Impact Church

Passionately serving God and His people

Category: December Devotional

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!

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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 »