Friday, December 27, 2019

A Gift for You . . . From You

As you toss out the Christmas gift wrappings, consider gifts to upwrap for yourself in the new year. Look back with 2020 vision. What do you wish you had done in 2019? What are your regrets? What might you have completed by now if you had only started? Look ahead. What possibilities do you see in the following areas of life?

·       Health – How might you improve your health? A new condition I developed requires I eat a low-salt diet. Now, I’ve always known that too much salt is bad for you, so I go light on salt when cooking. But I never realized the sodium content of processed foods or restaurant fare.

I try to consume less than 1500 milligrams of sodium a day. Do you know that a slice of bread holds anywhere from 130 to 230 milligrams? American cheese can have up to 400 milligrams in an ounce. Even lean chicken meat, because it’s infused with a water/sodium mixture, contains sodium.

Then there’s restaurant food. My favorite Olive Garden minestrone has 810 mg.; the bread sticks with garlic topping, 460; and the salad with dressing, 770. Guess I’ll eat fruit for breakfast and dinner if I lunch at Olive Garden.*

Yes, it’s hard. It requires time and effort. But it leaves me feeling healthy and well. So it’s worth it all. What adjustments in the areas of diet and exercise might make you feel better? Think about it.

·       Family and Friends – How might you improve relationships? Sometimes we get too busy to entertain, too busy to visit. But our mental health depends on good relationships.

One Sunday afternoon we, on the spur of the moment, visited a son’s family. While they were surprised, they welcomed us, and we enjoyed a delightful time.

We are social people. We need each other. I would like to invite people in or visit people at least once a month. Bill and I could visit shut ins. We need to cultivate friendships and stay in touch with relatives.

·       Enjoyment – What gives you pleasure? Last May I listed a dozen short day trips Bill and I might take during the summer months. I cut the list into slips and put them in a jar. Each week we pulled a slip and did what it said.

These were simple pleasures. For example, we browsed through The Kitchen Shoppe in Carlisle, dined at BJ’s in Selinsgrove and went to the movies. Simple pleasures. Maybe you’d like to take a vacation or just start a stamp collection. Put something on the calendar. Or in a jar.

·       Generosity – I need to be more giving. I’ve started by looking at my clothes. As I put away the last of my summer clothes, my storage chest overflowed. So rather than buy a tub, I sorted enough clothes to give to charity so that I could add the rest of the clothes to my chest.

Do you use the library? Do you contribute to its upkeep? What charities do you support? Each year I make a donation to Samaritan’s Purse in honor of my grandchildren. They send you cards to give honorees telling them that you’ve purchased a goat for a family, etc., or, as I did this year, contributed to a missions hospital. I have a grandson training to be a doctor, so I thought that would be a good choice. Then, of course, there’s your church. Do you tithe? Think about how you might cultivate a more generous life.

·        Spiritual Growth – Do you feel connected to God? Are you confident that if you die tonight you will go to heaven? You can be. Jesus paid the price for your salvation. You can read all about it in the Bible. The gospel of John is a good place to start. Do you know if you spend 5 minutes a day reading your Bible, you’ll read through the New Testament in a year. Here’s a link to such a plan:

Do you take time to pray? Yes, God already knows your needs, but how does he get to know you if you never talk to him? We talk to our spouses and our children and our friends and our coworkers. Don’t neglect taking to God.

Think outside the box. Pray about world events while reading the newspaper or watching the news. Take a walk in nature and thank God for the beauty of creation. Before you fall asleep, thank him for the blessings of the day. He wants to hear from you.

I’m assuming you go to church. If you don’t, the new year offers fresh opportunities to connect with a congregation. Visit churches in your area until you find one that challenges you to worship and grow.

In closing, I remind you that you will not have 2020 vision as you look ahead. Only God knows what lies around the bend. (“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11) But you do yourself a huge favor if you enter the year mindfully rather than helter-skelter. Sit down with a pen and have some fun thinking about what God might have for you in 2020.

*Ate at Olive Garden yesterday and discovered a Mediterranean menu with light, lower-sodium foods! They also offer a light dressing for the salad and bread sticks without the topping. So happy!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Book Review: Walking Tall in Babylon

Walking Tall in Babylon: Raising Children to be Godly and Wise in a Perilous World

If you have parents of teens or younger children on your gift list, this is the book for them. Author Connie Neal shares how she and her husband are raising their children to live in a culture taken over by nonChristian beliefs. They are teaching their children to think critically about what they see and hear. Her goal is that her children can govern their own behavior by the time they leave home.

Neal lists the characteristics of biblical Daniel and his friends to illustrate how they withstood the pressures of living in Babylon while remaining true to God. She shares detailed experiences of nurturing her own family with the goal of equipping her children to resist sinful behaviors and to stand for truth among their peers.

I like how Neal recommends books that may be useful to parents. I also like how Neal backs up her points with scripture and notes when she takes the liberty of deducing conclusions from biblical stories.

This book includes a chart to guide you in teaching children the interplay between moral absolutes, consequences, mercy and grace. The author shows deep respect and knowledge of God’s laws and ways of working in the world. For instance, she offers questions to discuss (with answers) to evaluate the story of David and Bathesheba.

Walking Tall in Babylon concludes with a Group Study and Discussion Guide, so it would be an excellent tool for small groups and Sunday school classes.

Neal’s last chapter offers hope: “But let us rest in the sure knowledge that our God is good, and powerful, and sovereign over all, in that he is intent on delivering those who are his during the most perilous times.” A must-read for parents . . . and grandparents. After all, we also want our grandchildren to “walk tall in Babylon.”

Neal has written dozens of books, including What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter?.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Five Ways to Face Tragedy

What do you do when things don’t turn out as you planned? When the things you prayed for do not happen? When, in fact, life takes a downhill slide? How do you keep the faith? Especially while carolers sing joy, joy, joy!

A friend and her husband planned an overnight visit to us a few days before Thanksgiving. We live at a midway point between their home and a daughter’s home. A few days before their visit, they were hit by a car while walking in their neighborhood. My friend’s husband did not survive.

How will my friend respond? I know her. She will trust God and keep the faith.

We can do the same. No matter the experience. No matter the outcome. God is faithful to us in times of peace and in times of distress. In times of sickness and in times of health. Even in times of accidents.

I think of biblical Job. He lost his children, his livestock and his health. His response? “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”

I think of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. When thrown into the fiery furnace because they wouldn’t bow to the image of the king, they trusted God. They knew God could rescue them, “But even if he does not . . . we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

By keeping the faith, these people gave it away. To us. And if they could keep the faith, so can we. We can trust that God will see us through whatever situation we face. He may or may not heal us. We may or may not die. But no matter what, God is with us. The Good Shepherd never leaves his flock. He cares for: Every. Single. Sheep.

So how do we face the tragedies, of life? Especially at Christmas?

·       We thank God that Christ’s name “Emmanuel” means He is with us. His Spirit calms our hearts. His Word reassures us of His Presence.

·       We thank God for small blessings. The support of family and friends. The air we breathe. The food we eat. The doctors and medications God provides. We focus on the positive, slim as it may seem.

·       We wait to see what God will do. Perhaps he will work a miraculous healing. Perhaps not. Perhaps we will never know what he is doing. But we wait and watch for His Hand.

·       We do what we can to help ourselves. What practical steps are required to ease our situation? Will we need therapy? We cooperate. Will we need help? We accept it.

·       We hope. A candle on the Advent wreath symbolizes hope. Christ’s birth gives us hope that, ultimately, everything will be all right. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, came to earth that first Christmas, showed us how to live and died so that someday we may join Him in heaven. No. More. Tears.

God is faithful. In my own life, He has supported me in one way or another as I’ve said good-bye to loved ones and experienced losses.

Once, when I waited as Bill underwent a heart procedure, I watched tropical fish in an aquarium in a hospital waiting room. I was stunned by the exquisite beauty and variety of the tropical fish, fish created by our amazing God. Those fish reminded me of God’s wisdom and goodness--and brought me peace.

Recovering from grief and loss may require years of waiting and trusting. I know my friend has a long road ahead of her. But I also know she is keeping the faith.

Like Job, Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego, contemporary Christians around us offer hope in the midst of tragedy. And by keeping the faith, they give it away. To us. And faith is the best gift of all. At Christmas or anytime.

No matter what circumstances you face, take heart. Keep the faith. And give it away.

And have a Blessed Christmas—regardless of your circumstances.