Thursday, December 31, 2015

Recipe for a Happy New Year

On this eve of the New Year, a brand new year stretches ahead of us like a clean canvass just waiting for us to touch the brush to the palette, choose the colors, and splash on the paint. We make New Year's resolutions with great expectations, but because of past failures, we hesitate fearfully on the threshold of this New Year.

Sir Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain during World War II and a man of many talents, became an accomplished artist. When he set out to paint, he chose oils as his medium so that whatever he painted would last for the ages.

Sir Winston Churchill relaxed by painting.
He asked his wife, Clementine, to purchase the materials he would need. When everything was assembled, the next step was to begin.

A prolific writer, he later described his feelings of looking at the white canvas in front of him. Beads of paint glistened on his new palette, and the empty brush in his hand was poised irresolute in the air. "My hand seemed arrested by a silent veto."

He knew that the sky should be at the top of the page, and sky was a pale blue. To achieve that color, he mixed a tiny bit of blue with white and cautiously made a mark the size of a pea on that intimidating snow-white canvas.

"It was a challenge, a deliberate challenge, but so subdued, so halting...that it deserved no response," he wrote.

At that moment, he heard an automobile in the driveway and out stepped his neighbor, a gifted painter. Clementine had called her.

She strode to the canvas and asked, "What are you hesitating about? Let me have a brush--a big one."

She splashed it into turpentine, swished it vigorously into the blue and white, and sprawled the paint across the canvas in huge, almost savage strokes.

Churchill wrote, "The spell was broken." Delighted, he knew he had discovered his style. This was how he lived. This was how he would paint. He became a fearless and gaudy painter, for he fell in love with the brilliant colors and felt sorry for the dull browns.

Let's approach this New Year with that same kind of fearless exhilaration, knowing that each day is the day that the Lord has made, so we can rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).

Here's a recipe I found for a happy new year:

Take 12 whole months. Clean them thoroughly of all bitterness, hate, and jealousy. Make them just as fresh and clean as possible.

Cut each month into 28, 30, or 31 different parts, but don't make up the whole batch at once. Prepare it one day at a time with these ingredients:

Into each day mix well one part of faith, one part of patience, one part of courage, and one part of work. 

Add to each day one part of hope, faithfulness, generosity, and kindness. 

Blend with one part prayer, one part meditation, and one good deed. 

Season the whole with a dash of good spirit, a sprinkle of fun, a pinch of play, and a cupful of good humor.

Pour all of this into a vessel of love. Cook thoroughly over radiant joy, garnish with a smile, and serve with quietness, unselfishness, and cheerfulness.

If you follow these instructions carefully, you're bound to have a happy new year!

May I recommend some encouraging, faith-building reading for the new year?
Frontiers of FaithTill the Storm Passes ByA Star to Steer By. Click on the titles to learn more about these books and how to order them.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Unused Gift

"Thanks be to God for for His indescribable Gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15).

A pastor was visiting an elderly woman. When she asked him to get a box of letters for her from a chest, he noticed a lovely quilt hidden away in the drawer too.

"May I take it out and look at it?" When she nodded, he lifted it out and unfolded it. "Where did you find such an exquisite masterpiece?"

"My grandmother made it for me years ago as a wedding gift."

Puzzled, the pastor asked, "Why don't you have this on your bed?"

"Oh, it's too beautiful to use!"

What a shame that the precious gift of love had been hidden away in a drawer for 50 years--preserved, rather than used and enjoyed as it was intended!

During the Christmas season we preserve the memory of the birth of God's indescribable Gift. The Gift God gave to us that first Christmas is beyond the ability of any human language to describe. In fact, the Bible uses many names and titles to describe that Gift. These many names depict the many facets of the character, sacrifice, and supremacy of that great Gift.

The Prophet Isaiah said, 

Jesus, the name given to Mary and Joseph by the angels, means Savior, announcing that He came "to save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:23).

These are just a tiny sampling of the names given in Scriptures for Jesus.

His birth as a tiny baby in Bethlehem was just the beginning of the Gift. He came to walk among us, to experience the human condition, and to die on the cross for our sins. He rose again that we too might share eternal life with Him. Today, He longs to give us peace and joy and counsel and comfort in the midst of life's storms.

Are we taking full advantage of all the facets of this First Christmas Gift?

If not, we are like the the elderly woman whose grandmother gave her the lovely quilt, which she laid away to preserve but never use and enjoy. How sad if all we do is celebrate Jesus' birth once a year but don't claim God's Gift in our lives every day!

What will you do today to appropriate God's indescribable Gift to your life?

Have a blessed Christmas!

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

To Put a Face on God

I once heard the story of a missionary to Egypt who was trying to teach the people about the Incarnation of Christ.

In spite of his best efforts, the people shook their heads. "We don't understand."

In desperation, the missionary asked an elderly believer how he could explain the reason for Jesus' coming. The man thought for a few moments then replied, "He came to put a face on God."

The elderly believer was right on. That simple explanation brought the light of understanding to the eyes of the people.

Through the millennia before Christ came, people wondered what God is like. Then God sent His only uniquely begotten Son. Jesus told His disciples, "He that has seen Me has seen the Father."

Now that Jesus has come and moved in love among us, no one ever again need ask that question.

Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means "God with us." Matthew 1:23 (NLT)

God saw our greatest need and sent His Son Jesus. I love this reminder on a Christmas card:

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was to be cleansed from sin, so God sent us a Savior!

"Immanuel, God with us."

The Word did not become a Philosophy to be discussed, 
nor a Theory to be debated, 
nor a Concept to be pondered. 
But the Word became a Person to be followed, enjoyed, and loved.

Another unknown writer said:

Christ came as a tiny Baby that He might better understand our sufferings.
He was born into poverty lest we think Him a monarch.
He came not to dominate but to motivate; 
not to condemn but to forgive; 
not to oppress but to free our souls; 
not to compel but to teach us the truest meaning of unselfish love.

This Christmas season, I pray that you may truly experience "Immanuel, God with us."

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Version of 1 Corinthians 13

I collect paraphrases based on 1 Corinthians 13. Years ago, I found this Christmas version. I don't know who wrote it, but it reminds me to focus on the message of Christmas and not get caught up in the tinsel and commercialism.

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkle lights, and shiny balls but do not show love to my family, I am only a honking horn or clanging bell.

Courtesy Google .com
If I slave away in the kitchen baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime but do not show love to my family, I am just another cook; it means nothing.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and hand-crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties, and sing in the church choir cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point of the season.

Love stops cooking to hug a child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

Love is kind, even though I am harried and tired.

Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way but is thankful they are there to be in the way.

Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can't.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust, but giving the gift of love will endure.

"The greatest of these is love."

What is your biggest challenge to demonstrating your love at Christmas?

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Reflections on Turning Seventy

Yesterday I celebrated my seventieth birthday. As I drove to my writers group, a short message on the radio interrupted my reflections about my life. The speaker said something to the effect that in the next few weeks, many thousands of us would be listening to the greatest oratorio of all time, Handel's Messiah.

My thoughts flew back to my senior year of high school in Seward, Alaska, when I sang The Messiah for the first time, including the soprano solos, in the combined local church choirs under the direction of the high school music teacher. I fell in love with the soaring music. Singing the libretto that came straight from the Bible imprinted those Scriptures upon my memory.

In college, I majored in vocal music. Every year, we performed The Messiah. I even included an aria from The Messiah, "If God Be for Us, Who Can Be Against Us," in the program of my senior recital.

Portrait of George Frideric Handel
Courtesy of
Somewhere along the way, I learned the story behind the composing of The Messiah. George Frideric Handel was a child prodigy. His father tried to steer him into the legal profession, but the organ, harpsichord, and violin captured his attention. Once when young George was improvising on the organ, Duke Johann Adolf overheard it and exclaimed, "Who is that remarkable child?"

Soon, Handel began composing operas, first in Italy then in London. While only in his twenties, he became the talk of England and the best paid composer on earth. Every one of his performances was sold out. His fame spread worldwide. He started the Royal Academy of Music.

But the glory didn't last. (It never does, does it?) Attendance dwindled. His music was considered to be outdated. (I can certainly identify with that.) Younger musicians eclipsed the aging composer.

Handel continued to compose, but each new project failed. Soon, his money was gone. All the stress caused a palsy that crippled some of his fingers, a death knell for an organist. A sense of failure pushed him into the further agony of depression.

Yet, his troubles matured him. His sharp tongue softened. His temper mellowed. And his music showed a depth of feeling as never before.

In 1741, Handel received a post from Charles Jennens. It contained a word-for-word collection of biblical texts about Christ. As Handel read the opening words from Isaiah 40, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people...," he was so moved that he began to compose music for the passage. In 23 days, he set the entire collection to music and called it The Messiah.

Handel's Original Score of the "Amen Chorus"
Courtesy of
Composing such a massive work in 23 days is unheard of. Trying to describe the experience later, Handel said, "Whether I was in the body or out of the body when I wrote it, I know not."

The Messiah opened in London to huge crowds on March 23, 1743, with Handel conducting from his harpsichord. King George II was present. As the choir sang the immortal words to the Hallelujah Chorus, the king leaped to his feet in recognition of the "King of kings and Lord of lords."

My copy of The Messiah
Handel's fame was rekindled. His best days came after the trials of life had matured him. Few people can name one of his operas. But to this day, The Messiah is the world's most often performed oratorio, and audiences everywhere stand in reverence to the King who "shall reign forever and ever."

Yesterday, the memory of Handel's story renewed my spirit. I may be seventy, but perhaps my best and most productive days are still ahead.

Have you ever felt that your best days are behind you? How do you encourage yourself when you feel down? I'd love to read your comments.

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