FULLY ALIVE!

Your life will be as bright as the noonday sun. Job 11:17


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Second Sunday of Advent

Gallup, a world-renowned social research lab and polling institute, conducted telephone interviews early November 2015 to gauge spending “intentions” for Christmas. Participants were aged 18 and older, and were sourced from each of the 50 states within the US and the District of Columbia.

The results of the study indicate that Americans planned to spend $830 on average in 2015 for various Christmas-related purposes. Those numbers reflected a considerable increase, about 15% more, from the 2014 spending average. That statistic was the highest since 2007, when the average Christmas spending of Americans was found to be $866. Since then, the said spending had constantly declined over subsequent years. Similar research predicts that spending will be even more this year.

Gallup found in 2015 that 30% all US adults planned to spend $1,000 or more on gifts. One in five Americans planned to spend between $500 and $999, whereas 14% planned to spend between $250 and $499 just for Christmas gifts. Of all those interviewed, 8% of adults claimed not to celebrate Christmas or otherwise did not plan to spend anything on gifts. Another 7% were unsure as to how much they might spend; in other words, they were operating without a plan and might spend more or less. Excluding the numbers of people who planned to not spend anything on Christmas in 2015, the average spending of American adults on Christmas would register an all-time high of around $908.

The United States Census Bureau echoes Gallup’s findings reporting that over the past few years:

  • Americans spent 30.5 billion dollars at retail stores during the Christmas season.
  • Americans spent 40+ billion dollars for Christmas gifts over the Internet.
  • Nearly 500 million dollars were spent on Christmas trees.
  • The United States imported approximately 594 million dollars worth of Christmas tree ornaments (from China alone).
  • A total of 3.4 billion dollars were spent on dolls, toys, and games that were shipped from manufacturers to retailers.
  • Twenty billion pieces of mail passed through the US Postal Service between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Again, similar research predicts that spending will be even more this year.

So?

So, one of the persistent and most effective maneuvers of the world system is to create a false sense of Christmas. There’s a false sense of excitement, a false idea of what is real, a false belief of what is important and a very false sense of purpose. How does this happen? We easily get caught up in the trappings of secular Christmas celebrations – the lights, the food, the shopping, the gifts. And what is wrong with lights, food, shopping and gifts? Nothing…if we keep them in proper perspective and understand that these are not the purpose of Christmas.

What is the purpose of Christmas? It is as simple as Hebrews 12:3a (NKJV) – “Consider Him.”

As you count down the days to Christmas, consider Him, the One who came that you and I might be forgiven our sins and enjoy eternal life (Luke 19:10, Galatians 4:4-5, 2 Corinthians 5:21).


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First Sunday of Advent

According to Bible Gateway, there are 5467 divine promises in the Scriptures. Other sources say there are fewer, and one says there are more than 7000. Regardless the number, be assured, we are a people of promise.

For centuries, God promised and prepared people for the coming of his Son, our only true hope for eternal life. Christmas is the time that we celebrate the fulfillment of the promises God made—that He would send a Savior.

Today marks the beginning of Advent – the season leading up to Christmas. Advent begins four Sundays before December 25. This year Advent spans November 27 through December 24. This is a wonderful time to look back, look inward and look ahead.

What are we looking back to? 1 Peter 1:10-12 helps us understand:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

We look back to remember the thousands of years that God’s people, our ancestors, were anticipating the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, God’s Salvation. Though many foretold the coming, none knew the day nor the hour nor the person nor the true magnitude of the grace to come.

Why are we looking inward?

In addition to being the start of the new church year, Advent is a reminder to prepare our hearts and minds for Jesus’ coming -not His first, but His return. We look inward introspectively, deep into our own hearts and minds, to prepare ourselves to stand before Him. We search for that which separates us from Him and seek His forgiveness and His help that our hearts and minds might be filled with Him and our hands might be about His business.

To what do we look ahead?

We look to His coming again! In the New Testament anticipation of Christ’s return is a constant theme. As followers of Christ we, too, should look forward to His return. We should long for His return – our blessed hope (Titus 2:13), long to see our Savior from heaven – the place of our citizenship (Philippians 3:20) and long to receive our crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award… to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).

I once read that “real” Christians “really” look for His return because He is real, and He really is returning.  Are you looking?


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Meow

If you have followed my blog for any time or read any of the archived entries, you know that I have had a past love/hate (ok, mostly hate) relationship with the squirrels. Well, I made my peace with the squirrels and, as you might have read, extended them grace. Great grace, I would say, since I purchased and had erected a squirrel feeder. Yes, a feeder just for them. One of my friends commented, “You are actually, intentionally feeding the squirrels?!” And I said, “Yes!” They have a feeder and I fill it with corn, seeds and nuts!

Oh, but now it is the cats!

Specifically, it is my neighbor’s cats.

All nine of them.

Yes, nine!

They are ever in my yard and ever after my birds! (For those who don’t know, I also intentionally feed the birds.)

I enjoy watching the birds and hearing them sing. They remind me of the Scriptures and remind me to be calm, to slow down, to enjoy life, to trust my Lord (Matthew 6:25-34).

But those cats! I know that they have only recently killed at least six birds. I saw them torture, tease and torment one. By the time I’d rushed from my kitchen to chase them away, it was too late. I have found piles of feathers and down beneath the feeders, behind the barn and under my car.

I see the birds pecking and searching the grasses beneath the feeders, and I think, “What are you, dumb? Why do you insist on eating on the ground when the feeders are perched high – safe – on posts or hanging from the limbs of the trees? How dumb can you be?”

At the very least, they are slow learners. You would think that they would know by now that the cats are coming; that the cats are not their friends; that the cats are the enemy, prowling, looking to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

And with that thought, it hit me! Sometimes (hmm, too many times), I’m not very smart either; I’m a slow learner. Like the birds I have flirted with the enemy, knowingly placed myself in his path, blindly turned my attention to other matters thinking them more important while ignoring his threats. I’ve assumed myself smarter, faster even, than the enemy.

We need to understand that Satan is real. Satan is powerful. The battle is real. The battle is continuous. There is never a time when he is not on the prowl, watching, waiting, ready to pounce. Though Satan was created as the chief of all angels, God limited his boundaries and his powers (Job 1:9-12). Still, he is wise, cunning, deceiving and always at work – like those cats, stalking, watching for whom He may devour (2 Corinthians 11:4, 1 Peter 5:8). Might this be why Jesus said we must pray daily for deliverance from the evil one (Matthew 6:13)? Hmmm.

Satan is the enemy who disrupts our lives. But guess what; He doesn’t have a chance against Jesus.

POSSIBLE RESOURCES

  1.  How to Have a Meaningful Quiet Time                                                 http://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/how-to-have-a-meaningful-quiet-time-1338122.html
  2. How to Have a Quiet Time                                               http://www.lifeway.com/Article/how-to-have-a-quiet-time
  3. How to Have a Quiet Time – According to Martin Luther                             http://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/advice/faithqa/whats-quiet-time.html

 

ps Those cats don’t have a chance against me!


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Time to Fret…NOT!

According to the National Cancer Institute, “in 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people will die from the disease. The number of new cancer cases will rise to 22 million within the next two decades.” Cancer is no respecter of persons.  “In 2014, an estimated 15,780 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 were diagnosed with cancer and 1,960 died of the disease.”

The New York Times reports that “for three quarters in a row, the growth rate of the economy has hovered around a mere 1 percent. In the last quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016, the economy expanded at feeble annual rates of 0.9 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively. The initial reading for the second quarter of this year, released on Friday, was a disappointing 1.2 percent.”  Profit Confidential writes that there are “more than enough indicators to suggest the US economy will come under serious pressure in 2016.” Wages are falling, US companies increasingly rely on foreign sales, the global economy is anemic and roughly one third of American adults have no emergency savings; about half of Americans could only cover their living expenses for about 90 days which means that if they are not already at their breaking point, they’re only about three months away.

Headlines tell us that the distance “overseas” is not as far as it used to be.  Our eyes are on Russia, China and North Korea.  You cannot flip one page of the papers without noticing alarming terrorist activity in Iraq and Syria and signs of expansion that indicate that terrorism may present on US soil in ways beyond even the horrors that we have already experienced.

Economy in Crisis reminds us that we “import tons of food from third world countries that have much lower standards than we do when it comes to food safety.”  According to their reports, we get seafood from polluted Vietnamese waters and unsafe meats from China.  Add to that the currently unknown (or at least unshared) risks of genetically modified foods and the underfunded, overworked FDA that has resources to inspect only 1-2 percent of food imports.  We cannot be sure of what we are eating much less of the safety of what we are eating.

And then, there is the recent US presidential election.  I am actually less concerned about the final outcome and more worried about what the process from campaign to election says about our country – the polarization, the changing values, the mudslinging, the morality (or lack of) of our leaders and would-be leaders, the violence, the fact that “we” have not overcome but rather are just as divided across race and ethnicity lines as ever.

Time to fret.

Not!

We are commanded in Psalm 37 to fret not.  Specifically, we are told not to fret the evildoers (verse 1) and not to fret the wicked who prosper (verse 7). If we boil it down to the core truth, those are the two things that cause us to fret the most – the evildoers and the appearance that the evildoers are growing, prospering, winning.

Look to 1 John 5:4-5 (ESV) and be reminded, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Fret? No. Believe? Yes!

Appearances can be deceiving and, if our eyes are upon the world rather than upon the Creator of this world, we will fret. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3, ESV); “his eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps” (Job 34:21), and our eyes are to be on Him. Hebrews 12:2a instructs us to keep our eyes on Jesus.

Fret? No!

Believe? Yes!

Trust? Yes!

Rest? Yes!

 


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Words and Friends

Remember when you worked up a sweat pulling weeds, so you drank a Coke which made you feel so happy and gay that you forgot about your chores resulting in a smack on the bottom from your momma?  Well, those words – weed, Coke, gay and smack – all have different meanings nowadays.  That’s what happens with a lot of words.  They don’t mean what they used to.

Even the word friend has taken on new layers and levels of meaning.  For a long time friend has meant a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection or a member of the Religious Society of Friends.  Those have been two long-standing, widely-accepted definitions.  Then along came Facebook and talk about friending and unfriending people, many of whom never really knew each other much less shared any bonds of mutual affection.

But Jesus is our Friend. (John 15:15)  Our true friend.  Our unchanging friend.  Our friend through good times and bad.  Our friend who never walks away.  Our friend who sticks closer than a brother.  Our friend who not only would but did lay down His life for us. (John 15:13)

Jesus is not just a friend; He is our best friend.

He accepts us unconditionally.  We can come to Him just as we are with our sin baggage. (Romans 5:8)

He listens to us.  We can share whatever is on our heart and troubling our minds – doubts, questions, tears, joys.  (1 John 5:14-15)

He is always available, and He never abandons us.  He never sleeps or slumbers (Psalm 121:4) and never takes a break (Matthew 28:20b)

He navigates life with us – ALL of life.  The good, the bad, the ugly.  (Hebrews 13:15 b, Deuteronomy 31:6, 1 Chronicles 28:20)

Isn’t this what we want in a friend – acceptance, listening ear, availability, support and encouragement?

Jesus began calling His disciples friends rather than servants because He had entrusted them with everything He had heard from His Father (John 15:15).  Can we truthfully say that we are His friends? Do we trust Him as he has entrusted us?  An Our Daily Bread author asked, “Do we listen to Him? Or do we only want Him to listen to us? Do we want to know what’s on His heart? Or do we only want to tell Him what’s on ours?”

Friendship is a two-way street.  To be a friend of Jesus, we need to accept Him (as our personal Savior and Lord), listen to Him (hear what He wants us to know and do), be available (submit and surrender to His will), support and encourage (the building of His kingdom by sharing His Gospel to bring others into friendship with Him).

As a child my parents used to tell us that “to have a friend you must be a friend” – their variation of Proverbs 18:24.  Like about 99% of what my parents taught us, that is true.  To have Jesus as our friend, we must be His.  And what a friend we have in Jesus!

You might enjoy this history of the hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and these renditions of the song:

 

 

 


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God is Faithful

I read somewhere that someone once counted all the promises in the Bible and came up with an astonishing figure of almost 7500.  Even more amazing than the number is that as children of God and servants of His kingdom, we can claim those promises even today.

I have discovered and rediscovered, just this week even, that there are times the only hope to keep you going will be in something God has declared in His Word – His promises to never leave you (Deuteronomy 31:6), to supply every need (Philippians 4:19), to establish and guard you (2 Thessalonians 3:3), to strengthen and uphold you (Isaiah 41:10), to complete the work that He began in you (Philippians 1:6), to never change (Malachi 3:6), to be faithful (Deuteronomy 7:8-9, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, Matthew 24:35).

Even if (when) we are faithless, He remains faithful! (2 Timothy 2:13)

7500+ promises. Surely there is one for you!

LISTEN: “He’s Been Faithful”                                                              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6etlqdy5uo&list=RDg6etlqdy5uo#t=0


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Grace for Squirrels

Yes, the squirrels, again.  We are still at war.  Or at least we were until this afternoon.  Here’s what happened.

During travels to the beach last week we stopped for a waterfront picnic and a little shopping in one of the small communities between our home and the beach.  I found something called a “Soda Bottle Birdfeeder” and had to have it.  Really.  I couldn’t wait to return home to “install” it – especially since it required me to drink a soda before I could use the bottle.  (A soda is a very rare treat for me these days.)

Anyway, I guzzled a Sprite thinking the green bottle would be ideal.  After washing and drying the bottle, I inserted the hanger, filled the bottle with birdseed, attached the spigot-like piece that would permit small birds to perch and feed and promptly suspended the feeder from an iron hook that hung over a branch of a tree in my backyard. The birds seemed to immediately find the new feeder and began devouring the seed. Joy – for me and the birds.

I marveled at the birds and new feeder for a day before noticing that it appeared to be hanging somewhat lopsided. A closer inspection revealed the handiwork of a squirrel. Unable to cling to the iron hook and unable to reach the “spigot,” a squirrel had apparently hung upside down from a nearby branch and chewed a hole into my “soda bottle feeder. Just a few more nibbles would have caused it to tumble to the ground had I not noticed in time! I bought the feeder because I knew the squirrels would not be able to reach the “spigot” and would not be able to grasp the hook; it never occurred to me that they would figure out how to chew holes into the bottle.

To say that I was livid would be an understatement! The squirrels had already overtaken the other feeders that I have in my back and side yards; “Surely,” I thought, “they will let the birds enjoy this one.” Even as I was inspecting their handiwork, they were munching away at the seed in my other feeders. So, I took the feeders down! Every one of them! Then I sat on my back porch and watched for hours how they (and, sadly, the birds) came to the branches and the posts in search of seed to find none. “Let ‘em starve,” I told my mom.

I wish that I could have captured the ruckus. It seems that every bird and every squirrel in the town descended upon my backyard. They screeched, grunted, cawed and made sounds imaginable and unimaginable. They flew away or scrambled through the trees only to return again and again to the sites where the feeders had stood or hung. I felt badly for the birds, but those squirrels! THOSE SQUIRRELS!!!! I just want to enjoy the birds. I don’t want greedy little squirrels eating up all of my seed – MY SEED!

And that is when the Holy Spirit spoke so clearly to me. “Have you no grace? Yes, even for the squirrels?” I thought, “Seriously?” And His Spirit said, “Yes. Seriously.”

Now let me go ahead and tell you that it wasn’t really about the squirrels but about me and my propensities for showing (or not) grace to others.

Max Lucado describes grace as “God’s best idea. His decision to ravage a people by love, to rescue passionately, and to restore justly.” He says that nothing rivals it and that “when grace happens, generosity happens – unsquashable, eye-popping bigheartedness.”

If you’ve followed my blog for any time, you’ve probably read about my love for giving gifts. But if I am honest, I choose to whom I give. In that instance with the squirrel, it was clear that the same applies to grace. I choose to whom I extend grace. And I immediately wondered, “What if God chose to whom He extended grace? Would he extend it to me?”

 

Ephesians is clear that our behavior as Christians is to be permeated by kindness, characterized by compassion and evidenced by consideration of others. We grieve (1 Corinthians 12:26) and rejoice with others. We forgive (Ephesians 4:32). We love (John 13:34-35). We extend grace just as we have received grace (1 Peter 4:10).

So, I fed the squirrels.

Squirrel Feeder