Monday Mindset: Ready?

One of my favorite things on Mondays is to be asked the question: “Are you ready for some football?” To be sure: I always am!

During this season, the question is typically asked differently: “Are you ready for Christmas?”

When someone asks you if you’re ready for Christmas was is your response? What do you think of? Lights, cookies, snow, presents?

If being “ready” for Christmas only involves the trappings our attitudes might be influenced by frustration and exhaustion because we don’t feel like we’ve done enough, or there’s so much more to do. Then what could be a joyous season devolves into one big mess of negativity. It might look a little like this:

So how do we get from the image (and attitude) above to more of this:

I have one thought: First, get ready for the right things. A few years back I was in an ER waiting room on December 23. The conversations were enlightening and a bit sad. One man was grousing about how we couldn’t have Christmas without snow (it was an unusually warm December that year). Another woman had fallen and broken her ankle. She weeped when her husband came in, and through tears apologized for being such a klutz and ruining Christmas. I bit my tongue really hard to keep from telling her she was not that powerful; that her fall would “ruin” Christmas–her party plans maybe, but not Christmas.

We experience the sour faces of the “Negativity Scene” above when we get miffed at things not going our way. Imagine how sour Mary and Joseph could have felt. Not much was going their way: all that travel, unexpected/untimely pregnancy, and no place to stay. Yet they did not miss the wonder and awe of the birth of the Christ Child. Emmanuel. God with us.

The second suggestion I would make is to expect things to go wrong. Cookies will burn. Turkeys won’t cook. Cars will break down. Kids will get sick. You get the idea. Expect it. And when it does, what if it does? It might feel like there can’t be Christmas, but know this: God will show up! Don’t miss it. Don’t miss the miracle.

So, are you ready for Christmas? It will come, and it will go. Don’t miss it while you grouse about what might have been, or should have been. I like the words of the old hymn: How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of the heavens. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in. (O Little Town of Bethlehem, verse 3)

Be ready to listen, to watch…to receive.

Rhythm

Many of you (those who follow my FB and IG pages) know that on December 4 I accepted a position as pastor of Mansfield 1st Church of the Brethren. This past Sunday, they had a “thank you” lunch for the exiting interim and a “welcome” lunch for me. The meal was wonderful and they gifts a plenty. Below are just a few. The poem brought tears to my eyes.

I’ve been working on my preaching schedule for the upcoming year, and getting on board with different committees at the church. Nelson and I have carved out a space for my office in our home. There’s still work to be done, but I am excited to have a place surrounded by my books where I can write and be productive.

I have also been thinking about what my guiding word will be for 2023. I have Nelson to thank for helping me decide. While I was working on rearranging/ordering my books (which I willy-nilly unpacked and loaded onto shelves to get them out of boxes), he commented how I needed to slow down and pace myself.

I had been thinking my word was to be discipline, but if I am to make this new position work I need to develop more than balance and discipline. I need a rhythm. l need a life-giving pace that I can maintain. Rhythm it is.

In the past I have set goals that I was unable to sustain and meet. This year I want to do better. I want writing here, at PotOfManna to be regular and something I look forward to, not dread. I will continue my Midweek Refresh Livestream on FaceBook but switch it to Thursday mornings. I will post here on Monday mornings. Right now I’m thinking about calling it, “Monday Mindset.” Then on Fridays I will post a devotion linked to something in the message for that week and call it “Hopefully Devoted.”

Feeling a bit “goldilocks” with this: it’s just right. I hope my finding rhythm will help you do the same.

To the journey ahead!

Hopeful or Hope-filled

And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love (Romans 5:5, NLT)

Yesterday began the new litergical Church year and the observance of Advent in preparation for Christmas. Around the world pastors went to before their congregations with a message of hope. My pastor was among them.

The question our pastor asked to consider was whether we are hopeful or hope-filled. The distinction he made between the two: hope is typically based in wishes, not certainty. While followers of Christ Jesus have a hope that is settled on the promises and provision of God. The very names we identify our God by should bring a stalwart and solid foundation for our hope: God the Lord (Adonai); God our Peace (Jehovah Shalom); God our Provider (Jehovah Jireh); and God the Covenant Keeper (Yahweh).

So as we face unknown and uncertain times in our lives, and prepare with hope for this season of Advent, I pray that we will face it with the confidence Paul describes in the text above: the hope we have from God will not disappoint us.

Now I’m already anticipating the questions and arguments–probably because I had them myself. “How can you be sure?” “God didn’t give me what I asked for.” “They still died and begged God for more time.” “I am still in pain.” “How can God expect me to wait longer for…” Disappointment upon disappointment.

And that’s where it could end, where we throw up our hands, and toss in the towel. Until we consider a concept that has been twisted and the distortions uplifted to support the disappointments. Ready? We don’t think like God.

Paul reminded the Corinthians that we don’t have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and in the Old Testament, Isaiah declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD (Isaiah 55:8, NIV).

Instead, if we allow God, believe God’s best is always for us, God will give us the desires of our heart (see Psalm 37:4). Believing this this truly enables us to echo with the psalmist, “The Lord is my provider, I have everything I need (Psalm 23:1).”

That’s the hope we build on and live into. That is the hope that will not disappoint. That hope is surely more than a thimble full of wishes.

A Prayer for Hope: Lord, I maintain my hope in You and I hold onto the assurance that what I am praying for is already accomplished in the name of Jesus. Your Word promises “no good thing does He withhold from those that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). I wait upon You for Your definition of the “good thing” You will not withhold from me. As David prayed in Psalm 18:1: “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (biblestudytools.com, 6/20/22)

Answering The Questions

It’s Monday morning. A new start to the week and the beginning of new patterns for me. I am posting this to create a space for accountability, and to invite you to walk with me on this path.

I’m going to be reading more. When I read I write because I need to reflect. The books I read seem to beg for conversation. I don’t remember when I decided, but the reason I write so much in the books I read, dog ear the pages, scribble in the back pages stems from my need to process what I’m reading.

I started reading last night. I pulled a book from my TBR (to be read), sat there in the dimly lit room and began to digest Eugene Peterson’s book, Working the Angles.

ASIDE: At one of the first writers conferences that I went to a highly respected writer stated that introductions are unnecessary. It didn’t sit right with me then…still doesn’t. If the introduction doesn’t grab me and get marked up, I’m just not sure I want the book.

So last night, I tripped into Peterson’s intro. I was captured boy his illustration (something I’m definitely going to refer to when I teach Pastoral Care again) of the “angles” need to be working: prayer, scripture, and spiritual direction. He goes on to describe how instead of tending to these internal things, pastors focus more on the externals and pleasing the people, often leaving God out of the script completely.

As I consider moving back into pastoral ministry, I want to be sure I’m building on the angles. So that’s why I grabbed John Dear’s book, The Questions of Jesus. And the first question he lifts up Jesus’ question of his potential followers: What do you want?

Sitting here in my favorite coffee, with people milling about, grinders whirring, and country music blaring, I melted into a puddle of tears. Jesus cares what I want…do I?

God. It’s Monday. New day. New week. Thanksgiving in a few days. Big changes may be coming my way. Family stress brimming and threatening to overflow. And you slip into the chair across from me at my local coffee spot. You skip the small talk, the meaningless chit chat about how cold it is in Ohio and what pie I’m taking for Thanksgiving dinner. You lean in and in a quiet voice ask me what I want. How much time do you have Jesus? I don’t always know. Don’t know how to put it all in words. And you smile and let me know you have eternity to figure it out. Thanks, Jesus.

(Be sure to come back. We’ll be looking at Jesus’ questions for a while together.)

Books, Books, and More Books

Yesterday was the younger daughter’s birthday. We had a delightful outing. First we hit Starbucks for yummy treats. My driving may have caused her to lose a bit of hers, but we overcame.

Then we headed to Cleveland to a Books A Million (aka BAM). The plan hub and I devised was to pay for all her books as a birthday gift. She had quite a haul, and tried to argue with the plan. The guy at the register who checked us out made things work. At one point an older woman heard the interchange and tapped me on the shoulder, “If you need someone to buy books for we’ll be right over here.” Then she looked at the daughter and with a huge grin and matronly authority said, “Let her buy the books.” Everyone within earshot was rolling with laughter.

Lunch came next. Her choice. We went to BIBIBOP. New to me, but it definitely won’t be my last trip! Delish!

Today we planned to go to the local library book sale. Before COVID, the library had three sales a year. Neither of us had been to a sale since some time in 2019. She found several books to add to her collection, and I came away with the twenty you see above. Together we spent $8.00 on books and then we renewed our Friends of the Library membership.

Now I need to start reading.

Q Is For Quiet

(Another post from long ago…right when I needed the reminder.)

For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength. But you were not willing, (Isaiah 30:15).

When our first grandchild, Penelope, was born I created an ABC lullaby that was quite effective at calming her and lulling her to sleep.  She heard it nearly every day for six months and then she and her mommy moved away.  My second grandchild, Caden didn’t get to hear the song much since they lived away from us when he was little.  When Asher came along he lived with us and even when he and his mommy got an apartment he came to see us nearly every day.  Needless to say, Asher heard the lullaby almost daily.  As calming as it was for him, singing it also calmed my spirit.


I have come to appreciate quiet and not just the quiet that comes after the kids are gone.  I mean the stillness of a fresh morning when I whisper even to God.  This has not always been the case.  For far too many years I had way too much on my on my plate.  Keeping myself busy, taking on more and more tasks earned me recognition at work and seemed to impress people.  So I kept at it, all the while feeling a niggling in my spirit that whispered of my need for quiet and rest.  But I was not willing, and the result was tragic.  I’m still trying to put the pieces back together, but some days it really doesn’t feel like there any pieces to work with (see Isaiah 30:14).  


Recently Asher was obviously needing a nap, but desperately fighting to stay awake.  He had crawled up into my lap so I started to sing the ABC lullaby.  Knowing that he didn’t want to go to sleep, he put his hand over my mouth and said, “No, Mema.”  He knew if I continued to sing he would fall asleep and he just couldn’t afford to miss anything.  Or so he thought.  He had a miserable afternoon which resulted in his spending some time in Time Out where, finally alone, he fell asleep.

Just like I knew that Asher needed a nap, God knows what we need.  He knew what the children of Israel needed, too.  They foolishly wanted to put their confidence back in Egypt.  They didn’t want to trust in God or his word.  The prophet is warning them that they needed to return and find their rest, their satisfaction in God and his plan.  They needed to surrender their disquieted spirit and find their strength in him.  But they weren’t willing.  Are you?

Thankful For Facebook Memories

This note came up as a memory on my Facebook page. Perhaps you need to know you’re enough…I did today.

M: MVNC, Michigan, Misfits, and Maturity

One of the greatest enemies to my relationships is thinking I’m not worthy or I don’t belong.  I have spent my life battling with “I-don’t-belong-syndrome.”  So, the irony that M should land on this day is not lost on me.  Today has had plans in it for a very long time, plans that God made that superseded anything that could have been done by me.  Today is the 30th class reunion of my college graduating class.  I was excited to go and see people and reminisce at my Alma Mater.   Trouble was I didn’t write the dates on my calendar.  I read material from the Alumni Association, but the dates never penetrated my brain.  In the meantime, a friend from high school came up with a wonderful idea to travel to Michigan to see another one of our high school friends.  When the miracle happened that we all had a Saturday off together I rejoiced and marked that date on my calendar.  A final piece of material came from MVNC that was meant to remind me of the reunion and it hit me that I had made the mistake of not marking my calendar.  Now what a mess that was!  Or was it?  Today seems to be a day to deal with my own demons of feeling like a misfit and wanting instant maturity.  

Feeling like a misfit goes way back into my childhood.  I recognized it most at Christmas each time when I watched the Rudolph Christmas special.  I would sit and listen to the misfit toys sing their woeful song and then get all excited when in spite of their differentness they were able to find joy and love when they were reunited with the other toys.  Even the “Bumble” found usefulness and meaning.  As I grew I seemed to always find ways to lock into the group where I never felt like I fit in: I was never quite smart, talented, pretty, rich, or loveable enough.  Those were terrible monsters to battle and  I know that those feelings are a part of teenage angst and from a developmental psychology perspective I was struggling to find my identity.  Throughout the process I felt like David in Saul’s armor: nothing seemed to fit.  But unlike David, I didn’t know how to throw it off and find myself.

The other component that made life that so difficult for me was that I wanted instant maturity.  I remember standing on the stage at the end of the Miss Teenage Columbus Pageant.  I had actually made the top five.  I was now going to have to answer a question that would determine my place among the winners.  I was given a list of characteristics and told to chose the two I felt were most important and why.  I distinctly remember that one of my answers was wisdom and I think the other was happiness.  I wanted wisdom because I knew it was knowledge well used.  At seventeen I wanted to have all the answers and the ability to function wisely.  Now perhaps that seems like a good thing, but in my answer I see my propensity to want to short-circuit the process.  It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that someone finally helped me realize the importance of process, the need to value the process not just to strive for the end result.  So now in my fifties, I feel like a kid just sucking the life out of the process and it feels weird and people look at me even weirder.

As I was thinking about all of this I was prompted to pick up my copy of Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life.”  I was required to read this at work several years ago and while I found pieces of it interesting, I was at such a different place spiritually than my co-workers that it wasn’t a good experience for me.  I chaffed against it to be quite honest.  So this morning I was flipping through some of the pages and I found a section on the misfits of God—imagine that! 

Here’s what Warren writes:

“What matters is not the duration of your life, but the donation of it.  Not how long you lived, but how you lived.  If you’re not involved in any service or ministry, what excuse have you been using?  Abraham was old, Jacob was insecure, Leah was unattractive, Joseph was abused, Moses stuttered, Gideon was poor, Samson was codependent, Rahab was immoral, David had an affair and all kinds of family problems, Elijah was suicidal, Jeremiah was depressed, Jonah was reluctant, Naomi was a widow, John the Baptist was eccentric to say the least, Peter was impulsive and hot-tempered, Martha worried a lot, the Samaritan woman had several failed marriages, Zaccheaus was unpopular, Thomas had doubts, Paul had poor health, and Timothy was timid.  That is quite a variety of misfits, but God used each of them in his service.  He will use you, too, if you stop making excuses.” (p. 233)

Speaking of maturity, Warren also refers to the process of maturing fruit and vegetables.  He writes: “When you try to ripen fruit quickly, it loses it flavor.  In America, tomatoes are usually picked unripened so they won’t bruise during shipping to the stores.  Then, before they are sold, these green tomatoes are sprayed with CO2 gas to turn them red instantly.  Gassed tomatoes are edible, but they are no match to the flavor of a vine-ripened tomato that is allowed to mature slowly.” (p. 217)

So what does this all have to do with going to Michigan instead of MVNC?  I’m glad you’re still with me to ask the question.  Today I’m spending the day with the woman who was class president and so popular I didn’t realize she even knew my name.  She has a life that I used to dream would be mine.  And today by the grace of God I call her my friend.  And we’re going to visit the woman who won that Miss Teenage Columbus Pageant when I was fourth runner up.  She is one of the smartest, most gifted women I know and God has blessed my life with her friendship as well.  Today I’m marveling in a process that has taken way more than 30 years to effect.  Three of us will enjoy the day together, but there are multitudes who have made it possible for me to do so.  I can’t name you by name here, but know that you will be in my heart there.  Today there is no misfit.  Talk about maturity.

Staying Thankful

Here’s the context for the meme verse: Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:15-18, NLT).

There are three dogs living in my house. Two belong to my daughter with whom we share the house. And one is mine. Half the time we walk the dogs together, but some days I walk them by myself. Our walks together are full of conversation and much laughter. When I walk alone, I occasionally talk to the dog, or myself. Sometimes I talk to God.

A friend of mine used to live in one of houses I pass often. She moved away this year. I miss her. A few walks ago as I walked past her old house I told God I missed her and asked for a special blessing to fill her heart. Without missing a beat, I felt God nudge me that I should let my friend know I thought of her and prayed for her.

That’s what Paul did here. Beyond that, he also listed what he would ask God for his friends. Consider his list: spiritual wisdom, growth in knowledge of God, understanding of the hope God offers to those who believe and follow.

The friends Paul prayed for “unceasingly” were seeking to walk in faith in a new way. Some were building on their Jewish roots, but others were building as they went. The things Paul asked of God represented how the Ephesian believers hearts and minds needed to be equipped for the persecution they faced for choosing to walk in a different way.

The world doesn’t understand our choice of following the way of Christ. Our friends need prayer for strength and wisdom.

One other thing jumps out at me from Paul’s prayer. Appreciation. It’s not a big thing, but expressing our gratitude for others can go a long way, and deliver a huge blessing. Today let’s make a point of telling someone how much they mean to us. Let’s thank God for them, and let them know we’re holding them in our prayers.

Gratefulness

Hi. If I told you this year’s been hard, it would be an understatement.

Words, thoughts, creativity…they’ve been tough to come by.

Right now I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. That’s not how I like to be. I want to be all in and enthusiastic about everything. Just not there right now.

So it’s not surprising to me that while I intended to write 30 devotions about gratitude and thankfulness this month…I’ve only gotten as far as creating a few memes and picking out Bible verses to reflect on.

Here’s the first meme:

I referred to this verse in my FB Midweek Refresh lesson. I have felt like addressing the different verses which point to giving thanks and being grateful, while frequently discussed, are not always given a honest interpretation when it comes to application. Why? Because life is tough and we need more than Pollyanna platitudes.

On a scale of 1-10, I would give this verse a 10 for difficulty. My reasoning lies in the phrase “in all circumstances.”

Before we pick this verse apart, let’s drop it into context for a moment. Paul wrote the letter of 1 Thessalonians in response to the heavy persecution the believers were facing. He wanted to encourage their faith and hope. To do this he directed them to look to the future, and specifically to Christ’s return.

When do we lose hope? For me, hopelessness creeps (and often floods) in when my focus is on the direness, bleakness of the situation. Feelings of overwhelming lack and negativity block out the positive…the hope.

Paul’s words and intent reminded me of the old hymn: “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” The encouragement of the hymn writer syncs with Paul’s message, for when we look full into Jesus’ wonderful face “the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

Nothing about this verse diminishes the awfulness or pain we might be going through. It certainly didn’t for the Thessalonians. Our hope is not in the circumstances changing. So what does? Our focus.

It is God’s will for us to give thanks in all (each and every) circumstances because we experience the presence and promise of God through it all. We never face the test or difficulty alone. We never have to do it in our strength alone.

And look…just thinking about this enabled me to write a blog post. Thank you, God, for your presence and promise. Forgive me when I lose focus. Remind me where to keep my eyes. Amen.

Answering the Call to Prayer

“That has to be the dumbest commercial.” My daughter was emphatic in her disgust.

“Which one this time?” was my response.

She went on to describe a fast food restaurant’s advertisement where people are engaged in some activity: a baseball game, a wedding, and a meeting at work. Then a gong sounds (the company’s identifying mark) and one of the characters immediately leaves what they were doing to find the nearest gong-sounding restaurant. The closing scene is that person chowing down on one their meals.

It does seem a bit contrived. But then I was reading in Robert Benson’s book, “Living Prayer.” In it he describes how the monks at the monastery drop what they’re doing when they hear the bell ring for prayer. The question he raises is, “When the bell rings, will you answer the bell?”

Monks ceasing their activity to go to prayer seems much more logical and natural than a person pulling into a fast food restaurant when the gong sounds. But what about you and me? What calls us to pray? If the Spirit were to move or nudge us to pray would we drop whatever we were doing?

I was reading a blog where someone was describing a trip to Egypt. While there, this writer was struck by how often people would pray, how many times a day there was a audible call to prayer, and many people responded. They wondered, as a result, what that would look like in America?

The apostle Paul left instructions that the fledgling church in Thessoalonica was to “pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).” There are at least thirty-five other similar instructions in the Bible (according to my Google SEO). But how can that be a realistic expectation?

One way to attack the seemingly insurmountable instruction to always be at prayer would be to take a few meaningful steps in that direction. We could set a timer on our watch or phone to go off three times a day: start with morning, noon, and night. When those become a habit or second nature, we could begin to increase the number of times to four, then five, and stretch ourselves to six. Imagine praying as we awake, again at mid morning, then as we eat lunch, on then to middle afternoon, dinner, and when we go to bed. We might even be able to find a time to pause and prayer in the hours between dinner and bed—depending on whether you’re a night owl. This is not the kind of thing to attempt all at once, but slowly over time as we sense the Spirit wooing us.

I can almost sense resistance as this is being read. “We don’t have time for this.” “What would we find to pray about?” I find these things to be typical of busy people, but it really is a good question.

Book titles quite often catch my eye and last longer in my mind than the material between the cover. Bill Hybels wrote a book that falls into that category for me: “Too Busy Not to Pray.” Instead of looking for reasons to not pray, let’s just start doing it.

And the what is just as “easy” to address. Whatever you find. Scan the news on your phone and pick three things. Open a hymnal and pray the verses. Carry the prayer list from your church’s bulletin with you. Pray through your friends alphabetically: Monday for everyone who’s name begins with A, and on and on. Do a search on your favorite search engine for ways to pray. You’ll find lots of suggestions.

Now, with timers set, hearts committed, ears open, and armed with ideas for how to use the time, let me ask Benson’s question again: When the bell rings will you answer it?

I’m going to be giving it my best effort. Will you?

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