Undeserved Gifts

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”~~Charles Dickens

Today’s word of the day, from the Oxford English Dictionary, is metagnomy, ” The acquisition of information by paranormal means; divination, clairvoyance.”

Today is Egg Nog Day! And we have Egg Nog, because I bought some at the store last Sunday. I must be sure to have some this evening, at the Christmas Eve festivities. I put a drop or two of brandy in mine. What do you put in yours?

We had the most wonderful time last night!

Oh, but wait. I have to start this story correctly. At around 9:30 or 10:00, yesterday morning, our manager got a call from our client, telling us that we were to turn away UPS and FedEx deliveries, for the rest of the year! Needless to say, we were all stunned, because there are still four more working days in this year (yesterday made five). I also received an email from the same guy instructing me to not process any more URDNs until after January 2. URDN means “Unreceivable Discrepancy Notice.” It’s what I do. I handle the “problem children.” Anyway, there we sat, suddenly with nothing to do. We were told we could go ahead and finish up anything we received on Tuesday. That took about thirty minutes. So I got approval from my manager to leave at noon. That would fulfill the minimum of four hours that I have to work in order to get paid for the holidays. I’m already scheduled off next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so I won’t be back until Thursday, December 31, and may only stay four hours that day.

Then I went to Arlington and had lunch with Christi. We ate at Damian’s Cajun Soul Cafe, one of the places she has discovered while working at USBC. I had fried fish, which was delicious, the best I’ve had in a very long time. Christi had a smothered pork chop, which was also quite good (she gave me a bite). The place must be doing great, because it was constantly crowded, the whole time we were there.

We had decided that we would go look at Christmas lights last night, depending on if I had to work late. Since I got to work the opposite of late, we started looking on the Interwebs to see where would be a good place to go look. It was there that we discovered that they have a huge display set up at Texas Motor Speedway, called “Gift of Lights.” It’s a drive through display with millions of lights and hundreds of different kinds of displays, ranging from the patriotic to sports themes to traditional Christmas. There were even a few Hanukkah displays. It costs $25 per car, and if you pay online and print your ticket, you get to skip a VERY long line to get in. It took about an hour to drive through. We took a few pictures, which Facebook conveniently arranged in a collage for me. I have set it for public viewing, so if you care to see it, you can click here.

Today, of course, is Christmas Eve. Christi’s family will be over, this evening, for dinner and gift exchange. That’s pretty much all I’m going to say about that, because, you know, “if you can’t say something good . . .” 🙂 I’m going to try and make it to our church’s Christmas Eve service, which will be at 5:00PM. If you’re in the area and find yourself with nothing to do around that time, come check it out. We are The Exchange Church.

On this date in:

1777–Kiritimati, also known as Christmas Island, was discovered by James Cook
1851–The Library of Congress burned (when “library” and “burned” are used in the same sentence, I am traumatized)
1865–The Ku Klux Klan was formed. On Christmas Eve??? Seriously????
1906–The first radio broadcast was transmitted by Reginald Fessenden. It consisted of a poetry reading, a violin solo, and a speech. The real questions is: Was anyone still awake when it was over?
1955–NORAD tracked Santa for the first time
1968–The crew of Apollo 8 became the first humans to orbit the moon

Today’s birthdays include:

1809–Kit Carson, American frontiersman
1880–Johnny Gruelle, American cartoonist, creator of Raggedy Ann
1893–Harry Warren, American composer/lyricist, “Chattanooga Choo Choo, I Only Have Eyes for You”
1905–Howard Hughes, American film producer and inventor
1910–Fritz Leiber, American fantasy/science fiction writer
1922–Ava Gardner, American actress
1927–Mary Higgins Clark, American author, A Stranger is Watching
1968–Doyle Bramhall II, American guitarist
1971–Ricky Martin, Puerto Rican singer
1974–Ryan Seacrest, American TV host

Harry Warren was born Salvatore Antonio Guaranga, in Brooklyn, New York. He has a list of hits that he co-wrote, which includes the above mentioned “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” as well as “Forty-Second Street,” “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby,” and this song:

Vasco da Gama, Johns Hopkins, Peter Lawford, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, Bobby LaKind, Norman Vincent Peale, and Johnny Oates are among notable deaths on this date.


(From Daily Guideposts 2015)

“For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
John 4:37-38

Writer Mark Collins writes of a tradition in Pittsburgh, known as “the Pittsburgh parking chair.” This tradition is not well known down here, in Texas, because, well, snow. Enough snow that shoveling out parking places is necessary. You see, in this Pittsburgh (and other northern states) tradition, if a person shovels out a parking space for their car, they reserve it by placing an object, usually a folding chair, in that space. It’s not a “legal” thing, but it is respected. If you find a parking space and something odd is sitting in it, a folding chair, a vacuum cleaner, a garbage can, sawhorse, or anything else, you don’t park there.

While it might seem selfish, especially in the season of gift-giving, Collins reminds us of the difference between gifts and things that are earned. If you do the hard, back-breaking work of shoveling out a parking space, you have earned that, it is rightfully yours. Therefore, it is most definitely not selfish to place a chair in it to reserve it for your car.

Gifts, however, are undeserved. That’s the whole point of a “gift,” isn’t it? Perhaps we are more selfish by expecting gifts at Christmas time. But the fact that gifts (and grace) are undeserved is what makes them special. What we truly deserve is a stocking full of coal. But what we got was forgiven. The greatest gift of all: all of our sins washed away forever.

I know I don’t deserve that.

Christmas is tomorrow. I wish that, for just one day, we could all set aside what we think we deserve and revel in the gift of grace that we have received that we did not deserve. We celebrate the birth of Christ, something that we are not told in Scripture to do. Nevertheless, it has become a tradition. Let us, along with that, celebrate the undeserved gift of forgiveness.

Father, let me not forget this gift, this undeserved grace that has been lavished upon me and my brothers and sisters in Christ. As we gather together this evening to exchange physical, material gifts, may we remember the intangible, the non-material gift that we have all been given. The one we deserve the least.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, friends.

He Is Able

Good morning. It is Wednesday, December 17. One week until Christmas Eve. (I switched it up there.)

Did you know that a single piece of spaghetti is called “spaghetto?” It is rarely used, however.

Today is Maple Syrup Day. Ever since our trip up to New England, back in 2000, I have been a huge fan of maple syrup.

I’m on PTO for the rest of the week. Christi is working today, but not tomorrow or Friday. Today, I’m going to go have lunch with her, over by where she works. We may also get our free bowling balls that she won from the Christmas party. We’ll still have to get them drilled somewhere, but there is a good pro shop in our local bowling alley, which is owned by a female pro bowler, who, in fact, also used to work for USBC.

We have thunderstorms predicted today. We need the rain, badly.

Tomorrow, Christi and Stephanie have doctor’s appointments, and Stephanie has a dental checkup. That’s all we have planned for the rest of the week. A work associate loaned me his copy of Guardians of the Galaxy, so we will be sure and watch that one of the days.

Oh, yes. Craig Wayne Boyd won The Voice. I was only slightly disappointed, as I favored Matt McAndrew. Both of them are very good, though. The problem I have with Boyd is that there is no fire in his eyes. If you watched any of the show, you might know what I mean. McAndrew had more emotion, and I liked his style better. Even when he was singing with Fallout Boy in the finale, his vocals were better than the lead singer of the group. I’m sure both of them, as well as the other two finalists, will have lucrative contracts, following this season. I’m a huge fan of The Voice. It is so much better than American Idol, and the talent this season was better than ever.

(Source: This Day In History)

It was on this date in 1843 that Charles Dickens’s classic tale, “A Christmas Carol,” was published.

Today’s birthdays include Pope Francis, Milla Jovovich, Laurie Holden, Chase Utley, Sarah Paulson, Eugene Levy, Ernie Hudson, Eddie Kendricks, Giovanni Ribisi, Bill Pullman, George Lindsey, Dave Madden, Paul Rodgers, Cal Ripken, Sr., Art Neville, Paul Butterfield, and Jack Chalker.

Paul Butterfield, born on this date in 1942, was a blues singer and harmonica player. His band was very influential in the careers of other blues artists. He died in North Hollywood in 1987, at the age of 44. He died of an accidental drug overdose, brought about by an addition to pain killers, due to chronic peritonitis.

Here is a live performance of “Walking Blues,” from 1978.


(From The Divine Hours)

Third Week of Advent

My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
Psalm 145:22
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace.
Agnus Dei
Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Psalm 36:5
I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
Psalm 145:1
I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.
On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.
All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth,
and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.
For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.
The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Psalm 138
The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are
sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and
deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory now and for ever. Amen.

Today’s Gospel Reading

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Matthew 20:1-16

I love this parable! Of course, were this to happen in our modern society, the “master of the house” would be sued and forced to pay those who got there first more money. But that’s not the point. The point of this parable is that God is free to do whatever he chooses with whomever he chooses. There are a lot of Christians out there who seem to think that God “owes” them something. I believe that they may be totally surprised when they see people in heaven who they don’t expect see. And can we truly believe that those who experience the “deathbed conversion” will get just as much heaven as those of us who have been Christians for most of our lives? And how often do we find ourselves jealous of the gifts that God has given someone else? There is no place for that (fingers pointing back at me, as well). There is no place at all for us to be jealous of God’s gifts to others. We should celebrate them all. We are all totally dependent on the grace of God.

Today’s reading in Reflections for Ragamuffins is “Hope In My Savior.”

“The Christmas contemplative knows that hope is a gift, an undeserved gift of peace, but that it is also a call to decision–the decision to trust . . . ”

Hope challenges the idea that our lives will consist of nothing more than, as T.S. Eliot said, “an asphalt driveway in front of our home and a thousand lost golf balls.” Hope flourishes in difficulty. “Hope convinces us that in clinging to a miserable sense of security and status quo, the possibility of growth and greatness is utterly defeated. Hope says that I no longer need be dismayed over my personal dishonesty and self-centeredness and feeble life of faith. That I no longer need to feel defeated, insensitive, and superficial.

“Because the question no longer is: Can I do it? Am I able? Can I overcome my moodiness, my laziness, my sensuality, my grudges, and resentments? The only question is: Is Jesus Christ able? Can my Savior, the Lord of my life, revive my drooping spirit and transform me at Christmas as he transformed the world through his birth at Bethlehem?”

I am consistently amazed by the writings of Brennan Manning. Almost every day, my world is shaken by the things I have read in this devotion. Today is no different. Is Jesus Christ able? He most certainly is!

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation.
But take heart; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Father, there are many things going through my head and my heart, right now, some of which I did not mention in today’s blog. I pray that this hope will challenge me today, and for the rest of this Christmas season, that my life will be changed by the hope that is in Jesus Christ, who is able to overcome anything that I am going through, or anything that challenges me. May my thirst for you and for intimacy with Jesus Christ ever grow stronger, and may that thirst unsatisfied by anything other than Jesus! My contributions to this world may never amount to much. But to have known you in Jesus Christ is all I need. I don’t need to feel superficial, because the Creator of the universe is my friend and my Lord. May I stop trying to satisfy my thirst with things that do not matter.

I pray for this day. May Christi and I have a nice lunch today. I pray that her work day is going smoothly and that her many meetings are going well. I pray for Stephanie, that she will know your great love for her. I pray that I will at least be a little productive this afternoon.

I pray for all of my brothers in our Huddle. May you bind us together and draw us closer to you as we learn how to be disciples and how to make more disciples.

He is able. Jesus Christ is able.

Grace and peace, friends.

Eyes on God

Good morning. Today is Thursday (pre-Friday), February 7, 2013.

Today is Send a Card to a Friend Day. Sending cards has become almost outdated any more. Poor post office…and now I hear they are cutting out Saturday deliveries. I haven’t been able to find a completely reliable source to verify that, though. For example, the Weekly World News says the post office is shutting down completely on March 2. Aren’t they the ones that always have “bat boy’s” picture on the front cover?

Christi is doing a little better today, I think, but she’s pretty down since Tuesday’s doctor visit. I can only imagine how she feels, thinking that she’s not getting any real help or answers on her foot condition. She’s going to pick up her X-rays from the first doctor she went to today to see if she can get some better help. I’m praying that she can get some peace and a feeling of hope.

Steph and I made it to the gym last night, and we will go back tonight, as she has a training session. Tonight will make three days on her challenge of working out twelve days in February.

The woman I mentioned yesterday, the victim of domestic abuse, is home, I am told. The husband is still in jail, and will likely remain there for some time, as I’m told the police arrived in time to witness the abuse. I’m also told, however, the social services have removed the daughter from the situation, which could cause more stress and depression for the woman. There are also people, friends of hers, that are attempting to offer to keep the child until circumstances improve. There is still much need for prayer.

(From Great Stories from History for Every Day)
On this date in 1812, the most prolific of the great 19th century novelists was born. Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth. During his life, “he penned a whole pantheon of works so unique in their style and ability to portray character and caricature that we still use a derivation of his name–Dickensian–to describe both squalid living conditions and humorous if sometimes repulsive people.” When he died on June 9, 1870, he was so revered that “he was buried in Westminster Abbey.”

Today’s birthday (besides Charles Dickens) is Eddie Izzard, born on this date in 1962. Izzard is best known for his stand-up comedy, in which he used to wear women’s clothes and make-up. In spite of the dress, however, he is quite funny, and has a great show on history. I’ll not post a clip here, because of the language, but there are plenty of clips on youtube. My favorite is the one on “cake or death.” As I implied, though…if you are easily offended, I wouldn’t go there.

Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. Psalm 106:47
Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! Psalm 33:8
Father, show me a glimpse of you this morning, as I read and meditate on your words.

Today I’m reading Isaiah 26:16-19.
16 O LORD, in distress they sought you; they poured out a whispered prayer when your discipline was upon them.
17 Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O LORD;
18 we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.
19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.

All of the efforts of humanity produced nothing of value; no deliverance was accomplished. However, there is hope in something only God can do, and that is the resurrection of the dead.

Today’s reading from A Year With God is called “Our Eyes Are On You.” The scripture reading is 2 Chronicles 20:5-12.
5 And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court,
6 and said, “O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.
7 Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?
8 And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying,
9 ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’
10 And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy—
11 behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit.
12 O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

This prayer by Jehoshaphat is one of the best examples of “petitionary prayer” in all of scripture. Jehoshaphat speaks first of God’s help as his people conquered the land, and then the people’s faithfulness in living in the land and building “a sanctuary” for his name. Now, they are being attacked by men from Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir. The perfect attitude before the Lord is stated in verse twelve. “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

I am challenged to meditate on Jehoshaphat’s prayer, along with these words from John Donne, before I offer my petitions to the Lord today. O Lord, never let us think that we can stand by ourselves, and not need you. Amen.

Father, there have been many times in my life where I can say that I have been clueless as to what to do next. However, I can not say with confidence that, in all of those times, my eyes were on you. In recent times, though, this has been true when I have come upon a situation or circumstance in which I knew not what to do. And I pray that it will be true for the rest of my days. If I come to a place where I do not know what to do, may my eyes be firmly fixed on you, the Lord of all creation, the creator and sustainer of my soul. You have blessed us richly, and when we praise you for that. May we not forsake you when we struggle with circumstances. Let us be faithful, like Jehoshaphat, to keep our eyes on you.

In fact, Father, I think we are in the middle of a circumstance where we know not what to do next. This situation with Christi’s foot injury is leaving us puzzled. So, like Jehoshaphat, we cry out to you, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” I keep praying for healing, and I will continue to do so, relentlessly, with hopes that you will act. But even if you don’t, we will keep looking to you for everything. Give us wisdom, hope, and peace today, Lord. I pray also that Christi and I will have a productive and successful work day, and that you will protect us from anxiety or stress. I pray that Stephanie will be drawn closer to you today, and that you will give her wisdom and knowledge for her life.

I pray, still, for the woman who was a victim of domestic abuse the other night. I pray for hope, healing, and supernatural peace that passes all understanding in this situation. I pray that you wrap your arms around this woman and show your love and grace to her in a way that she has never experienced before.

I also continue prayers for Andy, in California, who seems to be in a really bad place right now.

Whatever happens in our lives, we can’t go wrong, even if we don’t know what to do next, if we simply keep our eyes on God.

Grace and peace, friends.

The Check List

Good morning. It is Sunday, Novem December 2, 2012. (I seem to do that every month!) Today is “National Fritters Day.” Apple fritter, anyone? Honestly, just the thought of one of those makes my stomach go, “Ugh!” this morning. Bleah. Today is also the first Sunday in Advent.

On this date in 1859, John Brown was hanged for his raid on Harper’s Ferry.
On this date in 1867, Charles Dickens gave his first public reading in the U.S.
On this date in 1942, Enrico Fermi and his team initiated the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
On this date in 1961, Fidel Castro declared that Cuba would adopt Communism.
On this date in 1972, The Temptations had their final #1 hit with “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.”
On this date in 2001, Enron filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Today’s birthdays include Charles Ringling (circus owner), 1863, Maria Callas (soprano), 1923, Cathy Lee Crosby (actress), 1944, Gianni Versace (fashion designer), 1946, Lucy Lui (actress), 1968, Monica Seles (tennis player), 1973, Britney Spears, 1981, Aaron Rodgers (quarterback), 1983.

I’m not playing in the service this morning, but Christi is working the Mac during both services. However, I do have to stay after the second service for rehearsal for the Christmas concert. So, we are going in separate cars, today. Stephanie claims she wants to stay for everything, so she’s riding to church with Christi and, allegedly riding home with me. We’ll see how that plays out.

Christi says that she thinks she is feeling better. She still feels pretty “draggy” this morning, though. She’ll be coughing for a while, too. These types of colds seem to linger for a long time.

24 days to Cancun.

Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Psalm 111:1
But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. (Psalm 71:14)
Father, I look for your face this morning. May I seek you with my whole heart, and hope continually in you, praising you more and more.

Today, I’m reading Isaiah 5:8-12.
8 Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.
9 The LORD of hosts has sworn in my hearing: “Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.
10 For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.”
11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them!
12 They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of the LORD, or see the work of his hands.

The first part of this could be taken as a caution to modern society, against all of the building and expansion, which devastates the land. However, we must be careful in doing so, because, in Israel’s day (to whom this “woe” was addressed), the land was allotted to individual tribes and families. As this expansion occurred, land was taken away from people, and even farmers lost the ability to farm and had to become “day laborers.”
The second “woe,” I believe, even though this prophecy is addressed to Israel, can apply to anyone, for it describes drunkenness, or addiction to alcohol. Woe is pronounced on someone who begins seeking his first drink the moment he wakes up, and stays up late into the night, continually drinking. Indeed, a drunk can throw quite the party, eh? Full of music and dancing and feasting, “but they do not regard the deeds of the LORD, or see the work of his hands.”

Today’s reading from My Utmost For His Highest is called “Christian Perfection.” That makes me nervous… The scripture reading is Philippians 3:12. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

“It is a snare to imagine that God wants to make us perfect specimens of what He can do; God’s purpose is to make us one with Himself.” Okay…not so nervous, now. The emphasis of holiness movements is a bit off course. If we chase after this idea of “personal holiness,” the goal of our lives becomes something other than God, himself. It becomes the manifestation of God. Some people are heard to say, “It can never be God’s will that I should be sick.” Really? Chambers says, “If it was God’s will to bruise His own Son, why should He not bruise you?” What is important is not my consistent holding to a particular idea of what a saint should be, but my “real vital relation to Jesus Christ,” and my “abandonment to Him whether…well or ill.”

“Christian perfection is not, and never can be, human perfection.” It is the perfection of the relationship to God “which shows itself amid the irrelevancies of human life.” When I obey the call of Christ, I am struck by the irrelevancy of all the things I have to do (I still have to do some of them…but in the “big picture,” they simply don’t matter that much). I am also struck by the consistency with which some people seem to live. There is a danger of this producing the idea that God is not necessary, and that we can reach God’s standards by human efforts. It’s like a check list. I can get up in the morning and start checking things off.
Brush teeth–check.
Morning prayer–check.
Bible reading–check.
More prayer–check.
Intercessory prayer–check.
Go to work–check.
Witness to someone about Christ–check.
Evening prayer–check.
The thing is, there isn’t a thing on that list that is not important, or that is bad. But to think that I can reach God’s standards simply by doing all those things is simply wrong. I do most of those things every day. Not necessarily in that order. But I don’t look at it as a check list. I’m sitting here reading this devotional book, along with the Bible, and typing these prayers (that comes later, you know) on this blog, NOT so I can say, “There, I’ve checked that off my list for the day, I’m closer to God!” I do these things because I’m seeking the face of God; I am looking for the perfect relationship with him! While I do pray for the manifestation of the life of Christ in me, nevertheless, what I want is God, not his “stuff!” The reason I pray for the manifestation of the life of Christ is so that others can see God in me, and, hopefully be drawn to him. “I am called to live in perfect relation to God so that my life produces a longing after God in other lives, not admiration for myself.” (Emphasis mine.)

“Thoughts about myself hinder my usefulness to God.”

That statement needed its own line for emphasis. Read it again.

“Thoughts about myself hinder my usefulness to God.”

Father, take my mind off of me. I pray that the words that I have typed up there are really true. May it never be the case that the things I do, even as habits, become nothing more than a check list of items that make me think I’m getting closer to your standard of perfection. I know that I cannot humanly reach your standard of perfection! Draw me closer to you through the activities that I do every day. May my prayers accomplish a deeper relationship with you. May my reading of your word draw me closer to your heart. May the readings that I use, from other people, have the same result. It’s all about you, Lord, through the amazing life, sacrifice, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, and that is the goal. The goal of my life is relationship with you, not tick marks on a check list.

I pray for this day. As Christi is probably just now arriving at the school where we meet as a church, I pray that the tech stuff will work properly. As the band is arriving to rehears, I pray that their hearts are full of your Holy Spirit, and that they are thinking about worshiping you, not about themselves. I pray for Joel as he brings the message this morning, that his thoughts will be your thoughts, that his words will be your words. Open our ears to hear the words that you will speak to us this morning. Draw us closer to you today, as we worship you together.

I pray that Christi will continue to feel better during this day, as she rests some more this afternoon.

I cannot reach God’s standard by marking off a check list. The standard is the relationship with God.

Grace and peace, friends.

It’s Not Up To Me

Good morning. It is Friday. Yes!! Friday, August 3, 2012. Today is “National Watermelon Day.” See? Another dessert. I have such good memories surrounding watermelon. The best is the times at my Grandaddy’s house, with my first cousins on that side of the family, sitting around a picnic table outside, with a watermelon half on some newspaper, all of us digging away at it with spoons. Good times. Sometimes, we would get lucky and it would be yellow meat. Yum!! Great. Now I want watermelon.

On this date in 1861, the final installment of the serialized novel, Great Expectations, was published. That was Charles Dickens. In case you didn’t know that. If you didn’t, shame on you. Shamefully, it was on this date in 1996 that “The Macarena” hit the top of the U.S. pop charts. “The earth is most certainly doomed.” As long as we are in the “most certainly doomed” category, it was on this date in 1846 that the Donner party encountered their first delay, finding a note that the path they are taking through the mountains is nearly impassable. And it was on this date in 1914 that Germany and France declared war on each other. That sentence almost sounds funny in 2012. (Nothing funny about WWI, not at all…I’m just trying to picture any two European countries “declaring war” in the 21st century.)

Congratulations is in order to Gabby Douglas, first ever African American winner of the gold medal in the girls’ all around gymnastics competition.
Congratulations, as well, to the “Fab Five,” for winning the team gold medal in gymnastics.

Not much going on around here, lately. Christi’s foot still hurts, so that cortisone shot didn’t do much good. Stephanie finally got her Medicaid card yesterday! We’ve been wondering about that. Now, we have to figure out if she needs to be completely removed from Christi’s health insurance. We’re thinking that may be the case, since, if she is on any other insurance, it has to be filed first, and copays have to be paid. It’s definitely a learning process.

Father, I pray for a glimpse of your face this morning, drawing me closer to you and farther from the world.

Today, I’m reading Psalm 64. I think the first verse is interesting.
Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.
What’s so interesting about that? What I find interesting is that David asks God to preserve him from dread of the enemy. Don’t let me be afraid of my enemy. Keep me from fear; from dread. He then goes on to describe the actions and intents of “the wicked.” But, in verses 7-9, it is God who intervenes!
But God shoots his arrow at them; they are wounded suddenly.
They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them;
all who see them will wag their heads.
Then all mankind fears; they tell what God has brought about and ponder what he has done.

The Psalm closes with this encouragement:
Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in him!
Let all the upright in heart exult!

My Utmost For His Highest
And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. Luke 18:31

Jerusalem, for Jesus, is the climax of his Father’s will. Jesus sought not his own will, but only his Father’s will. “That was the one dominating interest all through our Lord’s life, and the things He met with on the way, joy or sorrow, success or failure, never deterred Him from His purpose.”
We go to our own “Jerusalem” to fulfill God’s purpose, not our own. We have natural ambitions, sure, but in the Christian life, “we have no aim of our own.” A lot is said today about “decisions for Christ,” or our determination to be better Christians, or decisions for this, that, and the other. But in the New Testament, we see God compelling, not man deciding. “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.”
Chambers makes a bold statement here. “We are not taken up into conscious agreement with God’s purpose, we are taken up into God’s purpose without any consciousness at all. We have no conception of what God is aiming at, and as we go on it gets more and more vague.” When it looks like God is missing the mark, we have to back up and realize how short-sighted our vision is! We think we know what God’s purpose is for us, especially at the beginning of our Christian life. But in truth, we have no idea. And get this. God does not need our approval. Do we really understand this? He has his plan, and he will work that plan, with or without us! In truth, the work that I do for God is of little account. I am very small. In the grand scheme of things, even someone like Moses is really pretty small. It is God who compels. It is God who orchestrates. We do not decide. Oh, sure. We have little decisions along the way, and we can either go along the path or against it. But in the end, it is the compelling of God that will win out. It is not up to me.

Father, I know that your compelling has been present in my life, since day one. Although I was born into sin, you had a plan for me all along, from before the foundations of the earth. I did not choose you, but you chose me. And I revel in that fact, my Father! To realize that you chose me out of your good pleasure, and for no other reason, gives me such joy and gratitude! Which reminds me, I have failed to give thanks this morning. May your Spirit remind me throughout this day to give thanks for the many small blessings that will come my way today! What I’m praying for this morning, is the realization of where this compelling is taking me. I don’t have to know the exact goals. I don’t need to know where you are taking me. All I need to know is that it will be glorious, whatever it is, and turn my face toward my “Jerusalem.” Jesus is my guide, my example, my power, and my righteousness. As he was compelled by your will to follow through to the very end, so I must be compelled by your will. My flesh will constantly kick against it. I see this every day. But your Spirit will be stronger. I pray for your Spirit to strengthen my spirit.

I pray for this day. I continue to pray for relief for Christi, that her foot would cease to hurt. I pray for our work day today, that we would have little stress and the day would go smoothly. I pray for a consistent attitude of joy in my spirit today. And I pray that I might see evidence of your grace and compelling during this day. Lead me in the way that I should go. Teach me your ways, that I may walk in your truth. Unite my heart to fear your name. Send out your light and truth; let them guide me. Be my exceeding joy today!

God will get me where he wants me. It is not up to me. I don’t have to approve. I do need to be willing.

Grace and peace, friends.