Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Alpha and Omega

I don’t know how it started. But, sometime in my mid-30’s I started trying to read through the Bible each year. For a couple of years, I didn’t reach that goal, but eventually the effort paid off and reading through the Bible became achievable. I learn new things every day from reading the scriptures.

Quite a few years ago, John and I started reading through the Bible together. At the beginning of the year, we develop a strategy. This past year, we took my Bible and divided the total number of pages of scripture by 365 days. We had a few times of “catching up” to get back on track, but we were able to stay pretty close to our plan. Some years, we have used one of the published plans of reading like daily readings from both the Old and New Testament, or so many chapters a day. We usually read during breakfast. He will read a paragraph out loud and then I will read the next one. It’s funny how we figure out how to pronounce some of the names and we enjoy finding new things.

There is one section in the Old Testament where the gifts given to the temple from each tribe are recorded. I laugh at this section because each tribe gives exactly the same thing and the list of gifts is recorded each time. I imagine the tribal leaders listening intently to make sure that every tribe followed through with giving each of the items. You see, even a “boring” part of the Bible can be interesting.

For our readings in 2015, we purchased two copies of a Bible that follows what some historians have decided is the right chronological order of the scriptures. This particular version is also a study Bible with maps and explanations and historical time lines. I’m excited about getting started.

Today we finished our 2014 reading program by reading the end of the book of The Revelation. I found that this particular version of the Bible included a chapter heading that caught my attention. Chapter 22 (the last chapter in the last book of the Bible) is titled “Eden Restored.” And, the scripture describes the world that is set right, a world that is even better than the first Eden described in Genesis.

The end of the book provides the end of the story of the original earth and begins the story of the second and eternal earth.

The year of 2014 comes to an end tonight. I can add no additional words or deeds to it and I cannot subtract from it either. This year’s record will be closed out in just a few hours and the next year of my life’s story will begin.

I realize that New Year’s Eve is an artificial marking of time. Nothing really changes at midnight tonight except those things that I decide to change. It is so comforting to realize that I know the One who can direct my path and my thoughts if I just let Him.

My God is and was and is to come!!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8

New Year’s Resolution?

Today is the 30th of December; one day before New Year’s Eve. When we started this journey on the 1st of November, 59 days ago, I shared that my plan was for “We Gather Together 14” to end on December 25th, Christmas. But after praying about it and talking it over with John, I decided to continue the daily postings through New Year’s Day and then to share once a week throughout 2015.

The concept of “gathering together” has really caught my attention. I desperately need to clean up some areas of my life. I’ve got “stuff” that is old, tiny, new and huge. Some areas need to be straightened up, others tossed and others made ready for operation. You know what I mean, our traditional New Year’s resolutions plus the stuff that we just don’t think we can do, the things we don’t bother to list because they are just too huge. Or, fixing that “stuff” in our lives involves the actions of others – actions we cannot control.

This morning, I have one phrase of advice. It was something that my mother said to me at least once a day when I was not carrying my load of household chores. I have said it to young students and thought it about older students many times. This is my first goal in 2015.

Are you ready? Here it is:

“Clean up after yourself.”

Earth shattering, isn’t it? Just a simple act – cleaning up what I have done or said or thought or not done. This task does not involve actions of others nor their endorsement of my goal. It is all up to me.

It means putting my trash into the bin at the fast food restaurant. It means apologizing when I have hurt another. It means being honest with my boss when I might be tempted to do otherwise. It means not only taking responsibility for my actions, but doing something about what I have done.

So, if you are drafting resolutions for 2015, you might want to start with “clean up after yourself.” Just a thought.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (I Corinthians 13:11)

Raisin bread – it’s a good thing

We ate at a Waffle House this morning. I once knew an evangelist who said that he could recognize any chain restaurant by the aroma when he walked inside. I am sure that he is right. A Waffle House has the great combined scent of eggs, waffles and grits – all good things!

As I placed my order, I looked at the selection of breads. On days that I am being more careful about food choices, I ignore this section of the menu. But, today, I decided to go for it. My usual selection is wheat bread but then I noticed that raisin bread was also an option and I smiled.

I like raisin bread. It has dark swirls of flavor in the bread itself and it has those delicious, plumb raisins. Raisins in raisin bread are never hard and small like the ones you sometimes find at the bottom of a snack box or tucked inside an oatmeal raisin cookie. Raisin bread raisins are rich and scrumptious.

John’s mom used to make meat and cheese sandwiches using raisin bread. I thought it was really odd the first time that she made one for me. She buttered each slice of raisin bread (butter??) and then added just a couple of thin slices of ham and Swiss cheese. But, that sandwich was amazingly delicious and I miss her making them for me.

At home, we ate the raisin bread within a few days of buying it. It is a moist bread – leave it on the counter too many days and it will go bad. So, when we had it, I loved to enjoy a slice (or two). This morning, I fixed my bread just like we had done at home. The bread was lightly toasted and then a spoonful of apple butter was carefully spread to cover every part of the slice. And then I savored each bite. Raisin bread with apple butter is not something that you eat with your eggs and sausage and grits (I really didn’t pay attention to the calories this morning!). No, raisin bread is more like the dessert at the end of breakfast. It was delicious and sweet and it reminded me of home.

In less than two weeks, John and I will be joining with other members of our church in our annual “Daniel Fast.” This three week fast will include only fruit, vegetables and water. No sausage, no grits with butter, no scrambled eggs, no ham, no Swiss cheese, no Diet Coke, and, especially, no raisin bread with apple butter. Instead, we will abandon the diet of “choice foods” for a time of fasting. Like Daniel of old, we chose to limit ourselves to basic foods and water as we focus our attention on God and what He wants in this New Year.

Have no doubt that as I work to focus my attention ahead, my mind will wander from time to time to raisin bread toast with apple butter. My taste buds and stomach will remind me that I really prefer foods of comfort and calories. And, it is those very longings that will cause me to focus on the better things, the Godly things, the righteous things that my life really needs.

“I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over. (Daniel 10:3)

 

“Calico Joe” by John Grishman

When we travel by car, I often find books on CD at our local library for the trip. I try to get books that will interest us both and so often I get a good military story or mystery. This past trip, my selections included two books by John Grisham (The Broker and Calico Joe) and a third one by another author that was so disappointing that we turned it off after less than 15 minutes of play.

The Broker is a pretty good story and it takes nearly 15 hours to listen to it all. It was fun and had enough suspense to keep our attention, although my napping during parts of the book didn’t keep me from knowing what was going on after a brief synopsis from John, and vice-versa.

But the second Grisham book, Calico Joe, was wonderful. Published in 2012, the book shares the history of two fictional major league baseball players, a pitcher and a first baseman, through the eyes of the pitcher’s son. It is a great baseball story and a marvelous audiobook (taking only about four and a half hours).

If you haven’t read Calico Joe, put it near the top of your list for 2015. It deals with issues that impact us all and you will find yourself loving and despising the characters. As we finished listening to the book, I found myself reflecting on my own life and people I have known. It reminded me of some of the goals that I am setting for 2015.

I thought that you might enjoy three lines from the book:

  1. The first is a Yogi Berra quote: “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” Think about it – it will make sense! Actually, this silly line reminds me of the importance of staying connected. Too often, we are tempted to ease out of situations, trying not to be noticed. Being a hermit in a community is a horrible choice. We pull away and pull away and pull away and then are lonely or in need and cannot figure out what to do. At one point in the book, Grisham describes the funeral of a man who has no meaningful relationships. I realized that a deceased person does not care who attends their funeral. But, if no one cares to mourn their passing, what does that say about their life?
  2. The second line is actually a phrase: “the restorative power of forgiveness.” What relief we experience when we are forgiven by another for past grievances and what joy there is in truly forgiving another. Forgiveness removes burdens.
  3. The third line was: “He led a sloppy life with many regrets.”

It was this third line that really got my attention. A “sloppy life with many regrets.”

Sloppy: careless, slapdash, slipshod, lackadaisical, haphazard, lax, slack, slovenly.

Regret: a feeling of sorrow or remorse for a fault, act, loss, disappointment.

To live a life that is careless and without purpose and that causes personal disappointment must be the saddest course of life possible. Why on earth would someone chose that kind of life? My belief is that they probably did not plot a course at all – thus, the use of the word “sloppy” – and, that their lack of purpose influenced their ability to be successful as well as the lives of those around them.

I am reminded even more of the importance of planning our direction and of living a life of purpose. It is too easy to slip into a lifestyle that is without aim, that is selfish, that is sloppy, and that brings disappointment.

But my life planning is insufficient; my thoughts are too limited; my goals are too mundane. The scripture on my business card reminds me of the better way: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

Read the book.   You will enjoy it!

Could Peter have been a tattle tale??

I just read something that I never before had noticed in the Bible.

In Matthew 18, Jesus is talking about resolving disputes between fellow Christians. Jesus says, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” And, then he goes on to explain what to do when the situation is not resolved after taking that first step.

Peter is listening to this teaching and asks a great question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Seven times sounds reasonable. I mean, seven is more than double current legal requirements of “three strikes” or the basketball rule of five personal fouls and you are out of the game. Seven is a pretty big number.

What makes me giggle about Peter’s question is that his brother, Andrew, was also one of the twelve disciples. Do you think Peter asked the question to highlight something that Andrew had done? If that is the case, can you imagine Andrew’s reaction?

  • “Good grief. Because Mom isn’t around, he’s telling Jesus about me! What a tattle tale!!”
  • “I am sooooo embarrassed!”
  • “Peter, give it a rest, will you!!”

It is hilarious to think that two brothers might have argued petty differences before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

And, even more hilarious is the answer that Peter gets to his question. Remember, Peter suggests forgiving someone seven times; seven seems like a big number. Jesus’ reply? “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”  I can only imagine Peter’s thoughts after getting that kind of a response.  Seventy times seven??

I don’t think that Jesus intended for us to keep a “forgiving count” on our family members, but to forgive every single time when someone harms us. Seventy times seven is just too large to keep track. Just keep forgiving.

Did you have a family challenge over the holidays? Did someone tattle to Mom or Dad about what you have been doing? (LOL!) Well, just keep forgiving and forgiving and forgiving.

And, why do we forgive others? Because when we ask for forgiveness, God always forgives us.  It’s very simple.

“If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14)

The day after

“What?” I can hear you exclaim. “I thought that Jill’s ‘We Gather Together 14’ series ended yesterday. Why am I hearing from her today?”

Well, as I worked on the series each day, I realized that I could not stop on December 25th. You see, today is the “day after.” (Now, some of you are like us. We are planning several other “Christmas Days” later this month. So, Christmas is not over for us yet. But, stick with me – my point is for everyone.)

Do you remember the “day after” following other big events this past year?

  • What did you do the “day after” your last birthday?
  • How about the “day after” the memorial service?
  • What about the “day after” the baby was born?
  • Or, the “day after” that car wreck?

Sometimes the “day after” is as memorable as the “day of.” But, usually we don’t remember much about our “day after.”

Mary and Joseph had to have been struck one their “day after” the birth of the Messiah by one important fact: this isn’t over. In fact, Jesus’ birth was just the beginning. There was no end to this family’s story.

And, there is no ending to the story that you and your loved ones are writing. As a younger brother told his older sister, “You’re stuck with me.” No matter how joyous (or not) our celebration of Christmas was yesterday, it is now the “day after” and we have to deal with the activities that follow: taking of trash to the curb, repackaging leftovers, making the drive home, putting away the Christmas tree, etc.

There is a “day after” in the Old Testament that has always concerned me (Genesis 29). Jacob had fallen in love with Rachel and had worked 7 long years to secure her hand in marriage. The marriage celebration was held and the wedding night was over when Jacob learned that Rachel’s father had substituted Rachel’s older sister, Leah, for Rachel. Jacob had married the wrong sister. (How stupid was Jacob? All I can figure is that Leah must have worn some pretty impressive veils for Jacob to have been that confused.) Jacob was furious and ended up working another 7 years for Rachel’s hand in marriage. (However, the girl’s father allowed the wedding ceremony to take place just a week after the first ceremony.) Eventually, Jacob married both sisters.

How did those three people feel on the “day after” that first wedding:

  • Jacob had been made a fool and he was embarrassed and angry.
  • Rachel had been used by her father to get her sister a husband.
  • Leah was married to a man who had been tricked into marrying her and her new husband was in love with her sister.

That “day after” was bad, but the days that followed had to be worse.

Have you been there, asking yourself “How on earth did I get here?” Joseph probably wondered if he could take Mary home knowing that others did not understand the unique parentage of Jesus. Mary had to have her own questions. Hallelujah: the best news was that the God who had sent messages through angels before that night had gone nowhere. God was still there, loving, listening, guiding and caring for their little family.

The calendar says that this is the “day after” Christmas. Is it a day of new beginnings for you? Will what we have learned about gathering together shape our words and actions this next year?

“The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing.” (Psalm 23:1)

Merry Christmas!

Read the words of this song with me:

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing; He chastens and hastens His will to make known. The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing. Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining, Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine; So from the beginning the fight we were winning; Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant, And pray that Thou still our Defender will be. Let Thy congregation escape tribulation; Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

As we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, as we gather together, let me remind you of three things we should all never forget:

  1. He forgets not His own!
  2. God is at our side!
  3. The Lord makes us free!!

You are not forgotten – God knows you by name and He sent Jesus to earth to save you and to rescue you. The King of Kings has adopted you, He knows how many hairs are on your head, and He loves you so much that His son died for you. WE ARE HIS KIDS!!!!

You are never alone – when we accept God, He is always with us. Hold tight to the hand of the God of the universe, the creator of heaven and earth!! GOD KNOWS US AND STILL LOVES US!!!

You are free – no matter what, the love of God frees us from this world. Celebrate, Friend, Celebrate!! WE ARE FREE!!!!

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:11-14)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life!! (John 3:16)

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Love,

Jill (Just one of God’s kids)

What are you doing on this Christmas Eve?

It’s Christmas Eve. What a wonderful day – a day of expectation. Tonight, John and I will attend a special Christmas Eve church service that will involve candlelight, communion and carols. I cannot wait.

I have been to many different kinds of Christmas Eve services and have enjoyed every one. Growing up, our church did not have a special service on this night, but had a special event earlier in the month. John’s family always went to church on Christmas Eve. They would go to the 11:00 pm service; and, when the service was over and they walked into the cold night, they would look to the heavens and know that it was Christmas morning. What a wonderful tradition.

One Christmas Eve, John and I went to the Protestant service at the NAS Pensacola Chapel. It was interesting because we watched two special friends as they served their congregation. Although these two amazing people are not pastors or staff, their volunteer service that evening included making sure that the sound system was working, greeting attendees and handing out programs, doing special readings during the service and cleaning up the communion cups after the service. Those two were everywhere that night and their service did not go unnoticed.

Even if you are not planning to go to a special service, you can make tonight special in your own way. If you are alone, take a few minutes, turn off the TV, light a candle, pray, go outside and look into the sky, and spend some time considering that night so very long ago. Remember, reflect and rejoice.

And, if you are with family tonight, you can offer a few minutes of quiet. Perhaps just asking those gathered to mute the TV, put down the cookies, and gather into a circle. You could share a few words about how you love and appreciate each one and that, on this special night, you want to take a couple of minutes to thank God for His gifts of love and salvation. Ask them to hold hands in a circle of caring and then you pray a prayer of thanks. It might feel strange and some may giggle or be uncomfortable, but don’t hesitate to say thanks. You never know when someone in your circle needs to be reminded of the reason for the season or be given a chance to reflect on God’s grace.

I have a friend who grew up in a family that did not celebrate Christmas. To them, Christmas involved gifts that they could not afford and decorations that appeared only in the movies. Their first Christmas with their in-laws home was a shock. They not only marveled at the time and trouble that the family went to in decorating the home, preparing holiday foods, and gathering presents; but that the family spent time in prayer. My friend had never felt as loved and welcomed as they did that Christmas Day. And, faith was presented as love, not rules or disobedience or separation from God.

As you gather with those you love, read the Christmas story from the Bible (go to Luke 2 and Matthew 2) and pray out loud. Don’t lose this special chance to grow deeper in your love for God and for each other.

And, as you pray, remember the name given to Christ: Emmanuel – God with us!!

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Boundaries

fencing 3We got a big section of our fencing project completed yesterday – Yay!! For the past couple of months, we have been installing a three-rail, split-rail fence across the front of our property. (Enjoy the pics!!) The new fence establishes our property line, provides some security and it looks really good.

fencing 5 (2)An old saying comes to mind, “good fences make good neighbors.” Fences establish boundaries.

Our new fence is permanent. The posts go deep and there is a good amount of concrete anchoring the posts. Our hope is that it will be across the front of our property for many, many years.

During the holidays, boundaries can be good things. There are some areas of our lives that should be off limits to others. For instance, these questions are rarely appropriate:

  • Is he is “the one?”
  • When do you two plan to give us some grandchildren?
  • How much weight have you gained?
  • The promotion sounds great; what’s your salary now?
  • Have you considered cosmetic surgery?
  • Any idea how much your estate will be worth?
  • Did you ask your barber for that haircut?

See? A few permanent boundaries are good for our relationships!

On the other hand, some temporary fences aren’t a bad idea either. How about these:

  • Waiting for a few months before asking to be house guests at the newlywed’s home.
  • Asking sick friends to stay at least an arm’s length away from the baby.
  • Being sensitive to your friend when your team beats theirs in the “big game.”

I realize that there are some things that we cannot endorse. And, I have a feeling that our friends and family already know our views about those issues. We should never fail to give an answer when asked. But, what about when we have not been asked? What about when the subject won’t come up if we don’t raise it? When in doubt about what to say, send up a silent SOS to the Lord.

This year, let’s respect boundaries that our friends and family have established. You may not think that those boundaries are appropriate, but a little discretion, especially during the holidays, could be good thing!

“Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.” (Proverbs 25:17)

Gift giving? Or, gift receiving?

 

Christmas gift boxAre you done with your Christmas shopping? We think that we have finished ours, but you never really know.

One year, we were with family members when we learned that there were going to be some unexpected-to-us people at the house on Christmas morning, the time when we open gifts. And, so I did something I had never done before – I went Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve at a gas station. It was a challenging task. Think about the options: world atlas, beef jerky, playing cards, tacky t-shirts, coffee mugs….well, you get the point. Let’s just say that the some of the gifts that we gave that year were really creative.

One of my favorite gatherings at our church was a “gently used” gift exchange. We all brought items that were nice, new or nearly new, and that we didn’t want or didn’t need. I brought some beautiful towels that we had gotten as a wedding gift but had never used. They just didn’t match anything else we had and we had plenty of other towels.

I put a ribbon around the towel set and put them on the table set up for the gifts. I looked at the other items – it was a wonderful display. There was a pair of shoes that had been worn once or twice, but looked like they would fit me. Someone else brought a bottle of cologne with a scent that caused her husband to sneeze. What a wonderful idea, to share things from our lives that just didn’t fit us but were great items for someone else. It was a wonderful time of “regifting.”

It’s sad that I haven’t always given my best when it came to gift giving. And the Magi didn’t do so well either. I mean, gold, frankincense and myrrh to a newborn? But, they did not know that they were coming to see a child; they were coming to see the King. Oh, the gifts that the Magi brought were a little odd, perhaps like something we get bought at a gas station or something we know has been “regifted”, but the gift that the Magi received was eternal. The Magi got to meet the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. I have always wondered how their lives were lived afterwards. Did they continue to “follow the star?”

I have too often whined about what I thought God expected of me. Why on earth does the God of all heaven want my tithe, my time, or my labor? And, then I realize that the gifts I bring are only good gifts if they are given with love. And, what I have received in return is nothing like anything I have ever imagined. The gifts God continually gives to me are amazing: love that I do not deserve, peace in times of struggle, joy during heart ache, rest in the storm, joy unspeakable, and so much more.

It’s time for me to pray another “thank you” note!

+++++

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:1-12)