Preparing Heart and Home for Christmas

christmas-preparingThis is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'”
Matthew 3:3

A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God….
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Isaiah 40:3-6

As I look at the calendar, I realize that today is the end of November and tomorrow begins December. This means that I can start to focus upon the Christmas holiday. My goal in preparing our home for this sacred season, is to prepare for it in the way the Lord desires. I want to find spiritual significance in each activity my hands undertake in the coming days.

I have quoted the phrase “Prepare the way for the Lord” spoken by John the Baptist as he urged people to turn from their sins and live for God. He was preparing the way for Jesus and His ministry. John the Baptist chose these words that were first spoken by Isaiah almost 700 years before Christ when Isaiah was foretelling a message of forgiveness, comfort and hope for the Israelites who were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. Today I choose these words to speak to those around me the message of preparing our hearts and homes for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

christmas-treeAs I decorate the tree, I think about the purposes of the wood from trees relating to the life of Jesus. The wood that was used to build the cattle stall that became the manger for baby Jesus came from a tree. The beams of the cross upon which Jesus died originated as a tree. When I look at the Christmas tree in our home, I want to see more than an evergreen tree with lights and decorations. I want to see the manger where Jesus was born as told in Luke 2:7 American Standard Version, “And she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” I also do not want to be so shortsighted that I forget the words of I Peter 2:24, “’He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’”

christmas-bakingAs I assemble my recipes for baking Christmas cookies, I am aware that some cookies are soft while others are harder and crispier. I take time to ask myself how can I help those around me prepare their hearts for Christmas? Ezekiel 11:19-20 says, “And I (God) will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.” Only the Lord can do the work within a person that allows one’s heart to be permanently softened and ready to receive Christ into his or her heart. However, I must remember my responsibility of being a positive influence upon the hearts of those around me. Is my witness and way of softening the hearts of the hardhearted? I love to bake all varieties of Christmas cookies with my grandchildren but most of all I want to prepare my family’s hearts to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

christmas-candlesAs I place candles in the windows, I wonder how well I am fulfilling Matthew 5:16, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” I must be careful during this hectic season that I do not become so stressed out that the light of my life flickers with weariness. I desire to focus upon allowing my actions to be good deeds that glorify God.

christmas-giftAs I wrap gifts that we have purchased for our children and grandchildren, I am reminded of the greatest gift of all. Romans 6:23 says, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If Jesus had not been born in the Christmas manger, He would not have been able to give His life for our salvation. I never want to forget that the reason for this season is that Christ was born so that He could die to give us the opportunity to receive the gift of everlasting life. No gift I purchase can compare to the gift God has given.

Preparing the way for the Lord in the way desired by the Lord can be very different from what my mindset can become if I take my eyes off the original meaning of Christmas. My goal is to follow the example of John the Baptist and personally fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy before we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25, 2016. I definitely want to prepare in the way the Lord desires!

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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Your Thanksgiving Feast

thanksgiving-dinner-2thanksgiving-dinner-1pumpkin-pie-2While planning and preparing the Thanksgiving meal for our family, I realize not everyone will eat everything that is served. That is OK because everyone is allowed to have their likes and dislikes regarding food. I also know that everyone will still have thankful hearts whether or not they help themselves to every dish. I wonder if this is not true for us spiritually as well. God prepares many types of food and experiences that are placed before us on our table of life. We may not like the taste of every situation we encounter but these are still things for which we are to be thankful. I Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Let’s develop a thankfulness in our hearts as we look at this verse from two different perspectives.

First, Paul tells us in this verse to give thanks IN all circumstances, not FOR all circumstances. Even though we walk through difficult situations in our lives, we are to keep a perspective of thankfulness. It helps us get though tough times when we remember who God is and that He is with us. We can be thankful for this fact. The assurance of the Lord’s presence is recorded in early times of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Another way to look at the concept of thankfulness in all circumstances is found in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” This is harder to understand but I think it has some validity. Our testimony of how the Lord helps us through difficult times can be an encouragement to others who are struggling. God does not CAUSE these difficulties but He can USE them if we allow Him to do so. We never know how or when He will be able to use our not so pleasant crises for the benefit of others as well as for ourselves.

My Readers, take time to give thanks, especially on Thanksgiving Day. I encourage you to not forget the difficult times you have experienced. It is OK that you may not have liked everything that has happened but you can be thankful for the Lord’s presence with you through the good and the bad and the miraculous. The turkey on your banquet table may look as delicious to you as the joy you feel for your job that provides financial security for your family or you may feel stuffed with unpaid bills. You can still be thankful for God being Jehovah-Jireh, our Provider, because He will provide in some way that may yet be unknown. We all know that we should eat our vegetables. Some of us may eat the green bean casserole with thankfulness for health while another person is served a helping of a different vegetable. The person sitting next to you may feel squashed by upcoming surgery or cancer treatments. When it comes to the type of potatoes, one person at your table may feel sweet by the presence of a newborn baby while another person may feel their thankfulness mashed by the empty chair at the table since a family member has passed on to be with the Lord. As a relish plate is passed, some may identify with the sour dill pickles while others may like the crispness of a carrot stick. Likes and dislikes will abound around the table. However, I presume everyone will like dessert. The final course of the meal ends with a tantalizing tastiness. The final bit of physical hunger can be filled with a sugary treat while the spiritual hunger can be satisfied with thankfulness. I want to offer each of My Readers an ample piece of Thanksgiving pie in the form of scripture cut from the Biblical pie. It is my prayer that you will thankfully chew and meditate upon who God is within your life on Thanksgiving Day.

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
His love endures forever.
I Chronicles 16:34

I will give thanks to the LORD because of His righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the LORD Most High.
Psalm 7:17

Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD,
for He is good; His love endures forever.
Psalm 106:

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks
to God the Father through Him.
Colossians 3:17

Happy Thanksgiving!

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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Mephibosheth and Me

 

ii-samuel-4-4Mephibosheth. What a name! What a mouthful to pronounce! Did he have a nickname?

Mephibosheth. Who was he? What do we know about him?

(Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet.
He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan
came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled,
but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled.
His name was Mephibosheth.)
II Samuel 4:4

In this one verse of the Bible, we learn that Mephibosheth was a crippled son of Saul. When Mephibosheth is introduced in scripture, it is in a parenthetical statement which makes me wonder about his importance. Is this information about him an afterthought just for clarification? Why am I even bringing up his name in this blog?

I think we all can identify with Mephi in one way or another. Have you ever felt insignificant? Most of us will answer “yes” to that question – maybe we have felt shoved in a corner while everyone else was having a good time. Have you ever felt like you were dropped? Most of us will again have to admit that we have experienced discouragement when something we thought was important was dropped from an agenda and not acted upon by the majority of people. Are you crippled? Most of us have experienced a time when we have felt incapable of moving forward because we have been wounded and disabled by negative words spoken about us. Yes, in a sense, I believe we are all Methibosheths.

The king said, “Is there not yet anyone of the house of Saul
to whom I may show the kindness of God?” And Ziba said to the king,
“There is still a son of Jonathan who is crippled in both feet.”
So the king said to him, “Where is he?”
II Samuel 9:3-4

Wait a minute! Here is King David inquiring about Methibosheth. Why would he want to meet Methi? We need to remember that Johnathan, Mephibosheth’s father, and David, now king, were close friends. In a previous scriptural account, David made a covenant with Jonathan that he would always care for any living relative of Jonathan. David wanted to fulfill this covenant so he inquired to see if there was a living qualified person. When David found Mephibosheth, he restored all the land that had once belonged to Methi’s grandfather Saul and invited him into his home. David knew the significance of a covenant. We, too, would do well to remember the importance of a covenant we have made with the Lord.

So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.
II Samuel 9:11

The king assured Mephi that he would always eat at his table. King David even calls him a son! He is not referred to as a cripple but he is defined as a son. How wonderful this must have felt to Mephibosheth! In his book Cast of Characters, Common People in the Hands of an Uncommon God, Max Lucado makes the comparison of Methibotheth’s place at David’s table to our place with Christ. Lucado writes, “We are children of royalty, crippled by the fall, permanently marred by sin.” Ephesians 1:5 says “He (God) predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.” Like Mephi, we may be crippled but God sees us as sons and daughters and bases His relationship with us upon the covenant we have made with Him rather than upon the label of any of our disabilities or shortcomings. Each time we partake of the sacrament of Communion, we are seated at the Lord’s table.

Mephibosheth. It is still a strange name and a hard name to pronounce, but it is also a name with which we can identify. I do not want to conclude this blog without thinking about the meaning of this name. Mephibosheth means “he who scatters shame.” When I hear this phrase, I think of two possible interpretations. “He who scatters shame” could refer to those who are crippled by shame and spread it on to those who surround them. Or, “He who scatters shame” could refer to those who break up shame so that it no longer can be an influence upon oneself or anyone else. I believe that at the beginning of our story about Mephibosheth, he felt like his condition negatively influenced not only himself but also those around him. However, by the end of the biblical account, Mephibosheth’s shame had been scattered to the wind and it no longer identified who he was. He was now a son and he lived with the king. Yes, we too can be like Mephibosheth! We are part of the family of God, forgiven of all that once crippled us.

Be proud to be a Mephibosheth!

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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Definitions of Desires

Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4 NKJV

Okay, I was an English teacher and some of the English language quirks still can affect me. Currently, I am thinking of definitions of words. My Reader, please bear with me as I share some teaching techniques with you today. Let me ask: How would you define the word “desires” – specifically in the context of Psalm 37:4? What are your personal desires?

heart-irridescent-mfThe desires of your heart” – Definition #1
What I want!

Psalm 37:4 became special to me many years ago when an eye disease caused me to lose a significant amount of my vision. One of the things I missed most was the ability to play praise songs on the piano. As a result, the Lord gave me the ability to write and play short choruses that essentially were words of encouragement to me from the Lord. This verse was the basis of the first song the Lord placed in my heart that transpired into a piano tune with words. That day, my interpretation of the phrase “the desires of my heart” was that if I delighted in, or found joy in, the Lord, He would then give me what I desired or wanted. My foremost wish at that time was for the restoration of my vision. James 4:2 says, “you do not have because you do not ask,” so I asked the Lord for healing while praising Him with my personal little song I played and sang at the piano. I experienced joy in my heart while praising God and I also knew He found joy in my melody of praise. However, I must admit there was an ulterior motive in my delighting in the Lord because I had a specific need at that time.

heart-irridescent-mfThe desires of your heart” – Definition #2
What God wants.

As time went on, my interpretation of “desires” in Psalm 34:7 took on a more inclusive meaning. Maybe the desires of my heart were not just what I wanted but what God wanted for me. In Isaiah 55:8, the Lord says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” Perhaps my hopes and desires were too short-sighted and God had greater things in store for how He was going to use my limitations. My comprehension of this verse now was that as I delighted in, found pleasure in, the Lord for who He was, He would change my desires into His desires. The closer I got to the Lord through praise, the more He was able to reveal His desires to me. I now wanted to please Him more than I wanted my own pleasure. My desires became God’s desires for me even though I did not fully understand what that might entail. I now prayed as Jesus did in Luke 22:42, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup (for me at this time it was the cup of lack of vision) away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” “The desires of my heart” now were to surrender to the will of God whether this meant restoration of my full sight or not.

heart-irridescent-mfThe desires of your heart” – Definition #3
God Himself!

As time has elapsed and I have grown in my relationship with the Lord, a new interpretation has evolved for me. We used to live near a place called Donuts Delight where we would occasionally get doughnuts. (our son used to call them “don’ters”) In a limited way, we delighted in these doughnuts, but today my greater delight is Divine. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts.” Wow! God has placed within my heart the desire to spend eternity with Him! My desires are not fulfilled with stuff or status or strength, but with my Savior! The desires of my heart” are no longer defined in relation to things, but now are defined by my relationship with God Himself. If I delight in, or find contentment in, the Lord by lining up my life with God’s will, then my delight is more on giving pleasure to God than receiving what pleases me. The best way I can please God is to glorify Him with my praises. Awhile back, I remember singing a song in church that included the words, “The more I seek You (Jesus), the more I find You. The more I find You, the more I love You.” It is not so much that I desire my circumstances to change as I desire to simply love the Lord. There is no longer an ulterior motive to get what I want regarding my vision or any other need. My physical vision is much better than it was years ago but it has not been fully restored. However, my spiritual vision has become much clearer. Zephaniah 3:17 is a scripture that blow my mind! It says, “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Not only am I to delight in the Lord according to Psalm 37:4, but Zephaniah tells me that the Lord delights in me. Also, just as I sing songs of praise to Him, God sings over me. For me, this makes a complete circle of the significance of my delighting in the Lord and the interpretation of the phrase “the desires of my heart.”

My Reader, will you join me in fulfilling Psalm 37:4?

Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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Stepping Stones and Stumbling Stones

Closeup of message stones on white background.

 

While walking along a stony trail, I realize I have a choice as to how I perceive these pebbles on my path. They can be either stepping stones or stumbling stones. They become stepping stones if they fill in rough ruts and help me to be surefooted as I walk down life’s pathway. These stones are stumbling stones if they cause me to fall and skin my knees while I am running the route of life. In scripture, I learn that all of us have the option of being stepping stones or stumbling stones spiritually.

I begin by looking at a couple of Old Testament scriptures. David declares in Psalm 18:2, “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” The Lord is not just a little stone; He is a rock! He is a stronger spiritual stone than any mineral matter found on earth. Isaiah 28:16 says, “So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.’” Isaiah describes Jesus as a rock with a purpose. He is the cornerstone of the spiritual temple the Lord is building. I want to be sure that my faith walk is covered with stepping stones leading me to the Cornerstone.

Peter tells how I am given the choice of experiencing Jesus as a stepping stone or a stumbling stone. I Peter 2:4 says, “You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.” I can accept Christ as the stone who leads me on the path to eternal life or I can stumble over the reality of Jesus being the saving stone. I Peter 2:8 says, “‘He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.”

I Peter 2:5 says, “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.” When I trust Jesus to be the Living Stone, I become a living stone. The stones under my feet are inanimate objects but I am created to be a living and active stone that makes a difference in the lives of others. I am either a stepping stone or a stumbling stone as people watch me journey down my lane of life.

Not only is my life a stepping or stumbling stone to others, but I also have the choice of allowing my circumstances to be stepping stones or stumbling stones. II Corinthians 5:7 tells believers,we walk by faith, not by sight.” When I cannot see where my faith is taking me, I may stumble over difficult circumstances. If my life is to be a stepping stone rather than stumbling stone, I need to remember Romans 8:28 that says, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I want to allow my circumstances to help me maneuver over the rocky times of life so that I will not fall.

My Reader, what kind of stones are you walking upon as you journey through life today? Are the stones smooth or rough? Are you skipping along a path of joy with little pebbles under your feet or are you encountering boulders that block further progress? No matter what the stones feel like, allow them to become a pathway to the Lord. James 4:8 NLT gives the invitation, “Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” This is true for wherever your journey takes you. In fact, I sometimes find that it is easier to stay close to the Lord and hear from Him when things are rockier that when they are going smoothly. I can get caught up in the excitement of the moment and lose sight of the Lord. In conclusion, I encourage you to turn your stumbling stone situations into stepping stones.

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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