Monday, December 11, 2017

The White Elephant

By Susanne Scheppmann

Key Verse:
 “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.” (1 John 3:18-19 NIV)
‘Tis the season for parties. The invitation reads, “Bring a white elephant gift.” A white elephant gift doesn’t require much thought or money. It can be an inexpensive trinket, a used household item or a gag gift. These white elephant get-togethers create laughter and light-hearted camaraderie.

However, there exists another kind of “white elephant” social gathering—the type where everyone knows there is a relational conflict that exists within the group, but no one acknowledges it. This pachyderm problem might occur within families, between co-workers, or in a neighborhood. The more everyone pretends the white elephant issue isn’t there, the bigger the unseen problem grows. The denial compares to feeding peanuts to a live elephant—it grows larger and larger.

Do you anticipate this type of white elephant intruding on one of your upcoming festivities? Do you dread being in the same room with a particular person? To my own distress, I usually attend at least one event where the unwanted guest arrives, blowing its silent trumpet and begging for peanuts. However, God does not intend for us to ignore the problem. He desires wants us to seek His wisdom and guidance. The Lord wants us to pray and consider carefully how we might apply the following scriptural principles to help prevent or dissolve the uninvited intruder from our personal relationships.   
  • Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18 NIV)
  • Pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. (Romans 14:19 NASB) 
  • If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18  NIV)

Let’s decide beforehand how God would have us handle any uncomfortable situation that might steal away the joy and peace of a Christmas festivity. If the white elephant isn’t gift-wrapped, it doesn’t belong at the party. So don’t pack any invisible peanuts in your holiday attire, but love as Jesus loves—with action and truth.

Dear Lord, I anticipate at least one party where a “white elephant” sits in the room. I ask that You teach me how to handle any situation like this with love, truth and action. Reveal to me if I contribute to the issue in any way. Lord, help me to reach out to everyone in Your love and compassion. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Application steps: 
Consider your upcoming holiday events. Identify any potential “white elephant” that might be present. Pray over the event and ask the Holy Spirit to direct your words and actions. Ask God evaporate the “elephant” and to resolve the relational conflict that might be residing in your heart.

Does the same “white elephant” return every year?

How do I play a part in feeding it and allowing it to grow larger?

Is it possible that I could be the white elephant?

Power verses:
Psalm 40:10, “I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly.” (NIV)

3 John 1:3-4, “It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (NIV) 

© 2007 by Susanne Scheppmann. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Ring Those Bells

By Susanne Scheppmann
Key Verse:
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” (Psalms 28:7 NIV)    
Handbell choirs mesmerize me. The month of December draws out the talented musicians who have the ability to play the shiny golden bells. The Christmas carols they create are clear and bright, lifting the listeners’ spirits as the notes ascend toward heaven.

Handbells originated in the late 1600s. They first appeared in churches which had bell towers. Their first purpose was to help the bell ringers learn and perfect the art of handling the massive church bells which tolled to announce special decrees, community events, and public warnings. Over time, the handbells were designed to produce superior musical tones. Each bell began making a distinctive musical note. So instead of being just a bell used for practice, they became a musical instrument. Eventually the bells were used to play for congregations who soon became enraptured by the beauty of the recognizable hymns. 

To me the ringing of the bells seems like a giant puzzle. I shake my head in wonder and then ponder, “How do they chime in such perfect rhythm and harmony?” This synchronized ringing of various bells involves a musical skill that is far beyond my capability. Yet, with their clear distinctive tones, they inspire me to recognize the glory of God. They signal me to praise God in my own unique style.

Although I cannot play the handbells, my heart sings with joy at what God has done in my life. My heart is an instrument of faith—our hearts are instruments of faith. Author Abraham Herschel described faith and our hearts as, “Faith is not the clinging to a shrine. But an endless pilgrimage of the heart, audacious longing, burning songs, daring thoughts, impulse overwhelming the heart, usurping toward these are all a drive to love the one who rings our heart like a bell.”
This month our hearts are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. The remembrance of this divine event should drive us to “love the one who rings our heart like a bell.” Our key verse states, “My heart leaps with joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” As a sisterhood of believers, let’s celebrate with a joyful song in our hearts for the blessed Incarnation of our Lord Jesus. 
For the remaining days of December, let’s agree to unite our hearts in a choir of praise to God. Let’s allow our families, coworkers and communities to see the joy that rings true and bright in a cold, thoughtless world.  
Let those heart bells ring!
Dear Lord, I praise You today. Thank you for giving us music. Thank you for allowing our hearts to overflow with the acknowledgement of Your goodness. Help us to sing your praises during this month of celebration for the birth of Jesus. Allow our hearts to become a hymn of praise. Let our hearts become songs of faith in Your Hands. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Application steps: 
Read Psalm 28:6-9. Write in a journal the ways that God has shown mercy in your life. Note how He is your strength and shield. Write down how He helps you daily. Consider how He acts as your Shepherd and how He carries you through difficulties.

Does my heart leap for joy? (Psalm 28:7)

Do I sing God’s praises? (Psalm 28:7)

How can I share my joy-filled heart during the Christmas season?

Power verses:
Isaiah 49:13. “Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.” (NIV)
Ephesians 3:16-17, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (NIV)
Deuteronomy 16:14, “Be joyful at your Feast--you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.” (NIV)

© 2010 by Susanne Scheppmann. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Burnt Snowmen

By Susanne Scheppmann
Key Verse:
 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God,
which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”  2 Timothy 1:6 (NIV)
The snowmen dressed in red mufflers and black stovepipe hats stood cheerily on the dining room table.  Amidst all the Christmas decorations, their presence brought the most oohs and ahs. Everyone at the party asked my friend, “Where did you buy them?”  

I smiled. I had bought the snowmen candles for my friend as her Christmas gift. I thought to myself, “You did well!” 

A group of us chatted around the dining room table. We nibbled on sugar cookies. Holiday gaiety floated through the room. We laughed together until, all of sudden, I noticed smoke emitting from all three of the wax snowmen candles. Before I could speak, flames spewed up and out of the stovepipe hats. The candles burst into flames, spreading into the other table decorations. My friend shrieked for help. Her husband, a firefighter by profession, ran into the room and doused the candles with the bowl of fruit punch that sat on a side table. 

We sat in shocked silence. Instead of feeling pride over my gift, I hung my head in embarrassment. Now everyone wanted to know where I had purchased the fire hazard, because they didn’t want to buy anything of the same nature.

Thankfully, God’s gifts to us are never a fire hazard, but Scripture does tell us to allow them to burn brightly. The apostle Paul instructs, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you” . . . 2 Timothy 1:6 NIV). The Lord doesn’t want us to sit by quietly with unused abilities. He does not want us to be shy about His precious gifts. He wants us to use them to bless others. 

We may think we do not have a gift. The truth of Scripture promises us, “But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that” (1 Corinthians 7:7 NIV). We can’t argue with that, can we?

So what spiritual gift do you have that Christ wants you to use this Christmas season? Consider Romans12:6-8, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (NIV).

Let’s start right now with encouragement. Let’s encourage each other to allow our spiritual gifts to burn brightly during the Advent Season. And, as we fan our gifts into flames, let’s pray that others will recognize the glory of the Most High God who slept in a cold dark manger.
Dear Lord, thank you for giving me my spiritual gifts. Teach me how to use them, so that others may see You and desire to know You more. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Application steps: 
Read 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, 27-30; Romans 12:3-8; and Ephesians 11-13. Read the Power Verses below and search your concordance for Scriptures that speak of spiritual gifts. Then ask the Lord to reveal your personal spiritual gifts. 

Do I know my spiritual gifts?

How do I utilize the gifts that God has given to me?

Do I fan my gifts into flame to burn brightly for the glory of God?

Power verses:
Exodus 35:31, “And he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts.” (NIV) 

Acts 9:36,39, “In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor . . . Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.” (NIV)

© 2008 by Susanne Scheppmann. All rights reserved.