Impact Church

Passionately serving God and His people

Category: December Devotional

Hope of All the World

“And his name will be the hope of all the world.” Matthew 12:21 NLT

A bizarre, World War 1 ceasefire on Christmas Day 1914 remains one of the great oddities of modern military history. Mythical in some part due to exaggeration, yet authentic in large part due to reputable eye witnesses, the bloody trench warfare on France’s western Front between British and German troops came to a brief halt on Christmas Day 1914.

Unshouldering their weapons and easing out of protective trenches, soldiers from both sides of this grim conflict traded cigarettes, sang carols, kicked soccer balls, and took photos. And in a rare display of mutual compassion, the impromptu ceasefire provided precious time for attending to the wounded and supplied a somewhat sacred space for the dead to be buried.

It’s unbelievable and inconceivable that trained killers could arrive at such a moment, that war and violence could be forgotten and good will toward sworn enemies be a reality!

Though the bloodshed resumed with a vengeance shortly afterward, the strange agreement between bitter combatants to cease hostilities and experience the calm of a Christmas Day speaks volumes to the innate desire of fellow image bearers to experience peace, no matter how elusive or short term that peace may be. To halt a deadly war, not at the sign of victory or defeat, but at the mere impulse of humanity’s hunger for peace (even when that peace is certain to be fleeting and futile), signifies at least, conceptually, the possibility of the whole of creation at rest.

Though human quests for a cosmos without strife and tension exist, the eerie pallor of discontent, hate, war and violence have marred creation’s symphony since Cain murdered his brother, Abel. From the first family’s dysfunction to the present, remedies for peace have been extensive, varied, and costly. The goals have undoubtedly been noble, and the “ought to” civility taught among differing civilizations is honorable, but any consistent peace among the nations of the world has been woefully scant.

Some thought harmony among the brotherhood of man was possible through religious practice; others deemed the answer to be through advanced political process; while others felt a just and peaceable world was available through military might. At the other end of the human effort spectrum others chose philosophies of passive, non-violence as a means to restoration; others promised togetherness among the nations through economic strategies and expanded educational pursuits. Some have believed wise legislation and virtuous statesmanship possessed the ingredients for equitable and just societies. Historically, all have proven to be ineffective and unsustainable in quelling the turmoil that infests mankind.

Had there been other means whereby nations could reside in peace, and had there been a place where wolves and lambs lay down together, and if a land existed where snakes didn’t strike at the legs of passers-by, then Bethlehem would not have supplied the manger where the Hope of the world was born! But those efforts were proven time again fruitless and vain, nothing more than mere strivings born from troubled, unknown, and ungoverned hearts.

But the God of peace could no longer remain aloof and distant from His creation’s dilemma! It was from the Father’s heart and from the beginning of time that the Hope of the world would be found in Jesus and the realization of that Hope would be fulfilled the day the Lord Jesus Christ was born!

Merry Christmas, then, to all the world! Hope for a restored creation is no longer a mystical, distant thought, for peace and harmony have come in the form of a baby boy! The Messiah, the One prophesied by all the prophets- Immanuel, God with us, the Savior, has arrived! He lived, died, was buried and has risen from the grave, and He accomplished all His Father assigned Him to do! And equally gloriously, He now resides in the souls of those who trust Him!

No longer is peace confined to a temporary stay formed by unstable minds. No longer are we disillusioned by the fickle, unreliable promises of men to halt harsh words and end bitter strife. No longer are truces of peace enacted upon conditions concocted by human standards, nor is unity determined by mere behavior modification!

There is a peace that begins in the heart, from a heart that’s forgiven and a mind that’s cleared! There is a place where wars no longer exist, and there is a place where joy, peace and goodwill towards all mankind spring as naturally as mountain streams flow southward! That place is personal, powerful and productive- a glorious experience and possession possible only through faith in the Prince of Peace!

Will the nations of the world ever experience peace? Will the peoples and tribes of the earth ever live in harmony, be free from injustice, be loosed from envy, or be delivered from discontent? Will governments and rulers of the world ever lay down their arms and despise violence as a means of control? Will manipulation and emotional coercion forever be banned? Will equality among the diverse image bearers of God ever be realized and enjoyed? Will the masses of humanity ever experience economic freedom- content and confident, free from fear and lack?

Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes to all of this!

How then is this indescribable reality possible? How will these conditions be fulfilled? It seems so beyond hope! Well, the answer dwells in the hope gurgling from the souls of those born of Peace! One person at a time, one human heart opened to the Gospel, one friend telling another friend of this grace – that’s how “as it is in heaven so shall it be on earth” arrives! Quietly, unadorned, and oft unexpectedly, the King of glory takes His place in human hearts, and with His glorious redeemed Church, promises to rule the earth with righteousness! There will be no end to His peace, His government, and His provision! A concept of this sort is not of this world, but rather originates from God and revives, filling in entirety the emptiness of fallen creation!

And with that hope springing now from purified and enthused hearts, we celebrate forever the very Incarnation of God! Peace was made possible through the birth of the Son, and the entrance of that light has given eternal hope to all that believe!

Are all things He promised now fulfilled and readily visible? No. Not yet. But surely goodness and mercy shall follow all those who’ve received Him! With hope being shed abroad now in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we boldly declare with joy – Merry Christmas to all!

Advertisements

Heart Growth

Admittedly, I haven’t seen The Grinch movie that was just released in the last few weeks. The computer-animated retelling of one of the most beloved Christmas stories is sure to be fun and light-hearted (this is not a movie review) but will undoubtedly never reach the classical influence of the original. I do not know Dr. Seuss’ (Theodore Geisel) spiritual inclinations or beliefs or his exact motivation for writing the book “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!” However, I can never read through this 1957 classic without being reminded of some foundational truths. 

In this children’s book, the author zooms in on the mindset of an isolated, grouchy character who developed a scheme to put an end to Christmas by stealing Christmas-themed items from the home of the nearby town of Whoville on Christmas Eve. He plotted to take their feast food, gifts, decorations, and even the Christmas tree all in an attempt to keep them from being excited and joyful on Christmas Day. He especially hated the noises of Christmastime, particularly the singing. Dr. Seuss gives the reason for the Grinch’s hatred of Christmas; the Grinch has a heart that is “two sizes too small.” 

Isn’t it amazing to consider that the way the Grinch looked at others was not a reflection of their goodness or wickedness but rather a reflection of the size and condition of his heart? Therefore, he was unable to join in the celebration and participate in the festivities with everyone else. In fact, it caused him to resent and despise the sounds of joy in others not because they were wrong for celebrating but because his heart was darkened. Here are just a few characteristics of the Grinch that were byproducts of his small heart: 

  1. He compared himself with his neighbors. The people in Whoville became his enemies rather than his partners. 
  2.  He became a taker. Anytime comparison is given place, it immediately ushers in the attitude of lack and lack always removes the heart of generosity and replaces it with a heart that takes. 
  3.  He became materialistic. He thought that joy came from their possessions! He assumed that if he could steal their possessions then he could quiet their rejoicing. 
  4.  He wished misery on his neighbors. Because he was miserable, he did not want anyone else to celebrate. Misery loves company! The Grinch was not just stealing the items, he was attempting to steal their reason for rejoicing. 

Dr. Seuss drives home the simple lesson of this book as he illustrates the Grinch looking with anticipation at Whoville after he had stole their goods. He expected them to be sad, gloomy, and miserable but when he turned to listen the opposite was actually occurring. The people of Whoville started singing! They sang louder and louder until the noise covered the town. The Grinch thought that without the items they would be discouraged and disappointed. However, it was never about the items that made the people of Whoville sing, it was about the condition of their heart. Your song says more about your heart than it does your possessions! 

That day the Grinch’s heart grew and he ended up returning all the items and enjoying Christmas with the people of Whoville. He even cut the roasted beast! 

My prayer for you this Christmas is that your heart grows. That materialism, bitterness, and comparison are all dethroned and the purity of this season can be enjoyed. Your song is not dependent upon your possessions or your neighbor. God has been good to YOU! Rejoice! 

Ordered Steps

In America, virtually anyone has access to the Word of God; sadly, many remain that have no idea what it says. As host of The Tonight Show, Jay Leno frequently executed “man-on-the street”interviews. On one particular episode, he decides to ask questions concerning the Bible. The first question was, “Can you name one of the Ten Commandments?” The person responded, “Freedom of Speech.” Another question was, “Complete this sentence: Let he who is without sin ____.” The response was, “Have a good time.” Though considered humorous, such responses are tragic. We, as believers, understand that the Bible is far more than just a book. It is the breathed Word of God that provides us information pertaining to true life. Its importance is expressed plainly in Romans 10:17,where it says, “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” This tells us that the Word is very important to know, but just as important to sow.How many of us have thought of feet as being beautiful? 

Feet aren’t something we commonly regard as points of beauty, but they can be more beautiful than all the gold in the world when used for the proper purpose. Romans 10:15 states, “…How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”

What would it be like to receive an invitation from the most important person alive to join Him in the most important venture on the planet?

Perhaps He would get your attention by referencing what He has done in the past, and how He connects with this initiative; how He became a servant to show God’s “truth.” He might even outline the mission by reiterating the fact that there are other sheep not of His fold that need to be brought in so that there may be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:16). He would probably also remind you that,though it appears joining Him has drawbacks, the reward is GREAT. That no one who leaves home,spouse, children, brother or sister will be without compensation (Mark 10:28-30). If the invitation is TRULY authentic, the person may even broadcast the extent of His authority, under which the endeavor will operate; that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. He would remind us that as we carry out His mission, He doesn’t solely promise His oversight, but His own presence and intimate involvement.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve given you the resume/heart of Jesus Christ.

As you step, remember these key components of the “mission-minded” believer:

Please Read Luke 15:1-4, 8

Ingredient 1: Compassion

Jesus had the “tax collectors and sinners” gathering around him. These are lost people who were not running from Jesus but rather running to him. They were not avoiding him, ignoring him, or even hostile towards him. Verse 1 says that they were “gathering around to hear him.”Why were sinners so willing, and even eager, to listen to Jesus? It certainly wasn’t because Jesus had an easy message that tickled people’s ears. I believe the answer is his compassion.Jesus loved them and showed that love with a compassionate heart instead of condemning attitude. How’s your attitude?

Ingredient 2: Effort

In these two parables, Jesus emphasizes the effort that went into finding the lost. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus said that the shepherd would “leave the ninety-nine sheep in the open country and go after the lost sheep. . .” In the parable of the lost coin, the woman lights a lamp, sweeps the whole house and searches carefully for the lost coin, according to verse 8. Note: Though “effort” is great, be sure to operate in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Be a “broom.” A broom consists of 2 components: a brush and handle. The brush does the sweeping, but only in response to the direction in which the handle is moved.

Ingredient 3: Persistence

In both these cases Jesus notes specifically that the person continued seeking the lost item until he or she found it. In other words, Jesus seems to be pointing out that persistence was a needed quality for success. After all, lost sheep among spacious fields and hills, and lost coins on the dirt floor of a Jewish home would not have been easily or quickly found. It’s the same way with reaching the lost. It is not always easy to reach people’s hearts so that they receive Jesus. Sometimes it takes years and years of persistence, but we should never be discouraged or give up when key ingredient #2, effort, doesn’t pay off quickly.

Have you responded to His call?

You first received it when you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. We all know that He conquered sin and death, and that He now leads the mission from the control room of the universe:His Father’s Right Hand. By His Spirit, through His own people, He is extending His offer of life to every tribe, tongue & nation. You have been summoned to cover yourself in His armor/uniform and step onto the field with the greatest team this world has ever known; all who dress in His garments have His provision.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

No sickness is as untreatable as homesickness. No doctor can cure it, and Walgreens has no prescription for it. And for the unlicensed practitioner, no early warning signs are available. Volatile and capricious, public embarrassment can be the fruit of its emotional shifts. For those with control issues- good luck; for most any little thing can set it off. A song, picture, sound, smell, word, postcard, phone call, or even a distant memory. Yeah, I think memory is actually the most unmerciful instigator for chronic homesickness, because memories are huggers and won’t leave. But for balance, consider that homesickness is only possible when former times were good, when life was full. So here’s to good times, memorably great times, and lots and lots of them! (Hey, we’ll address the aftermath later).

When high school graduation flashed in the rear view mirror, and what to do next was looming like Mt. Everest- I found myself sixty miles away in an unknown city with unknown thousands at a largely impersonal state university. A move of that magnitude may not be recorded as the most courageous of all eighteen year olds, but had you known the socialization womb that formed me, you would have had compassion for the unceremonious uprooting my upbringing was experiencing.

Leaving the fields and forests of youth to assimilate into concrete, traffic and skyscrapers was a process, a rather necessary, but unnatural transition. It’s not to say that travel and discovery didn’t stimulate emotional and mental exhilaration. It did. That new life was action packed- people, places and pleasures of which I’d never experienced was creating new “highs”, and identifying with new surroundings produced a challenging metamorphosis of sorts.

Life continued to unfold after university life, as employment came in our nation’s Capitol with the Federal government. Now, hundreds of miles from the tall pines, rolling hills and dirt roads of rural North Carolina, opportunities to go “back home” were becoming less and less. Yet intuitively, something was amiss in my transition to this supposed “glorious” adulthood.

Something within was yearning to renew something remembered.

Being away, nothing stirred memories of home like December, and especially at Christmas time. The cold and snows of northern Virginia, in both climate and culture, were constant reminders of former times. The faceless masses, concrete sidewalks, blaring sirens and seven lane traffic bombarded my virgin senses; and what was thought to be the “good life”, became the antithesis of what sensibility had engrained. And no matter the efforts to homogenize, a primordial “call of the wild” crept in. Like the proverbial salmon fighting upstream to return to its birthplace, there seemed an instinctive return to native culture and landscape. Existentially, the “home” of my roots had produced a profound effect, and nothing could undo its power.

Lighted trees, creative wreaths, boxed gifts or flashy commerce does not activate the tear ducts. Yet mine did. A lot. And my heart longed for home. Something more than jingle bells and Frosty the Snowman pulled my heart back home; something more internal, something far more spiritual. The trips home for Christmas weren’t mere escapes from the hustle-bustle of city congestion or breaks from work load routine; there was an innate rightness about those returns- the reasonings were meaningful, logical, and a wise alignment with what ought to be.

I was coming home to the truest sense of the word. To what really mattered. To a home of love, of trust, of joy, of peace, of grace; and a life that was created in quietness, was now screaming for a visit.

To mom and dad. To brothers and sister. To family and friends. To fireplaces and fruitcakes. To beagles and pickup trucks. To axes, tractors and wood splitters. To spirited checkers and competitive chess. To skinning deer and squirrel pie. To snowball fights and midnight sledding. To indoor football and hide and seek. To hugs and tears. To singing and scriptures. To pranks and front porches. To pianos, mandolins and guitars. To debates and drama. To dreams and destinies. To love and respect. To hellos and byes. To I really miss you, thank you, and when do I see you again?

Nothing big. Just people. Simple. Real. Life.

T.S. Elliot stated, “Home is where one starts from”; and if true, then no one outgrows his roots. We’re captured by first things, as true as a mother is to a child. I’m persuaded the power of “home” has greater rule than circumstances, or even the will. Two millennia ago, Pliny the Elder said, “Home is where the heart is”; and regardless of human wanderlust, a craving remains for the place remembered as “home”.

Would that everyone had a place called home, but I’m not naive enough to think all have that luxury. So if that holy place has only been a dream, then my prayer is that you with God’s help, create that place- a sanctuary where love reigns supreme. Maybe at home. Maybe at church. Actually, most any place where one could breathe deeply, meditate, and recline. They’d all be perfectly acceptable.

A place where others would come, to hang, to stay. A place to talk, to cry, to remember, to unload, to encourage. A place where timeless simplicity invites the most anxious, fretted, confused, and tired of all God’s creatures. A place where joy is contagious, where making messes lead to laughter, and where old folks and children play with Tonka trucks. A place where life takes precedence over problems, where small talk is delightful, where grace decorates every room.

So go build that home, and watch travelers enter those inviting doors. Engage them genuinely. Feed them with hope. Warm them with compassion. And when time comes, let them leave- it’s ok. Your home became their friend, and their heart will never forget. And as it was intended and should be- neither will you…

And may we remember the gracious words of the One we celebrate, the One who makes all things whole and does all things well: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:2-3

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Don’t Stop Short

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

This narrative immediately following the birth of Jesus is straightforward and direct. It is simple to comprehend and understand; Jesus was born, and men came to worship Him. However as is the case with most of scripture, there are so many truths and so much revelation that lies just underneath the easily accessible surface. This passage is full of grace and glory and would take pages to unwrap its fullness. It teaches us of God’s nature, His sovereignty, and of His power. It provokes us out of our convenience and instructs mankind how to appropriately respond to His coming.

To fully understand the depth of what is transpiring we must first understand who these strange travelers are. These “Wise men from the East” are the most unlikely of worship candidates. They are not Jews. They are not students of Judaism culture, they are not well-versed in the writings of the prophets, nor are they fully aware of the generations who have waited in eager expectation for a Messiah. They are called Magi. The same root where we get our word magic or magician. They are sorcerers from Babylon who were very interested in astronomy and astrology. These Magi would study the placement and alignment of stars and planets and use that information to make conclusions about future events and forthcoming happenings. They were known and respected for their wisdom and their learning.

In their study, they came across a star that seemed misplaced and could not be identified. Anything out of the ordinary they would consider to be an omen or a secret message that needed investigation and interpretation. This star lead them to the nation of Israel and then to the city of Jerusalem where they spoke with King Herod and lastly to a little town in the region of Judaea called Bethlehem. As they had anticipated so many times before, they expected that this star would bring revelation, understanding, and wisdom. They were hoping it would answer ancient questions and offer solutions for longstanding uncertainties. Their sight was on the furthest and highest terrestrial actuality they could see; the stars.

Many have stopped here to worship. Much of mankind has ended its search and exploration at the extent of earthbound realities and there we have created idols.  Much of history records cultures who have worshipped the sun, water, or the moon.  Before we criticize their foolishness though, our modern cultures have created gods of our own just as laughable.  Many have chosen to idolize wealth, health, recognition, or fame. However, as is the case here, God only uses the vastness and grandness of the natural world to point to something much more wondrous and astonishing.

The star was not to be the object of revelation or the answer to unsolved ancient queries. God used that which the Magi had looked to for centuries to point to something greater and grander; something, rather a someone, who actually deserved worship. The star was not the object to be worshipped, it was a miraculous sign in the hands of an Almighty God to direct the Magi’s attention to the wonder of the Christ being born into the world He created. On this infant’s shoulders rested the hope of all mankind. He is our savior!

This Christmas do not stop short to idolize the beauty or wonder of the things we can see. They are just signs pointing us to the wonder of all the ages; Jesus.

Merry Christmas!

Our King Has Come

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.” Isaiah 9:6-7

Last week our family was the first to arrive at the Christmas tree lot early Thanksgiving morning. We walked around a few minutes admiring the vibrantly green Fraser firs of various shapes and sizes while breathing deeply of the long awaited Christmas scent that only accompanies real trees. My husband spotted the most symmetrical tree I’ve ever seen and the following day we spent hours hanging green, red, and gold ornaments on its branches. Our afternoon was blissful as the Christmas music played and the scent of apple cider simmering in the crock pot filled the air.

As an adult I cherish the Christmas traditions of my childhood. I am, however, now presented with the profound opportunity to create memories, like those of last week, with my toddlers. I enjoy many things about the Christmas season such as twinkling lights, priceless time with family and friends, the chestnut praline latte from Starbucks, and thoughtfully chosen gifts. But above all I long for our children to collect memories of our family keeping Christ at the center of all our Christmas celebrations. My favorite
tradition, therefore, is remembering the Advent season together.

For many there is confusion surrounding the meaning and purpose of the Advent season. The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “arrival or coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. The Advent season stretches for four Sundays leading up to Christmas day. During this time we, as believers, look back and joyfully celebrate Christ’s coming whilst simultaneously looking forward with great anticipation to His certain return. Advent prepares our hearts to celebrate
the greatest gift humanity has ever received – Jesus Christ.

We are often referred to as the “microwave” generation, said to prefer instant gratification over waiting. Some think, then, it’s impossible for us to imagine how the Israelites must have felt waiting for Jesus to come. After all, the coming of the Messiah was promised thousands of years before He actually arrived.

But He came.

John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” The wait was long but God’s promises were fulfilled. Aren’t we also waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise? Over 2,000 years ago Jesus said prior to ascension, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). As we reflect on Jesus’ first coming we can rest assured of His fulfilled promises in the future. He said He would return for us.

He will come.

Observing Advent does not require elaborate daily activities. We don’t need the stress of adding a ton more to our already full “to-do” lists. The key, here, is simply celebrating a God so wildly in love with us that He humbly sent His only son as a human baby to be born in a dusty stable. It’s remembering a God so trustworthy that we know, without a doubt, that He will send His son once more to get us just because He said He would.

Here are some ways to intentionally celebrate the gospel story in our homes this Christmas season:

  1. Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Calendar Printable + Reading Plan
  2. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift
  3. Bible Verse Advent Cards
  4. Jesse Tree Ornaments
  5. Printable Nativity Set

Remember: Advent is a gift. It’s an opportunity for us to resist the cultural norm of hustle that typically occurs during the holiday season. It’s an invitation, instead, to slow down and savor the miracle that is Jesus Christ! I hope you enjoy the resources provided above and enjoy this Advent season to the fullest!

That’s My King

2Cor8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich.

To the earthly wise, the manger that held the Christ-child was an inappropriate accouterment and incompatible to the finery of royalty. For if He were to be King and the Jews’ Messiah, then no barnyard could be the place of His birth. And a carpenter family in the little town of Bethlehem could never bring what the prophets said would be a Counselor, Prince of Peace, and the One whose shoulder the government would eternally rest.

But leave it to the wisdom of God to be glorified through small things and elements the world despises. For He revels in things men abhor and uses things men detest. And He dethrones things we enthrone and shatters things we painstakingly construct. So that the merits of eternal good are not lauded to mortals, but to One who forever transcends them.

There is no premise truer than that God is faithful to His Word. And should flesh attempt to obtain credit where His Word is at work, He ensures the origin and integrity of His work remains intact by allowing debilitating conditions to surface. And if that be true, nothing is truer in the unobtrusive introduction of His Son. Birthed apart from the trappings of nobility, honor and respect, His ministry must bypass the conventional protocol of kingdom building in order to establish one that must never cease!

Be assured. He did. And how He came to us, is as important as who He was, and what He did.  Read the rest of this entry »

Wait, I say, On the Lord

Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord! Psalm 27:14

I have a lot of dear memories from my childhood around this time of year. I love family and there is nothing better than being together at the holidays. We were not abundantly wealthy growing up but my parents were always intentional about teaching us about generosity and Christmas time was no different. They gave us gifts. Not extravagant gifts but they always loved to give and bless the three of us as much as they could. The more I read the Bible and learn about God’s nature, the more I learn their attitude of generosity stemmed from the character they saw in their Heavenly Father. He loved and therefore, He gave. (John 3:16)

My mom would have three plastic bags with the kid’s name on them. They looked a lot like trash bags but with Christmas decorations on them. She would keep them in her closet and throughout the year would periodically buy gifts for me and my sisters and begin to fill those bags. Most were small gifts or things that we needed for school. By the time Mid-December rolled around those bags were full and it was difficult for her to get in and out of her closet.

We were a busy family so we did not have much time to wonder or think about the bags until school let out. However, when school was out our anticipation began to get the best of us. We would intentionally walk by her closet to try to sneak a peek at the bags or we would try to bribe our siblings into telling us all they knew that Mom had bought for us. We had waited almost all year, almost 12 months, 51 weeks but that last week felt like it was going to be the end of us. We did not think we could wait any longer!

My baby sister was the worst. She could not stand the wait. She was so full of anticipation that she would lose sleep thinking about the presents. Sarah would begin around December 20th asking Dad every night, “can we open presents tonight?” Dad would first respond with resolution and conviction, “No, baby. Not tonight.” However, because of his soft spot for his baby girl and because no one can say “no” to her little pouty voice for long, it was just a matter of time before his resolve begin to diminish. I do not remember any year that we waited until Christmas Day to open our presents. At the latest Christmas Eve or even a few days before we would end up sitting in the living with our bags. Sarah had won, again!

Everything about this season is centered around waiting. We anticipate family, friends, lights, presents, and carols. However, the true meaning of Christmas is filled with waiting, as well. For thousands of years the world was awaiting the manifestation of God’s promise that a Son would be born. He would reign and bring justice. They waited by faith. They waited as a man became a family and a family became a nation. They waited from Abraham to Moses to David. They waited through the commandments and through the prophets. Lastly, they waited through 400 years of silence. They waited. Until they did not think they could wait anymore.

Finally, in a stall in Bethlehem their wait was over. The faith of generations was realized in one moment. God put on flesh and chose to dwell among us. Jesus, Emmanuel, our Savior was born! The wait was long but what we were waiting on was worth it. He is everything that was promised and prophesied. He is the fulfillment of every desire and hope!

Christmas shouts that although waiting is difficult, God is not just a promise-maker but He is a promise-keeper! Waiting on the Lord is never a waste of time. I know it feels like your anticipation is getting the best of you and you cannot wait any longer. We want it fast and we want it now. Before you give up or attempt to move in your own strength, remember God is not slack concerning His promises and His timing is perfect. Rest and trust. Wait on the Lord! The gifts are going to be there Christmas Day!

Living, Loving and Serving

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. Peter 4:8-10

Ahhhh, December! There’s something about feeling the sting of a bitter blast of cold on your cheek and hearing the kettle bells amid the soft strains of Christmas carols as you walk around The Shoppes at Friendly, isn’t it?

No doubt about it, there seems to be a renewed energy among many people at this time of the year. But while holiday cheer abounds in some folks, we acknowledge the all-too-real truth that the Yuletide is not filled with joyful cheer and jolly good humor for everyone.

We believers know the real meaning of the season is not found under a tree, but in the birth of a Savior who eventually would die on a tree. Our steadfast hope in the Resurrected Christ and His indwelling Spirit gives us peace all year ‘round. But maybe we need to be reminded occasionally that we – flesh-and-blood, dust-to-dust humans – are now the tangible Body of the Lord Jesus that the world sees, hears and touches.

What is a hurting, hopeless-without-Christ world seeing in our lives during this season? What are our friends and family members hearing from our conversations? Perhaps most importantly, are our neighbors feeling our touch as we reach out in love and compassion?

Have you noticed how easy it can become during these chilly days when the sun sets early to simply hibernate into our warm, cozy homes after work and repeat that process day after day? Often when we do get out, we’re on a mission and don’t want to be bothered with distractions. We pull up our scarves and pull down our hats as much to protect ourselves from being recognized as to protect ourselves from the cutting wintry wind. If we’re not careful, the coldness of the season can infiltrate and numb our hearts to the needs of humanity all around us.

Read this Fox News statement from four months ago quoting actor David Schwimmer (we know all you closet “Friends” groupies out there love Ross): Read the rest of this entry »

Having A Mary Heart in a Martha Season

I heard the gleeful laughter as it traveled from its place of origin in the bedroom where my husband neighed, quacked, and barked much to our children’s delight; I was standing in the kitchen washing dishes, alone. As they continued to play I wiped off counters, swept the floor, straightened the slightly off center candle and re-fluffed pillows for the fifteenth time; I would join them once finished. Not wanting to miss another moment I quickly scanned the room one last time to see if anything else needed my immediate attention. It did. Upon completion of this task it was bedtime; I had missed my opportunity to be a part of the laughter.

John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].” If the enemy cannot steal, kill, or destroy he’ll distract. Often our drive for perfection is an attempt of the enemy to do just that. When we are distracted we become inattentive to important things that deserve our consideration. Take the account of Martha and Mary in Luke 10 for example; it resonates with me due largely to a photograph of myself that likely appears next to her most known characteristic- distracted. Martha found herself distracted by her drive for perfection and it threatened to rob her of probably the single most significant moment of her life. She loved Jesus so when He came to her house to visit she wanted to be the perfect hostess. Who could fault her? It was Jesus after all! Her sister Mary didn’t equally share her zeal for cleanliness and the perfect home cooked meal. Mary chose instead to sit still at His feet and be with Him while Martha scurried around working for Him. Jesus said that Mary made the better choice.

What about us? What do we choose? Do we allow the enemy to distract us to such a degree that we forget that God is Emmanuel, God with us? Are we experiencing the unbridled joy that being with Him affords?

Psalm 16:11 says, “In your presence is fullness of joy.” Joy is what we receive in God’s presence; Read the rest of this entry »