“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”—Luke 2:19 (NIV).
An 87-year-old woman shares a pew with me each Sunday at church. Several weeks ago, Patti told me she almost didn’t come to church that day. She was running later than usual because she had started going through a stack of Christmas cards and had lost track of the time. Like me, Patti usually arrives early.
As Patti went through the stack, she began thinking about her friends and the memories they had made. What’s remarkable about her collection of cards is that she has been saving them since 1998, the year she moved from California to Oklahoma. Her collection, contained in a special holder, is designed just for that—saving Christmas cards. Each year, she has added to the collection. Instead of discarding the previous 16 years’ worth of greeting cards, she has saved each one.
“I enjoyed looking through the cards some of which contained photos of my friends’ children and grandchildren. They include graduation and wedding photos,” she said. She didn’t finish going through the collection before church that morning but admitted finishing the job when she returned home that day. “It was a real trip down memory lane—a real pleasure,” she added.
When I recall Christmases past, my memories are not of gifts received but of those given, of seeing the delight on another’s face because you found the perfect present to give. My memories include hunting for a Christmas tree in the woods with my family, discussing the merits of each one, finally agreeing on the one that fit our needs.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”—Matthew 6:21(NIV).
Pulling the warm blanket closer, I watched the gentle rain falling outside my sunroom window one recent morning. Birds huddled underneath the bushes, reminding me of a scene I’d witnessed in a large city nearby the day before.
I was running late to meet a friend for lunch after I had stopped to pick up some medical records. I also had to get my vehicle to the shop for servicing before meeting her. Seeking the shortest route between my doctor’s office and my destination, I used my phone’s navigation aid to help me. I wasn’t familiar with the route but trusted the “voice” giving me directions to get me there safely.
Turning a corner, I prepared to enter a freeway ramp but was stopped by a red light. Nearby, in a vacant lot, were two homeless people—a man and a woman. While I had witnessed people standing alongside the road with signs pleading for money, food or a job, I’d never actually seen someone camped out in a metropolitan area. With their meager belongings piled beside them, the two seemed oblivious of the busy traffic around them. Huddled under a blanket, the woman stared off into space. With a large dog curled at his feet, the man was writing in a notebook.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”—Matthew 6:33-34(NIV).
“Widow with five children seeks Christmas tree and ornaments.”
This Facebook post grabbed my attention among all the others constantly appearing on my feed. She wasn’t a friend but some of my friends had responded to her plea to provide some joy for her children. She didn’t ask for anything else—not presents or money, clothing or food—but the simple request drew out the best in those who saw her post. I lost track of the responses from those who offered more to the young widow. In addition to a tree and decorations, there were offers of clothing, food and gifts for the woman as well as her children. I also noticed this mother of five is a praying woman, but it must have taken courage to ask for help so publicly.
November 30 heralded the beginning of Advent. During this time leading up to the celebration of our Savior’s birth, we prepare for, and anticipate, the coming of Christ. While we recall the Jews’ longing for a Messiah, we remember our own yearning for, and need of, forgiveness, salvation and a new beginning.
For some, the need to be first in line for holiday sales is more important than preparing the heart for this sacred celebration. This desire to grab a bargain while fighting the crowds reminds me of the birds in my backyard squabbling over the seed in several feeders as well as the two suet baskets I’ve put out for them. Even the birds seem to be worried there won’t be enough.
“…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”—Ephesians 5:20(NIV).
Living in Claremore can be a challenge as well as a frustration. Everyone I’ve met has one complaint in common—the trains. I’ve lived here since 2005. Since then, I’ve discovered many side roads in my attempts to avoid them. However, since our city is divided into quarters by two railroad lines—the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the Union Pacific Rail lines—it’s almost impossible to go north or south, east or west and avoid them completely because the two intersect in the town’s center. On a positive note, they’re a good excuse when you’re running late.
Interrupted schedules, as well as concerns about emergency vehicle crossings, have led to more than frustration in this community of approximately 19,032. I’m sure it’s raised more blood pressure readings than standing in line at a speedy grocery checkout with someone in front of you who has much more in his cart than the allotted 10-20 items. My opinion? Most of us don’t like to wait anywhere because we’re always in a hurry.
One of our local residents, Brandon Irby, decided to view the train challenge in a positive way by posting this message on Instagram: “So here I am, stopped at another train, and here’s my challenge to you. Upload a positive thought, with a photo or video with the hashtag #embracethetrain to Instagram or Facebook the next time you’re stopped.”
What a novel idea! What if we applied that to every area of our life that leaves us frustrated and angry? How much would it change your attitude? How might it change others around you if you embraced the frustration and anger by giving thanks—no matter what?
“But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives He will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; and here there is no conflict with Jewish laws”—Galatians 5:22-23(TLB).
Let’s imagine you were put on trial. You have been “accused” of being a Christian. How would the prosecution prepare their case against you? What evidence could they present to prove your guilt? That’s a pretty sobering thought, isn’t it? Would there be enough evidence to prosecute you for being a follower of Christ?
Recently, as I was preparing for a workshop I was leading on the fruit of the Spirit, I was amazed at the number of times the word “fruit” or “bearing fruit” was mentioned in scripture. Of course, the scripture most think about when they think of fruit is found in Galatians 5:22-23. As I looked up this well-known scripture in different versions of the Bible, the one resonating with me was the version I found in “The Living Bible.” Look at the beginning of verse 22 above: “But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives He will produce this kind of fruit in us.”
Many times, when we read the list of fruit that Paul mentions in Galatians, we feel overwhelmed by the challenge of trying to live out these characteristics. Are we born with the fruit of the Spirit? Nope. It’s only when we surrender to Jesus that His Holy Spirit comes to live inside us, helping us to produce fruit.
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost
—Luke 19:10 (NIV).
“It’s this way.”
“No, over here.”
“That’s a dead end. You’re not looking at the map.”
This was only a part of the conversation punctuating the cornfield maze my grandchildren, my oldest son and I had on a recent sunny October afternoon. The maze, along with other activities, was a part of many fun-filled and educational opportunities for all ages at a northeastern Oklahoma farm.
Before entering the maze, we were handed a map, along with instructions to find clues located on several signs along the way. At the top of the map was a phone number we could call if we couldn’t find our way out. As we wove our way through the twists and turns of the maze, we were often slapped in the face with dangling corn stalks. We often found ourselves going in circles. When we discovered a sign on the trail, I was amazed to see we could use our smart phones to read a QR Code. For those who are not familiar with a QR Code, it’s similar to a bar code found on products scanned at the checkout. In this case, the QR Code revealed information via the smart phone to locate our position on the map.
Other than the map and the signs along the way, we had no way of knowing where we were in the maze of corn. We laughed along the way even as we disagreed sometimes on which path we needed to take to find our way out of the jungle of corn stalks.
“Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when He arrives”—1 Peter 2:11-12 (MSG).
A conversation with a friend at church was a reminder of what God had laid on my heart that week. The cross necklace I wore reminded her of one her grandmother, now deceased, had worn. Our conversation began with the necklace and led to a discussion about the swiftness of life’s passing, especially when we begin to lose loved ones.
Recently, I attended the funeral of a friend, who just two months ago, appeared to be in excellent health. Cecil, along with his wife, was an example of a true Christian servant. Each Sunday morning Cecil would rise early to drive over 10 miles to our church, where he would leave his car, pick up the church van and return to his small hometown to pick up a load of children who he brought back for services at Claremore FUMC. After church, he took the children back to their homes and then returned to Claremore to leave the van and fetch his automobile to return home to his own family. Let’s see—that’s six 10 plus-mile trips each Sunday or three 20 plus-mile round-trips, every Sunday. Cecil—whose wife voluntarily cooks a meal at our church’s bridge service each Thursday for 80-120 people—also drove the church bus on the same night to pick up and deliver to church those who had no other way to attend the informal evening service. Why did he do it? Because Cecil understood this world is not our real home.