Monthly Archives: December 2013

Top 10 Lessons from 2013

Here it is—New Year’s Eve. Time to reflect and remember all that has happened and what I’ve learned over the past year.

As promised in my last post, here is my Top 10 list of lessons I have learned in 2013 (in no particular order).

Top 10 Lessons from 2013

1.       Live for today…take life one day at a time.

What I did yesterday has come and gone. Tomorrow may never be. Today is where I need to spend my time, place my focus, and live my life. Doing whatever the Lord asks me to do for this one day will place me where I need to be tomorrow.

Matthew 6:33-34: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

2.       NEVER take what I have for granted. Cherish what I have been given and be thankful.

A grateful heart allows me to see the precious gifts from the Lord that grace my life. What I have today, may not be here tomorrow. I must cherish every blessing and be thankful! This is especially important with the people in my life.

James 1:17: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…

Philippians 1:3: I thank my God every time I remember you.

3.       God is always with me…even when I don’t notice Him.

God is faithful to His promise to be with me and never leave me. When I acknowledge His presence, I am filled with great strength and peace. I want to be like a little child with her Father—walking beside Him, holding His hand, and following His lead in total dependence. And never let go.

Deuteronomy 31:8: The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Isaiah 41:10: So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

4.       Perspective makes a HUGE difference.

God began 2013 by reminding me to focus on Him and not on my circumstances. Little did I know how important that lesson would be! When my eyes are on Him, trusting in His sovereignty, and clinging to His promises, I am not overwhelmed by the problems that I face. In remembering that He is in control and has a purpose in all things, I find peace and joy in every situation.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18: Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

5.       Memories are not guaranteed to last forever…record them!

I’ve often had the thought, “Things will come and go, but memories last forever.” But my husband’s memory loss and seeing more people with dementia and Alzheimers has made me realize this is not always the case. Memories are wonderful. But I cannot trust them to always be accessible. Making a record of precious moments through photos, videos, journals, letters, etc. is time well spent. This is also something God had the Israelites do:

Joshua 4:20: And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan.

Joshua 4:6-7: In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.

6.       Waiting is a blessing from God.

How I hate to wait! But, oh, what blessings I would miss without it. Waiting compels me to seek God, to depend on His provision and timing, to cling to His promises and the hope that they bring, to learn contentment, and fully trust the Lord.

Isaiah 30:18: Yet, the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!

7.       God’s light shines brightest in the depths of darkness.

Hardship and trials are not something I welcome. But it is in those times when the normalcy of life screeches to a halt that I come to my knees before God and in desperation cry out to Him. What beautiful light He brings into those dark times. This is something that cannot be seen when all around me is going well. There is an intimacy there with my precious Lord that can be found nowhere else.

Isaiah 42:16: I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

8.       Trusting in the mysterious ways of God will lead to contentment and joy.

I often don’t understand what God is doing and why things happen in my life. But God promises to bring good out of all things. And when I trust Him, knowing that His ways are not my ways, I find sweet peace and joy in seeing the outcome of His work.

Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”  declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.

Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

9.       God’s grace and strength are sufficient to see me through anything.

Coming face to face with many of my fears and seeing God’s provision at every winding turn has allowed me to experience His amazing grace and strength in a new way. When I start to feel overwhelmed, He always lifts me up with His powerful hand and provides for every need—physically, emotionally, spiritually. His grace is sufficient!

2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Philippians 4:13: I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

10.   The supportive care of family and friends is a need God wants me to fill.

My husband and I have been overwhelmed by the love, prayers and care of our family and friends throughout this year. I cannot even express what that has meant to us. In the same way, I want to be used by the Lord to support the people around me with His love and care and lift them up in prayer. I want to be a faithful friend, a shoulder to cry on, a source of encouragement—which is what I have been called to do.

Galatians 6:3: Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Proverbs 17:17: A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

Well, there you have it. My Top 10. What about you? Did you take the Simply. Challenge to Remember? If so, please share with us what you’ve learned by commenting below.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Photo by Sabra Penley

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A Simply. Challenge — Remember

“I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.”                                         — Psalm 143:5

The week following Christmas has always been, for me, a week of looking forward to the new year. I start the process of making plans that will begin on January 1, which usually entails choosing a few areas of my life that need improvement and setting goals—the proverbial New Year’s resolutions.

It has not been my typical practice, however, to reflect over the past twelve months. I’m not sure why. It seems like a logical thing to do. To look back and take an accounting of things done well, areas where improvement is needed, to see lessons learned, and how God has been working in our lives can help as we make plans for the coming year.

It also seems to be a biblical thing to do. Psalm 143:5 says: I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.”

The Lord wants us to remember what has happened this year, how He has worked in our lives, and what lessons we have learned in the process. To remember…and not forget.

Psalm 92.5

As I look back over 2013, it could be labeled the hardest year of my life. My husband’s life-threatening illness which began in January left us reeling for a while, and much in our life has changed from what it was a year before. It has been a trying time…a growing time…a time of great revelation. And I don’t want to forget any of it.

We have been given many blessings, beautiful gifts from the Lord. God was faithful to His promises and worked in wonderful ways. There are far too many to share with you at once, and I imagine that they will crop up a little at a time in days to come. For now, I am compiling a list of the top 10 lessons learned in 2013 and, Lord willing, will post that on Tuesday, New Year’s Eve.

So here is a Simply. Challenge:

Will you join me in reflecting on this past year? Prayerfully take time to examine what God has done for you and remember lessons you have learned that will help as you move forward into the coming year. And I invite you to return on Tuesday (New Year’s Eve) and share something you have learned with us. I’ll be sharing my top 10 lessons, and would love to hear how God has worked in your life as well.

Dear Lord, we thank You for Your faithfulness and provision in our lives throughout this year. As we move toward a new one, we ask that You will help us remember all Your works and consider what Your hands have done. May these truths compel us to seek You and follow Your plan each day in 2014. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Blessings to you all!

Photo: Steens Mountain CMPA by Bureau of Land Management, licensed by CC BY 2.0, text added

Scripture from New International Version, 1984

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A Christmas Prayer

Simply my heart, Lord…

        It needs to be filled with awe and wonder of Your marvelous grace,

        To see the majesty of Your glory brought down to earth,

        shining a Light in this cold, dark place.

Simply my heart, Lord…

        It needs to be filled with the hope of His coming–the new life He brings.

        Our long-awaited Savior has been given to us–Hope Eternal.

        My humble soul sings.

Simply my heart, Lord…

         It needs to be filled with the joy of His presence, so real and so near.

         Emmanuel – God with us. There is nothing to fear.

Simply my heart, Lord…

        It needs to be filled with the peace that understanding cannot attain.

        That peace that comes only through faith in this Child

        and in calling upon His wonderful name.

Simply my heart, Lord…

        It needs to be filled with the love that You give in this great sacrifice.

        This love that says to every one:   

        “I know what you’ve done, but I’ll still pay the price.”

Simply my heart, Lord…

        It needs to be filled with the praise of the angels in telling Your story,

        to show to the world how wonderful You are

        and to shine the light of your magnificent glory.

Simply my heart, Lord…

        It needs to be filled with gratitude; with thanks let it sing.

        May I lift my voice in worship to praise Jesus the Christ,

        the newborn King!

Dear friends,

I pray that you each have a wonderful Christmas! Below is a beautiful video with a song by Mark Schultz. I hope you will be blessed by it, as I was.

Merry Christmas with love, Sabra

Video by Alwyn Barry on YouTube

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The Star

“The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (John 1:9).

Is anyone else out there captured by that star–that wondrous star–which burned so brightly on that sacred night so long ago? That strange and mysterious star that moved the Magi to travel so far? The very star that guided these learned, seeking men to the place where the new King lived?

I have been captivated by its beauty, its mystery, its message. I start searching the scriptures to learn more about it. Did you know the only accounting of its presence is in Matthew 2:1-10? How can this be? This wonderful star about which we lift our voices to sing is only mentioned once? The search continues…

My eyes move to the cross-reference in the middle of the page in my sacred text. And I find Numbers 24:17: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.”

Ah, but this star in Numbers is not the star mentioned in Matthew. This star is the long-awaited Star. The Messiah. The Savior of the world. This Star is Jesus. The King of kings and Lord of lords.

So, then, these passages speak of two different stars. The star seen in the Bethlehem sky gave off great light. But it was just a beacon in the heavens to draw men to the real Star of Christmas—Jesus, the Bright and Morning Star.

Isaiah 9.2

It is said in Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

This light is Jesus…the Christ…Messiah…the newborn King.

The star about which we sing at Christmas, that star in the sky over Bethlehem, radiated with the glory of this newborn King. That star’s light signaled that the True Light had come.

John 1:9 says: “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”

Jesus Himself said in John 8:12: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus is the True Light. HE is the Star of Christmas. He shines His light into all the world and gives life to all who believe in Him.

And as followers of Christ Jesus, we too are called to be His light. Just like that star at Bethlehem, we are to proclaim that the Messiah has come.

We see in Matthew 5:14-16 these words: You are the light of the world. …let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

In the original Greek language, the word for light is phós. It means “to shine.”

This reminds me of those glow-in-the-dark stars. You know, the ones that can be stuck on the ceiling and that shine when the light is turned off. These stars are made with phosphorous chemicals. In order for them to glow, they must be exposed to a bright source of light. And (if I understand correctly) energy from the light source is absorbed by these chemicals and causes the glowing effect. Unfortunately, over a period of time the light will dim. The only way they can glow brightly again is to come near the source of light once more.

In the same way, we must stay near the source of light—the True Light…the Lord Jesus Christ—in order to shine with the brilliance of His glory. Whenever we leave His presence, we begin to dim just like those stars on the ceiling.

Philippians 2:12-16 instructs us to “…shine like stars in the universe as [we] hold out the word of life….”  It tells us that we must follow God’s commands and be blameless and pure. This is a tall order, and one that can only be accomplished by staying close to the True Light and absorbing His power as we apply His truth to our lives. Only then will our light shine brightly before men. Our light that draws men to His light—the Source of light and life.

I’m still captivated by that star. Though now, the star in the Bethlehem sky so long ago has new significance for me. It is a shining example of how I also am to proclaim tidings of great joy—the good news of the Savior. It beams with the call to radiate His light for all the world to see.

When someone sees me and my life, what am I radiating? Am I shining with the light of the Lord Jesus? Am I a beacon, drawing others to Christ by reflecting His love and grace and mercy? Is there a welcoming smile on my face or a sour scowl that turns people away? Do my words bring truth and hope to a dark, hurting world? Or am I just adding to the darkness with grumbling and self-focused opinion?

O Lord, I want to shine with Your brilliance! I want to pierce the darkness with Your love and draw those who have no peace to the Prince of Peace. Help me stay by Your side, to absorb the truth of Your Word, and in Your power to gleam with Your glory that all the world may come to worship You! In the name of my precious Savior, JESUS, the Messiah, the True Light – The Star, Amen.

 

Sunrise Photo: “Sunrise” by Andy Wright, licensed under CC BY 2.0/framed, text added

All Scripture from the New International Version, 1984.

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All About Jesus

“Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:42 NIV).

In years past, we enjoyed going to the mall at Christmastime and looking at all the festive decorations and delightful displays in the storefront windows. There was something energizing and exciting about the hustle and bustle. Santa and his helpers were always nestled somewhere prominent in an elaborate setting, usually with a long string of moms and dads with their little kids in tow awaiting their turn to get their pictures taken with the jolly old man. Often there were carolers singing songs of the season making their way amid the crowd of shoppers. It was one place we knew we could expect to experience the sights and sounds of the Christmas season.

On a cold, wet morning a couple weeks back (too cold and wet for outdoor walking), my husband and I ventured to our nearby mall to do our eight laps around and fulfill our walking goal. The Christmas season was upon us, and I was eager to see the mall in all its finery.

But as we walked inside and began passing store after store, I noticed something was different. There was no feeling of excitement and delight that I had been expecting. Instead I felt disappointment. We were struck by how few stores had any kind of Christmas décor at all. Many of the storefront displays could have been seen in January or February and not looked out of place. The mall’s decorations consisted of a few red banners draped high and some strings of white lights hanging like fringe overhead. Santa was in his usual place. And while there were a few Christmas trees, brightly wrapped packages, and a sign that shouted “Believe!,” where was the feeling of delight I remembered?

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I felt the mall and the stores had let me down…let us all down.

About lap six, I noticed it. Within my heart, my own finger was pointing back at me.

Why, Sabra? Why do you look to retail stores and corporate management companies to fill you with joy and delight in a season where we are to celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ? Rarely have I ever seen at the mall any image depicting the true purpose of Christmas—no nativity, no shepherds, no angels. This is not what the retail world is about.

But, Sabra…this is what YOU are about.

(Forgive me, Lord.)

As a believer and follower of Christ Jesus, it is MY responsibility to herald the true meaning of Christmas—the coming of the Messiah.

Acts 5:42 tells us that the apostles in the early church “never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (NIV84).

Indeed, it is the privilege and calling of all believers to proclaim that which the angel declared to the shepherds one silent night so long ago, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 NIV84).

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We each have our own storefront windows, so to speak, in which we display what is important to us.

Do our storefront displays tell the story of snowmen and Santa and shopping and yuletide festivities? Or are we telling the story of the greatest gift ever given in the person of Jesus Christ?

I, for one, need to evaluate how I celebrate this sacred season. I need to see where I have let too much of the secular traditions permeate my thinking, activities, and decorating.

We’ve heard before that we need to ask ourselves this question: If people didn’t know me, would they be able to tell from my life that I am a Christian? Maybe we need to also ask ourselves: “If people didn’t know me, would they be able to tell from my ‘storefront display’ this Christmas season that Jesus is my Savior?”

Will you join me in being more determined to share the true significance of Christmas?

Here are just a few ways we can declare the good news during the Christmas season that our Savior has come:

  • Display a nativity scene
  • Hang Christmas ornaments or decorations that depict various elements of the birth of Christ: angel, shepherd, star, three kings, manger, baby Jesus
  • Use words throughout our seasonal decorating that tell what gifts we receive through Jesus: love, peace, joy, hope, light, salvation, God with us
  • Send Christmas cards that declare this good news in some way
  • Make our own gift tags with Scripture about His coming
  • When giving a small gift, include a card with the story of the Savior’s birth
  • Go caroling to our neighbors and sing true Christmas carols about Jesus

This is a mere sampling of ideas. What are some ways you have found to share the good news that Jesus is the Messiah? Please share them with us in a comment below.

Dearest Father, help us to not be shy about declaring the good news that Jesus is the Christ. Show us, Lord, how we can better celebrate this wondrous event and most precious gift at this time of year so that the world will know of Your love and salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Believe Photo: “Believe in Commercialism” by Selena N.B.H. (CC BY 2.0)

Nativity Photo: “Nativity” by Jeff Weese (CC BY 2.0)

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A Humble Heart

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV84).

I thrive on structure. Having a schedule and being able to stick to it makes my day. I tend to be more productive when things are well planned and I can quickly move from one task to another.

Cue the interruptions! They always seem to come, don’t they?  The washing machine stops running. The printer runs out of ink. The toilet backs up. Traffic slows to a halt. The register at the checkout line breaks down just as I get there.  Someone asks me to help them do something I wasn’t expecting to do. This is where I get into a lot of trouble. I can go from being content and happy to irritable and grouchy quicker than you can say, “The dog did what?!”

The pleasant smile that began my day quickly turns into a scowl, complete with snappy remarks making sure everyone within earshot knows I am not a happy camper. Pity those in my path. I don’t even want to be around me.

SELF. Me. Ugh! Here I am again. Thinking of myself and my schedule before anyone and everyone else. Placing myself on the pedestal of my life. Self-importance. Self-pity. Self-pursuit.

Lord, am I ever going to get this right?

I pause….

My eyes fall on the humble nativity scene on my living room chest, each well-worn character carefully placed just so he or she can gaze upon the little baby Jesus.

Nativity

Humble. Humble. The word rolls around in my mind.

Jesus—the picture of humility.

Humility. This is what I’m lacking, isn’t it?  Show me, Lord…

Philippians 2:5-8: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.

This Scripture describes Jesus from the cradle to the cross…

    • He was in very nature God and chose to denounce His rights as God.
    • He was in the highest position and chose to make Himself nothing.
    • He was the ruler and chose to be a servant.
    • He was in holy heaven and chose to leave it for a sin-wrecked world.
    • He came to earth as a human baby to a poor family.
    • He grew up into a man on this earth.
    • He humbled Himself.
    • He was obedient to God His Father.
    • He gave up everything for the whole world…that bittersweet sacrifice of love…on a cross.

Christ Jesus is our example. What a perfect picture of self-sacrifice and love! I am captured by His humility and self-denial. And it puts me to shame.

Philippians 2:3-4 says: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Just as Christ did, I must humbly put others before myself and show them love by my attitude, words and action. And when those inevitable “unexpected” interruptions come in my day, I need to see them as opportunities to serve others, deny self, and honor God.

A humble heart is an obedient heart. 

Every time I gaze upon that sweet little Baby in the lowly manger, I should simply stop and stare in wonder.

HE is humility. HE is love. HE is sacrifice. HE is my example.

Most gracious Father, forgive me for my self-centered sin—for all the times I’ve put myself before You and before others. Keep this picture of Christ ever before me—in my mind, in my path, in my sight. May I, like Jesus, so humble myself that I am willing to give up everything for Your purpose and Your glory. May my heart be captured with Your love that overflows to everyone around me, that I might be a reflection of the One for whom we celebrate this season. Fill me with child-like wonder and make me ever watchful, to see the glory—Your glory—this Christmas! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Nativity Photo: By Sabra Penley

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