Giving Good Gifts

So, how’s that Christmas shopping going? How many times have you heard that question this year? It seems like it is a common question this time of year as we approach Christmas, a time to celebrate Christ’s birth by exchanging gifts with our families and friends. But maybe the real question should be; how are you at picking out gifts? I find that the people who procrastinate at their Christmas shopping are the same ones who struggle to figure out what a good gift might be. They fear giving the wrong gift, so they put off their shopping.

Thankfully, God knows how to give the best gifts. of course the first and best is His Son Jesus, but also there’s the spiritual gifts that He gives to believers. There are many self tests out there to help you discover your spiritual gift. 1 Corinthians 12 gives a good list of these gifts as does Ephesians 4. These good gifts are for the benefit of the church, to grow it and build it up. But, there are other gifts that God gives. Our natural abilities and talents that helps us to do our vocations and hobbies.

Recently I was reading an article that suggested parents should not recognize or celebrate their children’s natural gifts and talents. Instead it was suggested that parents should encourage their children to work hard and excel at everything. All it takes is a little self determination and everything is possible. Well, I  believe that God creates each person individually, I mean look at your fingerprint- there isn’t another one like it. Our natural talents are meant for us and is a part of who God made us to be and should be celebrated. We as human beings are unique and specially created by God. We are not cookie cutter.

Sometimes, I think we can forget this. We try to be or do something we are not. We are trying to use a gift that doesn’t fit, because, well, we don’t have that gift. It is a fake it till you make it philosophy, but it’s not long and we can become frustrated trying to do something we were never meant to do in the first place. We should always operate in what we have been gifted in. It is the right gift. The right fit. The good gift from the ultimate gift giver.

I was reminded of this today. I am responsible to use the gifts I have been given, not try to use someone else’s gift. It is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t fit and it’s a struggle to figure out how to make it fit. In the end, it’s a choice to select to do what I am gifted to do and not try to do everything.God Bless -Nancy

 

Prepare For The Best

Shout out to all the Boy Scouts out there! I remember when my two sons were in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and there was this motto to always be prepared. I can also think of the old adage to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I’ve been thinking about this topic for awhile and finally found a point to consider with you all. Being prepared. We all like to be prepared and don’t like being blind sided by unforeseen events, but they happen.

Recently, in the United States we celebrated Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to celebrate with family and friends and remember all we have to be thankful for. It also commemorates the first thanksgiving feast on the shores of Massachusetts. The Pilgrims from England had left in search of religious freedom. The first winter they were in the New World was tough, many died of sickness and starvation. If not for the Native Americans, they probably would have been wiped out entirely. I am proud to have recently learned that one of my distant relatives came from England to the New World on board the Mayflower. So, one of my family was present at that first Thanksgiving, thanking God for His provision and protection, to make it through that first year. I am sure the meal was not as elaborate as our current traditional Thanksgiving foods, but one thing I’m sure about, it took time to prepare. Eating Thanksgiving dinner is easy, but behind the scenes, it takes time and effort to prepare for such a big celebration. Turkeys come frozen at the grocery store and must be thawed several days before the big day. Pies are made, potatoes peeled and rolls baked and kept warm in cute little baskets lined with pretty cloths. A meal such as Thanksgiving is not something that can be created at the last minute, like  a grilled cheese sandwich.

But, what if you find yourself totally unprepared for something? Well, welcome to the world. Life does not always give us opportunity to be prepared. Parenting for example. Despite the multitude of books out there, no one is ever ready to be a parent. Most days you just wing it. Recently, I began my graduate studies in Christian Apologetics. I thought I knew what to expect, having been a recent graduate last Spring from an undergrad program, but boy was I wrong. It is much more work than anyone told me. It is alot like being a parent. You just gotta do it and hope for the best, while being tired all the time and stressed out.

In one of my courses, I was reading an article on preparing for preaching a sermon, and I thought this was a perfect way to make my point this week. The article was written in the early 2000’s and made the claim that preaching sermons in the traditional sense would never be out of style. The author was balking at a comment made that film production and technology would replace a pastor standing up and preaching. Well, welcome to the new era of reaching the world for Christ with the Gospel! It is amazing to reach others on multiple platforms, across borders and cultures. The author of the article might not have been prepared for the future, but boom, here it is anyway.

You see, we can’t prepare for everything that will happen in our futures. How we deal with the future is what matters. This becomes our own testimony to the world, which is our sermon to a lost and dying world. People are looking at our lives not just our words. 1Peter 3: 15 says we are to set apart Christ in our hearts as Lord and always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope you have (NIV). Being prepared might not mean to have a rehearsed answer, but be able to give a reason. Why do you have hope? Why do you believe in God? Why are you a Christian? The key is in the first part of this verse, set apart Christ as Lord. It’s like saying keep your focus on Christ and you’ll be prepared to give anyone who asks the reason for your hope. Someone might study and prepare a sermon, but not be living it as an example in their daily lives. Being prepared for something such as sharing the Good News of Christ with others, means preparing our own hearts. Life can throw us many curve balls and we might not be prepared to deal with events well, especially the ones that overwhelm us, but we can have our hearts prepared, by focusing on Christ, keeping Him first. There will be plenty of times when we aren’t prepared, but how we deal with the events will reveal if our hearts are prepared or not. Believe me, I’m not saying that I am always prepared or that my heart is prepared, but I am a work in progress. -God Bless- Nancy

The Real Deal

Do you remember when Coca Cola launched a campaign called the real thing? There was even a song that went with the commercial. You could tell if you were drinking the real thing- Coke- over the others who tried to be like Coke. Well, I’ve been thinking about knowing what’s real versus what’s fake this week, when I ran across a gem from Charles Stanley’s devotional that seem to convey what I was looking to say this week. He compares  the training it takes for bank tellers in spotting fake twenty dollar bills with Biblical training for the Christian to spot false teachings. The way bank tellers are trained is by handling the bills to get a feel and to notice how both a fake bill and real bill should look. Familiarizing themselves is the way to know what it should and shouldn’t be to be real. So, sadly, many Christians can fall for false teachings when they aren’t able to distinguish between false and true teachings from the Bible. The answer: simply know the real thing, the real deal, by reading and familiarizing yourself with what the Bible actually says. Bring your Bible or an app on your phone, to church and follow along with your pastor. We are to be active participants and not just sit on the sidelines and let someone lecture on Sunday mornings. Beyond just reading our Bibles to familiarize ourselves, let me encourage you also to study the Bible. I know you might be saying, yeah but that’s for pastors right? No. This might sound crazy but the Bible says we are all in the priesthood of believers, so we are all supposed to be responsible. That doesn’t mean we should all be giving sermons, but we should be responsible to learn the Bible and study it. There are many great Bible commentaries and Bible dictionaries out there and concordances. So, you’re still think it’s too hard? Well, consider how often you “google” something or ask “Alexa”, because you want some more information on a subject. So, why don’t Christians familiarize themselves with the Bible, if there are resources out there? There’s probably many excuses we could give, but they all fall short. Maybe you’re thinking, should I really question what a pastor says? Do I really need to study other books to help me understand the Bible? Can’t I just read it, and figure out what it means on my own, like make it fit what I want it to say? Well, here’s an answer from the Bible itself from Acts. Acts is a book filled with the story of how the early church got its start. Here’s just a portion..

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth (Acts 17:11, NLT).

Please note; they wanted to see if what the Apostle Paul was teaching was true. So they searched the Scriptures. This is my challenge for you this week. Do you know what’s in the Bible? Can you spot a fake? If you’re not sure do you look for answers?  Follow the real deal. God Bless- Nancy

STReeetch Armstrong

Do you remember the old action figure stretch Armstrong? His arms and legs could be stretched out to incredible lengths. I’m still not sure why, since as soon as you let go, he would return to normal size. As far as stretching goes though, it can be a good thing. We all know we should stretch before running or working out and after we go for a run or work out. It’s good stretching. So is the creations of the heavens as described in Isaiah 42: 5; “This is what God the LORD says– the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:” (NIV). But…… There is the bad stretching too. Years ago when my youngest was still an infant I injured my MCL. The therapists said I stretched it, which in his opinion was more worse then a tear. He compared the ligaments of the knee to a rubber band. When they are stretched too far, it takes much longer for them to return to normal. It would have been better for them to have torn and have them repaired surgically.It took about two years to fully heal, although bike riding still bothers me.

     Right now, I am somewhere between a good stretch and a bad one that might need time to recover, to spring back to normal. It is good to be stretched a times- to do more than you thought you could- to be challenged by professors and new situations that are unfamiliar and strange. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, there is time to pause to Selah and think about that- I find myself needing to take my own advice. I am in a season of contemplating whether the stretching in my life is good or the not so good. -I’ll keep you posted- until then.. God Bless -Nancy

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

Here’s a question for you to consider… Have you ever walked into a room at the tail end of a joke? When everyone is laughing, but you? And you wondered what the joke was? Or maybe it’s worse than that.. You hear two people talking and you can make out bits and pieces of the conversation, but as you approach they suddenly begin whispering. Ever wonder if they were talking about you? We all have had those thoughts at times and unless we ask them to repeat the joke or ask what or whom they were talking about, our minds tend to fill in the blanks. We make up the rest of the story. The parts we didn’t hear. We become our own fiction writers.

I admit it.. I am a big Hallmark movie fan. Currently my husband and I have been binge watching Hallmark movies. We watched all the fall themed movies and now we are watching the Christmas Hallmark movies. Yikes! Why so early with the Christmas movies Hallmark? It isn’t even Thanksgiving yet. Well, anyway, we all know the basic story line. Guy and Gal are dating for several years. They are happy, maybe a little complacent, when the girl is asked to travel out of town for work. (Guy can also be substituted here). When she travels from her hometown and her guy, she suddenly falls for the handsome stranger in the course of 1.5 days. Handsome stranger falls in love and somehow in the 1.5 days of their acknowledgement of each other he buys a ring and thinks about asking her to marry him, or go out on a date or something. Meanwhile guy in hometown shows up just as handsome stranger is going to propose and declare his love for the gal. But… the guy from hometown suddenly decides HE will propose to our gal. The handsome stranger is waiting just far enough away to see the hometown guy drop a knee, BUT what he doesn’t see as he hurries away is our gal’s decline. And a misunderstanding follows, which allows for ALL those commercials during the last fifteen minutes of the movie- Hey Hallmark needs to pay for the movies somehow, besides selling cards! Anyway, once the misunderstanding is corrected our happy new couples lives happily ever after- lights fade- roll credits.

So is life like that? Well as I described before kind of. Recently, I overheard my husband in the other room. I thought he was talking to me- I mean we are the only two in the house. But in reality he was speaking out-loud about another matter. I created a fictional conversation in my mind, that included me. Needless to say I had misunderstood. After I had stewed for a day, we finally realized what he was saying hadn’t been for me, but for something else. But it had ruined a good day. The Bible says we are to guard our heart for “Everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV). Luke 6: 45 confirms the important connection between the heart and words when he writes, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks ( ESV). Ouch, we have all been there, we say something we shouldn’t. And sometimes we are overheard. We also shouldn’t jump to conclusions. It causes confusion and even hurt feelings. Good communication is important in friendships and relationships. It can be the difference in moving forward or holding on to misunderstandings and grudges. The next time you over hear a conversation and are unsure if they were talking about- stick with non-fiction- ask them to clarify their conversations. Now back to the binge watching- God Bless Nancy

Reboot

Uuugh. Have you ever had one of those moments when your life came to a halt? Everything appeared to be moving in slow motion or completely frozen and lifeless. Yes, I am talking about my computer. What did you think I was talking about? Recently I was in a situation in which several of us were working together when we lost the internet. So, we could do the only high tech solution that works- resetting the router. This simple solution solves many issues. So does rebooting our computers and turning our mobile phones off and turning them back on resets these devices. We all live in the age of handheld devices and connection and communication through the internet. When the connections fail, we cannot communicate. Sometimes its our router, sometimes our internet provider and sometimes our devices. But, whatever the reason, it needs a reset. While our devices and routers are coming back online there is a wait, a pause if you will. We must sit there and wait until the technology catches up. What do we do with that time?  It depends on the person. Some will bang the keys or frantically touch the screen, hoping that through their repetition, the waiting will be shortened. Others might stare blankly at the screens, believing they can mind control light and life back into their screens.

A pause is good for us. It forces us to take a break and slow down. It forces us to think and reflect. Resting and pausing is a good thing. The Bible talks quite about rest as it does working. We are instructed to rest on the Sabbath, but we are also told to avoid laziness. The Psalms are full of pauses. There are many different interpretations for the term Selah. If you have one of the Bible versions that includes this word at the end of paragraphs in Psalm 66, I encourage you to take a look at this passage. The definition I have heard about Selah is that it was used as a pause in between singing that roughly means, “Pause and calmly think about that”.  I thought of that this week as I took a few days pause from writing this blog. If you’ve been following my blogs, you know that I generally write at the beginning of the week. I was using a paused time to reflect and consider and think about what to write. Such pauses are helpful. They allow us to stop and think about what we are doing and what we have already done. So next time your internet crashes- remember Selah- pause and think. It may be that God has given you a break to think. God Bless -Nancy

 

(Dis) Appointments

Have you ever been let down by someone? You expected the best of them and yet they disappointed you? I’m sure you have felt this way before, it’s part of being human. We are a bunch of imperfect people- even Christians- though some might attempt to convince you otherwise. We all let each other down at times and can be let down by others. But, I want to focus this week not on others disappointing us but on God. Have you honestly ever been disappointed in Him? Or missed appointed? Let me explain..

Last weekend I was reminded how God protects my loved ones through missed appointments. Now, please don’t be too technical here on the wording. Maybe you’ve heard the term God appointments in church before- those situations and timings that could only have come from God. But, what I’m thinking of are those missed things- those tragic circumstances that God has kept you from- those missed appointments. Have you had one of those? See, last weekend my youngest  was supposed to be working the closing shift at a fast food restaurant. A shift that puts him on the road back to his dorm late at night. However, he had gotten food poisoning the night before, so he was unable to work his shift. Sunday morning I read of a tragic auto accident that happened on the road he would have been traveling had he worked. The vehicle crossed the median and had landed in the oncoming traffic lane- the lane my youngest would have been on. I know if you ask him, he would tell you he did not particularly like throwing up, etc, but after I told him what had happened, he too realized it was a God missed appointment.

I could give you a list of other times that we have found ourselves in moments that were frustrating, but ultimately were for our protection. Children who just HAD to stop one more time at a rest stop, long red lights, wrong turns, children who refuse to get back into their car seats after a stop. Things that delay your trip, but save your life. The times when God’s hand of protection is clearly visible, when you understand what He did. In Joshua 1:5 there is an awesome promise that God gave Joshua “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (NIV) It’s a promise for Joshua to affirm that God would be with him as he led the Israelites into the promise land. But I believe it’s also a good promise for us all. God is with us. He doesn’t let us down.

Now, I don’t want to sound unrealistic here. God is with us, even when He is walking us through the most difficult of times. As a Christian, it doesn’t mean I will never have a difficult situation come my way or a tragedy, or a terminal illness. It does mean God is with us through it all. When we are in the middle of a difficult situation we can’t see into the future. All we see is our current conditions. My son couldn’t see anything good past feeling awful. He didn’t know what God was keeping him from. It all seems bad and wrong, not good and beneficial. That’s where many people find themselves. In a difficult situation and they feel let down by God. There are no easy answers to many of the difficulties we face in life. We can’t always see how God is there with us or what kind of good can come from it. But He is. We might not ever fully understand what He is doing, but He can be trusted. Don’t miss your opportunity to trust Him. -God Bless -Nancy