Cramming Everything In (Perspective on Priorities)

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

The teacher stood in front of the class holding a large beaker. He  placed several  large rocks inside, and asked the class if they thought he could fit any more in, or was the beaker full? The students replied that it was full.

But then the instructor took out some smaller stones and placed them around the larger ones, and sure enough, they fit.  “Now is it full?” he asked. The students hesitated to answer.

The teacher pulled out a small bag of gravel and slowly poured it over the beaker, giving the container an occasional shake, until the gravel reached the top.

Now is it full?” he asked. The students said nothing.

Next he got out a little bag of sand and began spooning it over the beaker. As sand slid down in between the large rocks, smaller stones, and gravel, everyone realized how much room had remained after all.

NOW is the beaker full?” This time some students called out, “NOooo!”

They were right. The teacher took out his last prop, a glass of water, and when he had poured the water over the rocks, the stones, the gravel, and the sand, as the last ingredient soaked in, it appeared the beaker was at last full.

Have you ever known someone who seems to do so much with the same 24-hour day that others struggle with? Do these people really have more hours in their day, or do they know something the rest of us don’t about priorities?

Suppose the teacher had started with the water, then added the sand, then the gravel, then some of the small stones on top of the gravel. By the time he was halfway through adding the small stones, he would have run out of room for the rest, never mind the large rocks.

When planning your day, do you focus on the most important things first, or do you just do what seems easiest at the moment? Do you spend a great deal of time doing things that don’t really need to be done today, and then find at the end of the day the ones that have to be done have yet to be done, and now you’re stressed and staying up too late. That kind of poor planning leads to stress, sleep deprivation, and all too often, sickness, which can really slow you down and steal your joy. (Please don’t ask me how I know this.)

So, picturing the big glass beaker, what are our big rocks? If we are believers in Jesus, they are our relationship with Him, being available to Him, learning His will, and doing it.  – or rather, letting Him do it in and through us.

The smaller stones, but still major, are the relationships in your life – being a good spouse, parent, friend, neighbor, and church member. Jesus said “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Jesus said that the most important commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)

Other things can be important, too, such as work, school, household chores, and car maintenance. This is like the gravel of life, it surrounds us and is part of pretty much every day. Things like social media, TV, video games, and other entertainment should come last. If we get side-tracked by these too early in the day, it’s amazing how quickly the day can come unraveled, and the stress begins to take over.

This is the time of year we seem to be thinking about fresh starts, and best way to start over is by examining our priorities and trying to order our lives accordingly. If you’re into New Year’s resolutions, I would suggest setting aside some time each morning, if you haven’t already, and spend that time reading Scripture and talking to God about your day. It may not be a long time, but if you have trouble even fitting that much in, try setting your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier. It will be worth much more than the sleep you miss just getting that mindset – that “divine perspective” – to set the tone for the rest of the day. Some days your prayers may seem mundane or clumsy, but it doesn’t matter to God. He sees your heart and will respond when you call out to Him. In fact, you’ll find He’s been waiting for you.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for being a God of new beginnings. As we start this new year, may we celebrate Your love for us by turning to You and giving You our time, our attention, our very lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Beginning

Light Looked Down 

by Laurence Housman

Light looked down and beheld Darkness.
“Thither will I go,” said Light.
Peace looked down and beheld War.
“Thither will I go,” said Peace.
Love looked down and beheld Hatred.
“Thither will I go,” said Love.
So came Light and shone.
So came Peace and gave rest.
So came Love and brought life.
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.*

 

Merry Christmas, friends.

 

*John 1:14

‘Tis the Season to Be … Angry?

[M]an’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 James 1:20

It seems that at Christmastime, one thing that’s as predictable as Santa is the controversy over public expressions of faith – whether or not one says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” whether or not a manger scene is permitted in a town hall display, and the ever-popular righteous indignation over the term “Xmas.” At a time when all eyes could and should be on Emmanuel – “God with us” – instead, the world is treated to the modern American stereotype of a follower of Jesus – the Angry Christian.

In America we Christians seem to have become spoiled, having grown up with rights such as free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression. Some of us also had the advantage, or disadvantage, of growing up in a society where the Christian faith was the norm. In case you haven’t noticed, this is no longer the case. In our  comfortable complacency, have we forgotten what Jesus was all about?

He was conceived in the womb of an unmarried girl, in a culture where the penalty for fornication was death by stoning. He was born far from His mother’s and foster father’s home, in a stable, because the only welcome He received was a “No Vacancy” sign. He was sought after by the king of that region, and His parents had to flee to a foreign country for Him to survive. He grew up poor, with few, if any, rights under Roman rule. His ministry was met with mixed reviews. Some loved Him, some wanted to stone Him. And some eventually condemned Him to death by crucifixion. He was cursed, beaten, spat on, mocked, and executed. And before He died, He told His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first.” (John 15:18)

So, why are we so indignant that the world doesn’t receive us with open arms? Why do we expect people to say “Merry Christmas” who have no idea what we are celebrating? Why do we want our government to display our Savior’s birth, when we ourselves fall so short of displaying His glory in our own lives? What is it about resenting the term “Xmas” that somehow makes us holier than everyone else?

Some random thoughts:

Thought #1: “Happy Holidays” means just that. It’s someone’s friendly way of saying, “Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!” and possibly “Happy Hanukkah!” (Hey, Jesus celebrated Hanukkah – John 10:22. If it’s good enough for Him, it’s good enough for me.) If the person is deliberately avoiding mentioning Christmas in particular, a sour look on your face is probably not going to make him fall on his face and cry out, “What must I do to be saved?!”

Thought #2: Since our government represents all kinds of people with all kinds of beliefs, it MAY be inappropriate to display a manger scene on public property. Not being a constitutional lawyer, I can’t say for sure. Some would say it’s not unconstitutional to put up such a display, but my thoughts are: Is anyone going to be saved or lost depending upon whether some statues are displayed in front of a courthouse? And if not, is this really the hill you want to die on? Here’s a thought: If your town won’t tolerate a manger scene on public property and you own property, put up a manger scene in front of your house. If all the people complaining about the lack of manger scenes had one in front of their own houses, the true meaning of Christmas would be everywhere!

Thought #3: Chi or “X” is the first letter in the Greek word for “Christ.” It was one of the secret symbols used by early Christians to identify themselves in times of persecution. So, the terms “Xmas” and “Christmas” are basically the same thing. If you really want to show your spiritual superiority, you may want to explain that to the ignorant masses, and you might get a dialog going. – Just kidding! There are probably better ways of showing your love for Christ than quibbling over His name. (He has many!)

As Rebecca LuElla Miller, a fellow blogger, has pointed out, a great way to celebrate Jesus is to do something He would do – volunteer at a soup kitchen, ring a bell for the Salvation Army, or make a sizable donation to a ministry you believe in. Upset about the secular drivel you’re hearing on the radio that passes for “Christmas music”? Why not gather some friends and visit a nursing home, foster care facility, or hospital, and sing the real stuff? LOVE people in Jesus’ name. I guarantee it will make a more positive impact than any protest, boycott, or bad attitude.

Prayer: Lord, make us so aware of Your presence in our lives that Your love, joy, and peace just spill over to those around us. Help us not to be the “Angry Christians,” thus alienating the people you want to draw to Yourself. Instead, may our very lives be a year-round celebration of You, in Your name. Amen.

Room at the Inn

… and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.                                                                                                                                                                        Luke 2: 7

The room was unfamiliar, the bed uncomfortable, and I was was awake … again. While Christmas carols were running through my head, the noises of the city continued to shatter the silence, despite the fact that it was 2:30 in the morning.

We weren’t supposed to be here. We were supposed to be in St. Louis with my parents, sleeping soundly in the house where I was raised, surrounded  by Christmas sights, sounds, and smells, our bellies full of my mom’s great cooking. Unlike the hearth and the warm crackling of the fires my dad was so good at building, the hotel radiator turned itself on and off intermittently with a clanging sound, usually just about the time I was about to fall back asleep… So, I lay awake, feeling sorry for us.

We had arrived at the airport, two hours early at my husband’s insistence, only to find that our flight had been delayed two hours. Even my exhausted brain could calculate that we had been stuck at the airport for four solid hours, trying to entertain two small, restless children surrounded by adults with short tempers, harsh voices, and stress overload. The atmosphere was not exactly jolly, although we had succeeded in singing carols with the little ones for a brief time before my scratchy throat gave out. (The traditional Christmas cold was right on schedule.)

Our connecting flight had been canceled due to increasingly hostile weather, and the airlines had been forced to put up a multitude of disgruntled travelers in local hotels. So here we were.

As the radiator clanged on yet again, I lay there thinking how unfair it was to be waylaid on our way to gather with family for a time of togetherness and celebration. The high hopes of how wonderful it was going to be only made the disappointment more bitter. My mental picture of Christmas somewhere between Currier and Ives and Norman Rockwell, contrasted with this drab hotel  in the middle of a cold, noisy city – What could be worse? 

The moment I posed the silent question, I was humbled; I knew the answer:

Imagine being nine months pregnant and learning you had to make a long journey on foot (OK, maybe a donkey, although the Bible doesn’t mention a donkey specifically). And imagine that journey was not in order to be with family and friends, but to pay taxes – taxes you could ill afford – in a strange town where everyone else was heading, and at the pace you were going, you were bound to get there last, and every room would be taken. Imagine arriving, seeing all the inns were filled up, and suddenly going into labor! Imagine the only place you had to give birth was not a sterile hospital room, or even a clean hotel room, but a dark, smelly, itchy cave, surrounded by animals. Imagine all you had to dress your newborn in was strips of rags, and the only crib you had to lay Him in was a feeding trough.

Suddenly I found a few things to be thankful for. Since I wasn’t sleeping anyway, I passed the time changing my grumpiness into gratitude:

I gave thanks for the hotel room that was available for us, despite the sudden rush of people needing accommodations, the bed that was clean and warm, and for the warm body next to mine that meant I didn’t have to go through this “adventure” alone.

I thanked God for the little sleeping angels in the cot and on the couch, the food we had been able to buy so that they wouldn’t lie awake crying with hunger. I was sobered by the thought that there were those who were not warm, not full, and not loved, except by a God they didn’t even know.

I contemplated how He had always provided for me, even when I didn’t yet know or love Him. I appreciated the fact that that the wailing siren passing beneath our window had nothing to do with us, and that even if it did, I could rely on Him no matter what. Remembering past Christmases where a hospital room or a funeral home had been part of the scenario, I knew I could always rely on His love, because it was a love that caused Him to knowingly and willingly make a more drastic transition than we ever had –  from the glories and pleasures of heaven to a cold, harsh planet full of selfish, ungrateful, unholy people.

Most of all, I thanked Him for the reason: that the God and Creator of the universe loved us so much that He was willing to give up His home for a time and die for us to pay the penalty for our foolishness – our evil intentions, our wicked deeds, our destructive words, our character flaws, our blunders – and all the good things we failed to do. The perfect Son of God had sacrificed Himself so that, believing in Him, we could be forgiven and spend eternity with our heavenly Father in our forever home, warm, happy, loved,  and secure.

(Talk about a homecoming!)

Dear readers, I have no idea what circumstances you find yourselves in this Christmas. But may you not be sidetracked by the world’s distractions and inconveniences. Even in the stark calamities of life, He is there. He has been there. He has purposefully chosen to be with us in our imperfect world, our disappointments, our frustrations, our sufferings – He bore it all. Because He loves us that much. So over the din of the world – the complaints, the cursing, the wailing sirens, the exploding bombs, the weeping at the graves – may we still hear the angels declare:

“I bring you good news of great joy … unto you a Child is born!”

Let’s spread that news today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, it is beyond our comprehension that You loved us enough to leave heaven to endure a cross, but we thank You. Help us not to be distracted by the trappings of Christmas, the thwarted human expectations, and whatever the world, the flesh, and the devil might use to take out eyes off You. Let this season – and every day of our lives – be all about You, for it’s in Your name we pray. Amen

Surprised by Joy18

I have been nominated for another blogger award!

The Rules

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blog.
  2. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post/or blog site.
  3. Answer the 11 questions asked by the nominator who nominated you.
  4. Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 questions.
  5. Notify your nominees about it by commenting on one of their blogs
  • Joy18’s questions for me:

1. What are three of your favorite things to do?

I’ve heard that to know what your passion is, ask yourself what you were doing the last time you lost all track of time. For me, that would be when talking with someone who is “on the same page,” where we’re finishing each other’s sentences and getting more animated as we talk about our passions. (My favorite subject is Jesus.)

I also lose track of time when I’m writing – a story, a blog, a book, a letter, a poem, or a song – when I’m inspired and can’t write down the words fast enough.

I love reading a book I have loved to my grandchildren, using my voices and dialects, when they keep begging for “one more chapter, Pleeeeeease?!”

2. Would you rather live in the city or country? Why?

Depends … if “country” means no people, I’d pick the city, as I’m a “people person.” I was raised in the suburbs of St. Louis, while my husband was raised in rural Illinois. When we are in a city, he is asking, “Where are the woods? The creeks? The fields?” When we’re in the country, I’m asking, “Where is everybody?”

3. What is your favorite Bible verse or chapter in the Bible? Why?

Old Testament, I love Isaiah 53, because it’s a detailed description of the suffering of Jesus, written hundreds of years before He was born. It’s a poignant picture of Redemption.

New Testament, probably Romans 8, which starts with the gloriously reassuring promise “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus …” It has guidelines for having the right mindset, hence a right walk with God. The promise that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose, and that absolutely nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ – These wrap up the list of  promises that we can and should live by.

4. What is the story behind your Blog’s name?

I think the source of every human problem is rooted in how we perceive things. The cosmic battle takes place in the mind, where the world, the flesh, and the devil are constantly feeding us lies. I believe that getting God’s perspective is the way to change direction and get on the right path to being who we were created to be.

5. Where do you find your identity?

In Christ.

6. What is your favorite greeting?

One from someone I can tell is genuinely happy to see me. The exact words don’t matter.

7.What is your best tip for Bible studying?

Don’t feel forced to stick to a rigid reading plan. (“I must read __ chapters today.”) Read until God speaks to you, then stop and meditate on what He might be saying to you through that passage or verse. It may take a few chapters, or just a few verses.

8. What are your favorite color(s)?

I love purple – not pastel, but rich, royal purple, and royal blue. Other favorites depend on the time of year. Now that it’s the Christmas season, I’m into gold, silver, white, and clear(crystal).

9. Who is one person from history who inspires you? If you could spend a day with this person, what would you do and talk about?

Of course, Jesus is #1. But I am also looking forward to meeting His mother Mary. I would ask her what it was like to be told she would be the mother of the Messiah, what Jesus was like as a Child, and how she felt seeing Him rise to popularity, then hated and crucified. And what was Resurrection morning like??? I would love to just sit and listen to her reminisce, to watch her face …

My nominees:

@dettinger47

@bruster

@francesrogers

@rebeccaluellamiller

@mitchteemley

@vicklea

@chaplapreneur

@onetarhayes

@cynthiadawson

@slaininthespirit

@thatredheadgirl

My questions for the nominees:

  1. Where were you born?
  2. Where do you live now?
  3. Who is your favorite author and why?
  4. If you could spend a whole day anywhere you wanted, doing anything you wanted, what would you do, and where?
  5. What is the most life-changing truth you have ever discovered in the Bible?
  6. What is your idea of the dream job?
  7. Who was the most influential teacher you have ever had, and why?
  8. What was the most challenging thing God has ever told you to do?
  9. Do you remember your dreams? If so, what is one dream you’ve had that clearly told or showed you something you needed to know and understand?
  10. What is your favorite book or chapter or verse in the Bible, and why?
  11. If you could ask God any question and know that He would answer you, what would you ask?

Have fun with this. I look forward to knowing you all better.

Blessings!

Annie

 

Wait … What?

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.                                                                                                                                                       Galatians 6:1

Last week (“He Owes Me What?”) I shared about a time when I was going through more pain than I had ever known so far, and the way I had felt how “unfair” it was, since I had taken such good care of myself – ate right, exercised, etc. As the title implied, I had to correct my thinking, that somehow God “owed” me a healthy body, just because I had been doing all the “right” things.

Okay, lesson learned. But in those moments of helpless agony, I had another frustration, and that was that all this pain wasn’t really accomplishing anything. My friend Kelly, mother of five, had asked me if I would compare the level of pain to that of childbirth, and I had said it was worse, because, unlike  labor pains, this pain had no breaks. Another reason it seemed worse was that labor pains usually have a very positive outcome – a brand new little person! I felt that somehow I wouldn’t mind all this quite as much  if I knew that what I was going through had some purpose to it.

During that time, in my delirious ramblings, somewhere in my prayers was Lord, if I’m not getting relief from this, would You at least let this pain be subtracted from somebody else’s suffering? I’d like to think that while I’m going through this, I am sparing someone else from having to endure the same thing. Weird prayer, maybe, but as I said last week, I was being pretty weird.

I had the radio on to try to get my mind on other things besides how awful I felt, and on the local news I heard about a young man in the military from a small town in our area  who had been captured by the enemy. I immediately recognized that I had something new to pray about. I spent some time praying for this young man by name, and contemplating the fact that, unlike me, he may be surrounded by people who not only didn’t care if he was hurting, but may have been devoting their energies to making sure he suffered as much as humanly possible. I tried to ignore my pounding head and sinus pressure so bad it made my teeth hurt, and focus on this young man, who, for all I knew, was going through way worse than I was.

When this whole ordeal was over for me, I marveled at how good “normal” felt after being so miserable for a few days. Some time later, the news came out that the soldier I had been praying for had been released and had come home. Delighted, I sat down to read the full-page article in the local paper. Most of the article was an interview with the young man about his experience, beginning with his capture.

He immediately had my sympathy when I read that his enemies had broken his nose during the capture. What really got my attention, however, was what he had said after he had described the various beatings and other abuses he had received: He had added that, oddly enough, through all the other pain, his broken nose had never really hurt.

I’m not saying that I was feeling his broken nose or had anything to do with this bizarre detail, but it did help to think that maybe – just maybe – God had answered my prayer and subtracted this pain from the man I was praying for.

I’ll add it to my list of things I’m going to ask Him when I see Him.

Prayer: Lord, Jesus, I can’t fathom the pain You went through for us, at the hands of the very people You were dying for. I can’t fathom that kind of love. In view of Your mercy, I offer You my body as a living sacrifice, to use in ways I may not understand now. But I trust You, always. In Your name, Amen.

 

He Owes Me What?

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.                                                 Philippians 3: 7-8

Our pastor has been preaching a series of sermons on Job, and as the focus was on suffering, I had a flashback of a time of physical pain that was so intense and unrelenting that my mind was consumed with just one thought: What can I do to get out of this pain? My friend with five children asked if it was worse than childbirth. Having had three children myself, I said yes, because with labor pains, at least there are breaks in between, but this pain was nonstop.

I had had sinus surgery, in hopes that it would put an end to my chronic problems, but the ensuing infection – my worst ever – along with a bout of flu that prevented me from keeping down any oral meds, turned this time into the most physically painful  experience of my life. For about 36 straight hours all I could do was sit helplessly in the recliner (Lying down made the pressure even more unbearable.) whimpering, “Ow-ow-ow-ow …” The sum total of my prayers was, Make it stop! Make it stop! PLEEEEESE make it stop!

For a while I passed the time using a little trick a friend had taught me. If your sinuses are so congested that the pressure is intolerable, the thing to do is exhale deeply, and wait as long as possible before inhaling. Blood will rush from your head to your lungs, and the pressure will be relieved … a little … for a few seconds. Of course, in the meantime your lungs erupt in spasms and you’ll feel as if you’re smothering, which isn’t fun either, but at least it’s a switch to a different kind of pain. Going back and forth between suffocating and head-in-a-vice pain, I thought about Jesus on the Cross, having to push up against the nails in His feet in order to be able to breathe, going from one kind of agony to another, hour after hour, and gained a new appreciation for what He had gone through … for me.

As my head throbbed incessantly, I remembered that Jesus had been beaten in the face. He must have had His nose broken, and so He knows what I’m feeling. … But then Scripture says not a bone of His was broken, so maybe not. … but then, nose isn’t bone, is it? It’s cartilage … and such was my delirious train of thought through the minutes and hours of agony.

At other moments, between episodes of vomiting, I contemplated the unfairness of it all. I lived a healthy lifestyle! I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t take drugs, didn’t eat junk food. I only drank coffee in the morning. I exercised, I ate lean meats, yogurt, and salads – organic salads! – I took supplements. …

As I rehearsed my list of all the reasons I should not be going through this, I was getting into an unhealthy mindset. If I had tried verbalizing it, I might have heard how ridiculous it was.

In the moments when I was able to think somewhat rationally, I silently recited  passages of Scripture that I had memorized. At one point I tried “reading” Philippians. In chapter 3 Paul was reciting a litany of reasons he could have (but didn’t) “put confidence in the flesh.”

“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”  (Philippians 3: 4-6)

Paul then went on to say that all that counted for nothing – it was “rubbish.” What mattered was knowing Jesus Christ. Nothing that Paul had done in the past in the way of “righteous acts” could earn him salvation.

There was something familiar about this passage. Who was it that was just rattling off all their credentials as reasons why God “owed” them something?

Oh yeah, that was me. I had somehow got into my head that all my “healthy living” meant God owed me a healthy body.

It “just happened to be” Good Friday, and as the Christian radio station softly played the local church service, I considered that the sinless Lamb of God was sacrificed for my sins, so that I didn’t have to spend eternity in agony, but could be forgiven and adopted into God’s family.

It hit me like a crumbling mountain:

God. Owes. Me. NOTHING.

If dying on the cross were the only thing Jesus ever did for me, if He never gave me another blessing for the rest of my earthly life, I still had reason to be grateful every day.

I can’t honestly say I enjoyed the “fellowship of sharing in His sufferings,” but I did try to stop complaining.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I don’t like suffering – don’t even like the thought of it. I hate thinking of what You went through, especially that my sin was the reason it was necessary. Thank You for being willing to go through it all to pay the price that I could never pay myself. Amen