Preparation

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I lifted my nose appreciatively as the scent of apples wafted through the house, creating images of years gone by. It was the season for apples, one I always looked forward to. In the town where I grew up, we had one large old apple tree and several smaller ones in our backyard. They were the best red apples anywhere! I still remember their sweet crisp taste, although the trees are now long gone.

Gathering and preparing those apples was a family affair. We separated the older apples that the bees, birds, and other insects were enjoying and brought the others in to wash and pare, setting some aside for eating as they were. A lot of preparation went into canning the applesauce, sliced apples, apple butter, and apple jelly, not to mention apple pie, cake, or other goodies. Preparing ahead of time made the work go easier and the results were appreciated during the months ahead.

Preparation is a part of life. Sometimes we are called to prepare things in advance of events, like setting the table for a meal or arranging items for a program. I remember the story of John the Baptist, as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.” * John’s words got the people who heard them ready to receive the words of Jesus.

While I have learned to “go with the flow” when needed and have enjoyed occasional spontaneous activities, preparation is important for daily routines as well as long-term future needs, goals, or hopes. It reminds me of the movie trailers released as previews to upcoming shows. Haven’t we all at some time, upon seeing a preview or hearing of the anticipated release date, said, “Oh, I’d like to see that!” The movie previews put the word out that something good is coming that we just don’t want to miss!

How can we prepare ourselves to receive the words God has for us? It has been easy in times past to let my good intentions slide away or my quiet time with God to be relegated to a quick, sometimes desperate, “Oh God, please help me today” as I rush out the door. I don’t want to miss the good things coming or the encouragement offered in a mad rush to the next thing.

Like those apple gathering seasons, to receive the full benefit and goodness God has in store for me I have to prepare to receive Him. Times for quiet, for worship, for study, for listening, for fellowship, for obedience, or for action must be intentional. Discovering what these are for us and making them a priority is part of the preparation.

I hope that we can pause to ask ourselves regularly, “How am I preparing to receive God and the blessings, love, guidance, and support He has for me each day?”

*Mark 1:2

Responsible Freedom

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I’ll be able to do whatever I want, whenever I want.” What budding young adult upon first striking out on their own, or dreaming of doing so, has not had that thought or something very similar? Children too, fret at times under the authority of their parents or others.

I can remember similar thoughts of my own and I see in my mind’s eye that eighteen-year-old me as she headed off to college. Admittedly, there was a little anxiety as well. Though I was “on my own” I did not leave all behind nor dump what had been instilled in me for the previous eighteen years. I brought with me my faith, my values, life’s teachings, and lessons learned from my parents and others. I realized that with this newfound freedom, there was also great responsibility.

As unfinished and developing human beings, we allow our thoughts, emotions, and actions to drive how we react to others. The familiar, “He (or she) hit me first” of children is echoed in many forms for we adults. We justify ourselves by placing blame and by not recognizing our own responsibilities within our freedom to choose.

Paul said this well in his first letter to the church in Corinth. I like that my Bible titles this section as “The Believer’s Freedom.” He said, “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. *

Wow! That was pretty radical and certainly not something usually promoted, including today. Two words that stood out for me in Paul’s statement are “beneficial” and “constructive.” Not everything that we have the freedom to do results in good. Not everything we have the freedom to do serves a useful purpose or builds up others. While this freedom may be related to written laws or practices it is much more than that. This freedom has to do with personal character and integrity. It has everything to do with personal faith and commitment. Tied into all of this is compassion, love and care for others, and mutual respect.

That doesn’t make it right” is a common response to the child’s declaration of “He (or she) hit me first!” What are our thoughts, our reactions, or our words to everyday situations? Do they reflect responsible freedom? Do they shine Christ’s light? This is a challenge for us all, I think.

I pray that I will better walk the path of responsible freedom. May we all seek and follow that path, ever striving for that which is beneficial and that which is constructive. All praise and thanks to God who draws His children closer to Him.

*1 Corinthians 10:23-24

Birthday Party

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I know it’s around here somewhere
Where could it be

Please read the note again for us
So we can check it out

We received the welcome message
Bright and clear for us to see

Made the preparations
And packed our many bags

The trip was long but we’ve arrived
Gifts ready and in hand

Where is that birthday party
The mother and the child

Oh look oh look do you see it now
The star that marks the spot

We brought these birthday presents
Chosen for a royal life

Giving of our best to you
New Prince of peace and King of kings

Celebrate

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That’s wonderful! Yay! Great! Congratulations! I’m so happy for you! You did it!

We enjoy celebrating those noteworthy moments in life. Whether it be the result of long hard work, another year of life, a special anniversary, or a new life born… times of celebration express joy and excitement.

I remember the celebration of my mother’s 80th birthday. Friends and family worked to make this a special surprise. The church secretary asked my mom to stop by to pick up something and the plot was sprung! What joy shone on my mother’s face as gathered family and friends all wished her a happy birthday and expressed our love for her, to one who was so giving and compassionate. I treasure that memory.

I celebrate too, the quiet satisfaction of accomplishment… perhaps a completed task for work, a finished piece of writing, simple tasks around the house, or doing something for family or friends. These daily celebrations are as important as the larger occasions and are a source of contentment and affirmation of life.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the quiet of the night was awakened to joy-filled words of celebration! “Glory to God in the highest heaven,” the host of angels proclaimed, “and on earth peace…” When the shepherds found this newborn Son of God, they celebrated by spreading the news to all who would hear. * Can you imagine the amazement and excitement in the little town that night?

There were other celebrations in the coming days as well, the praise of Simeon when he recognized Christ and the thanks of Anna who shared the news of his birth to all of those who had been waiting for that day. *

When the wise men arrived at the home of the child Jesus, they celebrated through worship and through the giving of gifts. They too had been searching for the child who had been born to the world. *

Something which is especially meaningful to me is Mary’s quiet and strong celebration, simply stated in Luke 2:19. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Her thoughts must have gone back to the earlier encounter with her cousin Elizabeth as they celebrated together. * After months of carrying this child, now came further affirmation. Imagine her awe and joy, and perhaps also the fear or questions about what this motherhood would bring in days and years to come. All the pain, discomfort, whispers, and exhaustion must have faded as she looked upon her son and saw the face of God.

As we travel through life, may we treasure those moments of celebrations. May we ponder deeply and long the greatest gift of all, Emmanuel, God with us!

* Luke 2:13-30 (Shepherd and Angels); Luke 2:25-28 (Simeon); Luke 2:36-38 (Anna);
Matthew 2:10-11 (Wise Men); Luke 1:39-56 (Elizabeth and Mary)

Rest Stop

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Blink, flash… rumble-rumble. I paused to watch the display in the night sky. Cool air, smelling of rain, drove away the last of the day’s heat. Watching from a distance provided a larger perspective and I considered the power of the storm and the wideness of the heavens. As the storm drew further away, I drew a deep breath and the rain-washed quiet began to draw from mind and body the day’s lingering roar. It was good to stop and rest.

When I find myself caught up in the rush and stress of life, taking time to pause helps both mentally and physically. Can’t you just imagine that “ahh” as you sink into a favorite chair, slide into bed, or arrive home after a long and busy day?! Wherever our “comfort spot” may be, it is a place to rest our soul and calm our spirit for a time.

When the crowd was pressing around Jesus, he too needed a time of rest. For those who wanted to follow him, Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” * Like us in our daily lives, He too had to seek those special times and places alone and in prayer with his Father, God… places of rest and places where daily needs could be met. The book of Mark tells us that the apostles, the followers or disciples of Jesus, had the same challenge and had to be intentional about taking time to rest. After they had shared with Jesus all that they had been doing and teaching, he reminded them of the importance of ‘stepping out of the stream’ for a while. “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while,” Jesus said, “For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So, they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.” *

I think sometimes we don’t give ourselves permission to step aside and rest. We are driven by so many things… I pray for you “rest stops” along life’s way. Times of comfort with friends and family. Quiet reflection with God who loves you. A welcome place to pause, stretch your legs, and relax before continuing on.

*Matthew 8:20 & Luke 9:58; Mark 6:31-32

Get Help!

Get Help

As I was looking over a website, getting familiar with a new platform for work, a handy little button at the bottom of the screen caught my attention. “Get Help,” it read. Definitely an option I needed to remember!!

I have often been very appreciative when guidance was available to instruct me in how to do something… and frustrated when promised or hoped for assistance was unavailable, unclear, or incomplete. Patience has been something I have worked on!

There is within us a healthy desire to learn to do things for ourselves, but I, like many of us, have sometimes struggled when I realized that I needed help. How many of us have encountered a determined child attempting to do something “by myself”?! My father told me once that he had wanted to teach me to be conservative and independent, and perhaps had overdone both!

Whether it is a new experience or endeavor, a life crisis, or some other situation… asking for or seeking help can make us feel vulnerable, yet it also binds us and builds stronger relationships. I’m reminded that God formed us for companionship, to be together and to work together. In the book of Genesis, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” * I am so glad to have helpers and teachers, those who are patient encouragers.

The book of Psalms is full of references to “help” and reminds me of our ultimate and greatest help. “The Lord is with me; he is my helper.” * In my “Get Help” moments, I can be assured of His presence as I seek a calm spirit and surer direction. What a relief to know that we can lay aside our insecurities, doubts, hang-ups, and “by myself” attitudes and push that “Get Help” button! Actually… I think that I need to just leave that particular window open all the time, don’t you?!

*Genesis 2:18, Psalm 118:7a

He Comes!

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Anticipation
Hurry hurry
He’s coming now!

Excitement
Hear the shouts
See the crowd

Honor
Palm branches laid
Robes spread before him

See
He comes to you
Righteous victorious

Lowly
Upon a donkey
Only a colt

Ruler
Giver of life
Bringer of hope

Rejoice
Your King comes
Hosanna, save

 

*John 12:12-19, Zechariah 9:9

Treasure

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“Do you want to see my treasure box?!” exclaimed the young child proudly. Eager hands removed the top and began to tell the stories of things they held dear. There was the dried flower, especially picked for mom, and a sparkly stone shining all colors of the rainbow in the sunshine. There’s my heart, drawn and colored with “I love you” carefully written in crayon. Here’s a family photo and a chew toy of a much-loved pet now gone…

As a child, I had my own treasure box too, filled with small cherished items that brought happy memories as well as some sadder ones of loved ones now gone. The thought comes to me that now my home is like a treasure box, full of memories and of current life.

The wise men brought their treasure chests too and offered gifts for a king, the baby Jesus. Jesus’ mother, Mary, treasured the words the shepherds shared, and she treasured what she saw and heard in her growing son.

I think of the things I treasure now and how those things we value grow and change with us. Have you ever kept something, only to pull it back out weeks or years later and think, “Why in the world did I keep this?!”

I think of how God wants us to treasure His words, His wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Life is truly a journey to do just that and to share it with others! Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, said that God “has shone in our hearts to give…” He went on to say that “we have this treasure in clay jars” so that others will clearly see that “this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” Always, we point to Christ Jesus, to God who is our greatest treasure.

My prayer for us is that as we pull out our own treasure box, we will consider what is in it and what is of true and lasting value. That we will see in our everydayness, or plain clay jars, the treasure we are to God and the gifts He gives us. That we will offer to the King all that we have, and so give freely and fully. I know for myself that it’s easier to do this some days than others. May we join in the adventure.

*Luke 2:16-19, 51; Matthew 2:11, 2 Corinthians 4:7

 

One More Time!

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“One more time!” What thoughts that simple phrase conjures! The enthusiastic glee of a child in a game they are enjoying. The determined efforts of someone giving their last surge of energy. The tired thoughts of a worker nearing the end of a long shift. The culmination of repeated practice to perfect some skill or project.

One more and one more again. Just one more minute… until a job is completed, until it is time to begin, until we can relax, until we get some news. One more chance… to say needed words, to see a loved one, to say good-bye, to explain or to share.

Jesus was so faithful in his call to others, receiving all who came in faith and explaining once more to his disciples what it meant to follow him and what was to come. He persevered in prayer, “once more he went away and prayed the same thing.” * Paul wrote to the church of the Thessalonians saying, “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.” …More faith and more love for each other! So many “mores” we read about in the Bible!

I’m thankful for my “mores,” for opportunities to be with others, for times of worship and learning, for quiet times, for growing years. And when the “mores” that I seek are no longer available, I am glad for the comfort of others, the joy in God, and the knowledge of “mores” to come. May God grant us hope, perseverance, and peace and may we seek Him in all our “mores.”

*Mark 14:39, 2 Thessalonians 1:3 NIV

WALK

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“Wait momma! Slow down!” Growing up just off the main street businesses in our small town, we often walked a block or two when we needed to go to the store or post office. I remember well my brothers and I trotting down the sidewalk with our mother. She happily strode down the sidewalk with all of us hurrying after her.

We also enjoyed walking on the trails at a nearby state park or on family camping trips. Walking is a good way to get outside, enjoy the fresh air, and stretch our legs. It provides opportunity for time alone to enjoy the quiet or to contemplate life as well as time for companionship and conversation with friends or family.

I think of the time Jesus spent with his disciples and other followers. Living in Capernaum, he walked along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and he often walked to quiet out-of-the-way places to pray. As they traveled, can you just imagine them walking through those hills and valleys and stopping in small towns and villages along the way? *

More than just physically walking, “walk” is often used to describe “living.” Walk in his ways. Walk with integrity. Walk in darkness. Walk in the light. Walk in wisdom…

As we “walk,” we choose where we will go and who we will follow. Our walk reflects our values and our character. We choose to walk with others or to walk alone.

I think about my own life, where I have walked in the past and the path I am now following. My prayers are that I will walk faithfully, doing my best to show by that walk the great love of our Creator God. Wherever we find ourselves, may our walk be a daily reflection of Him.


* Matthew 4:12-13, 18; Luke 6:12