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RESOLUTION VS. COMMITMENT

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It is the eve of the New Year and many of us have plans to celebrate. Some will spend time with family, maybe watching a movie over a bowl of popcorn. Others may celebrate with close friends as they throw a game of cards and some will dance in the New Year with all the bells, whistles and party hats. However we choose to celebrate most of us will usher in the New Year with a resolution. I propose this be the year you toast to a commitment rather than a resolution.

How many people do you know who have actually kept their New Year’s resolutions? There might be but a handful, if any. The problem with resolutions is they are temporary with nothing in place to help us attain the changes we aspire to make. Resolutions are lip-service; we mouth our plan of action but fail to have a strategy in place to motivate us to succeed.

Commitment, on the other hand, demands a course of action to reach a goal. It gives us the determination to maintain our resolve long after the resolution fizzled out. If you want to lose weight commit to a 10K race or participate in an event like the Warrior Dash. Commitment requires action not promises.

As a Christian the New Year causes me to reflect on things I need to change in my spiritual life. It is a time to turn my spiritual resolutions into spiritual commitments; to evaluate if my life gives creditability to my commitment of faith in Jesus, or is it just lip-service.

Isaiah 29:13 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”

I don’t want to ‘play’ church; I want to be an integral part of ‘THE’ church. It is in God “… that I live, breath and exist.” (Acts 17:28)

As this year comes to a close consider commitment over resolution. Whatever changes you want to make in this upcoming year do it with determination and a plan of action in place.

Happy New Year! May peace, blessings, and prosperity reign upon our nation; may 2014 be the year our nation returns to God.

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BASIC GIVING 101

heartThatGives“It’s time to get up for school girls.” As my mom walked out of the bedroom I threw back the covers of my warm bed and jumped down onto the cold wooden floor. I couldn’t have been more than age five or six, but I knew what a cold floor meant; we had no heat.  The oven door would be open so my sister and I could warm ourselves before eating breakfast.

I don’t know about you, but my family struggled financially when I was kid. I would watch my daddy leave the house in the bitter cold of winter with lunch pail in hand. We had no car so he would walk five miles to work and back, often in the dark.

When the propane tank was empty, the oven provided temporary heat and school clothes were hand-me-downs from cousins and friends. Shoes were purchased too big because mom knew they couldn’t afford a new pair anytime soon; so ‘room to grow’ was the rule of thumb.

Imagination was my childhood toy chest.

There were Christmases where gifts were not wrapped because there was no money for paper and tape. Times our family would return from church and find bags of groceries left by an anonymous donor. I shared a room with my sister as well as a bed; we had few toys so our imagination was our toy chest.

It was over a cup of coffee that mom recently shared stories of the many hard times she and daddy faced in their early years of marriage. She spoke of the times daddy couldn’t find work, when the cupboards were bare and there was no money for propane or school clothes. Even now, at age 83, my mom’s eyes watered with tears as she opened her heart about those difficult times. When she finished talking, I gently clasped her hand and said, “Mom, that’s not how I remember it.”

Children remember things so differently.

My childhood memories included the Thumbalina doll my parents bought but couldn’t afford. It was every little girl’s dream doll and it never occurred to me mine was the ‘look-a-like’ version. There were the Friday night trips to the Flint Public library where we would stay until close, or the rare trips to McDonald’s golden arches for a burger and fries. I watched Flintstones, Felix the Cat and Casper cartoons while mom cooked dinner; the smell of fried potatoes with onions still evokes wonderful childhood memories.

We were poor, but content.

We were poor but I lacked nothing. I had love, shelter and family; nothing else mattered. Unlike today, there were no TV shows, commercials, internet or smart phones to persuade us we should be unhappy and discontent because of what we didn’t have.

The front porch was my dance stage, playhouses and spaceships were made of cardboard boxes found in the trash bin behind the local grocery store. My second-hand bike had only one gear; it was the ‘pedal me hard if you want to go fast’ gear and a trip to the zoo or drive-in movies was considered a vacation.

So what is my point?

Life changes dramatically over the course of time. My mom eventually completed a degree in education in her early 40s and my dad completed an electrical apprenticeship program. The sacrifices my parents made to reach those goals provided my sister and me with many comforts, privileges and opportunities in our teen years.

By the grace of God my parents were able to break free from their poverty and sense of hopelessness. For many individuals there is no window of opportunity; that’s my point. When God helps us to rise above our own life circumstances we have a responsibility to help others do the same.

You can gift a bag of groceries, send a check to help with a tuition payment, offer a job, loan a car, gift a tank of gas or simply send a card with heartfelt words of encouragement. When you reach out to others in need, God has promised this,

“Give and it shall be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”  Luke 6:38

Giving isn’t just for the holidays.

If you profess to be a Christian, helping others is a year-round ministry. Is there a young family that needs financial help with diapers and formula for their baby, or an elderly person who can’t afford the cost of a prescription?  Each of us has something to give to someone less fortunate than ourselves. It could be time, money, a shared meal, a ride to work or just listening.

“Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.” Deuteronomy 16:17

God does NOT expect us to be an ongoing welfare program for those in need. What God DOES expect is our willingness to provide to those in need as He speaks to our heart. I challenge you to discover the rewards of generosity. You won’t be disappointed.

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THE DUSTY HYMNAL

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I had no idea what to expect at the casual Christmas song fest at my church, but I soon found out. A song fest is the opportunity to sing a few verses from any song found in the hymn book. Members of the congregation share their favorite hymnal number by raising their hand.

Christmas carols dominated the first half of the hour long service, but soon we were singing other favorites like How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, In the Garden, Blessed Assurance, and It Is Well with my Soul. They were songs that rekindled memories of my childhood years when Sunday school, Sunday evening and Wednesday night services were mandatory.

I was surprised at how well I remembered the words of these long forgotten hymns. The last time I picked up a hymn book was over 40 years ago, yet each stanza flowed from my mouth like it was yesterday. There was a sense of pride in knowing the hymn book was optional; it gave claim to my P.K (preacher’s kid) heritage.

And then comes the dusty years.

With the advent of the Charismatic movement in the early 70s, traditional hymns were soon replaced with more upbeat worship songs with words that struck a chord with the younger generation. The Vietnam War had brought about revolution and change and church services were not exempt from those changes.

Christian coffee houses were birthed with the purpose to seek out a diverse group of individuals like the church had never seen. Long hair, short hair, drug addicts, alcoholics, the homeless and displaced were welcomed by these coffee houses where the gospel of Christ was shared over coffee.

There were no pews, only a few folding chairs and the floor; but no one seemed to mind.  The Friday night services consisted of acoustic guitars, simple choruses of praise and God’s plan of salvation. There were no hymnals; no overhead projector to display the words to a song. When I look back, those coffee house years cemented some of the best friendships and memories of my life.

Sadly the church hymnal gathered dust during those coffee house and Jesus movement years. It wasn’t until this recent Christmas song fest that I was reminded how much I love the classic hymns I sang as a child. The Christian community is gifted with many outstanding Contemporary Christian artists, but on occasion I like to revisit the hymns to which I know ALL the words.

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THE BACK-UP PLAN

I IMG_7481watched as the headlights from passing cars reflected against the ice crystals that clung to the tree branches in front of the house. It was breathtaking. Every water droplet seemed to dance in unison each time the spotlight was focused on them.

Michigan is known as The Winter Wonderland State and the view from my window brought that coined term to life. Unfortunately, there is a downside to all the wonderland beauty which includes power outages, interrupted cable/internet services, icy roads and weather-related accidents.

Life is filled with the unexpected.

I opened the front door to snap pictures of the beautiful, silvery trees and immediately heard something that sounded much like gun shots. It wasn’t long before I realized it was branches breaking beneath the weight of the ice. The sound of generators hummed from nearby houses and our ice coated road was a treacherous skating rink for cars.

The seasons of life can be just as unpredictable as the weather. One minute we bask in a climate of sunshine and then, without notice, we endure a tornado that levels everything we have worked so hard to build. Skiers will fearlessly glide down a ski slope only to find the snow has turned to ice and they lose control. Mountains crumble during an earthquake and tidal waves sink even the biggest ships.

Have a back-up plan.

When our life is interrupted by conditions, circumstances and events out of our control, we need to have a back-up plan in place.  I have always embraced the saying,

 “Failing to plan, is planning to fail.”

We may not be able to control every weather condition of our life, but we can have a back-up plan that allows us to navigate through unexpected times of destruction, downed power lines, and slippery roads.

I think you will agree it’s a little late to buy a generator once the power is out, purchase road salt after you spin out on ice, or make plans to evacuate in the middle of a tornado.

Know your Redeemer.

When you come face-to-face with a tidal wave that rocks your world, or an earthquake that swallows your dreams alive; know your Redeemer.

If an ice storm immobilizes your direction, excessive heat burns your hope, or high winds strip everything green from your life; know your Redeemer.

Whatever the weather situation in your life, know your Redeemer. His name is Jesus. He can captain a ship, navigate icy roads, ride out the tides, reconnect all lines of communication, and subdue the most powerful winds. Oh yes, did I mention, He can also walk on water.

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CAUGHT OFF-GUARD

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I recently watched a YouTube video which I found both funny and disconcerting. The setting was an 8-foot tall paper Mache snowman on a busy city sidewalk. Inside the snowman was a live person. As people passed by the snowman would move unexpectedly.  It was the element of surprise and reaction of each individual that made the video so funny.

The disconcerting part was the immediate verbal responses of selected individuals. As I watched this 3:48 minute video I couldn’t help but note the following responses by those caught off guard.

  • ·         What the F@#*!
  • ·         Jesus (not in a devotional way)
  • ·         Jesus Christ (not in a devotional way)
  • ·         SH*T!
  • ·         F*$%king God (obviously, not in a devotional way)
  • ·         Indiscernible profanity that was bleeped out

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As the video ended, I was reminded of the following scripture.

“…For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

 

I would like to believe my first word response, in any situation, would be acceptable to God. But would it?

My life in Christ is a work-in-progress and my responses to the unexpected are continually being edited and reviewed by God. I can only aspire to

 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalms 19:14)

If you were to experience an unexpected moment in life, a moment that caught you off-guard, how would you respond? Would your words be acceptable to God? What would be the immediate, unprompted response that poured from your heart?

If my words are not appropriate for my five, seven and ten year old grandkids to hear, chances are they aren’t acceptable to God.

Today’s prayer:

Heavenly Father, I ask that you create within me a clean and pure heart.  Fill all my spoken words with grace so I may inspire, encourage and uplift those around me.

Amen

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SLEEPING WITH DIRT

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In my mid-twenties I took a job selling Kirby vacuum cleaners. It ranks right up there with being one of the craziest things I have ever done. Every morning I linked up with the rest of the sales force in the basement of the Kirby store for a little pep rally. We would sing the Kirby anthem (and yes, they actually have one), pump ourselves up for victory with a few Kirby cheers, map out our territory and hit the road.

I sold one vacuum in my short three day stay with the company before I realized I wasn’t cut out to be a door-to-door sales person. Even though my Kirby employment was short lived there was one sales tactic never forgotten. It was the seal-the-deal, black cloth strategy.

If there was no sale after the free gift of knives, or cleaning every square inch of floor and furniture in their home, it was time to bring out the deal clincher, the black cloth.

The black cloth was placed over the bottom of the vacuum bag so customers could clearly see everything this robust machine could pick up. Clean sheets and pretty bed covers where pulled from one corner of the bed as the hand-held vacuum scanned the mattress. Dirt, dead skin and dust mites began to collect on the black cloth and it wasn’t a pretty sight.  The customer’s reaction was usually one of disgust coupled with shame. The black cloth revealed all the hidden dirt beneath the bedcovers.

It was at this point, the customer realized they needed to sign on the dotted line and claim ownership to a new Kirby vacuum cleaner if they wanted to remove the debris found on the black cloth.

How dirty is your mattress?

If God flipped back the outer coverings of your life, what would the black cloth reveal? Are you sleeping with unclean things? Are you bedding with sin?

Jesus stands ready to vacuum away the sins on the black cloth of your life. You only need to sign on the dotted line of salvation and redemption. The contract requires no payment other than the surrender of your sins (your dirty mattress).

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WHAT IS INSIDE COUNTS

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I walked into the kitchen and let out a heavy sigh. I had forgotten about the piles of Christmas gifts I left stacked on the floor the night before. Maybe the memory lapse was intentional because wrapping packages ranks somewhere between changing dirty diapers and doing laundry.

I know some people love to wrap presents; my daughter is one of them.  She aligns the paper perfectly, tucks every box corner like sheets on a hospital bed and accessorizes with ribbon and bows.

Time changes our perspective.

There was a time I wrapped gifts just like my daughter.  No doubt her obsession to wrap, decorate and accessorize was learned from me. It is funny how time changes things, or maybe it just changes our perspective of things.

In my youth it was all about me and how I looked on the outside.  I wrapped myself in pretty clothes, added accessories and made sure every corner was tucked tightly with invisible tape so no one could see the real me. I wanted to fit in with all the other perfectly packaged people.

When the paper tears the contents are revealed.

We can wrap our exterior for everyone to ooh and ah our appearance.  We can accessorize with expensive cars, luxury vacations, designer clothes and bragging rights to the square footage of our home. But when the paper tears, when the exterior of who we really are is revealed, it is what’s inside that will count.

Nothing reveals that truth more than watching my grandkids open gifts on Christmas day. Never once have I heard them say, “Wow, NeeNee, nice job on the wrapping!” They have never mentioned the crooked paper; the lack of ribbons or when there wasn’t enough paper to cover the box. They only cared about what was inside.

As the countdown to Christmas continues, I urge you to give yourself a break from trying to make the holiday a ‘Pinterest’ dream come true. If everything isn’t wrapped perfectly, if the tree leans a bit and the stockings aren’t hung by the chimney with care, so what!

The best gift ever given was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger.