FULLY ALIVE!

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


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The Perfect Gift

Tis the season.

To be jolly, the song says, but to go shopping for gifts is what the merchants (and my junk email box) say.  Each morning I awaken to find  announcements of one more sale, 20 additional percent off, another great buy and a last opportunity for a deal not to be missed.

Tis also the season to be stressed as you search for the “perfect” gift.

The perfect gift?  You know, the one that best expresses the giver while meeting a need or desire of the receiver.

It can’t be one sided.  Both the needs of the giver and the receiver must be met for the gift to be perfect.

My Sweetie opened his Christmas present last night.  Yeah, Christmas is six days away.  This seems to happen to us every year.  Sometimes it has been because I couldn’t wait to give him the gift.  Other times it has been because of schedules, travel and just other things that came up.  This year, it was because I had a perfect gift for him.

Now let me just say, it wasn’t what many would think a romantic gift.  It wasn’t a super unique gift.  It wasn’t an extravagant gift.  It was something simple.  But it was perfect because it expressed the giver (me) – my attention to his needs, my desire to see him happy, my recognition of his practical nature…  The gift also met a desire of the receiver (my Sweetie).

The gift?  His favorite hair tonic.

When you stop laughing, keep reading.

He has used this certain hair tonic ALL of his adult life.  His dad used this hair tonic.  This tonic has become increasingly difficult to find.  A bottle that used to sell for $8 when I first met him, was up for bid on ebay.  Bidding began at $35 per bottle!  He said a bottle used to sell for a couple of dollars!

Well, I had found a couple of bottles back in July when he was just about out.  We had visited stores, scoured the Internet and contacted the manufacturer.  I even visited a little country drug store and had the clerk contact their vendor.  It seems that those two bottles (found on Amazon) were going to be the last two bottles on this earth.  And then, I decided to search ebay one more time.  I found someone who had a few bottles at a ridiculous price.  I emailed this seller.  We went back and forth.  I made an offer to buy a case if he would give me a reasonable price.  I begged, pleaded and propositioned.  And, finally, we struck a deal – for 10 bottles!

So that was the gift.  A year’s supply of his favorite hair tonic.

So why did he open the gift early – and where am I going with this story?

First, two weeks ago he told me the two bottles from July were just about empty.  He asked if I thought I could find him some more tonic.  I laughed to myself knowing that I was sitting on a case, had been since July.  Last evening he asked if I had found any tonic because he probably had a day’s worth.  I said, “No.”  He asked, “Did you forget?”  I said, “I didn’t look.”  He seemed confused by this response.  (Probably because this would be the first time I didn’t respond to a request.  Smile.)  After a few minutes of silence, he restated his plight; he was almost out.  He had turned the bottles upright to drain every drop.  He was sure I, the Internet Queen, would have found some by now.

So, I gave him the nicely wrapped Christmas present.

And when he opened it, you would have thought it was keys to a new Ford F250 (his favorite truck)!

It was the perfect gift.  It expressed my love; it met his need and desire!

Where am I going with this long story?

My gift wasn’t really PERFECT.  But there is a perfect gift given by a perfect God.

God gave His Son, Jesus, as gift to us, a sinful world.

Jesus, perfectly expresses the giver, God.  “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…”  (Hebrews 1:3, NIV)  “He is the image of the invisible God…” (Colossians 1:15 ESV)

This gift, Jesus, perfectly meets our need.  “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19 ESV)  “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…”  (2 Peter 1:3 ESV)

In fact, our deepest needs can only be met through Jesus.  He is the hope that will not disappoint and the hope that is renewed every day –  “His compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Jesus is the perfect gift given by our perfect, loving God.

Have you unwrapped His gift?

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The WhatIfs

Shel Silverstein, long one of my favorite poets, penned a poem entitled WhatIf.  It begins, “Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear and pranced and partied all night long and sang their same old Whatif song:  Whatif I’m dumb in school?  Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?  Whatif I get beat up?  Whatif there’s poison in my cup?  Whatif I start to cry?  Whatif I get sick and die?”

Instead of breaking up the late night party, we join in, serve refreshment, turn the music up and add our own lyrics!

Our grownup version tends to go more like this:  Whatif I can’t pay my rent?  Whatif all my money’s spent?  What if my spouse decides to leave?  What if my children begin to deceive?  What if the doctor gives me a cancer scare?  What if I lose all my hair?  What if my house is taken away?  What if I die and this is my last day…?  What if my child is born with defect?  What if my teenagers are in a wreck?  And so on…you know how it goes.

I challenge you to change the tune completely and consider these lyrics:  What if God is, as His Word says, in control?  What if God is omniscient?  What if God is omnipresent and is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9)?  What if God has a plan for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope (Jeremiah 29:11)?  What if with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)?  What if God’s Word does not return empty but, rather, accomplishes His purpose and succeeds in the thing for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:8-11)?  What if in His hand is the life of everything (Job 12:10)?  What if God is faithful and will provide (1 Corinthians 10:13)?  What if nothing is too hard for Him (Jeremiah 32:27) and what if you can do all things through Him (Philippians 4:13)?  What if God will strengthen, help and uphold you (Isaiah 41:10)?  What if all that seems to be meant evil towards you God means it for good (Genesis 50:20)?

What if you stopped worrying and started trusting?

Silverstein ends his poem, “Everything seems well, and then the nighttime Whatifs strike again!”

When the Whatifs strike you, strike back with the Word of your Lord!  Stop worrying.  Start trusting.

THIS WEEK take captive every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5) including your whatifs!  Replace each with a promise from God.

The Whatifs:  A Silverstein Poem   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plxOibb0L0s


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Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

This weekend we celebrated – my Sweetie’s birthday and our anniversary!  Both events occur on the same day because our first date was many years ago on his birthday.  Being well past needing or even wanting more stuff, we endeavor to create and share experiences as our gifts to each other.  One of my gifts to him was a visit to the symphony.

Our state Symphony was paying a tribute to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, so the evening promised to be one filled with good music.  It did not disappoint.  Byron Stripling, trumpet virtuoso, is known as an extroverted performer who brings the audience into his music exuding happiness through his trumpet and his vocals which are quite reminiscent of Louis Armstrong yet also his own.  Stripling filled the gaps between sets with funny stories, clean jokes and a poem that spoke to my heart.  He called it Wishes, and it went something like this:

“I wish I had a telescope to scan the starry skies, but since I have no telescope, I’m glad I have two eyes.  I wish I had a kitchen all run by push-button commands, but while that kitchen’s still a dream, I’m glad I have two hands.  I wish I had a new Rolls Royce – to my friends that’d be a treat, but until that new car comes along, I’m glad I have two feet.  Two eyes to look to God above…two hands to clasp in prayer…two feet to carry me to church…wow, I’m a millionaire!”

THIS WEEK ponder this quote from Charles Stanley then take inventory of all the ways you are a millionaire: “When we limit ourselves to human ability and resources, we will find that both run out very quickly. When we instead trust in the Lord’s ability to work on our behalf, we tap into an infinite supply that cannot be measured or depleted. God’s resources are 100 percent recession-proof.” He has promised to supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19).


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Peace on Earth (Part 2)

NOTE:  We’re vacationing, so Monday’s post is early!

There’s a saying that’s been going around, “Every family has that one crazy relative. If you don’t know who it is, it’s probably you.”

Here’s another saying, “Everywhere you go, there you are.”

What do these two sayings have to do with peace on earth? Well, in our last post we discussed that before there can be peace on earth we must individually have peace within, so without a lot of extra words, let me just jump to the point. Might you be the one robbing yourself of peace? “No way!” you think. Well, let me just offer you three more quotes.

“Nobody screws me up better than me.”

“Who needs enemies when you’ve got yourself.”

“Make sure your worst enemy is not living between your two ears.”

Again, are you robbing yourself of peace?

There are events and seasons that seem to thrust us into deep self-evaluation and self-reflection, and Christmas is one of them. This can be a good thing – pausing to consider the love of family and friends, the blessing of health, the satisfaction of a prosperous and fun career, the joy of children… It can also be not so good – dwelling on the loss of loved ones, failing health, the stress of unemployment or job disappointment, the fear of miscarriage…

The latter (and similar) thoughts can quickly launch one into a depression that robs one of personal peace.

What are you telling yourself? What script do you keep running through your head? “I’m no good.” “I’m all alone.” “I can’t make it.” “Nobody loves me.” “I’ll never – have children, get that job, leave this town, be able to afford a house, get married, be in love, go to college, be healthy again…”

It’s time to replace those thoughts. It does no good to simply try to just stop them; you have to replace them. Craft some new thinking based on Philippians 4:8 (NKJV): “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

What does this mean? What does it look like? Sound like? The Message translates the same text: “…filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from Me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”

Do that, and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7b NKJV)

THIS WEEK: Make note of the thoughts that rob you of peace. Write substitute thoughts then practice using them. (e.g. THOUGHT: I’m just no good – always have been, always will be! SUBSTITUTE THOUGHT: In Christ I am a new creature – old things, thoughts, ways and deeds are passed away! (2 Corinthians 5:17)


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Peace on Earth (Part 1)

WATCH:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8OYvHPpGDY

Before we can have peace on earth, we must have peace within our communities. Before we can have peace within our communities, we must have peace within our families. Before we can have peace within our families, we must have peace within.

Ourselves!

Unfortunately, instead of Christmas being a time of peace, it is a time of great stress for many. Overfilled calendars and planners, strapped budgets and strained family relationships often come along with the holidays. How, then, do we overcome the accompanying anxiety and dwell in peace? Let’s look to Paul.

While confined in a Roman prison he penned the text of Philippians proclaiming his contentment in whatever situations (including prison) he found himself (4:11).   How? How could he be content, at peace in prison? His “secret” comes in the preceding text, verses 4-8.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7 NKJV)

There are three key words in this text, and they provide us somewhat of a formula for peace. Prayer. Supplication. Thanksgiving.

In this stressful season and throughout life, pray. About what? Everything! Don’t get caught up in the theology of prayer – what it is, what it isn’t, how to, how not to… Prayer is talking to God. Whatever is robbing you of your peace, talk to Him about it.

Supplication is the fifty cent word for asking earnestly and humbly. Praying is not about laying out a list of requests before God. (Do not confuse God with Santa Claus.) In prayer we come humbly before our Father, and in that relationship of child and Father, we share with Him all that is on our hearts – our frustrations, our confusion, our fears, our angst, our sorrows our disappointments… Whatever you are feeling, tell Him.

Thanksgiving is synonymous with gratitude. “But God hasn’t answered my prayer yet,” you might say. Thank Him for loving you, for hearing you and for accepting the burden that is troubling you. Psalm 55:22 tells us to cast our burden on the Lord and, in the words of Charles Tindley’s 1916 hymn, leave them there! That alone is enough to be thankful for – not only can we give our troubles to the Lord, we are commanded to do so, and He will take care of each one. What else can you be thankful for? Past faithfulness. God’s love. God’s grace. Salvation! Thank Him when you pray expecting that He will answer!

In 1955 Jill Jackson Miller and her husband, Sy Miller, penned another familiar song that shares a powerful lesson for us. The opening line is “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Pray in earnest humility thanking God for what He can do, has done and will do – then let peace begin with you!

THIS WEEK: What action can you take each day this week to bring peace to someone or to some situation?

Leave It There:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyxQZQjLaC4

Let There Be Peace on Earth:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXFeeJ6LSMc


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Cleaning Closets

Deciding is half the battle “they” say.  You know, the infamous, elusive, unidentified “they.”  I’m hoping “they” are right with this one because I have decided to clean my main closet.  It’s huge, and it is a mess – partly because for a few days I haven’t followed my own rule of putting things back where they came from and partly because I really need to get rid of some stuff!  Maybe I should start with the shoes I bought for student teaching…  Hmm, that was more than 35 years ago.  Perhaps I will get rid of the dress I wore when I first met my in-laws.  That might be a good choice since (1) I am divorced, (2) I weighed a LOT less then and (3) it’s almost 20 years old!  This could be a good time to toss the ugly Christmas sweaters – the ones that were so popular in the 70s and 80s.

Are you getting a picture?  We often hold onto things much longer than we should – and not just dresses and shoes.  How about attitudes, thoughts, grudges, wounds?

Ephesians 4:22-23 (AMP) says, “Strip yourselves of your former nature.… And be constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind [having a fresh mental and spiritual attitude].”  In other words, let the past go.  Clean the junk out of the closets of your mind and heart.  Let go those thoughts of what you think you lost, how things might have been, what you’ve given up, ways that you were mistreated, times you felt overlooked or undervalued.

It helps to have someone help me clean the closet.  I tell stories about my stuff, we laugh, and we bag it or box it and take it out. Then we forget it!  Kinda like Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV) which tells us to “Forget the former things” and to not “dwell on the past” because the Lord is doing a new thing.   You must clean out the old to make room for the new.

Ponder the following Scriptures and the contents of your heart’s closet this week:

Monday:   Proverbs 4:25-27 (ESV)

Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

Question for reflection: What is calling you to look back and keeps you from looking forward?

Tuesday: Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Question for Reflection:  What thoughts do you need to swap – untrue for true, dishonorable for honorable, unjust for just, unclean for pure, etc.?

Wednesday: Hebrews 12:1 (ESV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…

Question for Reflection: What are you holding on to (thoughts, habits, relationships, etc.) that not only “weighs you down,” but impacts your testimony and witness before those you encounter?

Thursday: Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…”

Question for Reflection: How many treasures can you find in your closet that might better serve someone else? Can you take them to a neighbor? To Goodwill? To a clothes closet? Other?

Friday: Isaiah 12:2 (ESV)

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

Question for Reflection:  Of what (or whom) are you afraid? What (or whom) are you holding on to rather than trusting God?

PRAY: Heavenly Father, I love You. I know that You love me. I trust You, and I trust the plan that You have for me and my life. Search my heart and my mind. Show me those things, those people, those feelings, those memories and those attitudes that I need to let go of. Sweep clean the corners of my mind and the recesses of my heart and fill each with what will honor and glorify You. I claim the peace and joy of an uncluttered mind and a clean heart. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen.

SHARE: Post comments to share your reflections and reactions from this week’s post. (One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. One woman’s sharing is another woman’s blessing!)


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Too Much or Not Enough

I was reading the notes captured from an interview between Dolly Parton and Allison Glock (for Southern Living Magazine).  Dolly was summarizing 10 lessons she had learned while filming Steel Magnolias.  Lesson #7 was “There is No Such Thing as Too Much.”  Specifically Dolly was quoted as saying that this applied to “hair, jewelry, laughter, heel height, cake, cleavage, pulled pork, emotion, faith, persistence and revelation. Contrary to the old adage, less is actually less and more is divine.”

Well, there are a few of these that I might agree with.  You know I really like jewelry – and the bigger, bolder, quirkier and unique, the better.  And in the words of Emeril, “Pork fat rules!” But, it seems that we have become a society where “too much” is the norm.

Too much TV.  Remember when it used to sign off at midnight?  Now there’s programming for every hour of the day.  Nielsen says the average American watches about 33 hours of television each week.  Doesn’t sound like much to you?  Well, that’s about 71.5 days/year just watching television.  And remember, this is average.  Some people watch much more.  Too much?

Too much food. (Am I really typing this?)  The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) says we suffer from “portion distortion.”  In the same report, the NHLBI says that 20 years ago the average fast food cheeseburger contained 333 calories; today it offers a whopping 590 calories.  Sodas came in cute 6.5 ounce bottles (remember those cute little green Coke bottles).  Today single-serve sodas commonly offer 20 ounces and 250 calories.  Too much?

Too much cell phone.  I am amazed every day.  By who has a cell phone.  Like Kindergarteners.  Really?  By how often people talk on their cell phones. (Nielsen says 34 hours each week – that’s a week more than we watch television!)  By where people talk on their cell phones.  My doctor’s office has a sign that reads:  You may be denied service if you are talking on your cell phone.  Really?  There has to be a reason why he posted that sign.  Too much!

Too much shopping.  Based on an analysis of Federal Reserve statistics and other government data, the average household owes $7,281 on their cards; looking only at indebted households, the average outstanding balance rises to $15,607. Too much!

Too much stuff.  A UCLA study says, “The rise of Costco and similar stores has prompted so much stockpiling — you never know when you’ll need 600 Dixie cups or a 50-pound bag of sugar — that three out of four garages are too full to hold cars.” (While watching those 33 hours of television did you by any chance watch the popular show, Hoarders?)  Too much!

I could continue, but it would probably be too much for you to really take in, so I will offer just one more.

The American Bible Society reports that 88% of American households own a Bible, 80% think the Bible is sacred, 61% wish they read the Bible more and 37% of those households actually read the Bible. Not enough.

So how much of what should you be doing?  I cannot say for you, but I will suggest you assess your own habits and make adjustments asking yourself just two questions – Too much?  Not enough?

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:25 ESV)

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity… (Titus 2:7 ESV)

Let your moderation be known unto all men. (Philippians 4:5 KJV)

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8 ESV)

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:10-11 ESV)

But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. (Matthew 22:29 ESV)