2016: Page 359

Page 359 is Christmas Eve and has been a fairly laid-back Saturday.  It was rather overcast and gloomy outside throughout the day, so there wasn’t any real pull toward going out and doing anything.  The morning was spent sleeping, going through social media posts, playing some Wii games, and prepping for tomorrow’s sermon.  We went out to Subway for lunch and then the afternoon was mostly a repeat of the morning.  The evening included a Christmas Eve service at church then after supper we gathered around the Christmas tree as Susan opened her Christmas gifts.  

Watching Susan’s excitement was fun and after she was finished unwrapping her gifts I played with different camera settings as I photographed some of the ornaments on the tree.  At the top of the tree is an angel tree topper that has held that position for a lot of years.  In fact, it has been on the top of our Christmas tree for so long that I can’t remember if we ever had anything before it or if it has been our only tree top ornament.  For Susan, the tree isn’t complete until the angel goes on the top.  I suppose that shouldn’t be too surprising given that she sees angels, talks with angels, and her favorite past-time is watching reruns of the old “Touched By An Angel” series.  

Based on the reactions of people in the Bible who encountered angels, I would say our pleasant representations of them are not very realistic.  I do wonder at times if it was always the appearance of the angel that frightened those who saw them, or if sometimes the fear had more to do with the knowledge that God was sending a message directed toward them.  Yes, at times the Bible describes the actions of angels that would make it appear they can be fierce warriors as they single-handedly destroy entire enemy armies.  Yet I also believe that if an angel appeared to me in a way that left no doubt it was an angel, even if its appearance was as pleasant as the one on my Christmas tree, I would be filled with a fear simply knowing that God was sending a messenger directly to me.  

As I worked on the sermon I’ll share tomorrow, I thought about the angel’s words to Mary, “Do not be afraid.”  Whether it was the physical features of the angel that were frightening or a fear caused simply because an angel appeared, the message from God had the power to change the initial fear into a response of “I am the Lord’s servant.”  God’s message to us continues to have an element of fear in it because it warns of the consequences of our not choosing Him.  Yet that fear can become a good thing when it creates a submissive response from us that mirrors the response Mary gave.

I pray that you and I would understand that the key to “keeping Christ in Christmas” is for each believer to “keep Christ in the Christian”.  I pray that we would celebrate the presence of Jesus in our lives each day that we live.  I pray that we would act as faithful representatives of Christ to all people.  I pray that we would accept God’s message to us with a willing response that we are His servant.

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2016: Page 358

I had forgotten until I went to bed last night that the school’s Christmas break began today.  That meant that I didn’t need to set the alarm and wake up early, I just needed to get to work in time to do the cleaning and prep before the start of the preschool Christmas program this morning.  So page 358 began at a time that not too long ago I would have thought was early, but allowed me to sleep in some.  I did the cleaning and building prep and then served as photographer as the preschoolers had their Christmas program.  Once the program was over, I spent some time with the text for Sunday’s sermon.  As I worked on the sermon and spent time praying about the refining of it, another short poem showed up in my mind.  After typing it out on a photo background I went back to the sermon focus.  

With the school out on Christmas break and the preschool finishing up this morning, I spent the afternoon doing what is usually my Friday night cleaning to get the building ready for Sunday.  With an empty building, the afternoon ended up being some great prayer and reflection time as I worked.  With the building cleaned and ready for the weekend, I headed home with another short poem forming in my mind.  It seemed like a silly little rhyme about an elephant and a mouse that showed up in my house.  After it was written and posted as a photo on my Facebook page, I began to think about the symbolism of an elephant in the room.  Many times people get away with doing things that are questionable, or even unethical, because the actions become that proverbial elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.  Sometimes things become so large that they seem to dictate everything that goes on around them as any other viewpoint is made to seem small.  I think of the elephant in the room when the 12 spies sent out from the Israelite people came back to report what they had found in the promised land.  The elephant was the majority report that made everyone agree that they were small compared to what they would be up against if they moved forward.  Everyone that is, except Joshua and Caleb who gave an honest report based on a combination of what they had seen and the promises of God.  Yet we know the story.  The elephant was too large.  The truth seemed so small.  The majority won . . . at least they thought so until God had the last word.  As it turned out, Joshua and Caleb were the only two out of all the adults living at the time who would eventually be able to settle in the promised land — the rest, all the majority, were buried in the desert over the next 40 years, as was their elephant.  Sometimes all the mouse can do is to remain faithful and let God take care of the elephant.

Often times it is our pride that grows into elephant size proportions in our life.  One of the reasons I like photographing outdoor scenes is because of the vastness of creation.  When pride begins to make me feel larger than what I really am, spending time surrounded by the beauty of nature can serve as a reminder of a need to see myself as God sees me.  Today’s photo is one of those where the beauty stretches out as far as the eye can see.  The humility part is a recognition that my part in the kingdom of God is important, but it is not the most important, it’s simply my part.

I pray that you and I would be aware of our own attitudes when it comes to how we present ourselves to others.  I pray that we would not make our ideas and projects into the elephants that push others aside.  I pray that we would humble ourselves — not just before God, but before one another as well.  I pray that we would see ourselves as God sees us — not larger than everyone else, but not smaller than them either.  

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2016: Page 357

Page 357 has mostly been a day of rest, which is a good thing to have once in a while.  Since I was up after midnight, today’s page technically began with my going to bed for the night.  It felt good to be able to sleep in and Susan enjoyed sleeping in even longer than I did.  My morning eventually began with the checking of email and social media messages while I kept a cup of coffee close by.  I have friends who line up on every side of just about any topic, so my social media newsfeeds can become quite interesting.  While I don’t agree with everything, I usually enjoy reading the differing viewpoints to better understand where people are coming from.  Unfortunately, social media doesn’t seem to be a very safe harbor for discussions of opposing views.  The discussion that takes place in the comments sections are often venomous and insulting at best and they go downhill quickly from that.  The name-calling, vulgarity, and downright meanness escalates as the comments add up and it doesn’t seem to matter that one side is trying to claim a Christian perspective while the other is wanting a freedom from Christianity — the language and written tone is the same.  One of the discussions seemed to be a lot of angry back and forth about Christ being taken out of Christmas with one side angry about the perception that the “world” has taken Christ out of Christmas and the other angry about Christians trying to define how the world should live.  With neither side listening to the other, I’m pretty sure no opinions are being changed and that Christ isn’t being represented.  As I went through multiple discussions that all seemed to be going the same way, the following little poem showed up in my mind.

Christmas is a time of year
when peace and hope prevail.
Or does the way we live our life,
tell a different tale?

For us to share of peace and hope,
first we must receive.
If it’s not ours to give away,
then who else will believe.

Jesus said that the world would know we are His disciples by the way we love.  I believe there is nowhere that the way we love is more visible than in the way we interact with those we disagree with.  If our conversations, online or in person, are not seasoned with the grace we have received from God, it is highly unlikely that anyone will believe our message of peace and hope through Jesus Christ.

As the day wound down, I headed to the Riverwalk in Mishawaka to capture some photos of the setting sun.  Today’s photo is one of the reasons I like winter photography.  The snow covered ground provides a great contrast for the blue sky and vivid colors that seem intensified by the cold air.  The wisps of clouds scattered across the sky add to the sunset as they provide texture and capture some of the color from the setting sun.  Too many clouds and the sun is hidden from view with no sunset to photograph.  No clouds and the sun drops below the horizon as a ball of fire with little color surrounding it — it can be stunning, but not usually the sunset picture I have in my mind.

I pray that you and I would be mindful of the way we present ourselves to the world.  I pray that we would have great wisdom in understanding the when and how to interact with people we disagree with.  I pray that we would hold fast to the grace of God in our life as we share the true Christmas message of peace and hope.  I pray that our lives would be made of the right stuff to reflect well the light of God’s Word. 

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2016: Page 356

Page 356 is a long work day and I’m in a state of mind that could make writing dangerous, so I’ll try to keep the written page short and on task.  The day began early with the cleaning and building prep which included extra attention to the floors.  They day is ending in the same manner it began as I get the building ready for tomorrow after teaching the elementary Bible class tonight.

After the cleaning was done, much of the morning was spent with God trying to put tonight’s Bible lesson into a form and level that the elementary students would understand some application from it.  When I needed a break from that topic, I would go through what I believe God wants me to share for a Christmas Day sermon.  As I worked on preparing both of those teaching plans, I was also praying for a number of people I know who are experiencing a first Christmas after the death of a loved one.  As I prayed, God began to form a poem in my mind which I typed out and posted on this blog early this afternoon.  The poem ended up being titled, “I Know”.  Much of its focus is about a God that understands our pain and grief and in the midst of our tears would simply hold us close and say, “I know.”

By early afternoon I headed out for lunch and spent some time wandering through the aisles of WalMart looking for inspiration for some type of activity to help solidify tonight’s lesson into the minds of my students.  This process was always a staple of mine when I had the role of youth and/or children’s minister, but today it seemed that I struck out so I headed back to work empty handed.  The lesson tonight, as we work our way through the Bible, focused on Deborah and her role as a judge in Israel as well as being a conduit for Barak to be able to find the courage to do what God was asking of him.  Since I had it in my office, the students played the game “Trouble” while I taught a lesson about our need to call out to God when we face times of trouble.  We also discussed how important it is to have someone who is fair and just that we can go to with our troubles.  While we like people like Deborah who will judge disputes fairly, God also wants each of us to look to Him for wisdom in helping others resolve their trouble.  He wants us to be encouragers who help others accomplish the work God has created for them to do.  

Today has been an overcast and dreary day which I’m sure contributes to my somewhat dismal mindset.  I didn’t make it anywhere to take pictures and there were no wildlife visitors outside my office window looking to have their photos taken today, so today’s photo is one I took yesterday evening.  It is one of the longest covered bridges I have photographed so far and is still in use with a rather busy road running over it.  While built in 1887, it should be obvious that it is only by regular upkeep, repairs, and maintenance that it continues to be in use today.  In a similar way, our usefulness in accomplishing the work God created for us to do is depend on regular upkeep, repairs, and maintenance in our spiritual life.

I pray that you and I would pay attention to how we feel and know when we have to be especially careful to guard our words.  I pray that we would be involved in listening to God for the purpose of knowing how to instruct others.  I pray that we would be mindful of how others feel as we live and share the good news.  I pray that we would trust a God who knows both what we feel and why we feel the way we do.  I pray that we would be useful instruments in the hands of our Master as we allow Him to do the necessary upkeep, repairs, and maintenance in our lives.

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2016: Page 355

Page 355 began as a cold morning but the twelve degree temperature didn’t feel that cold as it was a full twenty-five degrees warmer than the negative thirteen degrees that yesterday began with.  Even with no fresh snow, the morning cleaning takes longer at this time of year as there is usually extra floor cleaning that needs done each day to take care of all the winter crud that gets tracked in.  In addition to the extended morning cleaning, I ended up with heating system issues to work on throughout the morning.  It seems like there are always adjustments and work that needs to be done to the heating and cooling system at work.  

While I would love it if the system would maintain an appropriate temperature throughout the building without the constant attention, the work required does serve as an object lesson.  For many of us, we act like our relationship with God ought to be something we can “set” and then go on with our life as usual with no further thought or attention needed from us.  Yet that’s not the way it works.  God tells us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” not because we can earn salvation with our work, but because the maintenance of our relationship with God requires effort on our part — just as a relationship with anyone would.  

In between handling the heating issues, I formatted next week’s prayer guide and finished the work to schedule it to be sent out Sunday morning.  I finished out the work day with time spent working on the Bible lesson for the elementary age class I will teach tomorrow evening.  By mid-afternoon I stopped for lunch on my way home then my family and I headed out to enjoy the late afternoon sun.  Today’s photo was taken as we began a short walk through a wooded area.  We were trying to find a good vantage point to photograph a covered bridge and this trail led to a raised platform that allowed us to look across the lake with a clear view of the bridge.  While the bridge was the destination for our photo trip, the surrounding scenery was too beautiful to ignore.  As we go through life, it is important to keep our eyes open to the things around us that God would have us to see.  Many times we become so focused on the things we view as important that we develop “tunnel vision” and fail to see beyond what we want to notice what God wants to show us.

I pray that you and I would be willing to put in the work necessary to maintaining our relationship with God.  I pray that we would find such joy through our relationship with God that we consider it a pleasure to do the work needed to help it grow.  I pray that we would spend more time considering what God would want, rather than pursuing our own desires.  I pray that we would understand God’s desire to reveal Himself to us in greater ways than our own pursuit could accomplish. 

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2016: Page 354

Page 354 began early as I was supposed to meet our pest control service tech and I needed to clear snow from sidewalks for the start of the school day.  Even with the bitter cold temperature my truck started right up, although my windshield scraper had no success in removing the frost that was intent on clinging to my windows.  A negative twelve degree temperature evidently creates a special bond between the ice crystals and the glass which required running the defroster on high for a while before I could clear the windshield.  Once I could drive safely I headed into work but the pest control guy must have decided we would be closed like 95% of the area schools were.  That’s okay, because I still had walks to clear, bathrooms to clean, and floors to scrub before the delayed start to the school day.  

When it is cold enough that your eyelashes freeze to your hat as soon as you walk out the door, everything takes longer.  I don’t think I own enough clothing of increasing sizes to have put on enough layers to withstand the cold winter wind that blew through all that I had on.  Because it was light, fluffy lake effect snow, I began by using the snow shovel.  It didn’t take very long doing that before I started to sweat which ended up making it feel even colder.  So I got the snowblower out and finished up with it.  That kept me from sweating but the wind would blow the flying snow back on me, leaving me looking like a walking snowman.  The cold helped create a clarity in the sky that made the early morning moon easy to photograph.  As I cleared the snow, and became covered with the snow, the beauty that surrounded me helped make the outside work tolerable.

Once the walks were cleared and ice melt put down on some stubborn areas, I headed inside to clean.  While I try to use ice melt sparingly, it seemed like all that I had put down on the walks yesterday must have made its way inside.  It ended up being a good thing I started the day early even with a two-hour school delay as it took me most of the extra time in order to have the building ready.  Even while I was clearing snow and cleaning, I had already begun to spend time with God considering the prayer guide topic for next week.  So, by the time I was able to sit down in front of my computer it didn’t take long to come up with the topic of “Completed”.  With next week’s prayer guide filling the space between Christmas and the end of the calendar year, it seemed fitting to focus some prayer time on some things that God says we ought to complete, or have completed, in our lives.  The good news is that all of them are things that God desires to complete in us as we learn to surrender fully to Him.  After writing the prayer guide, I spent time with God working on the sermon for Christmas Sunday.  Unless God changes it between now and then, the message will continue the “Living As the Lord’s Servant” series with a look at the life of Mary whose response to the message delivered to her by an angel was simply, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

By mid-afternoon, the early morning start in the cold air caught up with me and I set aside the study and headed out for a late lunch before making my way home to rest.  The remainder of the day was spent playing some Wii games, writing today’s page, and enjoying a nice supper with my family.  Now I’ll finish up the writing and call it a day soon so I’ll be ready for tomorrow.

I pray that you and I would adhere to Christ so strongly that we would allow nothing to pull us away from our relationship with Him.  I pray that we would have wisdom in being prepared for the circumstances of life we face.  I pray that we would live life in a way that allows God to complete His work in us.  I pray that we would be drawn to worship as we consider the many wonders that God surrounds us with.  I pray that we would understand how God would have us live as His servant each day.  

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2016: Page 353

Page 353 began early with the hope that waiting until this morning to clear snow was a good decision.  As I arrived at work the freshly fallen snow created a reflective surface that made it seem like it was almost daylight.  As I ran the snowblower down the sidewalks, I could tell that the layer of ice was covering the snow and it was being blown out the chute as the snowblower left a clear, bare sidewalk behind it.  That was the outcome I had hoped for, so it was appearing that success had been attained.  While success was had in keeping yesterday’s ice from freezing to the sidewalks, keeping the sidewalks cleared for the morning was another story.  As soon as the sidewalks were cleared and ready for the morning, the lake effect snow bands shifted to the east and settled over the church.  In doing so, the entire property looked like a shaken snow globe.  The beauty was breathtaking and I found myself singing the words of the old hymn, “Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”  Lake effect snow can add up fast and I found myself working from one end of the building to the other keeping the sidewalks as clear as possible.  By the time I finished the entire length of sidewalk, enough fresh snow had accumulated to need to go back over it again.  I kept at it through the first 5 minutes or so of the worship gathering then went inside to continue my morning worship with something other than “Whiter Than Snow”.  🙂  

During the worship gathering, David continued his sermon series in Luke with a message from the first part of chapter two.  As we looked at the well-known account of the birth of Jesus, we considered two questions that you may, or may not, have thought about — “Why them?” and “Why then?”.  Perhaps you have read the “Christmas Story” and thought about those questions and maybe you have not but I would guess that you have asked similar questions, “Why me?” and “Why now?”, that could be better answered with an understanding of the first two.

It shouldn’t take an intense study of scripture to see that God chooses people for a variety of tasks based on criteria which is very different from what most people use.  I suppose that because so much of my life has been spent not measuring up to the criteria others view as important, I read the story of Mary and Joseph and hear the question, “Why them?”, and immediately think, “Why not?”.  It was the people who chose Saul to be the first human king of Israel because he appeared to the people to look like a king.  Yet God looked beyond outward appearances and into the heart when He chose David to become king after Saul and established His throne through David with a promise of an heir that would reign forever.  While Mary and Joseph met the “line of David” qualification, I’m certain the “Why them?” had much more to do with the heart seen by God than the lineage seen by man.  When God gives us a task to do that seems beyond what people would trust us with, instead of asking “Why me?” we ought to worship God and thank Him for trusting us based on what He can see in our heart.  When I think of the writing assignments God has given me over the past few years, I often find myself asking “Why me?”.  I believe the answer is the same as “Why them?”, God has looked into the heart and trusts me to share the gift He has desired to give, not just to me, but to all mankind.

The second question that may come to mind when we think of the birth of Jesus is, “Why then?”.  The corresponding question we may be more likely to ask when we wonder about the timing of events in our life is, “Why now?”.  Most of us run through life full-speed ahead with little or no allowance for the Spirit of God to direct us in a way that is different from our own plans.  When our plans are disrupted for any reason, we rarely consider the purpose God may have in mind for the change.  Our “Why now?” is often worded as a complaint when we would be better served with a prayer, “Why not now?”.  The Bible makes it clear that the “now” of the birth of Jesus was at just the right time to accomplish the work God wanted done.  God’s view of history is always clear an accurate whether it is past, present, or future history.  He knows “Why now?” and often calls us to trust Hm that the “now” really is for the greater good of the kingdom, and ourselves.  

After church I headed to lunch with my family then it was back running snowblower again, this time at home.  The sun kept trying to make its way through the clouds throughout the afternoon and I contemplated going back to work to clear the walks of all the snow that had accumulated during the morning service.  Contemplated was as far as it got as the house was warm and I wasn’t all that motivated to go back out into the cold.  I will probably regret that decision when I’m having to clear them in the below zero temperatures in the morning, but it was nice to rest a bit during the afternoon/evening.

Today’s photo is one I took last week of a robin in the snow who seemed to be asking those questions we looked at today, “Why me?” and “Why now?”.  🙂

I pray that you and I would worship God in the midst of all our tasks as He reminds us of His love and care.  I pray that we would learn from the lives of the people we read about in the Bible.  I pray that the lessons we learn would be put to use in ways that benefit the people around us.  I pray that we would live with a heart and mind fully surrendered to God in a way that would make us His choice for important tasks.  I pray that we would trust God’s timing in the things He calls us to do.  I pray that our lives would reflect the sanctuary of the living God that we are called to be.

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