Sunday, December 27, 2009

Calendar Consecration by Kim Jackson

I bought my 2010 calendar today. There were three full kiosks at the office supply store, each boasting different designs, colors, formats, and time frames. The one I picked is called a “Monthly/Weekly Planning Calendar.” It has a tagline printed under the brand name: “Design your day.” I chose a lavender way to design my days. At the present moment it has pristine 2” squares for each day of the upcoming year.

Quite a lot of each day is planned for me by others: my boss at work, my church responsibilities, the clubs and groups I belong to, doctor’s appointments, etc. Sometimes I get to fill in a few of those blank squares with things that make my heart smile: “Home for Thanksgiving,” “Writing Retreat,” “Meet Robin for lunch.”

I will write in lots of appointments and plans. The empty squares on my calendar will quickly fill up. I’ll start out writing neatly, but soon scribbles will overtake my precision.

Sometimes things have to be marked off my calendar because, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

But does life really “happen to” a believer in Christ Jesus?

Ponder this:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10, NIV).

There is a designer for each of my days, but I’m clear that it’s not me. So how do I cooperate with His design for the precious days He has given me?

Several years ago I started a tradition that helps me be awake and aware to God’s handwriting on my calendar. Perhaps it might help you, too.

I set aside a chunk of time near the end of the year to consecrate my calendar. I put on a favorite praise and worship CD, open my new calendar to January and write out Ephesians 2:10 at the top of the page. Then I pray something like this:

Dear Jesus,

Today, December 31, 2009, I consecrate my 2010 calendar to You. I commit the days You have given me on this planet to Your purposes.

Thank You for the gift of life. I pray that You will strengthen me to live a life that makes You smile.

Jesus, Your Word says in Ephesians 2:10 that I am Your masterpiece, Your workmanship, and that the reason You created me is to do good works which You prepared in advance for me to do.

So today, Jesus, I am asking You to fill all the little blank squares on this calendar with the things You prepared before time began, specifically with me in mind. I want to always be on Your schedule, fulfilling everything You have in mind for me to do in the minutes and months of my life.

I ask that You will guard my heart from distractions that would hinder me from fulfilling the matters You have planned. Keep me aware and awake to Your Spirit’s promptings and help me to seek Your guidance before filling up the squares on this calendar.

Father, if I run ahead or behind of your perfect plan, I claim the promise in Your Word, Romans 8:28, that even in my missteps, You will work things for good.

Father, please teach me what it means to “number my days that I may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
Lord, help me to recognize the enemy’s strategies that would keep me busy, but not productive; remind me often of Your truth expressed in 2 Corinthians 4:18 so that I will fix my eyes, not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. Please remind me frequently that what is seen in temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

True Lord Jesus, empower me by Your Spirit to live my life with my eyes focused on what matters to You.

Lord, if you tarry and I am still walking this earth on January 1, 2011, may I be able to look back over the filled-in pages of this 2010 calendar and rejoice, knowing that I have lived well for my Master.

I love You,

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Symbolism: What is on Your Christmas Tree? by Ann Wayne

It was a quiet evening at home. I sat by the fire while my black lab, Bailey, snored in the leather recliner. The chair is her favorite spot to sleep. Christmas music set the tone in the background. Memories of Christmases past brought vivid images to mind as I gazed at each ornament on the Christmas tree. My oldest son’s first ornament with his named cross stitched on a red wood stocking adorns the tree each year. A sparkly gold and clear carousel ornament for my daughter represents her senior year in high school when she was the Carousel Queen. A red bass guitar ornament for my youngest son dangles on a branch to remind me of his unexpected purchase last year. He walked in the door with the real instrument in his hands – something that was a surprise to all of us. He has never had any musical talent.

Each year, I carefully place the quilted bells, stars and stocking shaped ornaments on the tree that I made the first year I had my own tree. They are thirty something years old now and are very sentimental to me. There was simply no money to buy ornaments. As I hang these, I tell the story to my family and I’m reminded of the many blessings since that first year.

Do you get the drift? All of these ornaments represent something unique in a particular year. We have continued this tradition through the years and now I look forward to finding a special ornament for two grandchildren. Emma Grace will open her ornament with excitement from Grammy again this year and Little Benjamin will receive his first ornament for the tree. Even the dog at my house gets an ornament. But she doesn’t get to open it because it would never make it to the tree. Or at least if it did, we probably would not recognize it.

There are other ornaments on the tree that represent joy and pain. Ornaments from trips taken bring back fond memories. Others signify accomplishments of a particular year or hobbies of my family. There are lots of fish and deer on the tree and even some western ornaments on the tree from our “horse years in the 90’s.” An “angel of comfort” ornament hangs on the tree holding a small black dog. This ornament was given to my younger son the year after his father left. There is a paw print ornament representing that same dog who was hit by a car while I was out running one morning a few years ago.

But near the top of the tree hangs a Chrismon. It was given to me by my step-grandmother over twenty years ago. The ornament was hand-made by some church lady at the Lutheran church that my grandfather’s family attended for many generations. When my step-grandmother was preparing to go to heaven, she gave family members things that would have special meaning to them. She was right. The chrismon ornament is one of my favorites.

A chrismon is intended to represent aspects of the Person, life or ministry of Jesus Christ and the history of the Christian Church. It is usually a single image, emblem or monogram. The term "chrismon" comes from the Latin phrase "Christi Monogramma", meaning "monogram of Christ".

Perhaps most commonly, chrismons are used to adorn Christmas trees during Advent and Christmas, where they are made from various materials. They can also be found as decorations in and outside of Christian church buildings and homes, and even found on gravestones and personal stationary. Many of these symbols have histories dating back to the earliest times of the Church.

Even though there is only one chrismon on my Christmas tree, the Christian symbolism reminds me of the reason we have Christmas. It is in the shape of a Greek Cross. The Greek Cross has arms of equal length. This particular symbol has circles on the arms, representing eternity. The celebration of Christ’s birth this season and the reminder of his death on the cross bring all of us hope. In the four gospels, we witness the life of Christ. In Matthew 1:21, the writer portrays the big picture of Christ’s life. “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” And in John 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples “these things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.” We have a promise from God himself, through his Son, that we can overcome adversity, struggles, sin, and temptations if we simply believe in Him and trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us daily.

As you place your ornaments on the tree this year, I encourage you to hang at least one special ornament that represents the life of Christ. It will be a wonderful reminder for your family about the reason we celebrate Christmas.

May your family be blessed this holiday season!

Ann Wayne

Sunday, December 13, 2009

They Could Smell Our Christian Perfume! by Gail Purath

Two years ago, Michael and I visited Vienna on a cold, wet weekend. After tromping around in the drizzle for several hours, we ended up back in our hotel lobby close to the tea service. While sipping steaming cups of tea, an American couple came in to register for a room and initiated a conversation with us. We explained we were missionaries in Budapest, and the woman told us she had attended a Christian college.

Since this couple had been traveling together for three weeks and registered for one room, I assumed they were married. But when I asked where they lived, the woman seemed embarrassed to admit they were just friends and lived in two different states.

Michael and I said nothing to add to her discomfort. Instead, we continued in friendly conversation; and when they left for their room, we told them we enjoyed visiting with them. However, the following morning at breakfast, they barely acknowledged our greetings and walked past the empty table next to ours. I think it was our smell…

There is a whole generation of Americans who aren’t even aware that God lovingly prohibits sex outside of marriage. They think premarital sex is natural instead of realizing it is harmful to their spiritual and emotional well-being. But the couple we met in Vienna was from an older generation, and the woman had gone to Bible college. I think they understood that their relationship was neither healthy for them nor pleasing to God. And Michael and I were an uncomfortable reminder of this fact. You could say that our “Christian perfume” was offensive to them.

2 Corinthians 2:15,16 says, “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume...” (NLT)

Of course, this fragrance isn’t the only thing that offends people. We Christians can also emit the nasty odors of self-righteousness, legalism and superiority. Recently I read the book They Like Jesus, but Not the Church by Dan Kimbell. He talks about our tendency as Christians to talk about God’s judgment more than God’s love, to focus on what we oppose more than what we embrace. He makes some good points. It's not our job to judge those outside of the church (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

I’ve also read several books by Ray Comfort, a New Zealand missionary to the U.S. He believes American Christians share God’s love without sharing His law and judgment, thus deceiving people into false conversions without warning them of the consequences of sin. He makes some good points as well. God gives His commands for our good, and we have no business watering them down or ignoring them in order to make the Gospel more palatable. If a person doesn’t understand their sin, they won’t understand their need for a Savior.

It can be hard at times to explain Christ because He is just as merciful, forgiving and loving toward repentant man, as He is unforgiving and just toward unrepentant man. No wonder that the passage I quoted earlier (about our fragrance) ends with this statement: “And who is adequate for such a task as this?” (verse16b).

How do we, who bear the fragrance of Christ, give an accurate picture of Christ to those around us? How can we avoid stressing certain aspects of His character at the expense of other aspects? Some people are wallowing in regret and pain for their sin. They feel they will never be good enough to come to Christ, and we must tell them of God’s grace and love. Other people are self-satisfied. They think that they will receive God’s mercy no matter what they do or what they believe, and we must tell them of God’s purity and judgment.

But how can we know when to stress grace and when to stress purity? Who of us is adequate for the task? Our answer is found in 2 Corinthians 3:5: “...our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” We have the Holy Spirit to guide us, and He knows exactly what needs to be said in any situation. Because of that—and only because of that—we are able to bear Christ’s fragrance!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Seeking a Transformation by Serena Haneline

For the last three days I’ve been sequestered at La Foresta, a quaint little retreat house in Traveler’s Rest, SC. It has been a time of relaxation, rest and spiritual renewal. Most of all, it’s been a time of revelation.

I have been questioning for months what it really means to be a Christian. Surely it means more than just saying I believe in God and having accepted Jesus as my Savior 15 years ago, now just to go to church every Sunday and pray when I want something.

Of course, I know it’s not about “religion” but about a “relationship.” I’ve known that for many years, but my “relationship” with the Almighty, invisible, and holy God has been somewhat of a strained one, at least on my part. Reading the Bible, I have to admit, is harder than it should be. And it’s been hard to see God as a father when I have no point of reference.

I’m beginning to realize that it’s harder to be a Christian being surrounded by affluence and idols. I wonder if it’s not easier to follow God where poverty reigns. So many times we equate Christianity with being “blessed” and “fruitful” and comfortable. But is it?

Here lately I’m beginning to think not. Our “brand” of Christianity is not what Jesus taught the disciples to be and to do. He said to love our enemies, yet we are many times not known by our love, but by our hate. Just look at all the church divisions and the backbiting among believers.

He said that pure religion is to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1: 27). I don’t want to be like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day who thought they were doing all the “right” things and following God, but were, in fact, not getting any of it. Not getting that the point of this life is loving God and other people. Nothing else matters. It’s all about bringing the kingdom of God to earth “as it is in heaven.”

Yet how many times do we walk past the broken and suffering, our pride and heads held high. All the while, crucifying Jesus with our twisted logic, our walled-up hearts, our firmly-set masks.

No wonder I feel a deep and nagging restlessness inside that tells me there is more to this life than what I’ve always known. The author of my story, the God of the universe, wants to write a better story, not just for me, but for all of us. For the whole world, because isn’t the “whole world” what Jesus came and died for?

I am finding that I don’t have to keep living the story I’ve been living—the isolated life lived in a Christian bubble that looks away from the poor and afflicted like I’m somehow better than they are. I have no righteousness apart from the righteousness Christ bestows. No one does. Our righteousness is filthy and worthless.

This life is God’s story, not ours. It’s a journey in which the destination is not even the main goal. The journey is—how we get there, and who we bring with us along the way. I am humbled in this serene place of silence and solitude. There is a whole world of hurting, suffering people who need to know there is a God and He cares. He loves and His love will endure forever.

As I took communion this morning, I heard my Abba Father say: “Allow me to open your eyes to the spiritual, to see with my eyes yourself and the world. I am writing for you a better story. Will you believe? You are the light to this world, this dark world, but I am the source of that light.”

I need to see God’s world through His eyes. So that my faith works itself out in real action. Action that is a bright, shining light to all who are blinded by the lies of the enemy, who are poor, afflicted, broken. I am on a journey to transformation and true relationship, not just with the ever-present, holy Father, but with His people, the ones He came and died for.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Every Quilt Tells a Story by Emily Carter

Every quilt tells a story. Earlier this fall, a few of my cousins joined me in the Queen City (Charlotte, NC) for a girls’ weekend. We traveled uptown and visited the Mint Museum of Craft and Design. We toured the art gallery and enjoyed the American Quilt exhibit. We saw a quilt that spoke of hours of tedious work where no two pieces of fabric were the same. We saw one that had been made with a political voice instructing us as to which party we should cast our vote. We saw quilts of vibrant colors and one in solid off-white. Each one was handmade and unique; no two were the same. These quilts mirrored our lives. No two are alike. Each of us has been created uniquely to tell a story. For Christians, the stories may be similar as we recount who Jesus is to us, but still, every story will be different because Christ has done a special work in each of our lives.

All quilts have a pattern. The quilter must have a vision for what he or she is trying to accomplish with the creation. This thought as it applies to life causes me to ask myself some questions. I hope you will ask yourself the same ones.

* As I am sewing my experiences together, am I using the Master’s plan for my life?

* Or if someone was to look at my quilt, would they think that I am just haphazardly putting the pieces together?

* Am I trying to live my life by the detail of God’s plan or am I doing things my own way?

* What is my excuse for having pieces that don’t fit or pieces that don’t please God?

* What is my reasoning for unkind words and actions?

Yes, I am human and therefore I sin, but should I abuse God’s grace? The apostle Paul says no! I must live as the new creation that I am. I must seek the vision that the Lord has for my life and pray the prayer so eloquently penned in this old hymn.

“Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee, Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle-shield, sword for my fight,
Be Thou my dignity, Thou my delight.
Thou my soul's shelter, Thou my high tower.
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’ns Son!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O ruler of all.”

Ancient Irish hymn, possibly from the 8th Century, tr. by Mary E. Byrne

As friends and family look upon the quilt of your life, what do they see? Do they see a story of devoted service and undying love for the King? If not, know that it is not too late to change your story. What new pieces can you sew into your quilt to point others to Jesus? Merry Christmas!

On a personal note:

The last time I wrote for the Crossroads Communicators blog, I sought prayer for my daughter, Grace. The doctors were concerned that she might have a mass growing behind her eye due to the fact that one pupil dilated larger than the other. We thank you for your prayers and want you to know that God answered them in the best possible way. There was no mass or anything else unusual about Grace’s MRI results. Grace’s abnormal pupil is simply one more way that God creatively made her. She is an original and so are you!