Settling In…

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come 2 Corinthians 5:17

Many weeks have passed since the beginning of this new phase of my life. In the midst of packing, loading, unpacking, organizing, and calling a multitude of people for assistance in turning on utilities and changing addresses, we have finally moved in to our new home. Although we are often searching for a missing item that is in a box, we are in the process of “settling in” to our new house as we also settle in to a new year.

A mere four weeks ago, we, along with most people, were stating perhaps unreachable or unattainable resolutions for the new year. As a new year begins, we examine what we have not yet achieved in the past year or years. We resolve to be better, laugh more, love more, and at some level, become more disciplined in eating and exercising.

This time of year can be useful for examining our own Christian hearts and actions. Are there areas in which we are weak? For me, this examination revealed several ugly habits. So many, that to list them all would take up the rest of this blog post. Where do we begin when an honest evaluation reveals so many things we don’t do, things we don’t do regularly, or things we do too much that we shouldn’t do at all?

Thinking always of ourselves before others. Thinking always of ourselves before God. Being too busy to walk closely with God. Avoiding the work we need to do each day. And on and on. An honest examination can be devastating. It can cause us to become uneasy, shameful, and filled with guilt. Don’t go down that unproductive road. That road goes to depression and lack of action. If, instead, we follow the example set before us in the Scripture, we know that we must acknowledge these weaknesses. Ask forgiveness of those who we might have offended or hurt, and ask for God to forgive us as well. And, with all our heart and mental intention, avoid those same bad habits in the future. This is the beginning of a new beginning. This is the process that provides a true renewal.

To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness  Ephesians 4:22-24

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As Christians, starting over is an important part of our grace. We repent. We ask forgiveness from God who gave us forgiveness and grace through His Son. And, we are truly born again. We can begin again because of His grace. So in this new year, we thank God that it is not through our good deeds or work that we are worthy of God’s love, but through grace, the greatest gift of all, that we can be forgiven and begin again.

And from his fulness we have all received, grace upon grace John 1:16.

 

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Paying attention…

 

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This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it Psalm 118:24

This verse from Psalm is a favorite for many Christians. But there are some typical days during the year that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot muster a sense of rejoicing. During the Christmas season, rejoicing comes easier. This season is the rejoicing season. We were given the greatest gift of all. We were given God’s Son here on earth who would take away our sins and certain eternal death. We are reminded of this wonderful gift by the many decorations and festivities around us.

There is definitely something different about the weeks before Christmas, or the season we know as the advent. There will be plenty of chaos, rushing around, last minute deadlines, attending events, and planning of gatherings. Families work hard to be certain that celebrations and traditions are maintained. Churches hold more services and meetings than the rest of the year. There is an abundance of activity.

Yet, with all of the expected hustle and bustle, somehow we have unusually warm and happy feelings during this time before Christmas. We observe with great pleasure the twinkling lights on trees, houses with nativity scenes, and Santas in the yards. We treasure the warmth of fire places. We inhale the delightful smells of cakes, pies, sugar cookies and other seasonal creations.   We sing carols with gladness in our hearts. Maybe we even make an extra effort to attend church activities and services.

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We hear phrases such as “keep Christmas in your heart year round” or “be as generous through all of the year as you are in the Christmas season”. It makes us wonder, “Why do we have difficulty transferring these feelings to other times of the year?”  If we are capable of sensing the love and joy for three or four weeks of the year, shouldn’t we be able to do so any week of the year? Or ALL weeks of the year? What happens after December that prevents Christians from loving in the same way during the other eleven months? Do our hearts just freeze up? Are our hearts hardened after Jan. 1?

Maybe it is because we stop paying attention to others; to strangers; to situations and circumstances. Instead, we focus back on our own small worlds, our work, our own immediate needs. We prioritize, schedule, and plan activities that are centered on our own wants and respond to imposed demands on our time and energy. We no longer feel we are in the driver’s seat. We begin to feel that we are just reacting to the other forces of our life. We lose the warmth and love we felt and extended to others during the holidays. We take our eye off God, off of Christ, and turn inward.

This year, with each gathering, with each service, with each warm encounter with others, imagine holding on to the feeling for weeks or months. Is it possible to internalize the warmth and love for others and keep it there? Jesus commanded that we love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Is it possible to memorize the emotion? To maintain the love toward others? To celebrate life and be thankful for blessings all of the year? Paul instructed the people of Corinth to do just that. He reminded these new believers that no matter what they did, it was all for the glory of God. He instructed the people of Philippi to always rejoice in the Lord. By rejoicing and living our lives to the glory of God and loving others as Jesus instructed us to do, we can move toward maintaining the Christmas spirit during all of the days of the year.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God 1 Corinthians 10:31

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice Philippians 4:4

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When things feel upside down…

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“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace…” 1 Corinthians 14:33

“But all things should be done decently and in order” 1 Corinthians 14:40

The season is Thanksgiving. The holidays are upon us again another year. But when everything feels topsy-turvy, celebrating seems impossible. We now find ourselves between houses, in a temporary rental, living with very little furniture and everything else we own packed away in storage. It has been a challenge. We know we “need” nothing, yet we cannot find anything. And now, at Thanksgiving, we are faced with an approaching Christmas season with no lights, no decorations, no Nativity, no tree. Everything seems chaotic.

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This time of year, we are to feel thankful, blessed, fortunate. And while I know our house will be wonderful and our lives in a new town will be exciting, right now I would be content with a sofa to sit on, a few minutes to breathe, and a cup of coffee. But it is not just the physical environment that is challenging. My mind and heart have not been in a good place. My father recently joined our Savior in heaven, my mother has significant health issues, and there are other family members with serious health concerns. Unfortunately, I have allowed the overwhelming chaos and sorrow steal away my peacefulness.

For the first time in many years, I am grasping for God, knowing He continues to extend His hand to me. I am praying that I can reach far enough out of this chaos to grab hold of His hand. Praying that He will pull me along, one foot in front of the other, with my head up looking toward our Lord. I am constantly searching through the Scriptures, listening to Christmas music, providing as much kindling as I can to light the faith fire in my heart.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand Proverbs 19:21

The most difficult part of these past few months has been finding the faith in my heart and mind to trust that this is His plan. To trust that somehow, this chaos makes sense, and it is for a purpose that I cannot see from here. It is at this point I came to realize that trust is perhaps the most important aspect of faith for Christians. When believers have trust, there is faith. When we have faith, we have hope.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you Psalm 56:3

The idea that trust, faith, and hope are all connected, brings a sense of order into my chaotic world. With trust, faith, and hope, I feel thankful for the joy and peace that we have as Christians. I am thankful for the love of family, the warmth of sunshine in the world of our Creator, and the smiles that greet me on this Thanksgiving day. And most of all, I am thankful for the love of our Savior, who first loved us, and in whom I trust with the plan for my chaotic life.

May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope Romans 15:13

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Out of the pit…

 

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He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, not crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away Revelation 21:4

As Christians we know that death is not the finality. We learned this long ago. We know it in our hearts. Yet, when a loved one dies, rather than feeling joy for the rebirth of loved one in heaven, we feel sadness. There are feelings of our own deadness and misery when our loved one leaves us. Even though we know that the person we knew on earth, the one who suffered with an illness that could not be cured, is no longer in pain, we feel worse than ever.  We know we should rejoice, but instead we feel deep relentless sorrow. Days pass by and there we are, in the pit of despair for so long.

“And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:26

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Ever so slowly, day after day, we may plod along still feeling the sadness. We attend the ceremonies, speak with family, friends, and others offering sympathy. We read the cards, we try to read Bible passages, but somehow, everything still isn’t quite right. Things just feel so sad.

Then, from nowhere, God sends us a message of hope. It might be from a kind word that friend said, a deed that someone did for us, or a passage from the wonderful written words of God. For me, it came from a Facebook message sent to me by someone I never met. Perhaps it was the timing of the message. At that moment, God knew I was ready to hear the message and find hope: “Wishing you well and hoping your days are getting better since the loss of your dad. Isn’t it great knowing we will see them again one day!” And my only thought was “Yes, that is great! We will see them again one day!’ I sent a message back telling this wonderful person that she had no idea how much the message meant. It meant I was going to look upward once again and get out of the pit.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live John 11:25.

Today is the first day of hope. There is still work to do, errands to run, and writing to complete. Intermittent tears continue. But there is a sense of calmness and purpose. Finally, today I have a feeling of hope and peacefulness. I am climbing out of the pit. It may take time, but I know with God’s love and support, life on earth will move forward once again.

And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise‘” Luke 23:43.

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Disappointments…

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Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil Ephesians 6:10-11

We have all had them…disappointments in others. The disappointments can happen with friends, family, and co-workers. Disappointments can result from misplaced trust, unfulfilled promises, or even due to false hope. We may be left feeling dejected, overwhelmed, rejected, or just plain sad.

These feelings of disappointment can happen because we are under the misconception that others feel as exactly as we expect or hope they feel. This can mean we believe co-workers will put forth the same amount of time and effort in a project that we will. We expect a friend to react as we react and feel the same way in a relationship that we do. As Christians, we always have standards of behavior that we assume other Christians have… like honesty and compassion. When Christians do not live within these standards, we are often shocked. When people have other ideas about how to resolve issues or events, we feel disappointed.

If disappointment is allowed to smolder and fester, it can become anger and resentment. It can consume our mental energy, especially if disappointment follows months of planning or years of friendship. So, what can Christians do when people let us down? How to we get past these feelings? First, we must be patient and not react quickly. Quick reactions may result in saying or doing things we regret later.

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger Proverbs 15:1

And after we wait a bit, we should turn to Scripture for guidance.

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All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness 2 Timothy 3:16

Patiently waiting, patiently studying the word of God, and praying for guidance will put us on the right path. Consider talking with the individual about your disappointment. Pray for the individual and ask God to help you to forgive the person so that you are living your life as Christ expects you to live.

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive Colossians 3:13

And finally, we remember that it is always better to rely and trust in God rather than man.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man Psalm 118:8

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