FULLY ALIVE!

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


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Inside Out

We like buying stuff, at least we think we do, and merchants are counting on us to think that. Almost from the crib it’s bred into us. Television commercials, billboards, pop-ups on our cell phones… Our 21st century lives are fast-paced, consumer-oriented experiences inundated with the constant message of BUY, BUY, BUY your way to happiness. The bigger house, the faster car, the trendier clothing, the coolest toys…these are the keys to happiness!

Were this true, then the thrill would not fade. But it always does, and we soon find ourselves back in the same place seeking the next “buy,” one necessary to keep us on a “happiness high.”

Many, thinking they’ve managed to turn a deaf ear to stuff, turn to experiences. Indeed, research backs up this thinking. Researchers from San Francisco State University report that people who spend money on experiences rather than stuff are happier and experience greater feelings of satisfaction thinking their money is better spent. These researchers suggest that the thrill of purchasing things fades but the joy and memories of experiences last a lifetime.

Well, you needn’t look far to find research that rebuffs San Francisco State. You guessed it – eventually the thrill of an experience fades, too, which is why people are constantly seeking the next experience – a higher mountain, a louder party, a better view…

Whether “stuff” or “experience,” the problem is that both find their roots in the external. Not only are merchants counting on us to look externally for a happiness fix, so is Satan.

Satan works from the outside in.

A common scheme of his is to get us caught up in external trappings, feeling that we need that car, have to have that dress, can’t live without that house, are nobodies if we don’t take that trip… He knows that we can only continue on this route so long. Eventually something runs out – our money, our health, our flexibility, our time – whatever will keep us from being able to secure that next happiness fix. We quickly cycle from simple disappointment to devastating ad debilitating depression, no longer able to keep up with the Joneses, no longer “on top,” no longer the pacesetter – the one that everyone else wants to be like. And much like the substance abuser who will do virtually anything to get that next high, we search frantically for our next happiness high, and such begins a downward spiral.

The real problem – seeking happiness instead of joy.

Happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events. While happiness and joy are both wonderful feelings, joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. Happiness tends to be more of what I call a “head thing;” the seat of joy is your heart because unlike Satan who works from the outside in, God begins His work inside and works outward. When you accept Jesus as Savior and Lord of your life, there is a change in your heart – there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11)!

As happiness tends to be tied to the external and wanes when the external changes, your joy is only as stable as the source. Fortunately, the source of true joy is Jesus (John 15:11) and, His joy is stable and lasting; it is our glory (1 Thessalonians 2:20), it is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10) and it is continual (Proverbs 15:15).

Happy New Year; I wish for you unspeakable joy (1 Peter 1:8)!


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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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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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Tis the Season

I love Christmas!

It really is a special time of year.  Already I have watched several of my favorite childhood movies – It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Holiday Inn.  I’ve also joined a few celebrations and parades. As for shopping, I finished that in September.  I’ve put the wreathes on the doors –front and back. That’s pretty much all the decorating we do because we always travel, but I’ve perused my cookbooks and planned to bake some goodies while at our host’s home.  And I am looking forward to our church’s annual Christmas drama.  This year’s performance is entitled When Hope Comes Down and is announced with a subtitle – Come Experience the Hope of the Season!  Our church also offers a Carols and Communion by Candlelight service on Christmas Eve.  Since we will be traveling, I’ve searched the website and consulted friends to find a similar worship opportunity for us in our destination city.  Now, if only we had a little snow, but that is doubtful since we are traveling to a MUCH warmer climate.

The movies, decorations, treats and presents are all wonderful, and snow would be awesome.  But none of those things are what Christmas is about!

Christmas is a time of God showing His great love for us and His call for us to love others.  Just look at the Christmas Story!  No, not Ralphie shooting his eye out with his BB gun, but the second chapters of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew

Luke 2:4-16 (NIV)

“4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,     and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.”

Matthew 2:11 (NIV)

“11 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.”

Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to be born of a virgin in lowly Bethlehem. His birth brought great joy and great hope. His birth was much anticipated – not just by His parents. Angels, shepherds and wise men all knew this was no ordinary birth and no ordinary baby. Hundreds of years before prophets had told of this birth and this baby.

Jesus was born so that one day He could die on the cross paying the price for our sin. It is His birth and death that brought the gift of salvation to us. The Bible tells us that all have sinned (Romans 3:23). Without Jesus, we would die in our sins, but loving us, God sent the great gift of love – Baby Jesus.

But Christmas is not just about God showing His love for us by sending Jesus; it is also about His call for us to love others. God’s love is a gift to us, but we must release it to others. How? Through words and actions.

Understand that this season of joy is not a happy time for some – those stressed by not having money for bills much less presents or turkey dinners, those who grieve their loved ones who are not present to share the season with them, those who feel alone and lonely.   Tis the season for us to release the love that God has given us.

This week, read the Christmas stories in Luke and Matthew. Pray and ask the Lord to guide you during this season to real and practical acts of love for someone who really needs a gesture of God’s love. Thank Him for how He blesses you and positions you to bless others!

A TREAT:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ecIXyYRnoo


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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)