Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Getting Older

I celebrated another birthday this week. To celebrate, we headed to the beach and had a great weekend filled with good food and good times. Since my stroke in November 2016, every day is a special day to celebrate! These months since the stroke have given me a new appreciation for life. A new awareness that each day is a precious gift not to be taken for granted. And every birthday celebration has become even more significant.

Birthdays bring inevitable thoughts about getting older. I can remember when, once upon a time, I thought anyone who had passed their 60th birthday was really old. Having passed that milestone several years ago, I no longer think of it in quite the same way. Because the truth is, I really don't think of myself as old. I don't feel old. At least, not on most days.

I remember reading several years ago that Jonathan Edwards, that great American preacher of days gone by, had seventy resolutions for his life, all of which he wrote while in his early twenties, and which he read every week for the rest of his life. His Resolution 52 has become my resolution as well.

"I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again. Resolved, that I will live as I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age."

Having passed another birthday, Johnathan Edwards' resolution continues to be my resolution, for the coming year and for however many years lie ahead:  to live as I shall wish I had done.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A Fresh Start

When I began thinking about this post, I planned to say "Welcome to August". But since we're already a week into the month, that probably wouldn't be the best way to start. Since it took me longer than expected to get brain wrapped around this topic, instead of thinking about a new month, I'll focus on a fresh start. That's what August gave us with this new month. A fresh start. A clean page on the calendar.

When I turned the page on the "official" family calendar on the side of the refrigerator, I smiled. It's my birthday month. We will be spending a few days at the beach this month. And it's one month closer to fall and cooler temperatures!

We often think of a new month as a clean slate. A time to start over. But if your calendar looks anything like mine, it isn't exactly a blank page. There are a number of activities already listed. August is shaping up to be another busy month.

Even so, there's something refreshing about turning the calendar page. A new month means new opportunities. New adventures. New challenges to be faced. 

Turning that calendar page also means moving on. Leaving the previous month behind. Letting go of all the less-than-we-might-have-liked-them-to-be moments. The new month is time to let all that go, and time to move forward. And for us, it also means that the official date for retirement has arrived.


Every day is a fresh start. An opportunity to move forward. Whether it's a new job. Or no job. Or a weight loss plan that has gone off track. Or frustration about a relationship or a health issue. Every day is the gift of a fresh start. An opportunity to try again. To move forward.

A couple of years ago, as we moved into August, I was completing a writing project. Beginning a new month moved me into a new season, from writing to editing. Editing can be a tedious process: checking spelling; replacing one word with another; rearranging sentences; formatting; doing it all again; and then doing it all again; and again. Editing gave me an opportunity for a fresh start. To look at what I had written with fresh eyes.

Editing is not just for books or magazine articles. Sometimes our lives need some editing as well, and a new month is an ideal time to stop and consider what might need to be edited in our lives. 

Editing some things out of my life is an area where the Lord has been really dealing with me. As in, what things in my life need some correction. What additions need to be made? What things in my life need some fine-tuning. What things in my life need to be deleted.  You may find that to be true in your life as well.

Here are a few questions to help you get started in your editing process.

What foods need to be deleted from my life? What foods need to be added?

What habits need to be deleted from my life? What habits need to be added?

What corrections need to be made in my speech?

What needs to be deleted?  In my activities. In my recreation. In my reading. In my TV watching. In the way I spend my money.

What needs to be added?  In my activities. In my recreation. In my reading. In my TV watching. In the way I spend my money.

 Life is a process. And all those processes need some editing from time to time.

What better time than today, as we have begun a new month, to take some time to consider what changes might need to be made. There's no time like the present to do a little editing and make a fresh start.


"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."  (Philippians 3:7 NASB)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Distractions

Have you ever started a project and then not finished it because your mind wandered to somewhere else? And then you remembered another thing that needed doing. Or a phone call you needed to make. And then you decided to check Facebook or your texts.  And then you needed a snack. But maybe you should walk the dog first. But you need to finish this chapter. Except you just remembered that you have clothes in the washing machine that need to go in the dryer. But first you'll go make another cup of coffee.  

Can anyone relate?

We all get distracted from time to time. Life is busy, and our schedules are filled with places to be and things to do. 

Sometimes distractions are a good thing. We can be going through the busyness of the day and then find ourselves distracted by the beauty of a flower. Or by a sunset. Or by a song we hear. Or by the sound of children at play. At those times we hit the pause button on life, set aside for a moment whatever we might have been focused on, and enjoy the beauty. We take time to smell the roses, to borrow a phrase. Those are good distractions.

Too often, however, distractions are not good things. 

Too often, however, we allow distractions to keep us from more important things, like the Word of God. We allow the busyness of life to get in the way. We even allow good things, like family and friends, to become distractions, keeping us from best things, like time with the Lord. We too often use friends and family as an excuse, rather than seeking to find the right balance. As a result, relationships with family, with friends, and with the Lord can suffer.

In addition, we allow the media to distract us. Politicians would like to keep us distracted. The enemy of our souls would like to keep us distracted.

That's the greatest danger of all. That the enemy of our souls would keep us so distracted, whether by busyness or by false teachers or by media and political pundits with their particular agendas. That distraction is the one we must guard most against.

The enemy of our souls would like to keep us so busy and so distracted by our religion and our politics and our good works that we miss the most important thing - our relationship with Jesus.

Don't give your enemy the victory! Don't get distracted!

"You therefore, beloved....be on your guard."  (2 Peter 3:17 NASB)

"Be on guard."  (2 Timothy 4:15 NASB)

"Be on guard, so that your heart will not be weighted down...."  (Luke 21:34 NASB)

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."  (Ephesians 6:12 NASB)

"Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith."  (Hebrews 12:2 NASB)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Offended

A lot has been said and written lately about being offended.

People are offended by skin color and sexual preference. By flags. By politics.

It seems that everyday, we find something else that offends us. It borders on the ridiculous, really. We have become the United States of the Offended. What ever happened to the days when, if I disagreed with you or you disagreed with me, we just agreed to disagree? 

Those days are long gone, apparently. It seems we prefer to be offended.

But what about this kind of "offended":

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life."  (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT, emphasis mine)

Something to think about.


"Our society strives to avoid any possibility of offending anyone - except God." - Billy Graham

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Out of Tune

In the years since I first sat on a piano bench in our living room and learned to play the brand new spinet piano my parents had purchased for me, I have had opportunity to play many pianos. Large ones and smaller ones. Brand new ones and older ones. Concert grands and small spinets. 

I have played in living rooms and practice rooms. In churches, large and small. In gardens and under tents. In grand concert halls and in much smaller venues. And even though I am no longer able to play as I once did, I am still aware that all these places and all these instruments have something in common. For a piano to sound its best, no matter who is playing it, it needs to be in tune.

When our younger son was about three years old, he began learning to play the violin. Although he has since abandoned the violin in favor of the guitar, I still have very vivid memories of those early days with his tiny violin. The first song he learned to play was Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, followed by five variations on that theme. From the beginning notes of Twinkle to the Bach minuets that came later, all of us within earshot of Brandon's violin learned early on the importance of an instrument that is in tune. In fact, I would venture to say that nothing sounds quite as bad as an out of tune violin!

Any musical instrument needs to be in tune to sound its best. The writer of the hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing used that analogy in this hymn line:

"Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy praise."*

For us to live life the way God intends, for us to praise Him as we should, for us to be reflecting Jesus and letting our light shine for Him (see Matthew 5:16), we need to be in tune.

However, the reality of life is that sometimes we are out of sorts. Out of tune. It happens because life happens. We are tired or insecure or frustrated. Our feelings have been hurt. We've been offended. We're discouraged.  We're angry.  We're sad. We're jealous. There are any number of reasons or events or emotions that send us over the edge, and those differ from person to person.  What sends me into an emotional puddle and puts my life out of tune is likely different from what would do the same to you.

During this year and a half since I had a stroke, I have occasionally found myself a bit out of sorts.  Out of tune. Perhaps it's all part of the natural course of things following such a major trauma. Perhaps it's the fatigue that is part of stroke recovery. Perhaps it's the frustration when I can't remember things or can't do what I was once able to do. Whatever. The reality is that sometimes I'm out of tune.

Perhaps you may find yourself occasionally out of tune. The circumstances of my life are not the same as yours. You may be out of tune because of a personal relationship. Or a financial difficulty.  Maybe you lost your job or your spouse was laid off. Maybe there's an issue with one of your children or your grandchildren. Maybe you were falsely accused of something. Maybe someone you thought was your friend turned out not to be. Maybe your best friend is being anything but friendly.  Whether finances or relationships or something entirely different, you may find yourself a bit out of sorts. Out of tune.

There are as many reasons for being out of tune as there are people. Perhaps more. We all have different life circumstances. We all respond differently.

Whether we have a major meltdown or we are just a bit out of sorts, the reality of life is that from time to time each of us is a bit out of tune. When those times come, and they will, what are we to do?

1. Read and Remember.

I am a big advocate for writing things down. (I have always been a big believer in writing things down, but especially in this post-stroke season of my life when remembering is such a challenge.) Writing down your prayer list. Writing out your prayers. Keeping a gratitude journal and writing down all the reasons you have for being grateful. These out-of-tune-times prove the value of those lists. When you are out of tune, when you are discouraged, when you are frustrated, when you feel you've hit rock bottom.......these are the times you get your journal out, not so much for writing as for reading. In these out-of-tune-times you read back through your lists and you remember.

When you refresh your memory with all the good things about your life, with all the ways God has blessed you, and with all the good things that have happened to you, then you are encouraged.  Reading the list helps you remember God's goodness to you. When you remember how good God has been and remember all the ways He has blessed you, your focus is turned away from your negative circumstances.

"This I recall to my mind, and therefore I have hope.  The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning.  Great is your faithfulness."  (Lamentation 3:21-22 NASB)

2. Change your focus.

Often we are out of tune because we are spending so much time thinking about everything that is wrong with life. This focus only causes us to be more out of tune. Turn your focus away from yourself and your circumstances, and toward God. This requires a deliberate act of your will. Choose to think differently. Choose to change your focus. Think about God, about His character and His ways. Think about the names by which He is called in Scripture. Make a deliberate effort to focus your attention toward Him and away from your circumstances.

"Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith."  (Hebrews 12:2 NASB)

3. Talk about it.

I don't mean talk about it to your friend or your neighbor or to the entire social media community.  Rather, I mean talk to the Lord about it. Tell Him exactly how you feel, and why. Pour out your heart to Him. In the words of the old hymn, "Are you weary, are you heavy-hearted?  Tell it to Jesus."**

Spending time in prayer, being honest with God, is the best way I know to get your heart back in tune.

"casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you."  (1 Peter 5:7 NASB)

4. Choose joy.

Make a deliberate choice, as an act of your will rather than your emotions, to choose to be joyful in spite of your circumstances. It may take a while for your circumstances to change. Just like a piano, the more out of tune your life is, the longer it will take to tune it. But no matter how long it takes for circumstances to change, and even if they never do, choose joy.

Make the choice. I've often heard Kay Arthur say we should "Philippians 4:8" everything. It's good advice.

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."  (Philippians 4:8, NASB)

 Remembering and refocusing and talking to the Lord always helps get me back in tune. If you're feeling a little out of tune today, I'm praying these suggestions will help get you back in tune, too.


"Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."  (Hebrews 4:16 NASB)


 * Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing:  words, Robert Robinson; music, John Wyeth
**Tell It to Jesus:  words and music, Edmund S. Lorenz

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Proclaim Liberty

"Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof."

Those words from Leviticus 25 are inscribed on a bell we have come to know as the Liberty Bell, originally cast in the Whitechapel Foundry in East London, England, and now housed at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.









Today we celebrate liberty.  We celebrate our nation's independence.  July 4, 1776 was the date of the signing of our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, and we celebrate every year on this day. 



But our independence, our freedom, is about more than a one-day-a-year celebration.  It's about more than picnics and parades. It's about more than fireworks and flag-waving and funnel cakes. No matter how you choose to celebrate today, keep in mind the reason for the celebration!


We celebrate today because a group of men gathered together on this date in 1776 to sign a document proclaiming our independence from Great Britain. We celebrate because there were men willing to risk all they had to fight for that independence. We celebrate because, in that year and in all the years since, men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States of America have dedicated themselves to protecting our freedom. We celebrate because we are a free people, with rights and privileges only dreamed of by many around the world.



Our freedom as Americans is something to celebrate every day of the year, not just on one day in the middle of summer. It's something to be cherished and protected. It's something we must never take for granted, but continually be thankful for.



Our freedom as Americans is a precious thing that must be guarded and defended. Just the verse on the Liberty Bell reminds us, we must "proclaim liberty throughout the land"! And if that is true of our freedom as Americans, how much more is all that true of our freedom in Christ!



Freedom in Christ isn't something just to be celebrated once a week on Sundays, but to be celebrated and cherished and treasured and proclaimed every day! Because "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!"  (John 8:36 ESV)


"For freedom Christ has set us free."  (Galatians 5:1 ESV)



"For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death."  (Romans 8:2 ESV)



[Jesus said] "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  (John 8:32 ESV)



Free indeed!  Free in Christ Jesus! Our freedom in Christ is not dependent on political parties or political correctness or political whim. That freedom is all and only in and through Christ Jesus! 


Free indeed!



Proclaim that freedom "throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof"!






"Let Freedom Ring" - The Gaither Vocal Band:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVVbSXz7jaU



Monday, July 2, 2018

Refreshed








It has been said that all good things must come to an end. That is certainly true of vacations. Today is back to reality. But even as I am experiencing the "reentry" that comes after a vacation, I am feeling renewed and refreshed.


What a relaxing week it was. No particular agenda. No appointments or doctor visits that had to be kept. No chores to be done.


Just relaxing. Laughing. Talking. Making memories together. A week of giggles and snorts and belly laughs. The sounds of love. The sounds of family.


We celebrated a birthday. We had family pictures made. We enjoyed some of the beauty of God's creation.


Now it's back to "real" life! Yet even as I'm faced with unpacking and sorting laundry and putting things away, there's a smile on my face.


Relaxed. Refreshed. Renewed.


We had a week of smiles and giggles and laughter. It was conversation. It was together. It was family.


Family. One of life's greatest blessings.


The vacation is over. But the memories will last a lifetime.


More happy than my heart can hold.


"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name."
(Psalm 103:1 ESV)