Rescued

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Imagine you are on the ocean a thousand miles from land. You are literally dying from thirst. Your lips are parched and your skin blistered from the scorching sun. The only thing keeping you from drowning in the unfathomable depths of the endless ocean is a flimsy yellow raft. The days are ticking by and death seems close at hand.

Or imagine you are in the belly of the earth, deep inside a cave. You have lost your source of light and you have lost your way. You don’t know where to turn and the darkness is so thick you can touch it. You can’t even see your hand in front of your face for there is not a hint of light anywhere. You recognize that you are never going to be able to find your way out and you start facing the fact that you are going die a slow, torturous death in this place, leaving behind a pile of bones that someone may stumble onto some day in the distant future.

In both scenarios, all hope is gone. Your life on earth is over and you know it. You have faced the facts and are simply waiting to die.

Now, suppose that–against all odds– someone rescues you. Not only does he rescue you, but he gives his life to save you. He knew that your rescue depended upon the sacrifice of his life but he chose to save you, anyway.

How would you feel about this person?

What kind of passion would you express when you tell the story of your dramatic rescue? What kind of words would you use when describing the person who gave his life to save you?

Most people would tell the story of their rescue in great detail, infusing their words with zeal and fervor. They would try to convey –as much as words would allow– the deep, abiding love and tremendous awe and respect they have for the stranger who saved them.

And this passion is given for a temporary escape from something that’s still going to happen eventually. Our rescue hasn’t cheated death permanently–it’s just given us a bit more time here on earth.

Why do we feel such great passion about a temporary physical rescue and yet feel little or no passion regarding our spiritual rescue?

We were sinners completely without righteousness (Romans 3:23). We were headed for eternal separation from God. Eternal separation (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). Our final destination was going to be hell–a place of torture and fire (Luke 16:24).

Unending punishment was certain.

We were without hope.

And then came the day long ago that God put His plan of salvation into motion. He sent His only Son to the earth as a baby. That baby would grow into a man who would die on a cross for the sins of man. He took our sins on Himself and covered us with His blood and righteousness so that we could be reconciled to the One, True God!

And then He rose again, victorious over death!

O, Death where is thy sting? O, grave, where is thy victory? (I Corinthians 15:55)

We haven’t been given temporary respite from death–we have had an eternal rescue!

And yet, most of us Christians talk about our rescue like we talk about what we are having for dinner. There is no passion, no fervor. We don’t tell our neighbors and we don’t tell our friends. In fact, some of us do all we can to avoid bringing up the subject, nervous and afraid to speak the name of Jesus.

But how can we keep from praising His name? How can we keep from singing?

Salvation is far more than an intellectual acknowledgement. Even the demons acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 8:29). Salvation is a change of heart.

If our hearts have been changed, then praise should spill forth without effort because we have been rescued! We have left the roiling sea of sin and have found the solid anchor that holds! We have left the inky, black darkness that has blinded us and have walked into marvelous light!

How can we keep from praising Him? How can we keep from singing?

I know this type of  passion and fervor in “Christianity” isn’t always acceptable. We don’t want to get too excited because we don’t want to look strange. But have you been to a sports event lately? Or a concert? Passion and zeal abide there for literally no reason. And we can’t bring some excitement to our dramatic, eternal rescue from sin and hell?

As we focus this week on the death and resurrection of Christ, let us consider what Jesus did for us and the passion we have towards what happened. Let’s ponder our wretched sinfulness and reflect on how He reconciled us to God, gave us eternal life, and saved us from eternal damnation. If we are truly saved, we will find that we can’t keep from praising His name and singing out!

 

Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name. (Psalm 18:49)

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. (Psalm 28:7)

Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. (Isaiah 42:10)

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

How Do You Say Good-Bye?

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This year brought so many changes into my life. It was an exciting, exhausting, and emotional year. With two weddings and the announcement that we are going to be grandparents, life took a turn that I knew was coming but, for some reason, was not really prepared for. I guess it’s a little like when you get married or become a parent–you can try to prepare for what you know is coming, but there is no way to really understand until you are in the midst of the new situation, taking one day at a time.

Another big change we had this year was that one of our daughter’s and her husband moved across country after their wedding. The two of them made plans to come home for the holidays and so only three weeks ago we were waiting for them with great anticipation. We have had a wonderful time with them the past couple of weeks.

But, eventually, our final moments together approached.

We are all familiar with them. Those last few hours of time together. Wanting to make the most of it. But not really quite sure how. Talking about weather and places and people. Trying to ignore the fact that, all too soon, we will have to say good-bye for another few months or longer.

Every hello means an eventual good-bye. For some of us we are the visitors, packing up our families to stay with parents or siblings over the holidays. For others of us, we are the parents and siblings the rest come to see. Whatever we do over the holidays, most of us experience sweet hellos and sad good-byes during this time.

We get together, spending an unusual amount of time together. We try to get along, knowing that we won’t see each other again for who knows how long. It can be a challenge for so many people to live together in one house, but, for so many of us, this time spent with family is just such a wonderful blessing.

It is a strange emotion–this dread to say good-bye to our loved ones but this yearning to go back to the routine of life that we are so familiar with. And we wonder why we can’t have our routine and the people we love in our lives at the same time. But that’s just not how it is. And, for many of us, will never be how it is. It’s just life in this day and age of careers, callings, and desires drawing people to live in places all over the country. And all over the world.

And so we have joyful holiday reunions and tearful good-byes. And we thank the Lord for bringing us together again and ask Him if He would bless us with another visit again next year.

And then things settle back down to our normal routine again and we have to be satisfied with e-mails, texting, and Skype. It’s just how it is.

No spiritual lesson here today. Just a mother’s heart that was sad to say good-bye. Again. Do we ever get used to this?

 

One of our attempts at a family photo over the holidays…

p.s. Did you make it through the 2015 Bible Challenge? If so, visit my growing4life Facebook page and let me know!

‘Twas the Day After Christmas

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‘Twas the day after Christmas
And all through the house
All had grown quiet
Even my spouse.

Off doing their own things
The family had scattered
I sat quite alone
Not sure if that mattered

Another Christmas
Had come and had gone
It had happened so fast
I stifled a yawn

But then I remembered
How lovely it’d been
I was so blessed
I just had to grin

Once more we had joy
We had love, we had laughter
We filled up our insides with food
Up to the rafters

What more could you ask for?
For what else could you yearn?
Gathering with family
Before the calendar turns

All of this joy
All because of the Savior
Who came to the earth
Tucked into a manger

Because of this baby
Fellowship here is sweet
And because of this baby
Promises are replete

Oh, what a thought!
Oh, the great story!
Knowing forever
We will be together in glory!

Because of the cross
Because God made a way
To be reconciled to Him
On that most marvelous day

And so I sit here
By the light of the tree
Alone but content
Because God has so blessed me

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

And a Merry Christmas Message

Christmas Dinner

So many of us consider ourselves pretty good Christians. We don’t drink in excess, we don’t steal from our bosses or cheat on our taxes. We have been faithful to our spouses and we go to church almost every Sunday. All good things.

But there is nothing like a week full of family get-togethers to remind us of our sinful natures. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in our profession of Christianity.

As families go, I am pretty blessed. But in every family we have the potential of run-ins and relationship problems because we all are different– we have different priorities and we have differing views on religion and politics. We don’t raise our kids the same way. And we don’t feel passionate about the same things. Some of us tend to be very loud and boisterous and others of us are quiet and reserved. All this means that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. How that plays out is not the same in every family.

Some families have loud debates or even arguments. Other families are full of sarcastic remarks that infuse every family gathering. In some families, it is just a cold, unbreakable tension that lies underneath all that goes on during their times together.

Hurtful remarks. Sarcastic comments. Cold shoulders.

They can all add up to a real lack of peace among family members.

And I am here to encourage you not to be part of any of it.

As Christians dedicated to growing in holiness each and every day, let’s be the ones that bring peace and unity to the family.

What does this look like in practical terms?

These thoughts came to my mind this morning before I started my Bible reading this morning. A few minutes later I read this in I Peter 3—

8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;[a] 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

These verses give us such clear instructions on how to relate to others—practical and helpful as we face a week of family get-togethers and parties with friends.

We are to be of one mind. This is what Matthew Henry writes in his commentary about this sameness of mind that we are to have with other believers—

Christians should endeavour to be all of one mind in the great points of faith, in real affection, and in Christian practice; they should be like-minded one to another, according to Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:5 ), not according to man’s pleasure, but God’s word.

This unity can only be experienced with our Christian brothers and sisters. We will not be able to be unified with unbelievers, as we are categorically in opposition as we journey towards two opposite goals.

However, even if we can’t be unified with unbelieving family members, we can certainly practice being compassionate, tender-hearted, and courteous, can’t we? We can practice returning good for evil. We can choose to bless, rather than to choose revenge.

Revenge is such an ugly word, but in everyday life it can be very tempting to exact. It’s not always something dreadful but can instead be how we choose respond to a person–making sarcastic remarks  or ignoring them, as we seethe in our souls.

Every day offers us opportunities to live out I Peter 3:8-10. But there are few times each year that offer us so many opportunities to practice this than during the Christmas season–a time that taxes even the closest of families.

May we be the ones that bring a breath of fresh air to our family gatherings. Let’s be the ones that offer abundant grace and blessing, no matter how hurtful the remark or how unkind the deed. It may not be easy, but we have the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us. Let’s walk in the Spirit and choose to show loving-kindness with a joyful heart this holiday season!

**On a different note**
I’d like to thank you, dear reader, for joining me on my journey to grow in Christ this past year. I count it as a privilege and a blessing that you would use some of your precious time to read my posts. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

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.

 

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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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

My beautiful picture

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 Odd Thanksgiving List

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Whenever we sit down around the table at Thanksgiving and ask people to share what they are thankful for, we always hear the same {very worthy and true} answers —

Family…My Job…Nice Home…My Health…Church…Freedom to Worship

Sometimes we get frustrated if we are at the end of the circle, because all of the things we thought of have already been said. Have you ever been there?

Well, I thought maybe this morning I would list a few unusual things that we can be thankful for, in hopes that it may give us something unique to share at our Thanksgiving tables today.  Here is my Odd Thanksgiving List–

1.  Dentists and Eye Doctors. I don’t know about you but I’d probably have quite a few teeth missing if it wasn’t for my dentist! And I know that some of you would basically be blind. How blessed we are to have good dental and eye care available to us.

2.  Information About Anything at Anytime, Anywhere. I remember when I’d see a familiar face on a movie. I’d have no way to figure out where I had seen that face before. But not anymore. Now I just go to imdb.com and immediately I can glance through a list of previous works of that actor and figure it out. Or perhaps we see a strange plant or animal. Google it. Need a map? Google it. Would like more information about anyone, past or present? Google it, Ask Jeeves, Bing it, or use some other search engine. If there is a piece of information you need or just desire to know, you can probably find it online.

3.  Modern Technology. We hear a lot of negatives about technology and rightly so — in many cases it has undermined relationships and made sin much more accessible. But what great good it has accomplished, as well. We have podcasts of godly preachers at the touch of a button. Instead of being limited to our own home pastors (which may or may not be well-spoken or doctrinally sound), we now have access to whole sermon libraries of godly men, some who have already gone on to heaven. We have our Bibles and any number of Bible Study helps with us at all times on our smartphones and tablets. No need to lug around big, heavy Bibles or books. We can reach out and encourage someone with a text, facebook post, or e-mail, without the work of hand-writing a letter, finding an address, adding a stamp, and walking it to our mailboxes.  We have any number of books by great authors like Tozer, Ryle, and Spurgeon available to us for a mere 99 cents if we have a kindle. The problem for me isn’t the availability of books but the time to read them!  Technology provides some special challenges to our families, but let’s not forget that it also provides some pretty amazing advantages.

4. The Remnant of Believers. We can get so discouraged about the direction of the church, but there are still genuine believers in most areas of this country and many areas of the world. Yes, modern Christianity is murky and confusing and full of impostors but we can find sweet fellowship with true brothers and sisters in Christ almost anywhere we go and this is something for which to be truly thankful!

5.  Mentors and Godly Examples. Do you have someone who you really look to for advice? Someone who, while not perfect, is a great example of holy living? We should certainly be thankful if we have someone like this in our life.

6. Glorious Freedom. Oh, we often hear the word freedom on Thanksgiving Day, most often referring to our freedom to choose our religion or to make our own choices in the country we live in. But I am not speaking of that here. I am talking about the glorious freedom from bondage. If we are believers, we are no longer a slave to sin. Have you ever stopped to think about how marvelous that is? We have gone from darkness to light and it is glorious!

Hopefully, this list gives you something unique to present at the Thanksgiving table this year! Really, when you stop to think about it, this list could go on forever. No matter if we are rich or poor, healthy or not healthy, in a sunshiny place or in a dark place, there is so much for which to be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Heart Hints

1208355_17444325So it is February 14, the day we celebrate as Valentine’s Day.  Some of us love this holiday. Many of us hate it. Some of us just want to ignore it. But no matter how you feel about the holiday, it is always appropriate to show how much you love someone. So, I thought I would lighten up the blog today a bit and share a few “heart hints” for us to consider.

1.   Life is so short. Let’s enjoy and appreciate EVERY MINUTE we are given with the one we love. So often our focus turns instead to the things we don’t like or the stuff that is irritating. Let’s choose instead to be grateful.

2.  True love isn’t always nice. Every so often we have to tell someone we love really difficult things. Sure, we need to say it in a loving, kind way, but sometimes no matter how you wrap it, it will sound harsh. But true love tells the truth.

3.  Love is just downright hard sometimes.  And for my single readers with their (unrealistic) dreams– let me dash them right now: no one rides off into the sunset to their own personal perfect kingdom. The knight’s armor grows rusty, the horse grows old, and the castle is drafty and damp. (I’m telling you the truth because I love you, even thought I know it may sound harsh!) But can we really experience all that love can be if it’s never hard?

4.  One of the best places to be in the whole world is in the arms of the man or woman who loves you with all their heart and has proven it over and over again, in spite of your insensitivity and selfishness and big mouth and demanding requests…you fill in the rest of the sentence. Now that is the kind of love that long, happy marriages are made of. (yes, I know I just ended in a preposition, but sometimes it just is the best way to say something!)

5.  Love has to look beyond the present pain. When we are going through a bad time, I try to remember how I felt when I fell in love with my husband. Or to our future hopes and dreams. If we get locked into the present and dwell on it, we tend to grow further and further apart. It’s important to keep a broader focus than just that moment.

6.It’s never out of fashion to let someone know you love them. If you aren’t normally a Valentine’s Day gift buyer, well, switch it up this year and go buy your wife or husband a gift! It doesn’t have to be expensive, but just something to show them how much they mean to us. Most of us end up in a rut and we forget to show our spouses just how much we appreciate them.

7.  The stages of love are so exciting and such a gift from God! Young love is full of that initial excitement of wanting to be together all of the time, discovering the other person. And then, after marriage, we move into adjusting to living together and learning to give and take.  After the kids come, we fall into a routine and have to work a little harder not to take each other for granted and to keep the romance alive. And then the kids grow up and start their own lives and we get to really enjoy one another’s company again. We are comfortable with each other and  look forward to spending time together.  Each of these stages has its blessings. We need to enjoy them for what they are.

8.  It’s important to show love throughout the year with hugs and (real) kisses, holding hands, and with words of love and appreciation. This is especially important during that kid stage, when it is just so easy to lose touch with one another in the circus of busyness surrounding you.

9.  Be careful of expectations. I have made this mistake over and over again (my poor husband). I get my hopes up for a special present or date and then when it isn’t up to my expectations I feel let down. I am learning not to have such high expectations. This applies to any relationship in life, not just husband and wife (I have done the same thing for Mother’s Day).

10. 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. Love never fails.*   Oh, to love like this! If #10 was the only heart hint on this list it would be enough.

So there are ten things to think about today. And, please  remember, I’m learning about love and marriage as I live my life, just like you, so please feel free to add your own heart hints in the comment section. I know you have learned valuable things, too, and I would love to hear them!

 

*I Corinthians 13:4-8