The Discarded Christmas Tree

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This is based on a true story and is shared with permission. I post it here as a reminder that God cares about even the little things of our lives. I wish you a very, Merry Christmas!

The missionary family was spending their second Christmas far from home. They knew God had led them to this small country, but that didn’t keep the homesickness from hitting during the holidays. The young father decided he was going to try to find a Christmas tree. This one thing, most of all, would help them to feel like a little bit of home was with them during the holiday season.

Excitedly, he set off for the store, leaving his young wife at home with their three children. But when he got to the store, his heart sank. He looked at the price again, just to make sure. $90! It may as well have been $900. The young man’s shoulders fell as he turned to go home. There wouldn’t be a Christmas tree for them. At least not today.

As the holidays drew closer, he started checking for discounts on the trees. But no such thing happened.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, he decided to check one last time. He figured that they would have to be discounted on Christmas Eve, for wouldn’t they want to sell them for half the price rather than throw them away? He had high hopes as he approached the store. But they were quickly dashed, as he saw the $90 price tag still attached to the tree.

Well, it was obvious that they were not to have a tree this year. He was filled with disappointment as he turned to go. As he walked home, he was reminded of why he was there–his eyes taking in the streets and homes and people that were becoming familiar to him. As he approached an empty lot he suddenly stopped. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.

For there lay a discarded Christmas tree, all decorated with tinsel. It had apparently been cast off by owners that had celebrated Christmas early that year. He hurriedly walked over to check it out. He couldn’t believe it. It was beautiful. It was perfect. And it was free!

New purpose filled his steps as he carried that tree home to his family for he had been reminded once more that God cares about even the little things.

 

The Christmas Letter

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Dear Friends and Family,

This year was great! Jack was valedictorian and is headed to the best university in the country with a full scholarship. Little Suzy was the top gymnast in her league and has hopes to reach the Olympics. We all went on a missions trip that was absolutely wonderful! At least a hundred people came to know the Lord while we were there. John received a promotion. Susan is the head of the PTA. Our dog is perfect, as is our home, our car, and everything about our family. See the lovely pictures and please envy our lives. Because we have it all together.  And you don’t.

Love,

John and Susan

 

Okay, so I am being a little facetious, here. Obviously. But I think this challenge of sharing good news can sometimes come across like this letter. And it brings to mind a few things–

First — as a writer– it is pretty important that we don’t act like life is perfect. Because we all know it’s not. One of my biggest concerns with writing a Christmas letter or even posting pictures on Facebook is that people would believe this about me. My husband and I argue, just like any other couple. There are many times my kids don’t get along. And there are occasions where I would be downright embarrassed if you walked into my house. We struggle with being down and grumpy. We live out the consequences of sinful choices.

BUT, that being said, it is exciting to share the good news of our lives! So much of life is filled with hurt and difficulties and pain that we naturally want to celebrate the good! And so we should! As long as we can do so without giving the impression that we are somehow better than our neighbors or friends.

So let’s write and post and share the wonderful blessings of our lives with grace and kindness, doing our best to avoid giving the impression that somehow we have it all together.

And second– as a reader– let’s love our friends and family by being happy for them! Sometimes we can get a little resentful. Especially if we are going through a difficult season of our lives. We can’t understand why that person has so many blessings when we have been hit by trial after trial. And it all seems so unfair. But Romans 12:15 tells us that we are to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

If we can keep a proper view of God’s Sovereignty, we can follow this command so much more easily. You see, it is easy to grow jealous if we perceive our lives to be tougher than somebody else’s, but if we know that our lives, as well as the life of the person we envy, are under God’s Sovereignty and His holy plan, then it makes it not only possible but delightful to rejoice with them!

I add here, as well, that no matter what it looks like, you can be guaranteed that no life is perfect on this earth and trials and struggles abound in all lives — even the ones that look perfect.

This post is specifically about Christmas but is really applicable year round. I hope that you can truly enjoy the wonderful blessings and victories of your family members and friends because this is what leads to true fellowship.

 

 

 

Knowing When to Disengage

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Christmas is a wonderful time for holiday parties and family reunions. But many of us dread these get-togethers because of the inevitable disagreements and heated discussions that are sure to take place. For some of us, it takes a lot of joy out of the holiday season. I think all of us have had disagreements at one time or other with people. The sin nature we are born with makes it impossible for us all to get along 24/7. Even Christians. Perhaps it is even harder for us because we know that we should get along!

So what happens when you just can’t see eye to eye with someone?  I am still growing in this area but I have learned a few things.

First, it is best to ask a few questions–

Does this really matter? Will I care in 50 years? 10 years? Tomorrow?

If I don’t get my own way in this, what will happen?

If I do get my own way, what will it cost me?

If it really doesn’t matter, then it may be time to back down. I am still working on this, but the Lord has really been teaching me. Why argue over something that happened 20 years ago? My memory is terrible and I’ve learned that I am wrong at least 90% of the time.

It is also good to consider the ramifications of winning and losing an argument. We may “win”, but in the process lose respect. And we may lose and find that it doesn’t matter at all.

We can answer these questions quickly and easily in our head to see if we should disengage. Think about all the little stuff that starts arguments and end up turning into grudges that often last a lifetime. Seriously. Families, churches, and work cultures are destroyed over the silliest things.

Does it really matter? Asking this question has really helped me with the inane, unimportant disagreements.

But what about the topics that really do matter? How do we handle debates and discussions we have regarding religion, politics, entertainment, how to raise kids, or treat elderly parents? These conversations encompass abortion, homosexuality, gun control, education, and racism. And we haven’t even mentioned the long-standing disagreements over various biblical doctrines and theology. Let’s face it–there are a lot of things that truly do matter in life. And many of us have very strong opinions about these really important issues. Now what?

We need to consider two things as we take part in these deeper, more philosophical, discussions–

1. How am I presenting myself in this disagreement? What tone am I using? Am I growing frustrated? If you find that your words have become arrogant and rude and the discussion is growing heated, then it is time to step back and disengage yourself from the conversation. We can quickly ruin our Christian testimony by how we handle these situations.

2. Will I change this person’s mind? If the person is adamantly arguing against creation or the right to life or against some other clear principle from God’s Word and you see no softening of the heart and absolutely no interest in your point of view, then it’s time to disengage and pray instead. Never discount prayer. Even the hardest heart can be changed. But it won’t be by you or me. Only God can change a heart. Start praying and always be ready for opportunities that may open for a good, healthy discussion in the future. You just never know when one will be dropped in your lap!

I do offer one word of caution. It is so critical that we look to God’s Word and see what He has to say on these issues. Of course, not all things are crystal clear in scripture, but our opinions should always be drawn first and foremost from the principles within God’s Word or they can do great, long-term damage. Consider Karl Marx or Charles Darwin for just a moment. The strong opinions of these men, drawn from wrong premises, have affected the lives of millions and millions of people in a very negative way. It is so very important that our opinions are based on the Word of God and not drawn from our own human experiences or emotions.

And one final–but extremely important–thought. If we find ourselves in one of these heated discussions, let’s try to assume that the other person may not truly understand just how hurtful their tone sounded or how angry their words were and extend grace. I try to offer this grace to the other person because I know that sometimes I am misunderstood, too, and I hope that people will extend the same grace towards me.

So this holiday season, let’s try to anticipate our family reunions and work parties with great joy, remembering that they do not need to be dominated by unpleasant conversations and heated debates. Let’s disengage ourselves before we sin and instead be a bearer of peace and selflessness this holiday season. And, by all means, let us offer grace and mercy to those who offend us. For that is exactly what the Christ Child did for us, after all.

 

 I Corinthians 13:4-7 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Eight Ways to Make This the Best Christmas Ever

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Thanksgiving is over. Guess what that means?

It means that Christmas season has officially begun for even the most reluctant merrymakers! Personally, I’ve been playing Christmas music for awhile now. I think it is terribly sad to relegate all that great music to four or five short weeks out of the whole year.

This year we only have four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas to get everything done that needs to be done. If you are like me, visions of Christmas cards and cookies and candy dance in your head. The tree is up but some decorations are still sitting in boxes waiting for their time to shine. A few gifts are already hidden and a Christmas list organizing all of the gifts you need to buy is partially put together. There may be school and church programs and office parties and family get-togethers. Amidst all of that activity is the normal stuff–basketball games, cleaning, laundry, paying bills. And it’s all squished into these four short weeks.

So how do we keep our sanity? And how do we build stronger relationships (instead of tear them down) in this stressful season? And how do we keep our eyes focused on the real meaning of Christmas? I have a few suggestions–

1. Look at your list and eliminate a few things, if necessary. This seems so simple but for some of us we feel terribly guilty for even contemplating it. I know that the first year I didn’t have a big Christmas cookie baking day, I was almost wracked with guilt. But I eventually realized that Christmas could be enjoyed whether I baked or not. I still bake a few of our very favorite kinds, but I spread it out a little and don’t designate an entire day. I can see cookie-baking day being re-instated as my kids grow up and want to start new traditions. Which leads me to number two–

2. Be flexible. While it is quite special and beneficial to have some traditions, we can’t be too over the top on carrying out every last tradition that we become annoying and frustrating to be around during the holidays. Maybe we need to go to a different tree farm–or no tree farm at all. Maybe our family get-together can’t be on Christmas Eve anymore. Life keeps changing and that means our holiday seasons keep changing, too. We can’t get too wrapped up in traditions that we grow sulky and depressed when they discontinue or change. You may not find this particular suggestion quite as necessary until you have older kids.

3. Spend a few minutes enjoying the tree lights. I know this sounds simple. But, seriously, try it. Take the occasional evening — with your spouse or your kids or by yourself– turn all of the lights off and just spend a few minutes relaxing in the quietness of the twinkling lights. It’s a great place for conversation, contemplating, and praying. Make sure the TV is off.

4. Do something really nice for someone. This can be accomplished in a myriad of ways and many of us do this already, I know. But maybe this year we can step it up a bit. We can have the kids make cards for shut-ins or perhaps even visit someone from our church that is lonely. We can visit a local soup kitchen or mission and help however we can. We can come up with really fun and creative random acts of kindness. The key here is to focus on others. It is not about stuffing money into the salvation army box or writing a check to a needy family– these are great things, don’t get me wrong– but this is about giving some of our precious time to someone else who can really use it. It’s about getting out of our little, comfortable worlds and stretching ourselves. If you do this, I can promise that you will not be sorry.

5. Develop a tradition or two just for your family. I am sure many of you already have these in place. But if you are looking for ideas, here are a few– have a gingerbread house building night (we buy kits cheap after the holidays), read an Advent story each night in December (check here for one of our favorites!), have a camp-out by the Christmas tree, bake together, have an ornament-making day, watch a classic Christmas movie (most Hallmark movies do not count here– I am thinking It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, The House Without a Christmas Tree–if you haven’t seen these you are really missing out!). The key to family traditions is that you don’t feel the need to do all of these, but you develop a few that are fun for your whole family.

6. Don’t stop your normal habits of quiet time, exercise, and eating right. Oh, this one is so key. We are not our best selves when we aren’t walking with the Lord. If we aren’t in His Word we aren’t being convicted and challenged to keep growing. When we aren’t eating right and exercising, we do not feel well and don’t have as much energy. But the catch-22 to is that it is just so hard to fit these things in during this busy season. And so we may need to change things up a bit– maybe we need to pray before we get out of bed in the morning or can only get in a few verses instead of a whole passage during this time. Perhaps we can only exercise three times a week or 20 minutes at a time. It’s still better than nothing. And we need to give ourselves a little grace to enjoy some holiday fare without becoming holidays “pigs”. There is a happy medium. Sometimes it is hard to find it.

7. Keep the TV to a minimum and read some old-fashioned Christmas stories. TV can consume hours of our time very quickly if we are not careful. Hours much better spent doing some other things. This is always a challenge for me during this season because there are so many Christmas movies that I enjoy. But there are so many wonderful Christmas stories to read. Don’t miss them! Joe Wheeler’s Christmas in My Heart series  (I think he has like 17 books of compiled Christmas stories), The Bird’s Christmas Carol, Finding Noel, and The Unfinished Gift are just a few of my favorites. Truly, you will not be sorry to turn that box off and pick up one of these wonderful stories. The Bird’s Christmas Carol and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol our two of our favorite read-alouds from the past.

8. And, most importantly, let’s keep the focus on the true reason of Christmas. Let’s minimize the Santa movies–notice that I’m not saying don’t watch them, as that is something for each of us to determine on our own. But let’s keep the focus off of Santa and his magical, “god-like” qualities and keep the focus on what we are really celebrating if we are believers. Let’s read the account of His birth in the Gospels and spend some of our time around the tree discussing this with our family. Let’s talk about why He came and the wonder and amazement of it all. If we don’t talk about it, our kids will not know. They won’t understand the depth of love we have for Jesus Christ. Christmas is a great time to focus on the gospel. For it is at this time that we celebrate God’s great plan of salvation, which began in a stable in a small town in Bethlehem. O, how easy it is to lose focus if we aren’t careful. It is also a wonderful time to share our faith. People tend to be kinder and more open at this time of the year. Let’s not be so embarrassed and ashamed to talk about our Lord with others but instead be bold and courageous!

I hope that you find these tips encouraging and inspiring! I hope that it gets you thinking about how to have the best holiday season with your family. Do you have some other suggestions? I would love to hear your ideas, so be sure to comment below! Now let’s all go have a wonderful holiday season! Starting. Right. Now!

 

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The Right Glue

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Yesterday was a lazy day around here. No plans. Nothing that absolutely had to be done. I love days like that. Around 3pm, my youngest daughter decided she was going to build a gingerbread house. We talked a bit about it and the decision was made that if she would wait a few hours, all of us (at least all of us who were around that night) would build one with her later on that evening. We hadn’t had an annual gingerbread-house making day for a few years and it seemed like it would be a fun activity for a winter evening.

We have this habit of buying gingerbread-house kits after the season is over for almost nothing and then stocking them up for the next year.  Of course, if you go a couple of years without an annual gingerbread-house making day, we are left with with a problem–the supplies get very old. This leads to some pretty serious consequences. As you will see.

Later on that evening, we all sat down at the table to get started. As I gently pulled my pre-made pieces from the box, I was disappointed to see that one of my gables has broken and the other one was in pieces. It was pretty clear that one end of my house would have a nice, large air vent.

As we started pulling out the packets of pre-made icing, we were quickly disappointed. Some were as hard as a rock, others were stiff and hard to work with. We put the stiff ones in warm water with high hopes. As we continued some of us had better luck than others with our creations. Personally I found the whole thing very frustrating. The stiff, uncooperative icing was making it so much work to add candy to the house that photo 1revit wasn’t even all that fun. And, so, when the roof slid off just as I had finished decorating it, I decided to just go play with my new “grand-puppy.” She was getting into a little trouble, anyway, and needed someone to watch her.

I played with her for a few minutes and then wandered back to my house to try one more time. I was less than enthusiastic this time around, but seeing the rest of my family persevering at their houses made me feel a little guilty (except for my son-in-law who had gladly taken up puppy duty and was feeling about the same as me about decorating these houses!)

photo 2I tried to put the roof back on and let it rest for a moment. I then carefully put a little frosting on a piece of candy cane and stuck it to the side of the house. The candy cane fell off. I tried again and this time the whole house fell completely apart! As it lay there in pieces, I decided that now was a great time to quit and left the table.

Quitting was an option with a gingerbread house. Who really cares, anyway? But quitting is not an option with our own homes. And sometimes we do feel like quitting, don’t we?

In my gingerbread house, the glue that held my house together was of very inferior quality. And so I was running into some pretty serious problems.

The same can be said of our own lives and homes. The glue with which we hold our lives together has to be the right stuff.

If we build our homes with unbiblical presuppositions and expectations, we will start to see certain areas crumble. If we use the glue of guilt, pride, or unrelenting stubbornness, our house will become weak. If we allow worldly attitudes and philosophies to give us the recipe for our glue, our homes will most likely fall apart. It will, at best, be a thrown-together shack with the potential to fall in on itself at any moment.

The glue to keeping our homes together is clear in scripture. It consists of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The glue that works has a good portion of humility (Colossians 3:2) and biblical love (I Corinthians 13). I use the adjective “biblical” because the world’s definition of love is very different than God’s.

The other day I was feeling really frustrated about something that wasn’t getting done around the house. I told my husband my frustration and let’s just say that my words were not filled with kindness and humility. A few minutes later, I sat down to read my daily portion of God’s Word. In my read-through of the Bible that day, I “just happened” to be in I Corinthians 13. I was quite aware of the irony of it all. When my husband came back in the house a few minutes later, I humbly apologized.

You see, God uses His Word to act as a mirror for us. It clearly shows us our weaknesses. But it doesn’t end there. It also gives instruction and help. We aren’t stuck in the mire of our pride and anger. We can get beyond our penchant for bad language or sulkiness. We can change. Our marriages can change. Our families can change.

There is a lot of hopelessness that abounds today, with little talk of victory in Christ. But what kind of God do we serve, anyway? If He can part the seas, can’t He work in our own hearts? If He can create the world, can’t He fix a marriage? Yes, we will always fight sin. Yes, we will always be tempted. But if we start using the right kind of glue, by the help of the Holy Spirit, things can get so much better.

Life is just tough, isn’t it? Relationships are sticky, tenuous things. So many families are dysfunctional and so broken. And we retreat into our shells and build walls. But perhaps it is time to start digging into God’s Word for some answers.

If you are ready to begin to discover God’s Word for yourself, I invite you to join me in the Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge coming up in 2015. You can click here for more information. But you don’t have to join me to get into the Word. Just do it. Just go get started. If you are humble and ready to obey, you will find it life-changing.

 

If you enjoyed this post, would you consider sharing it on your facebook page or twitter feed? I do not take in any income or spend any marketing dollars for Growing4Life, but rely solely on my readers to spread the word. Thank you!

 

Just Believe

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This time of year, you hear (and see) the words just believe a lot. Most times it is referring to Santa Claus. But, other times, it is referring to believing in God or in angels. Or something supernatural. Something outside of normal human happenings.

Sometimes these words are followed by the words “in yourself”. Just believe in yourself. Sometimes they are followed with a Bible verse.

The key is believing. It doesn’t seem to really matter these days what you believe, as long as you believe.

The problem lies in the fact that, outside of God’s Word, whatever you believe in seems to consistently change.

Believe in myself?

One day I am strong and courageous and, the next, I am frightened and weak.

Believe in the media?

One day they say vitamins and supplements are critical to a healthy lifestyle, the next they say they cause cancer (yes, I actually just read an article that states this!)

Believe in Santa Claus?

That works until you are about six and can make sense of the fact that, no matter how many times your parents take you to see Santa Claus or how many Christmas movies show Santa weaving Christmas miracles, there is no possible way a big fat man could get down the chimney or visit all those houses on Christmas Eve.

Believe in God?

Of course we believe in God (most of us). But what does that mean? How do we know what to believe? If it is up to me to define who God is, I will make Him into someone I want Him to be. But what if that isn’t who He is? How do I know the Truth about God?

Believe in Jesus?

Which Jesus? The Jesus that the world is preaching– the non-judging, weak Jesus? The one who accepts everyone without condition–no repentance of sin necessary?

 

It is a confusing world we live in. One day we read one thing and the next we read the opposite. It makes me feel like burying my head in the sand and shouting, “I give up!” Or at least it would, if it wasn’t for one thing–

God’s Word.

For there, and only there, can we truly understand who God is and why Jesus came. Only there does the world and the direction it is going make any sense at all. Only there do we learn fully of God’s plan for His people.

Sure, there are some things that make me uncomfortable in that book. I am hit face to face with my sin there– For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.( Hebrews 4:12)

But I would rather know the truth–about myself, about God, and about the world–than live in a made-up world built of sand.

And so, as we celebrate this Christmas season, I am so very thankful to say that I know what I believe without a shadow of a doubt. I know that God’s Word is Truth, no matter what the rest of the world says. I know that the baby in the manger was born to die–to pay the price for my sins. I know that Jesus lives victorious over sin!

And that foundation is priceless, as we try to discern and process all that is going on around us–in the modern day church, in politics, in our own lives–in fact, in any and all areas.

 

p.s. If you want to truly understand just how awesome God’s Word is and how it got to us, this sermon is the most wonderful one I have heard on the subject.  It was very helpful in reminding me of the reliability and inerrancy and power of God’s Word. I wish every Christian would listen to it.

 

What We Remember

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Christmas is such a blessed time, especially if we truly understand the reason for the season. But, inevitably, as we grow older this time of year also comes with a bit of sad nostalgia as we remember favorite childhood memories and loved ones no longer with us.

Sometimes I am so caught up in the busyness of the season, I don’t really take the time to reflect on past Christmases, but this season has purposefully been a little slower paced and so I found my mind going back–

One of my favorite Christmas memories was making homemade Christmas ornaments with my mom and brother. Sometimes my grandmother, aunt, and cousins would join us. Sometimes we would make them on Thanksgiving Day. We would play Christmas music and cut and paint and glue and glitter. We would watch colorful plastic shrink in the oven until it became a quarter of its original size (anyone else remember the wonder of shrinky-dinks?) I especially remember the felt ornaments we tried one year. There was the Christmas tree with the rick-rack garland and the ornament shape with glued sequins and ribbon decorating it. I am pretty sure my mom still hangs some of these handmade ornaments each year on her tree.

I remember coloring with my brother. Every year we would buy the same matching Christmas coloring books. Its pages held a story about a girl and a boy and Santa. We would lay on the floor on the brightly-colored blue, red, green, and gold afghan my grandmother had crocheted, listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks while we colored in our coloring books with a brand new box of Crayola crayons. I always colored the girl’s hair a golden yellow.

I also remember my very favorite song called Christmas Chopsticks sang by Bobby Vinton on my very favorite Christmas album called a Very Merry Christmas. I think it was an album put out by a hardware store. Remember those? I used to play that record over and over again. Jim Nabors (i.e. Gomer Pyle) sang a song on the album in a deep bass voice. It was nothing like his Gomer Pyle voice at all.

And one of my fondest memories is spinning around in circles to Christmas music. My brother and I would try to stay on the blanket (yes, the same brightly colored afghan) and twirl and twirl until we got dizzy and we fell down. If any part of our bodies left the blanket we would be the loser. It was a made up game we loved. We did that every Christmas for years.

I remember my dad taking forever to get ready on Christmas morning. We kids would sit there in anxious anticipation, lining up our presents in the order we would want to open them. And then re-lining them up again. We would shake them and stare at them, trying to guess what was in each brightly colored package. And then we would re-line them again. After what seemed like an eternity, my dad would slowly walk down the steps, smiling. It was just part of our family’s tradition and we loved it!

And I remember my uncle Dave, pretending to be Santa and the excitement and expectation of him walking through the door– even though I knew he wasn’t really Santa. I remember family gathering, and laughing, and playing games, enjoying one another’s company. I remember mounds and mounds of yummy Pennsylvania Dutch food. We were not a gourmet family by any sense of the word and the foods that were prepared would make any healthy eater shudder, but I still, to this day, enjoy a good carbohydrate-laden holiday meal.

You know what I don’t remember?

I don’t remember any of my gifts. Oh, wait–I take that back. There was one Christmas that I wanted my own phone “real bad”. Back then, of course, that meant running wires and putting in another line. My mom thought it would be funny to put a play phone in a box and wrap it up. I still vividly remember opening that blue play phone with its rotary dial. I actually didn’t think it was that funny.

But I don’t remember many other gifts. It wasn’t that I didn’t get gifts. My mom loves Christmas and we were never disappointed (except for that phone incident!) But now I can see that the gifts weren’t really what was important about Christmas.

For Christmas is most importantly about Jesus coming to earth as a babe to save the lost. It’s about God sending His Son into this fallen, sinful world to grow up to be a man and then die on a cross for sinners. It’s about that Son rising again with victory over sin and death. Christmas is a big part of the plan of salvation, that is available to all people, through God’s grace and mercy.

But Christmastime is also about family coming together, forgetting for a brief time the cares and problems that keep us apart. Christmas is about spending time together, making memories and loving one another. I didn’t have a perfect family. My mom’s family was not perfect and neither was my dad’s. There were serious issues going on in my extended families, unbeknownst to me at the time. But I am so thankful for family members who could enjoy one another’s company for a few hours each holiday season to make beautiful memories for the child that was me. What a blessing.

As we look at our Christmas gift list for the tenth time this year, stressing over all we still have to buy, let us remember that Christmas isn’t really about the gifts under the tree, after all.

Let’s try to bring joy and hope to our family gatherings this year. Let’s not discuss topics that will start arguments. Let’s ignore the sharp tongue of that critical family member. Let’s overlook the faults of another for this short time. Let’s act and react with grace and kindness. Let’s give our families the gift of peace.

Let’s plan some fun activities — making ornaments, completing a Christmas puzzle, reading a Christmas story, watching A Christmas Carol, picking out a tree– anything that will make great memories and strengthen our family relationships. Let’s give our families the gift of happy memories.

And let’s focus on what matters. Let’s be sure our children know why we celebrate Christmas. Let’s keep Christ at the center of it all. Let’s strive to please our Lord and Savior all through the year. Let’s give our families the gift of a life lived for Jesus.

 

The January Joy Challenge is coming!

There is so much going on this time of year! But I wanted to take just a moment to wish you a very, Merry Christmas and to thank you for taking the time to read my blog this past year!

I also wanted to share a little bit of what I have in mind for January–

This time of year you can spot the word “Joy” everywhere. I found it on ornaments, sweatshirts, lawn ornaments (didn’t have the opportunity to take that picture, however), towels, and even on a doughnut!  It’s such a great word that surfaces especially at Christmastime.

Most of us are very familiar with Luke 2. In verse 10 we find this wonderful text:  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 

Tiding of great joy for all people! Can you imagine being one of those shepherds, hearing this wonderful news?

But somehow in the midst of everyday life, in the humdrum of the daily grind, we forget about joy. Especially in January. January– at least for me– has always been a rather depressing month. My favorite seasons are over (spring, summer, and fall) and winter can no longer be camouflaged by the holiday season.

I can find myself growing a bit down and apathetic in January if I am not careful. And so, I thought I would turn our focus to this word “Joy” starting on January 1. The theme of each Wednesday Wisdom will be joy throughout the entire month and look for various challenges and quotes on the Growing 4 Life Facebook page (find the Facebook page here).

Let’s see how this word should apply to our lives every day and not just at Christmastime!

Until January, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year!

 

There is room in my heart for…me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were singing the Christmas song Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne in church. I got distracted and wasn’t paying attention to what I was singing. We got to the last line of the song and, instead of the beautiful line “there is room in my heart for Thee”, I sang “there is room in my heart for me.”

What did I just sing? I caught it immediately and grew disgusted with myself. What Christian would ever make such a terrible blunder while singing a song about God?

Well, I am here to tell you — I would. I did.

I sang those words and then, as we went on to the next verse and then the next song, I contemplated about how true those words actually are so many times.

I am ashamed to say that oftentimes there is only room in my heart for myself.

I get so focused on what I want that I forget to leave room in my heart for Jesus and what He wants.

For example, some days I wake up and immediately start thinking of everything that needs to be done that day. I don’t see how I can possibly make time for a quiet time that morning and so I don’t have one. Ironically, I usually do end up having time at the end of my day for a quick game on my ipad or to watch something on TV — something I want. I have room for me.

Or I am short with a family member because there is something I want to do. I know that I would please the Lord by being kind and loving towards them, but I am too busy making room for me at the moment, thank you very much, so they’d better just get out of my way.

Or I am at the store and I see something that I need want and I buy it, making room for me and my desires, before ever contemplating if this is necessary or wise. Leaving no room in my heart for God and what He wants.

Or…well, you get the idea. Think of all of the times that we spend focused on ourselves–oftentimes, so much so, that we squeeze out Jesus.  There’s just so much of us that there is little room for Him.

But there is a problem.

There really is only room for one on the throne of our hearts. And we have a choice to make. Is it going to be me or is it going to be Him?

There are spiritual ramifications to even the smallest choice. Will this decision put Christ on the throne of my heart or will it put me on the throne of my heart? As we grow as a Christian, the throne room in our hearts should be filled more and more with Christ and less and less with self.

I want to sing the right words: “there is room in my heart for Thee.”  And then I want to follow up my words with a life that matches.

Thy didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me
But in Bethlehem’s home there was found no room
For Thy holy nativity
O come to my heart Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee

 

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