Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My "Secondly" Blog Post

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! I can't tell you how mine went, because I'm writing this post ahead of time, so I won't have to worry about it the week after Christmas. But I'm sure it was splendid.

If you've been reading my recent blog posts, you know the title for this one came from a post where I started a list of things I was going to talk about, and never made it past "firstly."

My "secondly" thing happened to be about New Years, so I decided to wait until after Christmas to write about it. After all, I'm the one who complains when stores start putting up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving.

New Years resolutions are the topic of many newspapers, magazines, and blogs this time of year. We all like the feeling of a fresh new start, a chance to change for the better, and begin anew. Never mind that most people forget about their resolutions by the time February is winding down.

Are you like that?

Do you consider your word something to be given seriously, and kept faithfully - even if you've only given your word to yourself? What does a commitment mean, if it's not kept?

Well, it's easy to scold, but I admit it can be hard to stick with something. That's why I think of these things in terms of "goals," not resolutions (for the most part). To have a goal is motivating. To make a promise to yourself or to God and not keep it is much more serious. So I had goals.

I flopped on one item myself, last year. I wanted to study Spanish five days a week. I made it through February, then started getting pretty sketchy.

But I made it with other items. By the end of this month, I will have read Proverbs through once every month for this year (that was a resolution). And I published a book I had been working on since I was 16. That was a goal.

I had a few other goals, but I try to keep it basic. For the most part, I keep things pretty realistic. This isn't a time to dream of what I'd do if I suddenly had 3 extra hours in my day, unlimited funds, and the brain of a genius. This is a time to figure out what God is calling me to pursue this year, and what I can reasonably accomplish if I work hard. Now is the time to figure that out, before the heat of battle makes me tired, nervous, or discouraged. When that time comes, I'll have my goals staring me in the face saying, "You figured this out before hand; you counted the cost. You can do this! You know you can, with God's help! It's not impossible!"

I like to have categories in which to divide my goals; intellectual, spiritual, and physical. Reading through the Bible in one year would be a spiritual and intellectual goal. Working out three times a week would be a physical goal.

These are all examples of positive goals. Not positive in the sense of "good" (though they are good!), but positive in the sense that they require you to take action to fulfill them. They are offensive rather than defensive.

To stretch yourself a little bit this year, I encourage you to try some negative goals in all three areas. You don't just want to add good things to your life; you want to remove those things which are harmful.

So what needs to go? Maybe your goal is to de-clutter your life and get rid of all those items that you really don't need. Maybe you want to stop a bad habit. Is there a certain sin you need to work on and pray against until it is thoroughly conquered? Maybe you want to get rid of certain harmful foods in your diet. Maybe you want to stop being a procrastinator.

So get yourself a blank piece of paper (Or Word Document, if you're on the computer more than you're off). At the top of the page, write "Goals for 2012", and below that make three columns.

Now stop and think. And pray. Envision the past year, and look forward into this one. What do you see that you want to stop? Where do you see God's hand of blessing? What needs to continue?

In the first column, list (let's keep it simple) five things you want to change/stop. Opposite them, in the middle column, write what you want to replace them with. If you're not a morning person, and want to change that, your goal sheet might look like this; "Stop sleeping until 9:00am" "Wake up at 7:00 every weekday morning." In the third column, write the steps that will make it happen; "Set alarm 15 minutes earlier, every third day, until I am getting up at 7:00 regularly."

Put the paper somewhere you'll see it often. Inside the front cover of your Bible? On the wall in your bedroom? At your desk?

I find that goals need to be a mixture of positive and negative to be the most motivating, because our human nature wants to be both offensive and defensive, depending on our mood.

New Year Resolutions aren't a "must." For years I didn't do them. I thought they were only for people who wanted to lose weight. But now I love challenging myself so much that I do month goals as well.

In the Bible, there were many times the nation of Israel took the time to read through God's law and dedicate themselves anew to following it. That ought to be a part of any New Year's goal-setting plan. Of course, the reason Israel did it many times is because they kept failing. And I'll fail, too. But that doesn't need to stop me from trying again. The struggle itself helps you gain strength.

What are some of your goals for the New Year? Are you remembering to consider all areas - Spiritual, Intellectual, and Physical? What do you think of positive and negative goal setting?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Christmas Story

Unexpected Gain

Sometimes we must lose to gain.

I was like that. I lost much – and gained more. And it all started when Jesus was born.

I am deeply moved every time I hear someone describe our Lord’s birth. You must understand that, until I was saved, I knew very little about Him. But when I heard about His birth, and where He was born …well, I’ll never forget what I felt.

You see, I own an inn. Or, I did until 5 years ago, when my second son officially became the owner. There was really very little to give him, with business being the way it is, but what is left, he owns. Maybe taxes will go down. Maybe cows will learn to fly.

I remember when, 40 years ago now, all the filthy government mismanagement really began to hurt our income. No one could afford to travel, and when we did have guests, we lost most of our profit to taxes. I thought we would sink.

Until a new census required everyone to travel. Now that tax I liked. We made more money in two weeks than we made the rest of that year. For 14 days straight, every room was full. I concentrated on using our opportunity to the utmost. And that, today, is what I regret.

Thinking back, I remember that, halfway through the first week, we started turning away many people every day. We had two or three rooms that might have held a few more occupants, but I was saving those spaces in the event a rich man was desperate and willing to pay double. You learn tricks like that when you’re in business as long as I was.

Soon there were only two spaces left. The first went to a poor man. He had walked for miles and could pay only half price. I wanted to help him, but I was sure that if I gave him the space, ten very rich, very desperate men would walk in right behind him. I almost said no, but then Caleb entered the inn.

“Look – he’s watching,” my mind whispered. “If you turn this man away, Caleb will tell the town how harsh and greedy you are.” On the other hand, if I had pity, Caleb would note that, too. And being favored by a man as rich as Caleb was a good thing.

So the poor man got a room. I blush now to think how much effort I poured into making the religious crowd see me as something I was not.

Ten minutes later, a young couple showed up. Maybe they had in-laws with them – my memory is blurry now. But I remember the couple. They could pay full price – but no more. I wasn’t about to lose my last space for regular price. Not on a night like that. Not when dozens of people would pay double. It was the one time government was benefitting me, and I intended to profit from the situation. Caleb was gone now. This was my business.

So I turned them away. And tried not to remember that we were Bethlehem’s only inn.

I heard later that our neighbors took them in. Many people were opening their homes and renting rooms for a small fee that month. Apparently our neighbor’s house was already packed, but they let this couple and the group they were with use the stable. They stayed there while waiting their turn to register for the census. All government projects take awhile.

On the second evening, the woman had a child. That’s all I remember about it. I’m sure there were noises, and lights in the wee hours of the morning; but I was running an inn. My wife remembers a group of temple shepherds coming to the door, asking permission to search our stable, but I was busy then, too. I know now that it was not ours, but our neighbor’s stable, that held what they sought.

Those busy weeks were soon over, and life returned to normal. I paid little notice when that couple left the stable and rented a tiny house in our town. A few months later, I hired the man to repair our worn-out front door – now that he was a useful neighbor, I wanted him. He did good work, I paid him, and we occasionally greeted one another in the street after that.

Many more months passed. My own wife gave me a boy – my first born son. He came into the world in a warm room, above the inn. He grew fast, and filled my heart with pride and love, with every coo and gurgle.

Then that awful night came. Only a few hours before sunrise, dozens of riders and terrible snorting horses came thundering down our peaceful streets. I looked out of the window with groggy vision while my wife tried to calm our crying Nathan.

They were pounding on the door, breaking in before I could answer. And then – my heart aches as I remember – they grabbed our little boy. His pudgy hands flailed the air. His big dark eyes tore my heart. The men said something about our king demanding the death of Bethlehem’s children. My wife was shrieking and sobbing as they held her back. I was halfway across the room before I was knocked to the floor. They held me there until it was over. The knife they used killed more than my son; it destroyed my heart.

Life didn’t matter after that. Why should I struggle to live, in a country where leaders could take what was dearest to me, and tear it apart? I did not live. I only existed. I grew old. Other children came, but I loved with fear, expecting to lose. And God? I no longer cared about pleasing Him. If He could let such gruesome wickedness go by unpunished, He could overlook my petty faults. Of this I was sure. He obviously did not hate evil as much as I had thought.

It was 30 years later that I finally understood. We had traveled to Jerusalem for the customary Passover feast, and as we left the city, we walked by the hill of the skull – Jerusalem’s place of execution. We saw the agony of the three men dying on that hill, and looked the other way. We were close enough to hear the gasping breath, and the dying moans. I heard the man on the center cross say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and I did not know what to think.

That was the scene God used to bring me to salvation a few months later. Philip visited Bethlehem and told us about Jesus. At first I scoffed, but then I heard that Jesus was the man who forgave while dying. And this Jesus was God’s Son. Images of my infant boy’s lifeless form, and a man’s destroyed body on a cross, mixed in my mind, and I felt pain. So God, too, had a Son who was killed by soldiers. And both the Son and the Father had willed it to be so. For me.

How could this be? Were my sins truly so awful that they demanded such a price? Perhaps God hated evil more than I thought. Did God really love me so much, that He would pay that painful price?

That day, I saw how awful my sins are, and that day they were paid for by the blood of Christ Jesus.

“You know, He was born here, in Bethlehem,” Philip told me later.

My brows raised. The Messiah? Born here?

“It was during a census, thirty-some years ago – I guess you are old enough to remember it.”

Yes, I did.

“His mother tells me she gave birth in a stable,” Philip said.

My tongue thickened and stuck to the roof of my mouth. “Tell me about it,” I croaked.

Can I describe how I felt when I learned how He was born? It did not take long to put the pieces together. To think – God entered the world in my neighbor’s stable, and it could have been my inn! Did ever a man lose so great an opportunity for so small a thing? I might have held Him in my very arms! My grandchildren envy me because I can say I saw Christ in the flesh, but O how much more I might have had! When I sit and ponder how my selfishness put the Son of God in a dirty stable on the night of His birth, I am even more thankful for those words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

To be forgiven by the Almighty is more than I can understand. I still miss my son. But I doubt I would have listened to Philip had I never known such loss. Such is the wisdom of God.

He took my son, so He could give me His.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Is it just me, or does blogsphere get really quiet this time of year? Everybody is busy doing things like spending time with family or shopping, and blogging gets put on the back burner - along with little things like cleaning one's bedroom and keeping up with emails.

But I digress. My bedroom looks much better this actual moment. Never mind that a few days ago I had to kick (Ahem. I mean nudge) bags, clothes, and books out of the way to get from the door to my bed. I have reasons. Where else can you store presents except your bedroom? And if you're going to have bags and boxes everywhere, why bother to pick up laundry or put books back on the bookshelf?

My logic is warped, I'm afraid.

But I've reformed. My bedroom is half-way decent again. The emails.....um, different story. But I'm working on it.

Now, what did I get online to write about? .....Oh yes.

First, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, just on the grounds that I may not speak to you again until after New Years. ...But, then again, you never know. It might be just the writers that are absent from blogsphere. If you prove to me that the readers haven't gone anywhere, I might be tempted to do another post before 2012 rolls around.

Secondly, ...

Well, before I get to the secondly thing, let's talk about Christmas some more. Because I like Christmas. And 'cause the secondly thing is really more about New Years, and 2012 scares me a bit at this moment.

So, Merry Christmas again.

I know not every Christian celebrates Christmas - I have several friends who don't. And those who do, celebrate it in very different ways. That doesn't bother me. Everybody has their viewpoints on it.

I know Christ probably wasn't born on Dec. 25th. I think there is a good bit of evidence to suggest that the wise men gave him gifts on December 25th (see this video to know why), but birthday? Nah, probably not. And I know that, traditionally, years ago, December 25th was a pagan celebration. (Please note; Christmas was not the pagan holiday; but the pagan holiday fell on December 25th. I have no idea what it was called. )

Does it bother me that the pagan holiday and the celebration of Christ's birth are on the same day? Maybe a little. But it makes me think of a story I heard about Patrick, missionary to Ireland. In his days there were still druids in Ireland, and they had a special day dedicated to the worship of their gods. A special part of the ceremony was the lighting of a gigantic bonfire on a high hill. No one was allowed to light their own fires that night until the large one was lit. The land lay in darkness.

Patrick saw the spiritual darkness of the land. He decided that he and his small band of Christians were going to light a fire in honor of the God they served - before the druids lit theirs. And they would do it on a high hill near the one the druids occupied - in open, direct defiance to the pagan gods.

So, on the night when no other fires were supposed to be lit, even before the druids lit their own fire, a bonfire raged opposite their hill. "Who had dared to light that fire?" the druids asked. The man of God, Patrick," came the answer. "He defies our gods."

I feel the same way about Christmas - the fact that I want to worship my God on a day pagans want to honor theirs doesn't bother me a bit. I know Christmas isn't a Biblically-commanded holiday, and I have no problem with those who don't celebrate it. But I know Christ was born, and I like to celebrate that fact.

So now that I've gone off on a bit of a rabbit trail.....

I'm excited that Christmas is only a few days away, aren't you? Some people chose to do things simply. Some become very elaborate. Our family does very little outside the home (parties, events, etc.), but we do love to make the home celebration a big'un. Decorating, Christmas Bible reading, getting up early on Christmas morning, a big meal, gifts, music, singing, candlelight....

I do love the tradition of gift-giving. Picking out things to make my loved ones smile is such a joy. I wonder if God the Father felt a lot of joy when unto us a Son was given.

I guess He did. His will was being worked out, and His plan was being accomplished. As a human, I would have been serious and pensive about my son being born with the purpose of giving his life for sinners, but God loved us so much....I bet He even smiled that night. The angels must have marveled.

I must move on the the secondly thing before I run out of blogging time. But now that it comes right down to it, I don't feel like writing about New Years quite yet.

I have two posts to write before the New Years. The "Secondly" one...and a short Christmas story that I wrote and want to share with you. I'll try to get that up before Christmas. If you want to read it, that is.

I hope you are having a wonderful week. This is my "holiday week." I'm allowing myself to spend time doing just stuff the workaholic in me always screams at; like sitting and browsing gardening books for hours and hours, or taking time to have a tea party with my younger sister (I know - I should do that more often!), or writing a blog post. I'm also spending lovely long hours in the kitchen, which makes me very happy. :)

I must go for now. Hope to talk to you soon.