Archives for posts with tag: preparation

start-finish

 There is a difference between a starting line and a finish line. They may actually be the same line, but your goals as you cross it are different.

 Crossing a starting line requires that you completely focus on what is ahead of you. You may get off to a running start or a slow start. Whatever preparation you have made for that particular race must be intentionally applied to the path in front of you. Your energy and focus and effort is on what you are doing.

 Crossing a finish line means that race is over. You can’t go back and change your position in the starting blocks or your strategy for running that race. Whether you triumphantly cross the finish line in first place or just drag yourself to the end of the course, that race is over. You will be judged by what you have just done.

 But what happens if the race you’ve just completed is the preparation for what is to come next? How many of us come to what we decide is the end and stay there? We choose to be defined by our past, rather than allowing it to refine us for our future. I failed; therefore, God can’t use me. People have disappointed me; therefore, I won’t trust again. I’m not perfect or powerful; therefore, God should find someone else. And we set up camp on what we think is the finish line, when God intends us to make a new, different start.

 The mistakes and pain of your past are not an excuse to refuse to run. Refusing to try again is the easiest way to fail and the best way to be defined by your weakness. A good coach will use the mistakes and successes of past races as a teaching tool to run future races more successfully. Sometimes that new start is a brand new adventure based on the lessons we’ve learned in the past. Sometimes that new start looks like the same old race…but we learn to master the course, rather than allow it to defeat us.

 Sometimes all the “lines” look the same from where we stand. How different would the story of our lives be if we allowed God to determine whether we are at the beginning of something new, or at the end of something old? To use our beginnings and our endings to train us to depend on His plan and trust His power, rather than our own? There are some things you need to let go of and put behind you. There are some things you need to work toward and trust God with, even though you can’t foresee success.

 When you sit on the starting blocks, it hinders your ability to begin the next race. Allow your belief in what you do know about God to determine your choices for what you don’t know about your future. Trust that God can take all that is in your past and use it to prepare you for what is to come.

 

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yellow rose

My friend is moving to Texas. She will pack up the objects and memories of her life here and reassemble them there. Some of what she will take with her are reminders of places and times that were precious to her in the past. Some of what she will take will be just as functional there as here. Some she will leave behind. She will leave people who love her and go to where she is not known yet. She won’t be where she “belongs”; she will begin building a new life where she will belong somewhere else.

She knows a little about where she is going. Bluebonnets and yellow roses will replace cardinals and dogwoods. Open sky will replace a canopy of trees. She will find new friends and new places where she will belong. She will learn new roads and customs and foods…and I hope she unwittingly adopts at least some of their drawl.

 She has lived her life here in such a way that many have learned to love her here. I have no doubt she will do the same there. And it seems to me that what she is doing now is what we are all called to do: prepare in this place for where we will belong in the future. Jesus promised, “I am going to prepare a place for you… I want you to be with me where I am.” (John 14:2-3)

 Refusing to prepare does not prevent change. Jesus has already prepared a new place for us in heaven. He described it for us in the Bible, so that we would know enough about it to make it our heart’s desire. One day we will go there, whether we are prepared or not. Letting go of what is known and precious is hard, but it may allow us to be able to receive what is unknown and glorious. Letting go of our “here” requires that we focus our priorities on knowing God now, so that we are prepared for what is to come.

 We don’t belong in Heaven yet, but we’re not going to stay “here” forever. My prayer for my friend is that she will have new adventures and put down deep roots and find new friends and joy in the place she is going. May the same be true for in your life “here” as you prepare for your life “there”.

 May we learn to love and value those given to us “here”, and may our time and our priorities “here” reflect the fact that we know that God isn’t finished with us and that there is more to learn in this life that will prepare us for eternity. Ask God to help you remember that your true home is in his presence. Ask God to make you homesick for Heaven…before you get there.

Tree

One of the tenderest parts of my preparation for Christmas is putting up the tree. Decorating it usually brings a few tears. Many of the ornaments were given to me by people who are now waiting for me in heaven. Many of the ornaments were made by my precious children who are now wonderful grown men. Some were given to me by people I rarely see anymore. Each ornament represents a person or an event or a trip that blessed me or my family. Each one has a story. I have spent twenty seven years accumulating the ornaments that make my tree complete and give it beauty and meaning.

It’s not a perfect tree where everything matches. It’s a tree that mirrors real life. Most of the ornaments on it are one of a kind. Some are elegantly beautiful; some are whimsically fun. Some shine; some are worn by age. Some are religious; some are secular. All are precious to me and are a reflection of the story of my life.

The decorations and parties and concerts are one way I try to make celebrating Christmas look different from the rest of my year. The older I get, the more my celebrations are lace with memory and tradition. That tree is precious to me because it is where those that I love will gather on Christmas morning. My tree, my life, and my effort to celebrate the birth of my Savior are all imperfect, but God is not deterred by my imperfection; it is the reason he came to save me.

My intentional focus on the fact the God interrupted history to send his son to earth is intertwined with family needs and schedule demands. When I choose to acknowledge God’s incredible gift of that first holy night of Jesus’ life, Christmas comes to my den and my heart as surely as it did to the stable and hillside in Bethlehem.

That Christ child would grow up to lead those willing to follow him through all the events of their lives: the shiny and the raggedy, the glorious and the tender, the sacred and the secular. He didn’t insist that we become holy so that we could know him; he came to help us become holy in the midst of all the stuff and shine and stress of our lives. May your home and your Christmas celebration be characterized by his presence, his peace, and his joy as you allow him to weave the story of your past into all that is to come in the new year.

 

coming going

The older I get, the faster the years seem to go. There never seems to be enough time in the day because time goes so quickly. It seems like yesterday that my children were precious toddlers. Now they are grown men. How quickly the decades of my life have passed.

But occasionally, we mark our lives not by what we’re losing, but by what we’re gaining. When we plan a wedding, we don’t anticipate the “end” of being single; we anticipate the beginning of a marriage. When a woman finds out she’s pregnant, she doesn’t count down the days until she’s not pregnant anymore; she anticipates the birth of that baby. We don’t see that we’re “losing” time for being single or pregnant; we look forward to a time that is coming.

That is how God sees time.

Jer 31:31  “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”

Gal 4:4  But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law.

John 5:25  I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.

Perspective matters. When our focus is on this life, we can become burdened by all that isn’t done and isn’t right. But this life is not the whole story.

The time is coming when this life is understood as it really is…preparation for what is to come. The time is coming when you will you will see the face of Jesus and enter heaven. The time is coming when there will be no more sorrow, when God will wipe away your tears. There will be no more evil, no more suffering, no more fear. You are not losing your life on earth; you are closer to eternity. Spend the time you have preparing for the time that is to come. Eagerly anticipate all that Jesus has prepared for you.

Without Warning

We live in a culture that puts a warning label on nearly everything. We are warned against smoking, diving into the shallow end of the pool, or using the hair dryer in the bathtub. Labels insist that we “shake well before using” or “take with food”. Signs warn us that trespassers will be prosecuted and unattended cars will be towed. Children should not stand in grocery carts, and no one should stand on the top rung of a ladder. We may fire a “warning shot” or hear a “warning bell”. Our society tries desperately to predict all outcomes and avoid everything that is dangerous or unpleasant. Too often, our need to feel like we are in control subordinates common sense and adventure to a flimsy façade of safety.

Sometimes God sends warnings. He warned Noah about the flood and Joseph about the impending famine. He warned Elijah about the coming drought and the coming rainstorm. He warned Joseph to get Mary and Jesus out of Bethlehem before Herod’s troops arrived. He warned Peter that Satan was going to “sift” him and that he would betray Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. But when God sent warnings, they required action.

Sometimes there is no warning. Medical emergencies and accidents are never scheduled for our convenience. We have our day all planned and suddenly the phone rings, the toilet overflows, the car gets a flat tire. If we knew when the stock market crash would occur, we would get our money out in time to save it. If we knew the policeman was running radar, we’d have slowed before we rounded the curve. Even Publisher’s Clearing House surprises the winners.

We go through each day of our lives expecting them to be predictable, but, every once in a while we face a moment that changes our future without warning. We meet our soul mate or the one who will inspire us to become more than we are. There is a surprise diagnosis on a routine medical exam or a sudden crisis that totally refocuses our priorities. An opportunity appears or a natural disaster wipes out our security in a moment. We face life changing moments with no warning, and how we handle them indicates what we believe about God, our character, and our priorities.

The Bible is full of stories of people who wake up one morning, just like every other morning, with no warning that their lives were about to change. Joseph went to check on his brothers and ended up in a pit before being sold into slavery. Moses was tending sheep when he saw the burning bush. David was delivering provisions to his brothers in the army when he heard the taunts of Goliath. Who knows what Mary was doing when Gabriel appeared. Peter, James, and John went on a hike up the mountain with Jesus and ran into Elijah and Moses. The disciples were having a prayer meeting when wind raced through the room and tongues of fire landed on their head. Paul was headed to Damascus to arrest some Christians when a bright light interrupted him. The Samaritan Woman went to get water from the well, and met the love of her life. Their priorities changed in an instant, and their lives changed forever.

God does not promise to warn us, but he does promise us his presence and power, no matter what the circumstance is. How we respond to the warnings, how we respond to events that don’t come with a warning, are probably the best indicators of what we believe about God. We are not guaranteed tomorrow, but we are promised forever if we choose to love him and obey him. He has warned us that he’s coming back for us and that we will be judged. We don’t have the timeline, but we do know his expectations. Embrace God’s interruptions in your life. Choose to live each day expectantly. See all that happens as an opportunity to know his presence and have a front row seat to his activity in your world. Sometimes you will be surprised by delight; sometimes it may be fear or tragedy; always God is with you.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Acts8:28)

Place matters

The home I grew up in. My elementary school. The homes of my grandparents and great grandparents. Eagle Eyrie. The basement of the library at Baylor University and the Brazos River. My first apartment . The classroom where I taught my first high school English class. The sanctuary at my church. My current home. The bench by the creek in my front yard. The park where I taught my children to ride their bikes. My father’s grave.

These are the places of my life. Not the huge moment places, but the places that sustained me, shaped me, changed me, nurtured me, still affect my soul. These places will always matter to me, no matter how they have change, no matter how far I am removed from my connection to them.

Place also matters to God. God has always prepared a place for his people before he leads them there. God didn’t ask Abraham to be faithful in Ur; God insisted that Abraham move to a new place that would become the Promised Land for his people. When famine hit Israel, God already had Joseph in place in the pharaoh’s palace with extra food stored. God called specific people to build ebenezers in the place where they had “met” him. God’s glory dwelled in the Temple and the Tabernacle. The Old Testament said that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem and come up out of Egypt. Judas knew the exact place to find Jesus and betray him. Jesus promised that he was going to prepare a place for us.

My church has a strong ministry to the refugees in our city. One Sunday after church I took one of those refugee families home to their apartment. The 20 year old son had been born in a camp. He had never known life outside that environment. When his family learned that they would be relocated to America, he set about learning the language, culture, economy and history of America. If you know that you don’t belong in the place where you are, you study the place where you are going so that you can be better prepared when you get there. Hear that idea from the heart of Moses. He was a Hebrew living in an Egyptian palace, a prince living as a shepherd on the back side of the desert, and a spokesman who stuttered. He said in Ex 2:22, “I have been an alien in a foreign land.” The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is like the Bible’s Hall of Fame. It mentions so many of those who stood firm in their belief in God during their time on earth. Heb 11:16 says of all of them, “They were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

That place is real. It is not a “cosmic oneness”. It isn’t just light or a feeling of well being. Heaven is an actual place. In Revelation 21 John described watching as an angel measured it. It has walls and gates and streets. The Bible compares it to a kingdom, a city, and a garden. Learning about the place God has prepared for you can give you better perspective on the circumstances of the place where you are. Heaven is not the place you look back on, it is not the place that shaped you; it is the place that can begin to shape you now, that can give you the courage to overcome the temptation and the suffering of this life because you know that this life is not all there is. May God give you a vision of the place he has prepared for you. May that vision sustain you until it becomes the place where you spend eternity.

Much Ado about....what?

So much of life, especially the big events, takes so much longer to get ready for than it does to actually do it. Christmas pageants and concerts have tens of hours of rehearsal for a performance that usually lasts only one. Unwrapping presents takes a tiny fraction of the time it took to plan and shop and wrap each present and craft beautiful wrapping and bows to decorate them. I may spend hours in the kitchen preparing a meal that will disappear in 20 minutes. Months go into planning a wedding that usually takes no more than a few minutes. The women’s ministry team at my church is hours away from our 10th annual Christmas Tea. This year we will have 248 women. Months of endless details and hard work by so many go into planning a tea that will be only a memory two hours after it begins.

Is it all worth it? What is it about the preparation? Is all this “Much Ado About Nothing”, or is the preparation as important as the event? God thought it was. He spent six days preparing the place he would give to man. Whether you believe that was six 24 hour periods or six spans of time, he took the time to make it perfect before he created humans. He promised to “go before” his people into the Promised Land and into their future, and Christ has gone to heaven to prepare a place for us.

The time we spend preparing for what is to come really does matter. Anticipation of the event can be as exciting as the event itself. Rehearsals build relationships and memories, and hopefully lead to a performance that draws those who come to watch into the truth and beauty of what is presented. Each gift under the tree is evidence that someone is loved and special. My boys work and are rarely at home for dinner, so when we can all gather around the table, it is an increasingly rare pleasure. I want the meal to be delicious, but mostly I just want us to savor our time together. The details of a wedding may fade or become fun stories, but that wedding is the start of a marriage and love story that will hopefully last a lifetime. The vast majority of ladies who will attend the Tea have no concept of the complicated, time consuming details of tickets or door prizes or logistics of food preparation. They don’t see the chaos of the kitchen and the near misses of the servers. They just see an exquisitely decorated dining room and most think all the details were perfect. When family and friends find gifts under my tree, a meal prepared just for them, or a seat at a wedding or the Tea just for them, what I hope they understand is that they are loved and belong in this place I have prepared for them.

God is never hurried or frantic. He doesn’t stress or express irritation over details that just won’t seem to fall into place. Adam was created when Eden was ready. Jesus came in “the fullness of time.” (Gal 4:4) And in his great mercy, Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us. When we get there we will find gifts specifically designed for us individually. There will be a wedding and a feast. Your invitation is in your Bible. He wants us to know what is to come, so that we may joyfully anticipate its coming. The details will be magnificent, and we’ll have all of eternity to celebrate and share fellowship with our God, and with each other.