December 31, 2008
But we don’t have to be prisoners to the past – the bad or the good. Think about how Jesus approached the people He met. Take Simon Peter: everyone else saw an impetuous fisherman, but Jesus said, “You are Peter [rock].” (Matthew 16:18a) Jesus viewed people in light of their potential – their future. Since Jesus came to show us the Father, that means it’s how God views us too.
Not that He ignores the past – or present. He knows the whole story, be it glorious or sordid, as well as the motives we may not have grasped.
But part of God’s forgiving and creating power is shown in the way He keeps His promise to transform us into the image of His Son. (Rom. 8:29)
So if God sees us in light of our future more than our past, how should we see ourselves? How should we see, period?
A present or past focus is self-focus, rooted in the temporal. On my own experience, my own perspective and understanding. Future focus is God-focus. On His character and promises, and what He will do. He is the focus, the goal, the prize.
Seeing what He will make me isn’t to boost my pride, but to give me confidence to act in Him in the now.
Seeing others with this “future view” is equally liberating. It releases me from negative expectations of them, which improves relationships and attitudes and opens the way for God’s future reality to develop in our lives.
Praise God for what He wants to do in and through us! Thank Him that we don’t have to be bound by the past. We can look back and see how He has brought us thus far. With a God-focused, future perspective, we can ask Him to shape us into what He designed us to be.
Let God bless you with the riches of His presence in 2009.
© Janet Sketchley, 2008
For devotionals, reviews and conversation, stop by Janet Sketchley's blog, God with Us: Finding Joy.
December 30, 2008
I love Christmas – the music, the decorations, the baking etc. It’s a wonderful time of year. The week between Christmas and New Year's Day is one that always seems like a holiday. But what makes Christmas more wonderful than any other time of year?
We think Christmas is wonderful when the floor under the tree is loaded with presents, when there are lots of good things to eat, when the stars shine and the lights twinkle and the kids don’t fight. We have this picture perfect image of what makes a wonderful Christmas.
But where’s the wonder when…
- the kids all have the flu and you spend most of Christmas cleaning up after them
- or when the doctor says the dreaded words – it’s cancer, or it’s MS
- when you receive a phone call – ‘there’s been an accident’
- or a child dies
- or a teenage daughter says, ‘I’m pregnant’
- or a husband says, ‘I don’t love you anymore’
All of a sudden the wonder is gone. Those wonderful feelings disappear in an instant. Life is a burden, heavy and cumbersome. Loneliness overwhelms. We smile and carry on and wish we could just hide in a closet.
The wonder of Christmas is encapsulated in the message of the angel to Joseph – “The virgin will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.” God with us. God with me. God with you.
The wonder of Christmas is the wonder of Christ’s presence in all the ups and downs of life. Wonder is knowing that we are not alone. I want more than just wonderful – I want it to be wonder-filled. How can we do that?
What do we miss when we fail to pay attention? Women are great multi-taskers, and the younger generation can juggle so many things that it’s dizzying. They’re going to leave us in the dust. I went into my youngest daughter’s room one day. The music was blaring, she was studying for a class and she was chatting on MSN to a number of people. But what really took me aback is that she had her sewing machine set up, and she was sewing in between studying, chatting and listening.
In order to recapture the wonder we need to slow down. What a silly thing to say at this time of year when everything seems to speed up. Slow down? That might be possible for an hour in January, but in December – forget it. The list of things to do grows longer and longer. Everything takes more time because everyone is out in the stores. We stand in line and get even more behind. The calendar fills up more and more. We rush here and there, never pausing to think.
The Bible tells us “Be still and know that I am God.” I think one of the reasons that the song “Silent Night” is so appealing is that it conveys something of stillness. When you think that you don’t have time to just stop, that’s the time you need it the most. Take time to really focus on your activity, find enjoyment in what you’re doing, breathe deeply and relax. Know that God is with you in all of your busyness. He’s there standing in line at the cashier. He’s driving with you in the car. He’s in the kitchen when you’re cooking. Take time to sit in a chair and read the Christmas story from the Bible out loud. Read it to your children. Read it to yourself. Just stop.
I don’t want to become blasé about the wonders of creation. Creation tells us so much about God. The stars and planets show his glory, his majesty. The infinite variety of snowflakes tell us of his care for individuality.
A few summers ago Tim and I spent a week in the Kootenay mountains. One of the things we did was take a cave tour. After hiking up the mountain our guide gave us headlamps and gloves to wear. The cold and damp seeped into our bones and we were glad for the jackets we’d brought along. There, deep inside the earth, beautifully formed stalactites graced the darkness. I was struck by the care God took in creating the inside of the earth that few people would see. God created the world for us to enjoy. He could have made everything grey and dull, but he used his infinite creativity to delight us. So I encourage you to stop and look. Look at the faces of the people you love. Look at the bare branches of trees and admire their stark beauty. Use all the senses God gave you. Taste the food you eat – he made it all different when he could have made everything taste just like oatmeal and we would be nourished. But instead he made oranges sweet and lemons sour. Cinnamon and ginger, garlic and honey. What a variety of taste. Sniff your children’s necks, your husband’s hair, the food on your plate. Touch the hand of a friend. Run your fingers over the prickly needles of pine. Feel the softness of a sweater. Look and experience.
The world is full of noise. But is anyone really listening?
We all like to talk and sometimes when we look like we’re listening we’re really just thinking about what we’re going to say next as soon as we can get a word in edgewise. Our words are much more important to us than other people’s words.
God spoke on that night so long ago when he sent Jesus as a little baby. He said, “I love you. I love you so much that I’m sending my very own son to show you the way to have a relationship with me.”
“Listen to the words my son will tell you and you will be listening to me,” he says. “I care about you.”
The wonder of Christmas is that it’s never over. Christmas began in the loving heart of God our Father. It continues 365 ¼ days each year in the assurance that God is with us. God with us. God with me. God with you. In all of the joy you celebrate, God is there celebrating with you. When you dance, he dances. When you laugh, he laughs with you. And in those dark and terrible times, he is with you in the silence, whispering his love to you, weeping with you.
“I’m here. With you. I will never leave you. You’re not alone.”
That is the wonder of Christmas that can wash over us in great waves and then trickle into the very core of our being, filling all the hidden hollows of emptiness.
God with us. God with you.
December 24, 2008
Dad’s voice rumbles over the photograph, reading the story that, though I am only five or six, is already so familiar to me. “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”
I look at the tiny cardboard stable, with the little ceramic figurines gathered inside. In later years, it is my job to set up that scene, to arrange each figure with the best view of Baby Jesus, but that year, I just look. I try to put life into the silent figures as Dad reads the story. Mary and Joseph kneel. An angel hangs above them and another sits among the sheep. One of the shepherds is black.
“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.’”
My brothers squirm on the other side of the coffee table. I see that they are staring at the presents under the tree. We’ve watched those presents appear there, but we haven’t dared to touch them. Now, finally, it is Christmas Day. It is time to discover what treasures are hidden beneath the brightly coloured paper. But first, as always, we start with the Christmas story.
“In those days Caesar August issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town register.”
I feel impatient as Dad’s voice drones on through the chapters of the story. I wish that he could read faster, but he is a good reader, speaking clearly and evenly. And so I look at the Nativity scene, the presents, the tree that was chopped down somewhere on the farm and now stands in Grandma’s living room, the brown shag carpet. In later years, we will lose this tradition of reading the Christmas story. Presents will take precedence on Christmas Day, and I will miss listening to the old familiar story. But that year, I wish we could skip the tradition.
“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, for there was no room for them in the inn.”
I remember two of the presents that I got that year. One was a stuffed blue bunny that I promptly christened Fuzzy. And when, like every child, I felt an urge to try out a pair of scissors, it wasn’t my own hair that suffered, but Fuzzy’s. He gained a slightly shorter set of moustaches. The other present was a lacey bag of potpourri, that has left bits of potpourri in my dresser drawers ever since and is now probably only half the size that it was then. I cherish those presents still, and the sepia-toned memories that accompany them.
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.’”
Verses taken from the Gospel of Luke.
December 21, 2008
"Every Knee Shall Bow," passionately presented by the ordinary folk of our flock extended a timely invitation. This invite did not have the typical 'bring squares, a casserole or a gift to the party' instruction. Instead, an array of interesting characters drew near to the Town Square Nativity. As they stood before the life size creche, God spoke to their hearts. Reactions were varied. Some argued with God about tasks and responsibilities. Others were refreshed and prompted to respond to God's invitation to come, follow Him. Families were reminded about God's truths. One chose to go it alone.
Enter Sarah. Sarah, a child, entered the square and unlike the others, hesitated not. She knelt before the little Holy Family with gusto and smiled at the doll who represented the Child who came to earth so very long ago. In all her sweet innocence, she flawlessly uttered words of love and trust to Jesus. When Sarah spoke her words, my heart cried and my eyes responded and brimmed with tears.
I know this was a play on stage during our regularly scheduled worship service, and Sarah was actually Joanna, but there was something about the words of that innocent child that stirred my soul. As I listened to the voice of Sarah conversing with the Creator of the universe, I was getting close to becoming an emotional basket case.
During his ministry, Jesus talked about becoming like a child and I often think about that. We, supposedly mature folk, are the ones who complicate things. We tack on the details of a commercial Christmas ad nauseum. But really, it is all so very simple. The invitation is for all. To pause. To kneel. To worship.
My goal is to become like Sarah this Christmas.
December 17, 2008
If only I’d come home earlier, thought Mike. If only I’d picked next week to go away. If only . . .Sandra shuffled into the kitchen, yawned, dropped her arm on the back of a stool and wondered why she got up. Rain from the night left her garden too wet to weed. Mike and the boys left for their annual camping trip six whole days ago, so the house was too clean to clean.
She finished her Sally Wright book last night at 2 a.m. Yet another problem solved, another murderer caught. She felt a cool breeze. “Where’s that coming from?” she said aloud, grabbing her glasses off the counter.
The windows are closed. The rain came in that way at 10:30. She peered through the living room. The front door was closed too. One step into the hall. She gasped.
Her back door stood wide open. But I shut it last night and twisted the knob locked. Then she noticed a key was in the lock, on the outside.
A chill, not from early morning breezes, stiffened her body. Wooden arms pulled what now seemed a very skimpy robe around her body. Her feet felt vulnerable, her hands naked and powerless. Who is in my house?
Mike was up early. Dawn in the mountains. Such splendor must not be wasted on the squirrels. He gazed with affection at Toby, 12 and Sammy, 7, still in their sleeping bags, still snoozing and snoring softly.Sandra stood still for what seemed hours. She listened intensely, her ears bursting. Her heart had already pounded itself outside of her chest, raced back down the hall, and was hiding under Sammy’s bed, along with two stale sandwiches and a half dozen hot wheels.
I won’t wake them. A jolt of early morning air is only for those whose internal alarm has already worked.
He laughed at his own mental verbosity and stepped outside the tent into the almost frosty air. Wonder what Sandra is doing? He glanced at his watch. If I know her, she stayed up all night with some book. She will be sound asleep right now, the sun soon streaming in, touching her golden hair.
Again he smiled, this time a little self-consciously. He loved Sandra with such intensity yet these were the times when he thought about her this way, when she was a 100 miles away. I should tell her more often, he promised himself as he started a fire to make coffee.
She forgot to vacuum under his bed. What was I thinking? Oh, I remember. I’m supposed to make muffins for his scout troop next week. Carrot would be nice, healthy. Boys don’t like blueberries and chocolate is too . . .
A gust banged the back door against the closet wall. Sandra yelped from hysteria to action, ran to her room, slammed the door, locked it, scurried to the adjoining bathroom, slammed that door, locked it, dropped to the floor and quivered in a ball until she realized how silly she looked, even though no one was looking.
She knew she was not alone. You know when someone is in your house, but no one was here in this room. She cautiously opened the door and peered into the bedroom. Sun streamed across the pillow. She moved slowly into the room, then jumped and screamed. There was a figure standing there, in a dove grey robe, golden hair in a wild state.
That’s me. My God, I don’t even know me. If there is a burglar in my house, one look and he would be so traumatized that he’d leave.
Her surprising humor drew some of the tension. She grabbed a hair brush and put her head together. Jeans and a t-shirt made her feel stronger. She wondered if they had any weapons in the house. Toby has a baseball bat. Sammy’s biggest weapon is his wit. I could use some wits. Mike is so gentle. He didn’t like me buying a fly swatter. That bat, just across the hall.
She stepped to the door, then heard it—a soft scraping. Her hand froze on the knob.
Mike sipped his coffee. Why does it taste better in the mountains? He didn’t want to wake the boys. He thought about Sandra and surprisingly, her father.Sandra’s stomach was a volcano, a vise, a wild storm. She stood as still as she could, her breathing in competition with some invisible runaway train. The scraping continued. It was coming from the back of the house? No, the basement? It was the basement. She could lock that door? No, not from the outside. Whoever was down there could lock her out, but she couldn’t lock him in.
I don’t want to think about him. He has been out of our lives for years. The only good he ever did was build our kitchen table. Otherwise his contribution to our lives, to Sandra’s life, is nothing but bruises. The outside ones healed, but I don’t know if inside ever will.
Mike tried, but he wasn’t a counselor and he couldn’t convince Sandra to go to a professional. She kept insisting she was fine, that God was healing her. Most of the time, she seemed fine, but Mike felt a knot inside him remembering her crying in her sleep, curled into a ball, her fists tight around her ears. She said it was nothing. Nothing, be damned. He wanted to shake that man.
But two years ago he just vanished. No more middle-of-the-night calls, no more pleading, no more attempts to see the boys, nothing. He was gone. Or he seemed to be gone. How can we know for sure, and will he ever come back?
His thoughts threatened to ruin both coffee and fresh air. He picked up a small pebble and tossed it toward a small sleeping bag. The occupant rumbled and rolled over. Mike tossed another pebble.
“Aw, Dad. Quit that!”
A chair? Like in the movies. I’ll put a chair under the doorknob. She grabbed a kitchen chair and leaned it against the basement door. It was two inches too short. She gasped, then quickly moved behind the table, shoving it toward the door. This will hold it shut.
As soon as the table touched the door, the door began slowly shoving the table.
Mike couldn’t help grin at his boys as they tried to dress inside their sleeping bags. He told them the night before to stuff jeans, T’s, clean socks and underwear down to the bottom. “It will stay dry there, and smell about the same as your feet,” which got another, “Aw, Dad.”Sandra was too frightened to scream. She watched the table slide into the room, afraid to move or even look at the basement door. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something in the door opening. What was that? A saw? A hand saw. He was going to kill her with a hand saw? Sandra’s stomach lurched, but nothing came up.
Sammy was quicker. His size helped him roll down to the end of the bag, into his wrinkled clothes and out the top a good five minutes before Toby managed to pull himself together. This morning Mike decided he might let Toby have a sip of coffee, but both boys wanted hot chocolate. The water was boiling so he mixed half milk from the cooler. They wrapped their boy-size hands around the chipped and colorful camping mugs Sandra packed for them.
Mike’s thoughts returned, reluctantly, to her father. He’s gone. Why think about him. He told her once that he was going to make her a roll top desk before he died. She always wanted a roll top. I wonder if she ever thinks about that, or him? Can she ever get passed this without reconciliation? She says he has to make the first move. Will he do it? I don’t know. I hope so.
The saw had a hand attached, an old, gnarled hand with wood shavings caught in the coarse hair on the back. Sandra felt time had stopped, but the hand didn’t stop. One more push and the table slid far enough for an arm, then a shoulder, then a full body. He stepped into her clean kitchen, joining the bright morning sunlight pouring in the windows, and the crisp curtains that hid her, and this man, from the view of anyone who might see and stop whatever he was going to do.
“Sandra, I wanted a sign, something to show me that you would not turn me away again. Something that showed me I could come and make up for all I’ve done, that I could build your roll top desk, and you would accept it, and forgive me. I prayed for something, anything, and when I saw the key in the door, I knew that was my sign, so I brought in the wood and worked all week, at nights. I’m sorry for being such a fool, still am. But I just want to please you and show you I’m not the same, and your desk is all finished. Please, please come down and see it . . . .”
December 11, 2008
But Christmas is more than this. It is a time set aside to celebrate the birth of our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ; a time to remember his lowly birth; a King, born in a manger.
How often I get caught up in the busyness of preparations and forget why I am celebrating this Special Day.
It’s not about fruit cake, Christmas pudding or turkey. It’s not about Christmas lights, the prettiest tree or candy canes. I don’t have to have my house “spic and span” to enjoy this season.
It is about Love. His love for us; love so great he left His home in Glory to come to earth to redeem us and to give us a glimpse of His Father’s love.
This same Love can flow through His children. This same Love can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, wipe away a tear, visit a shut-in and give an encouraging word or cheerful smile.
This same love can hold the door open for someone, be patient while standing in line or babysit for a tired mom.
I hope this Christmas and everyday I will be an example of God’s Love.
December 10, 2008
this is a poem about the last page
a poem about feeling panicked
a poem about lists
this is a poem about shopping and tired feet
about choosing the right card
then signing your name 47 times
a poem about wrapping paper, tape and ribbon
this is a poem about putting up lights and garland
bells and wreaths, while playing old records
a poem about finding mom’s recipe
and buying butter – for baking!
this is a poem about feasting
this is a poem about getting around
to reading the familiar story and wondering
how did something
that started out so simple
get to be so complicated?
this is a poem about Christmas
this is a poem about hearing the songs
of baby Jesus, at the mall
and having the urge to go
and sing them to all your neighbors
this is a poem about the magic
of blinking lights, toy trains
and sipping a cup of warm cocoa
while you visit the Holy Family
come to your cul-de-sac
this is a poem of when home
is the only place to be
even if the tree is small, the gifts few
and your house is crowded as a Bethlehem street
this is a poem about candlelight and sweet carols
in a place where simple gowns and sequin crowns
transform even urchins and scamps
into shepherds, angels and wise men
this is a poem about Christmas
© Copyright 2008 by Violet Nesdoly
Check out my website, my writerly blog Line upon line, or visit my personal blog promptings for a daily Advent Calendar surprise (till December 24th).
December 03, 2008
Celebration or commercialism?
Holy or hectic?
Relationship or routine?
Incarnation or inconvenience?
Sublime or silly?
Truth or trappings?
Mystery or mundane?
Abundant or agnostic?
Sacred or sugar-coated?
© Janet Sketchley, 2008
For devotionals, reviews and conversation, stop by Janet Sketchley's blog, God with Us: Finding Joy.
December 01, 2008
The word that has been fluttering around the edges of my thoughts for the past week or so is "quiet." What an odd thing to be thinking of at this busy and often hectic time of year. But the more I've thought about it, the more I know that I need to focus on being quiet and still. This doesn't mean sitting in my chair reading beside the fire, although I'm making time for that. Instead, I'm concentrating on a quiet heart. I want to bake cookies, decorate the house, wrap gifts, do laundry and show hospitality to hordes while still maintaining a quiet heart.
Yesterday we lit the first Advent candle - the candle of Hope. And it is hope, I've realized, that quiets me. Hope in God my Saviour. He alone is my rock and my salvation. Hope for the present moment, hope for the future, hope that God will redeem the past. When I place my hope in him, my heart is quieted.
"The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17