Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Everything Old is New Again!"


2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here!

The clock is ticking . . .

With every second on this last day of 2011, moving steadily, methodically toward the end of this year.

And, the beginning of 2012.

A new year. A fresh start. Renewed hopes. Revived resolutions.

Perhaps, 2011 is a year you will be glad to leave behind.

Pain. Loss. Disappointments. Discouragements.

Stashed gratefully away in the past as you embrace the promise of better things to come.

Or, maybe, 2011 is the most memorable, joyful year of your life. Letting go and moving forward is unappealing. You long to hold on. To savor the sweetness it brought you.

The clock is ticking . . .

Are you reminiscing? Preparing for the party you are hosting tonight? Planning to stay up and usher in the new year? Will you watch the festivities at Times Square on your television?

Is your awareness heightened, on this last day of the year, of the passing of time?

How it flies when you're having fun? How maddeningly it creeps when you are waiting for something to happen? How its march cannot be stopped?

The clock is ticking . . .

The old is going . . .

The new is coming!

A vision of days spread before like blank, pristine slates. The future . . . unknown . . . uncharted . . .

But, not daunting.

Not when Jesus walks with you. Renewing you in Him each day. Writing on those slates His message of love and salvation.

Just for you . . .

His hand is outstretched. Will you take it? Invite Him to walk with you in 2012?

Will you pray with me?
Help us, Father, to welcome the new year with faith and hope, knowing that we have newness of life every day in your beloved Son. May we hold tightly to His hand and let Him guide us through our days. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 46, 48
Isaiah 26:1-9
2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2
John 8:12-19

Friday, December 30, 2011

What Are You Waiting For?

Psalm 27:14
Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

My daughter, Sarah, and son-in-law, John, stop by with Virginia Rose to pick up a few items from Christmas. They can only stay a few minutes as they have errands to run.

But, Virginia doesn't understand.

She spots the cloth Advent calendar we let her play with just the day before. Pointing at it, lip curled into a pout, she begins to fuss and clamor. We know what she wants, but there isn't time to comply with her wishes.

"How do we teach her delayed gratification at this age?" John asks while Virginia rocks and whines in his arms.

"Distract her," I promptly advise. "Remove her from the temptation."

Immediately, Danny, aka "Papa", takes his cue.

He jumps in front of Virginia, makes funny noises and faces while gently poking her ticklish tummy.

In seconds, she transforms from cranky to cuteness. All smiles and laughter!

"You better scoot while the going is good," I say.

They agree.

Hastily, Sarah and John, with a now contented Virginia in tow, head out the door.
~
We live in an age of instant gratification. Our technology encourages this mindset. At the click of a mouse or a remote or a cellphone button, we are instantaneously in touch with the world.

We expect to get our way right away.

No delay.

No waiting.

But, it is an illusion.

Because, real life calls for all kinds of pauses and postponements.

And, patience . . .

We wait for Christmas. For New Year's Day. Our birthday. Our wedding day. Our anniversary. Vacation. Easter . . .

We may grow restive for that special time to arrive, yet we wait in hope. Hope for the joys these days will bring. Hope for the memories they will make.

In hope, our gratification is delayed.

With hope, we can wait for anything.

For good things come to those who wait. Especially, to those who wait upon the Lord. Who trust in His timing and in His judgment.

They will one day know eternal gratification in Him.

Are you waiting, in patience and in hope, upon the Lord?

Will you pray with me?
Let us be ever mindful, Father, that Your time is not ours. Help us to have the patience to wait with grace for the good things You have in store for us. Let us wait in hope. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 20, 21:1-7 (8-14) or 23, 27
Isaiah 25:1-9
Revelation 1:9-20
John 7:53-8:11

Thursday, December 29, 2011

From the Wrong Side of the Tracks . . .

John 7:52
They replied, "Surely, you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee."

The year is 1967. My father, who teaches at a university in Georgia, has an opportunity for a year's sabbatical. He chooses to study at Harvard where we can be close to our relatives who all reside in Massachusetts.

My brother and I are beside ourselves with excitement. Just imagine! A whole year with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

What could be better?

Then, it hits . . .

I have to leave my friends. My school. My home.

I'll have to make new friends. Attend a new school. Adjust to a new home.

The unknown is daunting. Especially, the prospect of school.

The day my mom takes me to the overwhelmingly sprawling junior high to register, my stomach has more knots than a boy scout knows how to tie.

As we enter the front office and Mom states our business, the secretary gives us a pleasant welcome and summons one of the counselors to help us.

A youthful, blonde woman with an engaging smile bounces into the office. After introducing herself as Mrs. McCormick, she assures us that the school will be delighted to have me this year.

I'm beginning to feel a wee bit better about the whole situation.

Then, Mom hands the counselor my transcript.

My Georgia transcript . . .

The winsome smile fades from the face of Mrs. McCormick. Her brow is knit with consternation.

After perusing it for what seems an eternity, she forces a smile. A condescending smile.

"All 'As", I see," she says, shooting a haughty glance in my direction. "But, advanced classes? I'm sorry, Mrs. Murdy. It is a well-known fact that Georgia schools, in fact, any schools in the south, are far inferior to those in New England. Frankly, I don't think your daughter can handle our advanced courses. You'll just be setting her up for failure."

What my Mom does next is nothing short of heroic.

"Mrs. McCormick," she begins, "I was born and raised in Massachusetts. I have lived in Atlanta, Georgia for nine years. I have yet to be disappointed in my daughter's curriculum or the quality and ability of her teachers. Your judgment of schools in the south is simply unfounded. My daughter will be placed in your advanced classes. If she fails, which she won't, the blame will rest with me, with her, not you."

I am silently applauding my Mom and turning cartwheels of joy in my heart.

Mrs. McCormick glares.

Mom stands her ground.

"Oh, alright then, Mrs. Murdy, if you insist, but please don't say you weren't warned. Our curriculum is one of the toughest in the nation. We hold extremely high expectations."

"So do I," Mom declares, then points to me. "And, so does she."

How does it all turn out by the end of the school year?

Suffice it to say, this girl perceived as a "Georgia Leech" is hailed by her teachers as a "Georgia Peach".

I earn all "A's" . . .
~
In every culture throughout history, prejudice is practiced by one group against another. Today's verse finds the aristocratic Pharisees of Jerusalem dismissing the peasantry of Galilee as incapable of producing anyone of worth, let alone a prophet.

Ensconced firmly in their misconstrued beliefs, they cannot see Jesus for who He truly is.

Deaf to His words.

Blind to His truth.

Dead to salvation.

Because, nothing good ever comes from the wrong side of the tracks . . .

Are your preconceived notions of other people keeping your from loving them as Christ loves?

Will you pray with me?
We are all, Father, subject to the prejudices and notions of the times in which we live. Help us to look beyond these. Give us the wisdom to see as You see, to hear as You hear, to love as You love. Make us ever mindful that judgment is in your hands alone. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 18:1-20 or 18:21-50
Isaiah 12:1-6
Revelation 1:1-8
John 7:37-52

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Three Day Break . . .

Dear Friends,

As most of you know, my devotions follow the daily scripture readings assigned in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Imagine, then, my surprise when I discovered there were no assigned readings for December 26, 27 or 28!

So, I have decided to give myself a short break here. My devotions will resume on December 29, so please stay tuned!

Know I am grateful for each and every one of you.

May God richly bless you in the new year!

Martha

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Merry Christmas to All!


Luke 2:8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people; to you is born this day in the city
of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

May the joy and peace of Christma
s fill and bless your hearts this day and always!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!Danny and Martha Orlando


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Silent Night . . .

Luke 1:78-79
"Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."

Silent night, holy night . . .

The family Christmas Eve service is anything but silent. Children, excited beyond measure about tomorrow, laugh and shout, talk and sing, with unfettered glee. The atmosphere is charged with joy.

All is calm, all is bright . . .

Calm? Anything, but.

Bright? Oh, yes! All those shining eyes and rosy cheeks of cherubic faces everywhere I turn. My heart is floating on air . . .

'Round yon virgin, mother and child . . .

A baby is wailing. Another chimes in. Their cries crescendo, then fade as mothers beat a hasty retreat from nave to narthex.

Holy infant so tender and mild . . .

Next to me, a young father cradles his infant daughter. She is dressed for the season in a red velveteen and lace dress, tights, and the tiniest Mary Jane shoes I've ever seen. Fast asleep, she is oblivious to all the commotion around her.

Sleep in heavenly peace . . .

The service is drawing to a close. The ushers who give us candles with our bulletins as we enter the church now travel the pews to light the ones of the persons sitting at the end.

They, in turn, light the candle of the person beside them.

And, so the light travels down the pew, from one to another.

As the candlelight spreads, the lights are dimmed. Even the children grow hushed, expectant, entranced by the glow of countless tiny flames.

Softly, reverently, the organ notes fill the air . . .

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright . . .

The candle flame blurs before my eyes. I can't stop the tears.

Tears of joy. Of wonder. Of awe.

Of thanksgiving.

I'm too choked up to sing with my voice, but my heart is singing with the angels in heaven.

Christ, the Savior, is born. Christ, the Savior, is born.

May the peace of God be with you this glorious Christmas Eve and always!

Readings
Psalms 45, 46
Isaiah 35:1-10
Revelation 22:12-17, 21
Luke 1:67-80

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Name Game

Luke 1:60-61
But his mother spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John." They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who has that name."

When I am pregnant with my first child, we spend many hours discussing names and trying to decide on one.

Months ahead, we agree on a name if we have a girl: Sarah Jane. My parents are pleased as I have two aunts with those names. Plus, my middle name is "Jane".

All is right with the world.

Until we decide not to use any family names if we have a boy. Henry, my grandfather's first name and my father's middle one, seems antiquated to us.

And, although I like William, my brother is already William Henry, the third. So, that name is out, too.

No other choices on either side of our families are appealing. We choose to go the original route in choosing a boy's name.

Even though this doesn't make the families happy.

But, which name will it be?

We grapple for weeks with this decision. We can't seem to agree.

And, now, we are only four weeks away from delivery . . .

"James!" I blurt out of the blue. "What do you think about calling him James?"

"As long as it isn't shortened to Jim or Jimmy, it will do just fine."

Done! What a relief to have this dilemma resolved.

All that's left to do now is wait for little James or Sarah Jane to arrive . . .

It is one week past my due date. I wake up each morning wondering if today is the day. I'm weary of swollen ankles, swollen fingers, and looking like I swallowed a watermelon whole.

I'm so anxious for this birth to happen.

"Am I ever going to meet you?" I say aloud to my belly.

That's when I hear it . . .

Daniel.

Am I dreaming???

My name is Daniel.

"Daniel . . . Daniel," I whisper, over and over.

When my husband enters the room, I smile broadly.

"His name is Daniel," I announce. "We're having a boy!"
~
The name "John" means "God is gracious". "Daniel" means "God is my Judge". Do you know the meaning of your name? How was your name given to you?

Will you pray with me?
We are so grateful, Father, that you know each of your children and call us by name. May we live into the calling you have for us. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 93, 96 or 148, 150
Isaiah 33:17-22
Revelation 22:6-11, 18-20
Luke 1:57-66

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Under the Magnifying Glass . . .


Luke 1:46
And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant."

One Christmas, my brother and I find a magnifying glass in each of our stockings. We are enthralled! And, waste no time trying them out.

We inspect everything imaginable.

Toys. Books. Lamp shades. Tables. Chairs. The dog's fur. Turkey slices on our plates.

Our skin. "Wow! Look at all the tiny pores!"

Our clothing. "Hey! All these fibers have little hairs!"

You name it, we're examining it!

I especially like holding it over the words in my favorite book, Charlotte's Web. I am awed by the miniscule flaws in the inked letters. The way one small word becomes gigantic.

Larger than life.

Revealing a fresh, new perspective.

Turning the ordinary into the extraordinary . . .
~
Stop a moment. Think.

Where are you now in your walk with the Lord?

How strong is your faith?

Is it, as the old hymn goes, "well with your soul"?

In these few days before Christmas, take time to reflect. Get out your magnifying glass and look deep within yourself.

And, ask yourself these questions -

"Is my relationship with God ordinary or extraordinary?"

"How can my soul, like Mary's, magnify Him?"

Will you pray with me?
Help us, Father, to seek an extraordinary relationship with you. May we magnify Your love, Your comfort, and Your grace with humility and faith. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 80 or 146, 147
Isaiah 29:13-24
Revelation 21:22-22:5
Luke 1:39-48a (48b-56)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mary, How DID You Know?

Luke 1:38
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May your word to me be fulfilled." Then the angel left her.

After a horrendous labor which results in an emergency C-section, I am recovering in a semi-private room. I count myself fortunate that I am its only occupant at the moment. I rest gratefully and ponder the miraculous delivery of my healthy, perfect baby boy. I'm anxious to the nurses to bring him to me so I can hold him, feed him, gaze upon his face.

I am deep in reverie when the door opens.

"Daniel?" I ask eagerly.

"Not just yet," a cheerful nurse announces.

She wheels a young woman into the room and heads directly for the bed next to mine. Politely, I turn my head away while the nurse helps her onto the bed and makes all the necessary adjustments.

It isn't until she leaves that I look over at my roommate. She is lying on her back, staring at the ceiling. Her face is expressionless. Almost stoic.

This is NOT the look of a happy mother.

And, she is very young. Seventeen? Eighteen, maybe?

Not wanting to seem unfriendly, I decide to acknowledge her.

"Hello."

"Hi," she responds weakly and turns away toward the wall. Her back faces me.

I get the message . . .

Anyway, I am busy with visits from family, friends, and my beautiful new baby.

So absorbed in my own cloud-nine world, I barely notice that she has no visitors. And, no baby. A premie? A still-born? I wonder, not without sadness for her.

It is not until late in the night, right after the nurse has come in on her rounds, that I hear her. Softly sobbing. Crying into her pillow.

I take the plunge.

"Are you in pain? Do you want me to get the nurse again?"

"Yes, I'm in pain," she moans, pitifully. "Pain the nurse can't help with and neither can you. You get to keep your baby."

I am stunned. Who could be so insensitive as to place this grieving, unwed mother in the same room with a happy married mom?

With her tears continuing to flow, so does her story. Boyfriend deserts her. Parents are mortified. Want her to abort. She refuses. Insist she give the baby up for adoption. Will kick her out otherwise. Won't pay for college.

And, she is not allowed to see this baby. The one she carried for nine months. The one she longs to hold. The one she longs to keep. The one she loves as only a mother can . . .
~
Unwed motherhood, even in most of today's cultures, carries the stigma of shame. In Mary's day, the consequences were devastating. Divorce at best. Stoning at worst.

Yet, Mary's absolute faith in God allows her to place all fear aside. She believes the angel when he tells her "with God, nothing is impossible" (Luke 1:37). She trusts He will break through the cultural barriers of her time. That His will will be done.

And, it is.

And, we are saved.
~
Have you ever known an unwed mother? How did her family treat her and the situation? What was your reaction?

Will you pray with me?
We are so grateful, Father, for Mary's "yes" to your will for her. Our culture can trap us in so many misconceptions and assumptions. Erase those from our hearts and minds. Allow us to see how You see and love how You love. Help us to have the unwavering faith of Mary. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 72 or 111, 113
Isaiah 28:9-22
Revelation 21:9-21
Luke 1:26-38

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ready? Set? Rest!

Luke 1:17
And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Only five days before Christmas!

Can you believe it? Are you ready?

Is the shopping done? Are the gifts wrapped? Are the card mailed? Is Christmas dinner planned?

No? Okay, here's the deal. Make that list of "last-minutes". Categorize. Prioritize.

And, in the immortal words of Larry the Cable Guy: "Get 'er done!"

ASAP!

Because . . .

I want you to take time for you in these remaining days before the Christmas celebration.

That's right. You!

You, curled up in your comfy chair by the fireside, reading that book you've been craving for weeks.

You, sipping a favorite beverage, listening to Christmas carols, dreamily admiring your perfectly decorated Christmas tree.

You, in warm robe and fuzzy slippers, lounging on the couch, watching a beloved Christmas classic.

You, taking time for you. Doing whatever it is that makes you relax and unwind. Whatever gives you joy. Whatever brings you peace.

So, when Christmas Day finally arrives, you are prepared. In heart and mind and soul. Ready to receive God's only Son with the wonder and awe of a carefree child.

Not as a careworn adult . . .

Can you do this? Will you do this?

Today, will you let me pray for you?
Father, I pray for those who have been so caught up in the wilderness of holiday demands, they have barely heard the voice of one crying out to them, "The Lord is near!" Help them now, in these few precious days before Christmas, to slow down, to take time, to reflect upon the greatest gift which has come into this world. Fill them with peace and gladness, and let their hearts rejoice! Amen.


HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, MOM AND DAD! LOVE YOU!

Readings
Psalms 66, 67 or 116, 117
Isaiah 11:10-16
Revelation 20:11-21:8
Luke 1:5-25


Monday, December 19, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas . . .

Isaiah 11:8
The infant will play near the cobra's den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper's nest.

Christmas is a joyous time of wonder. Especially for children.

Advent calendars to open. A tree on which to hang glittering ornaments. Lights strung on garlands, wreaths, rooftops, and trees to capture the imagination. Cookies to help mom bake and, better yet, eat!

But, when a child is as young as my granddaughter, Virginia Rose, the trappings of Christmas can be a hazard. A den of cobras. A nest of vipers.

We already take precautions we would not have in previous years.

The charming Christmas village which customarily adorns our stone hearth stays in its boxes. Too many small pieces. Too many sharp edges. Far too much temptation for little hands.

Instead, when Virginia visits, we drape a large comforter over the stone ledge to cushion the blow should she inadvertently slip and bump her head. Not pretty, but neither is a knock to the noggin. In my book, safety trumps beauty every time.

We tape loose wires to the walls, place the all-too-fragile Nativity scene out of toddler reach, and insert plastic safety caps on open electrical outlets.

But, what to do about the Christmas tree?

Nothing could be more enticing to a 17-month-old . . .

The twinkling lights. The scintillating ornaments. The inviting branches.

Nothing could be more perilous . . .

Sharp ends of plastic branches. Fragile, glass ornaments too easily broken. Plastic snowflakes sprinkled on the boughs.

And, the lights? Thanks to our LED strings which stay cool, a singed hand is, thankfully, not a threat.

But, what to do about the rest?

Crank up the "no-nos" and watch her like a hawk!

Ready to snatch Virginia's innocently curious hand from the cobra's den, the viper's nest.

Willing to go to any length to keep her safe and sound . . .

Because, the dangers of this world are many.

And, the vision of Isaiah is yet to be fulfilled . . .

Will you pray with me?
We know, Lord, that the day will come when the lion will lie down with the lamb, when hurt and pain will be now more, when you will wipe away every tear. We wait for you, Lord. We wait for the day of Your coming. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DANNY! I LOVE YOU!

Readings
Psalms 61, 62 or 112, 115
Isaiah 11:19
Revelation 20:1-10
John 5:30-47

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's Game Day!

Ephesians 6:11
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.

My husband, Danny, and I are not sports enthusiasts by any means. However, we do enjoy an occasional football game when our favorite college teams or hometown pros are playing.

Football is a rough sport requiring athletes to wear protective gear to prevent serious injuries.

Helmets. Face masks. Mouth guards. Gloves. Cleats. Shoulder pads. Thigh pads. Knee pads.

The armor beneath the uniform.

Yet, even with all these precautions, injuries can and do occur. It's always sad to see a tackled player unable to get up on his own.

Time is called. The team doctor and trainers rush onto the field. We hold our breath.

How badly is he hurt? Is it his ankle? His knee? His elbow? His hand? His wrist?

Oh, please, not his head!

Did he just have the wind knocked out of him?

Will he be okay . . .?

He's up! Thank goodness!

Limping. Supported on either side. Heading for the sidelines.

The crowd cheers with relief, applauding the player's performance. Wishing him all the best in recovery.
~
Football may be rough and tough, but so is this game called life. Much more so . . .

Paul's admonition to us to put on the full armor of God each and every day is advice not to be taken lightly.

For, the devil is lurking. Looking for the one chink in our armor he can breach.

To tackle us. Take us down. Injure. Maim. Cripple . . .

Remove us from God's game plan for our lives.

But, like the team physician, there is Jesus. Kneeling at our side. Helping us to our feet. Walking with us to the sidelines where we can rest and renew ourselves in His healing presence.

Safe within the strong armor of His love and His salvation . . .
~
Are you wearing God's armor today?

Will you pray with me?
Let us carefully clothe ourselves, Father, in your armor. Do not let the devil find our weak spots. Keep us from the trial. deliver us from evil. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 24, 29 or 8, 84
Isaiah 42:1-12
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 3:16-21

Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Oh, Christmas Tree, Oh, Christmas Tree . . ."

Luke 3:9
The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

One of our favorite Christmas rituals when my children are growing up is selecting our Christmas tree. No artificial ones for us! We want the real deal!

We meander observantly through the forest of evergreens, inhaling the heavenly scent. I tell Daniel, my son, and Sarah, my daughter, what to look for in the perfect tree.

"First, is price," I state flatly. "I won't go above fifty dollars this year."

"Aw, Mom!" Sarah moans.

But, Daniel brightens.

"If we find one cheaper than fifty dollars, can Sarah and I split the leftover money?"

I laugh, "No, but it will all come out in the Christmas wash, if you catch my drift. So, the first thing to look at is the price tag. Second, . . ."

Here, I pull on a limb for emphasis.

"You rub your fingers along the branches. If no needles fall off, we know the tree is good and fresh."

"Ewww, Mom, that's sticky!" Sarah says with a grimace.

"That's the sap, stupid," says Daniel. "It won't hurt you."

"Don't call your sister 'stupid'!"

"Sorry."

"Third, look all around the tree to make sure the branches are evenly spaced. We don't want any unsightly gaps. Fourth, check the trunk to see that it's straight. And, fifth . . ."

"Look, Mom! Here it is!" Daniel exclaims. "We're standing right in front of it!"

Sure enough. The very tree I single out for the lesson is exactly what we are looking for.

We share a round of laughter.

Out comes my purse. Home goes the Christmas tree.
~
When we stand amidst the greenery of real Christmas trees, it's easy to forget they are no longer living. The ax has been put to the root. The only "fruit" these trees will bear, if chosen from the lot, will be shiny lights and ornaments and a glowing star on top.

And, when we reflect upon the Lord's Second Coming in glory, it's easy to forget the judgment. The ax to the root. The winnowing of grain from chaff.

May the Day of the Lord find us deeply rooted in Him . . .

How are you growing in God's will for you?

Will you pray with me?
Save us, Lord, from the time of trial. Lead us not into temptation. Ground us firmly in Your Word. Let us serve You, and You alone, all of our days until Your coming again. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 55 or 138, 139:1-17 (18-23)
Isaiah 10:20-27
Jude 17-25
Luke 3:1-9

Friday, December 16, 2011

Life is a Game of Backgammon . . .

2 Peter 2:21
It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.

On our recent trip to the mountains, Danny and I play backgammon every afternoon. He's an expert at the game, having spent years sparring with friends and in tournaments.

I am a novice.

And, I haven't played in over a year, so I require major coaching in the rules of the game.

Danny patiently reviews these with me. Reveals the magic die combinations. Gently corrects my inaccurate moves during our first several games.

Backgammon is spatial. Mathematical. It takes my anything-but-mathematical mind a good long while to even begin wrapping itself around the game.

By our tenth one, I think I have the gist of it. I tell Danny to let me win or lose on my own.

And, lose, I do.

Because the rules are still new. There are so many strategies. Too many to recall all at once.

But, that's no excuse.

I've been shown the way, and I need to move forward.

I need to try harder to remember.

There's no turning around now . . .

By our second afternoon foray, I begin to win a game here and a game there. Not because of the luck of the die, but because I'm actually, finally, implementing the strategic moves crucial to winning.

I am on my way!

And, I won't look back . . .
~
If anyone had trouble following Jesus without falling on his face, it is Peter.

So many new rules. New strategies. New ways of looking at the power, the might, the grace of God.

Confused and bewildered on so many occasions, Peter listens and tries to understand all Jesus is teaching him, showing him.

When he recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, he wins the game.

When he denies the Lord three times, he loses. Big time.

He has earned the right to chastise those who have claimed the path of righteousness, but have taken the dangerous detour instead.

Just as he fell away from his Lord and Savior. And, the cock crowed . . .

Thankfully, for us, Jesus redeems His beloved Peter.

For, on his shoulders, the church is built.

Christianity is born.

We are saved . . .

Are your feet firmly planted on the road to righteousness?

Will you pray with me?
When we lose our way, Father, guide us back to you. When we fall, pick us up, dust us off, and set our course straight. Thank you for loving us even when we fail Your rules and Your strategies. We praise You for Your great glory! Amen.

Readings
Psalms 40, 54 or 51
Isaiah 10:5-19
2 Peter 2:17-22
Matthew 11:2-15

Thursday, December 15, 2011

That's NOT the Way it Works . . .

Matthew 3:8
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

Pastor Wallace has amassed many stories and anecdotes during his long tenure as a preacher. His sermons are generously, and entertainingly, punctuated by them.

And, I never tire of hearing them. Even when, occasionally, one is repeated.

They are just that good. Just that memorable.

As I meditate upon this verse from Matthew, a particular Pastor Wallace story comes to mind.

He tells of a young Catholic woman whom he meets years ago. She is chattering away, quite unabashedly, divulging some personal exploits which, to Wallace's ears, are a far cry from behaviors he expects from a Christian.

"Young lady," he begins, "thought you told me you believed in God; that you were a Christian?"

"Oh, yes, sir, I am," she responds proudly.

"Then, how come you're continuing to do the risky, unhealthy things you are?"

She shrugs. "It doesn't matter. You see, every week I go to confessional, tell the Father all my sins, do my penance, and I'm good to go."

Wallace looks her right in the eyes.

"Miss," he says gravely, "That's not the way it works."

And, he's exactly right.

Confession of sin is vital. But, so is true repentance.

The first admits to doing the wrong thing, having the wrong thoughts. The second commits to turning away from sinful ways.

To ask God's forgiveness. To become more Christ-like.

To accept God's grace in our lives. To allow that grace to move mightily within us.

That we might produce good fruit in His Holy Name.

How are you striving to become more like Christ in your life?

Will you pray with me?
The only way we can turn from evil, Father, is with Your help. Shine the light and goodness of Jesus into our hearts by Your Holy Spirit. Let us confess our sins in all humility and walk in the ways You have shown us. May we bear good fruit for Your Kingdom. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 50 or (59, 60) 33
Isaiah 9:18-10:4
2 Peter 2:10b-16
Matthew 3:1-12

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Now, How Much Would You Pay?


2 Peter 2:3
And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

Commercials.

They're everywhere we turn. Especially, at this season of the year.

Buy this! Buy that!

It's the latest! You'll look better! Feel better!

Cosmetics. Clothes. Cars (with red satin bows). Toys! Toys! Toys!

The ones your kids can't live without.

And, jewelry out the wazoo . . . Hey, guys, "every kiss begins with Kay".

And, then, there are those infomercials with their so-called bargains . . .

"Only $19.95!"

"Now, how much would you pay?"

"But, wait! There's more!"

Oh, you can bet on that! More commercials, more advertisements, more trash than one can tolerate. On our televisions. On our radios. On the internet. In our mailboxes.

All exhorting us to spend, spend, spend!

Promising us we, and our loved ones, will be happy, complete, fulfilled if we do.

And, if we don't?

Well, forget that kiss under the mistletoe this year. Forget the bear-hugs of gratitude from your kids. Forget about a joyous Christmas day . . .

Because, as these ads would have us believe, Christmas is all about parting with cash. Buying affection. Granting wishes.

Whether we can afford to or not . . .

And, they appeal to the base nature of greed in all of us.

Yes, you heard me right.

It's easy to call the retailers "greedy" with all their pushing and promoting of merchandise. The reality is, though, none of these ads can affect us unless we let them. We are the ones who must make the choice whether or not to fall victim to their ploys and chump to their champ.

If you are finding commercials too enticing this season, try this: Turn off the television. Unplug the radio. Limit your time on the internet. Don't peruse the junk mail.

And, remember what Christmas is really about . . .

Readings
Psalms 119:49-72
Isaiah 9:8-17
2 Peter 2:1-10a
Mark 1:1-8


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Don't Just Tell, Show!

Luke 22:67-68
"If you are the Messiah," they said, "tell us."
Jesus answered, "If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer."

Show-and-Tell is the highlight of my school week in first grade.

Only five of us can participate on the given day. With thirty in the classroom, it is several weeks before it will be my turn to share one of my treasures with my classmates.

Meanwhile, I enjoy seeing and hearing about the objects my friends bring from home.

Matchbox cars. A piece of sparkling quartz. Teddy bear. Family photo. Plastic army men. Rag doll. Coin collection.

Each one is fascinating, revealing to us aspects about each other which we, and our teacher, might not otherwise know.

Even the shy students who normally balk at speaking in front of their peers find the courage to do so when cradling a prized possession.

Stage fright eludes my vocabulary.

When my long-awaited turn finally arrives, I bounce out of my desk and skip gleefully to the front of the room. I practically sing with excitement!

"This," I say proudly, holding up a diminutive, stuffed Airedale terrier, "is Terry. He is just one animal in the collection I share with my brother. We play with them every day. Well, almost every day. And, we build houses out of Lincoln logs for them. And, they have great adventures. And, a flying boat. And, Terry is always getting into trouble."

My classmates marvel at the tiny, detailed replica of a real-life terrier. They beg me to pass him around. I am hesitant to part with my beloved friend.

I glance apprehensively at my teacher.

She nods and smiles.

"Terry will be fine, dear. I'll keep an eye on him for you."

So, Terry makes the rounds of the classroom. He is admired. He is cuddled. He is squeezed.

And, by some, reluctantly passed on.

I cannot relax until he is safely back in my arms.

Laura, the reserved girl sitting beside me, leans over and whispers, "I just love Terry! Can I come to your house sometime and see all your animals?"

"Sure!" I say with a smile. "I'll ask my Mom today."
~
What would have happened that day at Show-and-Tell had I not brought Terry? Do you think the children would have remembered anything about my animal collection without seeing him? Would the otherwise bashful Laura had the courage to invite herself to my house?

Jesus has been showing and telling, revealing who He is, step by step, for three long years.

Teaching. Healing. Raising from the dead.

All with authority.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law do not see. Do not listen. Do not recognize.

And, if they do not believe when shown, Jesus knows that no amount of telling will convince them.

They've turned the blind eye. The deaf ear.

To God, Himself . . .
~
Can you show, not just tell, someone what it means to be a Christian?

Will you pray with me?'
Telling means nothing, Father, without showing. Help us to be always mindful that our actions speak much louder than words ever could. Let us show the love of Christ to this hurting world. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 45 or 47, 48
Isaiah 9:1-7
2 Peter 1:12-21
Luke 22:54-69


Monday, December 12, 2011

Walking in Darkness . . .

Luke 22:53
"Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour-when darkness reigns."

Creeping, day by day, toward the Winter Solstice. December 22nd. The shortest day. The longest night.

The darkest time of the year . . .

The ancients feared it. Dreaded its coming.

Would the sun go away, never to return?

Only in light is there life. Darkness, complete and utter darkness, is death.

The time for demons and witches and hobgoblins to wreak havoc on earth. For ghosts and ghouls to haunt and horrify. Every evil entity rising up to clutch and capture the hearts of men.

The darkness which heightens every fear, real or imagined.

Savage. Brutal. Insidious. Wicked. Cold. Cruel.

Darkness . . .

And, then . . .

The solstice passes. The next day comes. And, the next.

Miracle of miracles! Minute by added minute! The days increase! The nights decrease!

Light returns to the weary world!

In its hope, the shadows flee from mind and heart. The soul is renewed, restored by the promise.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

And, we, too, will see that light anew on Christmas Day.
~
How will you celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Light of the World, this Christmas?

Will you pray with me?
Thank you, Father, for sending your precious Son to shine His light and the dispel the darkness from our hearts. Let us mirror His heavenly light into all the world. Let us declare His glorious coming! Amen.

Readings
Psalms 41, 52 or 44
Isaiah 8:16-9:1
2 Peter 1:1-11
Luke 22:39-53

Sunday, December 11, 2011

One-Trick Pony

John 3:28
"You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Messiah, but am sent ahead of him.'"

Have you ever asked yourself, "Why am I here?"

In this body. In this time. In this place.

"What is my true purpose in life?"

"What does God expect me to accomplish?"

While some of us find ready answers, most of us struggle to put the puzzle pieces of our lives into a coherent picture.

We may play many roles and fulfill others' expectations before it dawns on us who we actually are and for what purpose we were created.

Not so, John the Baptist!

He is the original one-trick pony.

His purpose is crystal clear: To prepare the way of the Lord.

With tireless baptisms and calls to repentance. Self-denial. Dedication. Unflagging confidence.

Overjoyed to be the best man instead of the bridegroom.

Honored and humbled to herald the coming of the long-awaited Messiah.

He has no questions about the purpose of his life. Why God placed him on earth.

In this body. In this time. In this place.

He knows . . .

And, he fulfills God's will for him.

Perfectly.
~
Have you heard the voice of John, crying in the wilderness, calling you to prepare a way for the Lord in your life this Advent?

Will you pray with me?
We give thanks, Father, for the life and mission of John. Just as he served as a spotlight for Jesus, may our own lives shine for the sake of the One who saves us, the One who redeems us. May that be the most important purpose our lives can ever have. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 63:1-8 (9-11), 98 or 103
Isaiah 13:6-13
Hebrews 12:18-29
John 3:22-30

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dash Away, Dash Away, Dash Away, All!

2 Thessalonians 3:16
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

'Tis the season to be frazzled . . .

The potatoes are boiling over on the stove. The kids are fighting over the television. The cat is in the Christmas tree. Again! The dog is yapping. Your phone rings . . .

Tempers roasting on an open fire . . .

From parking lot to department store, the mall is packed. You maneuver precariously through the shoving, pushing crowds. Stand in endless lines to make purchases. Spy the exact sweater your daughter wants only to have a woman jump in front of you and yank it from the rack.

You want to scream!

And, maybe utter a few choice words you know you shouldn't . . .

Oh, what fun to ride and sing . . .

Stuck. In rush hour traffic. Car horns blaring. Kids in the backseat singing Jingle Bells. Non-stop. You have a whopping headache.

You think you just might be in the place that rhymes with "bell".

And, presents on the tree . . .

Gifts to wrap. Cards to send. Parties to attend. Parties to plan. Cookies to bake. Presents to mail.

Your day is a whirlwind. Your mind, a spinning top. Dashing here. Dashing there.

When will there be time to even breathe?

Hark! The herald doorbell rings . . .

Guests! Family! Friends!

Food! Fun! Fellowship!

Pots! Pans! Plates! Piled higher than Mount Everest. In your sink. On your counter. On your table . . .

Peace on earth and mercy mild . . .

Hubby hugs you. Offers to clean up. Kids, uncharacteristically, volunteer to pitch in.

Go. Sit. Put your feet up.

Relax . . .

Sleep in heavenly peace . . .

Snoozing in the Lazy-Boy. Warmly wrapped in a quilt.

The touch of small hands on your head. The softest of whispers.

"Good night, Mommy. Sleep tight."

Sleep in heavenly peace . . .

~

Is the hectic pace of the season marring your heavenly peace?

Let's go to the Lord in prayer:
With all the demands of the season, Father, we sometimes forget how important it is to rest in Your peace, the peace which passes all understanding. Help us to slow down, to take time, to reflect, and spend time with You each and every day. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 30, 32 or 42, 43
Isaiah 8:1-15
2 Thessalonians 3:6-18
Luke 22:31-38

Friday, December 9, 2011

Counting Down the Days . . .


2 Thessalonians 2:15
So, then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

Christmas is a season jam-packed with tradition!

And, we who celebrate Jesus' birth more than likely share many of these is common.

Decorating the Christmas tree. Arranging the Nativity scene. Hanging stockings. Placing a wreath on our front door. Opening presents. Attending church.

But, as every family is unique, even these traditions can vary greatly.

Real tree, or artificial? Do we set the entire Nativity scene up at once, or do we hold back the baby Jesus until Christmas Day and the Wise Men until Epiphany? Embroidered stockings, or white-trimmed, red felt? A wreath adorned with lights and ornaments, or just a large, satin bow? Opening gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Attending the Christmas Eve service, or going to church on Christmas morning?

No matter how we observe this special season, keeping our traditions enhances our experience in the here and now, and can be passed down to the generations who follow us.

I like that thought . . .

My favorite tradition was, and still is, the advent calendar.

Every year while I am growing up, my grandmother sends us the most enchanting and magical calendars, bound to stir and excite the imagination of any child.

My brother and I are no exception.

We take turns opening a door or window each day. We hold the calendar to the light so the star or the trumpet or the teddy-bear or candy canes shine more brightly.

And, how we do get excited about Christmas!

I carry this treasured tradition on with my own children. Instead of a paper Advent calendar, however, I invest in one which I hope will be permanent.

It lasts about twenty years . . .

The doors are raggedy and some hang only by threads. I still love it, though, and don't want to part with it.

But, when a piece finally goes missing, I give up.

And, order a new Advent calendar (pictured above).

This time, made of thick, durable cloth and generous pockets to house the Nativity figures until it is their turn to appear in Bethlehem.

And, perfect to hand down to my granddaughter, Virginia Rose, when she is old enough.

To carry on the family tradition.

Counting the days until the coming of the Lord . . .
~
What is your favorite Christmas tradition?

Will you pray with me?
Father, we thank you for family and for the traditions each generation passes to the next. As we practice old customs which bring us comfort and joy, help us, too, to be open to creating new an meaningful ways to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 31 or 35
Isaiah 7:10-25
2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5
Luke 22:14-30

Thursday, December 8, 2011

To Brine or Not to Brine . . .

Luke 22:8
Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover."

Parties are only as successful as the planning and preparation that goes into them.

Weeks before we are to have the families to Thanksgiving, Danny purchases a festive, fall tablecloth, new napkins and rings, and a centerpiece for the table. Splendid!

He finds a bargain on two, sturdy, wooden folding chairs so there is seating for all. That's a relief!

When he shops for the trip we took recently, Danny also brings home a fresh, 21-pound turkey. Enough to feed an army!

As he rearranges the freezer to make room for it, I have a thought.

"Do you think the pan you bought to cook it in is big enough?"

"Plenty big," he grunts as he lowers the enormous bird into the bottom drawer of the freezer. "It's how I'm going to cook it that worries me."

Danny is an outstanding chef. But, turkey has rarely been part of his repertoire. If it were up to this Italian, we'd be eating lasagna for Thanksgiving!

But, not this year.

This one has to be traditional. Just like the feast my mother always prepared.

Turkey. Stuffing. Green beans. Mashed potatoes. Squash casserole. Cranberry.

And, gravy. Lots of it, made from scratch.

Danny wants it all to be perfect. Especially, the bird.

"I'll just do some research on the web," he says, confidently.

But, after an hour of browsing, he is more confused than ever. The "experts", as it were, all have different takes on how to cook a turkey to ensure it stays moist, juicy, and properly roasted.

Different cooking temperatures. Different cooking times per pound. To baste or, not to baste? To brine or, not to brine?

Who will save the day? Or, at least, Danny's sanity?

Enter the quirky, the savvy, the unsinkable Alton Brown! Food Network's intrepid icon.

And, the man of the hour . . .

Or, should I say "hours" as Danny spends so many viewing and reviewing Alton's turkey tutorials.

He follows all directions to the letter.

And, when we all gather at our decorated Thanksgiving table for our meal, not a palate is disappointed. Danny has cooked the most delicious turkey (sorry, Mom!) any of us have ever tasted.

His careful, thoughtful, painstaking preparations make all the difference . . .
~
During this season of Advent, are you making careful, thoughtful, painstaking preparations for the coming of the Lord?

Let's go to God in prayer:
Heavenly Father, prepare us for the coming of Your beloved Son into this world. Make us ready to welcome Him with open arms and humble hearts. As we celebrate Jesus' birth, may we be ever mindful of His coming again in glory. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 37:1-18 or 37:19-42
Isaiah 7:1-9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Luke 22:1-13

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Just a Stone's Throw Away . . .

John 8:7
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

I arrive at Wednesday morning Bible study to find Pastor Emily sitting by herself. I'm surprised no one else has shown up yet, but delighted for some one-on-one chat time.

As we talk about last Sunday's church service and share recent events in our lives, our conversation takes a more personal turn.

"I just loved your post about our Bible study group, Martha," Emily beams at me. "What a great read that was!"

"Thanks so much! I really hoped you'd enjoy it. And, thanks to you, I learned how to post blogs ahead of time. That was a lifesaver during vacation."

"I'll bet. It sure was for me when I was on my mission trip this past summer."

"You know, Emily, writing these daily devotions has really opened my eyes to scriptures. And, I have to admit, to myself. Which is a good thing, examining my own heart, my own sins; just not always easy to do. I sometimes worry that the folks who read these think I have all the answers when I'm on the same journey they are. Seeking God, and trying to figure out His will for me along the way."

"But, that's what it's all about! When I'm preparing to preach, especially when I plan to talk about a particular sin, I take a long, hard look in the mirror. How can I possibly stand in front of the congregation, pointing out sins which my plague their lives, if I haven't made an honest assessment of my own shortcomings, my own failings? And, no, it's not easy, not at all."

"I have to confess; my most difficult obstacle in following Christ is loving my enemies."

"Oh, Martha, that is one of the hardest! Possibly, the most challenging of all. But, it is certainly one you and I agree we must try with all our might, and God's help, to do."

"And, forgive them."

"Seventy-times seven. Again, no piece of cake."

"And, just when I think I'm there, here come the thoughts, the memories . . ."

"As they do for all of us. It's in the repeated act of forgiveness, the conscious act of love, no matter how many times we have to do so, when peace finally comes. And, it will come. It will. We need to continue to pray."

"Pray without ceasing?"

"My favorite! 1 Thessalonians 5:17."

"Now, there's a daily devotion for another time, for sure."

"A work in progress!"

"Always"

~

Are you throwing stones at your enemies, or are you loving them, forgiving them?

Will you pray with me?
Help us, Father, to take that long, hard look at our own hearts before we judge the hearts of others. Give us the grace to love and pray for our enemies. Thank you for Your forgiveness when we try the seventy times seven, and still fail. Grant us strength to try for seventy times eight. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 38 or 119:25-48
Isaiah 6:1-13
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
John 7:53-8:11

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fired Up!


1 Thessalonians 5:19
Do not quench the Spirit.

There is nothing quite as cozy, comforting, and inviting as a fire on the hearth on a cold and blustery winter's night.

As a child, I am fascinated by the leaping flames. I see images of people engaged in a wild, joyful, unpredictable dance. Soaring spirits, free to be.

Red and orange. Blue and green. The fire hisses. Crackles. Pops.

And, begins to die down . . .

"No more wood for now," says Dad. "It's too close to bedtime, and we don't want to leave the fire unattended."

I leave reluctantly, casting one last, lingering look over my shoulder at the glowing embers. I wish they didn't have to die . . .

Fast-forward thirty years.

It is March, 1993. A time of year when Southerners expect the first and certain signs of spring. The greening of the earth . . .

Blinded! By a blizzard of epic ferocity. Like none before or since. The southeastern states are crippled, paralyzed, buried in snow.

And, I, like millions of others, am without electricity.

For five long, weary days.

If it wasn't for my fireplace and a generous stash of wood . . .

I set up camp as close as possible to my hearth. I eat there, read there, sleep there. And, I feed the fire. Constantly. Banking it as high as I dare at night so I can revive it in the morning.

I can't let it go out. Just ten feet away from the flickering flames, the house is an icebox. I see my breath in the air. I drip water from the faucets to keep them from freezing.

The fire is my comfort, my companion. In its glow, I feel neither alone, nor lonely. It warms me both inside and out.

My spirit soars like the flames frolicking upon the logs.

A fire that cannot be quenched.

As this one will be once the electricity returns. Once its usefulness is spent. Once life slips back to normal.

Until then, I am a little girl, dreaming by the fire, entranced by the spirits, free to be.
~
Was there ever a time when someone, through judgment or criticism, quenched the Spirit within you?

Will you pray with me?
We thank you, Lord, for the gift of Your Holy Spirit. May He ever fan the flames in our hearts with love for You. May that warmth and light reach out to others trapped in a place of cold and darkness. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 26, 28 or 36, 39
Isaiah 5:13-17, 24-25
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
Luke 21:29-38

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cloudy, With a Chance of Wonder


Luke 21:27
"Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with great glory."

After months and weeks and days of anticipation, vacation time is here! My husband, Danny, and I are thrilled beyond measure. We need this downtime, this reconnect time, this do
-absolutely-nothing time to refresh our bodies and souls.

My only concern as we travel to our destination, the North Carolina Nantahala and Great Smoky Mountains, is the weather. Intentionally, we have chosen this particular cabin, Hawk's Ridge Hideaway, because of the breathtaking view.

Rain is in the forecast. How much of this spectacular view will we actually see?

When we arrive at the cabin, skies are overcast. Yet, the vista is perfect! Our eyes rest joyfully on the blues and purples of th
e tallest mountains in the Smokys.

But, it is on the following day when God pulls out all the stops.

He REALLY sends in the clouds!

Not just white, puffy cumulus or dark, threatening thunderheads.

But, every shape, size, height, and depth. From pure white, to soft gray, to ominous blue
, to impassioned purple.

Moving in the valleys, over the ridges, a
nd riding the tops of the highest peaks.

Fog and mist rise from the valleys in the morning. Puffs and wisps escape to roll over a hillside like lost and wandering lambs.


Larger clouds drape themselves like cascading snow drifts over the mountainsides.


Higher clouds, heavy with rain, loom in the distance.


The sun finds the cracks and crevices in the vast and ever-changing sea of clouds. The ones it touches turn blindingly white. Its brilliant beams illuminate the mountains like so many spotlights.

Every day, until our last, we are entertained, awed, and mesmerized by the ceaseless variety and movement of these clouds of glory.

We wake on our final day at the cabin to a blue dome of sky and shining sun.

But, the clouds are still there . . .

We are above them.


They are piled thick and white, as staunch and impenetrable as glaciers, in the valleys below. A very rare phenomenon. A sight we will most likely never see again.

God saves His very best for the very last . . .

Readings
Psalms 25 or 9, 15
Isaiah 5:8-12, 18-23
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Luke 21:20-28




Sunday, December 4, 2011

Born to be Wild!

Isaiah 5:4
What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

Two parents, three children.

Same rules. Same structure. Same expectations.

Lots of family time at home and on vacation.

Lots of one-on-one when the needs arise.

Parents united and devoted to teaching, nurturing, and loving each child for the unique human being he or she is. Doing everything imaginable to ensure their children mature into responsible adults. giving them every opportunity to realize success.

Child #1 enters college, lasts one semester, then drops out . . . to start a business venture with a partner in the then infancy of computer programming. She is a millionaire today.

Child #2 completes college with a business degree and is gainfully employed from the get-go. A virtual success story.

Child #3 , who has a genius I.Q., refuses to even apply to college. Instead, he works with his hands, bums around from job to job, lives hand-to-mouth. The wild grape.

Parenting doesn't come with a road map. It doesn't show us the detours and the pot-holes. There is no warranty on the GPS.

And, it's the hardest job anyone of us can ever do.

So, how do we navigate this rugged terrain, this uncharted territory? How can we be the best parents possible for our children?

My grandmother's advice is the best I've ever heard: "Teach them right from wrong, and love them to death."

That's all you can do.

And, pray God will tend to the rest . . .

What aspect of parenting or of being parented have you found most difficult?

Will you pray with me?
Your word, Father, teaches us right from wrong. You love us, your wild grapes, so much, that you were willing to send your beloved Son to die for our sins. Graft us securely to Your true vine so we can bear good fruit for Your Kingdom. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 148, 149, 150 or 114, 115
Isaiah 5:1-7
2 Peter 3:11-18
Luke 7:28-35




Saturday, December 3, 2011

Never Tapped Out!

Luke 21:19
By your endurance you will gain your souls.

It's early spring at our house.

I'm busy changing the sheets on our bed when I hear it.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

Just beneath the bedroom window.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

Too soft for a woodpecker's sturdy bill knocking against the cedar siding. What kind of bird, I wonder, is methodically, industriously, drilling away on our home?

As our window is recessed below, I have no view from here. I have to risk scaring the bird away with a visit to our deck. I open the door and move as slowly and cautiously as possible. I focus on the siding jutting out beneath the window.

No bird in sight.

Wait! Are there some dents in that knothole, the soft-spot in the cedar? Why, yes, indeed, there are!

Before I can take my next breath, the mystery is solved. A diminutive nuthatch swoops effortlessly from the nearby limb of a tree, clutches the side of the house, and begins to peck decisively, determinedly, at that very spot!

I watch, transfixed by his monumental endeavors. Surely, I think, he can't keep this up for long.

True to my thought, after several moments of intense tapping, he retreats. Only to be replaced by his mate who attacks the spot with fresh vim and vigor.

No doubt about it. These two have decided to nest here! If they succeed in opening the hole, they will have the perfect, sheltered spot to lay their eggs and hatch their babies.

Being the nature-enthusiast that I am, my elation knows no bounds. I am humbled and honored that these humorous, entertaining little birds have chosen our house above any nook or cranny they could find in the woods to raise their family.

Danny, my husband, is dubious at best.

"Even if they can peck through that knot, I'm not sure I like the idea of them nesting in our house."

"But, it's not actually in our house, " I protest. "They are in the hollow space beneath our window. What harm can that possibly do?"

He shrugs, "I suppose there's no stopping them at this point. Guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens."

For days, we observe the progress as these two with minds as one continue on their mission. The hole grows larger and larger until it is, at last, long and wide enough to allow them to pass easily through it.

Let the nest building begin!
~
This pair of nuthatches offers the perfect example of what it means to persevere, to endure, to never give up. They see an opportunity, even though the way they go is not easy. They view the obstacle, but they focus on the goal.

The word "quit" does not exist for them.

They are doing everything in their power to answer God's call to provide a safe haven for their fledglings and the propagation of their species.

They are saying, "yes" when the world around them says, "no".

By their endurance, all, for God and His world, is gained.

How can you view obstacles as opportunities, endure for the sake of your soul?

Will you pray with me?
When we stop, Father, and take time to examine and appreciate the creatures who cohabit this world with us, we can learn so much. Help us to become more observant. Guide us through this obstacle course called life. May we endure for Your sake and the saving of our souls. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 20, 21:1-7 (8-14) or 110:1-5 (6-7), 116, 117
Isaiah 4:2-6
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Luke 21:5-19

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