How are you?

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We were in Delft buying, of course, Delftware, those blue and white ceramic pieces that say, “I went to The Netherlands!” It was late in the day, and the little shop was rather crowded, probably because their prices were so good. I waited in line at the counter, ready to pay for my Christmas ornaments, impressed by the excellent English of the clerk. (I had given up on learning any Dutch.)

When my turn came, I handed the young lady my selections, smiled, and said, “Hello, how are you?” Her response caught me off guard. With nary a hint of incrimination in her voice, she simply said, “May I ask you a question? Why do you Americans ask, ‘How are you?’ when you can’t possibly care how each person really is?”

I’m sure I hesitated a bit as I struggled to come up with a sensible answer to an excellent question. “It’s a greeting we use. We actually do try to care about the response.” (My answer was lame, but the best I could come up with at the time.) Here is my question today, though. Do we care about the answer? Or, in our hurried world, do we ask without thinking, and hope for a quick, “I’m fine. How are you?” so that we can go along our way without pause.

Pause. How often do we pause? How often do we probe a bit for the real answer to the “How are you?” question? And if we do receive an honest response, how often do we take time to listen, to follow up, to offer some sort of related service beyond a quick, “I’ll keep you in my prayers”?

I want to learn to pause, to mean it when I ask the question, to listen when I’m given an answer, to look into the eyes of friend and stranger alike and care. Please, join me. And if you are so inclined, tell me about your own “How are you?” encounters.

 

Yellow Ribbons (by Beth Smith)

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”Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree” hit number one on the music charts in April 1973. (Perhaps you were just a baby at the time. Maybe you weren’t even born yet. Consider this a history lesson.) The song told the tale of a man who served a three-year prison sentence. When he was about to be released, he wrote a letter to his wife and explained that he would be taking a particular bus through their hometown. If she wanted him to get off the bus and come home, she was to tie a yellow ribbon around the oak tree in the city square.

Imagine the man’s anxiety as the bus got closer and closer. He asked the bus driver to be on the lookout in order to tell him what he saw. When the town came into view, there were yellow ribbons on every branch. He was forgiven. What a wonderful feeling!

We can all have that joy, that release from sin and regret, because God forgives us. We can come home to him, no matter what we’ve done.

  • In Matthew 26:28 (NIV), Jesus said, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
  • Peter said of Christ in Acts 10:43 (NIV), “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

This is not an exclusive promise. It’s for everyone! We may be tempted to think, “Yeah, right. Sure it is. But nobody knows how bad I am, what evil thoughts I have, what terrible things I do. No way can I be forgiven.”

My answer is a wholehearted, “Yes. Way.” We are promised in 1 John that if we confess our sins, admitting them to God, he will forgive us. Then, we are to forgive others.

Forgiveness isn’t always easy. Sometimes, we think, “I can’t do that. What they did was too horrible.” The truth is, if God tells us in his Word to forgive, then we can forgive. He never tells us to do something without giving us the power to do it. Forgiving isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice.

This very day, if there’s someone we haven’t forgiven, it’s time to get alone with God and do it, perhaps praying, “God, I don’t feel like I want to do this, but as an act of my will, by choice, I obey you. I choose to forgive this person. You can change my feelings. I will no longer rehearse the grievances and bitterness I have. I forgive them as you have forgiven me.”

The next step? When those old bitter feelings rise up, we have to say, “No Way! I have forgiven that person as I have been forgiven.” And when can we stop forgiving others? Never. Because God never stops forgiving us. Jesus has yellow ribbon tied around everything. He tells us, “All is forgiven. I’m waiting for you with open arms.”

A Stake in the Ground*

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Once upon a time a farmer accepted Christ as his Savior. Whenever he had a mean thought, though, or argued with his wife, or was tempted to lie about something, he wondered if he really was a Christian. One day, as he plowed a field near his house, old doubts returned. Determined to put an end to his spiritual waffling, the farmer stopped his tractor, picked up a fence post, walked to the center of the field and drove that stake into the ground. “There!” he said. “I have accepted Christ. I am a Christian here and now and forever more.” Then he climbed back on the tractor and continued his work. Thereafter, whenever a doubt came into his mind, he’d point at the stake and say, “I am a Christian. There’s my stake. I have already made that decision.”

Many of us need a stake of remembrance, one that reminds us that we are being renewed day to day by the power of God. ‘Ever heard comments like these?

  • “Well, our family always has been stubborn.”
  • “He’s just mean spirited like his daddy was.”
  • “You know alcoholism runs in her family.”

That kind of thing is over according to this verse: “If any person is in Christ, he is a new creation (a new creature altogether), the old (moral and spiritual condition) has passed away. Behold the fresh and the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 AMP).

Why don’t those of us who have accepted Christ as Savior act fresh and new (and sweet and angelic) all the time? Perhaps it is because we need daily renewal. Even though our spirits are right with God, we have minds, wills, and emotions that have to be brought in line with God’s Spirit in us over and over again. We need to be “constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind, having a fresh mental and spiritual attitudes, and put on the new nature created in God’s image in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4: 23-25 AMP).

This daily renewal involves:

  • Looking to Jesus for help.
  • Asking for forgiveness and forgiving others.
  • Loving others every day.
  • Reading God’s Word.
  • Doing our best to be more like Jesus.

Will we fail to do all that? Certainly! But God always gives us the opportunity and the power to start afresh. Don’t get discouraged. God’s grace is enough. We can each drive a stake somewhere as a reminder that we can be and are being renewed every day by God’s grace and power.

*For the month of December, each post will be an abridged excerpt from Every Wednesday Morning, written by my mom, Beth Smith. If you want to read all 64 devotional essays in their full length form, you can grab a copy of her book at etsy.com.

Something Extra

 

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Last Wednesday, Mom wrote about faith. Have you been paying attention to God’s word? Letting the words sink in? Have you given Hebrews 11 a look? Here’s a bit more incentive (from Mom) to nurture faith:

 

Picture for a moment an everyday coffee filter. Everything in our lives can be filtered through faith.

 

·                We pour out our needs through faith in God. Out comes God’s provision – exactly what we need, even if we don’t realize it.

 

·                We pour our doubts through our faith. Out comes confidence in God – that blessed assurance!

 

·                We pour our fears and worries through faith in God. Out comes peace – peace that the world cannot understand.

 

·                We pour our guilt and shame through faith, and out comes our righteousness through God’s forgiveness.

 

·                We pour our weakness through faith in God, and out comes His strength – that strength that assures us, “I can do all things through Christ.”

 

We can face anything, any situation. How? With faith in God. Why? Because God loves us and wants what is best for us. He knows what is best for us and has the power to bring it about. With him all things are possible. And that’s why we can filter everything in our lives through our faith in God.

 

Filtering Our Lives Through Faith*

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Does your faith ever waver? The ninth chapter of Mark tells about a father whose son needed to be healed. After he described the boy’s condition to Jesus, the father said, “If you can do anything, help us.” (Doesn’t that sound like us? “I’m not sure you can, but maybe you can. I’ll cover my bases by at least asking. So, in case you would like to, if you are able …”)

Jesus’ answer to that father is the same as what he says to us, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23 NASB).

How did that father respond? Here’s what Mark 9:24 (AMP) recounts, “At once the father of the boy gave an eager, piercing, inarticulate cry with tears and he said, ‘Lord, I do believe! Help my unbelief.’”

We can make that cry too. “I do believe, help my unbelief!” Jesus healed the man’s son. He will help us too, but we need to increase our faith. How do we do that? We are never, this side of heaven, going to be perfect in our faith, yet there is a way to make it grow.

“Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 NASB). Faith comes by hearing the word of God. The problem is, of course, that we can hear without paying attention. Remember getting called on in class? I do. Sometimes I heard the teacher’s voice, but had no idea what she had asked. We need to pay attention to God’s word, the kind of attention that comes from wanting to know what he says.

Then we need to let those words sink in. If we don’t “pay it any mind,” as we say in the South, we’re sure to forget it. It’s like telling the preacher, “Good sermon today. It really touched me.” Sometimes, later in the day, when someone asks me, “What was the sermon about today,” I have to answer, “Well, I don’t remember, but it was good.” If we don’t meditate on God’s word, it might sound good, but it won’t do any good until it reaches our hearts and produces faith.

I deedoubledare you to hear God’s word this week. I mean get into it, read it, listen, and meditate. Try starting with Hebrews, Chapter 11 (Yes, the whole chapter.) You’ll see what people who believed God did by faith. You’ll read that, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV).

*For the month of December, each post will be an abridged excerpt from Every Wednesday Morning, written by my mom, Beth Smith. If you want to read all 64 devotional essays in their full length form, you can grab a copy of her book at etsy.com  

 

 

The Candy Cane (By Beth Smith)

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(For the next four weeks, each post will be an abridged excerpt from Every Wednesday Morning, written by my mom, Beth Smith. If you want to read all 64 devotional essays in their full length form, you can grab a copy of her book at Etsy.com. )

Welcome to the Christmas season! Since candy canes are popping up in stores everywhere, I thought I’d share with you a few legends regarding their origin:

  • One story says that in 1670 a choirmaster at the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, handed out sticks of sugar to his young singers to keep them quiet during the long Living Nativity Ceremony at Christmas, bending them into shepherds’ crooks in honor of the occasion.
  • Another says that in 1847 a German-Swedish immigrant in Wooster, Ohio, decorated a small spruce tree with paper ornaments and white candy sticks.
  • We do know that, around 1920, Bob McCormack began making candy canes as Christmas gifts for his friends and family, twisting and bending each piece by hand. The story goes that in the 1950’s, a relative of Bob’s invented a machine that automated the candy cane’s production and made Bob’s Candies, Inc. one of the world’s largest producers of that Christmas treat.

I thought it would also be interesting to look at some of the Christian symbolism of the candy cane today:

  • Turned with the curve up, the candy does indeed look like a shepherd’s crook. We know that Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down his life for us.
  • The “J” that the candy makes when the curve is down stands for the name of Jesus. And that is the greatest name of all. It calls us to worship and brings power to our prayers.
  • The hardness of the candy is a reminder that that Jesus is the Rock. He is stronger than anything the world can throw at us.
  • The white of the candy points to the purity of Jesus. Christ was without sin, even though he was tempted. Because of this, we can go to him for help with our own temptations.
  • The red stripes on the candy may stand for the blood Christ shed for us on the cross. In the words of an old hymn, “His blood can make the foulest clean.” His death, his blood, covers our sins so that we are made right with God.

Who does Jesus want to believe in Him? All of us. All of us! It is not his will that even one of us be lost. That’s what Christmas is all about.

So maybe it’s not “just a candy cane” any more. It’s a reminder of our Lord and his love for all of us. Merry Christmas!