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Archive for December, 2011

When I was growing up, my friends would make long lists for “Santa” of what they wanted for Christmas. But I always knew Santa wasn’t real. My parents had made that very clear from the time I was young. So in our family, my brothers and I looked for creative ways to be “Santa” by buying or making gifts for each other. We spent coins earned from raking leaves or mowing lawns on Calvin and Hobbes or TinTin comic books, Matchbox cars, and Lego sets at garage sales and thrift stores, then wrapped them up excitedly and put them under the tree.

The year my youngest brother was born, however, was a very unusual Christmas.  My dad had unexpectedly lost his job a few months earlier, and it was increasingly difficult to provide for our family of six. Sitting us down in the living room one day in December, my parents explained to my younger brothers and me that we might not have presents that year. Though I was only nine years old at the time, I sensed some of the seriousness of the situation. I remember the quiet confidence of my parents as they prayed and entrusted our family to God, thanking Him for His provision for all of our needs.

Ding-Dong! The doorbell rang sharply on Christmas Eve. My brother opened the door, then called to the rest of us to come quickly. We all crowded in the doorway, staring in disbelief. There was no one there. But on the ground were bags of groceries, including a huge turkey for Christmas dinner, and wrapped packages for each of us!

Upon opening the gifts, we found toys and clothes for baby Daniel, wooden blocks for three-year-old Michael, a microscope set for seven-year-old Stephen, and a sweater with pink and purple hearts for me – exactly my size!

We never found out who left those Christmas gifts on our front step. There was no note or indication of the giver’s identity. Jokingly we called it our “mystery Santa.” But we all knew that it wasn’t Santa at all. God was taking care of us. That Christmas I learned more about the character of God as our loving Father, who provided not only for our needs, but above and beyond!

Going Vertical!

MJ

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

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It was the most beautiful Christmas tree we had ever had.  Tall, full, and completely symmetrical, it looked good from every angle.  There were no gaping bare spots that we’d have to fill in with ornaments.  No flat side that we’d have to hide in the corner.  It was perfect.

What made this discovery border on the miraculous was that our family was living in Guatemala that year.  At twelve years old, I knew enough to realize that pine trees and fir trees don’t grow in a tropical Central American climate!  So we were all shocked to discover a cluster of full, pungent-smelling evergreens in Guatemala City’s central market a few weeks before Christmas – and at a very good price!

With great excitement, my brothers and I decorated our gorgeous tree with strings of colored lights and handmade ornaments of gold-painted macaroni and small photos bordered in red and green glittery frames.  But after only two or three days, some of the needles started turning brown and falling off.  In less than a week our once full and vibrant Christmas tree was looking bare and scraggly.  We were distressed.  What was wrong?

Peering between the brittle needles, we finally discovered the source of the problem.  The now-dying limbs were actually branches cut from another evergreen, nailed to a straight trunk in the shape of a Christmas tree.  No matter how much water we put in the base of the tree, none of it was getting to the branches and pine needles.  There was no life flowing through this tree.  Our tree was dead on arrival.

Like that ill-fated Christmas tree, often I give the appearance that I’ve got it all together and I’m doing fine on my own.  My branches look like they’re green and vibrant.  But when my own strength quickly dries up and I feel that I’m starting to wilt, I have to ask myself, “Have I spent time drinking from the water of God’s Word today?”  That’s the only source that can revive my soul.

What about you?  Is there life flowing through your branches?  Or are you slowly decaying from the inside? The health of your “branches” and “needles”- your words, your actions, your relationships – depends on your source of nourishment.  Soak up the life-giving water found in the pages of the Bible, so that you will be “a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither!” (Psalm 1:3, NIV).

Going Vertical!

MJ

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EVEN IF

I was the one who discovered her – slumped over in her chair, mouth open, eyes staring at nothing. “Grandma!  Grandma!  Can you hear me?  Are you OK?”  There was no response.  Tentatively, I tried to lift her to a sitting position, but she fell forward again, totally limp.

This is it.  She’s gone.  Heart pounding, I called for my parents.

“She’s still breathing.” At my mom’s quick appraisal I breathed a small sigh of relief.  But we weren’t out of danger yet.  I snapped into crisis mode, helping mom and dad maneuver my one-hundred-year-old grandmother into her bed.

As my mom and I scurried around checking Grandma’s blood pressure or putting a cool cloth on her forehead, my dad hardly left her side.  “It’s OK, Mom,” he stroked her hand tenderly, “We’re right here.  We love you.” Then, as he smoothed the sheets and adjusted the pillow under her head, I heard him murmur, “Thank You, Jesus.  Thank You, Jesus. Thank You, Jesus.”

Suddenly all the tension of the last several minutes came tumbling to the surface and I wanted to scream – Grandma may be dying! How can you be thanking God at a time like this? 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew what it was to face death.  The three Hebrew men were willing to be thrown into the fire rather than bow down to a man-made idol.  “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand,” they boldly declared to King Nebuchadnezzar.  “But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18, NIV, emphasis mine).

Like those Hebrew men so many years ago, my dad chose to give thanks even in the face of death.  He was giving thanks not because he felt grateful for the circumstances, but because he was trusting in a loving God who is greater than the circumstances. 

Miraculously, after a few tense hours, my grandmother recovered from this incident and today is as perky as ever!  But before we knew the outcome, I had already settled the issue in my heart – Even if You take her home tonight, Lord, I still choose to thank You because You are goodAs I declared my trust in a sovereign God who loves me, my heart was filled with peace.

Do you have an “even if” faith?  Are you willing to give a sacrifice of thanksgiving in the face of pain, loss, or even death?  Settle it at the extreme – resolve to give thanks in the “even if” places in your life!

Going Vertical!

MJ

He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me.”  Psalm 50:14, NIV

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The stuffed bird perched high on Miss Jonas’ head fluttered agitatedly as the scowling old woman jabbed her umbrella in the direction of the pesky neighbor kids.

“You keep off my lawn with your roller skates, you hear?  And stay away from my geraniums!”

Underneath all the heavy makeup, full hoop skirts, long gloves, and that ridiculous hat, I was thrilled to be portraying the cranky Miss Jonas in my high school production of “Papa Was a Preacher.”

As I came off the stage, the superintendent of our small Christian school approached me.  “I had no idea you could be so mean and nasty!” he shook his head in disbelief.

The truth was, everyone was surprised by my performance.  My classmates and teachers only knew me as the painfully shy girl who kept her head down in the hallways and didn’t speak up in class unless called on.  Yet as “Miss Jonas,” I could yell and scowl and stomp around on the stage, things I would never dream of doing in real life.

Good Christian girls don’t get angry.  At least that’s what I thought. But I was angry.  I was angry at the injustices I saw at the age of twelve in Guatemala – kids living in trash dumps or begging for food at busy intersections.  I was angry at the hypocrisy of classmates who had all the right answers in Bible class, but would get drunk and high on the weekends.  And I didn’t know what to do with my anger.  So I kept it inside for years, until cranky Miss Jonas finally gave me permission to be angry – at least on stage.

David, the Hebrew shepherd-turned-king, was angered by evil and injustice too.  But rather than let his anger build into explosive rage, he repeatedly and passionately vented his feelings to God.  “How long, LORD?” he writes in Psalm 13.  “Will you forget me forever?  …How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

Yet David was not just railing against an empty sky or hurling his complaints into a void.  He knew that God heard him and cared about his pain.  “But I trust in your unfailing love;” David concludes, “my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.”*

It wasn’t until years after playing Miss Jonas in that high school production that I was forced to confront my anger honestly.  The first step was realizing that it is OK to be angry, as long as I don’t take out my anger in sinful ways.  Now when I recognize anger starting to build, I take it to Jesus.  I know He’s not shocked or threatened by anything I say, and He still loves me after I vent all my rage.

How do you deal with anger?  Do you scream into your pillow?  Go for a run?  Take it out on a punching bag?  Consider taking your anger to Jesus.  He’s waiting.  He’s listening.  He cares.  “Tell me more, my child,” I imagine Him saying, “Tell me more.”

Going Vertical!

MJ

*Psalm 13:1-2, 5-6 (NIV)

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