Hand-painted wooden ornament on my tree, Haven, KS

More than a memory

When you die, what are you taking with you and what are you leaving behind? It’s a question that we don’t think about enough, even as Christ-followers. If we thought about it more, we’d be less attached to our stuff, don’t you agree?

I came into this life with my soul, attached to a body that’s given me all sorts of grief over the years. And when I go home, I’ll leave that body behind and me, myself and I will hit the road to eternity. And I won’t look back. But I won’t take anything else with me. No possessions. No successes. Nothing that matters to the world. All of that will stay behind. But does that have to be the only things we leave?

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to just be remembered when I’m gone. Lots of people are “just remembered.” They were just that face at the family reunion or the person who sat in the front row at church. But we all have people who’ve gone home before us who were more than that. They were people who we more than remember; they are people who touched our lives in a way that changed us.

Hand-painted wooden ornament on my tree, Haven, KS

Hand-painted wooden ornament on my tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 78:1-8.

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors—
    stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
    refusing to give their hearts to God.

I had the privilege to attend a memorial service for a great lady this past Saturday. Her homegoing was fairly unexpected, and I didn’t know her well. But I know her family, and I know she was an amazing person in this life. I stayed in her home many times and was always touched by her hospitality. And as I sat in that memorial service and listened to the stories that her children and her grandchildren and even her hairdresser shared, I thought about what it means to leave a legacy.

There are all kinds of legacies people can leave behind. There are financial legacies, corporate legacies, political legacies. You name something that can be inherited–good or bad–and it can be a legacy. But only one kind of legacy really lasts, and that is a legacy that’s founded in something that doesn’t change.

Today’s passage is a reminder to share God’s story with future generations, to not allow the following generation to grow up without knowing the truth about who God is and what He has done.

I don’t have kids, but that doesn’t mean I’m exempt. We all have a responsibility to share God’s truth with the people around us. We have a responsibility to invest in the lives of people around us. We are commanded to love others, to give preferential treatment to others. And if you do that, if you give something of yourself to someone else, through God’s Holy Spirit, you will accomplish something bigger than what you imagine, even if it’s something small.

God loves to take small things and make them huge. God can take your small act of kindness and turn it into something earth shattering. You never know what God will do with an ounce of love freely given.

So don’t pass up an opportunity to invest in someone else today. Don’t miss your chance to leave a legacy, whether it’s just telling someone the story of Christ or buying groceries for a neighbor in need. You may think it’s small, but God takes small and makes it huge. He makes it last. And if He makes it last, that memory will live on even when you’ve gone home. It will be more than a memory; it will be a reminder of God’s love that helps someone else find their way in the darkness.

That’s the kind of legacy I want to leave.

Icicle ornament on the tree, Haven, KS

Creating joy from sorrow

I was out late last night, in the same place I was toward the end of January, at Mid-Continent Airport watching the clock. But this time I wasn’t watching the clock, wishing it would stop ticking; this time I was watching the clock, wishing it would hurry up!

My best friend flew in from England around 10:20 p.m. For her it was a 24+ hour day, since she had connections in Atlanta and Chicago, after her nine and a half hour flight from Manchester. She’s been in the United Kingdom for a year, traveling all over Europe, reporting on the events and ministries of missionaries working there. She’s heading back that way again in May, and she’s home for a few months to raise support again. And even though I got to see her this summer, I was ready for her to be home, at least for a little while.

Between luggage issues and delayed flights, among all sort of other excitement, the events of yesterday were a great reminder of how God answers prayers, just not exactly in the way you expect Him to.

Icicle ornament on the tree, Haven, KS

Icicle ornament on the tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 40:1-5.

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.

Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord,
    who have no confidence in the proud
    or in those who worship idols.
O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us.
    Your plans for us are too numerous to list.
    You have no equal.
If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds,
    I would never come to the end of them.

I didn’t get home and into bed last night until 12:00 a.m., and I was so hyped up on Starbucks, I’m pretty sure I didn’t drift off until 1:30 a.m. So I’m going to make this brief.

God answers prayers. He listens. No, He may not answer the way you think He will. In fact, most of the time He doesn’t answer your prayers the way you think He will. But He answers.

A lot of things “went wrong” for my best friend yesterday, but everything worked together so that she could still make it back to Wichita. How many times is that true in our lives? I am guilty of seeing my own life like a shallow pool, a linear chain of events that stretches from Point A to Point B. But my life isn’t like that. It’s deeper than that, and the events of my life are a 3D chart than a line graph.

I see one thing go wrong in my life, and I’m threatened to despair. But most of the time what happens is that one thing that didn’t go the way I planned plays a vital role in helping something else happen–something bigger and better than what I expected.

That’s the way God works. He takes the disappointments and sadness in our lives and turns it around to bless us. Only God is big enough to work that way.

So whatver is “going wrong” in your life today, don’t make the mistake of seeing it like an error. Don’t assume that God isn’t listening. Instead, see it like a stepping stone. See it as an opportunity to watch God do something miraculous.

Drum ornament hanging on the Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Being a Christian doesn’t mean you can drive like an idiot

People in Wichita don’t know how to drive. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s never more obvious than when the weather is bad. The worse the weather, the worse the drivers out in it are. They either go too fast or too slow. I usually get to see the colorful variety of Wichita’s most inept every Monday through Friday morning as I drive into work. It’s an odd mixture of people and an even odder mixture of vehicles.

One morning last week, I drove a couple of miles with a big white van riding my bumper. I was going five over, and I couldn’t see their headlights they were so close. I got over out of their way as soon as I could, and they shot around me like I was standing still. Not a big deal—except that the conditions were somewhat treacherous. That same day, a newish SUV with big tires and bright lights crept along the highway, hovering in the middle of both lanes, taking up too much room on both sides and not letting anyone pass. The guy was going at least 30 under, which is never a good idea on K-96 on a weekday morning around 7:15.

I thought it was ironic, the giant under-tired white van was clipping along like it ruled the road and the new SUV, designed for foul weather conditions, was afraid to accelerate. And that got me thinking about how many circumstances we encounter in our own lives that are exactly like that.

Drum ornament hanging on the Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Drum ornament hanging on the Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 18:39.

You have armed me with strength for the battle;
    you have subdued my enemies under my feet. 

Have you ever charged into a fight when you weren’t prepared for it? Have you ever walked into a situation you weren’t equipped to handle? I have. There’s no worse feeling in the world than realize you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Why? Well, it’s not exactly like you can bow out; you’ll lose respect. But at the same time, you don’t know what you’re doing, so you can’t help but fail, which means you’ll lose respect. But have you ever considered the flip side of that situation?

How many times, as Christians, do we hang back and fear our own inadequacy when we are more than capable of doing what needs to be done? This is me. This is me all the way. All my life I have struggled with feelings of insufficiency and inadequacy. People laugh at me when I say that, but it’s the absolute truth. My greatest fear is failing to perform to the expectations of people I love and respect, and that fear has kept me bound in silence many times when I probably should have spoken up.

Mentor a child? I’m not good enough. Share Christ with someone who doesn’t believe? I don’t know enough. Volunteer for a church ministry? I’m not talented enough. Any of those sound familiar? This isn’t really a Christmas post, but what better time of year to consider this issue?

How many of us live our Christian life like a fully equipped SUV crawling along in the snow? How many of us Christians are so burdened and weighed down with fears of our own inadequacy that we never even try to run? We’re so afraid that we never move faster than a walk, and we don’t get nearly as far as we might have if we would have used our gifts to their fullest. This is a reminder to me today. I convince myself that I’m not good enough, not talented enough, not fast enough, not brave enough to do the things that God has called me to do. But those things that I tell myself aren’t true. God has promised to equip me to accomplish everything He’s planned for me to do.

As it usually works with things in my life, my life isn’t about me; it’s about God and what God wants to do with my life. Now, that doesn’t mean we should be like the rickety old van, barreling down a snow-covered highway when it’s not designed for that kind of speed. God has a plan and a purpose for all our lives. Like me. I’m a writer, a communicator, a storyteller. I’ve known that since I was little. So if I try to make a living using mathematics, not only am I going to fail miserably at my job, I’ll be miserable. God has equipped us for whatever task He intends us to complete. We just have to be willing to take Him at His Word.

So ask yourself what you’re afraid of this morning. Are you crawling along when you could be running? Or are you running down a road you should be walking? Personally, I prefer speed. I’ll always go fast if I can, but pushing my limits on an icy road when my car has bald tires is more than irresponsible. It’s just plain dumb.

So don’t be dumb. Know your limits, but don’t be afraid to push them when you know you’re where God wants you.

Music ornament, Haven, KS

More than just a Christmas carol

I love Christmas music. True, I prefer to avoid a steady diet of it until after Thanksgiving, but even in the time outside the brackets of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, sometimes I just have to stop and marvel at the lyrics. Have you ever truly stopped to think about the words in Christmas songs? No, I’m not talking about “Jingle Bells” or “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” I mean the classic Christmas carols, the ones that even secular shopping locations play this time of year.

I got to thinking about music after yesterday’s post. I don’t think music plays as big a role in any other part of American culture as it does during the Christmas season. I mean, we don’t really have Easter songs. We sort of do, but in my experience many Easter-themed songs are still sung during other parts of the year. Likewise with Thanksgiving or with New Year’s or with any other popular holiday. The only season that has its own music is Christmas.

But that didn’t start with modern culture. Singing has always been a part of celebrating Christmas.

Music ornament, Haven, KS

Music ornament, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Luke 2:8-14.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Luke 2 is probably one of the most well-known chapters of the Bible, at least among Christians. It’s the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. This passage today is only a small part of it, where a group of shepherds got to hear the first news of it. Can you imagine being in their shoes (er…sandals)? Remember, this was before special effects on television. This was before television. They’d never seen anything like it.

And, just being honest here, even with all our vast knowledge about the world and everything in it (yes, I’m being sarcastic), if a sky full of angels appeared to you and started singing at the top of their lungs, I’m pretty positive you’d wet yourself. I would.

Music is an integral part of the Christmas story, so I think it’s altogether fitting that our entire godless culture still stops and sings “Silent Night.” No matter how far away we’ve fallen, we still get misty eyed at “O Holy Night” or “Away in a Manger.” Some parts of the United States are trying to ban religious Christmas songs, but I’m not sure how successful they’ll be.

Every time I hear “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” I cry. Why? It’s the theme of my heart. The song is about crying out to God, asking for the Savior to come and save us, to bring light to our dark world, to bring life to the lifeless. And it’s what our world needs. It’s what I need, not just today or during the Christmas season but every moment of my life.

So the next time you hear a Christmas carol on the radio or on the street, stop for a moment and just listen. Really listen to the lyrics of “What Child Is This?” or “Angels We Have Heard On High.” Listen and think about them and let them sink into your heart and remind you what Christmas is about. What’s ironic is that so many of those songs were penned so long ago, but they’re still relevant, still wonderful, still a blessing to so many people.

Don’t be silent this Christmas. Sing out, even if you can’t sing. Remember that a joyful noise doesn’t have to be beautiful; a joyful noise is beautiful to God whether it’s off-key or not. Let the songs of the season make a difference in how you experience Christmas.

Painted plaster rocking horse ornament, Haven, KS

Where Christmas lasts forever

I heard a song on the radio yesterday that bothered me. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it got me thinking about what our perspective and our attitudes should be about Christmas as followers of Christ. Before I really start into this, though, I want to preface this post by saying I’m sure the song stemmed from the best of intentions. And I’m sure it probably is even a blessing to a lot of people. I honestly hope it is.

The song is called “One Last Christmas” by Matthew West (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ye39mgcHC3E). I love Matthew West songs. I love his ministry, and I read up on the events that inspired this song. And it truly is touching. Basically, a family with a 13-month-old child was told that he wouldn’t live to see his next Christmas, and they set about helping him make it that long. In the song, the family and really the whole community celebrates early so that the boy can enjoy Christmas before he dies.

From what I understand, the music video is being used as a means to help raise funds to run St. Jude’s Research Hospital for an entire day in memory of the little boy who was sick. It’s sweet and honorable and admirable, and I can’t say enough good about the song’s intentions. But I feel like the heart of the song misses the point.

Why push and focus all our energy on having one last Christmas when what’s waiting on the other side of eternity is so much better?

Painted plaster rocking horse ornament, Haven, KS

Painted plaster rocking horse ornament, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Revelation 21:1-6.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”

I don’t have children. So I can’t tell you what it’s like to hold a child in my arms and know that he or she won’t live another year. I don’t know what that’s like. And on the opposite side of the coin, I’m certainly not advocating a defeatist mentality. If someone is sick and there’s something that can be done to treat it, for heaven’s sake, treat it! I’m a firm believer in using the knowledge and technology God has given us to treat illness.

But I fear that in all of our comfort and our conveniences, Christians have lost sight of what truly matters.

I love Christmas. It’s my favorite time of the year. I love being with my family. I love giving gifts to people. And something is different for me this Christmas that I’ve never had before, something new to experience. A baby girl. Little Baby Hoo gets to have her first Christmas this year, and I’m absolutely giddy to be able to be a part of it. And even though she’s not “mine” per se, I still get to be in her life, and with just that barest amount of empathy I can begin to grasp the utter hopelessness of a parent with a terminally ill child. I think it would tear my heart out.

But, Christians, hear me out. When did this world become so important? When did this life become so wonderful that we yearn for one more experience down here as opposed to looking forward to the life to come? I remember worrying as a child that Jesus would come back before I learned to drive. I remember being concerned that I wouldn’t get to experience all the things people get to experience as they’re growing up. And then one day I heard a message my awesome pastor gave about what Heaven is about.

It’s not just sitting around twanging on harps and singing hymns all day long. It’s bigger and better than the best existence any of us can imagine. This life is easy to hold on to because it’s all we know, and it can be hard to long for something that we’ve never seen. Sometimes that’s where I get caught because I get so deep in this life and what’s happening here that I forget I should be living for heaven. But as Christ-followers, we need to understand that we aren’t meant for this world. We’re just visiting, just passing through, and what God has prepared for us after we leave this life is so much better than what we have here.

So instead of yearning for one last Christmas, why can’t we look forward to all the Christmases in eternity that will be so much better? Unless you don’t think we’ll celebrate Christmas in heaven? I think we will. It will look different, but the reason will be the same. Christmas is still marked in heaven as the day Christ came to Earth to save us, and I see no reason why we won’t celebrate it in eternity. I want to. I always want to remember what He’s done for me.

I don’t want people to misunderstand. I have the greatest love and admiration for families who are struggling with health issues, especially this time of year. But I’m afraid that we are all just glossing over the most important aspect of Christmas, and that is to look forward to what’s coming rather than cling to the temporary lives we’re living now.

Would you be disappointed if Christ came back today? Would you be disappointed if God called you home tomorrow? What are you holding on to in this life that you would choose over eternity?

Check your focus, because your focus will determine a lot about how you live your life. If you’re living for this life, you will rely on temporary solutions and things that don’t last to get you through the challenges you’re facing today. If you’re living for eternity, it’s a lot easier to realize that the troubles we have today are merely stepping stones for our real life after this one, where Christmas lasts forever.