Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016

     I began 2016 with this verse, "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You." Isaiah 26:3. When God gave me this verse to hold on to, I couldn't help but feel a little anxious. Why would I need perfect peace? What is going to go wrong? What will I encounter that will cause me to struggle to trust in God?

     The year brought quite a few challenges for my loved ones and I regularly found myself praying for healing. I find that my mind tends to get bogged down with the "what if's" easily when someone I love is in dire straights. My mother-in-law was hospitalized twice with illnesses that should have taken her life. My father-in-law had emergency open heart surgery after going to the ER with chest pains. The doctors marveled that he had been on his elliptical earlier that day, and lived to tell about it! My great aunt Mary, nearly had a heart attack from some undetected internal bleeding. It took two weeks in the hospital to find the source and fix it. She wasn't expected to return home, but she is still with us...another walking miracle. My cousin Bob went in for a routine exam, and ended up having open heart surgery. It was touch and go for the longest time. They were unsure in the beginning, as to whether or not his heart was strong enough to have the surgery. He beat the odds and is still with us. Then there were the many challenges my own mother faced. She began the year, battling an infection in her leg that took five months to heal. The antibiotics used to help heal that infection killed off all of the good bacteria in her digestive system. It took her another four months to recover from that. She is currently awaiting the results of a CT scan on her lungs...to identify something of concern that showed up on a chest x-ray.

   There were moments that these things robbed me of my peace worse than any financial struggle I had been through, in the four years that my husband was without a job. I had to keep going back to those words, "whose mind is stayed on You". As long as my mind was focused on the suffering of my loved ones, or the unbearable thought of losing one of them... I had no peace, I couldn't pray, and I felt anxious. Prayer became my way of refocusing, my only way of making sure that my mind was stayed on Christ. I learned to bring every "what-if" directly and immediately to God. This helped tremendously! I realized that the second part of that phrase "because he trusts in You", is the result of remembering that God is not only present with me in the moments that I am anxious, He has gone ahead of the current circumstances I find myself in. He is already at work handling all of the "what-if's" I could possibly imagine. I began to take comfort in the thought that He has gone ahead. He is with me in the present, but has also gone ahead and prepared a way for me in whatever I will face in the future. He is already there. This is how He keeps us..."I will keep him".

   This comforts me as I enter 2017. He has kept me. His perfect peace has taken hold of me during troubled times and I have grown a bit more in trusting Him. In many ways 2016 was a year full of miracles. How wonderful to enter into 2017 with this peace-filled thought: Our God who is not confined by the here and now or any of the limitations of the physical realm, has gone ahead of us into the year 2017 and is already working miracles on our behalf!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wise Men Watch...

     Have you ever wondered how the wise men knew one particular bright star shining in the east was different from all of the others, and must be followed? I never gave it much thought until today. It's funny how you can read the same passages of Scripture over and over again and never really stop to picture them. As I sat here imagining the wise men, a few things came to mind and I thought I would share them.

     I wondered why the wise men were watching the stars any way. Was it something they did regularly or did one of them just happen to look up at the sky on that one evening, and marvel at the brightness of a single star? A pit fall of growing up in the church is that you can lose your imagination because the biblical text is portrayed the same way over and over again...especially this time of year. Mary and Joseph always look middle aged- even though they were actually young, the shepherds always look like a motley crew in a bunch of used-to-be bathrobes, and the wise men don't  appear wise at all. They're just three men with crowns on their heads who show up late to an important event. I  never gave much thought as to what exactly a wise men was. I had heard them referred to as the Magi but I just thought that's what people called them when they were trying to be fancy! It turns out that the word "Magi" gives a better idea of who they were. The Magi were a caste of wise men specializing in astrology, medicine, and natural science. They were in the habit of watching the stars and studying how they influenced human affairs. They would have been regularly watchful and alert to any subtle or not so subtle signs of things to come.

   This new found knowledge has captured my attention. I am captivated by the thought that wise men/women are watchful. Perhaps this is because of some recent conversations I've had about complacency. A few nights ago I shared dinner with a friend who is concerned about the possibility of growing complacent in her relationship with Christ. It strikes me, that the best way to avoid complacency is to be watchful...aware. Aware of the many subtle ways that God speaks to us. Conscious of the fact that He can and will use any and every means to get our attention. Watchful for opportunities to share His love with others. We need to be alert students of the Word so that we can recognize His ways and follow them, in the midst of all the other ways that this dark world is pulling us. Every moment we have breath can be a teachable moment with God...if we pay attention.

     Maybe that is the problem...we get too busy and distracted to pay attention. Or...perhaps we only expect God to show up and speak to us in certain ways. We know He'll be at church or in our small group so we are watchful there. Meanwhile, He's been speaking to us through our kids all week and we missed Him! Sometimes we wait until we find ourselves in desperate situations and then we look for a sign from Him around every corner. When we're in a crisis we are vigilant in our watch for Him. As is often the case, He doesn't show up in the big manner in which we are expecting Him and we conclude that He's missing. The reality is, if we had been consistently watchful before we needed a huge sign from heaven, we would have seen that He was there all along in the minutest of details.

   The wise men studied the stars in the dark night sky. Those stars probably shone brightly from where they were standing. The air quality would have been much better back then and the night sky would have been pitch black without any electrical lights. Every star would have looked bright. They had spent so much time being watchful. Their eyes must have adjusted to seeing the differences in stars, noticing the details that casual star gazers like me might miss...details like position. In Matthew 2:1-2 They ask King Herod, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."  They had been watching. They noted the position of this particular star, and because of this they didn't miss the fact that Christ was here.

    I don't want to miss Him either, do you?  There are some things we can do to be watchful. We can have willing hearts. Hearts that are ready to hear Him speak to us no matter where we are, how busy we are, and through whomever He chooses. We can pray for hearts that aren't weighed down with sin or hardened... soft and teachable hearts that anticipate learning from Him. We can study the Word in order to have a solid understanding of who God is, how He works, and what matters to Him. This will help us to discern His voice from all the others. I don't know about you, but I want to be a wise men/woman...ever watchful, full of anticipation, and acutely aware of His regular presence and purposes at work in all aspects of my life.