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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

bth_MarywithBabyJesus[1]It’s 4:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve and I never expected to be so heavy on this day with the things that are weighing on my heart. I’m not the only one I know. So many are facing much greater burdens and much greater life challenges. This season of joy and love and peace doesn’t always live up to it’s reputation, does it?

Well – actually it does. The TV specials are sparkly and white and soft and beautiful. We are led to believe that for Christmas to be Christmas we need the perfect outfit, the perfectly decorated tree, the perfectly wrapped gifts and the perfect loving family around the table. But today I’m realizing again that although the birth of Christ was the climax of that Bethlehem night, there are so many subtle lessons surrounding the momentous event.

Stress, worry, pain, shock, disappointment, confusion – all the things we live with today were in existence then. I would guess that a few sharp words may have been exchanged between Mary and Joseph along their journey, brought on by exhaustion and the weight of responsibility. Stress does that to us – brings out the irritation in our voice, the too quick answer, the sharp word.

I suspect that as Mary and Joseph made their way through the streets of the city on their way to the stable they fought crowds that had flooded the city. You can’t tell me the merchants didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to expand their line of products and overflow their streetside stalls. To purchase a simple meal Joseph would have had to stand in a long line, with impatient shoppers,  wailing children, tired, cranky clerks. Been there?

And as gentle as Mary appears in scripture, there is no way she didn’t crinkle her nose and give Joseph that “You’ve got to be kidding me” look when they entered the barn. Eating isn’t the only thing animals do in a barn, people!

God sent His Son in an ordinary way because He wanted ordinary people to be able to relate and accept this incredible gift. He wanted the poorest to know poverty doesn’t keep us from Him. He wanted the rich to know you must bow not buy your way to Him. He wanted the clean freaks to know even filth and unpleasant smells can’t keep Him away. He wanted the simple to know it’s not complicated, and the wise to know it doesn’t take a masters degree to find Him.

And the gifts – if you are anything like me, you have been wracking your brain, scouring the stores, scanning the internet trying to find the right one for each person on your list. I know Christmas isn’t about the gifts – but then again, it is. If I stopped shopping and tried to explain to my family from the 5 year old on up that I didn’t do gifts this year because Christmas is about the birth of Christ – I don’t think that would go over well. They know that but it doesn’t mean they are willing to give up gift giving.

So how can we take all of the not so wonderful things of Christmas and make them a part of the wonder, the miracle and the message? Here’s what I’m trying to do.

First, I’m taking my burdens, stress. irritations, frustrations and worry and I’m putting them in a gift box lined with prayer as tissue paper. I’m not skimping on the tissue paper either. I’m stuffing that box full until it pretty much overflows. Tissue paper is cheap. Prayer costs even less. 

Next, I’m putting the lid on that box because I know if I don’t I’ll be reaching in and taking those burdens out again and again to rearrange and ponder and carry them around for a while before putting them back. I’m taping the lid down so it won’t come off.

Then I’m pulling out the most beautiful wrapping paper I can find and covering that box with it because I want it to be visibly worthy of laying at the feet of Jesus. I want Him to know I’m serious about handing it over.

And the next thing I’m doing, after I walk away from the box, is pulling out every bit of kindness and gentleness and generosity I can find in my clothes closet and that’s the outfit I’m wearing today and tomorrow and hopefully beyond this weekend so I can bring the missing joy, peace and love to those around me.

Because I’m learning the lesson of Christmas.  God knows the pressure. He is aware of the demands on my time. He understands the things that make my heart heavy and my tears flow. But He set the Star of Bethlehem in the sky to show me the way to the Son of God in the manger and allow me to discover the truth of Christmas. 

It’s putting my trust in the Baby who became the Savior,

so I could travel from the Manger to the Cross,

and let Him come from Heaven to my Heart,

to make peace where there is none, to bring joy where there is sadness, and to give hope when things appear bleak. He gave Himself to me and I’m paying it forward.

Praying a beautiful Christmas for all of you.

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Well, it’s over. The dHand of Goday we shopped for, planned for, cooked for, and pushed ourselves to the limit for – Christmas. How was it for you? Did it turn out to be the warm, wonderful, Kodak moment  you anticipated? I didn’t think so. Seems you have to be starring in a family sitcom to come even close to holiday perfection.

Example: My friend who was all prepared for the day with grandchildren plowing through gift wrap. Instead, they spent the day racing  over a snowy mountain pass to meet up with their littlest baby granddaughter who had been airlifted to a children’s hospital. (The baby is improving but it was a close call.)

Example: The lady who posted on facebook that her son decided to spend a couple of hours jeeping in the fresh snow before the big dinner. Instead, they spent 8 hours digging him out of a snowdrift. Dinner ruined and everyone pretty much too exhausted to open packages once they finally got home.

Example: My friend who prepared for a beautiful dinner to share with her  son who never made it over the snowy pass to join her. She picked up her husband from the nursing facility to spend Christmas day at home and discovered he’d been taken off his mental health meds by some clause in the infamous Obamacare program. A simple trip home for the day turned into a battle. But they made it and after getting him settled, she put the glaze on the ham and placed it in a 425 degree oven to finish a few more minutes of baking, took the twice baked potatoes out of the refrigerator and set them on the stove – on the burner she’d forgotten to turn off. Luckily her back was turned when the glass casserole dish exploded, spraying glass and potatoes all over the kitchen, melting big holes in the flooring, and making an unbelievable mess. And in the time it took her to clean up the mess the ham baked to a hard, dry ball of pork. I will spare you the ordeal of getting the husband back into the car to return to the care center.

My own day pales in comparison. All we had to do was babysit the dog who had major surgery on Christmas Eve due to a dog fight. Oh, I’ve had my share of Christmas days that would go down in history. Like the one where the dog shattered every ornament on my beautiful Victorian decorated tree, the year we spent the day at the hospital because of my little daughter’s inflamed appendix, the one where I forgot to put sugar in the pumpkin pies, or the one where all the needles fell off my tree by Christmas eve and my husband cut off the dry branches and wrapped the string of lights around the dry trunk. I could go on but I won’t.

Here’s the thing – there’s the Christmas day family gathering you see in pictures all aglow with candles, a clean house, a golden basted turkey and everyone down to the youngest child with head bowed patiently giving thanks before the gift exchange. And then there’s the one that happens at your house. If you’re lucky it’s just a little loud and messy and no one gets hurt.

When will we finally get it?  Only one thing makes a perfect Christmas – the birth of a perfect Savior. Everything else pales in comparison.

Because He came, the tragedy of sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one on a day that should be filled with fun and laughter is made bearable. Because He came, a ruined meal is just that – a ruined meal not a catastrophe. Because He came, relationships are reconciled and forgiveness happens and lives are restored and we more than survive this challenging, stress filled life.

So as you prepare for the new year – make your resolutions and set your goals, plan the diet and write out the carefully executed schedule – remember this. Just as there is no perfect holiday gathering, there is no perfect life on earth. Your year will not go as planned and that’s a promise you can stand on. Trials and triumphs, smooth sailing and tsunami sized waves, laughter and tears, losses and wins – they will come.  Only a few things are guaranteed to stay solid and sure.

The love of God. The sacrifice of a Savior. And the fact that on every new page of every day in 2016 He will be present. He will share the good times, carry you through the tough times, redirect your path when it takes a wrong turn, calm your fears and hold you close when you can’t seem to face another day.

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deut. 31:8

 

 

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imagesCAYQ3DZ0Any idea how Black Friday got it’s name?  Actually, it was first called Black Friday in 1966 by police because of the chaos, traffic jams and acts of violence associated with the day. It has become a very profitable day for retailers and certainly, a profitable day for bargain shoppers if you are willing to get up early, stand in line, fight the crowds and push and shove your way to the best buys of the day.

Are you a Black Friday shopper?  Then I’d like to bring to your mind a little scripture in Mark’s gospel (8:36) that goes like this, “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  The message Bible puts it this way, “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”

In the me-version paraphrase, “Is that piece of electronic equipment or that great buy on name brand boots worth compromising your entire Christian list of principles?”

I heard on the news today that the Greater Sacramento Chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation is set to unveil 55 billboards touting atheism this Christmas season.  Frightening!

But even more frightening, the billboard Christian shoppers will be displaying on Black Friday if we fall into the trap of losing who we really are to the lure of being first, gaining a material advantage over displaying Christ, and worst of all – setting a poor, long lasting example for our children, friends and whoever else might be observing our actions.

Here are my Black Friday tips to assure that your billboard flashes a message of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness and self control. (Gal 5:22-23)

  1. Don’t leave the house on Black Friday if you think you won’t be able to display the Christ you want others to see.
  2. If you do go, at some point in the day, let someone go ahead of you in line and wish them a Merry Christmas (not a Happy Holiday or Seasons Greetings). This will shock some, bless some and make you feel great.
  3. Smile at everyone.  Smile at the young mother with few funds and a deep desire to make her children’s Christmas special. Smile at the elderly gentleman who can’t move as fast as everyone else. Smile at the husband who doesn’t have a clue and is just going where his wife points. Smile especially at the retail clerk who has answered the same question sixteen thousand times without gritting his teeth. Yes, even smile at the cranky woman who wants to argue and complain to everyone around her.
  4. Hold a door, give up a parking place, pick up a dropped package, do something nice at least once every half hour to remind yourself who you are and what you are trying to convey.
  5. Hum along with the Christmas music blaring throughout the mall.  You will be surprised how it will lift your spirit and take your mind off the inconvenience of the crowds.
  6. Look like Jesus to the weary, hungry crowd. People aren’t always looking for bargains. They are all too often looking for kindness, compassion, gentleness and hope. God’s gift is that with his empowerment you can be all of those things even on Black Friday!
  7. Arm yourself with the full armor. You will need it on this day more than you’ve ever needed it before.  Remember them?  Truth (when the harried clerk gives too much change back),  righteousness (the first shall be last kind of mentality in the midst of the shoving), the Gospel of peace (when everything around you is chaos),  faith (that God has a better plan when you miss out on the big deal of the day that you got up early and stood in line for), salvation (nothing is worth losing your salvation over) and the sword of the Spirit (the one you wield when you’ve been stabbed in the back, stomped into a corner, shoved out of the way and shoutedat).

And when you get home, pour yourself a hot cup of tea or chocolate. Sit down by the fire. Close our eyes and thank God that with His hand in yours you navigated Black Friday in a manner He would be proud of.

God bless you all this Thanksgiving week!

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’  Matthew 25:21

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bth_MarywithBabyJesus[1]Merry Christmas to a world that has rejected the Christ part and embraced the shallow commercialism. If you really listen I think this is what you might hear, straight from the words of One who wriggled in a lowly manger, hung from a wooden cross, and now does His Christmas shopping by wandering among the crowds purchasing broken toys at full price and making them new again.

He might tell us He was cold on the night of His birth. The night wind came through the cracks of the stable wall and caused His tiny body, slick from birth fluid, to shiver.  But His mother knew. She quickly wrapped Him in what was handy and held Him tight against her heart, pouring her warmth and comfort into Him.  It’s where He learned how to hold us.

He might tell us He was frightened when He became separated from His parents and found Himself in the temple answering questions and sharing with the priests. But when He looked up and saw His mother and father enter, He felt strong and valued and secure. It’s where He learned to never stop seeking us when we go astray.

He might tell us He was disappointed many times over when He poured His heart into the people, touching and healing, teaching and caring, and then watching them walk away to never look back in gratitude or love. It’s where He learned to give, and give and give with no thought of payback.

With tears He might tell us of the fickleness of Peter, the betrayal of Judas, the horrible death of His cousin, John. But then with great conviction and wisdom He would say it’s where He learned that the ups and downs of life cannot overshadow the reunions in heaven or the hearts that change and go on to do great things in the name of His Father.

Rubbing the scars on the backs of His hands, He might say the pain of the cross was more agonizing then He could ever have imagined but the joy of introducing each newly redeemed soul to God the Father is so blinding He can’t see the cross behind it anymore. It was on that cross He learned how to let go of life and truly live.

For sure He would say that walking daily in a world that rejects His father, deliberately misinterprets His Word, kills His children, abuses His brothers and sisters, and allows His arch enemy to pollute hearts, souls and minds until they believe they are on the winning side is enough make a Savior want to wash His hands of it all and call it quits.

But then He would say there are diamonds sparkling in the filth, just waiting to be pulled from the mire, washed with His blood and placed in the mighty hands of God to be shining examples of what Christ can do. He would say that I alone was worth it all.  He would say that you alone are worth it all.  He would say that no matter how deep a diamond is buried, no matter how evil the environment His holiness has to enter, no matter how hard and bloody the battle, the end result – a child restored, redirected, and reconnected shines so bright His eyes are blinded to all it took to get there.

It’s why He still comes despite the cold He will experience, the loneliness He will be subjected to, the rejection He has come to expect, the pain that will nearly cripple Him along the way. He still comes to shop for broken people because He believes the buy of the century is one who can be gently repaired and put back on the shelf brand new.

 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?3 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:12-14

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MB900431278[1]Our Christmas program at church took place yesterday. It was filled with music, a little drama and a bit of narration to tie it all together.  I composed the narration and as I wrote in an earlier blog, I agonized over every word, praying it would be exactly right to bring people closer to Christ.

I want to share with you a piece of that narration I never could have known would have much deeper meaning in light of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

To introduce the part of our program that emphasized the birth of Jesus and led into a touching rendition of “Isn’t He Beautiful”, I wrote the following:

What child is born that a mother’s heart doesn’t melt the moment she sees his squirming wrinkled body?   What long anticipated newborn comes into this world that a mother’s love doesn’t overflow in a flood of emotion?

The weight of carrying, the pain of labor – all forgotten in the moment of that baby’s first cry.  A mother’s heart swells and she is convinced at that moment that her child is more beautiful, more perfect, more amazing than any other.

Mary was no different than other mothers in that respect. But when she gazed upon the infant Savior, she was consumed with much more than motherly love.

Mary saw a miracle, a mystery,  a majesty far beyond anything she’d ever experienced.  And at that moment, this woman of grace exhaled her last normal oxygen filled breath, and inhaled a new life.

Never again would her lungs expand without the presence of Jesus filling them.

Never again would she speak without the experience of Jesus softening her words.

Never again would her arms reach out without the feel of Jesus in them.

And this is the same for each and every one who lays down the former life and embraces the Christmas miracle.

As those words were shared during the program Sunday, my heart rushed to the parents grieving for lost children in Newtown, Connecticut. A senseless, tragic, unimaginable few moments have left them shattered. There are no words of comfort that could ease their pain, no quote of scripture that will cause the tears to stop falling – at least for a time. Grief, while it may soften, will be their constant companion for the rest of their life.

But the words God gave me for that narration reminded me of what we take for granted every day.  We have nothing except what God gives. The people we treasure in this life are merely on loan, sent by God’s grace to enhance our experience. Mary certainly discovered the truth of this when she watched her Son die.

Here is a wonderful reality in a time of great loss.  The physical presence of a loved one is gone, but God makes sure the memories are left behind to carry us through our time of grieving.

Like the words in the narration, here is what those parents are left with.  They will never again take a breath without the presence of their child filling it, never again speak without the experience of their child softening their words, never again reach out their arms without the feel of their child filling them. The experience of a child, regardless of how short the time span, changes us forever.

Nothing justifies the evil that took those children away.

But God, in His great compassion, will not leave those mothers and fathers bankrupt. He is prepared to fill their emptiness, catch their tears, heal their hearts and gently care for their children until they are reunited in the moment He chooses to bring them together again. Let us pray that through the cloud of pain and grief, they can see the hand of God extended.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev 21:4

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 This morniMB900262644[1]ng I was looking out the large window of my office, watching eight deer forage for food under a light covering of snow. Graceful, beautiful creatures in a winter landscape worthy of a Christmas card cover.  I’m sure my face reflected the peace and sense of contentment the scene outside my window evoked.  Psalm 42 immediately came to mind.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” Psalm 42:1

Shattering that peaceful reflection just minutes later, I caught a news flash of the shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut leaving twenty seven dead, eighteen of them children. I am sitting here now with tears streaming and a million questions running through my head.  How can something like this happen?  How can anyone feel anger so deeply it would lead them to this type of action?  I’m so confused. And I find myself crying out to God. 

“Why, God?  How can you let something like that happen?  I get that we live in an imperfect world and I get that you never promisCed us smooth sailing or lives exempt from sadness or pain.  But this? 

I am thousands of miles away from the tragedy and I want to run out of my office, pull my own grandchildren out of school and shelter them forever. I don’t want them to have to grow up in a world so ugly and so evil.

I am furious at the 20 year old shooter, angry at whomever or whatever brought him to this point, and to tell you the truth – I am upset with God.  I want Him to turn back the clock, bring those children home tonight to the parents who sent them off to school this morning never dreaming what lay in store.  I want the world to stop hating and hurting people. I want the peace on earth that songs of this season harmonize about and that the Bible promises.

The hardest part for me is being lulled into a picturesque, isn’t it pretty, all is well state of mind when at that very moment unspeakable tragedy, chaos, and ugliness was taking place.  Where is the justice in that?

The rest of Psalm 42, when I take time to read it, speaks to my mood.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Psalm 42:2-3

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Psalm 42:4

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5

This is a “yet I will praise Him” time for sure. I can’t make sense of what happened this morning, or for that matter on any given day when the world out-shadows the glory of heaven.

Sometimes I praise Him with joy so overwhelming it lifts me off my feet and threatens to rupture my heart muscle it is so powerful.

Sometimes I praise Him when I’m walking through a ho hum time, my emotions too lazy to cause a ripple on an ekg.

And sometimes, like right now, I praise Him even though I’m weighed down and weary with crying.  Even though I am crying out “Why”, I am still singing “How great Thou art”. When fear and doubt and anger and confusion play basketball with my soul, I choose to see myself on the winner’s bench with my Coach’s hand on my life and on the dysfunctional world in which I live.

My soul does long after you, God, more than it longs for understanding or explanations when horror happens. I am hungry for your touch, thirsty for your living water, and desperate for your strength and your love to help me overcome the battles of life is this harsh world.

Please join me in praying for the families who are living this latest tragedy, for a society where this type of thing happens all too often, and for each of us individually that we might be a healing salve in a mortally wounded world.

By day the Lord directs His love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:8

 

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As I put the finishing touches on the script for our church Christmas program I have been thinking about the responsibility that comes with writing.

In writing comedy, you have a responsibility to make people laugh. If you are writing non-fiction you have a responsibility to present accurate information.  If you are writing for small children you have a responsibility for making sure you help them fall in love with reading. If you are writing for middle grade you have a responsibility to help them grasp change and growth.  All writing, especially if it becomes published, carries with it the responsibility of applying your best to produce positive, lasting effect.

Writing a Christmas program should be easy.  After all, the Story is the story – angels, shepherds, camels and kings.  But still, every person in the audience is different.  They hear, perceive and observe in different ways.

A former church I attended used live animals in the Christmas pageant. I guarantee you that when the young children saw sheep they wanted to reach out and touch them. Adults worried about the mess on the carpet. Only the farmers in the crowd actually had thoughts of shepherds on a chilly night. 

Even a live baby in the pageant, while appealing to everyone, elicits different thought and emotion.  The women will feel the prick of tears, and the miracle of the birth.  Children will smile and see baby Jesus. Men will be stoic but at the same time feel the mystery.

I’ve been working on this narration and dialog for weeks and I can tell you I’ve had a few sleepless nights.   My passion is that it reach out and carry the beautiful, life saving message of a Savior’s birth in a way that no one can miss. I know there will be an audience comprised of long time Christians, new Christians and people who haven’t yet made a commitment.

All of them will walk in with their own private burdens. All will bring experiences into the sanctuary that will color what they see, hear and perceive.  Will it be enough to bring them closer to where they need to be?  Will it magnify the manger, add meaning to the message and glorify the God I serve? Will it speak convincingly to the one who has never heard the story before and at the same time be fresh and amazing to the one who has heard it a hundred times?

My fretting and worrying finally ended last night as I polished the narration.  God reminded me that the responsibility of this writer is to compose but it is His job to reveal. Mine is the task of arranging words and capturing thoughts in catchy phrases and colorful prose. His is the task of carrying those words on wings of love and compassion into the hearts and minds of His children. Mine is to retell what He has already written, to sing His praises and to express what I know beyond a shadow of a doubt – a Savior came in the dark and lit up the world. My Father will lift the writing to a level that only He can. Praise Him for His gracious gifting and His faithfulness in guiding us to use what He has given for His glory.     

For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power ; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life  and spirit, and of joints and marrow, exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart. Hebrews 4: 12

 

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