Sunday, December 29, 2013

Beginnings, Resolutions, Immanuel

I love new beginnings.  New days, new weeks, new months, new years.  They all provide an opportunity to start over, to evaluate past mistakes and put them away and look forward to, and even plan, something new and better.  That brings to mind a wonderful verse about new beginnings for Believers.

Lamentations 3:22-23:  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

We wake up each morning to a new day, filled with new opportunities to show our love for Christ.  Some days, even some years, we fail.  But God’s steadfast love never fails, His mercy never comes to an end, and He gives us a new chance every single day.  I am wavering and often unfaithful, but He never is.  Never.

As I look forward to a New Year, 2014, I have made a few resolutions.  There are things in my life I want to change.  Get back in shape physically.  Become a better person spiritually.  Be more self-disciplined.  Live more, love more, laugh more.  Live in the now but hope in eternity.  Those all sound great, don’t they?  But it’s not enough to have those grand general ideas, I have to translate them into actual daily practice.  No, I’m not going to list mine for you, but I have spent some time writing down specific, doable goals for myself under those broad categories, and I encourage you to do the same for yourself. 

Having said that, I have been thinking a lot about some things related to New Year’s resolutions, and would like to write about two of them.

The first resolution I want to write about is simple – spending time in God’s Word.  No matter what your other resolutions are, this is foundational to the life of a Believer.  I encourage you to set a goal for daily reading.  It doesn’t have to be a huge amount, just a bit each day will make a huge difference in your life.  This year I plan to read the Bible all the way through.  It’s not something I can manage every year, but when I did it several years ago it really changed the way I understand the Bible as a whole.  Back then I found a chronological reading plan to follow.  In years past I have also listened to an audio Bible and really liked that.  This year I plan to follow Tabletalk’s reading plan, which consists of Old and New Testament readings each day.  It is listed in Tabletalk Devotional Magazine, which I have been reading for several years, and that makes it easy for me to keep up with.  There are lots of different programs, some even have an app for yourphone.  Here is a link for several different programs to choose from.  Set a reasonable goal and go with it!

The other thing I have been thinking a lot about is living in the now.  Being totally in the here and now.  We live in a perpetually ADD society.  There is always background noise, and we have forgotten how to just be still and quiet.  Phones that keep up with text and e-mail and facebook and twitter and video games and music and even movies, go everywhere we go.  Our brains keep up with all that stuff and all that noise 24/7.  Life is no longer living life, it has become a huge escape from reality.  We have replaced relationships with texting and facebook.  We have replaced sports and fun activities with video games and wii.  We have replaced quiet moments thoughtfulness and reading with a constant stream of music and video.  We have replaced participation with entertainment.
So this year I plan to unplug more of my life.  No, I can’t unplug completely and still live in the world I have to live in, but I can unplug in a lot of places.  I can unplug when I am with a live person and focus completely on them.  I can unplug for more meals with my family rather than meals with the TV.  I can unplug for my appointment with God every day.  I can unplug to think or thoughtfully read a book.  I can unplug and actually go do things.  I can even choose to stay unplugged except for pre-determined time periods.  I suspect I may find that much of my plugged in life is like an addiction, and will be harder to manage than it sounds.  I wonder how ADD and a constantly plugged in life and addictions are related?

As I wrote this my mom walked into the room, and it was so hard to turn this off and talk to her! But isn’t that the point?  Isn’t that what God calls me to?  To live life that is happening right now?  To really put myself into the very real relationships in front of me?  In fact, isn’t that what Jesus did?  Immanuel, God with us?  Can I imitate Christ in that respect and enter into relationship with others the way He entered into the life of mankind as Baby in the manger, and Savior when He saved me?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Things to remember for Christmas Baking

1.       Cooking is more important than cleaning.  In fact, eating is most important of all.

2.       Turn on Christmas music.  Reminders of the omniscient Santa Clause watching you will help.

3.       Don’t bother to clean first.  Especially kitchen floors.

4.       Except do keep the dishwasher running.  24/7.  You’ll be glad you did.

5.       Do not just dump the bag of flour into the flour tin.  Who the heck made a flour tin smaller than a bag of flour?!

6.       Refer to lesson 2.

7.       Do not double the pumpkin bread recipe.  I don’t care how many old packages of pumpkin you need to use because you found them in the bottom of your freezer yesterday.  Crap!  The mixer is overflowing before you can even get the flour in it!

8.       Refer to lesson 2.

9.       When in need of a huge mixing bowl the top to your cake carrier works great.

10.   Dang, no matter how many loads of dishes you do, that huge mixing bowl/cake carrier won’t fit in the dishwasher.

11.   When you have used every bread pan and mini bread pan and muffin tin you own, the cast iron skillet works great.

12.   Wash dishes.  Sweep floor.  Mop if must.  OR even better:

13.   Go type up a list of silly things you thought about while you were messing up your kitchen.

14.   Thank God for the people you love who will eat your pumpkin bread!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

I recently read Crazy Love by Francis Chan, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I guess it's the skeptic in me that expects all popular preachers to be light and fluffy, but this book wasn't.  I am not a book reviewer... but below are some things I highlighted as I read the book.

Some might say that Francis is a bit of an idealist in thinking that one life can really make a dent in the world.  But I would say that Francis is the ultimate realist.  Meaning, someone who believes that God is really who He says He is and that the true reality of this life is to follow Him wholeheartedly.  p.12, Chris Tomlin

When you get your own universe, you can make your own standards.  When we disagree, let’s not assume it’s His reasoning that needs correction.  p.24

When I am consumed by my problems – stressed out about my life, my family, and my job – I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice.  In other words, that I have a “right” to disobey God because of the magnitude of my responsibilities.  p.29

Worry implies that we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives.

Stress says that the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace toward others, or our tight grip of control.  p.29

Basically, these 2 behaviors communicate that it’s okay to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional.  Both worry and stress reek of arrogance.  They declare our tendency to forget that we’ve been forgiven, that our lives here are brief, that we are headed to a place where we won’t be lonely, afraid, or hurt ever again, and that in the context of God’s strength, our problems are small indeed.  p.30

The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time.  p.42

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more, I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace, I am ashamed of my lack of desire, O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still.  Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed.  Begin in mercy a new work of love within me.  Say to my soul, “Rise up my love, my fir one, and come away.”  Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.  p.67, A.W. Tozer

His counsel wasn’t to “try harder”, but rather to let Him in.  p.70

As we begin to focus more on Christ, loving Him and others becomes more natural.  As long as we are pursuing Him, we are satisfied in Him.  It is when we stop actively loving Him that we find ourselves restless and gravitating toward other means of fulfillment.  p.71

This is true joy in life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.  p.73, George Bernard Shaw

Never make principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you.  p. 109, Oswald Chambers

You do not need to preach to your pastor or congregation; you simply need to live out in your daily life the love and obedience that God has asked of you.  p.113

Q: What do you tell people who say that you are taking the Bible too literally?

                                                                A: If someone told me that I took the Bible too literally, I would really get them to question their own heart. I would ask them if they really believed that we’re not supposed to take it that literally, or if it’s the influence of other believers who say we’re not supposed to. I like to get people to think for themselves and not just go with the flow. When believers are alone with the Word, they come to the same conclusion that I do. Crazy Love appeals to thoughts that all Christians have had when they’re alone with God, and they realize that they are supposed to take Scripture literally. These are the things they should do.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Gratefulness, Reverence and Awe

We sang this in church Sunday morning and it has been running through my head ever since.  It is an old hymn, yet not one I was familiar with... definitely need to listen to it enough to learn it.

The last few days I have been meditating through Hebrews chapter 12.  At the end of that chapter the author describes the fear of the Israelites as they approached the mountain of God with Moses, and compares that to our approach to Mount Zion with Christ.  Fire and smoke and the realization that if they or any animal touched it they would die... compared to "but you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel." 

The contrast in these two worlds is quite remarkable.  Approach with my own righteousness and find fear and death, or approach with the righteousness of Christ and find eternal life.  The writer then goes on to say that physical things, such as the mountain of Moses, will be shaken and destroyed, but the kingdom we receive cannot be shaken.  He ends the chapter with, "Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire."

How often is our worship like that?  Gratefulness, reverence, awe - those are apparently part of acceptable worship.  As enjoyable as it is, contemporary worship is rarely reverent.  But mechanically singing old hymns is not grateful and there is no awe there.  Maybe worship is not what we typically think it is.  Gratefulness, reverence, awe - they seem to describe the attitude of the heart, not the music of the church.  And it's apparently not just about music, music isn't even part of this passage.  It seems to me that gratefulness, reverence and awe have to come into the church within me, in my own heart, not be generated by the service or the music or the preaching that is happening around me. 

Yesterday I was in Psalm 22, and these words jumped out at me, "From You comes my praise in the great congregation..."  From God comes my praise in the worship service.  It comes from God and goes to God... what does that say about my role here?  I am not a spectator watching a worship service, and I am not just responding to what is going on around me in a worship service.  God is speaking to me (and has been all week), I am listening and responding to Him, realizing what He has done for me with gratefulness, realizing His power and position and my own sin and responding accordingly, that is, with reverence and awe. 

Gratefulness, reverence, awe - something to carry inside you as you enter into worship.  Now, read the words of the hymn at the beginning of the post; meditate on them and pray them and feel the power of those words, and approach God with gratefulness, reverence and awe.

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!

Words: Charitie L. Bancroft, 1863.

©Rebecca A Givens, 12/4/13

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Life at the Moment

Hard to believe it's been 1 1/2 yrs since I posted anything.  Life has just been so busy and stressful there hasn't been time or energy left for anything non-essential.

Thankfully God has been changing that for me, and for the first time in several years I do not feel completely exhausted!  I have been writing; not really devotionals, more like journaling through scripture, although several ideas for devotionals have crossed my mind... and I was thinking maybe it's time to start putting things in print again.

No real goals here, but if I can post something every couple of weeks I will be a happy camper!