Monday, December 22, 2014

A New Order


 

 

          When I was growing up, periodically my mother would announce with no little finality, “There’s going to be a new order around here!” Perhaps it was my perennially messy bedroom or my father’s home repair procrastinations, but about every two months Mom would issue her edict, leaving Dad and me to await this new order in our lives that, in the end, never did arrive.


            Like our household, mankind was in desperate need of a “new order around here,” and like Mom, totally unable to effect it. Until one special night when God traded His starry arraignment for swaddling clothes and became a helpless infant to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Quietly, in a stable, a baby was born to a young Virgin Mary and Joseph while angels hovered over head to share the awesome news with mere man.                                           

            “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’” Luke 2:8-11 (NKJV)            


            The Savior grew to be a Man of Sorrows, bearing our pain and sin. He loved even while he was reviled. He healed while others destroyed. He raised the humble and knocked the proud. He said the poor in spirit were rich, and the rich were in danger of losing everything for eternity unless they died to self. When He died on the Cross to atone for our sins, the curtain before the Holy of Holies was rent, so our sins no longer separated us from a perfect God.

            And there was a new order around here.

 

 

                                              

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What Christmas is Not


     

          It's time to go to prison. No, I haven’t robbed any banks or harmed anyone. It’s mentoring time, and tonight is a big night for the women who will spend yet another Christmas away from everyone they love. Their reasons for being there vary, and many of them will never again know another family circle gathered around a decorated tree lined with gifts or a dinner table filled with favorite dishes enjoyed for generations.
          Tonight is their Christmas celebration with their peers. Two hundred women are beyond excited to gather at tables with some cookies, baggies of candy, chips, and soda. We’re allowed to take in modest paper table decorations to bring some color into an otherwise grey existence.
          The regular semi-monthly sessions involve quiet small-group Bible studies and prayer time. And this "teacher" will always come away with more than she brings as each one at our table shares her heart and needs.
          But this is their time to experience the joy of the season and celebrate as one large group. I watch as they enjoy their favorite goodies and trade or share with those around them. I listen as they sing a humorous arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas and as one of the mentorees plays a drum solo of “Wipe Out.” A simple game of musical chairs with those who choose to join in is filled with squeals and clattering metal. A couple of rock ‘n roll Christmas songs bring about an impromptu bunny hop line and some dance steps from decades ago.
          Our the time together draws to a close, and one of the women steps forward to present the director of our mentoring group with a beautiful Bible. It’s possible that an anonymous volunteer has provided the gift to make that special moment of giving possible for them. The festivities end with prayer. Their gratitude for the party shows through smiles, tears and quick hugs. And we are blessed. We head to our assigned exits. Wishes of "Merry Christmas" echo throughout the gymnasium.
          As I go through the mental lists of preparation for our family Christmas meals and events, I carry the image of how basic our celebrations can be, and know that we can still be filled with joy that comes from simply sharing time and Jesus. And I am filled with gratitude for what I have and for whatever my personal experiences and surroundings are. Above all, I am humbled and so thankful for The Gift of Jesus Christ and the gift of His grace. The rest is just stuff. Because, when it comes right down to it,

CHRISTmas is not about me.

"And 
His name
will be called
Wonderful Couselor,
Might God, Eternal Father,
Prince of Peace."
(Isaiah 9:6
NASB)


Friday, December 12, 2014

For Whom Christ Died





In Act 1 of Thornton Wilder’s wonderful play Our Town, the character of Rebecca Gibbs tells her brother about a letter that her friend received:

REBECCA: 

I never told you about that letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: It said:Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover's Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire;
United States of America. 


GEORGE: 

What's funny about that? 

REBECCA: 

But listen, it's not finished: the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God--that's what it said on the envelope. 

GEORGE: 

What do you know!

 REBECCA: 

And the postman brought it just the same. 

GEORGE: 

What do you know!

I’ve loved that passage ever since high school, and recent events have brought it back to me again. Like Jane Crofut, I could be identified as the tiniest, least significant inhabitant of an ever-expanding circle of people—but if I could be so bold as to suggest a different four words to end the list (sorry, Mr. Wilder…), it would be for whom Christ died.

Because Christ died for me, and for my family, and for everyone in my tiny village, and for everyone in my state, and for everyone in my country, and for everyone in my continent, and for everyone in my hemisphere, and for everyone on earth.

So when events—in the news or not—cause me to think unkindly about someone, I need to insert the words for whom Christ died after their name before I can finish my thought. Those words always cause my thoughts to take a different direction. Let me show you how it works. Here’s a typical example:

I see an image of a celebrity in a pose designed to shock and titillate. My first thought is Susie Shocking is a horrible person for allowing herself to be seen by millions of people that way. But if I insert those four powerful words, my thought process goes like this: Susie Shocking, for whom Christ died, is a horrible…is a…is…is a person for whom Christ died. Is loved by God. Is precious in His sight.

Try it yourself—it works at every location in your “address,” from your family and outward.

That looter, for whom Christ died…

My relative who hurt me again, for whom Christ died…

That illegal immigrant, for whom Christ died…

My boss, for whom Christ died…

That gay person, for whom Christ died…

That Muslim, for whom Christ died…

My former friend, for whom Christ died…

My ex-spouse, for whom Christ died…

That member of the other political party, for whom Christ died…

That fat person, that person of another race, that homeless person, that disabled person, that person using food stamps, for whom Christ died…

It should be just about impossible to finish that thought with anything hateful or disparaging. When I stubbornly push through with what I was originally thinking, I have to follow up with something like this:

Jan Ackerson, for whom Christ died, will try to make Christ's sacrifice of love meaningful in my life by being a more loving and kind person—by becoming more Christlike in what I say and do and think.

[Thanks, Pastor Ray, for the sermon that led to this little article.]

Church Art Pro




Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pondering

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

"Busy."

If you know me more than just in passing, that's the response you're most likely to get from me if you ask me how I am. (otherwise, the answer is "fine. How are you?") And not just today - or during the Christmas season. With a tween and a teen, a husband on disability, writing jobs and projects and ministries here there and everywhere, and the other stuff I'm not remembering at the moment, my life is full.

And I know I'm not the only one. In today's society, relaxation is abnormal, and free time is an anomaly. If we aren't busy all the time, we obviously haven't taken on quite enough.


Photo source
But, besides the exhaustion and burnout that come from trying to move at the speed of light (especially this time of year!), there is another huge problem with running about like a chicken with your head cut off.

There's no time to reflect.

God wants us to "be still." We often won't hear His voice unless we are. Remember - when God spoke to Elijah, it wasn't in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire. He was in a gentle whisper - and we have to be still and QUIET if we want to hear.

But maybe we CAN find time, even in our busyness.

Look at Mary. She'd spend days riding (and not in a car, folks) from Nazareth to Galilee. That's eighty miles. And she was pregnant. VERY pregnant. Her mind had to have been spinning. And then, when it was time to give birth? She wasn't in a comfortable hospital - or even a bed. She was outdoors. Her baby had to rest in a manger instead of a bed.


Photo source
And when she was done giving birth, did she get some peace or solitude? Nope - the shepherds came and interrupted any quiet she might have had.

But still, in the midst of it, she took the time to reflect, to put the busyness aside and contemplate all that was going on. She "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

Can't you do the same? All the gifts. The family. God's birth as a baby. Even your struggles. They are ALL from the Lord. Treasure them and ponder them in your heart. You won't be sorry you did - and you may even get a message - or a blessing.

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Being Elf-ish


In December, my friend, "Aunt" Connie becomes a Christmas Elf. She dresses in an elf costume - big green, pointy-toed shoes and all, and heads out to do random acts of kindness. She shares some of her good deeds on Facebook, not brag, but to encourage others to be "elves" also. I've been trying to follow in her footsteps (minus the pointy-toed shoes).

Today is the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent. Fridays are my half days in the church office, but I'm rarely able to leave on time. I don't usually mind; an extra 30 minutes or an hour is nothing compared to God's many gifts to me,

But today ... well.... I didn't really feel "elf-ish." (If you put an "s" in front of elfish, you might be closer to my mood.) It's a good thing God specializes in using broken people,

You can imagine how crazy-busy it must be at a church at this time of year, so I didn't get home today until my regular quitting time, and then answered work-related texts and worked from home until close to 6pm. And my shopping still isn't done and my Christmas tree is still in the attic. I had planned to take care of those things, plus laundry, etc. this afternoon.

Yeah, I know, I've got it rough. First world problems, as they say. But I'm honestly not here to complain - I'm here to tell you about how God used those extra hours I put in, not only to complete work that needed to be done, but to bless others through me.

If I hadn't been at the church this afternoon (when I really wanted to be somewhere else) none of the following might have taken place:

 - A home-bound, senior adult just out of physical rehab wouldn't have lights or heat tomorrow morning.

 - A shivering 10-year old girl wouldn't have a brand-new winter coat - her only one.

 - A family attending the memorial service for their beloved patriarch might not have meat for their fellowship lunch tomorrow.

 - A mother might not have Santa presents under the tree for her children this Christmas.

 - A single mom might not have food for her children tonight.

I didn't orchestrate or personally provide any of the above needs--I was God's liaison; His hands and feet, used by Him to ensure that His blessings were received by others.

Sometimes, all we have to do is "be there", in His place and in His time, in order for God to work through us. It doesn't take any effort on our part except to show up.

  (Note to self: and try not to complain about it.)


For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Matthew 25:35-36 (ESV)


Christmas Love and Blessings,
Cat (The Church Lady) Bradley



Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Duck and Potato

Obviously there was something wrong with our dog Charlie’s right ear. The occasional scratching had become almost non-stop. Time for a visit to the vet. Imagine our surprise when the diagnosis pointed to his diet. “He can eat only duck and potato. No table scraps. No treats of any other kind.”

Over time we had developed quite a collection of other choices for him. They looked innocent enough. But if he ate them, he would develop an infection in his ear. Strange.
We believed the vet. Charlie was cut off.

Only duck and potato.


My thoughts turned to my diet. I was very aware of the consequences of eating the wrong kinds of foods. But just like Charlie, I liked them. A lot. Fruits and vegetables are just not enticing enough.

There is adequate evidence showing the results of eating badly. Being overweight leads to diabetes, high blood pressure…and the list goes on. But I like my treats. And unlike Charlie, who can’t control what is fed to him, I am in charge of what enters my mouth.

I don’t want only duck and potato.


The same concept holds true for what we put in our minds. A plethora of reading material is available. But if we continually feed our thoughts the juicy tidbits in books, magazines and in the movies, an infection will occur. Soon the line between our beliefs and the world’s criteria for healthy will become blurred. 

I have several different versions of the Bible on my bookshelf. But they do me no good just sitting there. For the words in that book to fight off infection in my mind, I need to read it.

It’s my duck and potato, keeping me well and whole.


“An intelligent person is always eager to take in more truth; fools feed on fast-food fads and fancies.” Proverbs 15:14 (MSG)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Playing it Safe


  I'm a mom of six children.  For the past two decades my life has been dedicated to these small people.  I've cleaned up after them,  hunted for their lost belongings, folded their underwear, made sure they had hats and gloves for one half of the year, and sunglasses and sunscreen for the other half.  I've searched store after store for coveted birthday gifts and followed them into the bathroom to make sure they brushed both top and bottom.

 

I've also felt a real need to keep  them alive.  It wasn't without a small sense of satisfaction that my oldest turned eighteen a couple of years ago and I felt like I could finally breathe.  He didn't die on my watch.  I did my job.  Honestly, keeping these kids safe consumes more of my energy than I ever dreamed it could!

 

Fingers don't go in electric sockets!

 

Put your seatbelt on.  Keep your seatbelt on!

 

We don't stick table knives in our mouth!

 

Look both ways, I said!

 

No roller skating in the street!

 

Hold my hand.

 

Get off the ladder!

 

A-S-P-I-R-I-N does not spell C-A-N-D-Y!

 

Get down from the roof!

 

Do not spray the trampoline with the hose.  Do not spray your brother with the hose.

 

No jumping from the top of the stairs!

 

 

Last Saturday was no different.  I hustled two of mine through the parking lot and into the store with at least a half a dozen admonitions to, "Watch for back-up lights!"  and, "Get over to the right - don't walk down the middle!"  And, of course, "Don't pick up candy off the parking lot!  Eww...put it down - keep walking!"

 

Finally, I commented to my three-year old, "As long as you hold my hand, you're going to be safe."  She was struggling  against my larger hand, wanting to be independent and walk alone.  I continued, "If you don't stick close to me, you're going to get hurt.  I can't protect you unless you obey me!"

 

The words had no sooner left my mouth when I felt an insistent nudging on my heart.

 

As long as you hold my  hand, you're going to be safe.

If you don't stick close to me, you're going to get hurt.

 

It's not just truth for willful preschoolers, is it?  If I want the blessed coverage of God's fellowship and protection, then I have a responsibility to stick pretty to close to Him, don't I?  The moment I step away from the Lord, convinced that whatever lures me is better than what He offers, I have just allowed myself to become vulnerable to ensnarement, pain, and injury.

 

May we choose to always walk hand-in-hand with God.
 
2 John 1:6
 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.
 
 
 
* image courtesy of bestwalls.net


 

 

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