Monday, December 31, 2012

1000 gifts: butterflies and stars

Continuing my list of gifts, blessings that I write down to remember all the wonderful things that God gives me along life's journey. I write these down on my calendar, and when I get a chance I add them here to my blog. These are all blessings are from December, 2012.

552. The Butterfly Pavilion
I've been wanting to take the girls to the Butterfly Pavilion (near Denver) for years now, and it occurred to me this would be a great birthday "party" for the twins' sixth birthday. They were so excited about it! (the older girls, too). We even managed to convince B. to come along with us. We got there just in time for when they release dozens of new butterflies into the pavilion, too. At one point there were so many butterflies they were landing all over us! The girls were all brave enough to hold Rosie the Tarantula too (I wasn't). Later on....Grandpa H. got a great idea for the twins' birthday presents: scooters! (they were definitely a hit, with the older kids too).

553. A walk under the starry sky 
Every once in a while B. asks me to go on a walk with him. He knows I love walks - even at night. This stems from growing up when my parents and I (I was an only child) always went for a walk around the block in the evening after dinner (which reminds me, we always took our dog on our walks of course, but our cat would follow us her own pace, of course, but almost always within sight of us. I think that is pretty unusual, never have heard of other cats doing that!). Anyway, growing up in the city (Buffalo, NY), our night walks were lit by streetlamps. Out here on the edge of a small town in Wyoming, there are no street lamps, our light instead comes from a full spread of stars - something I rarely saw at night in the city.

554. Chime choir
One of my favorite Christmas traditions is going to the University Art Museum's annual Christmas tree auction, which includes a bunch of school and community performances. This year was Blaze's first year to perform with her classmates in chime choir. 

This website has the neatest charts and ideas for incorporating Scripture into home activities and to resolve disputes and other issues with kids

556. All by myself in a bookstore
I always ask for books for Christmas, but B. is never sure what books to buy me. So this year he watched the kids one night so I could go to Hastings all by myself and spend as long as I wanted browsing through books without any distractions. Oh, it was heaven!  I finally texted him my choices and he got these three books for me for Christmas:  Jesus Lives by Sarah Young (since I love her devotional, Jesus Calling, so much!), Breaking Free Day by Day by Beth Moore, and Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst.

557. 18th birthday
Stars turned 18 years old on December 24! This is a really tough day to celebrate a birthday, though. She finally decided she wanted to do a shopping spree down in Denver. We went to the Colorado Mills mall and had so much fun together, trying on pretty things. I am not much of a shopper, especially in malls, but the day before Christmas ended up being perfect - not crowded, lots of sales, and beautiful Christmas atmosphere. Stars found some shirts, a necklace (I may have to borrow it), a skirt and a pair of shoes, but the highlight was finding a gorgeous Guess coat that she's been wanting for years - on sale - and a beautiful new coat for me, too! (on sale too).

558. Driving around in a cute little car
I've had some misgivings about the car that Stars bought this fall after her other car was totaled in an accident (not her fault). She bought a tiny little red Mini Cooper. It may not be the most practical car in the world, but driving to Denver and back with her in the Mini was so much fun - I can't blame her for loving it! I was also amazed at how well it handled (with snow tires, fortunately) in the snow storm we encountered on the drive back.

559. Christmas with a dear friend
My beloved friend K.A. and her family stayed with us for Christmas! They actually came to Laramie for Christmas with his parents and siblings and their families, but they made "reservations" to stay at our house since others were staying at the parents' house. This meant on Christmas Eve after Stars and I got home from Denver, K. and her family were just coming back after festivities with their extended family. I still had all my Christmas wrapping to do, and K. insisted on staying up with me and helping me, so we could have more time together to talk and catch up on each others' lives.  Best Christmas gift she could possibly give me.

560. A map mug
But K. did give me another wonderful Christmas present, too, a map mug. And if you think, what's the big deal with that, you don't understand that two of my favorite things in the world are maps and tea, so a map mug is the perfect combination!

561. All the stores closed
Christmas morning B. and the kids and I hauled all the presents out the car and drove to my parents' house to celebrate Christmas with them. I loved driving through the snowy town (a beautiful White Christmas this year!) with all the stores closed, all the roads empty, thinking about everyone snug in their homes with their families celebrating (and praying for those that perhaps don't have families to celebrate with).

562. A knight nutcracker
Besides my map mug and books from B., my favorite presents this year were the two nutcrackers to add to my collection - a knight nutcracker, complete with armor, shield and sword, from Heather L. and an extra big Santa nutcracker from my mom.

563. Memory book for grandparents
The girls worked on a memory scrap book for both sets of grandparents  (yes, even Stars! she wrote some wonderful memories) as Christmas gifts. This was a very time-intensive project (for me, too, helping them) but so worth it! The kids were also delighted with their Christmas presents - some favorite presents were a marble run kit, Webkinz, Dizzy Dancers, a toy truck and horse trailer, and of course lots and lots of toy horses.

We spent five days after Christmas and New Year's Eve with B.'s parents and his sister's family (M.G. and T.G and their kids) and some of their friends too. It was an extra special celebration because B.'s mother is (at least for the time being) cancer free! She looked wonderful and was in great spirits and my daughters were so happy to finally see her (we haven't seen her since May because of all her travel to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for cancer treatments).

565. Dancing on my walk
So much fun, games, and food with family while in South Dakota. I was really worried about the food part, knowing that the constant barrage of treats would make it extremely difficult to not keep snacking between meals. I did snack a lot, but also had plenty of time to exercise too so I took many long walks in the beautiful snowy countryside. One time I took my iPod loaded with a bunch of great dance songs that I've discovered (thanks to Stars). The dance songs were so  much fun, and the winter scenery so beautiful, at one point I couldn't just walk anymore - I started dancing. I figured I was out in the middle of nowhere and no one would see me, but of course T.G. happened to see me as he was driving in from town. He didn't give me too hard of a time about it. Besides, who cares? I was dancing and having fun and praising the Lord and it was wonderful being so full of life and joy, why not have someone witness my happiness and silliness?

566. Alive, by Natalie Grant
Who but You, could breathe and leave a trail of galaxies and dream of me?
What kind of Love is writing my story till the end with Mercy’s pen? Only You.
What kind of king would choose to wear a crown that bleeds and scars to win my heart?
What kind of Love tells me I’m the reason He can’t stay inside the grave?
You... Is it You? Standing here before my eyes, every part of my heart cries

what Mercy’s overcome; Death has lost and Love has won
Hallelujah, Risen Lord, the only One I fall before I am His because He is alive.

Who could speak, and send the demons back from where they came with just one Name?
What other heart would let itself be broken every time till He healed mine?
Only You
could turn my darkness into dawn; running right into Your arms

Emmanuel, the promised King
the baby who made angels sing
Son of Man who walked with us, healing, breathing in our dust
The author of all history, the answer to all mysteries
The Lamb of God who rolled away
the stone in front of every grave

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Windows of heaven

Here are some more treasures from "Jesus Calling", by Sarah Young

A thankful attitude opens windows of heaven [what a neat image!] Spiritual blessings fall freely onto you through those openings into eternity. Moreover, as you look up with a grateful heart, you get glimpses of Glory through those windows.

Every time something thwarts your plans or desires, use that as a reminder to communicate with Me. Begin by practicing this discipline in all the little disappointments of daily life. It is often these minor setback that draw you away from My presence. When you reframe setbacks as opportunities, you find that you gain much more than you lost

You seem to think I empower you equally each day, but this is not so. Your tendency upon wakening is to assess the difficulties ahead of you, measuring them against your average strength. I know what each of your days will contain, and I empower you accordingly. Try to view challenging days as opportunities to receive more of My power than usual.

When the patriarch Jacob ran away from his enraged brother, he went to sleep on a stone pillow in a land that seemed desolate. But after dreaming about heaven and angels and promises of My Presence, he awoke and exclaimed: "Surely the Lord is in the place, and i was not aware of it."  His discovery was not only for him, but or all who see Me. Whenever you feel distant from Me, say: "Surely the Lord is in this place." Then ask Me to give you awareness of My presence. This is a prayer I delight to answer.

In the darkness of adversity, you are able to see more clearly the radiance of My face.

Talk with Me about everything, letting the Light of My presence shine on your hopes and plans. Spend time allowing My light to infuse your dreams with life, gradually transforming them into reality. This is a very practical way of collaborating with Me. I, the Creator of the universe, wish to co-create with you. Do not try to hurry this process.

Events may seem to occur randomly, with little or no meaning. People who view the world this way have overlooked one basic fact: the limitations of human understanding. What you know of the world you inhabit is only the tip of the iceberg. Submerged beneath the surface of the visible world are mysteries too vast for you to comprehend.

Living in collaboration with Me is a way to instill meaning into your days.

An ongoing problem is like a tutor who is always by your side. The learning possibilities are limited only by your willingness to be teachable.

Once you have become grateful for a problem, it loses its power to drag you down.

On Christmas Day:  I set aside My glory so that I could identify with mankind, accepting the limitations of infancy under the most appalling conditions. The process I went through is reversed in your experience. As you identify with Me, heaven's vistas open up before you - granting you glimpses of My glory. I became poor that you might become rich.

How much better it is to walk close to Me, depending on My strength and trusting Me  in every situation. If you live in this way, you will do less but accomplish far more. Your unhurried pace of living will stand out in this rush-crazed age.

I care as much about your tiny trust-steps through daily life as about your dramatic leaps of faith.

As you grow closer to Me, I open your eyes to see more and more of My presence all around you. Things that most people hardly notice, like shifting shades of sunlight, fill you with heart-bursting joy. You have eyes that see and ears that hear, so proclaim My abiding presence in the world.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Proclaim Christ clearly, as I should

FaithColossians 4:2-6. Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned as with salt, that you may know how to answer everyone.

Yesterday I asked God for an answer to the doubts and fears I have about sharing the Gospel. Today, the reading in my devotional, Jesus Calling (by Sarah Young) was based in part on Colossians 4:2. So I looked it up.

First of all, "watchful" jumped out at me. I had asked God for an answer or direction in prayer yesterday. Today as I sought Him, first in prayer then in the Word, He brings me to this verse. "Are you being watchful, my girl? I'm about to give you an answer."

Next I read about Paul wanting another door to open for him to share the Gospel, e.g. the mystery of Christ. I love it that he calls the Gospel a mystery. (That's a whole other post). Then he seems to have a moment of doubt. Hey, I'm in chains because of it.... pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Even though I'm afraid it's going to get me in worse trouble.

That's exactly where I'm at right now. I've been going to a Bible study where we've been watching "The Way of the Master" videos by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. They show how they share the Gospel "the way the Master (Christ) did it" - first speaking to people's conscience about their sin so that, with a realization of their sin, comes a realization of a need for a Savior (examples: Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, and to the rich young ruler).

It's been a very convicting study. I love to share my faith with people who are interested, and I have no hesitation to share the Gospel on this blog - for whoever may be reading. But where I stumble is in everyday conversation with "outsiders" as Paul calls them, those who do not believe in Christ. I don't remember that this might be an opportunity, or if I do, I suddenly freeze up in fear. It's a fear of awkwardness - changing the course of a conversation into an area where I will end up stumbling over my words, or giving up ina half-baked or lame attempt.

I also have a dislike of coming across as judgmental, forcing my opinion (unasked for) on other people. But a lot of that can be circumvented with wording just like what Jesus used:  "it is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick... I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt 9: 12). I keep telling myself that if I practice more I'll get more comfortable with it.

Another thing I keep telling myself is "just share your story."  That's what Paul did, multiple times, in Acts. He'd share how he persecuted believers and then Jesus spoke to him directly, how he lost his sight and three days later regained it at the touch of another believer. I LOVE to share my testimony, even just a short thirty second version. But I almost NEVER get the opportunity (or take advantage of an opportunity).  I need to pray more like Paul - for that open door, and for the willingness to walk through it even though at first it may feel awkward or scary.

 At church, our pastor encourages us to "raise our flag" when we meet other people - let them know right away that you're a believer.  As in, "So what do you do?" "I'm an engineer at such and such company. How 'bout you?" "I'm a pastor."  Hey, it's easy for him! But I've been reminding myself next time I'm asked I could say something like, "I'm a GIS analyst at the university, and I'm also a follower of Jesus."  He says that a lot of time if you just let people know who you are, that will naturally start a conversation and may raise some questions, very often leading to the opportunity to "share your story" and with it, the Gospel.

A little more about this "Way of the Master" study. They show clip after clip of going out to public places and saying "hello" to strangers and then asking them a question ("hey, have you seen one of these?" while handing them a gospel tract), and then following up with a series of questions that ends with the Gospel. All the examples they show the people listen and answer semi-politely and many of them appear to have a change of heart as they are confronted with their sin.

This is a typical conversation:

Ray: "Hey have you seen one of these?" (Hands a gospel tract.)  "Do you have a Christian background?"

Other person: "I used to go to church, but I don't any more."

Ray: "Do you consider yourself to be a good person?"  (doesn't get sidetracked about why the person doesn't go to church anymore.)

Other person: "Yes, I consider myself to be a good person!" (of course!)

Ray:  "Do you keep the ten commandments? Have you ever lied?"

Other person: "Only white lies. In some cases lies are okay."

Ray: "But you have told a lie. What do you call a person who lies?" (doesn't get sidetracked into argument about whether white lies are okay or not)

Other person: "A liar."

Ray: "Have you ever stolen something? It doesn't matter how young you were or how inexpensive it was."

Other: "Yes."

Ray: "What do you call someone who steals?"

Other: "A stealer." (grin). "A thief."

Ray: "Have you ever looked at another person with lust? Jesus said anyone who even thinks about another person that way has committed adultery with them in his heart; that's another commandment."  (Jesus showed us that God isn't just concerned with the outward keeping of the commandments, He's also concerned with what's going on in our hearts).

Other: "Well, who hasn't?"

Ray: "So you have looked with lust on another person. Have you ever taken the Lord's name in vain? That's called blasphemy."

Other: "Yes." (usually be this time they aren't offering arguments or excuses any more.)

Ray: "So, by your own admission, you've broken at least four of the ten commandments. If God were to judge you by the ten commandments, would you be innocent or guilty?"

Other: "Innocent. God is understanding. We all make mistakes."

Ray: "If you were guilty of a crime and standing in a court room and you told the judge, 'Let me off because I know you are a forgiving judge and everyone makes mistakes', what do you think the judge would do? Just let you go?" (another thing to say is, "if you believe God won't judge you for breaking the commandments, you are basically creating a god you can be comfortable with. That's breaking the 2nd commandment - you shall not make yourself a graven image, or in other words you shall not make another god for yourself").

Other: "No."

Ray: "If God judged you by whether you kept the ten commandments, would you go to heaven or hell?"

Other: "I don't believe in heaven or hell."

Ray: "Okay, hypothetically, if there was a heaven and hell, which would you get for breaking the ten commandments?" (avoids getting sidetracked into argument about whether heaven or hell exists). 

Other: "Probably hell."

Ray: "Does that concern you?"

Other:  "No. It doesn't concern me." (acting a little belligerent)

Ray: "Let me ask you this. If I offered you a million dollars for both your eyes, or even one eye, would you sell it to me?"

Other: "No way!"

Ray: "Our eyes are valuable to us, more than anything else we could buy with money. Now, if our eyes are so valuable to us, how much more so our souls? Jesus said, 'What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?' So, if your soul is in danger of going to hell, shouldn't that concern you?"

Other: "Yes."

Ray: "What if you're in that courtroom and the judge is about to send you to prison for life, and someone steps in and says, 'I'll take the penalty for him, so he can go free.' Would you take it?"

Other: "Yes."

Ray: "That's what Jesus did for you. He died on the cross for our sins, so that anyone who turns from their sins and believes that Jesus took the penalty of their sins, can be set free and be assured of heaven. Will you turn from your sins and trust in Jesus to take your penalty?"

Other: "I'll think about it."

Ray: "Get a Bible and read it and see for yourself. God speaks to us through the Bible, His Word." (Always leave them with the source of the Truth).

Listening to these conversations is the most amazing experience. You see the people start out doubtful or  belligerent. Then their attitude changes as they become convicted (at least in the ones they show. I'm sure there's many a case they aren't showing where people get angry or just walk way).

The thing about these conversations, the ones they show are all with strangers. When I think about trying to have this conversation with my father, who is very, very, VERY opposed to anything Christian, or to my stepdaughter, who lately has taken to rolling her eyes about anything we share about our faith, I could see this conversation turning out very badly, maybe even damaging my relationship with them.

But maybe that's the Enemy whispering to me, too. "Don't even try it, it's going to turn out very badly. They'll hate Christianity even more. They may even hate you for confronting them so directly."

Just like the Enemy surely whispered to Paul while he was in chains. "Don't keep trying to share the Gospel. You'll end up even worse than you are now."

But then again, what about all those times when Paul shared the Gospel at the synagogues and after all the angry Jews had chased him away,  two or three or more found him later and begged him to tell them more? Who am I to guess where a person is in their life, that they might not be suddenly eager to hear of hope, of freedom from the pain and guilt and brokenness they are experiencing? For many years I scoffed at any attempt friends made to witness to me. Then, one day after a long stretch of depression and misery, I remembered what they'd said, and I wanted to learn more.

That image at the top of this post says "Faith is the bridge between where I am and where God is taking me."

Where I am right now: scared to share the Gospel. Afraid of damaging relationships because it is offensive to those who are still blind.

Where God is taking me: excited to share the Gospel because for all the rejections and scorn I may face, eventually there will be one or more people ready to hear it. Or if they aren't ready now, maybe they will remember someday what I shared. So, in the meantime, can I trust him about the "damaged relationships" part? Can I trust Him?

So many things in life we have to ask ourselves, can I trust Him?

In everything else I have trusted Him with, He has always carried me through.

There's my answer.