Are you waiting and properly preparing for Christmas?

Today we light the Advent wreath’s 2nd of 4 candles as we wait on the coming of Jesus. Different denominations celebrate this season differently but there is one common principle shared. We are to spend this four week period waiting so that we might be renewed. This past summer I used my morning coffee to share how to be our best. It was about the need for emptying, cleaning, and refilling so that we could taste the newness of each day. I then wrote a few weeks later on how watching my grandchildren and my Bout with Guillain Barre taught me lessons on how to wait. The original season of Advent was arguably the most important season of waiting in all of history. We celebrate it over four weeks but it lasted much longer for those who waited for their Savior. Isaiah was written during the Babylonian period, about 580 to 520. So the supposed prophecy regarding Jesus was about 500 to 600 years before He was born. In fact, The Old Testament, written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, contains over 300 prophecies that Jesus fulfilled through His life, death and resurrection. The One who would free them from their master and establish a new kingdom. Little did they know what they were waiting for and in reality, many ended up very disappointed.

In this season of Advent for what are you waiting? Depending on what it is, you too could end up disappointed and experiencing the pain of unmet expectations. The gift you didn’t get. The relationship that continues to be side ways. You or your loved ones recovering from health issues. The job or promotion that didn’t occur. The discontentment you feel from not feeling like your life matters or even with achievement leaves you with the sense that there has to be more. Like the Jewish people you could be waiting on something that is not what God intended. If that is the case, you will end up disappointed and discouraged. The second candle represents love. God created you, loves you, and because of that baby being born in a manger, you can establish a relationship with Him that will not let you down. Your Joy will be made full and instead of the world beating you down you can experience the abundant life God promises.

As we mark the Season of Advent, let’s take the time to wait on the Lord and examine our hearts. Like our cup of coffee, make it a time where stop, allow ourselves to be cleansed filled again so that we might be renewed. Enjoy the fun of preparing and decorating for Christmas but let us also not forget that we are to “prepare the the way of the Lord” , the Son of God, who became man to save the world and give each of us life now and for evermore. Hallelujah for He is the King of Kings! Enjoy this fun flash mob rendition.

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The importance of having an inner circle

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.” – Ecclesiastes 7:14

You might ask why I would begin this post with such a sober verse from the Bible? Last week I challenged everyone to make the word gratitude a verb. My goal was to have you see pouring out your gratitude on others not only encourages you, it makes the recipient experience gratitude as well. It is about giving to grow and growing to give. Here is an interesting family resource So what does this have to do with who is in your inner circle?

It has been two years since I have been with my extended family. All but one of my brothers and sisters and their families came together for Thanksgiving. My son and his wife generously opened their home to make it happen. As I looked around the island before offering the blessing, I was touched by the magnitude of us being in the same room. Sure, Covid, but more than that, serious sickness, accidents, and yes, even disagreements, could have caused us not to be giving thanks together. The only family group missing was because the newest member of the Guthrie Clan entered the world a little over a week ago. Dad and Mom honored by Reiley Jane being both of their middle names.
That scene of 26 and the 8 from Richmond missing but present in our hearts filled my heart with gratitude. It made me realize once again, you need a tribe around you to remain thankful in all things whether “in good times or in bad.” I am grateful for my group of people but your tribe does not have to be as large or even family. It is about finding folks who you can truly trust. Who are going to love you no matter what. Life is not to be lived alone. Dr. Margaret Paul says it this way. “We are not meant to live alone. We are meant to live in caring communities with people to turn to for love and connection, and for help when we need it. Love, connection and support are vital for our health and wellbeing.” Even Jesus sent the disciples out into the world in pairs. Matthew 10.

The first step is yours. Choose who it is you want walking along side you. It may be starting a new relationship or repairing one that has gone astray. If you are side ways with someone, use this season of advent to reach out with a willingness to start anew. If you are alone, reach out to others. You will find people who will welcome you into their world. If you are blessed to have others in your life, take a look around and invite others in who are in need of friendship.

I will close with this example. A widow lamented on social media that she had no desire to put up her Christmas decorations. Another widow saw the post and offered to help because it gave her a distraction form her recent loss. What an amazing example of how serving others can indeed lift us up out of our own dismay. On this first Sunday of Advent, Prepare your heart answering this question from Mother Teresa. “At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by finding, loving and serving others with God’s own love and concern.”

Make the word Gratitude a verb this week :)

My guess you aren’t surprised that a blog titled “Thankful in all Things” would be about moving us forward into this week of Thanksgiving. The word “intentionality” keeps rolling around in my mind. When I think about being intentional, it means there is a need for me taking action. Having an attitude of gratitude denotes the same.
My friend Marcus Ellis has a Facebook page titled “Hey! Guess What? I Love You!” It started with him making a decision to go out of his way to encourage others each and every day. His decision has resulted in a Facebook page with over 2500 followers. I am sitting in a hotel in Pittsburgh. I decided to let my server (Rutha May) know how she made everyone who came in feel special. Her face lit up and she now has a little bit bigger smile for those she serves. Maybe Marcus is in to something 😀

I recently found this quote by Veronica Neffinger -“There is value in going through the motions even if the feelings aren’t there. Choosing to thank God even when you don’t feel like it. Choose to do the same when circumstances cause you to be more stressed than thankful” It leads to that important first step of allowing having our hearts to be opened to true gratitude.” I call it failing forward.

My point is that being grateful is a choice. The Aspen Brain Institute says it this way. “The effect of gratitude on the brain is long lasting. Besides enhancing self-love and empathy, gratitude significantly impacts body functions and psychological conditions such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Scripture reminds us of the same. We are to in prayer and petition let our requests be made known to God (again, the action is going to God with our concerns). When we do, He promises a peace which is beyond our own understanding. Philippians 4 “Let that peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:15 As you gather with others this week for Thanksgiving be intentional about sharing your gratitude for them. Let them know why you appreciate them. Try what Marcus does and say, “Hey! Guess what? I love You! I bet you get loved right back and find yourself feeling blessed rather than discouraged.

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Beauty can be created by one or in many.

Leaving a grandchild’s soccer game yesterday, I heard one child yell out “good game” to a couple teammates. Those two then did the same to other team members. I over heard one child saying, “Dad, did you hear what Russell said? “He said I played a good match”. The dad replied, “and he was right, you did!” I was struck by how one little 6 year old saying “good game” became infectious and resulted in young boy feeling affirmed in how he had played.
This lesson is the perfect example of what I wanted to write about. As I was writing last week’s blog about the changing colors and the falling leaves another thought came to mind.

I noticed this tree all by itself in a yard while playing golf. Like the young boy saying good game, this sapling was already creating such beauty in the color of its leaves. Adjacent to the next tee box, was a forest of more mature and taller trees resplendent in their color. One little tree can impact us but the power comes when one tree becomes another and then another until we CAN actually “see the forest through the trees” Many different types of trees in all sizes, shapes, and colors providing a canopy for God’s painting that causes people to travel far and wide to see.

photo credit Mike Plecker

I want to challenge each of us as we move into this “Month of Thanksgiving” to be like the little tree or the young soccer player. Commit to an attitude of gratitude. Write it on a post it note and place it on your mirror. Something like what I wrote 40 years ago when I started in real estate. “Lord, let my life make a positive difference in this world.” Let’s all begin to create our own forest of people that were encouraged by us in a way that they started encouraging and empowering those around them. Like the old campfire song reminds us, “ It only takes a spark. That’s how it is with God’s love. Once you’ve experienced it, you want to pass it on” Little did Russell know that he not only lifted up his friend with his encouraging words but impacted this now 69 year old as well. That is how it is with God’s love. As you experience His love, you will find yourself becoming “thankful in all things” 🙂

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The leaves are changing and dropping from the trees

Have you noticed? Summer is over and Fall is very much upon us. In some ways it is my favorite time of year. There is a chill in the morning air but it is warm enough for shorts and short shirt sleeves in the afternoon. As much as I enjoy it, it signals that winter will soon be on its way. It means waking up in the dark and leaving the office in the dark. The one day of an extra hour sleep does not make it worth it. The beauty of the autumn colors soon will lead to bare trees bracing against the cold wintry winds. Unless you are “California Dreaming 😀 , what can be found to keep us thankful in all things? If I was a skier, thoughts of upcoming snow storms would bring anticipation and excitement. If I had a blade on the front of my truck (oh wait, I don’t have a truck) I would be looking forward to the revenue made from clearing snow. Thanksgiving and Christmas certainly cause excitement. One friend counts down to Christmas right after giving Easter its due 😂

No. What gives us gratitude is knowing the leaves dying and falling off the trees is only temporary. It allows the tree to conserve it’s energy so that it can produce its leaves, flowers,fruit, etc in the spring that will come. The winter does the same for us. The difference is it can come at any time. There are seasons in our life that make us hunker down and become less busy. That stillness allows to find solitude. That solitude brings us to a place of dependence not on ourselves but in the One who created us. Henri Nouwen puts it this way. “Our outer silence will lead us to an inner silence. Silence and solitude invite us to gradually let go of the other voices and trust the inner voice that reveals to me my true name.” Like the tree or vine leaves, God want us to wither away and die so in our spring time, we can be spiritually reborn into the life God created for us. It allows us to bring forth beauty that those around us can enjoy. Pamela Bunn’s prayer in sums it up well. “Lord, prompt me to look for Your scattered beauties in the ordinary, then give You all the praise upon beholding them. Help me to do my part in scattering beauty, and standing out with a bit of Your glory, so others might praise You too.”

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Facing our own mortality.

When did you first begin to deal with your own mortality. We all know we will die one day. It is just something most of us don’t want to think or talk about. Getting older didn’t really impact me until I hit 60. Folks talk about 60 being the new 40 but let’s be honest, I was still 60 meaning I had lived more years than I had left to live. How do you figure that out. Take your current age and double it. If the result is over 100, well …………….😀 Death has been on my mind more often recently. One, because I have had several folks pass away recently. If this is your first time reading my blog, I wrote about my Season of Sadness a few weeks ago. The second reason is I lead a discussion group of men who asked me to lead them through a time where we openly talked about this topic. We are reading Henri Nouwen’s book, “Our Greatest Gift, A Meditation of Dying and Caring” In it he shares, “Dying and death can often bring fear. But the experience of dying and caring for the dying can become the deepest experience of love. Nouwen encourages us to ask: ‘How can my death become fruitful in the lives of others?’ Ultimately, it is the greatest gift we have to offer.”

How can both of these men see death as the greatest gift we have to offer? My experience while suffering from Guillain Barre Syndrome pails in comparison to Tim Keller, my friends who have passed away from cancer, or in John Allen’s case, Parkinson’s. I can say however, that laying in a hospital bed unable to move reveals the depth of your faith. I was totally dependent on others and felt my need for God and the Hope He promises in ways I never had to before. I understood what He meant when He said, like a branch cling to the vine or have your house built on a firm foundation rather than sand so that you can weather the storm. http://Build your house on the rock niv As awful as it was, I never want to forget that experience because it brought me closer to God. I felt His peace and presence in inexplicable ways. Henri Nouwen explains it as being brought into the core of your very existence. It happens when you allow yourself or have something happen that moves you from an outer silence or solitude into the inner silence where one’s reason for being is found. Many of us never take the time or are uncomfortable with just being with ourselves with no distractions. It takes some sort of health crisis or losing someone we love to take us into the place of understanding our own mortality. I write to encourage you to take time to come to grips with the fact that you will die one day. By doing so, you can live in a way like the Kellers who do not take one single day for granted. It will lead you from “the already” to the promise of the “not yet”. In that place, we can be assured death doesn’t have to be terrible as it is not an ending but just as with birth, a new beginning. That place where Jesus went to prepare a place for you and me. That way, as Father Nouwen exhorts us, “when it is our time, our death will give new life, new hope, and a new hope to our friends and family. Instead of it producing sadness, it will allow others to find our greatest gift.” The joy of celebrating a life well lived. May your Joy be made full and may you experience abundant life God promises for those who find their way to Him.

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Why are we never satisfied.

A friend sent me this Instagram post the other day. I found it quite helpful as I was trying to put my finger on what was creating a restless spirit within me. Christine goes on to say she “doesn’t want to grieve over things properly because she doesn’t want to feel sad.” She holds back from boldly stepping forward in her faith because of the question, “what if tomorrow isn’t doable?” I find it disturbing that I can be rock solid in my faith one day. Trusting and being perfectly content as I abide in Christ. While the next, finding myself asking the questions “Why me?” “Why not me?” because of the circumstances occurring in my life. It leaves me frustrated that I can’t live each day in the abundance that Jesus promises in John 10:10. Needless to say it can lead me out of the attitude of being thankful in all things. 😀🤦🏻 I find solace in the fact that the Apostle Paul experienced the same frustrations. He writes in Romans 7:15 “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” Even he obviously, as we all do, had “those days.”

So what do we do to combat the darkness of a defeatist attitude that comes our way? God says we are to look for the light that pierces the darkness so that we can find our way out. He says His Word is to be “a lamp upon our feet and a light unto our path. Psalm 119:105 and of course Amy Grant made it a hit song. Believe it or not, Buffalos set an example for us as they run toward storms versus away so that they only are impacted by the storm for a shorter period of time. As Rory Vaden says in this blog, it takes everything out of us when we try to out run the storm. We ultimately tire and give up. No instead, we need to run to God asking him as the disciples did in Mark 4:35-41 After Jesus calmed the storm, He chastised them for having such little faith which leads me back to Christine’s IG post. For us to live a life of Joy, we have to be confident that God is indeed with us and wants what is best for us.
She writes, “This idea reminds me of my morning star.
He waits for me. He’s gentle with me. He speaks tenderly to me in the dark, calling me ( like the buffalos 😀) forward to more of him and more of whom I meant to be.”

Lord, let us run toward versus away from the storm knowing You are with us.

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Traveling through a Season of Sadness

The picture above captures how many of us live our lives. Like the clouds, our day to day existence, doing the most mundane of things, keeps us from seeing the splendor of the hills and all life has to offer. The word keep means “to guard, to watch over, or to attend to carefully.” The clouds cause us to miss the beauty that is beyond and above them. The psalmist reminds us that we are to “lift up our eyes to the mountains— where does our help come from? Our help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1,2. This passage reminds us that life is a journey of faith that requires reliance on God. the chapter ends (v 7 & 8) with the promise that will God will “Keep us from all harm— he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

I don’t know about you but I am doing everything I can these days to claim the before mentioned promise. These past several weeks God has moved me into a Season of Sadness. It started late in July when my dear friend Laura Huyett died. Some takeaways that come from funerals – Thankful in all Things Then I found out my very special caretaker, Teresa Jordan passed away with me, because of Covid restrictions, not even knowing she had been sick. 🙁 You, yes You, can make a difference in the world. – Thankful in all Things. Now in the last two weeks, two high school friends, a fraternity brother, and now a dear business partner have died. I am just at the beginning of grappling with it all but it certainly has taken a toll and has clouded my perspective like the clouds do in the valleys. Losing loved ones makes you examine your own mortality and whether one is living life in a way that matters most and in some way makes a positive difference.

Philippians 4 says we are not to be anxious about these things because when we bring our concerns and worries to the Lord, He will provide us peace which surpasses all human understanding. The misnomer here is that having a faith in God means we are never to feel discouraged or depressed. Scripture shows us nothing is father from the truth. Why does Jesus say, “I am the light of the world“? John 8:12 Because the world can be a very dark place and we need God to be “a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” ( Psalm 119:105) It is not hard to stumble or lose our way in the midst of the darkness that comes our way. A light as small as the pin light on your key chain will cut through the most pitch black of surroundings. God promises to do the same with whatever circumstances come your way. As Ellen Foster shared in the most recent Center for Christian Study newsletter, “I don’t think anxiety or depression have to be things we’re trying from which we are to rid ourselves. Like a check engine light, those feelings may be an invitation for us to pay more attention.” That way, we can endeavor to focus intently on what clouds our vision knowing that through them there are hills from whence our help will come. As for me, I am claiming that promise and trying to walk toward the light that will lead me through this Season of Sadness.

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“I am just a nobody trying to help others be somebody”

Someone asked me a couple weeks ago, how I view myself and where my life fits into the world. For some reason, with very little thought the title of this post came out of my mouth. I can’t remember making this statement before so I have been wrestling with why I said it. This is not an attempt to be self-deprecating. It is my way via my own self perspective to write something g that will hopefully lift up and encourage you. Another line I have used often is “ God must not want me to be a wealthy person” I feel as though I have a generous heart and I know God loves a cheerful giver, so why every time, when we have have some extra money, does a large expense like a car repair or dental implants occur?
My point in poking fun at myself with these two statements is not where we get in life but how we lived our lives. Abraham Lincoln said it this way..” …in the end, it is not the years in a life it’s the life in the years“. Think about it. How many times have you thought something was going to happen which would take you to a new place and the door closed before you could walk through it? What about being sure you knew what God had planned and something occurred different than that plan? These thoughts increase in these days of following folks on social media. It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking your life does not measure up. Proverbs 19:21 explains it by saying, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”
We are to be who God created us to be not try to be like someone else. My friend Bud Harper taught me this years ago after a lunch where a man shared how God changed His life. George Kettle had inexplicably become a man of great wealth and started a program that George H Bush recognized as one of his 1,000 points of life speech. After the talk, I told Bud that I wished I could be like the man who spoke that day. Bud, normally mild mannered, grabbed me by the tie and said something I have never forgotten. “I don’t ever want to hear you say that again. God made you to be exactly who you are and does not want you to be anyone else.”
Haven’t we all wanted to be somebody else? Haven’t we all wondered, if only this or that had happened? Maybe not you but I at times, get tangled up thinking about why have things not gone the way I wanted or wishing my life looked more like others. If we allow it, we can be swallowed up by the lie that we are a nobody and that our lives don’t matter.

In God’s eyes, nothing is farther from the truth. Psalm 139:14 in The New Living Translation says we are to acknowledge His ways by saying “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” Only then, can He have His way with you so you can go from being a nobody to someone who Isaiah exclaims is “overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels now robed in righteousness and heir to His throne.” Isaiah 61:10 Once we find our confidence and value in Him, He asks us to follow three simple steps. Love Him with all your heart. Love others as He loves you. Let go of what you think you want and trust Him with the outcome. God will then use us to help others realize that like us, they too, are indeed somebody.

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How do you deal with being tired?

Are you tired? Physically? Emotionally? Spiritually?

I posted this the other day when I realized I was flat out tired in every aspect of my life.  It came about because of a 6 week issue w my back, 2 weeks of travel while dealing with work, and relationships that were out of sorts. Needless to say, this fatigue was not making it easy to remain thankful in all things. This got me thinking about the title of this blog post. “How do you deal with tired?” There really are different types of tiredness and fatigue but they all come from not getting enough rest. There are ways we can resolve being tired on our own. Making sure you get enough sleep, maintaining a balance in your life, and limiting stress are a few that come to mind. These are certainly a good place to start but what I am learning is we can’t always resolve what causes fatigue on our own. Trying to handle the emotional and spiritual fatigue by ourselves often times can exacerbate it making us even more tired. It isn’t always about getting away either. As Dottie’s mom used to say, “Wherever I go, there I am.” We can’t get away from ourselves but we can ask others for help.

Max Lucado writes in his book Traveling Light, “ Weary travelers. You’ve seen them — everything they own crammed into their luggage. Staggering through terminals and hotel lobbies with overstuffed suitcases, trunks, duffels, and backpacks. We’ve all seen people like that. At times, we are people like that — if not with our physical luggage, then at least with our spiritual or emotional load. We all lug loads we were never intended to carry. Fear. Worry. Discontent. No wonder we get so weary. We’re worn out from carrying that excess baggage. Wouldn’t it be nice to lose some of those bags?” Yes, there are burdens we carry that weigh us down. We often times need others to help us carry them or help us realize that we can just leave them behind. I wrote about how we need others in my most recent post. God, sent Jesus to help us ease our burdens as well. Matthew 11:28 gives us the advice, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Think of yourself as the above mentioned weary traveler. How good does it feel when someone says,”Can I help you with those bags” or opens a door for you when your hands and arms are full? My reminder to you is life is not to do life alone. We need each other. Even Jesus sent the disciples not alone, but in pairs. “Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.” Mark 6:7 Like Max Lucado wrote, we need others to help us when we don’t have the strength to carry on on our own.
Reverend Paul Walker summed it up this way in his “almost daily devotional”. “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night.” (Psalm 92: 1-2) Morning and night. In the morning you might be raring to go, optimistic about the day ahead. You also might be tired fatigued, sluggish, or anxious about what the day holds. Either way, declaring God’s steadfast love is the way to begin and end each day.

“O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of live is over, and our work is done. Then in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.” (In the Evening – BCP p. 833)

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