Advent. I’ve tried to make it more personal. I’ve concentrated on making it into an intimate conversation between me and Our Lord to ground me on the miracle of His first coming and the wonders of His love. This year, I want to continue doing that, but I’ve decided to use Advent to turn my eyes toward the promise of His second coming…turn my eyes into eternity and into the reality that this is not our permanent home. I would like to explore that His first advent points to the fact that He will come back again, to take us with Him into our eternal dwelling:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” John 14: 1-4

I’d like to explore Christ’s second coming this Advent through Scripture and perhaps even through some of my most beloved Christmas Carols. I think the writers of these songs knew that while they sung praises to the Babe in the Manger, it was imperative to point to the Lion of Judah who is to come back one of these days. I guess it is going to be a journey of discovery, an Advent Adventure…so would you embark on it with me?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Palm-Tree Deep Faith

Last Sunday, Pastor Doug spoke about the need to have deep rooted faith. He recollected a time when a big-huge pine tree fell down in his property and how marveled he was to see its tiny roots up in the air. He couldn’t believe such a big tree could have such a small root system. It was no wonder that it could be so easily uprooted.

The story made me think about my parents’ home. My Mom loved trees. At one time, our very sizable yard was covered with them. There were so many I can’t remember them all. The ones I remember very vividly, though, are the palms. Our house was fronted by about 5 mid-size, but majestic ones. I grew up looking at them, playing under their shade, eating their fruits. I didn’t have many friends back then, so I learned how to braid hair by weaving palm tree branches. The first thing that would greet me every time I’d come home was the palm trees waiving in the breeze. They would be the last ones waving goodbye as well every time I left.

I’m not an expert on trees, but I know that some root systems run pretty shallow and could even be seen on the ground surface, causing damage to sidewalks or building foundations. Palm tree roots run deep. Again, I am not a tree expert, but growing up surrounded by them, I remember hearing how the roots of a palm tree are very long and strong.

Apparently, palm roots are the same size at the stem or base as they are at the ends. This makes the tree difficult to pull up. It also means the roots will grow deep into the ground, getting nourishment that is not available on the surface. I also noticed that regardless of how old a palm tree was, it always looked the same. The trunks of those in our yard never looked “old.” I found out that must tree trunks are made up of dead wood while the living part, the cambium layer, is just inside the bark. This makes it easy for animals to ‘girdle’ a tree, nibbling the bark around the bottom and thus killing it. The palm, on the other hand, has living wood throughout. Therefore, it regenerates. These two factors make this tree a premier hurricane survivor. We have all seen pictures of bending palms in 100+ mile-hour winds. It is astonishing how they can weather such monster storms.

Many of the trees that we have around here have, what is explained as a “lateral” root system. This means that roots grow basically on the surface…we can see them…anyway…the obvious end to the path of my trend of thought is the realization that, perhaps, we should aim for our faith to have palm-tree-deep roots. A faith that grows deep to tap into the source of nourishment and power that maintains the outward alive and flexible while well anchored at the core to withstand the severe storms of life.

I’m glad I grew up in a land where the palm is king. I knew there had to be a life-lesson in such a special tree.

Long-gone are the days of my youth when I’d spend my care-free afternoons meandering in the shadows of our palms; but I will always cherish the moments I spent admiring their beauty and uniqueness. And even though my parents’ house is no longer my own, I can still see my old friends from the distance, greeting me in the breeze every time I visit home.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Giving Thanks

In a blink, Thanksgiving has come and gone again. It is one of my favorite holidays, but too often it just seems to go unnoticed. We’re not done breathing in the warmth and delicious aromas of spices, turkey, trimmings and pies, when the whirlwind of road trips, family gatherings, black Friday, and blue weekends spins us around…then, still dizzy, Cyber Monday finds us tangled up in twinkling lights. We haven’t yet exhaled, and the only reminder of Thanksgiving is a pile of dirty casserole dishes in the kitchen sink.

I don’t want to flip the page of Thanksgiving Day without taking time to intentionally pause, even if for a moment…and truly give Thanks. Like I read in my devotional, I want to allow an attitude of thankfulness to rule in my heart (Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling). I want to cultivate a constant state of thanksgiving in my mind and soul so the peace of Christ would cover me from head to toe…and as I dive into the waters of His presence, I want to be cleansed of all that ties me to the worldly ways…like scales falling from my eyes, I want to be able to see the abundance of His promises.

May the holiday mean more than turkey and casseroles. May we take the chance to truly say, thank you. Thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to express gratitude…even if in a rather imperfect manner…for every time I take a moment to give thanks, I know I move a step closer to You as I walk on this earth.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Bouquet

Well, another Thanksgiving Day is here, and pardon the pun, but for that, I am most thankful! I am exhausted and in great need of a break, so the days off that come with the holiday are incredibly welcome this year.

It has been a semester of tension, stress, busyness and uncertainty. Therefore, the prospect of a few days off seems delightful.

As I read through my devotional yesterday, I was inspired to cultivate an attitude of gratitude that would stick with me not just now, but all the time. The devotional said:

“As you go through this day, look for tiny treasures strategically placed along the way. I lovingly go before you and plant little pleasures to brighten your day. Look carefully for them, and pluck them one by one. When you reach the end of the day, you will have gathered a lovely bouquet. Offer it up to Me with a grateful heart. Receive My Peace as you lie down to sleep, with thankful thoughts playing a lullaby in your mind.” (Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling)

That was just what I needed to read yesterday, and that is just what I need to read every day. I need to pluck the many blessings that the Lord has given me, one by one, to sit in awe of the bouquet He presents me with daily. So often I miss the whole thing just because I insist on keeping my eyes on the circumstances. I am so distracted by the issues at hand that I can’t even catch a whiff of the fragrance of the flowers even though I’m standing in the middle of the garden!

And to think that God custom-makes the blessings for each of His children...that He strategically plants a whole garden full of the things He knows would speak to us, and probably just us…and we still struggle to see it…to perceive it…to acknowledge it…to thank Him for it…sigh…

The gentle tunes of a saxophone played by a young man who found his way the day he opened its case for the first time. The little hands tearing the loaf of bread that will become stuffing later in the day. The loving words of encouragement coming from a life-long partner who has stuck with me through many storms and fires. The little paws following my every step, hoping for some scraps to fall his way. The much-needed rest after a savory meal and the time together with not much else to care about than lounging on a comfy chair. That was my bouquet…

I pray the Lord tunes in my senses so I am aware of His presence, and of His gifts, and of His blessings, not just today, but every single day.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Pause, Breath and Love

Now that the election cycle is finally over, let me say that I wished I’d seen the Kid President video clip on how to disagree WAY earlier.

The bad news is that I didn’t get to see this video until a couple of days after the elections, and after I had gotten into an unfortunate disagreement with a friend. I think it was the fact that I had been quiet for so long, silently enduring the horrendous and misguided stuff I saw day in and day out in Facebook, that finally I blew a fuse…Sometimes it’s best to just deal with our disagreements in a coherent manner rather than pretend that all is fine and dandy. Hiding our true feelings, trying to push them aside only creates a volcano effect that turns out worse than if we had had the courage to speak openly in the first place. The key is to know how to disagree and still be friends…a rather challenging feat at this point in our society.

The irony is that I did not have enough grown-up common sense of my own to realize this so it took a video with a cute kid to make me understand the possibility of disagreeing with someone and still be human…still love.

I am a big fan of 2 Timothy 1:7:

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

“God gave us a spirit not of fear…” I love that part…especially in the context of my long-fought battle against fear. However, this portion of the verse doesn’t mean we have free range to be aggressive and unkind. On the contrary, even though the spirit that He has given us is “of power” it is also a spirit of “love” AND “self-control.” Much like His own spirit and nature, the spirit God gifted us with is equal parts power/love/self-control. (2 Timothy 1: 7)

Let’s think about these three elements for a moment. God made us in His own image, and as such, the spirit that He deposited in us reflects who He is. Our Great God is a God of unlimited power: Jesus said it many times, let’s just remember one, in Matthew 19:26

And looking at them Jesus said to them, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

God Himself said it, Jeremiah 32:27

"Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?"

All that power needs to be balanced. Love is the balance and then self-control is the reign that allows God to be all powerful and still merciful and just.

God is Love: 1 John 4:8

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

And as such, we are overwhelmed by His goodness:

And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of His love, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3: 17-18

He is a God of Self-Control. The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Number 14: 18a He is the God of Mercy…He is the God of Grace. The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. (Psalms 86, 103, 145) And as such, we are overflowing with His compassion.

Because of His great love, because He IS Love, he exhibits self-control. Love is what gives Him the ability to exercise self-control over His omnipotence. Given God’s Holiness, His unlimited power would go toward the destruction of all things unholy since nothing unholy can be in His presence. Love is what finds a way to reign in His power and offer us a way to reach Him even in our sinful nature. Love is what opens up the floodgates of His Grace and what made Him design a plan that would involve Our Savior, Jesus coming down to us and dying for us.

So, if God, the One and Only All Mighty, Omnipotent Sovereign of the Universe is able to reign in His limitless power, and we are made in His image…there is no excuse for us, regardless of how wrong we think the other person is, to not be able to disagree and still exhibit love.

I pray next time I am faced with the dilemma of disagreement with someone, that I have enough self-control to pause, breath and love before I open my mouth and create discord.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I Am NOT Afraid of His Will

My eleven-year-old Dylan often gets upset, angry, nervous and anxious when people around him don't behave the way he wants them to.  If he doesn't get the reaction or the outcome that he wants, he pouts and becomes frustrated.  I don't know how many times I've heard statements like: "But I was nice, and he pushed me!"  ...or different variations of it... to which I always reply:  "remember, you cannot control the way other people act.  The only thing you can control is what YOU do.  Just make sure YOU do what is right, and the rest is up to God."

Well, today, I will take up my own advice.  I am going to do what I have prayerfully decided is right, and I am going to leave the rest up to Our Great God.  I am not going to focus on the outcome.  The results are the Lord's.

Therefore, as election day dawns on me with a veil of uncertainty, and I feel anxiety and worry creep up my back like a tarantula, I am choosing prayer over panic.  Rather than disappointment, I'm choosing trust.

I am going to fulfill my civic duty and vote.  Then, I am going to let it go and trust that God is in control and that His will is perfect, even when it may not be the same as mine.  He knows what He is doing in this great nation of ours.  I am not going to get on His way.  I just want to be His instrument.  I just want to have a willing heart that says:  "Here I am, Lord...if You need me."

I am going to pray that His will be done, no matter how I feel.  And I am not going to be afraid of it. I am going to trust it.  I am going to submit to His plan with full confidence that He loves me and that He will take care of me, no matter what happens.  We are His beloved.  We live in the palm of His hands.  His plans are to benefit us, not to bring us harm.  I will recall all His promises as I walk through the refining fires that await us.

And above all, I will keep fresh in my mind that regardless of who the president is, Jesus is forever my KING!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Our Dad in Heaven

Yesterday would have been my Father's 90th birthday had he still been on this earth.  His departure almost 4 years ago has left a big hole in my heart that hasn't been filled yet, and probably would never be.  Thinking about him makes me miss him even more and makes everything turn grey around me.  Issues seem harder to deal with and I feel weaker to face them.  Loneliness engulfs me as I start a slow descend into a place of darkness and sadness that I fear.  The day goes by and a general sense of malaise surrounds me, and I'm unable to define it.  Night time comes and darkness becomes thicker so I escape the only way I know how: I go to sleep.  Morning comes and the heaviness hasn't disappeared. The expectations of the day become a cumbersome weight on my shoulders and I have no clue how I will get through it all...

In a morning that greets me with anxious thoughts of "how am I going to ever get through this day?" A reminder comes:

"Walk peacefully with Me through this day.  You are wondering how you will cope with all that is expected of you.  You must traverse this day like any other:  one step at a time.  Instead of mentally rehearsing how you will do this or that, keep your mind on My Presence and on taking the next step.  The more demanding your day, the more help you can expect from Me.  This is a training opportunity, since I designed you for deep dependence on your Shepherd-King.  Challenging times wake you up and amplify your awareness of needing My help.

When you don't know what to do, wait while I open the way before you.  Trust that I know what I'm doing, and be ready to follow My lead.  I will give strength to you, and I will bless you with Peace." (Sarah Young's Jesus Calling)

This is what my devotional reading for today said.  And, as soon as I read the first line I felt a mixture of conviction and peace in my heart.  I felt the conviction of a daughter who has forgotten that her Daddy loves her and takes care of her.  I felt the peace a daughter who remembers her Daddy loves her and takes care of her.

As every day, Jesus IS calling me today.  He calls me and calls you to stick by Him and trust His ways, even when they seem unclear or just plain absurd.  He knows... He knows us and He knows what He is doing.  Let's hang in there with our Father who loves us and never leaves us.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Happiness is a Pumpkin Spice Non-Fat Latte

It was only 5:30 p.m. but it felt like 48 hours had been jammed all together into one day. I was not looking forward to the 45-minute car-ride I had ahead, but I knew the meeting I was going to would turn out to be splendid. I was headed to our last night of Bible study and I knew God had wonderful things in store for us, but I couldn’t help it…I was very tired…

Suddenly, as the golden arches popped up in the nearby horizon, a thought came to me: “It’s fall…yeah…the all-pumpkin-spice-stuff-everywhere-season! …Maybe I should get me one of them latte’s?” I’m not a coffee drinker, but I enjoy the occasional cup of the infamous, hot beverage once in a holiday moon (as long as it is heavy on the flavored, sugary cream, of course).

Anyway, I rolled into the parking lot, walked out of the car (needed the fresh air to stay awake), ordered me a Grande cup to go, got back in the car, took a sip (still wondering and hoping that it would be sweet enough since I didn’t dare asking for any sugar packets) and immediately, as soon as I felt the warm, creamy elixir touch my taste buds, I figured out why people all over the universe say that coffee is “happiness in a cup…”

With every sip, I felt more and more awake and energized…but not only that…I felt content. It was as if God was giving me a boost to change my perspective. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon. And at risk of sounding trite and cliché, it was as if my eyes had opened to the gorgeous scenery. What a gift! The trees were exploding with color I had not paid attention to just minutes earlier.

The car rolled up and down the gentle hills on the country road that, literally takes me back to the place around here that I consider home, and my spirit was on cruise control. My perspective had gone from exhausted and gloomy to awake and serene. Rather than dreading the drive, I was looking forward to 45 minutes of nothing else to do than enjoy God´s beauty and let my mind wander freely through the colorful woods all around me.

Of course, it would be sacrilegious to credit the pumpkin spice low fat latté for the experience. But I tell you, Our Lord is the God of details, and He cares so deeply and intensely for you and me, that He gives us exactly what we need at the exact moment we need it and in whatever way, shape or form that He knows would work for our specific situation. You may read this piece and think I´m nuts, because this beverage does nothing for you. He knows. He knows you and He knows me. And He knows how to reach us individually. He knows our uniqueness…after all, His hand formed us.

At any rate, I´m not going to become a coffee drinker or anything like that now. I just wanted to share the special moment I had and how God helped me relax and appreciate the simple things of life. And yes, the last night of Bible Study did turn out to be splendid, indeed, in more ways that I can express. But that´s the topic for another post. Until next time…I sign off, intent in never brushing off again what coffee drinkers all over the universe know: sometimes, happiness does come in a cup.