Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Bins and Christmas Prayers

It’s bin-ginning to look a lot like Christmas. The Rubbermaid bins full of jolly holly are in the hall. The faux fabulous tree (we have a one person and one vacuum cleaner both allergic to pine needs) stands proudly naked in the living room. It’s beginning. I love the Christmas tension of trying to remember what is really important while having fun with the festivities.

Right now I am reminded looking over a two lists of prayers—that these are not prayers, they are people and in the middle of cooking shopping, decorating and celebrating are people surrounded by hurt and heaviness.

I think the world is a better place for a frosted cookie and a touch of curling ribbon, but the faithful perspective on it all colors my prayers, my study, my thoughts. I thought this morning, these lists are too long, too painful…what can I do?

Pray for healing, pray for hope—God works in mighty ways and has offered assurance that where we are today is not the end of the story. Yet, I want my friends and family better, well and I will ask God for that mercy.

Pray to remember and offer practical help…meals, car rides, notes, phone calls, meeting needs for attention, affection and real assistance do matter. So do kind words and patient expressions. I need to write that down on my palm print, like cheating on a test.

Pray for grace—that what I give this season is better than what others deserve or expect…I have been given daily grace, abundant blessings and salvation from the burden of my sin.

Pray to see what’s needed, looking past the garland and to-do list—see the people and respond to what I see.

Pray for joy—an ability to delight in the goodness of God regarding of circumstances. Happy Holidays are great fun, but joy is promised and always available.

Pray for wisdom, in spending money and time. Pray for wisdom in words and thoughts. Does my behavior match what I believe?

Pray to love, as I have been loved.

Christmas is a great time to laugh at the folly of our jolly, but it is also a perfect time to reflect the gifts of grace freely and lavishly.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What to say, when you don't know what to say

Happy Thanksgiving.  The Bible speaks often of both giving thanks and the time of harvest.  I hope you have a bounty to consider this week.

We are preparing to venture to the Great Plains, and my list of what should happen between now and the Interstate is long.  So, to check off "blog post" from the list, I copied a cute quiz from my friend Ellen's blog (Bluestocking Belle).  Share your answers!  You will see soon, I am perhaps not the most decisive person you have encountered.

Sweet or Savoury? Savoury, however not at all offended at the opportunity to share in some sweets!

Dresses or Jeans? Actually I like skirts, not dresses and I am recently warming up to jeans as I found a great fit/variety at Chico's.  One lady at church thought I wore skirts for religious reasons--so now I am looking for pants to keep it real.

House or Apartment? House

Shop Online or Offline? Offline, not much on shopping.

DVDs or Downloads? DVD's, although I love podcast subscriptions of sermons (I'm a geek)

Cocktails or Juice? Neither, but I guess juice.

Chocolate or Strawberry? Chocolate covered strawberries.

Laptop or PC? PC

Magazines or Newspapers? Magazines

Facebook or Twitter? Both, like Twitter more lately.

CDs or MP3s? MP3--love me some I-pod

Kids or Pets? 2K+1P= love, amusement and 2/3 eye rollers; 1/3 tail wagger

Macaroon or Cupcakes? Cupcakes

Walk or Run? Walk, what is category is elliptical?

Breakfast in Bed or Breakfast Out? Breakfast Out

Market or Supermarket? Supermarket

Sourdough or Grainy? Grainy--love 9 grain bread

Heels or Flats? Flats, but I love the idea of heels

Late nights or Not? Now not, unless project procrastination looms

Coffee or Tea? Coffee--love it strong and black.  Like tea, love me some coffee.

Will write some more substance soon, need to share some thoughts on conversations/study of perfectionism and worry.  In the mean time, worry yourselves sick about having a perfect Martha Stewart Thanksgiving feast.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bible Study: Why Bother?

Why "study" the Bible?  I ask that question often, with multiple reasons.  This morning, I thought of two.  First, compare faithful living to working out (even if you hate the gym).  Too often, we consider living faithfully as having a gym membership, shoes and workout clothes and going to the gym or outside for a leisurely walk on a treadmill or flat surface.  While it is a far better option than lounging on a couch, watching TV and eating Frito's--it is not enough to change the health, the shape or the effectiveness of our bodies. 

It won't produce a stronger more efficient,  more powerful body.  A strong study is like a personal trainer, one who pushes, directs, challenges and irritates the body to maximize its abilities and trim the fat.  Regular exercise under the direction of an instructor of sorts will lead to significant, tangible results.  Bible study does that by reminding us of what is really true, and what is really important. 

Bible study humbles us before God, shows the path and benefit of confession and direction to take for repentance. Example:  I just leaned in Bible study that repentance is not just confession of sins, but it is also turning in a new, Godly direction.  A change of direction might not be walking away from a specific sin, but still its a change to walk in obedience--this opened up new thoughts about repentance and faithfulness. 

Another beneift of  Bible study:  it focuses our minds, and keeps us from wandering.  In the NY Times yesterday was an article about the dangers of mind wandering.  The thrust was daydreaming leads to unhappiness.  

"Even if you are doing something that's really enjoyabe," Mr Killngsworth, Harvard researcher said, "that doesn't seem to protect against negative thoughts. Whatever people were doing they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else."

Personally, too frequently, day dreaming is often mulling over what was said, what needs to be said, who did not focuses on disappointments in my relationships and how I wish...This does lead to unhappiness.  I am thinking in exaggerated and negative terms and I am not tending to things that are real and also important.  
Study occupies my mind in a direction that is always healthy, never exaggerated and even if the lesson is frustrating or I disagree, it is not the same as dwelling on a real or perceived offense.  Why not mull over what God says, or how a study applies what God says?
I like to keep a running list of the reasons people should take on a Bible study.  It helps to have different views to encourage different people.  What reasons do you have for doing a study?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ending the Indulgence of Forgetting

I started this blog to create writing habits.  Writing, like any other discipline demands regularity.  Lately, I have ignored the blog using the excuse of I don't have anything to say (I never use that excuse regarding food/eating).    I have just indulged in laziness because I that option was available.  Upon reading this beautiful and challenging piece by Philip Yancey from Christianity Today, I wondered if I was doing more that just ignoring "my" writing, but also ignoring God.  His idea, shared below, is that the "riches" produced from a season of hard work lead to forgetting God.  Then, it hit me, this blog was to be an expression of faith, not just an exercise of communication--I think I forgot (or ignored) that part.  Blessed for the reminder.  

You, I have no doubt, will be blessed by the thoughts of Yancey below.  Enjoy the workout, it will be time well spent.

Forgetting God:  Why decadence drives out discipline. (from Christianity Today online)

Observing the modern world, French sociologist Jacques Ellul noted a striking trend: As the Christian gospel permeates society, it tends to produce values that, paradoxically, contradict the gospel. I sometimes test his theory while traveling overseas. I ask foreigners about the United States, the world's largest majority-Christian society.

"When I say the words United States, what comes to mind?" I ask. Invariably, I get these responses:

Wealth. Representing only 6 percent of the world's population, the United States generates more than a third of the world's economic output and dominates global finance.

Military power. We are, as the media constantly remind us, "the world's only superpower." Indeed, our current military budget exceeds the total of the next 23 biggest-spending nations combined.

Decadence. Overseas, most people get their images of the United States from Hollywood movies, which seem to them obsessed with sex and crime.

European nations, with their Christian roots, tend to manifest similar characteristics, which run counter to the teachings and example of Jesus, whose life was marked by poverty, self-sacrifice, and purity. No wonder followers of other religions, such as Islam, puzzle over Christianity, a powerful faith that nonetheless produces the opposite of its ideals in society at large. What accounts for this strange development?

I found a clue in the writings of Gordon Cosby, the founding pastor of Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. He noted that high-commitment Christian communities begin with a strong sense of devotion, which expresses itself in a life of discipline. Groups organized around devotion and discipline tend to produce abundance, but ultimately that very success breaks down discipline and leads to decadence.

Cosby termed this pattern the "monastic cycle"-with good reason, for the movements led by idealists such as Francis of Assisi and Benedict of Nursia repeatedly demonstrate the cycle. In the sixth century, early Benedictines worked hard to clear forests and cultivate land, investing their surplus in drainage, livestock, and seed. Six centuries later, according to historian Paul Johnson, "Benedictine abbeys had virtually ceased to be spiritual institutions. They had become collegiate sinecures reserved very largely for members of the upper classes." The abbots absorbed about half the order's revenue in order to maintain their luxurious lifestyles, becoming "unenterprising, upper-class parasites."

Dominicans, Jesuits, and Franciscans duplicated the cycle: an initial burst of devotion and discipline, a resulting period of abundance, then a drift toward indulgence until some reformer came along to revive the ideals of the founder. Protestant reformers faced the same challenge. John Wesley warned upwardly mobile Methodists:

I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.

As the Old Testament shows, entire nations can fall into the same pattern. Hebrew prophets sounded the loudest alarms during times when ancient Israel appeared to be thriving. Whenever the economy boomed and peace prevailed, the Israelites attended less and less to spiritual matters and looked instead to military power and alliances for their security. In the prophets' phrase, they forgot God.

Perhaps we should call this trend the "human cycle" rather than the "monastic cycle," because it applies to individuals as well as to religious movements and nations. Beginning with Adam and Eve's brief sojourn in Paradise, people have shown an inability to handle prosperity. We turn to God out of need and forget God when things go well.

Americans who go on short-term mission trips to third-world countries often return with glowing reports about the fervency they found among believers. Eager faith in the midst of poverty and oppression contrasts sharply with the complacency and self-centeredness in our land of plenty.

Observing this trend in numerous countries, I better understand why Jesus warned against wealth and called the poor and persecuted "blessed." Out of sheer desperation, the needy may turn to God. Meanwhile I worry about my own society, which relies mainly on its wealth and power and fills every vacant space with entertainment options. Can we, in a time of abundance, find a way to break the "monastic cycle"? On the answer to that question, our future health may hinge.

By Philip Yancey

Monday, November 8, 2010

Reflecting on What God Actually Says

R. P. Nettelhorst compiled substantive passages of scripture arranged daily for A Year With God: Make His Thoughts Your Thoughts. In addition to the verses, the entire devotional study is arranged by theme, for example: Love and Hate; Perseverance and Quitting; Hope and Fear for personal application or prayer intercession.

In addition to those disciple friendly qualities, Nettelhorst also includes a relevant, well written commentary that could easily lead to effective journaling or other avenues for personal study.

It would make a much appreciated Christmas gift to a member of one’s small group or ministry leader—it is gender neutral in application and challenging enough for a mature believer, but also straightforward for someone newer to study to easily grasp.

The premise is that through considering what God said, exactly as He said it, the reader will be able to adjust thoughts to reflect the truth of God more and more.

All of the scripture is pulled from the Old Testament, so those unfamiliar with those texts will have a great opportunity to learn though a practical and encouraging approach.

Scripture passages are featured using multiple translations, which is effective in application but such significant variety can frustrate some study methods.

Overall, A Year With God is a quality collection of daily reading, published in a fresh and relevant way that should encourage growth in any who embrace it.


About Me

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Roswell, GA
Loves to find the answers to three questions of a sound Bible study: what does it say, what does it mean, what difference does it make?