Sunday, November 29, 2015

No Room for Jesus

"...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."  (NIV)  Luke 2:7

When I mentioned to my husband a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to do an Advent series on the characters of Jesus' birth, he suggested, "Do the innkeeper!"  The innkeeper?  "Really?", I thought.  Then I thought about it some more and thought, "The innkeeper - yes!"  So I start this series with the innkeeper.  I think he can teach us so much!!

There is very little written about the innkeeper.  We don't know what type of inn he had, we don't know the type of person he was.  The Bible shares one important phrase about him, he had no room for Jesus.  WOW - that's a pretty hefty sign to have on your back - but then again, he didn't know it was Jesus he was turning away from his inn to his stable.

As I did research on this man, there is much speculation as to the circumstances by which he turned away Mary and Joseph.  Let's set the stage.  Bethlehem wasn't a bustling city back then - it was a small village.  There were many travelers on "the road" due to Cesar Augustus' decree.  Inns back then were not the lap of luxury - they were usually a mat on a dirt floor.  Yet, the innkeeper couldn't offer them even a mat, he sent them to the stable, filled with animals, feeding troughs, dirt, grime, smelly; need I go on?

One theory was that the innkeeper may have been too busy to try to rearrange "sleeping" arrangements with his current customers to accommodate Mary and Joseph.  Another was that he just didn't care and sent them on their way.  Yet, there needed to be something in the innkeeper's heart - because he didn't just close the door on them, he sent them to a place - someplace - for their child to be born.  He sent them to the place that God chose for His son to be born, the humblest of  beginnings, a stable.  Although the innkeeper pointed Mary and Joseph in the direction, it was God who had set the path - the path to a place where NOBODY would believe that a king could be born, much less the King of Kings!  

Whether the innkeeper was too busy or didn't care, he was there for that wonder of a night.  Therefore, let us take some time to see what we can learn from the innkeeper.  Are there times when we are too busy for Jesus?  Maybe we have lots on the list to do.  Come on, it is the Christmas season!  Maybe there is cooking, and cleaning, and shopping and . . . .   are we too busy?  Perhaps we don't care?  Really, not care about Jesus?  Let's think about it though - maybe we were out too late the night before and want to stay in bed for a few extra winks instead of going to worship.  Maybe our Bible is collecting dust while the latest novel is quick on our fingertips.  Maybe we don't care?

This is not about a guilt trip, for I myself have fallen into some of the scenarios above!  It is about an opportunity to refocus and go on the journey that God created for us, like the innkeeper did when he sent Mary and Joseph to the stable to fulfill God's plan.  How would have Jesus' birth been different if he was born IN the inn instead of OUT of the inn?  That's a blog post for another time.  Today, let's learn from the innkeeper - let's not miss out on the greatest event of all time!  Let's not be too busy to spend time with Jesus.  Let's care enough to explore his presence in our lives.  Let's focus on the stable - that stale, smelly, cold, quiet, miraculous stable.  

May your Advent season bring you closer to our Lord, who was born in a lowly stable so that we may all be with Him in paradise.  

"Dearest Jesus, how that innkeeper must have felt when he learned WHO he turned away from his inn that evening.  Yet, he is there to teach us.  May we learn to not be too busy during this Advent season that we don't spend time with you.  May we bring you close to our hearts so that we care to spend time with you.  May we stay on the path that you have provided for us, God."  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Undone Plans

"...since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect."  (NIV)  Hebrews 11:40

I need help (I bet many of you who truly know me are saying, "yes, you do!").  Being the active planner that I am can bring about much organization and structure to my life.  This isn't necessarily bad, I can accomplish much in the 24 hours our Dear Lord gives us.  My world runs on one of time - I literally live with this "visual clock" in my head, planning out hours and days by which I need to get everything done.

During this time of year, the busy holiday season, you can only imagine how many "plans" I have in my head, on pieces of paper, in my day timer, etc.  I have plans for just about everywhere and every part of my life.  This is fine, and pretty much great, as I can accomplish much to prepare for the holidays.  Until the dreaded thing happens - my plans don't come to fruition. Yep, that's not such a nice scene.

The smile that would grace my face quickly turns into a frown.  The great and powerful thoughts that I have turn to cynicism pretty quickly.  Then there is the inevitable - who's to blame.  Please tell me there are at least one or two of you out there who operate life the way I do!  Our best laid plans, plans that are filled with rich and wonderful ideals, can come to a halt within a blink of an eye.

The question is, whose plan is this anyway?  Many, many times, these are my own-made plans.  These typically aren't plans made with God in mind.  These plans weren't necessarily made with God's consult - just my own!  In looking at these plans, and then what derailed my plans, I often realize that when my plans take a different direction - it was God trying to gather my attention.  This happens often and time and time again, God does not disappoint.  He wants me to focus on something different.  He wants me to pursue a different direction.  He wants me to listen to HIM, not to ME.

As we all know, God's plans are infinitely better for us than our own.  It may not seem that way at the time, but there isn't an instance that I can reflect upon where this hasn't been the case.  He knows the plans He has for me, and when we work in tandem to make those plans a reality, great things happen - especially FOR me.

So during this holiday season, when plans seem to haunt us, let us all make a pact.  A pact to:

  • Go to God FIRST when we make plans, asking prayers to discern the right plans for us.
  • Realizing when our plans go array that there is nobody to blame, it's just God  smiling down on us to say "time for a detour".
  • Put aside the disappointment that tends to come with plans that are "undone" and readjust our outlook to a smile BACK to God.
  • Take the anxiety that comes with plans undone and turn it to a prayer of thanks to be a bit closer to God.
Our holidays plans can result in some great experiences and memories.  Let us remember, though, that plans undone can lead to some time with our Lord.  Now those are plans that I would want to have any day.

"Dearest Lord, as the busy holiday season begins, let us be grateful for the blessings you have brought into our life - including the blessing of undone plans.  Please help us to appreciate the detours you may provide us, and let us see them as opportunities to be closer to you."

P. S. - First and foremost, a Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and your families.  Please take time to give thanks to God for all He has given you.  Also, our Advent series this year will focus on four people who were instrumental in Jesus' birth.  I hope you enjoy it.  Blessings to all!!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mistakes Made, Forgiveness Given

"...for though the righteous fail seven times, they rise again . . ."  (NIV)  Proverbs 24:16

I'm driving behind a school bus the other day.  It stopped and to my left was a little boy, about 6, and his younger brother and mom.  The boy crossed the road, hopped onto the bus, and found a seat by a window.  He turned to wave goodbye and his little brother and mom waved in earnest as well.  It was a beautiful sight.  It also brought back an enormous sense of guilt that I have carried with me for many years.

Guilt can be a powerful emotion.  It can drive us to act out in rage, retreat to our deepest inner beings, or can eat at our hearts and souls until there is nothing left.  Today, I share with you guilt that I have had for many, many years.  I trust all who read this can relate to the guilt that I have held on to, and may even have their own "guilt world" that they have lived in for a long time.

Mine surrounds my children.  I grew up always wanting to be the mom who put my children on the bus and the one that was waiting for them at the end of their school day with cookies and milk.  I'm not sure where this picture came from.  My mom was a teacher, so growing up our days were very similar. We all left for school around the same time - she got us on the bus and then left for school.  At the end of the day, we would go to a neighbor's house until she came home.  So I'm not sure why this other picture was so prominent to me - but it was.

Yet, my career took me in a different path.  That path had me leaving for work early in the morning and wouldn't have me returning until late afternoon - well after the school bus would have arrived.  Therefore, our children went to a day care center for before and after school care.  They were safe, well taken care of, and many of their friends were in the same boat.

There are many ways that I have failed at being a parent.  I believe we all try the very best we can, but there have been times that I have lost my patience and yelled when I could have responded better.  There have been times when my "body language" has been anything but supportive and kind.  There have been times that my decisions may not have been the best.  There have been times - times I have failed.  I always felt that not being there to send my child off to school or be there when they arrived home was one of those times.  Yes, I may not have had other choices, yet, the guilt of that has haunted me for many years (considering our children are 19+ years old now).

Then I saw this verse and it helped me to understand that although we may fail, we can rise again.  We get that opportunity because we have Jesus, who forgives our mistakes without holding a grudge, who died on the cross for our sins so that we can have freedom in His name.  We may fail, but we can rise again.  So, I decided to talk to my children and let them know the guilt that I felt (and I'm sure the scarred memories that they must have had), because I wasn't there at the bus.

Yes, you know the response that I got, "Really?  That has bothered you all these years?"  Yes, children, it has.  As I am sure you expected, they were absolutely fine with it and certainly had moved on - much quicker than I had.  The guilt was lifted.  The pain was released.  I was free.  This same thing happens when we go to our Jesus and share our guilt with Him.  He has already forgiven us for the mistakes that we have made, for the sins that we have done.  When we go to Jesus to ask forgiveness, it is for us, for our guilt to be released and for us to be able to get up again.

Take the time, right now, and go to Him for forgiveness of the guilt we may be feeling.  If necessary, also go to the person and ask for their forgiveness.  It may be small or large, but guilt can weigh us down - let it be lifted to God.  That is our blessing for having simple faith - we are blessed to have Jesus on OUR side, waiting for our guilt to be lifted.  Let your guilt have freedom!!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Tradition Continues

"Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation."  (NIV) Joel 1:3

A couple of weeks ago, our oldest daughter, Sarah, wanted to learn how to make pierogi.  WOW - I hadn't made that childhood favorite for a long time.  I found the old Slovak cookbook and we headed into the journey of dough, filling, and fun.  It certainly reminded me of the times when I worked with my grandmother making these delicious yummies.  When I was little, I actually used to stand on a chair just to be able to reach the counter to help.  Traditions and memories, how they go hand in hand.

These days, we spend much time working on crafting moments that represent "me" and "I".  Many times, we don't necessarily want to go back to childhood traditions, but to create our own traditions.  That can be fun and certainly it's neat to build our own traditions to give to our children.  Yet, think about how hard our parents and grandparents worked to instill certain behaviors and values with us.  If we think back, I'm sure we can understand that some of those very important traditions live deep inside us.  What we want for our children, our prior generations wanted for us.

Especially around the holidays, traditions tend to come to life.  They can be focused on 'Turkey Day' and all the fun things surrounded about the day of thanks.  As you are reading, maybe you are remembering traditions that occurred during Advent, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, etc.  You may not even realize why you do things a certain way.  It could be as simple as "that is how my family has always done it".  Finding out the 'why' behind traditions can be fun and humbling.  It helps us to understand our past generations.

The greatest tradition we can give our children is sharing the gift of our faith in Jesus.  By finding ways to share our faith, telling our children, creating memories and traditions focused around the greatest gift God gave us, these traditions live in our children's hearts.  The Bible is filled with so many opportunities to see where traditions have been passed down from generation to generation.  Maybe you have been blessed to receive a tradition that was passed down by your parents and grandparents that focuses around our dear Savior.  Make sure you take the time to tell your children why you celebrate that tradition - and even encourage them to share it with their children.  

Life can take us in so many different directions that it can seem hard to feel grounded.  Traditions help us do that - to feel grounded in our past and know that our future generations will enjoy them as well.  Spread the word, spread the joy, and let the traditions of the past take your children into the future.  

"Dearest Father, thank you for the traditions you have given us from our past generations.  As we look to create traditions for our children, may they always include the most precious gift we have been given, your son Jesus."

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Giving Thanks

It's hard to believe it is that time of year again.  Halloween is officially over and now it is time to move towards the holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  For those of you who know me, the holiday season cannot come soon enough.  I love this time of year and absolutely love the honor of making the holidays a cherished time for my family.  I always find it ironic, though, that Thanksgiving tends to be the DAY that we give thanks for all the wonderful things that happen in our lives.  The irony is that Thanksgiving should be a daily event.

When the children were all home (and that seems light years away for some reason), we used to write on a slip of construction paper what we were thankful for each day of November.  We would then take those slips of paper and construct them into a beautiful paper chain.  Imagine, with six of us, it was quite the chain, streaming around the kitchen.  I terribly miss those days and it seems as if the last couple of years, as children have either left the house to move onto their own lives or are at school, our paper chain tradition has diminished.

Although sad, it also makes me realize we don't need to have the paper chain to be reminded of all the good God has done for us.  It can, and should, be a daily event.  Many of you give thanks each and every day to God - that is a blessing I'm sure not just to God, but to you as well.  This is an area I need to do a better job with - and I'm encouraging all of us to do so.  Giving thanks seems to be something that can be easy to do - when we know, see, and feel the good things that God is doing in our lives.  Where it becomes difficult is when the good things don't seem to be with us.  I'm sure you know what I'm speaking of - those days when NOTHING seems to be going right and EVERYTHING seems to be going wrong.  It's hard on those days to find the good.  It's there - it truly is there.

I know that feeling.  I remember the days when I thought that there truly was nothing I could be thankful for; days when I even questioned if God was nearby.  Those were very difficult days and it was hard on those days to see the blessings of God in my life.  He was there, at each step.  Many times, we need to go through the difficult days to get to the good days.  This reminds me of Joseph (yes, the Technicolor dream coat one).  Joseph endured many years of slavery and heartache of rejection by his family., but it was all part of God's plan - His wonderful plan to bring goodness to Joseph and his family. 

It can be hard to see the goodness and blessings that God has for us.  If we continue to put our focus on God and not take our eye off of Him, we can see what we can be thankful for each and every day, then we will see that God is good and we should give him thanks EVERY day.  My heart reaches out to each and every one of you that during this November Thanksgiving season - and every day of the year - you will find the goodness that God has placed in your life.  Look for it, recognize it, and give thanks to God almighty that He provides for you - always.

"Dearest God - THANK YOU never seems to pass my lips enough to you.  You, the great giver, who always has every detail of my life in concert with the world, deserves thanks each and every day.  May my eyes recognize all the goodness you give to me every day, may my heart reach out to you, may my mouth share praise to you, and may my soul rejoice with you.  In your heavenly name, Amen!"

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Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope we can share how God's grace has been life changing and that SIMPLE FAITH, getting back to a life that is rooted in the basics, can truly set us free to achieve so much in our lives.