Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thank You Don Whitney

December 30, 2014
10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year or on Your Birthday
By Don Whitney

Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with Him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai. “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5) he declared, urging them to reflect on some of the things happening to them, and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them.
Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going.
The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.
1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?
9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?
In addition to these ten questions, here are twenty-one more to help you “Consider your ways.” Think on the entire list at one sitting, or answer one question each day for a month.
11. What’s the most important decision you need to make this year?
12. What area of your life most needs simplifying, and what’s one way you could simplify in that area?
13. What’s the most important need you feel burdened to meet this year?
14. What habit would you most like to establish this year?
15. Who is the person you most want to encourage this year?
16. What is your most important financial goal this year, and what is the most important step you can take toward achieving it?
17. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your work life this year?
18. What’s one new way you could be a blessing to your pastor (or to another who ministers to you) this year?
19. What’s one thing you could do this year to enrich the spiritual legacy you will leave to your children and grandchildren?
20. What book, in addition to the Bible, do you most want to read this year?
21. What one thing do you most regret about last year, and what will you do about it this year?
22. What single blessing from God do you want to seek most earnestly this year?
23. In what area of your life do you most need growth, and what will you do about it this year?
24. What’s the most important trip you want to take this year?
25. What skill do you most want to learn or improve this year?
26. To what need or ministry will you try to give an unprecedented amount this year?
27. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your commute this year?
28. What one biblical doctrine do you most want to understand better this year, and what will you do about it?
29. If those who know you best gave you one piece of advice, what would they say? Would they be right? What will you do about it?
30. What’s the most important new item you want to buy this year?
31. In what area of your life do you most need change, and what will you do about it this year?
The value of many of these questions is not in their profundity, but in the simple fact that they bring an issue or commitment into focus. For example, just by articulating which person you most want to encourage this year is more likely to help you remember to encourage that person than if you hadn’t considered the question.
If you’ve found these questions helpful, you might want to put them someplace—in your phone, day planner, calendar, bulletin board, etc.—where you can review them more frequently than once a year.
So let’s evaluate our lives, make plans and goals, and live this new year with biblical diligence, remembering that, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage” (Proverbs 21:5). But in all things let’s also remember our dependence on our King who said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
You can download this post as a bulletin insert here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My 20 Things for 2015 Wish List

I love the days after Christmas. I know that Christmas is the summit of all activities in December. It is the day for welcoming the Christ. Unfortunately, in today's Christmas season (and perhaps it's been true for many years, and perhaps even decades) there is so much other stuff that gets layered in. Stuff that creates distraction and burden. I wish it weren't so, but I just haven't been able to unpack it fully or consistently enough in order to live fully focused during this season.

However, the days after Christmas, I love them. The burden seems lifted. The expectations no longer challenge me to do better, be better. The days after Christmas hold so much expectation (the positive kind) for new beginnings and opportunities. Certainly I know that will fade quickly in the reality of life; it's twists and turns and reversals are inevitable. But today it's all fresh and hopeful.

I have so many things I wish for 2015. These are not resolutions - I have no delusions that I can attempt, or do, or complete, a fraction of this list. But it feels for exhilarating to make a wish list. It's like painting a fresh canvas. How wonderful if I could make progress on the areas that apparently I believe would make life healthier, happier, more fulfilled and/or more memorable.

My 20 Things for 2015 Wish List
  1. Move more, eat less and lose 20 pounds (doesn't this simply cry out to be at, or near, the top of any list).
  2. Read a book a week, yep 52 books! (Create a shelf for all the books I want to read this year.)
  3. Read through the entire Bible (excited to try this reading plan).
  4. Scrapbook several years; actually I'd like to catch up completely, but since I'm around 10 years behind that seems like a stretch even for a wish list.
  5. Sell all my extra stuff on eBay, Craig's list and/or through a huge garage sale.
  6. Secure a new client; save a ton of money to pay for Matthew's college costs.
  7. Make a new upholstered headboard for our bedroom.
  8. Reupholster and refinish $5 estate sale chair.
  9. Clean out the crawl space and reduce by half the amount of stuff we store in there.
  10. Become a runner. First step, become a regular exerciser.
  11. Cook dinner most nights.
  12. Enjoy Matthew fully during these last 8 months before he leaves for college.
  13. Send a thank you, appreciate you, praying for you cards every week - 52 cards.
  14. Send birthday cards.
  15. Give away more gifts from my gift closet.
  16. Spend less time on Facebook, Instagram and email.
  17. Turn off the TV more.
  18. Build my business website.
  19. Take a memorable vacation with Todd and Matthew after his high school graduation (Boston?)
  20. Go on more dates with Todd; or simply talking over coffee.
Here are a few other lists to get the juices flowing:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dec. 23: Preparing for 2015

Up early, again. This 5:00 a.m. wake up is fast becoming my favorite time of the day. All is quiet and dark. I love the stillness before dawn.

My mind is churning. One more meeting before a much-needed week off from work. I think it could be my first week off the entire year. And that has me thinking about 2015. As a lover of lists, I can hardly resist the urge to start creating: books to read, organizing to do, places to visit, soul care to accomplish, verses to memorize, Bible studies to complete.

I love the idea of a word for the year. I wrote about this back in July 2013. So I'm pondering words.

STILL - not necessarily the obvious "Be still and know." Although there is much to commend such a word in my life. I was thinking more about the word still as an adverb:

2 Chron. 14:7 - "...The land is still ours, because we have sought the Lord our God. We have sought him, and he has given us peace on every side.”  

Job 13:1 -  Job Continues: Still I Will Hope in God

Psalm 71:17 - God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

Isaiah 9:17 - ... His hand is stretched out still.

Romans 5:8 - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

FILLED - another word that I am chewing on. I do a lot to fill my own cup. Perhaps in 2015 I need to be still (verb) and allow God and others to fill my need.

Exodus 40:35 - The Glory of the Lord ] Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

Psalm 71:8 - My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day.

Psalm 81:10 - I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

Psalm 107:9For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

Psalm 147:14 - He makes peace in your borders; he fills you with the finest of the wheat.

Just searching the scriptures was fun.

December 12

Oh, what a day. End of the week and all the joy of the morning evaporated as the day went on. I hate when that happens. So tired. Weary. discouraged. It came on like a flood. So this afternoon I peeled off my work suit and gladly donned my 'It Is Well With My Soul' tee. It was my weak attempt at challenging my soul's lament.

It's a battle keeping the gremlins at bay. Today was not a day to fight. Perhaps sleep will restore the fight.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December 16: Scarity and the Season

I'm thinking a lot about scarcity. It's a term I keep reading about mostly in reference to those struggling to get food or housing. But what I am realizing is a scarcity of soul. Those dark vacuums in the heart. And like those who scavenge for food, there are those of us who are scavenging to fill our heart vacuums.

I wonder how much of what I do is motivated by a sense of scarcity. Far too often, I am guilty of trying hard to fill my own cup.

Something to ponder today.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

December 11

Joy! Surprised by mercy!

We mothers, we worry, oh how we worry. I could hardly get to sleep last night; then at 3:00 a.m. I could hardly get back to sleep. But in those wee hours I let go. I realized that He had a plan. Whether a certain thing went well or not for Matthew first thing this morning, it was in His hands. If the answer was no, then He would provide grace to manage all the changed plans for next semester (the last HS semester!); if the answer was yes...

Well joy!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

December 9

5:39 a.m.

It's early...and still dark.

Ann Voskamp has already encouraged me (via FB): You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. Genesis 50:20.  "God always brings good out of bad. God turns hard things into good gifts."

And then Heather Funk Palacios and her blog . I love what God is doing through Heather and Kay Warren and others to demystify those who battle not cancer or other terminal illness, but the often chronic and potentially terminal mental illness. That mystery, like leprocy among us, so hidden and cloaked and shamed. Bring it into the light for compassion and hope and inclusion. In the light, not in darkness.

Yesterday, I had my gray magically turned to golden brown, the color setting, my internal gray turning to light as well. Rather than read, it all poured out to this dear every five weeks friend. 

I talked about Gideon...but mostly about Exodus and slavery turned to wilderness turned to promised land. I mostly live in the wilderness. The place of learning to depend, learn to watch for Him to move so I can move, to be equipped and prepared and strengthened to tackle the giants in the land, the walls around Jerico that only come down with a crazy shout of praise. 

If there was one section of scripture I could take on a desert island it would be the Exodus story, my story. Gathering manna daily, only just enough for this day. Preparation and training; God showing up and showing us. 

And after giving a mini-sermon to her (and myself), then to the story of the woman who touched Jesus hem. The story that is so perfect for Matthew right now. The woman did everything to fix her ailment, what was going wrong in her life. Doctors, traditional medicine, alternative medicine, tons of prayer and reading...trying to do everything right so that she could be healed. Like us when we are so silly to think that if we read out Bible more, pray more, share Christ more, give more, go to church more, forgive more...all the mores; that more will make us well. 

And all it took was touching the hem of his robe. Simple faith. End-of-our-rope reaching out. He did not ask for more. He did not tell her to go read her Bible. To grow up. To tough it out. To prove that she had accepted Him as her Savior. 

What he did say was, "Your faith...." Faith plus nothing equals relationship with God. He is so different than any other god. Our God is relationship. He is the end-of-your-rope, right-where-you-are, God of mercy. 

How we nurture that faith then takes on such a personal note. Why saddle such child-like faith with a list of Pharisee-driven dos? Error and tragedy occurs when we do. It does not drive us to Him but from Him. We can once again, never measure up. Yuck!

As Dallas Willard said, "The path of spiritual growth in the riches of Christ is not a passive one. Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. Effort is action. Earning is attitude. You have never seen people more active than those who have been set on fire by the grace of God. Paul, who perhaps understood grace better than any other mere human being, looked back at what had happened to him and said: "By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." (I Cor. 15:10) 

The sun is still not up. But I am. And I just heard Matthew turn on the shower for the start of another day. 

Couldn't love him more. Neither can Jesus. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

December 6

Long week. "The weary soul rejoices."

I'm not there yet.

What precedes that carol phrase..."The thrill of hope."

I'm not there yet.

But I suspect knowing the thrill of hope influences the ability for the weary soul to rejoice. So hope it is. The ticket to rejoicing.

Food for a weary soul.

Hope and rejoicing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December 2

Sitting on the hotel bed after a business dinner, watching 9News, pondering the day. Feeling how Mary must have felt trudging toward Bethlehem; filled with baby unborn. Discomfort, one step in front of the other. Knowing the destination but the journey a challenge.

Wishing for a miracle for Matthew. Freedom from math. Freedom from that particular school suffering. Not a thing I can do. Stand and watch. Pray and beg for His mercy and grace to flood College Algebra. I know He has a plan. That success or failure in Math 121 won't change the destination. But the journey is brutal and tedious and filled with such repetitive discouragement.

All I can do is pray for Matthew's vision to focus on the destination and faithfulness to that one step in front of the other, trudging toward the finish line. Oh to hear the angels rejoice in a passing grade and freedom from math!

Monday, December 1, 2014

December 1

First day of Advent 2014. I haven't blogged in 11 months. Probably a good reflection of how I've felt about this year. So many words locked inside me. Turmoil and trouble. Layer upon layer.

The Advent book beside me proclaims, "the promise of His presence." Matthew 1:25 - "The virgin will...give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel - which means, "God with us."

Lord, be with me. Lord, be with Matthew. Lord, be with Todd.

I need Immanuel more than ever before. It seems as we age we also become more keenly aware of our need, and our inadequacy. At least that is my experience. Fragile. Vulnerable. Aware.

So much life lived, more than half. Lord, be with us as we traverse this holiday season, the end of this very challenging semester, as we exit Fall for Winter, as we struggle against colds that won't quit. You are here and present...let us breathe your holy presence in to fill us with peace.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pay Attention to This One

"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness." James 3:9

Friday, February 14, 2014

Basketball as Holy Ground

Back in October I wrote a post on a day in my life when football was sacred. Today it's about basketball. 

For the past three months basketball has been sacred ground for me. And true confession (from an overly enthusiastic sports fanatic...yes, I listen to sports talk radio in the car and watched ESPN during those middle of the night feedings 17 years ago), I really haven't ever been a fan of basketball. 

But that all changed on December 10 at Skyview Academy, in their gym, when the Jim Elliot Warriors took to the court and number 21 was among them. 

There is more to this story than I can ever publicly share or adequately write. But I'm a big believer in commemorating certain events with massebah, "standing stones." This is one.

Watching number 21 pick up that ball in November for the first time to earlier this month when he stole the ball and dribbled/drove down the court with the other team on his heels. I loved every moment and was the crazy mom screaming from the bleachers. I earned that from the moment I gave birth to this 1 lb.15 ounce wonder to that magical day. Pure grace.

He's overcome more than probably any of those kids on the team. He's fierce and determined and committed and that's how he got to this day. He chose not to give up. Not at 1 or 5 or 10 or 17.

He is a true Warrior.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Wise Words on Enemy Territory

"We realized the church must do better at equipping and enlarging this conversation of what a faithful presence looks like. How not everyone is called to “Christian Ministry.” But MANY are called to enemy territory, where allies are required to survive. How a grain of salt needs other grains to actually season the meat. And an ember needs other flames to lighten the dark."

Rebecca Lyons...excerpted from this blog post.