Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Clothes

I have a confession to make: my daughter dressed me this morning.

Bethany is twenty-seven and we call her the family fashionista. A few months ago she decided that my wardrobe needed updating. Reading between the lines, what she meant to say was, “Mom, you’re starting to dress like a grandma.” And my husband agreed!

The good news was that he sent us both to the mall with instructions to bring back a new look.

Bethany swept through the department store in a whirl, feverishly throwing jeans, shirts, and belts into my arms. When the pile got heavy, I was ordered to go try them on.

She put the pieces together into outfits and insisted on seeing me in each one. She gave the thumbs’ up or thumbs down on purchases. There was no appeal to be made. Her word was law and I had little say in the matter.

It all felt a bit uncomfortable. She put me in things that I would not have chosen.

Me, in skinny jeans? Anyone looking at me knows that’s an oxymoron!

Boots? I had never before spent that much on a pair of shoes in my life!

And isn’t that gauzy top the exact same one I wore in high school?

The day ended in a blur of shopping, but we arrived home with several new items.

shopping for New Clothes

I might not have picked these things out; I might even have argued with Bethany about buying them. And while it has taken time to get used to them, they are much more comfortable than I had imagined. You know what? I have grown to love my new clothes! I feel younger in them, more energetic. They feel like me, only better.

Those of us who love Jesus have also been given new clothes to wear, clothes He picked out specifically for us.

The basic piece is to be put on first. Jesus “…clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10)

He then recommends that we add some other attractive pieces, asking us “to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

The ensemble is completed with gorgeous accessories; “…a crown of beauty…the oil of gladness…and a garment of praise...” (Isaiah 61:3)

They all sound so lovely. And put together, they make a breathtaking ensemble.

Jesus tells me they are clothes He has picked out, and I don’t even have to pay for them! He bought them for me with His own sacrifice on the cross. They are offered free of charge.

Unlike Bethany, Jesus does give me the choice as to wear them or not. He allows me to accept the garment of salvation, to choose to put on those character qualities that are beautiful to Him, and to wear gladness and praise.

The clothes Jesus picks aren’t always easy for me to wear. It’s definitely a new look. Sometimes they feel like they don’t fit, and I have to struggle to put them on. But Jesus gently encourages me that He will help me. Over time, I grow to love them. And to love better the One who designed them. I’m still me, but different. Because just maybe, I am starting to look a little like Him.

And the most beautiful clothes of all will come when we meet Jesus face-to-face. On that glorious day “the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” (1 Corinthians 15:53-54)

Now that’s a wardrobe worth owning!

Further reflection:

  1. Reread Colossians 3:12. Which of these items of “clothing” are hardest for you to put on? Why?
  2. Take a few minutes to reflect on the cost Jesus paid to provide you with these “new clothes”. Write Him a prayer of gratitude.

Jesus, thank You for the high price You paid to clothe me. You bought me the garment of salvation with Your own precious blood. Please help me wear the robe of righteousness, and to put on those qualities of compassion, kindness, gentleness, and patience that are beautiful in Your eyes. Help me look a little more like You.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Taking Out the Trash

“Warning—bears in the area! Please dispose of your trash in the bear-proof dumpster.”

The signs were the same ones we had observed a few years before, when we’d had a couple of false alarms. This year my sisters and I had brought our families back to Hume Lake, where our gorgeous log cabin was big enough to house all fifteen of us. It had a beautiful wraparound porch outside the wall of windows. The windows allowed for lots of sunshine as well as a clear view of those warning signs.

You would think we would have learned our lesson about not leaving our bagged garbage outside the cabin. It wasn’t as if it were all that difficult to take it to the bear-proof dumpsters that the camp provided.

But we hadn’t.

In our defense, fifteen people can generate a lot of trash!

The first night of our stay we were tidying up after dinner. Someone who shall remain nameless…okay, it was me!...bagged the rubbish and set it outside the front door as we rushed out to hike in the early evening. Returning home, all fifteen of us walked by those same smelly, trash-filled bags.

Did any of us stop to contemplate the possible consequences if we didn’t take it to the dump? I did, but I was fatigued by the exercise and walked by, pretending that I didn’t.

Fast forward to 11:15 that same night. My sister, Annette, and her husband, Ken, were reading in the living room when they heard heavy footfalls on the porch. Bear! They ran for the darkness of the kitchen. Heart pounding, Annette watched from there as Ken inched towards the window to watch. The massive bear swung his heavy head towards him, glaring with his beady little eyes.

bear for take out the trash

Did the bear see the two of them? If he did, he must have felt that they were of no consequence as he continued to lumber around. Riiippp… the bags he found quickly gave way, no match for his long sharp claws. Annette and Ken were powerless to do anything except watch as the bear’s feast began.

He was in no hurry to leave, either, but continued to peer in the windows as he ambled around the porch. Eventually he wandered away into the dense, low-hanging trees and disappeared from sight.

In relief Annette and Ken both let out the breath that they hadn’t realized they were holding.

The next night there was no question as to whether or not to deposit the trash at the dump. It was done—yes, by one of the men—and without comment. No one wanted a return visit from that bear.

It seems the bear didn’t care what we wanted. At the same time as the night before, he showed up looking for another meal. All fifteen of us sat in the darkness together, having wondered if he would return. It was eerie to watch. If his muffled grunting was any indication, he was not very happy that we had failed to provide him food.

Every single night we were there that bear came to visit. Having been rewarded with food the first night seemed to ensure that we were part of his foraging routine. It never got easier to watch him prowl around, only separated from us by the thin pane of window glass. We had heard stories of bears that actually broke through glass to gain entrance if it smelled food. Our bear’s sheer bulk and malevolent eyes convinced us that he was fully capable of doing exactly that. But he never did.

If only we had taken care of the little thing, taking out the trash, we would never have had the big problem with our large, uninvited guest.

Sin, like trash, stinks.

It’s easy to rationalize the small stuff; a bad attitude, a little white lie, a sharp tongue. We reassure ourselves that we’ll clean up our act soon. But it’s so easy to let things slide, and all that sin just begins to pile up.

Oh, we can sanitize it; bag it up so we don’t notice the ugliness and stench of it. But God knows what’s inside. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account“. (Hebrews 4:13)

And sooner or later someone or something will come along and that awful bag of sin will get ripped open. When that happens, we can no longer deny the ugliness of it.

So what do we do? How do we get rid of it?

First we must confess it, knowing “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). A simple, heartfelt admission of guilt is all it takes: “God, You’re right about this, and I’m wrong. I really blew it. Please, forgive me.” Just a sincere apology that He is so quick to hear. An apology that leads to a change of heart, a change of attitude, and a change of behavior.

God not only forgives, He also gets rid of all that stinking sin for us.

The sooner we do it the better. Before the sin becomes a habit. And like that bear, one that is much harder to get rid of.

So let Him take the trash out for you.

Further reflection:

1. Hebrews 4:13 says Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” So take a few minutes. Ask the Lord to show you any sin you are allowing to pile up in your life. If there, confess it to Him. Receive His forgiveness.
2.  Rejoice in this truth: “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14

Father, I know I cannot hide anything from You, for You see into the very depths of my heart. I long to be clean in Your eyes. Would You please show me where I am allowing sin to build up? Thank You that You are waiting for me to confess it as sin, so You can cleanse and forgive me when I do.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bears on the Loose!

Bears are definitely not my favorite animal. Not only are they big and mean looking, they also have the audacity to think they have a right to inhabit the great outdoors. That created some real problems since my sisters, Barb and Annette, and I often took our families on vacation to the mountains.

One summer we took our families and rented cabins next to each other in the Sierra Mountains at beautiful Hume Lake.

We were warned about bears in the area and cautioned never to leave our bagged trash outside our cabins. For some reason bears consider that as an invitation to a picnic. Instead, we were to dispose of the garbage in the bear-proof lockers that the camp provided.

bear sign - bears on the loose

Inevitably my husband, Alan, and I got lazy and neglected to follow through. We left our full trashcan out on the deck. It only served us right when we were startled wide-awake in the middle of the night by a loud crash!

The trashcan rattled as some kind of animal knocked it over and pawed through it. The scraping, tearing, grunting sounds that followed only confirmed our worst suspicions: a bear had decided to make our leftovers his dinner!

Alan and I lay frozen, paralyzed with fear and unwilling to leave the security of our bed. Neither of us would look at the other, fearing that the dreaded “You take care of it!” look would be in the other’s eyes.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we dared to venture outside. Sure enough, the rubbish that had once been neatly contained in Hefty bags was scattered all over the deck. While that annoying bear had left a big mess for us to clean up, it was our own fault. It was the logical consequence for ignoring the oft-repeated warnings of the camp personnel.

“Oh well”, we thought. “At least it makes for a good story.”

When Annette came over to inspect the debris, she laughed as we recounted our terror in the night.

“No bear did that.” she said. “See those raccoon paw marks? The only bear here last night was in your imagination!”

I hate it when she’s right.

Nevertheless, the idea of a bear took root.

The very next night Barb and her husband, Cam, had put their three kids to bed in the upstairs area of the cabin and were enjoying the quiet. Belatedly, Barb remembered that their trash had been left on their front porch. With the memory of the “bear” that had visited us the night before still fresh in her mind, the fear of attracting a real one battled with the fear of actually meeting it in the dark if she were to venture out.

She wrestled with the dilemma for a time, but figured she wouldn’t be able to sleep if she didn’t take care of it. With great reluctance she made her way downstairs.

The front door creaked open, and Barb peeked nervously into the darkness outside. Glimpsing the trash bags lined up right at the edge of the dimly lit porch, she gathered her courage about her and made a dash for it. She was hoping that if she moved fast enough the bear that was surely lurking in the area wouldn’t have a chance to react.

No such luck.

As soon as she was close enough to lay her hands on the trash she heard a low, menacing “Grrrr” behind her.

Terror-stricken, she froze. Then adrenaline kicked in, and Barb dropped the trash and dashed for the safety of the front door.

The next sound she heard was that of her husband, Cam, howling with laughter! The ferocious growl of Barb’s bear had been nothing more than his idea of a practical joke.

The only bear around on either night existed only in our imaginations. There never was a bear, but our belief that one existed affected our behavior as surely as if there were.

Fear is like that. Most of the time it is entirely groundless and the thing we fear most never happens. Nonetheless, we behave as if it will. Left unchecked it robs us of the peace, the joy, and the trust that is promised to us as children of God.

Yes, we know we don’t have to live in this kind of fear because “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). We know God’s word encourages us more than eighty times to “fear not”.

So what do we do? How do we fight against it? Fear is, after all, a natural human reaction.

We only need to look at Him. All-knowing, He is aware of what we fear. All-loving, He cares about our circumstances. All-powerful, He is in control of them. He is so much bigger than our fear. He is with us no matter what and promises to always be so.

When we focus on Him rather than our fear our spirit is calmed, allowing faith to take over. Fear shrinks in light of the bigness, the goodness, and the power of our God, allowing room for faith to change our perspective and dictate our response. Then we are able to “Cast all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us” (1 Peter 5:7). And as we lean hard into Him we begin to trust Him differently. More fully. More completely. More confidently. Because that trust is not misplaced and does not disappoint.

Looking at Him instead of our fear is a choice.

I choose to recognize that He is bigger than my fear.

I hear He’s not even afraid of bears.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

Further reflection

1.  What do you fear most?
2.  How do you allow your trust in God to outweigh your fear?
3.  Write Isaiah 41:10 on a 3 x 5 card and put it in your wallet (the verse is written above). Pull it out and read it every time you feel the first stirrings of fear.

Father, You are Almighty God. You spoke all of creation into being and nothing is too hard for You. Today I choose to acknowledge that You are bigger than anything I fear. I trust You to be with me in every situation. Please help me choose to respond to life’s circumstances with faith rather than fear.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lost

Heart pounding and nearly hysterical with fear, I raced from person to person.

“Have you seen my little girl? She’s only 19 months old, and she’s wearing a pink flowered dress. Have you seen her?”

Going to the Little League carnival had seemed like a good idea. Raising money for my three older boys’ teams while spending an afternoon playing with the four younger kids was a winning combination. I never had to worry about taking them places. Ranging in age from 19 months to 5 ½ years old, the younger ones had long been drilled with the rules of any outing.

Hold hands with one of your siblings, or with Mom or Dad.

Stay where we can see you.

Don’t wander off by yourself.

They all knew the guidelines, and were usually very good about obeying them.
 

kids holding hands for lost 

But not on this day.

The worst part was that I’d been the one to hold little Megan’s hand the entire afternoon. I had only dropped it for a minute to give an attendant a ticket. I turned around, and she had disappeared!

“Have you seen my little girl?”

I saw the looks of sympathy from some parents. I also saw the disapproving looks others cast at a mother who had failed to keep a close eye on her baby. What’s worse, I knew that I deserved them.

My other three kids crowded in closely to me, reacting to my distress.

“Have you seen my little girl? Please! Help me!”

Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed a flash of pink and whirled in that direction.

There she was! No more than ten feet away, Megan stood watching a child play at another booth. Totally engrossed, she was impervious to the distress her short absence had caused.

She even smiled at me as I raced to scoop her up in my arms, never understanding the tears of relief streaming down my face. She never even realized I had lost her.

I was angry, too, but angry at myself.

Contrary to all signs indicating otherwise, I was a good mom. Yet it only took a fraction of a minute for my attention to wander, and for me lose sight of one of my kids. No matter how much I wish it were different, I will never be a perfect mom. That’s one reason I need the Lord so much.

God is the perfect parent. He, too, encourages us as His children to stay close to Him. His desire is for us to cling to Him and never wander. Yet sometimes we, like little children, don’t obey Him. As a result, we find ourselves separated from God. Like Megan, we may not even recognize the danger.

The difference is that as a perfect parent, God never loses track of me. His attention never wanders. And even when I, as His child, drop His hand and stray away from Him, He still knows where I am. I am never truly lost.

Because He always has His eye on me.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38-39

Further reflection:

1. Have you felt “lost”, and far away from the Lord?
2. How did it feel when you drew close to Him again?
3. What do you need to do to stay close to your Father?

Father, I confess that it easy for me to let my heart wander. Other things court my attention, and even though I love You I let them pull me away. Yet You never let go of me, You never lose sight of me, and You always call me back. How great is Your love.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Kodak Eternity

“Kodak moments.” That old series of commercials poignantly depicted snapshots of life; a soldier returning home from war, a daughter’s surprise visit from college, two old friends reconnecting. We all have those memorable slivers of time; their significance etched in our memory. We intuitively recognize those moments as the way that life should always be, but so rarely turns out.

I will never forget one such moment. My husband, Alan, and my brother, Don, had coached my three older boys on a Little League baseball team. Having enjoyed a very successful season, they needed only to win this last game to advance to the coveted city championships.

Our oldest son, Eric, was the starting pitcher that night. Due to his tendency to prefer last-minute wins, Eric had developed a reputation as the pitcher most likely to give the coach a heart attack. This night, however, he sailed through three innings, holding the other team scoreless while our own team produced three precious runs.

Then our second son, Stewart, came in as a reliever to close out the game. I could see how nervous he was. And I could barely breathe! It wasn’t that either of us cared so much about winning, but Stewart put a lot of pressure on himself to do his best. He hated to feel like he had let other people down. It would be a long ride home that night if he blew the lead.

He didn’t.

  baseball for kodak

Out of the nine batters that he faced in three innings, Stewart struck out the first eight. On the last play of the game, the batter hit a weak grounder back to Stewart and he easily threw him out at first base.

The stands erupted with jubilant cheering, and all those Little Leaguers were jumping up and down in riotous celebration. My husband and my brother catapulted from the dugout to congratulate the kids.

Spotting his dad, Stewart ran full speed towards him, launching himself into his arms. They turned circles together, hugging as they twirled.

Talk about a Kodak moment.

I still cannot recall that picture without tears. Why? Because for a single moment, life was perfect. There was nothing but shared elation and shared joy in celebrating the victory. It was the way life should always be; picture perfect and full of delight.

Later that night, Stewart walked to the car with his arm around me, and in an unsteady voice said, “I will never forget the summer of ‘87.”

Neither will I.

It was a little like heaven.

God has put into each of His children an anticipation of what heaven will be like. We have moments here that are filled with unadulterated joy. When we get to heaven every single instant will be like that. Life then will always be the way it is supposed to be.

I think that when that time comes and I see my Lord face-to-face, my reaction, like Stewart’s, will be to throw myself into my Father’s arms and joyously share in celebrating His victory.

And that will indeed be a Kodak eternity.

Can you picture it?

“He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

Further reflection:

1. Read through these Bible passages: John 14:1-3; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Revelation 5:12-13.
2. As you think about heaven, what part of it are you looking forward to the most?
3. In what circumstances of your life do you see glimpses of heaven here on earth?

Father, I am so grateful not just for the hope of heaven, but for the certainty of it. Thank You that when I get there I will see You face-to-face. You will make all things the way they should be and I will get to rejoice with You as we celebrate Your victory.