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Come as You Are

When I looked in the mirror this morning, the thought crossed my mind that I might not go to church today. The last thing I wanted was to have people notice the big, ugly cold sore on my face. The tingling pain began on Wednesday, and this morning I faced the impossibility of hiding the raw sore. Still, I wanted to be in church and knew that I would regret missing the worship service.

I remembered a woman cancelling  a meeting with me because her face was swollen from a bee sting and she was embarrassed about being seen. I started thinking of reasons why someone might not come to church because of embarrassment. Perhaps they fear stares because of their clothes, or tattoos, or weight, or blood shot eyes. Maybe their name was in the newspaper or their mugshot on the TV screen. Or it could be that their child has gotten into trouble or their spouse has left them. Maybe they can’t read, or don’t drive a nice car. Perhaps they’re heartbroken and don’t want people to see them cry. The list goes on and on. And it makes me sad.

Here I am with unstyled hair, no makeup, and the cold sore.

I can’t deny that at times it does take courage to go to church. Some have experienced painful encounters in church. Others have the idea that the people there will judge them. I wish I could say that is never the case. Sadly, though, it is possible that an unloving word may be said or that no word will be said. I would be dishonest if I pretended that I’ve never witnessed conflict or unfairness within the church. Please consider, though, that it is very easy for us insecure human beings to assume that others are looking down on us or that we don’t fit in, when that is not the case.

Here’s an encouraging word! Christmas is the celebration of God’s love being demonstrated with the gift of his Son, Jesus, to the undeserving world. When I read the gospel books of the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), I see that Jesus noticed the outcasts in society. He made a point to speak to and even eat with the ones who were looked down upon, including Zacchaeus.  When Jesus went to the temple, his compassionate attention fell on a poor widow (Luke 22:1-4), a man with a shriveled hand (Luke 6:6-11), and even the demon possessed (Luke 4:31-37). Think of the blessing each one would have missed if they had stayed away, fearing the opinions of the rich and powerful people there.

Today, I’m reminded of two points made in the Bible:

  1. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Jesus made this clear in a story he told about a religious man whose way of praying revealed his pride and a humble tax collector who received mercy.  (Luke 18:9-14)
  2. Every person who has ever lived, excepting Jesus, is sinful. We each have an ugly sore spot that we cannot heal. Unlike my cold sore, sin will not go away with time. By God’s amazing grace, those who believe in Jesus can be cleansed from sin and made acceptable to God. Even Christians sometimes feel like hiding when life gets painful, but the support of a church “family” is worth the risk of being known.

I have one last thought to share today. It is not the action of going to church, whether it be once or twice a year or every single Sunday, that saves us. Yes, you can find and commune with God in other settings, and, yes, you may encounter hypocrites at church. People do tend to look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. For me, church is a wonderful place to belong; to be encouraged, taught, and prayed for; and to participate in serving others.

Here is what I looked like after a shower, with blow-dried hair and makeup. I’m sure that folks I talked to did notice the cold sore. Still, I’m glad that I did not allow my embarrassment or pride to keep me from being there to sing Christmas carols, see people that I care about, and hear a wonderful message about the Holy Spirit. I hope that you’ll choose to come to church as you are. There is a song from Sidewalk Prophets that may encourage you. You can listen here.

 

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Stay thirsty, my friends!

Last spring I became more intentional about my drinking. We’ve all heard that we should drink lots of water each day, but what if we’re not thirsty? I finally took to heart the good reasons to hydrate, thirteen of which are listed in this article. Here’s how I did it. Each morning, I filled a pitcher with cold water, added some fruit and a sprig of parsley or a basil leaf, and set the pitcher on my kitchen counter for the day. No matter what else I drank during the day, my goal was to empty the pitcher.

 

During the summer, the infused water was welcome refreshment and my pitcher emptied easily. Now, with colder temperatures and less outdoor activity, I’ve continued with my good health habit (I really do feel better), but find the water a bit less appealing. I might prefer a hot chocolate, tea, or coffee in the afternoon, but choose the better option.

In last week’s post, I shared two things that I’ve chosen to prioritize during the December days leading up to  Christmas. One was to seek and to serve Jesus Christ who for me is the reason for the season. I’m seeking Him by continuing my daily morning habit of reading from the Bible and also reading a free downloadable Advent devotional from John Piper. Throughout the days, I’m trying to be intentional about noticing God’s answers to my prayers and ways in which I can serve Him by blessings others. These practices refresh my soul.

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At times, I get distracted by the “shiny things” of the season. When that happens, I end up feeling thirsty. My thirst might manifest itself in the form of impatience, grumpiness, or discontent. I could say with the ancient writer of Psalm 42, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

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Jesus spoke of living water, saying to the people of his day, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” The account in the gospel of John goes on to explain what “living water” Jesus spoke of.  He meant the Holy Spirit that came to believers after Jesus returned to the Father in heaven (John 7:37-39). Jesus knew what it felt like to be physically thirsty. After walking through the dry land of Samaria one day, he stopped at a well and asked a woman there for a drink. John’s account of the story doesn’t say that she drew the water for him, but I envision him with a cup in his hand when he says to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13,14)

Yes, our bodies need lots of water to function well. But, our souls also need life-giving water. If this season of celebration finds you with plenty of food, drink, and shiny things, and yet you still feel unsatisfied, maybe you’re thirsty for the the gift of God (John 4:10). Will you seek Jesus Christ with me? You might begin by reading the story of his life from the gospel of Luke, which includes the familiar telling of Jesus’s birth – the Christmas story.

My title “Stay thirsty, my friends!” may remind you of an advertising campaign featuring the most interesting man in the world. Who could be more interesting than the Son of God, sent from Heaven to Earth as a baby boy to seek and to save what was lost? His mission seemed to have failed as he suffered a criminal’s death on a Roman cross. Interestingly, that is exactly how it was accomplished! And the One who was resurrected after three days in the grave is the One who offers water that wells up to eternal life.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6 (words of Jesus)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2017 Holiday Season in Full Swing

Perhaps it was the new Pumpkin Praline Pie that I took along with the pumpkin and mincemeat pies, or maybe it was because I gave too much information in my post about Mincemeat. There was a lot of Mincemeat Pie left over after our Thanksgiving meal. I chose to see the pie pan half full and enjoyed large slices for breakfast on Friday and Saturday.

Yes, beef is listed as an ingredient.

This one is a keeper!

My two sisters handled hosting the most anticipated dinner of the year with style and impressive calmness. When I checked on them three hours before fourteen guests were to arrive, they were playing cards. The family gathering was full of joyful (noisy) conversation, delicious food, and expressed gratefulness.

On Friday morning, my sisters were ready for our annual Black Friday outing. The three of us have made it a priority to drive to a nearby city for shopping and lunch each year. We head out later than most folks and make it home  by dinner time. It’s our day to catch up and enjoy being sisters. More gratefulness.

My husband’s large family gathered at a nephew’s home on Saturday for a celebration of football, food, and family. It was wonderful to see our two sons and our daughter-in-law at both family parties. The three days of Thanksgiving ended, and Dave and I journeyed home to be in church on Sunday morning. Ah, Sunday.

Designated days resumed on Monday, now known as Cyber Monday, a day to make on-line purchases. I took advantage of a 40% off deal on some Love and Respect books and also ordered some items my husband needs. The Tuesday after Thanksgiving became Giving Tuesday in 2012. The worldwide movement encourages support of non-profit organizations with some donations being matched by corporations. On November 28, on-line contributions to good causes totaled at least $177 million. Our donation went to the LIFE TODAY Mission Feeding Program.

Today is Wednesday – just Wednesday as far as I know, except that we are now “officially” in the Christmas season. I’ve been asked if I’ve put up my Christmas tree yet. No, however, I have put away fall decorations and set up our lighted village buildings*.

*Full Disclosure: This is from a previous year. We don’t have the cords strung and little figures in yet.

December will arrive on Friday, and Sunday will mark the beginning of Advent for the Christian Church. It’s time for me to make some choices about more than which gift to purchase. Each day of this season, I hope to do these two things:

  1. Choose to bless, not impress. This has become one of my life goals. Keeping it simple avoids stress   and helps me to use my own gifts and time to bless people without comparing my efforts to what others do. I’ve decided to spend less time on Facebook. I don’t need any more recipes or decorating ideas. Less, I believe, will result in more. More time for my second choice…
  2. Choose to seek and to serve Jesus Christ. As a believer who is saved by grace through faith in Jesus, I worship Him, not as a baby born on Christmas, but as the Lord and Savior who will return for me. He is the Prince of Peace, and I need his peace. I was reminded at a prayer meeting tonight that we can be very busy and fail to accomplish anything worthwhile. My choice is to be still enough during this season to hear God’s voice in prayer and to seek to know Him better through reading the Bible.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13

 

 

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Christmas Comes Early

Last week I expressed my desire to fully enjoy November before plunging into Christmas festivities, while acknowledging that many are already partaking in decorating and seasonal music. Well…things have changed a bit. The beautiful fall leaves have been falling. Santa arrived at our mall (presumably so families can have photos taken for Christmas cards). And, I have attended a Christmas production complete with a performance of The Christmas Song.

Let me explain. While I was a senior at Upper Sandusky High School, my government teacher used a few class hours to show us the 1946 movie It’s A Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. Mr. Baker told us that while the movie didn’t have anything to do with government, it had everything to do with life. The heartwarming story made an emotional impact on me (and explained why older students had spoken of a swimming pool under the gym floor). It’s a Wonderful Life has remained my favorite movie through the decades.

As the second weekend of November approached, I noticed a promotion in our newspaper for a college production of Merry Christmas, George Bailey. My husband read the story of how the students were to present a live radio performance of the adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life and agreed that it would be worth our time to see it. Was it ever! The young adults did an excellent job of voice acting the various characters and creating old fashioned sound effects with such things as a box of corn starch and a carousel of playing cards. Students took turns playing the piano, adding a live soundtrack. The program was a joy to watch and did justice to the movie that I’ve loved for so long.

Franciscan University is located in Steubenville, Ohio. Tickets are $4.

I won’t assume that everyone has seen It’s a Wonderful Life, or that you know where the movie originated (I didn’t). Movie director Frank Capra based the production on Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story, The Greatest Gift. The story and movie give us glimpses into the life of a man who dreams of accomplishing large things in glamorous places, but is consigned to remain in his hometown running his father’s Savings and Loan. The villain is a rich, selfish man who seeks to run the S&L out of business and own the town. At his lowest point, George Bailey (the dreamer) believes that he is worth more dead than alive and considers suicide. I’ll save a little something for those who haven’t seen the movie and just say that an angel* jumps into George’s life and works to convince him that life is the greatest gift, and that George’s humble life has been very successful. In fact, many lives had been saved or positively affected by George’s self-sacrificing actions. Cue the happy ending – and more Christmas music.

Christmas sneaked in a little early again last evening. As Dave and I watched our local news report, a story was told of Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes being given early to 250 kids who lost their homes and school two months ago during Hurricane Irma. The joyful sounds and smiles of the kids opening the boxes were amazing. You can see pictures here. And then the story got better. The boxes were packed and provided by a church in Texas where Hurricane Harvey had destroyed the pastor’s home. Noting that Pastor Mark Brumbelow and his wife are experiencing their own difficulty, the interviewer asked him about the ambitious Shoebox project. He told her that “You feel better when you help someone else.” He has discovered that it’s a wonderful life when you give.

Perhaps you have an opportunity this week to pack an OCC Shoebox. We did. I rounded up school supplies, hygiene items and books. My husband got involved by deflating a soccer ball and fitting it and a pump into each box. If you’d like to give a box, but can’t get out to shop, you can pack and pay for a box online.

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*Clarence (Angel Second Class) is an entertaining character in It’s a Wonderful Life who wears funny clothes because he’s behind the times, having died many years earlier. He accepts his assignment from Heaven to help George in his distress and succeeds in showing George the value of his life. I, for one, am grateful to God that He does send his angels as ministering spirits to believers in Jesus. (Hebrews 1:14) I remember thinking early in life that people become angels after they die and go to Heaven. However, the Bible makes it clear that angels are separate creations than humans. Luke 20:36 says that in some ways, we will be like the angels, but elsewhere we are taught that our bodies will be raised and glorified to be like the imperishable body of Jesus. You can read more about this at https://www.gotquestions.org/become-angels.html.

I’m even more grateful to God for His Son who dived into the sinful world as a baby to show us an incomprehensible love by dying in our place and reconciling us to our Father God. That truth makes my life worth living and secures the greatest gift, eternal life with God.

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