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Monday, December 30, 2013

What's Up for the New Year?

Photo by: Idea go

I always wonder, at the beginning of a new year, what’s in store?
  • What’s the world going to be like?
  • Are we going to lose freedoms?
  • Will the church be persecuted?
  • Will the Lord come this year?
  • Will we suffer pain, sickness, or death? 

And then, I notice that a lot of what I wonder about—except the Lord’s imminent coming—is negative. Not a good sign.

I should be wondering what’s in store, more like this:
  • What opportunities for friendships and outreach will God give me this year?
  • How can I better my Christian influence and testimony this year?
  • What will I be learning through my private Bible study and prayer?
  • How can I encourage those God has put around me, in my church and in my circle of friends?
  • How can I be a more effective wife, mother, grandmother, and friend?
  • How can I be more efficient in my home and in ministry? Where do I need to streamline? Where do I need to organize better? How can I best use my time?
  • How can I be a better giver?

God’s will is for us not to be anxious about tomorrow.
  • Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
  • Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? (Matthew 6:25, also in Luke 12:22).
  • But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost (Matthew 13:11).
  • Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (Matthew 6:34). 

God’s will is that we trust Him to guide us each step. It is hard to look forward to a whole year of unknowns. But it’s easy to trust God for today. It’s easy to trust Him tomorrow for tomorrow, and the next day for the next day. I think it’s cool that the Lord knows this. Look at this verse: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105). There are two really great teachings in it:
  1. God’s Word—the Bible—is like a little lamp. (Think flashlight.)
  2. God’s Word lights right where our feet are supposed to go. It’s a spotlight for our path. 

With Psalm 119:105 (above) in mind, read Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Here are a few more concepts for the New Year:
  1. Trusting the Lord—Jehovah God, the One who has always existed—with all our heart is important to our spiritual success.
  2. Don’t depend on ourselves. It’s human to look to our own intellect, emotions, or even just to stubbornly follow our own goals and plans. Sometimes, God’s plans are very different from our own. We need to look to Him for the best outcome, every time, all the time.
  3. Look to God in all our ways. Look to Him first—following His Word, and praying for direction.
  4. When we do these three things, God will direct our paths. 

Going back to the Word of God lighting our path (Psalm 119:105), we notice that God didn’t compare His Word or His guidance to the sun. God knows everything and is all-powerful, yet He has chosen to light our feet only, one step at a time.

A new year is upon us.

May we follow God’s Word, trust Him to guide our paths, and may we walk each step of the way according to His holy will.

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:20-21).

God bless you!

Happy New Year 2014! 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Anna, the Lady of Luke 2

Anna is one of those very interesting people in the Bible, mentioned in only three verses, yet we know a lot about her and can learn much from her exemplary life.

And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38).

Her age? Old women never tell their ages, and this one doesn’t exactly, either. We know she was married seven years, widowed eighty-four years. Let’s assume she was married young, maybe fifteen or seventeen. That would make Anna at least 106-108 years old. We are talking about a very old lady.

The Bible says she served God in the temple, actually “living” there—she was there that much. She served God with fasting and prayer. She was serious about intercession. She prayed deliberately. It was part of her service to God.

I find it extremely interesting how Anna did exactly what the Apostle Paul advised many years later: she stayed single after her husband passed away. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I (1 Corinthians 7:8). I admire her for understanding her role in service to God as a single woman. 1 Corinthians 7:34 says, The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. Anna was busy serving God. Yes, she had been married a short time, but now—and for eighty-four years as a single woman—she was serving the Lord full-time.

The letter Paul wrote to Timothy tells us a lot about how the church was to treat widows. Read this passage, thinking about Anna’s stellar example: Honour widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God. Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work (1 Timothy 5:3-5, 9-10).

What was Anna’s trademark? Service and fervent prayer.

Eight days after Christmas, Anna was doing what she always did, serving in the temple. She must have come upon Mary, Joseph, Jesus and Simeon, just as Simeon was voicing his great prophecy* about Jesus.

Her response? It was what she always did: She . . . gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). She talked to God first and then she told others all about the little Redeemer which had been born.

The Bible calls her a prophetess. She is one of the very few ladies in the New Testament labeled like this. A prophetess is a woman who tells something revealed to her. In this case, it was either through Simeon that she learned the good news of Jesus’ coming or through special divine revelation. She knew that Jesus was the Savior, and she told it to everyone.

Can you imagine her access? All good practicing Jews went to the Temple at Jerusalem. Where was she? Right there, ready to praise God, ready to tell the good news.

Remember her age. This lady was at least over a century old. What did she do for the rest of her life? She told everyone about Jesus!

Lessons for us, from Anna:
  • Do right. Whatever our disappointments in life, they can be overcome by serving God, staying pure, and having a life of communication with God and devotion to Him.
  • Age is no factor in service, especially in a prayer ministry. Intercede for others. Praise God.
  • Tell the Good News. Jesus has come. He died to save souls from sin. He died to save your soul from sin. If you know Him, tell others.
  • Prayer is not the last resort. You hear often, “All we could do now is pray.” Instead, pray first, pray always. Be in communication with God all the time, night and day. Anna was. Prayer is the best way to handle anything, good or bad, happy or sad. Take it to God.
  • Single women have a huge place in God’s service. God can have a single woman’s life without the distractions of husband and family. Anna is one of those amazing examples of consistent service to the Lord as a single woman—for over eighty-four years.

I praise the Lord for Anna’s amazing life and ministry. I hope someday to be thought of as someone just a little bit like her. What an example! 

*For more about Simeon, please see my post, here.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Simeon, The Man Who Recognized the Messiah

On the eighth day after Jesus' birth, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for three important Jewish traditions: the naming of the child, the offering, and His circumcision. His name Jesus was now official, the sacrifice of birds had been made, and he was to have his operation.

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:25-26). Such an interesting person, Simeon. We have a few hints about him here. He was a devout Jew who was looking forward to the Messiah. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he actually saw the Messiah that he longed for. The Holy Spirit made sure he was in the right place at the right time.

And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel (Luke 2:27-32).

Can you imagine the scene? What he says is powerful, and Jesus’ mother and Joseph recognized this. And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him (Luke 2:33).

And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed (Luke 2:34-35).

Simeon’s prophecy began to prepare Mary for what she would see even after her husband had passed away. Simeon blessed both Mary and Joseph, but he was talking to Mary. She alone would witness the crucifixion of her beautiful Son. But the Baby now in Simeon’s arms would save some and would be spoken against. She needed to be prepared. It is interesting that Simeon knew the Baby Jesus was for all people. Simeon calls Him God’s salvation—which is what Jesus means. He also knew He was sent for the express purpose of saving both gentiles and Jews. That includes everyone in the world, since gentile is a term for anyone non-Jewish.

The Bible teaches us that Jesus came to save the world. And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:16-17).

How did Simeon know to go to the temple and that this little Baby was the Christ Child? Through special revelation of the Holy Spirit.

Why did Simeon have this privilege? I believe it was for him, as a special blessing from God to a godly man. I believe it was for Mary and Joseph, as another proof that Jesus was the Son of God. And, I believe it was so that we could see how special Jesus was, even from His supernatural birth. God wanted everyone in the world to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the Promised One.

Simeon recognized Him.

Do you?

But as many as received him, to them gave he power
to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,
(and we beheld his glory,
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,)

full of grace and truth (John 1:12-14).

Sunday, December 22, 2013

My Favorite Books of 2013

I read to unwind, for information, and for a different take on familiar subjects. My reading is an eclectic mix of fun, mysteries, historical, medical, how tos, and inspirational. You won't find me reading many that are purely romance. Mostly, I want to be inspired in some way. A few books did that for me this year. (An asterisk means you can find the review on my Book Reviews tab. Two asterisks are for Bible Study Reviews, on a separate tab.)

Best Writing Style—tied between two very different books:

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, for its poetic and somewhat quirky style. I loved the way she says things backwards. For example: "clean sheets smelling like wind." It includes some spiritual teachings, "Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy."

Rain Song by Alice Wisler,* for its folksy language (not overdone), recipes, and Southern charm. You have to read it!

Most Inspirational: A Place of Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada,* for her genuine and thoughtful testimony. It's effective teaching about suffering, endurance, and God’s sovereign purpose in lives.

Best Bible Study: Grace for Every Trial by Betty Henderson.** A study of the book of Job, this is rich. Mrs. Henderson’s study is encouraging, fresh, and it helps you delve into the truths all through the book, and even learn from the “miserable” speeches. I got more out of this Bible study than any of the others I did this year. Wonderful! I recommend it.

Best Historical—tied between two:

Wounded Spirits by April Gardner,* which is historical fiction, believable and very well researched. An exciting story, beautifully written.

While the World Watched by Catherine Maull McKinstry* is the true autobiography of a young girl who survived the Birmingham bombing where her friends were killed. Poignant and very, very educational. I highly recommend this book.

Best for Women—several here that I found helpful, for different reasons:

Confessions of a Crack(ed) Pot by Elise Vazquez* is a revealing personal testimony by a woman who had been through several marriages, trying to do right, and abusive situations—in the church. Her journey leads her to appreciate who she is in Christ and to rebuild a totally broken life. This book is an encouragement to any woman. (Available for Kindle only.)

Sexy Christians by Dr. Ted Roberts and his wife Diane* teaches how to achieve intimacy in marriage. This is not a manual; it’s about learning to overcome the obstacles to intimacy. Excellent for anyone, especially for Christian counselors.

I’m No Angel by Kylie Bisutti* is the personal testimony of a woman who made it to the very top of the modeling world, chosen as a Victoria’s Secret Angel. It’s about how she quits the modeling business and understands the real value of women. There are some short, meaningful devotionals at the end. Great for young women (sixteen and over) and for Christian women of all ages who are interested in fashion. An eye-opener.

Most Fun: Ivory and Ice by Sandra Barker.* It’s a delightful glimpse into a world 5,000 years ago. There’s a parallel modern story, too, with a little bit of fantasy.

Most Off the Wall—tied between two:

Prime of Life by P. D. Bekendam,* about an ex-doctor, now a janitor, who has an obsession with prime numbers. Loved it!

Unseen by John Michael Hileman* is about children who aren’t really there. Who are they, and why is Jake Paris the only one who sees them? I loved this one, too. It has a strong pro-life message without preaching. I think you’ll be surprised by this book.

. . . . Drum Roll . . . .

My Pick for the Best Book Read This Year: Wounded Spirits by April Gardner. I'm getting the sequel for Christmas!

What were your favorite books this year?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Family--Long Distance or Short--At Christmas

Our family, being a missionary family, is normally divided several ways by thousands of miles. There are over four thousand miles between us and our “homeland,” (though we’ve now lived as expats more years than at home). Our children live in two different countries, and our parents about thirteen hours by car from each other. The last time we were together with both children and their spouses was shortly after our son’s marriage back in 2010. (We’ve thankfully been able to see both since, but not at the same time.)

Two Christmases ago, our daughter brought her husband and baby to Spain for the first time. She hadn’t been back for quite a few years, and her husband had never been to Europe. We took it easy, because of the baby, and we only did day trips around here when we felt like it. Her husband LOVED everything and took pictures of all around him. It was like feeling history to a guy who loves history. We spent Christmas Eve in town, surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of people in traditional Basque costumes, singing children, and a choir of men. In the evening, we attended a Basque Santa Claus (totally different from what you think, I assure you) event in our little town. "Olentzero" came down from the mountain leading his burro, laden with burlap bags of presents for the children. Torches lighted the very crisp night as our son-in-law peeped over a stone wall to snap dozens of pictures. Such fun!

Last year we were home alone for Christmas. We spent it quietly, but celebrated as well, with some special foods and simple pleasures—like watching our grandson opening his presents on Skype. How thankful we are for technology!

This year, our son and his family are with us—another baby crawling around on the floor and pulling up on everything. What a blessing to anticipate a Christmas Eve and morning with family!

Do you have family far away? You can “bring them nearer” all year long, but especially during the holidays:
  • Stay in touch. We find Skype, e-mail, Facebook, and telephone to be most practical for us, but there are many other ways you can talk to your children or parents regularly. For Christmas, ask to see your loved ones opening the gifts from you, if it can be arranged. It’s especially fun to watch small children.
  • Send pictures. It’s great to do some kind of a “2013 in pictures” so all of your loved ones can visualize the highlights of your year, your home projects, and anything else you want to share. Make sure you include plenty of pictures of yourselves, even if you don’t think you’re photogenic. (I like doing this after Christmas, as I have more time, and I can include Christmas pictures.)
  • Plan vacations to be with family. Be there, if you can, for the births and other important times. Try not to have too many years between seeing your parents and your children. It takes planning and sacrifice, but family is always worth it.
  • Don’t have private pity parties. Instead, count your blessings. Make the most of time spent together, and make it happy. When you can’t be together, enjoy your spouse and the life the Lord has given to you.
  • If you can be together for any time at all, make sure you take photos of all of you together. You will treasure them later. (They don’t have to be formal photographs. It’s enough to have a picture all around a table or lined up on a couch or outside with trees in the background. Just get the whole group together for a photo. If you want something you can frame, take some thought as to clothes. I’ve seen some great ones with everyone in white tops and khaki skirts or slacks. Some color code families—all in the same color tops for each family unit, grandparents in a different color. You can also just make sure you don’t clash and let everyone dress as they wish, or give guidance as to casual or dressy.) The important thing is to get everyone in the photo, so that everyone has a photo memory of the special together occasion.
  • Be thankful for technology. You can share more of each other’s lives than any generation before. (As missionaries, we are so thankful that today, unlike thirty years ago, we don’t have to wait three weeks for a letter to go to the States and then another at least three weeks to get a reply. We are happy we can have mini-visits with our children and grandchildren by Skype, see their faces, talk to them in real time, and enjoy the contact—so different from our parents’ experience when we took their only grandchild across the sea twenty-nine years ago.) 

This year, with son, daughter-in-law, and tiny grandson here, we are already having a wonderful Christmas. We plan to visit with our daughter’s family sometime by Skype, and that way, we can all be together—for a few minutes of sharing.

We hope your Christmas is just as wonderful, long distance or short.

But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting 
upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children.
(Psalm 103:17)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Learning from Zacharias

The Christmas story in the gospel of Luke begins with another miracle child, John the Baptist. He was the child of Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth. This birth was announced by the angel Gabriel, just as Jesus’ birth was announced. Only this time, the father got the message.

Zacharias was a priest. The Jewish priests were Levites. So, Zacharias’ job was to serve God in the Temple in the way God prescribed. We’re told that Zacharias and his wife were righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless (Luke 1:6).

They only had one problem: they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years (1:7). They had no children. I find it interesting that God let us know, through inspiration, that it was Elisabeth who wasn’t able to have a child. In that culture—indeed in many cultures—a woman’s ability to have children defined her worth. This is a woman who couldn’t have children. Maybe it’s because God wanted to do something special that was much greater than giving them a child.

Zacharias was in the Temple, doing exactly what he was supposed to do in the way God had ordered it. He was burning incense (symbol of prayer going up to God), and an angel appeared to him on one side of the altar. Zacharias was afraid, and the angel said what many angels in Scripture say: Fear not, Zacharias (1:13). Obviously, as Zacharias offered prayers for the people, he offered his own.

The angel tells him, thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (1:13-17).

This baby was going to be very, very special indeed. I think it’s amazing that even his diet is prescribed from before his conception. What a curious concept—that John the Baptist would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb! This is a special baby.

Zacharias then shows his humanity. He wants to know “how.” And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years (1:18).

And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings (1:19). God had sent His messenger to Zacharias, and he was not to doubt. He would pay a price for doubting: And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season (1:20).

In the meantime, the people outside are wondering why Zacharias hasn’t come out yet. Then, when he did, he couldn’t speak. They perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple (from 1:22).

After he went home, his wife became pregnant. Elisabeth says, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men (1:25). She must have been thrilled. She would finally be a mother, finally having a place among the mothers of Israel.

Somewhat later, Mary gets her own message of a miracle Baby. Hers would be the only Baby in all time, born of a virgin, born without a human father, and He would be the Savior of mankind. She went to visit her cousin Elisabeth, who by now was six months pregnant.

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord (1:41-45).

What a wonderful scene! Mary already knew Elisabeth was expecting, because the angel Gabriel told her. I love that Gabriel’s announcement ends, with God nothing shall be impossible (1:37).

I love the next scene in this story. The baby has been born, and on the eighth day, Zacharias and Elisabeth go to the Temple for the baby’s circumcision and naming. The people there assume he will be named Zacharias after his father, and Elisabeth answers—since her husband can’t speak—Not so; but he shall be called John. Zacharias makes signs that he wants to write, and they furnish him with what he needs. Zacharias wrote: His name is John. The people marveled, and then Zacharias’ mouth was opened.

The first thing he did? Praise God.

What can we learn from Zacharias?
Do your job. Do it well and conscientiously.
Be blameless.
Be righteous.
Have a sweet relationship with your spouse in the good times and the bad.
When the Lord tells you something, don’t doubt it.
Obey God’s commands.
Enjoy God’s blessings and surprises.
Praise God.