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My grandboy Carter turns 7 in early January, and birthday gifts are an important topic.  He would love to get GI Joe action figures, a toy gun and a remote control helicopter–and anything he has asked for but doesn’t get for Christmas.

nativity from jerusalem

Of course, we are celebrating a very special birthday just a few days before Carter’s big day.  I wonder what Jesus would ask for, if we asked Him.  Last post we looked at four gifts He has clearly stated He would love to receive.  Today we consider four more gifts that would please our Savior (more…)

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What Can I Give Him?

“What can I give Him,

Poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd

I would bring a lamb,

If I were a wise man

I would do my part.

Yet what can I give Him?

Give my heart.”

–Christina Rossetti

In my former church we sang this poem/song every Christmas.  It asks a great question.  At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus and give each other gifts.  It is only reasonable to consider what we might give Jesus for His birthday.

nativity ornament

He has given us some solid clues.  I will describe four of them in this post and four more in my next post.

I think Jesus would be so grateful for these gifts (more…)

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I will never forget the first time my mother came to visit after Steve and I were married.

My mother was an impeccable housekeeper.  I am not.  Everything in her home was clean, neat and in it’s place.  That might have been true in our home right after we moved in, but not since.

So I went into a frenzy trying to restore order, hide messes and clean every inch.  When she arrived I was exhausted.

At this season of Advent we anticipate the arrival of Jesus, the Lamb of God, the King of Glory.

And yet most of us scurry about getting ready for the coming of Christmas, not the coming of Christ.

Just think of it!

Jesus came to earth to be like us so we can be like Him.

Jesus came to visit us to tell us how much He loves us.

Jesus came into the darkness to shine as the light.

Jesus came walking on water, subduing the storms of our lives.

And so much more.

Every day during Advent I will post a very brief reminder of the gift to us that His coming is.

I will also be taking part in an Advent Blog Hop Series, based on Deeply Loved:  40 Ways in 40 Days to Experience the Heart of Jesus by Keri Wyatt Kent.  It is hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta.

I would also recommend you look at Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent, a “lovely, thoughtful book” by Enuma Okoro.

Most of all, I invite you to welcome Jesus into your heart and life, letting His coming be the center of your Christmas season.

And you don’t have to clean up the house—or your life—first.  He comes to you as you are.

What about you?  How has Jesus come to you lately.

C2012 Judy Douglass

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In my previous post I talked about “My Best Gifts for My Grandchildren.” Today we are looking at some even better–though rather intangible–gifts.  

So it’s Cyber Monday.  And I’m online shopping for my children and grandchildren.  I bet you are too.

In the short run, they so appreciate receiving the “things” they want.  In the long run, though, they will be far more grateful for gifts that will last their whole lives.

After all, they didn’t exactly love the clothes you got them last year.  Or that movie with a good message.  Or even the fun—and expensive—family trip to Disney—everyone wanted to do something different.

Tired of trying to choose the best Christmas gifts for your children?

They probably have more things than they need, and won’t really appreciate your gift if it isn’t exactly what they want.

And wouldn’t we rather give them something lasting and meaningful?  So even as I make purchases to give to the kids, I keep these three gifts in mind and try to find things that will contribute to their growth in each area.

When I was fairly new into parenting, I found myself making some wishes for my children.  If I could choose three things to give them that would help them have a great life, what would they be?

I did come up with three fairly comprehensive concepts to wish for and pray for and hopefully give to my kids.  So here they are:

Gift#1 A Relationship with God

Knowing God is foundational for life and the relationship that makes all others possible (1 John 5:20). A relationship with God offers forgiveness of sin, power for living, love, joy, peace, patience, wisdom, an eternal family, courage, comfort, perseverance…I could go on and on.

As I pray for my children and grandchildren, I find myself coming back to this most basic need of all: to know God.  To really know Him as Father, Savior, Redeemer, best friend, counselor.  So when I don’t know what to pray, this is where I go: “Lord, may they know You.”

Gift #2 A Good Character

A good name is to be more desired than great riches; favor is better than silver and gold. (Proverbs 22:1)

Character influences reputation, which affects our relationships with people, our confidence level, and our ability to achieve.  Character helps determine the contributions we will make in life and will contribute to peace of mind and a clear conscience.

Good character qualities to seek to grow in our children include integrity, responsibility, humility, generosity, discernment, kindness, self-discipline…and a sense of humor.

Gift #3 A Useful Life

What is a useful life?  One that utilizes gifts, abilities, talents and opportunities for the glory of God and the benefit of others.

Why is this important?  God has created each of us for a purpose.    He has given us what we need to fulfill that purpose, and he expects us to use those gifts, multiply them, be a good steward of them.  (Matthew 25:14-30).  So we need to help our children discover who he has made them to be and what he has designed them to do.

As our children grow into useful lives, they will sense their value, enjoy life and know they are contributing something significant.

My children are all grown now, with children of their own.  Though they continue to grow—and I continue to pray—there is plenty of evidence of wishes come true, of gifts received and lived out. I am grateful.

What about you? What gifts are you hoping to give your children?

c2012 Judy Douglass

Related article: My Best Gifts for My Grandchildren

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So you’ve had a rough day/week/month/year? You lost your job. The house is in foreclosure. Your child is on drugs. Your dog died. Your girlfriend/boyfriend broke up with you. And the holidays are looming.

Years ago the Lord gave me a little outline that I have used personally and taught my children for when life gets challenging: 3 T’s for Tough Times. I hope they will help and encourage you.

Tell the Truth
The first thing I do when I don’t like something in my life is have an honest conversation with God. I bring my concerns to Him, and I tell Him the truth about how I feel. Yes, I am respectful, even worshipful. But God has invited us to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)

I don’t believe He wants me to talk to him in the “correct way.” I am confident He wants me to tell Him that I am angry or hurt or confused or devastated or very afraid or…. I can tell Him what I like and what I don’t like about what is happening.

But then comes T #2:

Thank the Lord
God makes some pretty preposterous commands sometimes: In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

In everything? When the diagnosis is cancer? When your house is in foreclosure? When your daughter is cutting herself?

Yes. Everything.

Three wonderful things happen when I say Thank You, Lord.
1. My attitude begins to change, at least a little bit.

2. I acknowledge to God and myself that I believe God is God and God is good. He is sovereign and His intentions toward me are good.

3. I hand God the key to open the door to do the wonderful good that He wants to do

That brings me to T #3.

Trust the Good
Of course you know the wonderful promise of Romans 8:28: And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

And perhaps this hopeful word will add more encouragement: And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me, and they will never leave me. I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land.(Jeremiah 32:40-41)

When I trust the good—God and His intentions—I open my eyes, my mind, my heart. I begin to see the good He is doing in me, through me, in my loved one, in the situation. The more I trust His Godness and His goodness, the more I anticipate His involvement and intervention…in the Tough Times

Three simple truths:
Tell the Truth
Thank the Lord
Trust the Good.

What have been some of your recent tough times? What has helped you through them?

c2012 Judy Douglass

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“Congratulations on your miracle!”

These words from a friend’s doctor brought great rejoicing.  That doctor had told my friend it would be a miracle if she got pregnant.  And now she was pregnant.

Her response:  “Thank You, Lord.  Thank You so much!!”

It’s easy and natural to thank God when the news is what we want.

But it is not so easy for a 13-year-old boy I know.  He struggled through a year of chemo for a spinal cord cancer.  After three years cancer free, he just discovered it has returned.  How does he say “Thank You, Lord”?

Another friend has buried 2 loved ones in the past year. Saying “Thank You, Lord” has not been easy.

Other friends, for whose prodigal we have prayed, recently called to say their child took her own life. “Thank You, Lord?”

We know the verses:

“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation…with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

In all circumstances, in every situation: Give thanks.

Easy to do when the news is good. So challenging when the news is not what we want to hear.

How can God ask such a thing? What kind of impossible requirement is that?

The answer is: God is God and God is good.

Sounds simple, glib, out of touch with reality.

But it is true. I know it because God says it. And I have proved it. Over a (now long) lifetime, I have seen it true over and over.

In fact, I have found those two words—Thank You—spoken to God are the key to amazing changes:

God seems bigger. He isn’t bigger–He is already the biggest. But He grows in my understanding and perspective. I begin to grasp that He truly is God—in control of the universe and my life—and He truly is always looking for ways to do good to me.

My heart changes. The fear, anger, confusion lessen and peace begins to grow.

Doors open. The key that is “Thank You” opens my heart and mind to see good that God is doing, to recognize opportunities, to trust God’s love and goodness at a much deeper level.

For years I have practiced saying “Thank You, Lord.” Now, when little or big challenges come, my first response is almost always “Thank You, Lord.” Almost always. Still not easy. But oh how it protects and encourages and frees my heart and my mind.

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)

What about you?  What has challenged your willingness to say “Thank You, Lord”?

C2012 Judy Douglass

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Loss, pain, loneliness, hopelessness, betrayal.

Tears.  Cries.

Desperate!

Been there.  Done that.  Did not like it!

When life—the things, the people, the needs—is out of control…when I can’t make things happen the way I want…when it goes on and on…when  there is much pain and little hope…desperation takes over.

Our friend King David understood.  Hear his cry of desperation in Psalm 142:

I cry aloud to the Lord;

    I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.

I pour out before him my complaint;

    before him I tell my trouble….

Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;

    no one is concerned for me.

I have no refuge;

    no one cares for my life….

Listen to my cry,

    for I am in desperate need…

God welcomes our cries.  He knows life in this fallen world is difficult, painful, desperate.

When I am desperate, I eventually:

*Fall on my face before God, usually literally.

I pour out my desperation, I cry out to Him, I admit my hurt, my disappointment, my fear,  my frustration, my anger.  I tell him once again that my life is not the way I want it.

*Say “Thank You, Lord.”

Not for my desperation, but in my desperation.  Thus, acknowledging that I know and believe that He is God and He is good.

*Open my hands. 

Often that means literally making a fist—holding tight to my wants and desires, my hopes and fears, my pain and hopelessness—and then one by one prying my fingers open so God can take out what He wants and put in His very good for me.

*Rest in Him. 

Sometimes the release and relief are immediate.  Other times it takes time.  But the leaning into Him and experiencing His comfort and peace produce healing and hope and rest.

David recognized that only the Lord could free him from his desperate place:

I cry to you, Lord;

    I say, “You are my refuge,

    my portion in the land of the living.”

Set me free from my prison,

    that I may praise your name.

I can gain comfort and encouragement from family, friends, books, counselors….  But when I am desperate, there is truly only one place to find deliverance:  the God who loves me and promises to care for me.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;

    he delivers them from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous person may have many troubles,

    but the Lord delivers him from them all… (Psalm 34:17-19)

 

What about you?  Are you desperate yet?

C2012 Judy Douglass

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Allegories are a mix for me.  Some I love, others seem so trite and contrived.

One of the long-lasting allegories that many—mostly women—read is Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard.  Based largely on a spiritual interpretation of Song of Solomon, it is the story of little Much-Afraid and her journey to join the Great Shepherd in the High Places of the Kingdom of Love.

I read it in high school, when I was a new believer.  It helped me to fall in love with Jesus.  In college I read it at a time of turmoil regarding my future, and Much-Afraid led me to a greater surrender than I had experienced before.

As my single adult years continued longer than I desired, God once again used this allegory, enabling me to trust that God knew what He was doing in my life.

The past few months have been emotionally stressful for our family. Lots of pain, ending in great loss.  Then suddenly a turn, filled with hope and restoration, but also with some painful realities.

My entire life with God has been a journey of learning that God’s way is better than mine.  The twists and turns of these days have challenged my peaceful surrender to that better way.

So reading Hind’s Feet has been just what I needed.

Each step of the way Much-Afraid learned a new truth.  Here are a few that spoke to me:

Acceptance with Joy—joyfully accepting whatever He sends my way.

Bearing with Love—living out love no matter what happens.

“What I do thou knowest not.”—I have no idea what work God is doing behind the scene.

“Am I not the Potter?”– Yes, He is, and He knows how to do truly beautiful work.

“Now shalt thou see what I will do.” –In God’s time, He will reveal what He is doing in me.

“God is not a man that He should lie.”—I can trust what He has said.  Even in pain and disappointment.

Sorrow and Suffering are needful companions to change me and to bring good from evil.

So once again I bow my head and my heart before Him, and I open my hands to Him, and I say,  “I trust You.  I know You love me.  You are committed to transforming me into the likeness of Jesus—a very challenging task.  Even as Your work in me is uncomfortable, You comfort me.  You have a perfect plan.  So I give you my way.  Take it.  Replace it with Your way for me.  Thank You, Lord, that You never give up on me.  You will accomplish Your plans for me.”

What about you?  Are your hands open to Him?

C2102 Judy Douglass

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From time to time I get asked to talk about some of what I have learned in years of ministry leadership.  What are some essentials for being a person who can lead spiritually?

First of all, I know I am inadequate and unworthy for such a calling.  As I have thought about it, it seems that spiritual leadership has a lot to do with whom and what you know.  These ideas, though surely not exhaustive, will help explain what I mean:

Know God

I mean really know Him.  One of the most helpful activities for me has been to study the names of God. It certainly has not been an academic exercise—God reveals what He is like through every name He calls Himself.

As I discover that He is El Elyon the most high God, and He is Abba, my daddy, that He both sees and hears everything about my life—and so much more—I find myself on my face before Him, worshiping Him, talking to Him, listening to Him, thanking Him.

I can know the God who made me!!

Know Yourself

A significant paradox of Christian faith is that you and I are nothing and everything.  Scripture tells us we are nothing—we are made from dust and return to dust, we are like grass, even our substance is just a vapor.  At the same time we are of unimaginable value—made in the image of God, treasured by Him, bought with the price of Jesus’ blood, a partner in the Kingdom-building team!  Both of these truths should remind us of who we are.

Another amazing reality: God was there forming us inside our mothers, and when we were born He declared each a work of art, a masterpiece.  He made us who we are because He loves us and because He designed us just right for the “good works He has prepared for us to walk in.”

Understanding our gifts, our like and dislikes, our strengths and weaknesses will  help us to make wise choices as we consider what opportunities we pursue.

Know Your Culture

Leading spiritually requires understanding of the times in which you live.  A few consistent activities will equip you to engage—and lead—across cultures and generations:

Read—Reading is still essential.  In a visual world, fewer people read.  But we need to know history as well as today’s news and events.   The past always interacts with the present as we move toward the future.  I read blogs, magazines, occasional newspapers—and books.  Reading expands and enriches our thinking.

Listen—Oh how we need to learn to listen!  What are people saying?  What are their concerns, hopes, dreams, fears, struggles…? To touch their lives, we need to know the ways into their lives.

Observe—Go through life with your eyes open, not shut.  Pay attention.  The same truths you learn by listening you will also grasp as you observe the people you interact with, watch online, in movies, on TV.  Ask questions. Make connections.

Technology—In our world, we must engage through technology to some degree at least.  I am so not technological—I have no idea how it works.  And yet it has given me access to people around the world—people I can love and encourage to believe God for the more He wants to do in and through their lives.

Know How To:

Take wise risks—Assess realities, don’t be foolish, but step out into the unknown, the uncertain, the scary with courage and confidence.

Learn from your mistakes—We probably grow more when we fail than when we succeed, if we take time to discern what happened and why.

Value relationships—Life is about people.  Leading is about people.  Meaning comes through relationships.  Give priority to the people in your life.

Grow in the difficult times—I’ve found that God is more committed to my character than to my comfort.  But I’m grateful that He comforts me while He works on my character.

Walk in the Spirit—This is the key, the bottom line.  Scripture reminds us that in ourselves we can do nothing.  But with Him, nothing is impossible.  Jesus sent His Spirit to comfort, to encourage, to teach, to remind, to convict, to change us, to equip, to empower.  Walking consistently in the power of the Spirit is the means to true spiritual leadership.

What about you?  What have you found helps you to grow as a spiritual leader?

C2012 Judy Douglass

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It’s hard to get it right.

Relationships are messy.  Families, friends, neighbors.  Even long-term ones can be fragile.

Words spoken in innocence, meant to say one thing, but conveying something else to the listener.

Actions intended to help, but received as control.

Feelings hurt. Trust jeopardized. Love strained.

Excuses. Explanations. Justifications.

But love and history win out.

Repentance.  Going both ways.

“I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.”

Then sweet words:

“I always forgive you.”

What about you?  What words have hurt you, or someone you love?

C2012 Judy Douglass

Related posts:

A Prayer for Forgiving

What I Do When Someone Hurts Me

Grace Forgives

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