Saturday, December 29, 2018

Influence


 
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called  children of God. 1 John 3:1

Last night my husband and I were watching a TV show where a young woman told a group of her friends that she planned to change her name to avoid using her famous father’s influence. She wanted to make it on her own merit. An older, more experienced woman in the group told her not to do that. “Forget that! Use whatever you’ve got to help you get ahead.”

This morning I read a devotional message about Mary. It said that at the time she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus she was “ordinary, unqualified and young.” Hm, I’m not young but I immediately related, ordinary, check, unqualified, check, and old, which in these times is as bad or worse than too young. But wait, I have a pretty influential Father and I am not afraid to use his name. More to the point I embrace his name.

I pray that everything I do is for God’s glory. Very often I ask for opportunities to share my faith and talk about my Father, Brother, Counselor.  Far from wanting to hide my identity, I want to wear it like the prize that it is. I am a Christian and my Father is God. I call him Abba and you can too if you get to know him.

There is no denying my age, ordinariness or lack of qualifications. I have no letters after my name nor do I carry any significant accomplishment about which to boast. I can however tell you this. None of that matters. Who or what I am in the view of the world means nothing. My Father loves the ordinary, unqualified types. He’s looking for people who know they can’t accomplish anything on their own.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask Gideon, Moses, Noah, Peter, Esther, Mary, Joseph and so many others. God loves the underdog. He routinely chooses the ordinary and unqualified. The key is being willing to use his name, his power and his influence. Who are you? If the answer is, a child of the King, then you have no worries. Use Abba’s name, the results are amazing.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A Tale of Two Grinches


When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity that were two years old and under in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Matthew 2: 16

 Every year the children in our family watch the Grinch. This year there was a new version that I saw in the theater with my sweet daughter-in-love and two of our precious grandchildren.  The draw of the Grinch story is redemption.  It is wonderful to see that love is the answer. The Grinch is evil! Or is he? It turns out that maybe he was just sad and lonely.  He didn’t feel love because his life was devoid of it. He is shocked when he sees that the Whoville citizens are still full of joy even though all of their celebratory finery is gone. The key is in the line that says they are happy as long as they have “hands to clasp.” In other words, all is well as long as they have each other. 

Hearing that loving sentiment, seeing it lived out before his very eyes, the Grinch is a changed man.  His heart grows by leaps and bounds. Look at that love!  He wants to be a part of the beauty he sees before him.

Then there’s Herod, the original Grinch.  He sees joy and happiness and perceives a threat. He sees love and immediately wants to annihilate it. When he can’t absolutely identify the threat to his sovereignty and power, he decides that the best course of action is to wipe out anything and anyone that could potentially be the source of his demise. Herod is evil. Unlike the Grinch he isn’t looking for love, he’s trying to kill it and he does. He orders the death of all boys two years old and younger. Then he sits back to wait for his path to stardom to be clear again.

While he waits he rots. Instead of looking toward the marvelous light in the night sky, he looks inward and inside of Herod things are decaying. Biblical scholars say that Herod’s body became gangrenous and that he rotted literally, from the inside out. Gross! But fitting. Evil makes us feel awful. Even a little anger can cause headache or stomach distress, not to mention heartache. There is huge truth in the saying, no Jesus, no peace.

We can learn from the tale of the two grinches. Choose joy, choose love and life, and look for the good in people and circumstances. I want the big heart, the one bursting with love. How about you?

 

 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Say Yes


 

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:28

Uh-oh. The greeting starts with flattery. Shouldn’t Mary be a little suspicious? Have you gotten those phone calls or greetings? When my children start out with some form of flattery I know I’m in for a request. Any version of “Hi wonderful Mama” and I wait for the follow-up favor.

So there’s an angel in the room and he says, “Greetings you who are highly favored.” Now we know that Mary is a bright young woman because the next verse, verse 29 says this, “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”  Keep in mind, Mary is not married yet, (oh honey, you look so pretty today) nor does she have children (there’s my sweet mama) so she is not familiar with this type of greeting... yet.

In the history of all the favors/requests I’ve had come my way, none, not one, not a single request comes anywhere near, “we’d like you to be the mother of Jesus.”  I have been inconvenienced, irritated, annoyed and surprised by some of the requests that have come my way. I have also been terrified and thrilled and that is what I think, after the reality of what was happening set in, is how Mary felt.

I wonder how many times, as she headed to see Elizabeth, as she did her daily chores, certainly as she set out to tell Joseph, how many times did she stop and wonder what was happening.  “WHAT? The Son of God? Me? Mary the nobody? Is this a prank? Nope, there’s a kick, there’s a baby in here.”

Over the years I have done favors, said yes to requests from family and friends and thankfully, blessedly from God that have turned out so well. I have said yes and wished I hadn’t. I’ve said no and wished I’d said yes. Mary, so much wiser, more open and obedient than I, said yes to the biggest, best request ever made of anyone. She said yes and the world changed.  She said yes and the words that Elizabeth spoke to her are still spoken of her today.

“Blessed are you among women.”

Say yes to God. You never know where that yes will take you.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Impossible


 

Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.  Luke 1:36-37*

What seems like “old age” to you? Most likely it depends on how many birthdays you’ve enjoyed. How about this, how old is too old to be pregnant?  Add quite a few more years to that and you’re probably at Elizabeth’s age. For Elizabeth and Zechariah the baby train had long since left the station. Except for… it hadn’t! It’s one of those circumstances that I dearly love when two words, “but God” change the whole picture.

Elizabeth is entirely too old to have a baby, but God had other plans.  Zechariah was so shocked he questioned the angel and was mute from that moment until the birth of his son John. Elizabeth most likely was equally shocked but her thrill at being pregnant surpassed all else.

Just a bit later Elizabeth’s cousin Mary would hear the same news, “you’re having a baby!” What? Impossible.  Can you picture Mary? “Um, I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to be rude, begging your pardon and all. I can’t actually be pregnant.” Then she hears the explanation. Do you think for one second that changed her reaction? “Oh sure the Holy Spirit! God’s baby, oh yeah, okay.” No! The word that had to be in her head is the  Hebrew version for impossible, vying for attention with the Hebrew words for, “yeah, right.”

Impossible! I love the old Rodgers and Hammerstein version of Cinderella. I’ve shared it with my granddaughters who weren’t quite as thrilled with it. It is a little dated. For me, even now, all these years after the first time I saw it the song, “Impossible” is one of my favorites. I think it sums up perfectly a life lived with our God. “Impossible things are happening every day.”

 Indeed they are. We call them miracles and quite honestly I think we miss more of them than we acknowledge. Look around you today. Think about your prayers. What seems impossible? Maybe it is.  Or maybe it’s about to be But God time.

Impossible things are happening every day!**

I highly recommend reading all of Luke chapter 1. It will definitely increase your awareness of how impossible things can happen, if we give them to God.

In our family we have two, about to be three, children whose conception was said to be impossible. Those children are just three examples of the impossible things that our family has experienced as quite, miraculously possible. Impossible things are happening every day! Believe it, not just for other people, for you too. It’s easy to doubt but I promise you “with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 Want to talk about it? Email me at ottosyankee@bellsouth.net

Sunday, November 25, 2018

About Doubts



God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites; ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:14

In the course of my faith walk, I have been asked if I have doubts. Uh, yes! There are often follow up questions. What about when this happens? Why do you think that happens? Why does God, a loving God, allow [fill in the blank]? More often than not my answer to the follow up questions is that I simply don’t know. While I love being God’s ambassador, a witness to his unending, enormous love, grace and power, I do not pretend to understand him fully or even semi-fully.  This I know, God is real. His love is real. He is absolutely in my corner and if you will invite him in, he will absolutely be in your corner.

I know that I am saved by grace, by the all-encompassing sacrifice made by Jesus on the Cross. Much like my brothers in faith before me, I have doubts and I take great comfort in Matthew 28:17. “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.”

These were men who spent three years walking alongside Jesus day after day. They saw him feed thousands of people with a child’s lunch. They saw him heal people nearly dead and restore life to those already dead. They watched as he literally scared the devil out of a few people. They saw him walk on water and one of them took a few steps on that lake himself.  And they doubted.

I was told my child, if he lived, would have brain damage. That “child” is a grown man now with more than one advanced degree, two children (and one on the way) of his own, a lovely wife and a nice career. He is not only alive but actually quite intelligent. My challenge in raising him wasn’t that he was limited, it was that I was. I couldn’t keep up with his questions. Please understand, there was no Google then.  Paul is one of many miracles in my life for sure but still, I doubt at times.

Doubting is a human reaction. When things don’t go our way, we doubt God’s love. When things seem too big, we doubt God’s power. That is normal. It’s uncomfortable at least and terrifying at worst, but normal.

The best moments for me are the ones, in good times, bad times or just ordinary times when I am overwhelmed by the truth of God, his power and sovereignty. Those moments of clarity, of realizing that not only is God who and what he says he is but that he is all of those things for me, are transcendent.

God is God and I am not. I am however, his child, chosen, forgiven, free and dearly loved. Allow the doubtful moments and don’t panic over them. They make the moments of certainty that much sweeter.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Sharing Joy


 
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news
that will cause great joy for all people.
Luke 2:10
Christmas music! I love it. It’s playing in my house now that Thanksgiving is over. It’s been playing in stores for a few weeks now. Technically it shouldn’t be playing anywhere yet. It isn’t Christmas. It isn’t even Advent but the world isn’t so much concerned with those facts, so there’s jingling bells and reindeer paws and ho ho hoing everywhere. Do you know what else there is everywhere? Joy, Jesus, light, angels and hope. Everywhere!

What happens is that all kinds of public places put on “Christmas” music and while five songs may be about grandma’s untimely demise, cookies or bells at least one or two in the mix are going to be about the actual point of Christmas, which is Christ. I love it! All of those people who choose to actively avoid any connection with Jesus are now wittingly or not, singing about him.

Think about it. You’re walking through the crowded, of course it’s crowded it’s November, store and you find yourself singing “Joy to the World” or “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or even  “Carol of the Bells” and you realize that the people around you are humming or singing along as well.  Happy people, relaxed people, cranky people, tired people, people of all attitudes and all belief systems are singing, wittingly or otherwise about Jesus.

Isn’t that exactly what we need? How wonderful would it be if even one person in each store in the world, one person who has never considered a life with Christ, finally heard the words, “let earth receive her King” and thought, I’d like to receive that King? Wouldn’t that be great! Think about your own town. How many stores do you have? How many are playing Christmas music? Now multiply that by towns and cities all over the world, anywhere Christmas is celebrated. Wow! If even one person in each store heard the message of the coming Savior, that would be huge. Is that person going to keep that message to himself? No! You know that starts the conversation.  “Have you ever thought about this?”

Let’s make that our Advent prayer. Pray that at least one person in every store hears the message of the coming Savior, of the joy of the Lord of hope and receives it in his or her heart.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Such A Mess


 
Lord you are my God: I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things,
things planned long ago. Isaiah 25:1

What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them? Psalm 8:4

I just read a quote that says, “God is at work in the mess. That’s the message of the Bible.”  Isn’t that great? If you don’t feel, at least sometimes, like a bit of a mess, please contact me. I really want to learn your secret. Personally I more often than not feel a bit like a mess, a productive mess, a loveable mess but I mess all the same.

I am very fond of the verses in Romans where Paul talks about his behavior. “For I do not do the good I want to do—but this I keep on doing.” Romans 7:19 In my quiet time in the morning, after any time of prayer, I feel pulled together, ready to obey with alacrity, ready to be “good.”  Unfortunately, much like Paul, it doesn’t take long before I find myself doing something I shouldn’t or not doing something that I should. In other words, I’m a mess.

It is so comforting to know that God indeed, loves this hot mess. I even have a t-shirt that says so. I often quote Beth Moore and imitate her twang saying, “God is still working on me.” He is! And for that I am truly grateful.

We all mess up, neglect what is important, stated baldly, we find ourselves in sin more often than we feel we should. That’s okay as long as you don’t let those failures defeat you. God is at work in this mess, the mess that is an individual, an organization, a church and even in nations. As long as we invite him in, God will show up and he will work on us. (Revelation 3:20)

Don’t despair or panic or worst, walk away from God if you feel like a mess. Run into his open and forgiving arms. No matter what you’re facing, doing or feeling today, know this: God is at work and he doesn’t make mistakes. There is light at the end of the tunnel, hope in all circumstances and love to cover it all.

Friday, November 16, 2018

A Game of Chase


 

 
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
if I go up to the heavens you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are
there,
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139:7-10
 

My granddaughters Faith and Isabelle are just five weeks apart in age and are both just became teenagers. Somehow this milestone in their lives reminded me of the days when they were just two years old. They discovered a game they just loved. It was their own version of chase. They ran together across the kitchen and straight to the utility room door. They squealed with delight when they reached the door and then ran back again. Every now and then there was a little twist that sent the game in a different direction. That happened when the door wasn’t tightly closed. Two little balls of energy hurled themselves against the door and bam! It opened! Suddenly the hurling and racing screeched (literally) to a halt and the two balls became two sprawled lumps on the floor. Here is where our granddaughters differed greatly.

 Isabelle was immediately offended, first that the door would deceive her and disappoint her in such an ignominious way and then that the fall would actually hurt. In that state she cried, pitifully and someone scooped her up.

 Faith was irritated. That door had one purpose in the game and that was to produce a satisfying thump when she and her cousin landed against it. To swing open allowing them to crash to the floor and not produce the noise was unacceptable. She did however completely enjoy the thrill of falling and watching Isabelle go with her. She was heartbroken when Isabelle cried though and she got impatient at the interruption in the game.

 In that little game our girls demonstrated faith in different ways. They first counted on the door to remain closed and constant, to provide a boundary for them and to participate, albeit indirectly, in the game. They also counted on each other to continue and on the adults in their world to scoop them up if need be.

 Where could they go out of our reach? The game proved that they could not go beyond our ability to save them. If they ran and fell they will be lifted up. They counted on each other and each one came through. The door wasn’t always co-operative and yet they believed each time they rammed their human missile selves against it that it would hold. They were shocked if the door opened and even more so if there wasn’t a willing and able adult standing right there. In those moments Faith ran to find help, “Bisabelle is crying!” She announced with a tone that says, “What are you doing that is more important than helping us?”

 There was no doubt in either of their young minds that boundaries are important and help would come. If they had chosen to, they could have run through the whole house but that opened up more hazards. Once the door swung open, they could have escaped at least as far as the utility room but they didn’t. They waited for order to be reestablished and then they continued the game.

 Watching them I learned that I can run and crash into problems all day long or I can lift my hands to my God who will save me. We are blessed to have a God that provides “doors” that will protect us and one who will also scoop us up when we fall through. We are also fortunate to be loved in a way that will never fail. There will always be a hand to save.

 The girls are older now and not as quick to run to adults for help and quite frankly, as their problems grow, we sometimes can’t truly help them. We, the adults in their lives, have let them down or we will.  Our Father never walks away from our “game.” He never lets us down. Instead He stands firm and nowhere we go is out of His sight or reach. For our part all we need is to emulate two year old Faith and Isabelle’s approach and rely on God’s providence.

 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Run, Dodge, Jump


 

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:14

 
The children in my class love to do an activity called, “Run the Red Carpet.” It’s geared to getting them up, out of their seats for a couple of minutes to help them refocus.  The object is to get down the red carpet in spite of obstacles in the way. There are commands to jump, duck, dodge to the left or right, all along the way. This morning while praying for direction I thought of that little activity.
 
We are called to walk on the narrow path to life in Christ. The path is identified as narrow but not as smooth. I am often bothered by pastors or Christians in general, who suggest that once we’ve chosen to take the journey with Jesus all will be well. Not true! All will be protected (Psalm 91), all will work for our good (Romans 8:28) but all will not be well.

The path we walk with Jesus is full of potholes and obstacles, just like my kiddos red carpet. Jesus said so himself, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33a The good news is that just as the video for the red carpet gives the viewer directions, Jesus gives us direction.

If you feel like you are on the path full of potholes and obstacles, go to the Scripture for guidance. Pray to the Holy Spirit. Jesus was kind of enough to warn us that the path isn’t smooth or necessarily straight. He was also more than kind, more than merciful, very gracious, to leave his Spirit here with us to help us know when to run, to duck or to dodge.

 Stay on the path, no matter how difficult it becomes but don’t try to do it without help.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Emergency


 

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. Jeremiah 33:3

I am the Vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. John 15:5

 

Those are two of my favorite verses. Though neither one is my life verse, they pretty much sum up my faith. Call to Abba and remain in Jesus. If I seek God’s advice and understand that everything, every single thing that I have is a gift from God then life will be a much more manageable prospect.  I live my life every day by God’s grace and by His grace alone. That may sound like hyperbole but it isn’t. Certainly some things are bigger, some challenges, some tragedies, some victories and some joys, are much larger but regardless of size, everything I am or have is powered by God.

          Don’t believe me? Breathe. God. Look around. Can you see? God. Did you hear that? God. Do you have a job? A spouse? A friend? A home? God. God. God. God. Too much? No! Not nearly enough. All things are gifts from heaven. Don’t take my word for it, read James 1:17.

          That’s what I believe and it is how I live my life. Yesterday I had the sweetest reminder that not everyone lives that way. One of our special education students was admiring the cross I was wearing. It is a gold cross with a gemstone set in it. “What does that say?” he asked me. “It doesn’t say anything honey.” I replied. “Oh sure, it says, ‘For emergencies only.’ Right?” He said his sweet voice full of confidence.  What? I thought about those words and turned to my friend Kim, a very faithful believer. “Did you hear that?” I asked her and repeated what our little man had just said.

          Kim and I agreed that while we do not live that way and see the Cross as a symbol of a 24/7 support system and love that never fails, far too many people would agree with little man. “For emergencies only.” God is reserved for car accidents, divorce and the doctor’s office with maybe a financial crisis thrown in every now and then. In other words, emergency situations need a fixer, so try God.

          If you agree with our little friend, take a closer look. God is most certainly with us in our times of need or terror. He is also with us on sunny, gorgeous afternoons when our hearts are being touched by the precious innocence of a child. Looking at God in the good or ordinary times will make it much easier to feel His presence in those emergencies.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Believe It or Not


 

No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. Psalm 25:3

 
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary.  Isaiah 40:28

 

Yesterday morning I read of the death of Stephen Hawking. Here’s what I know about him. He was brilliant and he was an atheist. He is quoted as having said that heaven is “a fairy tale for people who are afraid of the dark.” Now he is dead and my supposition is that he now has a greater understanding of darkness than he could ever have imagined, even with his huge intellect.

           Faith is not about IQ, nor is it about fear of the dark. Faith is about confronting that darkness with a Light that will not be overcome.  Here we come to something that the esteemed Dr. Hawking just could not comprehend. “The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it.” John 1:5

          I didn’t know Dr. Hawking personally, so it would be unfair of me to draw any conclusions as to the cause of his lack of understanding of or belief in a Power, a Being, higher than himself. From my chair, it’s easy to call it ignorance but I can’t help but see it as sad.

          Waiting for him on the other side of death, could have been a body renewed, perfected and understanding far beyond anything even his brilliant mind could have imagined. He chose to deny the existence of God and therefore lost all hope of new life.

          In this same time frame, I’m watching, again from the sidelines, a young man who is struggling to make something out of nothing. He’s on an odd journey that I would never choose. It’s difficult and awkward to say the least but there he is, plugging away, making the best of it but not getting any positive results. Beyond that there’s an underlying frustration and sadness in him.  The first I ever saw of this young man, this is what I heard him say. “I don’t believe in God. I’m an atheist. I just think the whole God thing is kind of a joke.”  Sooo grateful to be on the sidelines and not standing too close to that guy! Just kidding, I love talking to those people.

          Thinking of Steven Hawking and that other young man, this is what I see. Life is hard, on many levels. For me, even in the hard times, I have joy and peace because I know whose I am and where I’m going. My trials are momentary, temporary. (2 Corinthians 4:17) I will not land in unrelenting darkness and I don’t have to walk in it now.  For those two men, I see an arduous climb with no true support system and eternal darkness.  How does that sound to you?

          A life of faith is not without hardship, trial or even tragedy and anyone who tells you it is, is lying to you. It is however, a life of hope and joy. Those of us who believe aren’t searching for answers or meaning because we’ve already found an answer that gives meaning to everything.

          Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary. 

Isaiah 40:28  And He will never, ever give up on you. He will seek you until you draw your very last breath and if you acknowledge Him as your Lord and Savior, He will graciously bring you home.

         

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Jesus


 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

For unto us a child is born, unto to us a Savior is given.. Isaiah 9:6a

 

Due to starting a 365 day devotional at an odd time of year, I am now reading messages about Christmas, as I am simultaneously living out some Lenten disciplines. At first I found it a bit odd but then I realized how truly perfect it is.

          Lent focuses us on the saddest, most difficult part of the story. Of course there is the perfectly beautiful happy ending but for these days we are walking through the suffering, sacrificing part, the bleakness. No fun! Here I am putting it beside the images of Baby Jesus, long awaited Savior, just now a little bundle of cooing joy. Odd? Sure but as I said, also perfect because it’s the whole story.

          Jesus came to us to save us from ourselves. As we walk through Lent we think about all that it entails. Yes, Jesus was God but he was also fully man, a very young man, who suffered, without arguing, for sins we’ve committed. It’s very easy to point fingers at the crowd yelling “Crucify him” and at the ones doing the beating and pounding in the nails. Truly, though, those are our voices, our hands, every single time we sin. This is the story I love to avoid. I’m all for reading the after story, the Resurrection part, but I feel myself slowing down as I approach that section of each of the gospels that talks about the torture. It’s just awful!

          It is awful but Jesus did it all. He didn’t shy away or run and he could have done just that. It was always his choice. (John 10:17-18). When that sweet baby was born, he was destined for the Cross and he knew it.

          Reading about Christmas as I walk through Lent, is helping me to see the whole picture, not to just focus on one half, if you will. The suffering and subsequent joy begin with the joy of the birth. The suffering is sandwiched in between two wonderful, amazing events full of love and beauty. Seeing it this way is giving me a greater perspective on life in general. Think of the times that suffering turns into something beautiful. The pain of a woman in labor becomes a baby. Hard work and long hours become a great accomplishment. Horrible medical treatments become a longer, healthier life. Painful braces become an even more beautiful smile. (That one is for my sweet daughter-in-love, Stephanie.)

          Best of all, the awful, cruel, agonizing, difficult simply to read, let alone endure, suffering of our Savior on a Cross, is the fulfillment of the promise of the Babe in the manger. It is the promise of salvation, freedom and eternal life.

          As you walk through this Lent, maybe you could read a few verses about our Savior’s birth. Side by side, it’s all pretty powerful.