Sunday Reflections… “And He will be called…”

If there was only one Bible verse that I could remember and keep with me in a dark, dank prison cell, that verse would be Isaiah 9:6.

12-26-12 and he shall be called

Wonderful… The KJV separates “wonderful” from “counselor” as a description all of its own. Amazing (MSG). Excellent. Great. Marvelous. Astounding. Incomprehensible. Beyond human conception. The wonder of His love for us exists as perhaps the greatest mystery of our faith (1 Timothy 3:16).

Counselor… He gives all men counsel, His perfect knowledge of what’s best imparted to us. His counsel includes vast, immeasurable wisdom (Romans 11:33). Wisdom that comes when we wait, like Joseph did, before acting (Matthew 1:20). Counsel that comes when we give God time and space to move, when we refuse to listen to our flesh and instead wait for God to speak.

Mighty God… Could be translated “Strong Hero.” Mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8). He does what only He can do because of His limitless might and power. I watch a lot of movies that have heroes who inspire through their character shown in their actions. I seek out stories of real-life heroes in the face of tragedy and violence. Yet, no hero – fiction or real – comes close to my Mighty Hero God who has no limits.

Everlasting Father… An unending reign. Eternal Father. In a world where the only constant is change, having a Father whose reign has always been and always will be brings stability that cultivates tremendous hope (Isaiah 40:28).

Prince of Peace… His peace involves receiving the favor of God from the Prince of Wholeness (MSG). No end exists to the peace He brings, to His perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3 & Isaiah 32:17). Perfect peace in an imperfect world. Then, one day, perfect peace in His Perfect Kingdom.

If I knew nothing else about my Lord, Isaiah 9:6 would be enough. It reveals His character and His heart. It reveals what He wants to do and be in my life.

DISCUSSION: What would be your “one verse” and why?

How to… Be Yourself

Today’s post comes from the example set by my oldest son who is celebrating his 14th birthday today. Before I launch into a diatribe of how he can’t possibly be 14 because I can’t possibly be old enough to have a 14-year-old, let me just say, “Happy Birthday, Jonathan! I love you!”

12-24-12 birthday cropped 2

“Don’t feel stupid if you don’t like what everyone else pretends to love.” – Emma Watson

The quote above fits my son oh so well because one of Jonathan’s biggest strengths lies with his self-confidence. He knows how to stay true to himself. As I thought about why that is and how that is evidenced in his life, 7 qualities that describe Jonathan stood out.

  1. Loyal. Jonathan has a friend others seem to avoid, but my son will choose his friend over an invitation to join the “cool” kids. Why? “He’s my friend, and I like him.”
  2. Individual. Jonathan listens to movie soundtracks like Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean and other classical-style music. He doesn’t like the music most kids his age listen to.
  3. Simple. Jeans, t-shirt and tennis shoes. So much like his dad.
  4. Teachable. He asks for help with his homework as much as he does with the social challenges boys his age face. He gathers input, makes a decision, and then commits to that decision fully.
  5. Diligent. Jonathan sets goals and does what’s necessary to reach them. He needs little supervision.
  6. Honest. Jonathan has always had a very guilty conscience, even as a toddler. He owns up to his mistakes quickly and is honest with his thoughts and opinions. While he is still learning how to better mitigate those responses, his honesty is certainly refreshing.
  7. Humorous. He doesn’t try to be funny. He does sort of “collect” humor from what he reads and watches, and then he makes it his own. Jonathan just says or does what he finds humorous, and he ends up being hilarious.

These 7 qualities not only illustrate how my son Jonathan stays true to who he is, they also offer valuable insight into how each one of us can learn to truly be our unique selves too. At least, he has certainly taught me that lesson in my own life over and over again during these past 14 years.

12-24-12 birthday cropped

God has gifted me with such an amazing son, and I look forward to learning more from Jonathan in the future!

DISCUSSION: What qualities in Jonathan do you want to cultivate in your own life? How do you plan to do this?

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“I love my attitude!”

12-21-12 attitudeNot My Problem

In high school, I had a friend who was described by the school principal as having an “attitude problem.” As rebellious teenagers who had not properly learned the value of respect for authority and the importance of being teachable, my friend and I thought this was hilarious. I even bought him a t-shirt that said, “I Love My Attitude” on the front.

My friend proudly wore the shirt to school just as proudly as he wore his attitude problem. At the time, I saw him as the one with a rebellious attitude and me as just being a supportive friend. Little did I know that my own attitude problem was also growing.

Okay, It Is My Problem

Recently, I was asked to do something because someone else backed out of a commitment. Although I knew right away I would say yes, I purposefully held off making the commitment because my attitude about doing so was terrible. It was filled with assumptions about the intentions of others as well as judgments of what they should or should not have done.

I felt like I needed to get my attitude right before I said yes. Should I have said yes right away because I knew I would eventually anyway and then hope a right attitude followed? What if it didn’t follow?

Doing the right thing with a wrong attitude has bruised my witness way too much. For this reason, I needed to get at the root cause of my attitude problem before making the commitment. I suddenly realized that this was a reoccurring problem that had been growing in my spirit since high school. Time to receive victory over my attitude.

Spiritual Surgery

God’s Word will divide soul and spirit; it will properly judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). I needed spiritual surgery because I was justifying my attitude instead of taking ownership of it. I was allowing others to determine my response to life. As will always happen if we let it, God’s word gave me a much-needed attitude adjustment.

The Bottom Line

As I studied scripture regarding attitude, I more fully realized a truth I had recited to my two boys many times: “Attitude is a choice.” Here’s my scripture path:

  1. Genesis 4:6-7 – Choose to respond correctly and not to react.
  2. Numbers 14:1-4 – Avoid letting a bad attitude lead to a bad decision.
  3. Proverbs 29:25 – Base your attitude on God, not on other people.
  4. Habakkuk 3:17-19 – Refuse to let circumstances dictate attitude.
  5. Matthew 5:5 – Decide to have a humble attitude.
  6. Philippians 1:20-25 – Live with eager expectation.
  7. Philippians 2:5 – Adopt Christ’s attitude.
  8. Philippians 4:4 – Choose joy!
  9. Philippians 4:6-7 – Turn everything into a prayer.

Attitude is a choice, not a feeling. Do you think Jesus felt like being arrested & crucified? He chose a humble attitude based on His purpose from the Father. In following Jesus’ example, I need to do what’s right for God’s will in my life, for what lines up with who I am in Him.

The Root Cause

After re-learning what the Bible says about attitude, I then applied a Biblical principle I knew to be true but that I had up to this point failed to apply to in choosing and directing my attitude.

My attitude in every situation began to change only when I deliberately focused on doing what God wanted me to do in that given situation. When I focused on others and on my selfish desires, my attitude basically tanked. My opinions (not always based on fact and usually based too much on assumptions) and feelings about others should not create my attitude.

When I focus on what God wants, I can step into the light and choose an attitude that pleases Him and that allows me to make the most of every opportunity He gives me in this life. (Ephesians 5:8-17).

DISCUSSION: What can you share about the impact of choosing your attitude?

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Sunday Reflections – “It was just another day.”

Note: This post was not easy to write, but it was necessary to write. I needed to process this horrific tragedy. I needed, at least for my very small, considerably insignificant part, to bring some good out of the senseless.

12-19-12 question 1Just Another Day

People going about their morning just like every other morning with no knowledge of the horribly unordinary day that lies ahead of them. The school nurse at Sandy Hook said the day started with “comforting routine.” Yet, a day that started as “just another day” changed so many lives… no more ordinary days for so many people.

While I have watched the newscasts, the pictures replayed in my mind are not of reality. I picture my boys’ school. I picture how a gunman might go in, how he might plan to kill there. How someone might take “just another day” and turn it into a day of infamy in my own life.

I don’t know how families and communities move on after something like this.

As I watched the developments in the story, my thankfulness for all of the ordinary days I’ve had and all of the ones to come have increased. More than ever before, I am cognizant of evil and its ability to destroy any semblance of a “normal day” for the rest of a person’s life.

Virtually every TV news show tells the story anew each day as the pieces of the story come together. I want to turn away because it’s so horribly sad. But, I don’t turn away because the families of 26 people – 20 young children – can’t ever turn away. Somehow, watching and feeling grief – though comparably minuscule – gives me some way of showing support and sympathy.

Refuse to Fear

12-19-12 question 3

I’m not going to try to make any sense of why anyone would murder 1st graders. The topic of gun control perplexes me. So does wondering about the cause of a demented mind. Complex. Controversial. Complicated.

But I refuse to have fear! The only fear that drives me is fear of the Lord, because His perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

Where Was God?

Psalm 44 captures well the feelings so many of us have after senseless tragedy. Please take a minute to read Psalm 44 now.

In this Psalm, the writer remembers past victories and blessings from God. He then moves into and ends with wondering where God is as people go through tremendous suffering. That’s it. No explanation as to why God seems distant and even absent and why He doesn’t move to change the situation.

I feel that way today. I know that God has done amazing things in the past and wonder how He could have allowed this to happen. Why didn’t He stop it? I know He could have. Like the Psalmist, I end my pleas without specific answers; at least, not tangible answers that make everything okay again.

12-19-12 question 2

No Other Comfort

Romans 8 offers comfort and hope. As a Christian, I know that sin does not have control over me. Not my sin, not anyone else’s sin (v. 3). I find comfort in knowing that God knows what it’s like for a parent to have a child murdered (v. 31). Though I may sometimes feel God is distant in times of suffering, I know that my feelings often deceive me. If my feelings were accurate, the God’s Word wouldn’t be. Therefore, I rely on knowing that NOTHING separates me from Him (vv. 35-37).

Though my processing of the Sandy Hook tragedy comes with personal struggle, I realize that my own struggle pales and even disappears in comparison to those who are personally living this tragedy. Yet, I also know that processing this for me means preparing for future suffering in my own life.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.
But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 – NLT)

Lessons from Adopting an Older Child

 First, let me say Happy Birthday to my youngest son, Richard, who I have been blessed to have as a son for 3 years now.

Tomorrow not only marks my youngest son’s 12th birthday but also the 2nd anniversary of his official adoption. Before 3 years ago (he lived with us a year before being legally adopted), I already knew that parenting taught a person more than almost any other experience in life, and I already knew that being a parent helped create a fuller understanding of how God feels about His children.

But not until we adopted our son two years ago did I begin to grasp the idea of what adoption really means. You can read more about this in How to… Celebrate Adoption.

Adopting and raising an older child has also taught me many life lessons, and that is where we focus for today’s post. With that, the following 6 lessons stand out from the past 3 years.

  1. There will always be baggage. Even after forgiveness, consequences can linger. Communication is necessary for working through and managing the impact of these consequences.
  2. Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. One caseworker after another kept telling me to be consistent, and they were right on the money. Consistency helped my son heal from his past and embrace his future.
  3. Baggage often needs repacked. At various stages of growth, we need to address our son’s past and help him to understand it as much as is possible. This often means re-explaining something to fit his social, mental and spiritual maturity.
  4. Love really is a choice. Loving my oldest son comes naturally because I gave birth to him. Loving my youngest son, while just as strong, comes through choosing to do so no matter what. Before we even met him, we committed to loving him as if he was our biological son. God gives us grace abundantly to help us do just that each and every day.
  5. Patterns provide clues. When he first came to live with us, patterns of lying and stealing were cries for help. They were clues telling us that he needed security and consistency. These and other clues still pop up from time to time, and we talk about them and help create self-awareness. We try to always consider and deal with the root cause when this happens.
  6. Your child needs you to be an advocate. This doesn’t mean agreeing with bad behavior and poor choices. It means making sure your child receives the best chance at a successful future. For our youngest son, this requires regular contact with teachers and other authority as well as addressing any problem areas before they get out of control. Being an advocate means giving extra help where necessary and realizing that you know your child better than anyone, and you need to fight for what he needs to grow and mature in a positive way.

With each of these lessons, not only has my relationship with my son grown, but my relationship with God has as well. God has used this process to stretch and refine me in profound ways, and I would never trade it for the world even though it’s also one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

I realize that challenges lie ahead in the teenage years, but I also am confident that God will guard and keep my son in Christ Jesus. So, I have faith and release my son to God, but I also stand guard. Just as Jesus continues to pray and advocate for me, I will continue to do so for my son as well.

DISCUSSION: How has God used parenting to show you more about Him?

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It was the Christmas when…

…my parents pretended our Christmas presents were heavy when they were actually really light.

…I burst into tears while singing “Go Tell It On The Mountain” during the children’s Christmas program at church.

…the cat used the presents under the tree as a litter box.

…my parents told me they were getting a divorce.

…no decorations went up at my house.

…I spent the day in the hospital after giving birth to my son on Christmas Eve. (Was it really 18 years ago?)

…my son kept saying, “Just what I always wanted” after opening each Christmas present.

…we spent the week in Virginia on vacation.

…we spent the week in St. Maarten on vacation.

…we found out we’d be adopting a 9-year-old boy (Was this really 7 years ago?)

Some good memories. Some great memories. Some bad memories. Some really bad memories. I’m not sure I even remember them all exactly as they happened, but I know that they all contribute to making me who I am today.

What Christmas memories stick out most for you?

Ultimately, Christmas is a time for remembering. It’s a time for being glad and sad at the same time. After all, nothing will ever be like it was.

Aren’t you glad you won’t ever be exactly like you were?

The first Christmas was more remarkable than any before or since But, Christ’s second coming gives us reason to celebrate Christmas anew every year.

We can and should look back occasionally. After all, we can remember and learn from the past. Yet, we must choose to look forward. Look toward creating new memories and shaping the future you. And, look toward the second coming while joyously celebrating the first.

How does looking toward Christ’s second coming change how you celebrate His first coming?

How to… Avoid Over-Commitment

In Guidelines for Godly Commitment, point number 5 briefly addressed the importance of avoiding over-commitment. Because over-commitment seems to have reached epidemic proportions in so many lives, let’s now take some time to explore the topic in more detail by looking at 5 approaches for avoiding over-commitment.

Keep in mind that many of the same approaches for preventing will also reduce overload, the result of over-commitment.

5 Approaches for Avoiding Over-Commitment

  1. Make fewer commitments. Seems obvious, but we often need reminded that being committed is not necessarily about making commitments. In fact, making fewer commitments often allows for increased commitment.
  2. Get discernment through prayer and accountability. We are too often blinded by our own ambition. Be sure to have at least one second set of eyes to help determine whether or not to make or keep a commitment.
  3. Learn to manage your commitments. Sometimes this means getting help from those with more experience (Exodus 18:17-27), and sometimes it simply means taking a break (Mark 6:31). Learn what you need to do to keep your commitments in perspective.
  4. Find creative solutions for reducing current commitments. While no one likes to break a commitment, sometimes it’s necessary. Find ways to soften the blow such as replacing yourself, asking to be released, hiring something done, and fazing yourself out.
  5. Set priorities. Write them down and use them to guide future commitments as well as for periodic assessment.

Learn to Say “No.”

Saying “no” when necessary is key to avoiding over-commitment. Conversely, saying “yes” to too much creates overload.

I do not particularly enjoy saying “no,” especially because I often have to say it to people I love and want to help. I feel selfish almost every time, and I have to deliberately work through that. I do this usually by talking with my husband (my main accountability partner) about our current goals and areas of focus.

One of the most difficult aspects of saying “no” is that it means turning down some good opportunities. Yet, even though I struggle with saying “no,” I realize that doing so allows me to be more fully committed to the things I say “yes” to.

Remember Your “Why”

The following scripture found in 1 Peter 4 gives great insight into our motivation for commitments. Knowing your “why” provides tremendous motivation for freeing yourself from the weight of over-commitment.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (vv. 8-11)

In light of this scripture, consider that over-commitment can lead to damaging your integrity hurting relationships and your ability to spiritually, physically and mentally stay committed.

Also consider that in order to “love each other as if your life depended on it” you can’t already be over-committed, and in order to “be quick to give” you have to have space in your life to see the opportunity and not just see an obligation.

Next, consider that in order to “be generous” with “words” or “help” you have to know what God wants by asking & listening to Him often and by committing your ways to Him daily.

Finally,realize that  if you are too busy, distracted and over-committed, how can you truly have Him evident “in everything”?

DISCUSSION: What is your plan for avoiding or eliminating over-commitment in your life?

Want a great, Christian time-management resource? Check out Life of a Steward by Loren Pinilis.

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Ordinary to Extraordinary

Most of our lives exist in the realm of ordinary. Work. Eat. Family time. Sleep. Days blend one into another as ordinary keeps us moving through life.

Ordinary makes up most of life, and don’t we find comfort there? Comfort in routines and habits and traditions. Comfort knowing that even amidst a constantly changing world, some things endure without change.

For most of his life on earth, Jesus lived a very ordinary life. He walked from place to place. He went to weddings. He took naps. He rested and refreshed as needed. He learned a trade. He travelled with his family. Yes, Jesus largely lived an ordinary life.

We know some details about Jesus’ life as a baby (Luke 1:1-2:40), and we know just a little about him as a young boy (Luke 2:41-51). But we know very little about his life in between those times and up until the extraordinary times that were the last three years of his life as a man on earth.

But here’s what we do know about that relatively obscure time in Jesus’ life:

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52 – NIV)

This verse sums up well how the ordinary part of Jesus’ life prepared him for the extraordinary. Jesus shows us that, handled properly, the ordinary prepares us for the extraordinary that life serves up from time to time. The work and play done in the ordinary moments teaches and strengthens us for the challenge of the extraordinary.

The application? Enjoy the ordinary moments. Realize that living in the extraordinary would exhaust us. Consider that the ordinary allows us to truly know the extraordinary. In fact, the ordinary prepares us for the extraordinary.

And, as the ordinary parts of our lives flow one into another, we can look back and see that many of those ordinary moments were extraordinary after all. Your kids’ laughter. An evening walk with your spouse. Bedtime prayers and family game nights. Those ordinary events contributed to growth in wisdom, strength and favor in ways only the extraordinary can reveal.

DISCUSSION: Think back over the ordinary moments of your life. What stands out now as truly extraordinary?

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Related Posts:

Permission to Have Ordinary Days at Everyday Awe.

Note: Be sure to out my guest post Rekindle the Christmas Story on Everyday Awe.

Journey to a Joyous Christmas

A joyous Christmas happens when we choose to journey to meet Christ. Christmas motivates us to step outside of our everyday lives and experience the most momentous event in history. Let’s consider this idea of journeying to meet Christ in light of that first Christmas celebrated over 2000 years ago.

Luke 1:39-56

When she found out she was pregnant, Mary journeyed to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Pregnant with her own miracle baby, Elizabeth encouraged Mary. Mary to then rejoiced in her personal journey with God.

Luke 2:1-7

Mary & Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem for the census. The struggle to secure appropriate lodging resulted in possibly the most unassuming, simple entry into this world that God as flesh could make.

Luke 2:8-20

The shepherds journeyed to see Jesus after being encouraged by the angels’ praise. The shepherds “told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child,” and they “went back to their fields and flocks, glorifying God for what the angels had told them.”

The journeys taken that first Christmas point toward a journey each of us must take if we hope to truly experience a joyous Christmas. Consider the following aspects as you make the journey this year toward a joyous Christmas.

  1. Christmas intensifies feelings.

    The shepherds’ reaction to their journey as well as Mary’s expression during her visit with Elizabeth illustrate this point well. Unfortunately, bad feelings can intensify too. Focus expectations on Jesus rather than on the world’s view of Christmas to make sure good feelings intensify instead.

  2. Words impact Christmas joy.

    Elizabeth’s words encouraged Mary. The angel’s words encouraged the shepherds. In both cases, encouraging words resulted in tremendous joy that spread to others. Our words can destroy or build Christmas joy. Think before speaking at Christmas and also year round.

  3. A joyous Christmas comes from a focus on Jesus.

    Elizabeth’s encouragement focused on God. So did Mary’s response. The angels’ song focused on God. So did the shepherds’ response to that song as well as their response to seeing Jesus. All experienced a joyous first Christmas because of a focus on God through His Son’s birth. Then and still today, when Jesus is the focus, joy is the result.

Life constantly serves up a full menu of distractions. Biblical history shows this as much as our own calendars and checkbooks today. The journey to a joyous Christmas comes through a deliberate choice to push through, and most likely to push away, distractions and to instead deliberately focus on Jesus.

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How to… Get an Alignment

While I don’t specifically know how a car is aligned, I do know alignment is very important. When a car is severely misaligned, the driver can feel it pull toward the side of the road even while holding the steering wheel. Slight to moderate misalignment is more difficult but not impossible to notice.

Why is alignment important to a vehicle? Misalignment in an automobile causes uneven and rapid tire wear as well as lack of steering feel and responsiveness. In addition, misalignment causes added vibration throughout the vehicle which can increase the wear and tear on the vehicle as a whole.

I’m sure a mechanic (or most guys) could explain it better, but you get the idea.

How does this idea of alignment transfer to a person’s life? When a person is out of alignment, he has difficulty listening to others and giving focused attention. She may appear to be listening, but she is not giving 100% of herself. A misaligned individual gets frustrated easily and might feel constantly worn out.

Signs of misalignment include being easily or quickly worn out, neglecting important parts of life such as exercise and healthy eating, and drifting from usual habits like regular meals, a good night’s sleep and daily devotions. Other signs include struggling to keep up with the routine of work and career as well as noticing a severe decline in attitude.

Why is alignment so important? When a person is out of alignment in any area, they are headed for a more serious situation such as significant illness, depression, and destruction of relationships. In other words, misalignment is a warning sign that we must heed if we expect to prevent some of the more serious situations that can take us completely out of commission.

The following 3 guidelines can help assess your alignment as well as steer you toward a straighter path.

1. Plan for inclement weather. Since I live in Michigan, I know the weather can change in a heartbeat and often does so half a dozen times in one day. Similarly, life can change instantly, and we must be as aligned as possible when struggles, trials and tragedies hit, because they will eventually hit. Keeping up with basic maintenance – healthy eating, exercise, daily prayer and devotions, etc. – can help keep you between the lines when the road gets rough.

2. Ask for help. Just like we need a mechanic to align our vehicles, we also need others to help keep our lives aligned. First and foremost, establish your marriage as a place of safety, refuge and help by using solid Marriage Maintenance Tips. Second, learn How to… Be Accountable. Third, place yourself under a Bible-believing, preaching and teaching minister. These are just for starters with the basic point being that No Man is An Island.

3. Develop a preventative maintenance plan. My family and I get monthly alignments at our chiropractor with the belief that this allows our bodies to function at their highest potential. Your preventative maintenance plan should include the above two tips as well as a continuing education (more on this in future posts). Each individual’s plan is unique, but each individual needs to have a plan.

As 2012 quickly nears an end, consider taking time to assess your alignment. Evaluate the various areas of your life – spiritual, physical, mental & social – to identify any areas of misalignment. Begin this evaluation process with a time of prayer asking for God’s perspective on each area.

We are so limited in our capacity to fix things, yet we focus so much of our energies trying to do just that. Let us instead focus on making our relationship with Christ our primary concern and then follow His plan for staying aligned.

DISCUSSION: What additional suggestions do you have for getting aligned?

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