Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Gift For Jesus

Photo image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:6-8, ESV (emphasis mine)

 As I was rushing from store to store recently trying to find just the right gifts for family and friends I had a thought.  What would Jesus want me to give Him for Christmas?  What present can I bring to Him?  I asked my son Brandon what he thought Jesus would want and he said right off the bat, “Our hearts mom.”  Well duh.  That is exactly right—he wants our hearts.  Our all and all.  When Jesus called his disciples He simply asked them to follow Him.  That is what being a Christian is all about; walking with Him and following where He leads.  Giving Him our hearts and minds.

And how do our actions show He has our hearts and minds this Christmas season and beyond?  The verses above in Micah spell it out for us.  The Lord requires us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with Him.  Do justice and love kindness.  As a police lieutenant’s wife right now this is a tricky thing.  My husband is one of the good guys.  A strong and faithful Christian who also happens to be a white police officer. It is very easy for me to get defensive on his behalf.

Yet we live in a fallen world where institutional and personal racism exists.  My friends who are people of color and have boys deal with a daily burden that doesn’t even cross my mind.  They need to teach their boys how to show respect to police officers in order to avoid misunderstanding and stay safe.  Having two boys myself this has never even crossed my mind.  As a Christian family we need to carry each others burdens, seek justice and be kind.  I’m not much sure how to do this but I know I can seek to understand and ask questions.  I can pray.  I can be kind.  I can walk humbly. 

Being in the special needs family those of us who are lily white can somewhat relate to the fear of police misunderstanding a situation.  We have heard in the news cases where those with autism and other special needs have been hurt or even killed because their disability causes behaviors and aggression.  As the mom of a nonverbal son with autism who doesn’t often respond to instructions I worry about this as he gets older. I’m very thankful that this week my husband’s police department is having a trainer on autism from Luke’s school come in and do a department-wide teaching.  So I can in a miniscule way understand the fear my Christian brothers and sisters of other races might feel. That’s a start at least. 

As we continue to give Jesus our hearts and walk humbly with Him may we show the world what Christmas is about; Jesus, God with us, Immanuel.

Prayer:  “Lord, we want to walk humbly with you, seek justice and love kindness.  But we need your help!  We love you and are so thankful that you entered into this fallen world as a baby.  How amazing!” Amen.
By Deb Abbs


Friday, December 19, 2014

Where is God in My Suffering? Tempted to Throw a Pity Party.


How long, O Lord?
Will you
 forget me forever?

    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul 
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, 
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” 
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;

    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
 
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.
~Psalm 13:1-6

I love the honest questions the psalmist asks God. Questions that we ourselves have probably asked God in our time of tribulation or testing. The are honest, vulnerable, and real questions that a human being would ask. We can learn from the Psalms.

How the Psalms Help Us  It is okay to ask these tough questions to God. He desires our all in our love toward Him. To give someone your all is to give them the good and the bad. Our closest friends are the ones we can be completely honest with and that is what God wants from us in our relationship with Him.

This Psalmist asks the hard questions then waits in dependence on God because he knows that nothing but God can intervene in this dire situation. God is sovereign and can change circumstances but more than changing circumstances He is into changing hearts. Trials are the fires that burn the dullness from us, and if we are trained by them they make us stronger and more Christ-like.

Though the Psalmist does not know the outcome of the trial, he depends on God by pouring forth his heart to the One he can trust. Then affirming it with, "BUT I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation."

Sometimes we miss the BUT. We cry out but don't focus on how God is working all things together for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28-29) instead we focus on the immediate circumstances and lose sight of eternity. Every trial is working a glory that is eternally weighty (2 Corinthians 4:17).

How We Lose Sight of Eternity
We forget the BUT and dwell on thoughts that lean into despair:
No one understands us.
They cannot even imagine what our life is like. 

They don't even care about me.
If they could only see what it is like to be me.
If they knew the sacrifice I made just to get to here...


The enemy of our souls is roaring around like a lion looking for someone he can devour (1 Peter 5:8). He will help you entertain these thoughts of self-pity and self-righteousness. Don't give him a foothold for sins of anger or bitterness. Be mindful of this and take those thoughts captive like an enemy and crucify them, make them obedient to Christ. He is the end in mind (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Focus on the BUT
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

God's love for us is unstoppable. It is unchangeable. It is eternal. We must trust this and force our minds, hearts, and souls to focus on that truth in our trials.

It is true, we do have it harder when we live with disabilities. It is something that someone in our shoes cannot understand and it is okay because God gave us a different path. Yet God understands. He endured the cross for our sufferings. He is familiar with our grief. He is with us in it. He went before us so that we could have an eternal hope in our sorrows.

The end of this Psalm, though the trial has not subsided, the Psalmist decides to sing to the Lord because of His goodness. God has dealt bountifully with all of us. We have no reason to doubt His goodness toward us, even in trials.

We have been given a greater privilege than the Psalmist. Where the Psalmist was looking forward to an unseen Savior, we get to look back at the seen Savior. We get to prepare our hearts for the celebration of His birth in just a few days. Let us make our minds focus on those things we can be thankful for. He loved us so much that He gave up all of His glory and splendor of Heaven, put flesh on, took on the ability to feel pain like us. He didn't have to but He chose to because of love. What an incredible gift. Let us keep our minds fixed there and learn from the Psalmist when we feel tempted toward self-focus.

Prayer
Father, thank you for sending the Son to us. Thank you for the resurrection. Thank you for preparing a place for us. Thank you that you are coming back for us. Thank you that these present trials are preparing an eternal weight of glory. Lord let us glorify you in everything we do. In Jesus Name. Amen.

~Angela Parsley

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Leave the Negativity out of the Nativity

Photo Courtesy of Imagery Majestic/freedigitalphotos.net
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4 NIV

I'm so thankful that our pastor has been focused on JOY during this season of advent.  One thing I would hate to do is forget about Joy and let the hustle and bustle of Christmas suck the energy and life out of my soul the way that negativity and stress can often do.  In order to train my brain to think POSITIVELY, I have to look at what negative thoughts look like versus positive thoughts.


  • Negative Notion                                                               
"I can't believe I have MORE paperwork to fill out for my daughter to qualify for Medicaid.  This has been taking months, and now we have to wait longer???"


  • Joyful Juxtaposition
"Yes!  We are one step closer to getting the coverage we need.  AND, I was just able to call a care coordinator DIRECTLY; a REAL LIVE PERSON to schedule our home visit!"


  • Negative Notion
"I am chilled to the bone by this pouring rain and now I have to walk ALL THE WAY into the supermarket to push a wet cart through the store, stand in line, and then walk all the way back to my car getting myself and the groceries soaked."


  • Joyful Juxtaposition
"We have the money to buy food.  Not only that, but we have the money even after I have been out of work for over 6 months.  That is a miracle.  And I get to push the food in a cart, and drive it home in my car rather than carry it on my head for miles."


  • Negative Notion
"Now I have to get a work permit to work with children here in the state of Nevada?  What did I just have the background check done for with the school district?  Why do I have to jump through all these hoops?"


  • Joyful Juxtaposition
"This makes me very thankful because now I know what measures are taken to ensure the safety of our children."

The examples I just gave you are things that I TOTALLY thought FIRST...I went NEGATIVE FIRST!  Then, after reading and studying the book of Philippians, and after another day of prayer and fasting (I did that a couple of weeks ago), I saw the OBVIOUS joyful perspective with which I should be approaching these situations.

If you catch yourself going negative...thinking: 
Ugh...how many Christmas parties do we have to attend? 
Ugh...why do I have to work the day before and after Christmas?  
Ugh...why does my Grandma make so many cookies, when she KNOWS I'm trying to lose weight? 
Pray for God to show you the joy. 
Look at how many friends and family we have, that we are invited to so many parties; imagine how life would be without them.  
Or, I'm so fortunate to have a job, and working around this special holiday gives me a chance to encounter more people and tell them, and SHOW them what a difference that little baby in the manager has made to the world.  
Or, I'm so lucky to have a Grandma who loves us and is healthy enough HERSELF to still be baking this HUGE amount of cookies.  We should take half of the cookies to a homeless shelter.  
Trust me, I know it's hard to do this.  We live in a world that thrives on drama and negativity (just look at the volumes of successful "reality tv" shows there are and try to think of an episode that doesn't have drama and negavity at its core.)  I once took a fiction-writing course via mail correspondence.  I remember my teacher sending my papers back saying, "Where's the conflict?"  My response was, "Well, does there HAVE to be conflict?"  His response was, "Yes, or else no one finds it interesting enough to continue reading it."  Hopefully, this piece that I'm writing HERE will serve as a reminder for all of us for what a "positive" thought verses a "negative" thought can look like, and how we can make the POSITIVE thoughts happen on a more regular basis. 

Pray:  Heavenly Father, as we ready ourselves for Christmas, help us to focus on the positive aspects of our lives and how EVERY good and perfect thing comes from you; so we can trust in you, and look at things in a positive light because you are holy, true and sovereign.  Help us to meditate on things that perfect, just, and righteous; not the negative.  Amen.

~Tammie Hefty
                          

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Forgive Me

"She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future."
- Proverbs 31:25 NLT -

I might be biased, but I believe that very little reveals a person's true character more than parenting a child with disabilities.

I never even realized that certain levels of frustration existed before I became a parent. And, even more so, I had no idea it was physically possible to love another human being as much as I love each of my sons. With four of them, I can honestly say that I never dreamed I would be this surrounded by the opposite sex. (It's a lot different than I imagined...)

But the biggest revelation that I have recently uncovered is one that is transforming how I define this role more than anything else.

The truth is, I have no idea how to forgive myself for my own disabilities as a mother.

Almost daily, I fail at offering my sons the patience they deserve for the actions they have limited control over. More often than I care to admit, I become consumed with resolving issues rather than just accepting and embracing. Some weeks, I battle and advocate for my sons more than I play with and listen to them. I get caught up in educating others around me about my children more than I actually educate my children about themselves. I start to believe that I am only worth what the world sees of my parenting abilities. The disabilities of imperfection are paralyzing.

But just when all seems darkest, God nudges me to consider: what if my role as a mother were saved, rather than savior? What if I truly believed that God held me to a standard of grace, not perfection? How would I change as a parent if I could forgive myself for not being the mother I thought I would be when it was just me and my paper dolls at age 6?

Maybe I could finally stop worrying about what others think long enough to realize that God is the one that gave me my sons; he believes that I am the right mother for these boys. Maybe instead of trying to solve it all myself, I could pray with my husband and with my sons, for wisdom and discernment in all our struggles. Maybe I could finally stop the ridiculously long guilt-trip I have been letting the devil take me on.

Maybe I could start to see myself as the Mom that God sees when he looks at me.

Pray: Dear Lord, forgive me for doubting your grace. Mend my broken heart and let me redefine myself in you. Let me see myself through your eyes, covered in your Son's gift of righteousness. Be my thoughts, my words, my actions and my guidance as I mold my sons after yours. Amen.

- Emily Krill


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Shelter of Each Other

 Children born to a young man
    are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. 
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!
    He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.
Psalm 127:4-5, NLT

Fifteen years ago, it was just a huge, fallow farmer’s field, streets cut in and lots subdivided. Still, it was a little piece of heaven on earth to young families like us, longing for a new place to call our own. We were one of the first families on the block, buying a “spec home” where we hoped to raise our 4-year-old and 1-year-old. Everything was new with promise. How would we landscape? How would we paint the rooms? Dreams of the future were filled with joyful anticipation, and spilled into all of the conversations in our fledgling neighborhood. 

Months after we had moved in, a new couple completed their home in the subdivision. Their beautiful children were the same ages as ours. They were a delightful, hardworking family we enjoyed spending time with. We found we had much in common.
Several years after moving in, the father found himself in a job crisis. When the nation’s mortgage crisis hit, it became more than this dear family could manage. Despite all their effort and hard work, they had to walk away from the dream home they built together. With wisdom, dignity, and prudence, they rented a smaller home, took a Dave Ramsey course, and changed their spending habits forever.

Read the rest of the story over at the Not Alone blog today...

PRAY:  LORD, help us to be good stewards of the precious gifts you have entrusted to our care.  May we not become so busy doing things for our children that we forget to enjoy being with our children.

~ Barb Dittrich

Monday, December 15, 2014

When God Whispers

My granddaughter, Aubrey

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.
1 Kings 19:11-12, NLT 

There are places in the Bible where God reveals himself with wind, earthquakes, and fire.  I don't think Elijah was expecting God to whisper.

Go back about 2,000 years ago.

Everyone was expecting a grand entrance complete with fanfare, cheering, pomp, and circumstance.  They were looking for the king of all kings.  They were looking for the Almighty to come in all his glory.  After all, royal lineage doesn't come into the world in the way Jesus did.  No one was expecting the Savior of the world to be born in a manger on the back side of an inn in what would be considered nowadays a barn by an alley.  With all that was going on in Bethlehem, one could easily miss the birth of the Savior.  Would I have missed it?  Would you?  I know many did.

Fast forward to today.

Is it much different?   I'm buying gifts, going to programs, baking cookies (well maybe not if you know me), decorating, wrapping, planning parties, attending parties, watching Christmas specials, singing along to Christmas music, making lists and checking them twice, and just all around busy.  Yes, it's that time of year when the hustle and bustle can be a bit overwhelming.  I'm running around making sure this is the merriest Christmas that my family is going to have thus far.  While all this time God is whispering to me, "Don't miss Christmas.  It's about the baby, Jesus, your Savior that came to redeem this hurting world."

He wants me to do two things, and they are pretty simple.
  1. Listen to His whisper.
  2. Pass along the hope of Christ.
That doesn't mean I need to give up on the rest of Christmas.  It just means I need to refocus on God's whisper.  I sure don't want to get to the end of this Christmas season without Christ being the main focus.  I'm sure you don't either.

PRAY:  Lord, help me to hear your whispers, not only at Christmas, but all year.  Also, help me to spread that hope to everyone I come into contact with each day.

To read Ann's other posts, click on her name under the "Labels" section.