Looking Forward to Christmas

For the month of December, I will be taking a break from Proverbs and posting reflections that coincide with Advent. Christmas is a special season, and my hope over the next four weeks is that amidst the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, parties and baking that we will still find a few quiet moments to reflect on the coming of Christ.

I’ve always enjoyed the Advent candle-lighting ceremony at church because it’s fun to hear the different families speak each week, to see the beautiful and festive candles and to think about the virtues that each of the candles represent as we are challenged to be more like Christ. I also have special memories of our own family lighting the Advent candle on multiple occasions. It was such an honor.

As I was preparing for this post and thinking about how I would write about each Advent subject, I came across a good explanation of Advent: What Is Advent?

I’m looking forward to sharing reflections with you on Hope, Peace, Joy and Love over the next four weeks, and then sharing a special thought on the Christ candle on Christmas Day.

Do We Embrace Diversity?

My newest book review is for Rich Perez’s book, Mi Casa Uptown: Learning to Love Again. In his book, Perez reminisces about his childhood in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, and he expresses concerns about raising his own family now in NYC. His main concern is that cities are not friendly toward family life, and often when members of a different culture move into a city for the sake of “bettering” the area, they wind up eradicating the traditions and identity of the culture that was first there. He makes the point that while areas like his Hispanic hometown community of Washington Heights are happy to have white people move in, they want them to meld with their culture, rather than try to make it like the white culture. Perez eloquently says, “Inner-city neighborhoods don’t need the dominant culture to act as our father, we need them to act as our friends. We need partnership, not paternalism.”

Perez and his family started a church in Washington Heights as a step toward making inner city life better for families, and their guiding philosophy is, “Plant roots, make homes, build families, love neighbors, trust Jesus, and die well.” Each of those actions serve as individual chapters in his book, and Perez fully explains this philosophy through personal stories and Scripture in each chapter.

Having lived in the suburbs all of my life, it was fascinating to read about inner city life. And since I have served as a short-term missionary, it was eye-opening to consider whether my own actions were meant to accentuate rather than dominate another culture. I appreciated Perez’s point that we must love and take pride in our cities, because if we don’t we simply cannot be a good neighbor to the others who reside there. We must be actively involved in our neighborhoods to embrace diversity and to share the love of Christ.

How we handle diversity is such a relevant topic today, and Perez makes many interesting points. If you decide to read this book, share your thoughts in the comments section. I would love to hear what you think.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes and the opinions I have expressed in my review are entirely my own.

A Thankful Heart

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Proverbs 4:23

One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories comes from back in the early ’80s when I was a child in elementary school. I had several cousins who were all close in age to both me and my younger brothers, and we had the best time playing together at our granny’s house. One particular Thanksgiving we played outside and built huts out of pine straw. We played in the huts, ran around the huts and destroyed the huts, all to begin building them over again. Inside the house, we oohed and ahhed over the feast of food on the table and we always squished together around the blue Formica “kids table” to eat while our parents sat together at the dining room table.

Granny was a nurse’s aide at a hospital for intellectually disabled people, and because she enjoyed art, one Thanksgiving she sketched in marker several copies of the holiday illustrations from the bulletin boards at the hospital for each of us grandkids. I still have mine – an elf riding on a turkey. I loved that picture! At those special family holiday dinners, our hearts were warmed with laughter and good times together. I am thankful for those memories of good times with family.

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Someone seeing this might think what a strange picture, but for me it is a keepsake that reminds me of my Granny’s love for me and the happy times I had as a child on Thanksgiving.

 

 

What are your favorite Thanksgiving memories? Cherish those, but also look with thankfulness on the present and to making new memories. The condition of our heart, as Solomon tells us in Proverbs 4:23, is of utmost importance, because it guides us in our words, thoughts and actions. To enjoy life, we must guard our hearts by aligning our attitudes with God’s word. Colossians 3:2 tells us to “set our minds on things above” and later in verses 12 and 13, to “clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,” and to forgive one another.  In order to truly live like this, we need the Holy Spirit to help us and we need to live with a thankful heart.

When we find something to be thankful for in every situation – yes EVERY situation – our heart will experience positive changes. If you struggle with being thankful, pray for God’s wisdom and grace to help you do so. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6 to present our prayer requests to the Lord with thanksgiving. In verse 7, he explains that when we do this, we can experience peace like no other.

As Thanksgiving approaches, consider what the Lord has given you. Find things for which to be thankful. In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp challenges readers to live with gratitude, and asks them to make a list of 1,000 things for which they are thankful. Beginning a list of things we are grateful for is a great way to prepare our hearts not only for Thanksgiving but also for living a life filled with gratitude.

One of the things on my list will be each of you, who have so graciously supported me in reading this blog. I pray you have a blessed Thanksgiving!

The Hardened Heart

“Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.”

Proverbs 28:14 (ESV)

Do you believe the Bible is your authority for life? If so, do you live as if you believe that its warnings, commands and promises are true?

I think most of us would probably answer, “Yes” to the first question but “No” to the second one, which then brings up a third question: Why don’t we fear the Lord enough to live as he commands?

I think the answer to this last question lies in the idea that we often trust ourselves more than we trust God. Admittedly, it’s a lot easier to live with what we desire and can perceive – see, hear, feel, touch –  than to live by faith in what we cannot see or understand. But when we turn to our own devices instead of fearing the Lord, we find ourselves aligning our beliefs with the world.

When we do this, we harden our hearts against God’s word, and Proverbs 28:14 explains that when this happens, we will fall into calamity.

We can harden our hearts in many ways – maybe we struggle with pride, or anger, or gluttony, and we are so steeped in a particular sin that we don’t even realize it is wrong. I believe homosexuality is another area where hearts have become hardened. This week, I heard a fantastic sermon (thank you Pastor Mark!) on how to minister to the gay community and will share at the end of this post some of the points made and several verses that will help us minister to this community.

As mentioned earlier, Proverbs 28:14 says that the consequence of a hardened heart is calamity, and I believe that calamity is upon our nation when it comes to our sexual identity. After “hiding in closets” for years, homosexuals now are not only displaying their lifestyle publicly but are also promoting the idea that there is nothing wrong with it. With our national government supporting this lifestyle, homosexuality is portrayed as normal and is actually glorified through the media, reaching all the way down to children’s television shows and books. Our kids, the next generation, will see nothing wrong with someone having two dads or two moms. This new thought system has brought calamity to Bible believers because it totally goes against what the Bible teaches about homosexuality.

God’s word clearly tells us that homosexuality is unnatural (Romans 1:26-27), depraved (Romans 1:28), perverse (Romans 1:27), and sinful (Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:24). God did not create people to be homosexual (Genesis 1:27).

As Bible-believing Christians we must believe what God says and not let our hearts become hardened by the beliefs of the world. And, when given the opportunity, we must lovingly confront those we know who live the homosexual life. Their hearts have become hardened by what they believe, but if we show them God’s love and help them to understand his word, there is a chance that their hearts will be softened. God’s word tells us that nothing is impossible with him (Luke 1:37)! People can change no matter what strongholds they struggle with (1 Corinthians 6:11)! So, trust in God, live by his word and pray for hardened hearts to be changed by it.

The Test of Praise

“The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise.”

Proverbs 27:21 (NIV)

Throughout our lives we face all kinds of tests: school tests that measure how much we understand a particular subject, certification tests that assess whether we have mastered a knowledge set for a given career field, medical tests that determine the condition of our health, and everyday situations that test our patience and integrity. Even praise is a test, according to Solomon. Proverbs 27:21 tells us that “people are tested by their praise.”

The word test has many definitions but oxforddictionaries.com gives us two of them that apply to this verse:

“A procedure intended to establish the quality, performance, or reliability of something, especially before it is taken into widespread use.”

“An event or situation that reveals the strength or quality of someone or something by putting them under strain.”

While the process is different in these two definitions, they both have an ultimate focus on quality. Proverbs 27:21 compares the crucible and furnace for silver and gold to praise for people. Just as the precious metals of silver and gold are heated to a high temperature in a crucible or furnace to reveal their impurities and increase their quality, praise is a way of seeing what a person is made of by showing what’s underneath the surface in his or her character.

How do you handle praise? When you receive praise, do you take all the credit? Do you continually expect praise from others? Do you build your life around receiving praise? Or, do you deflect praise, never deeming yourself worthy? Do you feel you can only give praise and never receive it graciously? All of these reactions reveal a pride problem, whether it is arrogance or false humility. Rewire your thinking and remember that every good thing comes from God, and he is the one thing upon which we should boast.

“This is what the Lord says:
“Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom,
    or the powerful boast in their power,
    or the rich boast in their riches.
But those who wish to boast
    should boast in this alone:
that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord
    who demonstrates unfailing love
    and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth,
and that I delight in these things.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NLT)

When we receive praise, we should graciously say, “Thank you” and give credit to the Lord. Praise is a way we can encourage each other, so be grateful for the praise you receive. But, also remember that praise is a gift, and it is not something you are owed or should expect to receive. Paul gives us good advice about this in Romans 12:3:

“Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.” (NLT)

Beautiful polished silver and gold don’t just happen; they have to be tested in the fire for the impurities to be removed. Our character is the same way, and praise is just one of the tests to help us refine our character. As you study God’s word and daily apply it to your life, press on through the refinement process. Your character will shine.