Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Belated Christmas Letter



"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11 nasb

I didn't send out Christmas cards. I meant to do it this year, but I didn't. I didn't write a Christmas letter, either. I meant to do that, too. I love those letters that summarize the high points of the last year, and intended to write one of my own. At last, I've gotten round to it. 

In a way, this is my "Christmas letter". 

The whirlwind of Christmas is winding down and I've had a few minutes to reflect on the past year. What a year it's been. Full of joy mingled with sorrow, laughter tinged with tears, triumph with a touch of defeat. 

It's been one of the best years of my life.

My son graduated from Georgia Tech and started his dream job. He's happy and content. He has a girlfriend I love more than I imagined possible. It's been a joy to watch him as he becomes the man he was born to be.

My writing has prospered. I joined American Christian Fiction Writers and a writers' group, attended my first big writing conference, and wrote more than I thought possible. My first novel (still being edited) placed in the top three in the Oregon Christian Writers' competition (a national competition). I received more encouragement than I deserved this year. 

At sixty years old, I have begun to believe that I'm "on my way".

After raising cattle for a quarter-century, I sold all my cows. I adore cows but I had to put out feed in single-digit weather one too many times last winter. It's been a relief.

I taught myself to do a cable stitch and knitted my first afghan. 

Maggie the Wonder Dog had a severe eye injury that took far too long to heal and left her with a cataract and limited vision in one eye. She endured it all with far more grace than I would have, and I learned a little more about perseverance.

I've attended far more funerals and visitations than I thought possible in a single year. 

People my age. People younger than me. People I loved. There were a few times when I couldn't fit them all in. Mama said that would happen, but I didn't believe her. I do now.

Jamie (my neighbor's wife) died this year and I've found myself taking care of the elderly man who, as my "farm manager", took care of me for decades. It's hard beyond words and sweet beyond my wildest imagination. I've watched this dear man begin to cook, wash dishes, do laundry, and clean his house. 

Sam and I decided yesterday (finally) that we're going to make it.  

After more than two decades at the same church, I've spent the last two months visiting sister churches in our area. It has been precious beyond belief. 

I've found that the family of God is anywhere the Spirit of God abides. 

I've come to understand the body of Christ universal in a new way. It's not confined to denominational boundaries, brick walls, or territorial boundaries. I knew that already, of course, but I've experienced it in a new way, and I'm better for it.

I spoke and taught and volunteered and celebrated the Risen Savior. I laughed with friends and family alike and enjoyed meals around the table with those I love.

There've been hard times and a few times when I wasn't sure I would make it through, but I did. Looking back, I've grown and learned from every hard time. 

I wish I'd done a few things differently, but I wouldn't really change a thing. (well, not much)

It's been a great year and I've seen the hand of God so many times that I've been in awe of His mercy and grace. 

None of the good things I've experienced were of my own making. They came straight from God, because every good and perfect gift comes from above. 

What's amazing to me is that a new year is lurking just around the corner. In less than a week, we'll start working our way through another year. My prayer, for you as well as for myself, is that we do what Jesus said to do. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. If we do, everything else will fall into place.

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, 
and all these things will be added to you." 
Matthew 6:33 nasb

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In case you missed any of the past week's posts, here are the links:  Finding Christmas: The Good Husband, Finding Christmas: The Sin FastFinding Christmas: The Mission StatementFinding Christmas: The Divine Paradox, and Finding Christmas: The Storm ShelterFinding Christmas: Overcoming, and Finding Christmas: Giving Ourselves

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: The Good Husband.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
The Clay Papers (lessons in being moldable in God's hands, based on a series of pottery lessons) is now available as a 99 cent ebook on Amazon. Click the link to see more. 
~~~~~~~~~~
 #JesusChrist #disciple #seekHim 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Giving with gusto

But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you. "But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. (Luke 11:41-42 NASB)

In the previous verses, we saw that Jesus had refused to obey the ceremonial ritual of hand washing before the meal. It was not a law of God but a rule of man, added to expand the law. The Pharisees, Jesus told them, were more concerned with washing their hands than with cleansing their hearts from wickedness. 

Matthew Henry wrote, "to keep ourselves free from scandalous enormities, and yet to live under the dominion of spiritual wickedness, is as great an affront to God as it would be for a servant to give the cup into his master's hand, clean wiped from all the dust on the outside, but within full of cobwebs and spiders." When I visualize his words, it is a startling reminder that God sees our hearts and all that is within them. Allowing Him to cleanse our hearts is much more important than cleansing our hands.

Instead of washing their hands, Jesus recommended that they give to the poor. This was a reference to Deuteronomy 26 (worth reviewing later) in which the first fruits were to be given as a tithe and shared with those who were less fortunate. Only then were they to enjoy the blessings of the land God had given them.

The Pharisee and his friends would have done better to cleanse themselves before the meal by charitable giving. Matthew Henry again wrote "What we have is not our own, unless God have his dues out of it; and it is by liberality to the poor that we clear up to ourselves our liberty to make use of our creature-comforts."

The Pharisees were exacting in calculating their tithe, going so far as to tithe the mint and dill in their gardens. Jesus said it is good to be careful about the tithe, but not at the expense of justice and the love of God. 

Do the most important things first, He was saying, but don't neglect the other. As Micah wrote, God requires justice and mercy as well as walking humbly with Him. Justice and mercy are an outgrowth of walking with our God. Tithing alone is simply a charitable deed, no matter how exacting our calculations. The blessing is gained when charitable giving is an outgrowth of a relationship with our Lord, an outgrowth of our love for God. 

The key word is relationship. God created man for fellowship with Him. Our reason for existence is a relationship with Him, yet we focus our lives on everything else. I'm as guilty as anyone else. It is much easier to write a donation check than to allow God to cleanse my heart of the sin that so easily besets us. My giving, however, only has meaning because of my relationship with God. Allowing Him to cleanse me is a vital part of walking with Him.

I learned something from a young girl with whom I met to pray several times. Before we started to pray, she would wash her hands as a symbol that she wanted to be clean before the Lord, both inside and out. I've found myself doing the same thing since then. As I wash my hands before intercession, I pray the same prayer David prayed. Create in me a clean heart, (not just clean hands) and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:2)

Today, let's ask God to cleanse us inside and out, making sure that our giving is an outpouring from a heart of love toward God rather than one more task on our checklist. Let's give with gusto, because we love.

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 NASB)


Finding Christmas: Giving Ourselves



Merry Christmas from Greenbriar Farms and the Wonder Dogs! 

"For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me." Matthew 25: 35 nasb

As we celebrate today, thousands of people in our area are still reeling from the catastrophic tornado less than forty-eight hours ago. The loss of property, catastrophic in its own right, is nothing compared to the loss of life and limb. Not everyone is celebrating the way I will today, with a special meal eaten with those I love. 

Not everyone is eating in the place they most love to be.

Wednesday, emergency personnel, many who are volunteers, went door to door, checking to be sure people were safe. It was a horrible kind of head count. Who made it through? Who didn't? At least one of those rescue workers lost his home, yet he was there, doing his job. 

For thousands of people across the South, it was a long, hard night.

As the WTVA newscaster reported on the damage in Holly Springs, there was a catch in her voice. "I live in Holly Springs," she said. Her heart was breaking for her town, but she stayed in place. Warning others. Keeping people safe.

There are many people who went above and beyond. We'll hear their stories over the next few days and we'll take heart in the kindness of strangers, the mercies shown in the midst of the tragedy. You and I can be part of the recovery effort. We can be one of the ones who goes above and beyond. 

We can be the strangers who show kindness to those in desperate trouble.

Hope Reigns (a Tupelo-based charitable organization) strives to "show the Love of Jesus Christ to disaster victims 48-72 hours after a disaster strikes anywhere in the contiguous 48 states." (I've copied directly from their website to ensure my accuracy.)

"The means to meeting this goal will be through clearing debris, tarping roofs, gutting water damaged homes and salvaging personal property. These are the most basic immediate actions necessary to preserve property and livelihood. In so doing, Hope Reigns volunteers seek to build bonds with home owners, community leaders and other disaster relief organizations for immediate relief and in hope of laying a foundation for future disaster-recovery efforts.


If you are interested in volunteering, please email hopereigns@eightdaysofhope.com."

There will be lots of presents given and received today, but one of the best gifts you can give is a helping hand to one in need. Why not join with us in helping our neighbors recover from the disaster they've experienced?

"The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me." Matthew 25:40 nasb 
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The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: The Good Husband.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
The Clay Papers (lessons in being moldable in God's hands, based on a series of pottery lessons) is now available as a 99 cent ebook on Amazon. Click the link to see more. 
~~~~~~~~~~
#HopeReigns #eightdaysofhope #mstornado #tornado #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Finding Christmas: Overcoming



Late yesterday afternoon, Sam came by. "What about these storms they say is coming?" he asked. I opened my radar app and projected their course. They would miss us. I thought. I hoped. 

Friends and family began to text and call. "Are you watching the weather?" No. Of course I wasn't. I was knitting and listening to Josh Groban's Christmas album. "You can stream it live," my sister told me as she repeated what Matt Laubhan (our meteorologist) was saying. "Get in a safe room or go to the storm shelters." 


I called Sam. For the first time ever, I put a chair in the small hallway outside my downstairs bathroom and sat Sam in it as I prayed for safety. It's a tiny space. Barely room for Sam and his chair, two Wonder Dogs, pillows and blankets, I sat on the floor with my laptop. We were squeezed in tight. 


Until I began to stream the live weather report, my only concern was me. 


My farm. My property. My animals. My Sam. My house. Suddenly, I realized the storms were headed toward people I know. People I love. My prayers weren't just about me anymore.

The long-track tornado was on the ground for more than 150 miles. It left devastating damage. At least four are dead in Mississippi alone, two more in Arkansas. 


Homes are gone. Dreams are wiped away. Life has changed.

This morning, people will search through the debris to find whatever they can salvage. The process of rebuilding and recovering has already begun.Those who have lost so much will survey the damage and wonder how to go on.


I don't have all the answers, but there is one thing I know for sure. 


Jesus said we'd have trouble. There would be heartache and loss and sorrow. And there is. 

He said something else, and we'd do well to remember it today.


"... In the world you have tribulation, 
but take courage; I have overcome the world."
                                           John 16:33b nasb

In the midst of our sorrow, one truth remains. Jesus can help us face our loss, and He will. He has overcome the world, and He will help us. 

For thousands of people who were in the path of the storms, life has changed in ways they never imagined, never wanted. The recovery will be long and hard. One truth, however, remains the same.

King Jesus reigns victorious over sin and death and He has not left us alone.

And old song plays in my head this morning. Maybe you remember it.

"Jesus will help us. Jesus alone."

Pray for all those affected by last night's storms, especially those who have lost loved ones. They have sustained unimaginable loss. Pray, too, for those who will be aiding in the rescue effort. 

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In case you missed any of the past week's posts, here are the links:  Finding Christmas: Prosperity and Success,  Finding Christmas: Prophecy FulfilledFinding Christmas: The Good Husband, Finding Christmas: The Sin FastFinding Christmas: The Mission StatementFinding Christmas: The Divine Paradox, and Finding Christmas: The Storm Shelter.

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: The Good Husband.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
The Clay Papers (lessons in being moldable in God's hands, based on a series of pottery lessons) is now available as a 99 cent ebook on Amazon. Click the link to see more. 
~~~~~~~~~~
#mstornado #tornado #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple,#Wordbecameflesh  #Christian

photo courtesy of freeimages.com

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Finding Christmas: The Storm Shelter


Like most people around here, the warm weather in December has concerned me. It's a precursor of bad weather, and I've dreaded what was to come. I listened to the weather report yesterday with growing concern. 

Storms are predicted for today. The possibility of tornadoes in our area is 70%. Twenty years ago, I'd have heard that figure and interpreted it to mean it's a 30% chance of no tornadoes. That was before I saw the destruction Hurricane Katrina caused. Before I survived the Tupelo tornado of 2014. Before I volunteered in the recovery effort in Louisville and in Tupelo. 

Storms come, and they can leave incredible destruction in their wake.

We know that now, and people in our area have already begun to take precautions. They've located storm shelters. Gathered food and supplies. Just in case.

Storms can come in life, too. You've probably experienced those, just as I have. 

Those terrible trials can leave incredible destruction in their wake. They leave us longing for a life-storm shelter to protect us and those we love.

Isaiah wrote of a shelter that never fails.

A King will come, he wrote. One who will reign righteously. His princes will rule justly. 


And each will be like a refuge from the wind,
And a shelter from the storm...
Isaiah 32:2 nasb

We have a shelter that never fails. A refuge from the wind. Protection from the storms of life. King Jesus rules and reigns with righteousness. His name is a strong tower and we can run to it. No matter the storm we face. Illness? Betrayal? Heartbreak? Death? He can shelter us and carry us through.

Isaiah was right. Our good and righteous king, Jesus, did come. As we approach Christmas, and the celebration of our Savior's birth, let's remember that the Baby in the Manger is also our Righteous King and He, alone, is our refuge and shelter.


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In case you missed any of the past week's posts, here are the links:  Finding Christmas: Look to the RockFinding Christmas: The Rear GuardFinding Christmas: Prosperity and Success,  Finding Christmas: Prophecy FulfilledFinding Christmas: The Good Husband, Finding Christmas: The Sin FastFinding Christmas: The Mission Statement, and Finding Christmas: The Divine Paradox.

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: The Good Husband.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
The Clay Papers (lessons in being moldable in God's hands, based on a series of pottery lessons) is now available as a 99 cent ebook on Amazon. Click the link to see more. 
~~~~~~~~~~
#stormshelter #tornado #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple,#Wordbecameflesh  #Christian

photo courtesy of freeimages.com

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Finding Christmas: The Divine Paradox


I know that Isaiah is not generally considered a comic read, but reading Isaiah 64 this morning struck me as so funny that I laughed out loud. Maybe I found humor in the words because I identified with the sentiment so strongly.


"Oh, that Thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down...
When Thou didst awesome things which we did not expect, 
Thou didst come down, the mountains quaked at Thy presence..."
Isaiah 64:1-3 nasb

I've felt like that before, and you probably have, too. (This is the Leanna interpretation) Isaiah had been waiting for God and was about worn out. I've been there. Desperate for God to do something. Anything will do. Just move, God. 

That's where Isaiah was. Just come and do something, God. How about something big and showy? Do something impressive and flashy, the kind of thing that scares us out of our minds because of how huge it is. Do something so big even the mountains will quake in response.

Isaiah wanted an enormous move of God that would impress everyone with its magnitude and power. It took hundreds of years, but God answered his prayer, and His answer took everyone by surprise.

God rent the heavens and came down. Wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. It wasn't a joke. It was an answered prayer. It was so big and surprising that most people couldn't believe it, because, although it was huge, it looked so small.

The paradox of God is a delight to me. We want something big, and He does something big but disguises it as something small. So small that we have to look close and open our hearts to receive it. 

I've prayed for God to move in huge ways many times. A few weeks ago, the invitation at the end of the church service I had attended, as usual, was for anyone who wanted to come to the altar to pray alone, to have the altar ministry team pray with them, or to have prayers for healing, in addition to making a decision of some kind. 

More than a dozen people went down. Some prayed alone. Some prayed with ministers. At least one person went forward to request healing. 

As I watched the forward flow of people, saw their tears, recognized the peace in their faces as they left the altar, I understood something in a deeper way than before. 

Sometimes the move of God is so dramatic and flashy that every eye sees it and trembles. Sometimes the move of God is so intimate and personal that only a handful of people see it and tremble. 

Both moves of God are big. Both are "awesome things which we did not expect". Both are answered prayers.

As we celebrate the big move of God that seemed so small, the Baby Jesus in the manger, let's be sure to thank Him for all the ways He moves in our lives and celebrate the paradox that startled mankind and transformed our world. 

God sent His Son to save us all. Nothing could be more dramatic than that.
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In case you missed any of the past week's posts, here are the links: Finding Christmas: Remembering the Stripes,  Finding Christmas: Look to the RockFinding Christmas: The Rear GuardFinding Christmas: Prosperity and Success,  Finding Christmas: Prophecy FulfilledFinding Christmas: The Good Husband, Finding Christmas: The Sin Fast, and Finding Christmas: The Mission Statement

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: The Good Husband.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
The Clay Papers (lessons in being moldable in God's hands, based on a series of pottery lessons) is available as a 99 cent ebook on Amazon. Click the link to see more. 
~~~~~~~~~~
#divineparadox #moveofGod #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple,#Wordbecameflesh  #Christian

Monday, December 21, 2015

Finding Christmas: The Mission Statement


It was Chicago, October, 2003. I was attending a conference for Christian healthcare workers. One of the speakers used Isaiah 61 as the basis for his talk, and it changed how I saw Jesus and my obedience to Him. 

In a subtle way, I had begun to think of Jesus as mostly a healer of physical ills. He healed everywhere He went. He's the Great Physician. I saw the miraculous healings and, in a subtle way, mistakenly thought they were the "main thing", but they were not. Jesus made that clear from the start.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to aptives,
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord...
                                     Isaiah 51:1-2 nasb

You probably remember this passage. It's Jesus' "mission statement." Hundreds of years after it was written, Jesus stood in the synagogue in Nazareth and read Isaiah 61:1-2. "Today, this is fulfilled in your presence," He told those listening. 

It didn't go well. Before he was through talking, the men there that day tried to throw him off a cliff. 

They wanted Jesus' miraculous healings. They wanted His water-into-wine trick. They didn't want to hear His good news or His proclamation of liberty.

He came to spread the good news of freedom in Christ. 

Christ did not come to tout a set of rules or beat us into submission.

He came to set us free. 

He did not come to heal all our sickness or remove all our sorrow.

He came to proclaim liberty to those bound by sin and its consequences.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus this year, let's also celebrate the work He came to do... proclaiming, declaring, offering freedom, providing balm and binding hurt.

If we are to follow Him, we, too, must embrace the work He came to do. We, too, must make bringing the good news of Christ to a dark and perishing world our highest priority. Every other action must be made with the proclamation of truth as its objective.

My pastor said something yesterday that pretty much sums this up. "God was so excited about His plan to send Jesus that He couldn't wait to tell it. He announced it seven hundred years before He did it. If God was that excited about the coming of Christ, shouldn't we also be excited to tell the world?" 

We have good news and it's worth sharing. This Christmas, let's be sure to proclaim the best news of all. 

Christ has come. Christ has risen. Christ is coming again. Hallelujah.
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The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: The Good Husband.
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#GoodNews #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple,#Wordbecameflesh #

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Finding Christmas: The Sin Fast


"What are you giving up for lent?" my friend asked more than a decade ago. Lent? I wasn't giving up anything at all. It was a foreign concept to me, as was fasting, but the conversation began a journey I never expected.

In studying about fasting (because if I'm going to do something, I want to do it "right") I found Isaiah 58. The people, God said, were attending church services and doing all the right things. They were fasting and expecting God to answer their prayers, but it wasn't happening. (This is, admittedly, the Leanna Paraphrase... you can read it for yourself in your own Bible.) 

"What's up with this, God? You aren't doing anything we ask!" they complained.

"You're just fasting to get your own way. You don't want to have a changed heart. You want to continue in your sin. What's humble and repentant about that?" God countered.

If your prayers are not being answered, the Lord spoke through Isaiah, maybe you need to get the sin out of your life. Maybe the fast you need to do is a sin fast.

God described the fast He chooses:

"To loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke... to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house... When you see the naked, to cover him... Don't hide yourself from your own flesh..." (Isaiah 58:6-7 nasb)

Ouch. I've been there before, and you probably have, too. I've had a heart full of hurt and anger. I've struggled to connect with God. I've been the one holding to so much sin that I couldn't hear God's voice.

The wonderful thing about Isaiah 58 is it's an IF/THEN chapter. I love this because God makes it so simple. 

IF we do what He says, THEN we can be certain He will do what He promises.

IF we live generously and strive for righteousness, if we let go of the anger and bitterness that separates us from our own families, a wonderful thing will happen. Light will flood our lives. Righteous will go before us. The glory of the Lord will be our rear guard.

The best of all, however, is that, when we choose to let go of the sin that binds us up, we can call on God and He will answer us. 

"You will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am'."

IF we remove a judgmental and critical spirit and replace it with a spirit of generosity and giving, THEN He will continually guide us, satisfy us, strengthen us. He will empower us to make a difference that lasts for a lifetime. 

We can't have God's "then" without obeying His "if". 

Our anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, selfishness, and stubbornness have to go. It's as simple as that. I know, because I've been there. Knowing God, hearing His voice finally became more important than the sin to which I was clinging. Letting go was the best decision I ever made because when I obeyed the IF, God kept the promise of the THEN. 

If what we desire this holiday season is to "find" Christmas, to experience it in the way God intended, we will have to "find" it God's way. 

It seems hard, but it's not. Simply let go. Give your sin to God. He will do the rest.

What can  wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
Psalm 51:10 nasb

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The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: The Good Husband.
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#Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple,#Wordbecameflesh #Repent #sinfast