Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year

It is out with the old and in with the new!

Today is New Year's Eve and a new day is upon us. With 2010 in our midst, we are set to ponder the past year and anticipate the next with hope. For many of us, it is time to purge our closets of outdated clothes, underused gadgets, and forgotten toys to make way for the newly acquired treasures from Christmas. It is a time-consuming yet rewarding venture that usually fills my days in the week before the new year. But this year is different somehow. Rather than emptying my closets, I have found myself purging my spirit. And it started with something wise my seven year old said to me one morning earlier this week.

I had just awoken to a chilly morning as I sat at the computer, drinking my coffee, and checking out the daily headlines. Meanwhile, while my daughter Lily, an early riser herself, colored at the kitchen table. The day was new and the house was quiet and to my delight, Lily was absorbed in her creation. The stillness of the morning allowed me to hear nothing but the birds quietly chirping outside as Lily pushed her crayons across her paper. Enthralled in the news of the day,I was completely enjoying the peaceful beginning of my morning as I rose to get a second cup of coffee. At this same time, Lily finished her masterpiece and proudly brought it over to share it with me. With clarity and love, her simple picture beautifully illustrated the change Christ makes in a penitent heart. "Look Mommy," she said innocently. " We have to get the yucky stuff out of our hearts to make room for Jesus." I sat amazed at the wisdom of my child as God reminded me that now is a perfect time for some spiritual house-cleaning.

So, that is what I have been doing these past few days. When I reflect on the year behind me, I am amazed by the many provisions God has graciously placed before my family. Through God's goodness, we have been lavished with love and protection in countless ways. Truly, the Lord has given us many reasons to offer him praise. And yet, too often my heart has been consumed with worry. Hurried and distracted, I sometimes focus too much on what God hasn't done instead of what He has already freely given in my life. And I am ashamed at my lack of gratitude towards my Heavenly Father. It is an attitude of worry and discontent that must be purged to make room for the hope I have in Christ. It is out with a heart of discontent, and in with an attitude of gratitude. I resolve to embrace faith rather than fear. And in all things, I am committed to seek God first and believe He is near even when He seems silent.

And as we reflect on the highs and lows of 2009, it is most certainly a perfect time to resolve to begin anew with God. With faith and repentance, it is time to make some room in our hearts for the things valued in God's eternal kingdom. Now is the time to "rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit".(Ezekiel 18:31 NIV) For if we turn our heart towards our Savior he promises "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 1:19 NIV) Let's resolve to begin our new year with God and make room in our hearts for Christ.

Dear God,
I repent of the attitudes that keep me separated from you. I give you my discontent, my worry, my empty desires and I ask you for a new heart. Fill me with your goodness, your love, your kindness. Help me be more patient and to demonstrate your goodness to those in my midst. Let me boldy speak truth with love and be the influence you call me to be among those you have placed around me. Let me begin anew as I live for you.

Reflection: What attitudes need to be made new in your heart this New Year?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

God With Us

Reading: Psalm 46

Key Verse: "How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence."---1 Thessalonians 3:9 (NLV)

Confession time... I am a Facebook junkie! I find the mindless downtime to be an entertaining distraction from the structured activity of my day. I especially love the "insightful" quizzes that reveal everything from what your favorite color says about your personality to which dessert best describes you. (by the way, mine is chocolate.) Perhaps one of the most humorous quizzes I have taken was in regards to my name. After answering five seemingly unrelated questions, I found out my name was all wrong. Who knew? Too bad my parents didn't know about Facebook when they were choosing the perfect name for their precious baby girl.

Even without the help of Facebook, God reveals much to us in The Word through His many names as well. My personal favorite is Immanuel. Though it usually conjures up visions of sugar cookies and Christmas carols, I find so much more significance in this name if one ponders the promise in it's meaning. Immanuel...God With Us. In all we do. Wherever we go. Whatever we face. God is with us!

He is there as we confront uncertainty, doubt, and despair. Indeed, there is not a moment in this journey called life when He is not with us, for He is "an ever-present help in trouble." (vs. 2) We are assured that we are not alone for "God is our refuge and strength." (vs. 1) Fear need not cripple the saints, for "The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress." (vs 7) Doubt cannot confound us if only we choose to bear witness to the glorious "works of the LORD." (vs. 8) Truly,we need only place our trust securely in Him, as we commit to "be still, and know that I am God." (vs. 10)

God is with us in all things. He is with us right now, this very moment. He will be with us in all our days to come. And in His presence, we can be sure He is FOR us as well. Nothing happens in our lives outside His sovereign control. Therefore, circumstances, no matter how troubling, cannot separate us from His love. For He is Immanuel, and His very name promises we do not go alone.

Heavenly Father,
You are with us...Hallelujah! Nothing can separate us from your gracious hand. You weep with us in our tears and hold us tight in our failures. You rejoice with us in triumph and sit with us in our silence. You are always near, always here. You are with us. Thanks be to God!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Build The Hedge

Key Verse: "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?" ---Job 1:10

Growing up in central Iowa, I have experienced my fair share of brutally cold winters. As a child, the cold was somehow minimized with the magic of snow, but as I grew older, I quickly understood the harshness of the fierce north wind. Memories of walking across the central campus of Iowa State University in the midst of an arctic blast make me shiver even now.

When I was twelve years old, my family moved into my Dad's childhood home. It is a simple farmhouse built with pride over 100 years and has been our family homestead for three generations. And since one wall of the house directly faces the north, our home was sometimes drafty mid-winter. While we didn't mind snuggling up under a warm, fuzzy blanket on a cold winter night, my Dad had the wisdom to build a hedge of pine trees that would grow quickly to shelter our home from the draft. Today, those trees effectively block the cold of winter, while also serving as a perfect place for my children, neices and nephew to play tag and hide-and-seek. Standing tall, they reach proudly to the sky and give our house a feeling of warmth on the coldest Iowa night.

Friendships are like a hedge in our lives. With love, friends stand with us and protect us from the harsh days of life that sometimes cause our hearts to grow cold. When storms rage around us and the winds of change threaten our security, our friendships act as a shield that blocks the penetrating chill of the world. As we walk through life, we grow and change. Likewise, our friendships often change as well. Godly friendships are vital in strengthening our walk with the LORD. And so we must carefully choose our friendships in order to build a sustainable hedge. After all, scripture reminds us that "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24 NIV) The number of friends is insignificant to the quality of the bond.

I am grateful for the women in my life that stand before me and shelter me from life's storms. For me, a few Godly women who love me at my best and my worst serve as a hedge of truth, accountability and shared priorities in my life. Truly, they are blessings to me from God and they help me grow in my relationship with Christ and encourage me to be my best for Him. While some of these women are not geographically near, we remain spiritually close as I say "Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, 'The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.' " (1 Samuel 20:42) And I imagine a day in heaven when we shall greet each other and fellowship for eternity in heaven.

No doubt, we all need friends. And yet, we are called to use discernment as we plant seeds of friendship and build our hedge. Furthermore, we must remember there are different friendships for varying purposes in God's plan for our lives. Some friendships are in fact only with us briefly. These relationships serve a purpose momentarily in life as we are brought together by circumstance. And yet, these relationships do not withstand the demands of everyday life. In time, they deteriorate and decay until they are only a remnant from our past. They endure only for a season and then they are gone. When these relationships are severed, it is best to "forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing." (Isaiah 43:18-19) Rather than missing a friend with whom we no longer connect, we look to God and allow Him to bring fresh new relationships into our midst. In a way, God trims our hedge in order to make it thrive and grow even more beautiful.

Then, there are those toxic "friendships" that poison our spirit. Rooted in worldly desires, ,gossip or malice, they act as a sort of toxin to our spirit and bring out the worst in our hearts. They are not friendship at all, but rather a worldly distraction sent to derail us in our walk with God. In such cases, we are warned, "Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live." (Deuteronomy 23:6) Inevitably, we will begin to look, act, and sound like those with whom we spend the most time. And, we are cautioned that "anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." (James 4:4) These relationships must be uprooted from our hedge in order for our spiritual lives to remain healthy.

True friendship is one of God's greatest gifts in the lives of His children. It is perhaps demonstrated most beautifully in the bond between Naomi and Ruth. These two women, though initially supportive of one another, shared a friendship so woven in faith that they became surrogate family. When given the choice to part ways, they remained intact as they resolved that "your people will be my people and your God my God." (Ruth 1:6) These friendships grow deep and are rooted in God's love. With trust and accountablity these relationships help us to establish Godly priorities as we look to grow in Him together. Such friendships are to be treasured, nurtured, and protected. Despite distance or time, these relationships grow. They protect. They shelter. They endure. They are "a hedge around me and my household" for which I am humbled and grateful. (Job 1:10)

In the winters of my life, my friendships have been a source of support and comfort that help me feel secure, accepted, and safe. Truly, I offer praise for each one of the dear women I call "my friend" and I appreciate the honesty and strength they bring into my life. They are my friends. They know who they are...and they are my hedge.

Dear God,
I praise you for the gift of friendship. I thank you for the relationships that were temporary but have helped me to grow and learn in a season since past. And I give you thanks for those friendships that endure the challenges of life and grow stronger each passing year. May your hand guide me as I choose my friendships wisely. Let the words shared between me and my friends be sweet as we bring you honor in our conversations. May our actions be like the hands of our Savior reaching into the lives of one another. Thank you God, for my sisters in Christ.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10:15)

This past Friday night was an ordinary December evening as the kids and I settled down to watch Sofie's favorite Christmas movie, The Polar Express. With our tummies full of hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies and a roaring fire blazing, the mood was set for a bit of Christmas magic. Snuggled up next to Sofie I breathed in her innocence, as images of the North Pole filled her eyes with wonder and she began to imagine that such an enchanting place might truly exist.

When the movie was over, and the house was once again quiet, I pondered the significance of my daughter's naive belief in things unseen. As children, it is easy to embrace the wonders of Christmas. But, growing older somehow steals our ability to believe in that which is not immediately tangible. Our experiences and circumstances somehow grow a spirit of cynicism and doubt into our childlike faith. Still, we are reminded by our Heavenly Faither to believe. As God's children we are called to trust in things unseen. To count on things not yet experienced. To hope for that which seems impossible. We are told that truly "anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10:15) Our Heavenly Father asks us to simply believe with the innocence of a child. And in faith we are assured that God is big enough for all that reality offers us.

Christmas is a beautiful example of the kind of faith we are to embrace. For God left his throne to become a tiny baby, fully man and fully God. He was born to a virgin mother and birthed in the town of Bethlehem just as the prophets foretold. To believe in the holiness of Jesus Christ, is to embrace the enduring love of God. It is a story so enchanting that Shepherds and Wise Men came to worship the newborn King. And yet there is more to this story than meets the eye. For this "ordinary" baby who slept peacefully in a manger would grow to be the Savior of mankind. Mesmorized by the happenings in their midst, They followed their hearts to a place unseen to gaze upon the Messiah.

By accepting Christ and trusting in His sacrifice, we grow to comprehend the gift of salvation. Likewise, with the faith and eyes of a child of God, we begin to better understand the wonder of our Savior's birth. For the manger and the cross are wrapped together in the gift of salvation in Christ. If not for the manger, there is no Savior. If not for the Cross, there is no salvation. Lost in sin, mankind needed both the manger and the cross so that we might receive God's greatest gift. After all, there is no way we can be good enough to earn our way to Heaven. We cannot be nice enough to deserve a place with Holy God. Instead, we are offered grace through faith in the saving blood of Christ. For "though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." (Isaiah 1:18)

Through grace, we are given an invitation to acknowledge and receive the gift of Christ and enter into God's eternal kingdom...another wondrous place beyond our imagination. So, it is with the eyes of a child that I trust in things unseen.(2Corinthians 4:18) CHRISTmas spirit is all around. It's time to BELIEVE.

Heavenly Father,
Hallelujah! We praise you for the gift of Jesus Christ. What a beautiful Savior. What a glorious event, the birth of Christ, Savior for all mankind, the precious Prince of Peace. As Christ's birth draws near, we look past the emptiness of perishable things of this dying world and look instead to the eternal love you have for us demonstrated by the birth and death of Jesus.