Thursday, December 19, 2019

Those Precious Baby Feet

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, "Your God reigns." Isaiah 52:7



Those precious little baby feet of Jesus
that kicked his mother from inside the womb,
that she must have tickled and kissed
became the feet that walked a hundred dusty miles, 
that carried Him to a mountain to pray, 
to a woman by a well, 
to a widow whose son had just died, 
to lepers, 
     the lame, 
          the blind, 
to crowds hungry for food 
     and for teaching, 
across the top of an angry sea, 
to a woman who washed them with her tears of repentance 
     and love, 
to Jerusalem, 
     to Gethsemane,  
          to Calvary. 

Those feet, 
bloody and wrapped, 
were carried into a tomb 
and three days later, 
still marked by the nail scars, 
broke out!
taking Him to his disciples in Jerusalem, 
     along the road to Emmaus, 
          in Galilee,  
                to the Mount of Olives, 
where they left the ground as He ascended into heaven. 

One day He will come back 
and we will all fall at His feet, 
     those precious pierced feet, 
and every knee will bow 
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, 
the Lord of all, 
came to give His life as a ransom for sinners 
when we were His enemies 
because of God's amazing Love!

And that is why we have Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

At Least 17 Fun Family Ideas for December!

Every year I make a batch of caramel corn around Christmas time. One year when my kids were twelve, eight, days away from being eight, and three, I had it ready when we decorated the tree, so we all snacked on it. The next year the kids asked me if we could have caramel corn while we decorated the tree, so sure, I made some. The year after that they said, "We always have caramel corn when we decorate the Christmas tree!" And, lo, a tradition was born.



We have lots of fun family traditions surrounding the Christmas season. It's just such a good time for traditions and and other fun family times. I have some suggestions for fun for your family from our family and the families of friends of mine.

Marilyn, one friend told me that each quarter of the year they decided to do something as a family from each of these categories: spiritual, educational, physical, and fun. Spiritual could be a Christ-centered Christmas concert. Since they were near Moody Bible Institute they would go to the Candlelight Carols concert and get there early so they could sit in the front row, allowing their children to feel the "palpable blast of the orchestra music". Singing carols to shut ins could be another idea in the "spiritual" category. When our kids got bigger, we suggested that some write a short devotional to read on Christmas day from the point of view of one of the characters in the first Christmas. That turned out to be thought provoking.

Michelle and Emily have advent events. Emily's family does it with several other families and they rotate homes so each Sunday evening they are in someone else's house enjoying a meal, singing carols, listening to a devotion, having dessert, and focusing on Christ's coming, why He came, and His second coming in the future.

We always took baked goods to our neighbors and often included a tract or small booklet explaining the meaning of Christmas as a way to witness to them. Now we take our next door neighbors to a Christian Christmas concert every year and have them back to the house for dessert.

In the educational category, Marilyn said they would sometimes go to an art museum that had a special exhibition of Christmas related art through the ages to see how different artists interpreted the Nativity. Cassie, combines educational with spiritual by having a "Treat Jeopardy" game. She makes up twenty-four bags of treats for each child with a Christ-related question attached. Each night from December 1 to 24 each child can choose a bag, but has to answer the question to win the treat. If they don't know they answer they look it up in the Bible. She sounds like one creative and organized mom! 

I would count going to a performance of Handel's Messiah in this category. Or how about inviting a family with traditions from another culture over and ask them to bring one of their favorite Christmas foods and tell you about how Christmas is celebrated in their country.

Our kids grew up in Bogota, Colombia, so no snow, sledding, snow-shoeing, or any of those kinds of "healthy" activities. But one of our annual activities was a bike ride along paths in the city from a park to the airport--about five miles each way. When we got to the airport we found a place to lock up the bikes and went to the food court, which was outside security, and ordered a pizza (so much for healthy!) Sometimes we brought along a game to play while we waited. My husband and sons are especially interested in airplanes, so they loved watching planes take off and land before we headed home. Depending on where you live, you might not be able to do a bike ride, but any kind of outdoor activity you can do is fun and healthy!

Many friends said for fun they piled into the car (sometimes with hot chocolate) and drove around to see the Christmas lights. Sometimes the newspaper or a website will tell you where the best streets are in your area. In our town a charity puts up thousands of lights in one of the city parks. You pay an entrance fee to be able to drive through the wonderland of lights. Another neighborhood puts miles of luminaries along the roads on Christmas evening and we like to drive through taking it all in.

A variation of this is to check out the decorations in various stores and malls. This was one of our activities in South America. The malls actually had a competition for best decorations so it was fun to go around each one. It was also a chance to buy Christmas presents and, always, get some kind of special treat to eat.

There is often a Christmas movie that is worth taking the family to. One year we were walking through a town plaza and came across an outdoor screening of Elf. We bought some popcorn and sat and watched this movie we hadn't seen yet. I think it is one of my favorite movies because of the memory of watching it under the trees in that plaza with the whole family. 

Another way to watch a movie is at home with as many friends as you can gather. Ask everyone to bring snacks, dress comfortably and just enjoy the season together.

Whatever your December looks like, don't forget to make it fun and a memorable time for your family.




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Thursday, December 5, 2019

My Own Response to a Trial--The Last Two Ways to Pray, Part 5

Tim, a good friend, a former missionary, a PhD, a professor of Christian Leadership, is suffering in a way that directly affects who he is. His diagnosis is a rare and usually aggressive cancer called Richter’s Transformation, in which chronic lymphocytic leukemia transforms to lymphoma of the central nervous system (in his case, centered in his brain). As a result of the disease and the treatment he has gradually lost word access, some cognitive facility, partial ability to see in one eye, complete ability to read, and finally, at times, the ability even to put together intelligible sentences. 

Recently, his wife wrote on their Caring Bridge page, "Over this whole process, thought so very frustrating, I've watched a very tender part of his heart emerge, along with a willingness to submit to the process God is taking him through. Perhaps it was best expressed in a prayer he offered spontaneously last evening: 'Father, may Debbie and I be a strong testimony to your love. Help me to walk according to your will.'" 



My faith: An example
This is the 9th way to pray to prepare for trials and during trials or persecution: That in all circumstances we would be an example of faith. I'll admit that I have often thought that Paul was a bit arrogant to say, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1) But we are called to be examples to our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

I remember a friend telling me about her cousin who had a very painful form of cancer of the mouth. She said, "She showed us how to live. Now she is showing us how to die." But I don't want to be that person and you probably don't either.

However, we have no idea how far our example of faith could reach. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "having received the Word in much tribulation with joy of the Holy Spirit so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achai." (1:6-7) And we don't have to be examples in only huge problems. One of the young women my mom discipled was at her house for dinner when my mom's china platter shattered. The young woman told me "I was excited to learn how a godly woman handled that!" (My mom says she asked my dad, "Do you think we can replace it someday?")


My delight: God's power
Not too long ago I re-memorized 2 Corinthians 12:9. "And He has said to me, My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness." I reveled in the strength of God through my weakness, because at times I feel so weak--physically, spiritually, or emotionally. I can't. But through the power of Christ dwelling in me, God can!

But as I ponder praying to prepare for trials, I don't like the next verse: Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 

Paul says he is "well content"--this word means more than putting up with. Paul is saying he takes delight in these trials, difficulties that are not delightful. And so we can be praying that we would delight in God's strength when we have tribulations. Madame Guyon, a French believer in the 17th century, who was persecuted for her faith by her husband, mother-in-law, and the official church, said, "Ah, if you knew what power there is in accepted sorrow." And beyond acceptance, delight in finding God working in and through us in ways we never could.

As I studied these ways to prepare for trials, I wondered if God was preparing me. Peter tells us to not be surprised by trials (1 Pet. 4:12). So I knew that I would experience them at times. I did not expect what came: a decision that crashed the long time plans, prayers, and dreams of someone very dear to us. I felt kicked in the stomach. I was angry. I was sad. I was frustrated. When I went to bed just a couple hours after learning of the decision, I took this list with me and prayed through it. Looking up the verses and asking, no begging, God to work these bits of faith into my life. Quite frankly, I'm still struggling. I asked my prayer partners to pray that I would respond to those who made the decision and the one hurt by it in a mature and godly way, because in my flesh, I don't want to. But God is working in me. He was preparing me to know how to pray and I believe that His power will be perfected in my weakness. 


                             * * *

To remind myself and my friends of these ten ways to pray to prepare for and in trials and persecution I have created this printable bookmark.

To print it out click here. I would like to say you probably don't need to be prepared, but, "In this world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world." -- Jesus

I found these ten ways to be praying, and that seemed like a nice round number. But I know there are others I could have included. I encourage you to pray for one of these qualities each day and to search the scriptures for more ways to be praying for yourself, those around you, and those who are going through trials.


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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Just a Closer Walk--Part 4 of How to Pray to Prepare for Trials and Persecution

Andrew Brunson was held in a squalid Turkish prison for two years. The uncertainty of why he was being imprisoned and how long he would be in there led to stress and anxiety. "The real crisis came from feeling I'd been abandoned by God," he says.* He had read his Bible and heard of others who had been persecuted for their faith, and had lived in Turkey, a nation against Christianity, for 23 years. "I expected a supernatural sense of God's presence," he says. He thought he'd be more like Paul and Silas and less like Joseph and Jeremiah. Not sensing God in a real way shocked and frightened him. Had God abandoned him?



My awareness: God's presence
I'm sure pastor Brunson had a close walk with the Lord and all the more as the pro-Islamic Turkish government began to bear down on its own people for real and made-up reasons after the failed coup in July 2016, just months before his arrest. I don't want to doubt his spiritually or walk with the Lord, but I wonder if there is a way to maintain a sense of a close walk with the Lord no matter the circumstances?

We don't have access to Joseph's prison diaries so we don't know he felt or what he did to keep the faith when the king's cupbearer forgot him. All we know is "yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. Now it happened at the end of two full years..." (Gen. 40:23-41:1) But when Joseph was finally called out of prison to interpret Pharaoh's dream, he said, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer." (Gen. 41:16)

However forgotten and abandoned Joseph felt by God and man, he did not lose his faith. Joseph never had God appear to him personally like his father, grandfather, and great grandfather. However the Bible tells us that even as a slave, "The Lord was with Joseph." (Gen. 39:2) And he kept the faith.

Is it any wonder that in the same discourse where Jesus talks to the disciples about the need to keep the faith, to abide in Him (John 15), He also talks about how the world hated Him and will hate His followers? He ends by telling them they will "have tribulation" but "I have overcome the world". (John 16:33) Then Jesus begins to pray for them . He prays, specifically, "I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to you. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are." (John 17:11)

If Christ prayed for us to be kept close to God, then I believe that is a prayer--the seventh request--we should be praying: Lord, come what may, keep me walking close to You. Never let me doubt Your presence, no matter what trials You allow."

My assurance: God's love
When I hear of Andrew Brunson's imprisonment, I do not see a man of weak faith, but one who was brave enough to stay on in a hostile environment, even though he knew prison and all that might entail was a possibility. We can look at his life and the light he let "so shine before men that they may see [his] good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 5:17) But just as Andrew Brunson felt abandoned by God in the Turkish prison, sometimes we might feel like God has just left us and stopped loving us. When we feel like God has abandoned us, we must deliberately trust in His love and His promises.

This brings me to a related prayer, and the eighth request, to prepare us for trials and to pray during trials: Pray reminding yourself that nothing can separate you from the love of God and that you will never forget this. I cannot think of a better way to pray this than to memorize Romans 8:35-39




Once in a while, repeat this verse in prayer asking God to help you to always remember it, no matter what your circumstances. David had times of feeling like God had forgotten him. In Psalm 13 he prayed, "How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?" He goes on to describe his state of being and what the outcome will be if God abandoned him (vs. 2-4). But he ends this Psalm with a reminder to himself that he has trusted in God, salvation will come, he will again rejoice and sing.

How could David go from the pits of despair to practically rejoicing in God? David worked on his relationship with and knowledge of God and he spoke to him frequently, reminding himself of all that God is and does. That's what we need to do too.

So pray that you would know God's presence and God's love, no matter what is happening in your life. These are requests for now, before trials, and in the midst of them.


When you pray with your children, include some of these requests from time to time so that they are "normal" requests for them. Children mimic our prayers and one day you will hear them praying for these petitions as well.

*Wall Street Journal


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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Three MORE Ways to Pray to Prepare for Trials, Part 3

I spoke this morning with a missionary friend in a country that has been experiencing political turmoil, resulting in rioting and violence. All the government offices are closed and her visa expires in a week. As we talked, she communicated confidence that she was where God wanted her to be and was more concerned about upcoming ministry opportunities than her own safety. As we prayed together, we expressed to God that even if she got kicked out of the country for not renewing her visa on time through no fault of her own, God is still sovereign and has a place for her to be serving Him.


My trust: God's sovereignty
I think of the Peter and John who, in the name of Jesus, healed the lame beggar who sat at the temple gate (See Acts 3 & 4). For this good deed, they were arrested and severely warned to not speak any more in the name of Jesus Christ. When they got together to pray they talked to God about who He is and what He has done in the past. They recognized His control over things that seem out of control. They spoke to God in prayer about how at Christ's trial and crucifixion Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel (basically the whole world at that time) did "whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur." (4:28) It wasn't out of God's sovereign control at all! We know that Christ had to die to pay for our sins. That was the plan. The disciples recognized God's sovereignty. When we are in difficult situations, we need to know this, so praying that God would not let us forget His sovereign control over all things is another thing we should pray. With 20/20 hindsight, I now see how God was working in the past in some situations in my life when I thought everything was going wrong.

Then I look at the disciples' prayer. If it had been me, I'm sure I would have prayed something like, "Change the minds of the men who are against You. Remove them from power. I wouldn't be opposed to a well-placed bolt of lightening, Lord. Oh, perhaps You could convert them (though I doubt that's possible)." But after the disciples worshiped God and recognized His power, wisdom, sovereignty, and goodness, they had only two requests (4:29-30):

1. Boldness to continue speaking
2. For God to continue working in lives convincing people of the truth

My action: Boldness
The disciples said, "take note of their threats" because we, your servants, those who carry out your work, need extra strength to "speak Your Word with confidence." Threats can't help but affect us. We are weak humans. But God is the one who is strengthening us and He is all powerful. He could give them the fortitude to preach no matter how men have tried to intimidate them. So we need to pray now, and especially in times of trial or persecution, that we will have boldness to share the name of Christ with those who need to hear it.

With 20/20 hindsight
I can now see
how God was working
when I thought
everything was going wrong.


My expectation: God working
The disciples specifically prayed that God would do "signs and wonders" to validate their ministry and bring people to Him. Whether or not you believe you should be asking God to do miracles of healing and other things, what greater miracle could there be than for the salvation of souls, the redemption of a sinner? We can definitely be asking God to continue working in people's lives around us, whether we are experiencing a trial currently or not, and to ask Him to continue when we are suffering and, perhaps, because of it.

That we would remember God's sovereignty, boldness to speak, for God to continue His work--three more requests to pray for now to prepare for suffering, and to keep on praying in the midst of it.


Are you following this series? Are you talking with your family about this around your dinner table? (Or any time!) Here are some questions to get the conversation going:

* Have you ever experienced persecution because of your faith in Jesus Christ?
* What kind of persecution can you imagine happening in your school/work/neighborhood?
* How would you react if you were told you could no longer go to school or lost your job because you are a Christian?
* What can you do to prepare for trials and persecution?
* How would you pray when you were suffering?
* How do you think God wants you to respond to trials?
* Do you think there are examples in the Bible of people who prayed during a trial? What examples can you think of?


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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Three Things to Ask of God in Preparing for Hard Times, Part 2

Last month I was visiting my daughter in Germany who just had her second baby, another girl. The three year old liked it when I sang Sunday School choruses to her. As I racked my brain for all the choruses I could think of, I sang to her


Read your Bible
Pray every day
Pray every day
Pray every day
Read your Bible 
and Pray every day
and you'll grow, grow, grow!

This is my first and best preparation and response to trials and persecution. It sounds cliche, but it's true! The thing is, too often we wait until the trial comes and then begin praying like crazy for God to fix it or take it away. If we just flip open our Bibles you never know what verse we might hit, maybe my brother-in-law's favorite as a child: There was a man in the land of Uz...


So often I have found that the help and lesson God wants me to find is in my next reading in wherever I am in scripture. Hebrews 4:12 is true: The Word of God is living and active... I may have read the passage twenty times before, but I find it timely today. We need to read large chunks of the Word, have times of meditation in smaller portions, memorize scripture, and have verses in places where we will see them during the day--maybe a coffee mug or a bookmark.

And what should we pray? One thing is to pray through scripture, repeating it back to God in your own words, stating--out loud maybe--who God is, what He does, and what He has promised. Pray for ourselves that we would live as God would have us no matter what comes our way. 

My response: Joy
James says, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials" (1:2).  Paul wrote to the Romans "We also exult in our tribulation..." (5:1) And Peter said, "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while if necessary you have been distressed by various trials..." (1 Pet. 1:6) We need to pray for the right response to trials: Joy! What's to be joyful about during hard times? God is giving us an opportunity to be refined more into the character of His Son.

My attitude: Teachable
We should also be praying that when trials come, we will have the right attitude--one of being teachable. Otherwise we won't be refined. While I was doing this study I came down with an ear infection. I get ear infections on a regular basis and even though I was thousands of miles from home, my doctor had supplied me with the antibiotic I needed. My basic thought was, "Got this covered. Minor inconvenience." The next morning as I continued to study, I realized I had not asked God what He wanted me to learn from this situation and to help me be willing to learn it.


My perspective: Eternal
Peter said, "For a little while". When we are going through a trial, it never seems like a little while, so we can be praying that we would have the right outlook: eternal. Paul talked about "this momentary light affliction" (2 Cor. 4:17) In the light of eternity it is a little while and momentary. I can think of two trials I have gone through that lasted years. My secondary infertility went on for two years. It seemed like forever, but now it was 29 years ago! A person very close to us who left the faith for ten years was a heartache, but now that I have four children and nine grandchildren and the person is seeking God I wonder at my hopelessness and despair, even as I rejoice. 

As I studied this topic, I came up with ten ways to pray to prepare for trials. I'm sure there are more, but these are the first three I found. Surely if Jesus told us we would have tribulation (John 16:33) He meant for us to be prepared. I cannot think of better ways to prepare than listening to God and talking to Him.

What have you told your children about tough times?
Tonight at dinner ask them what they think God would want them to pray about hard times.



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