The CHRISTmas Tree



Daniel: Thriving, Not Just Surviving

 
The worship team and I have been reading through the book of Daniel and thought I would share some insights that we have gleaned over the last few weeks. The book of Daniel is one the most profound, if not, the most entertaining books within the Bible. In these amazing pages are stories filled with incredible lessons that we can apply to our lives today. As we have been reading through the book of Daniel we have discovered four themes thus far. 
 
To give a quick recap on Daniel and his friends Shack, Rack and Benny (this is a reference to the Veggie Tales characters)– I mean Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They had been living in Judah when the city was invaded by King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Daniel and his friends were not killed but rather marched back to Babylon because of their physical nature and intelligence. They are given new Babylon names, told to eat and dress like the Babylonians and to worship the Babylonian gods i.e. King Nebuchadnezzar. That could be overwhelming for anybody–especially a teenage boy who was abruptly removed from his hometown and taken to a foreign land to serve a foreign king. His identity had been torn from him. Daniel, however, was not shaken. It is here we see the first of four key lessons we can learn from Daniel. 
 
Daniel wasn’t willing to compromise his standards.
 
Daniel 1:8 says, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” 
 
Look at the verse again. It says that Daniel resolved not to eat of the food Nebuchadnezzar had provided. The phrase “that he might not defile himself,” suggests that the food King Nebuchadnezzar was serving was a kind of food that the Jews weren’t allowed to eat. Remember that the Jews had many dietary restrictions of foods that were declared unclean.
 
Here’s my point: Daniel didn’t have to uphold his Jewish standards. He was away from home, in a foreign pagan kingdom, without his parents around. He could’ve eaten the food without a second thought. A modern day example of this would be if a child goes to a friend’s house and they’re playing a video game or watching a movie they aren’t allowed to watch. Since parents aren’t around, this child can easily get away with playing the game or watching the movie. Same thing going on here. Daniel didn’t have to maintain his Jewish standards. But he did. This young boy had the commands of God – as well as integrity – so instilled in him, that it mattered to him whether or not he pleased God. It didn’t matter what everyone around him was doing.
 
According to the text, only Daniel and his 3 friends refused the king’s food. All the other captives ate whatever the king was offering (probably to save their own necks). This didn’t matter to Daniel. He wasn’t going to compromise. This is an extremely important lesson for all of us to learn — young and old.
 
Peer pressure is a powerful thing. Peer pressure is when we feel compelled to act a certain way because we want to fit in and be accepted by certain people. It can cause us to fall into a pattern of behavior we didn’t want to fall into. It tricks us into thinking “everybody else is doing it.” It can increase our faith or decrease our faith depending on who is influencing.   As followers of Christ we have to decide up front, just like Daniel, that we’re not going to compromise our biblical principles no matter what. Just as Daniel “resolved in his heart,” we must also determine that whatever comes our way, we’re not going to forfeit what we know is acceptable in the sight of God. Because the pressure will come. Somehow, someway you’re going to get negatively influenced by your peers, coworkers, etc. But if pleasing God and living according to His will truly is important to you, as it was to Daniel, it’ll be easier than you think. Decide right now that if something comes up you know is contrary to God’s word, you aren’t going to participate or condone that behavior.
 
Part 2 later this week…


The Canvas of a Mother’s Heart

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work…Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.”   — 2 Corinthians 9:8, 10


This past Sunday was one that began much like all the others before it.  We lingered in our beds a bit longer than we should have, then scurried to look our best for heading off to church as a family.  We enjoyed our different lessons and the friends we chatted with in the cafe, and left, feeling the freedom of a day wide open to possibilities.  Lunch was awaiting us in the crock pot and the only thing ahead of us was youth group for the oldest two boys later in the evening.  Sundays are often my long awaited breath of fresh air after diving deep into the depths of homework, extra-curricular, appointments and schedules all week.  This Sunday was just that; a wonderful breath of air…in more ways than one.


Just last week I was sharing with friends that although I feel, and always have, that motherhood is my life’s calling, I often get dragged down by the weight of it and its constant momentum.  In the everyday, motherhood can be thankless and exhausting, and I for one, regularly question my efforts and seem to see my inadequacies glaring back at me as if reflecting off the top side of a magnifying glass.  It’s tough to see the good in those times.  It’s nearly impossible to see the bigger picture that God is painting when our gaze is stuck on one single stroke that seems to lack color, direction, shape or form…when life gets clumpy and doesn’t go on smoothly.  Honestly, while raising three boys, it is not often that there is much sensible direction that is lasting, or smooth sailing for very long stretches!  It’s messy!  It’s GOOD and messy!  So that is where you’ll find me most days, just doing my best to trudge through, all the while adding any brightness or color I can muster, praying God helps it to stick and fills in the gaps.   I trust that many of you can relate in some way…mothers, fathers, caregivers, friends.  We can’t always see the beauty in our efforts, until God gives us a glimpse of his plan.  


“Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  — Galatians 6:9


So, I mentioned that my day was quiet and my plan was for it to be uneventful.  God had a better plan!  My husband gathered my oldest two boys and took them back to church for youth group.  My youngest was playing quietly downstairs and I remember thinking how peaceful the evening was.  My ears were perked, and my senses alert, as it was just my six year old and I left in the house.  You moms understand what I mean, when our senses are heightened and more in tune to instantly know of any needs that may arise with our little ones, all while soaking in a bit of peace and quiet down the hall or behind a closed door or eyelid.  I was reading something while lounging in my bed when I heard his pitter-patter the first time.  

“Mom!” he shouted chipperly from the hallway before galloping in.  


“Yes, Solomon?”  I asked.  


“I’ll be downstairs cleaning Asher’s room if you wonder where I am!  But it’s a surprise so you can’t tell him.”  he said with an excited seriousness.


I proceeded to tell him that he didn’t have to clean Asher’s room, but that it was such a sweet thought.  If that was what he wanted to do, I certainly wasn’t going to stand in his way.  Lucky Asher!  is what I was thinking, along with Oh no, what did he do that he is trying to butter Asher up!  But his intentions seemed right enough and my bed was cozy so I left him to it.  I heard music start playing and concluded that he was doing just as he said, to the beat of some good tunes.  About 5 minutes later he came wandering in, a bit more quiet this time, but still a boy clearly on a mission.  


“Mom.  I forgot to tell you that I want to be baptized.”  


This is the point where I have struggled to find the words to share with you what that moment was like for me.  There just aren’t any.  My little six year old, peanut of a boy came to me and declared his intentions to follow Jesus.  I cannot adequately describe the emotions that I felt then and still am now.  Let me just say, my world stood still, my heart just about burst and I can still see his sweet, innocent yet determined, expression in my mind’s eye.  I’m not going to share the specifics of our conversation that followed.  Those moments are a gracious gift that God intended for Solomon and I to share.  But I will just say that I cleared up for him the difference between baptism and salvation, he asked questions and I answered them as I felt led.  I was at peace to let the moment pass as simply a teaching moment, but Solomon was a boy with intention.  His was a heart ripe for the harvest and he asked me to lead him in a prayer to choose Jesus.  He spoke with a confidence that I had never heard in his voice before, and when he lifted his head after saying Amen, I could genuinely see God at work in his eyes.  


Life is a series of seasons; a journey of hills and valleys.  Our purpose cannot be clearly seen at every point, but God is faithful to guide us to those places where his light shines brightly upon us and through us.  The bends and dips, crooks and forks are all there at his will, to teach and mold us, to better prepare us.  Be careful to stay on the path, my friends, whichever way it’s winding, and trust that He who called you according to his purpose is not only at work on the destination, but in the midst of the journey as well.  


“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.  She how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”  James 5:7-8


And just like that, my Mother’s Day is already the best yet…Thank you Jesus!



Pressing Pause

I’ll admit it…I’m scrambling!
 
We’ve made some intentional choices to keep our Christmas season simpler and more focused on Christ. However, we still are hurrying, scurrying and feeling overwhelmed. I struggle with finding the right balance. I always said I wouldn’t be “that mom” who was constantly running her kids to this and that and never having time for extras because the “regular stuff” leaves no room for it. And yet here we are, with two kids in youth group on Sundays, one kid in Bible quizzing on Mondays and every first Saturday (who could say no to that?!) and Jazz Band on Wednesdays. Another boy in Gymnastics on Tuesdays and Yoga on Wednesdays and Fridays. The other kid in Bowling on select Fridays, usually the same Fridays as Yoga, ending at the same time requiring mom to be in two places at nearly the same time! (Insert gasping breath here).
 
Add in the wonderful extras like Christmas Story Hour, Winter Concerts, Cantatas, Christmas plays that cousins are in, family portraits, special church services, looking at Christmas lights, helping kindergartners make gingerbread houses…oh, and who could forget figuring out outfits for all of these special events and those wonderful theme days at school… AAAAaaahhhhhh!!! (Did I mention I haven’t been feeling all that well? Sickness?! Ain’t nobody got time for that!)
 
And everyone still wants food–like meals cooked for them, clean dishes to eat them on, OH, and clothes that are semi clean and preferably dry, not still sitting sopping wet in the washer. Most of them also request that said clothes match, be the right size, and easily visible to the eye without the use of their hands to dig it out from under a mound of other clothes! Oh, how dare they!? And then there are those Christmas lists and the expectation of boxes, wrapped with pretty paper filled with favorites waiting for them under the tree. So THEN there are the shopping trips, ordering and mailing, seeking and finding, comparing and choosing. Decisions?! Who can make decisions at a time like this?!
 
So here I am, sitting in my pajamas after a crazy morning of frantically trying to get four guys out of my house on time, wearing their own clean, matching clothes (no extra charge for wrinkles) and I have no idea where to start picking up the scattered pieces of life. And then I see Him. There in the manger on my mantle, is that little baby boy. Babies are like therapy anyway, but THIS baby is more than that! He is my Salvation, my Comforter, my Guide, my Deliverer, the source of my Joy, my Faithful Companion, my Uplifter and Protector. HE gives the perfect gifts at Christmas and all year through. This morning, HE reminds me to find joy in my weariness, to have a heart of gratitude, to press on and to run this wacky race well, safe in the knowledge that He is here with me, shining in and through me however, whenever I am a willing soul. So what started as a rant, ends with praise to my God for the gift of his Son, Jesus, and for all the joy and love and goodness that he brings to my life. When I am quiet enough to listen and still enough to be held in his arms, all is well and I am blessed. Be blessed in his love, friends. Merry Christmas!
 
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Psalm 121: 1-8


Why…Shepherds?

As I began to unpack my nativity set this Christmas, I began to ponder … why the Shepherds? The Savior of all had come into the world! Why did God send His angels to proclaim the news to the shepherds first? I mean why not announce it first to the religious leaders? Why not the wealthy citizens of Jerusalem–those with the most influence? Or why not the news media?! Ok, I don’t think they had news media back then. But why not announce the news to the most talkative, chatty people in the region who could get the word out faster?
 

Don’t ask me why, but then I started to think about the ancient–and I do mean ancient–practice Israel had in the Old Testament, a sacrificial system of atonement. Basically, that meant that after one had sinned there was a way they were restored to right-standing with God through the death of an animal. The Book of Leviticus lays out the entire system for sacrifices that God required of the people of Israel:

  • It lists all the various reasons why a sacrifice must be presented.
  • It itemizes each different kind of sacrifice, with detailed and thorough instructions that corresponded to each.
  • It specifies what kinds of animals or materials to offer,
  • how they are to be offered,
  • what condition the offerings must be in to be acceptable,
  • the ways the priests were supposed to receive and deal with each offering,
  • how they were to kill it and offer each kind,
  • what they are to do with each part of each sacrificethe blood, the individual organs, the hide,
  • and the specific timing of when each step in the process was supposed to happen…
 

And what was the purpose of all this? Why was this complicated system of sacrifices being required of Israel by the Lord? Afterall, it was to deal with the people’s sins. If you sin, you kill an animal. You sin again, you kill another animal. You commit a really big sin? You kill another animal. You sin by accident? You kill an animal. This long, complicated system of sacrifices prescribed in Leviticus was all about atoning for people’s sins, whether they be intentional sins of disobedience, or even from accidental or unintentional things that may have caused them to become unclean in the sight of God.

But even this intricate and detailed system for atonement was inadequate: every form of sacrifice was only temporary. Each of the sacrifices only restored the person’s atonement until the very next time they committed sin! The atoning effect of the previous sacrifice would be gone, and they would have to offer a new sacrifice to once again restore their holiness in the eyes of God. Leviticus gives us a detailed description of what man could try to do to make himself right with God. 

 

This was the system Israel operated in for over 1400 years! And all of the nation’s sins that were to be atoned for was supposed to take place in Jerusalem. The same Jerusalem that was approximately 4 miles from Bethlehem, the country hillside. And you guessed it, the very animals for these sacrifices were raised and cared for and looked after by the shepherds of the pastures of the villages surrounding Jerusalem.

In order for the sacrifice to be acceptable, the lamb had to be spotless and without blemish—no broken bones, no sores, or scratches, or physical defects. So the shepherds responsible for these animals had to take very good care of them. Generation after generation after generation of Bethlehem shepherds were specifically trained in the care of the sheep who, one day, would each be taken into Jerusalem to be sacrificed to make atonement for the sins of the people.

So… Why the Shepherds? Why would the first angelic proclamation of “Joy to the World!” come to the Bethlehem shepherds? I wonder who could have had more excitement than these particular shepherds?! They certainly would have understood the gravity of the proclamation:“Peace on earth!” 

You don’t have to offer these insufficient sacrifices anymore! The gulf that stands between God and humanity is removed—through this child! This baby demonstrates that God’s favor truly rests upon humankind! His spotless and unblemished life will be the sacrifice that fully and finally unites everyone with God!

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!



The Ugliness of the Unfinished

broken-mirror
 
Honestly, my house is a mess!  I’m not speaking of the everyday this, that gets left there or the laundry piled up.  That’s there too, but I’m talking about my walls.  Some are still bare, never adorned with favorite photos or works of art, even as the one year mark of our move into these walls approaches.  Some of the paint colors just aren’t my favorite or need to be freshened up and I guess my thought has been, why decorate a wall that I don’t like, or that needs work?  Why take the time to put things up, just to take them down again to start from scratch? 
 
Another bit of honesty:  I thought that if I left them bare, I might be more quickly moved to make the changes I envisioned so that I could get my pretty things up…it hasn’t worked.  Sure I’ve worked on things here and there, but either life or perfectionism has kept me from getting the jobs done.  I did tear up my bathroom walls back in the Spring, kind of on a whim, tired of the brown, and certain that it wouldn’t be all that hard to paint a brighter color and throw some new wainscoting up.  Even the sanding of the vanity cabinet took less time than I thought and I am fairly happy with my creativity in the painting of it.  But I hadn’t thought of ALL the details when I first tore it all up in a matter of hours way back in the spring…It takes time!  (and money and patience and more hands and the list goes on!)  
 
The cabinet hinges are old and rusty and just don’t go with my newly prettied up vanity, and strangely I am not finding, very quickly,  what I hoped to replace them with.   The old mirror is permanently cloudy, and really needs to be replaced, but I can’t find a mirror quite the size, shape and color I want or need to fit nicely under the light fixtures that I don’t know how to move, not that I would want to add that to my list!  I have a wonderful idea in mind for the ceiling that is peeling of the old brown paint, but I need quite a few extra hands to help with that undertaking, and although I have willing souls to help with it, I have yet to find the best time to gather them here and give it a go.  The new wainscoting, or at least a sampling of the two styles we settled on are waiting patiently in the garage for us to haul in and make our choice.  But our weekends are busy, and our evenings are fleeting, and meanwhile, I have tired of the complexity of that little bathroom, even though it is paining me to look at all that old tile glue and liquid nails still left on the walls from the tearing out of the previous dwellers preferences. 
 
Even with all of the my hard work in choosing, prepping and painting it a nice, warm, ocean blue, adding a trendy new door knob, and almost finishing the vanity, I am still seeing the ugliness of an unfinished room.  So while I continue my search for the details and wait for a big enough time slot to get things moving again in there, I have decided for the time being to move on to the living room that I am certain will be much easier to tackle, with just a new coat of paint, a new curtain rod and curtains.   I hope to have it finished within the month so that my Christmas tree and decorations can go up in a warm and finished room!  But now begins the process of doing the work and the ugliness and mess have crept farther down the hall!  
 

Have you ever felt like an ugly mess?!  Have you ever felt like there is so much work to be done in you or your life that there couldn’t possibly be any good shining through?   We have a tendency, just like I did about my bathroom walls, to misjudge the time or amount of work it takes for change to take shape in us or our circumstances.  We live in a world of instant access, and we have grown unaccustomed to the virtue of patience.  Are we looking past the Carpenter and his careful, committed work in us, and only focusing on the ugliness of an unfinished circumstance?  Are we focused so much on a desired end result, that we neglect to see His hands at work in this moment?  Are we showing gratitude for his presence and trusting Him to complete His good work in us?    Let’s remember that life is a journey, and He is our everything.  Let us unfix our eyes from the ugliness around us or even in us, and focus in on the Carpenter at work in the midst of it.    I am so grateful for this reminder today, and pray you are blessed by it too…He is at work in us all!

 
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28
 
“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”  Philippians 2:13
 
–written by Naomi M.