Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanks Giving isn't over

If you want to read a list of just a few things I'm thankful for, you can visit my blog called The Seven.
Today's posting isn't going to be in my usual style--I've been lazy today, doing almost nothing except for watching football and playing with some of my pictures on the computer..and reading blogs. And I have NO intention of changing my activity level today!

Our thanksgiving was wonderful, as usual--a small gathering of about 25 people (we've had up to 40 or more at times)...WAY too much food, great company, no squabbles, even among the children...maybe a bit of mischief (my nephew and I "re-decorated" a niece's UK birdhouse, giving it a distinct orange TN Volunteer spirit..improved the whole front yard!--nothing that couldn't be easily undone, by the way!).
We also always have index cards available for everyone to write down things they are thankful for; it's fun to read everyone's. My kids always make me laugh...they are thankful for so many things--aside from the rather obvious and oft-stated God, Jesus, and family, they also list things like "the entire electromagnetic spectrum."

So my point for today's blog is simply this--Just because Thanksgiving Day is over, don't stop giving thanks!! You can spend your time focused on problems, and it will seem like they abound...but if you spend your time focused on your blessings, and on the God who is able to see you through anything and everything..your attitude will reflect it!

And make sure that you give thanks every day to the One who created us and loves us, and made a way for us to know Him and love Him, too!

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights. James 1:17

Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanks Giving Fool

Every year, the Sunday night before Thanksgiving, my church does a "Night of Thanks" service, and it is always one of my very favorite services. There is no prepared sermon, just music, prayers and an opportunity for the congregation to stand up and give God thanks...microphones are set up and anyone who wants to can just get up and publicly praise the One worth praising. Some people just stand up and say something very quick and simple, like "I just praise God for my salvation." Others may tell of a specific need or crisis that God has seen them through this year...almost nobody takes more than about a minute, but I can't tell you just how uplifting it is to hear how faithful God has been in the lives of His people.

But, I am also always struck by how many people don't get up and say something. Why not? I mean, if we won't even stand up and say one word of praise in front of our fellow believers, it makes me wonder how likely we are to praise Him anywhere else.

Is it because they have nothing to be thankful for? I don't think, before I go any further, let me say that I know there are probably some valid reasons that some people don't get up and speak--Maybe they have laryngitis!
BUT...I daresay that the majority of them don't get up because they are more concerned with what everyone will "think" than with just giving God praise. Oh, we fancy our excuses up a bit, so they don't sound so irreverent..."I'm just a quiet person," "I'd just stumble over my words and sound like an idiot," "somebody already said what I was thinking," the list goes on and on. Maybe they're thinking, "well, if everyone got up and said something, we'd be here all night!" Well, let me just tell you...That would be Awesome!! Wow, spending hours just letting every single person stand up and praise THAT'S worth missing football for!! My fondest desire would be that one day we would have this service and every single person would say at least one thing they praise God for...if they can't stand up and walk, we'll bring the mike to them!

All those excuses mount up to just one thing...our eyes are on ourselves instead of on God. We are more concerned with how we appear to others, than with how we appear to God. We are so afraid of saying something "foolish," that we do something even more foolish; we sit quietly when God desires our praise.

When David brought the ark of the covenant down from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David, we are told that he went before it, rejoicing. He was so focused on God and unconcerned with what anyone else thought, that he took off his royal robes and wearing just a "linen ephod," he DANCED before the ark of the covenant. Music was playing, people were shouting out their praises, and David was "dancing & leaping" before his Lord (David might not have lasted long at my Southern Baptist church!)

Now, look at this closely:
"As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart." 2 Sam 6: 16

I notice two issues here:
1) She is disgusted by David's PDA(public display of affection) for the Lord; she thinks it is beneath his kingly position to do something so foolish-looking.
2) Even more important to me--she is INSIDE, looking OUT through the window. The ARK of the Covenant of their Holy God is being brought into the city, and she is not even moved enough to at least go outside and watch as it comes down the street!

A few years ago, when the Olympics were in Atlanta, the flame passed within sight of our house. We knew it was coming, so we all sat out on in our yard, waiting and watching. My kids were about 4 & 6 at the time, and they were quite excited. Well, the big moment came...we saw the truck, and the motorcycle escort...but no flame. Where was the flame?!?! Finally, my youngest son said, "There it is!" and start jumping up and down, he was so excited. Sure enough, there was someone running behind the truck...but there was no Flame...I learned later that, for some reason, they had had to pull the flame into the truck for a few minutes. To this day, my son believes he saw the Olympic flame pass right by his house.
Now, if we can get that excited about a stick on fire, just imagine how exciting this event had to be!! The very Ark that held Moses' staff, the manna the Israelites had eaten in the desert...this was bigger than the Tennessee-Florida game! And Micah could not even muster enough enthusiasm to go outside and watch!
And she couldn't believe her husband was acting like such a Fool! You know, it seems to me like it's the people who aren't busy worshiping the Lord themselves who have the time to focus on criticizing how everyone else is acting during worship...

When she confronted him later, David had this reply:
"It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor." 2 Sam 6:21-22

In essence, David said, "I don't really care what you thought of it, because I didn't do it for you. I did it to celebrate before the Lord. And I'll act like an even bigger Fool than that to bring God honor! I'm not concerned with building ME up, but with glorifying God!"

WHY do we care what anyone else thinks about how we choose to praise our God?! Why isn't glorifying Him more important to us than "keeping up appearances?"

We sit in our pews and we say we are Thankful. But we are really sitting at the window, watching the Holiness of our God go past, and thinking only about how others around us look. We give a funny look at the guy next to us with his hands in the air, or the woman behind us who is making up for her poor singing with really cranking up the volume (er, if you're hearing that, it's probably me...), and we sit quietly, and "dignified." And we keep our praise all neatly bottled up inside, because we don't want to "embarrass" ourselves.
In Luke 19, as Jesus headed into Jerusalem, people gathered along the road and began shouting, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" Luke 19:38
The Pharisees were incensed and told Jesus to shut them up--Jesus replied that if they kept quiet, then the stones would cry out! (was that the beginning of "Rock Music?")--you know, I can't think of anything much more embarrassing than God having to let the ROCKS cry out his praises because His people are too concerned with "appearances" to do it!

So, this Thanksgiving, be a Thanks-Giving Fool for God! Quit sitting at the window and watching--go out and give God the glory for what He has done for you! Sing to the Lord, even if you "can't" sing; talk about his wonderful deeds; read some of the Psalms before your meal; instead of grumbling about the lines and the crowds and the service, look for things you can Publicly give thanks for!

There are about a gazillion verses I could end with, all on praises and singing and glorifying God, but I especially love Psalm 100, sub-titled, in my Bible, "A Psalm. For Giving Thanks.":
1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.

2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.

3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Are you truly thankful to your Lord? Are you willing to show it, even if it may make you seem "foolish" to some?
Don't make the rocks do it for you!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Time for Some Midnight Runs

Remember the story of Paul Revere? How he took off on horseback to warn everyone, yelling, "The British are coming! The British are coming!" He also arranged a "warning signal" from a Boston church, one lantern if they were coming by land, two if by sea. Revere rode through the countryside, warning every house he came to (this was 1775, remember, so stopping at every house wasn't quite the chore it would be today), as he made his way to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British were on the way to arrest them.
This early warning gave many an opportunity to prepare, to be ready to fight when the British army came...without Revere's warning, many of them might have suffered a different fate.

Did you know that there was MORE than one rider that night? According to the Paul Revere House website, "After delivering his message, Revere was joined by a second rider, William Dawes, who had been sent on the same errand by a different route. .. Revere and Dawes were joined by a third rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott. Soon after, all three were arrested by a British patrol. Prescott escaped almost immediately, and Dawes soon after. Revere was held for some time and then released. Left without a horse, Revere returned to Lexington in time to witness part of the battle on the Lexington Green."
Revere may be the one we remember, but the others were just as important--imagine how much different our history might be if only Revere had been sent and if he had then been arrested before he could warn others.

Today, we have lots of warning signals-- if a tornado is in the area, we have sirens that go off; nearly every home and business has at least one smoke alarm, to help us get out safely in the event of a fire; carbon monoxide detectors can protect us from an invisible gas that can kill us before we even realize there's trouble. Many schools, in reaction to recent shootings, now have a text-messaging alert system, where they can notify every student with a cell phone when there is an emergency.

But one thing all these warnings have in common is that they can't prevent the event they're warning us about; that's up to us.
A siren can't stop a tornado, but it can give us time to get somewhere safe.
A smoke alarm can't stop a fire, but it can give us time to wake loved ones and get out.
And Paul Revere couldn't STOP the British from coming, but he COULD make sure others were ready when it happened.

Did you know that YOU, and I, are God's warning system to the world? Jesus IS returning, and I am more convinced every day that the time is drawing near. No, I'm not an "end-of-the-world" prophet, I don't claim to have figured out the secret code that reveals the precise date of His return largely because there IS no secret code. Jesus was pretty clear on the topic--nobody is ever going to be able to figure out the day and the hour, but we CAN see the signs and know that the time is drawing nearer...
The day of Christ's Return IS drawing closer...the signs are clear. And I think the devil knows it too, because it seems to me like he has been on the attack like never before, not just in my life, but with my friends, and all around us. One thing we can know for certain--TODAY we are closer than we have ever been before to the Lord's return.

And so my question is, what are you doing to warn others? I'm sure that not everyone who heard Revere's shouts of warning really believed that they were about to be attacked by the British...but he didn't let their disbelief keep him from issuing the warning, and neither should we. It is NOT my job to MAKE anyone is my job to "go and tell." And it's your job too.
Christians--do NOT keep silent about the Lord's return. Do NOT let others intimidate you into keeping silent about your beliefs...GO AND TELL!
Tell your family, your friends, your co-workers, the guy in front of you in the checkout lane, the people stuck in the elevator with you...will they think you're some "fanatic?" Maybe...but would you rather please man or your Father? Don't wait until it's too late and then wish you'd taken that midnight run to warn a few more...

"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. " Matthew 24:42-44

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I'm a Weakling, and Proud of It!

Being weak isn't exactly something our society looks on as an asset. We want others to see us as strong, self-sufficient, confident, intelligent, capable. We're not likely to list "can't do much on my own" on our resumes.

But there's just one little problem...for Christians, this "I can do it myself" attitude is the exact opposite of what God says! In fact, Jesus said that we can't do ANYTHING without Him...He said He is like the vine and we're the branches, totally dependent on the vine for everything...we simply can not even exist apart from the vine.

But we are really good at persisting in this attitude that we must present ourselves as strong and self-sufficient and even as Christians, we tend to admire that in others. We put the focus on the individual and not on the God who gave them their gifts and talents.

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about this concept of weakness, specifically about Paul's "thorn in the flesh," because of my own physical struggles. Like Paul, my preference would certainly be for God to take this away from me, and I've certainly prayed to that effect...WAY more than three times!!

But God has not chosen to remove my physical ailments from me, and so I have to look at why He allows such "limitations" in our lives. In the grand scheme of things, my disability is not that bad...I have the full use of all my limbs, I have my sight and my mental capacities are about as good as they've ever been. The doctor tells me that my hearing is completely normal for an 80-year old (yeah, okay, so I'm in my 40's...but at least I CAN hear, and most of what I miss I probably didn't need to know anyway).

But, I'll be honest...having motion sickness when you're not moving can get really old! Having it get progressively worse for two years, so far, can just flat wear you out. Add to that the constant ringing in the ears and the occasional feeling that you're about to fall over on top of your fellow choir members during a prayer, and it sometimes seems like it's just not worth getting out of bed in the morning!

It's easy to sometimes ask "why, God?"--well, in this case, God has an answer (okay, He always has an answer, He just doesn't always reveal His reasons).
My weaknesses are a constant reminder of His Strength; there are days that I literally cannot get out of bed in the morning and get going without His help, and that reminds me that I depend on Him for everything. It is a constant reminder that I am weak...and that that is a GOOD thing, because it means I must rely on the One who is Strong.

I have a problem with pride. We all do, it is one of the most rampant sins and is the root of many of the other sins we commit. I want people to admire my talents and abilities, I want to be short, sometimes I want the glory that is due to God. When others commend my teaching skills, or applaud some other gift or talent I've displayed, the tendency is to let that build up our pride, "puff us up." But the truth is, that the credit simply doesn't belong to me, it belongs to the One who made me, who gave me the talent, the ability to do everything I do.

Paul said that when he prayed for God to remove his thorn in the flesh, God told him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." See, Paul was incredibly intelligent and capable, and I'm sure he heard a lot of compliments in his days about his wonderful would have been pretty easy to let the focus fall on himself. But because of this "thorn in his flesh," whatever it was, Paul was constantly reminded of his utter dependence on God, and that helped him remember to always give the glory to God for what was being done through him.

This is important--God's power is made perfect in our weakness.
When the world sees me as strong and self-sufficient, as capable of handling my problems on my own...well, then they see ME, but nothing else...I'm not revealing the true power in my life, I'm just taking the credit due to God.
But when I'm willing to admit my weaknesses and problems and struggles, and when I'm willing to be vocal about the fact that I'm incapable of handling them on my own, and must rely on the strength of God for every step...well, then the glory of God is revealed for those who are willing to see it.
Your weakness may not be a physical ailment, but we all have areas of our life where God is reminding us how much we must rely on Him for everything we have. He does this, not to make us feel small and incapable, but to help us see how much strength and power we have available to us, given by the very Creator of the Universe. He reminds of our limitations so that we will understand more clearly that we "can do ALL things through Christ which strengthens us."

John's gospel records a very simple, yet very profound statement spoken by John the Baptist after Jesus was revealed to him as the Messiah. He said, "He must become greater, I must become less. (John 3:30) This is the greatest desire of my life, that I would seek more and more to show Christ to the world, and not myself.

I admit it...I still pray that this "thorn in the flesh" will someday be removed. But as long as I have it, I pray that God will be glorified through it, I pray that it will be evident to others that I must rely on the power and grace of my God just to get through the day. I pray that the way I live my life, the way I handle this illness will keep ME in the shadows and bring glory to God.

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Return of the Blog

I'm back...I didn't really intend to be gone from the world of blogging for so long, but you know, sometimes life gets in the way of our plans! That's why God said we shouldn't just say, "tomorrow I'm going to do this, or go here," but rather, "Lord willing, these are my plans for tomorrow." We can make our plans, but God plans our life!

Anyway, I've been on what I call a "medically-induced vacation." I have a chronic disorder that has yet to be diagnosed--for the past two years, I have had chronic nausea, like being motion sick without being in motion. Some other stuff too, but I won't go into it all, since this is not a medical blog! Anyway, I've been to more doctors in the last two years than in my entire life combined before that! They have determined a myriad of things that I DO NOT have...but what I DO have seems to elude them.
So...a few weeks ago I traveled to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, MD, about nine hours drive from where I live, to see a specialist. My sister and I drove up, first to D.C. where my brother and sister-in-law live, on Capitol Hill; we stayed with them a few days then went on to Baltimore.

The result? Well, they think perhaps a condition called "vestibular migraines" (vestibular has to do with the inner ear, for those of us who speak English, not medicalese). This is despite the fact that: a) my problem does not come and go, it is constant, and has gotten progressively worse over the last two years, and b) all the vestibular tests they did came back completely normal.

So, I am MORE than skeptical about whether this is really what I have, but am hoping that the MRI I'll have next will help.

We did get to sightsee one day, in Baltimore's inner harbor, which was great. Took lots and lots of pictures; some will likely make it to my "Life Artified" blog. We also spent a day exploring in D.C. with my brother; went to a lot of the art exhibits this time. The first time I went to D.C. it was a true vacation, and my kids went with me--they were about 8 & 10 at the time, and the youngest had an obsession with rocks and dirt...we spent an ENTIRE day in the Museum of Natural History looking at EVERY single rock there was...I think there must be about 13, 326, 421 rocks in that place and we saw every last one of them!
So this time, no rocks...but I must confess that by the time we were done, I was about as tired of seeing great works of art as I had been with the rocks the first time.

So, I got back and was looking forward to gettng back to work, and blogging and church and everything else. But, not so fast...we got back late on Thursday, Nov. 1. That Saturday, my eldest began complaining about a pain in his side...we knew it wasn't his appendix, because THAT was the problem eight years ago when he had a pain in his side. Anyway, by Sunday it was bad enough that I took him to the ER at the local Children's Hospital...they said he had a kidney stone. Then they said, no he doesn't...maybe it's his, it isn't....he ended up being in the hospital for FOUR days while they ran every test they could think of. They never did really figure out what was going on, but they sent him home anyway. By yesterday, the pain finally subsided, so hopefully it will go away on its own and we won't have to repeat that experience anytime soon!

So, now, hopefully, I'm back to, well, if not normal, at least MY normal. My next blog will return to its normal scripture-application theme, although it relates to the medical difficulties I've been having. I'm hoping to write and post it today...God willing!

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." James 4:13-15