Thursday, December 31, 2009

Striving To Smell Like God

Hello P31 subscribers! Thanks so much for dropping by today.

Maybe you have been doing what I have been doing the past few days - several tasks that needed to be done, but that I really did not want to do. Activities that were necessary, but that I did not enjoy. What was I doing, you ask? I was visiting multiple stores and malls to exchange some Christmas gifts for myself and the kids that did not fit!

Well, yesterday topped it all off. After three days of standing in long lines, and listening to frustrating and confusing reasons of why I could not exchange an item or get our money back, I was at wits end - and one unfortunate sales clerk took the brunt of that frustration.

You see, I had one last stop to make, which was merely making an even exchange of two pairs of jeans to change the size, and return two pairs of ear rings that I had bought my daughter that she did not really like.

When it was finally my turn to be helped after standing in a crowded line for quite a while, I handed over my items and receipts. After about ten minutes of two store employees studying my receipt and adding things up on a calculator, I finally asked what the problem was, and explained that I simply wanted to do an even exchange for the blue jeans, and return the two pairs of ear rings.

They both happily reassured me that there was no problem, and that they would take care of it, so I continued to wait, as the line of people behind me continued to grow. After another ten minutes or more of confusion of which I could not understand, the young man finally finished the transaction, and announced to me that I owed him $26.30. At first, I thought I had misunderstood him, but he continued to stand there waiting for me to give him the money.

I suddenly felt my blood pressure rising, but I managed to ask peacefully how I could possibly owe any money when I was leaving with the same two pair of jeans I had come in with, and had returned two additional items. He of course provided a lengthy and confusing explanation of their store policies, why I owed more money for items I had already paid for, and why he was correct.

Then with little patience and three days of frustration flaming in my eyes, I informed him that if he had told me twenty five minutes ago that he could not do an even exchange for two pairs of jeans that were exactly alike but a different size, and that there would be a problem with the return since I had purchased them at the same store but a different location, then I would not have wasted my time standing in this hot, crowded store for thirty five minutes trying to return them, and that I would just take my items to the original store. Hmmmmph! (I dont think any horns sprouted out of my head, but my daughters who were standing there with me during this ordeal, might argue that point.)

The face on the sales clerk said it all, as he excused himself and handed the transaction over to the manager of the store.

Friends, I am pretty confident that I was not smelling like God in that store. I am also fairly sure that I did not leave a sweet aroma lingering either! Isnt it funny how God puts us to the test and grants us opportunities to live out what we say and believe!

You see, it is easy to smell sweet and fragrant when things are going our way, when we are well rested, and when we are having a great day. It is easy to show patience, when our patience is not being tested. That is why striving to smell like God is a challenge, because it is not our natural tendency to be sweet, when emotions are tested and frustrations are high.

Love is not a feeling, it is a response, and is a genuine concern for anyone that we come in contact with, regardless of whether or not we know them or agree with what they are saying or doing.

Smelling like God can be as simple as a smile, a hug, making a phone call to someone who needs to hear from a friend, saying thank you, or sending an encouraging note to someone. Smelling like God can be as simple as having patience with our children and being kind to people who are not treating us kindly in return.

Smelling like God can also be as simple as having compassion on a sales clerk who has probably had one hundred customers get mad at him while trying to return a pair of jeans that were the wrong size, and responding with kindness and understanding.

Smelling like God requires loving others with the same kind of love that Jesus shows towards us, and that is the kind of love that will cause others to sit up and take notice.

If we are serious about honoring God with our life, we have to make a commitment to try to be a sweet fragrance to those around, in good times and bad. We have to be ready and willing to renew that commitment every day.

There is a simple saying that we have all heard before, that says "think before you speak". Learning the art of not blurting out whatever emotions, feelings, thoughts and words that are on the tip of our tongue takes time, and most importantly, it requires the intervention of the Holy Spirit within us.

Ephesians 5:17,18 says "Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to filled with the Holy Spirit". (NLT) This verse truly reiterates that phrase of thinking before we speak - and - thinking before we act.

As you consider your New Year's resolutions for 2010, ask God to help you see any areas of your life today that need improvement, and that are leaving a smell in the lives of others that is not a sweet aroma, and certainly not honoring to Him.

Through His strength and intervention, and our true desire to live a life that glorifies Him in all that we do,and say, we can learn to smell like God and be a pleasing aroma in the hearts of others in the coming year.

Psalm 23:3 He renews my strength.He guides me along right paths,bringing honor to his name. (NLT)

Psalm 86:11-12 Teach me your ways, O Lord,that I may live according to your truth!
Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you. With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. I will give glory to your name forever, (NLT)

Striving To Smell Like GodSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Making Plans For The New Year

Can you believe it is almost 2010? Every year I find myself saying, "where did the year go?"

When my children were younger, I would constantly hear friends who had older children tell me to enjoy each minute of every age, because time passes so quickly. Little did I realize until the last few years how critically true that is.

As I look at the faces of my children, I no longer simply see little noses and blue eyes and sweet laughs, I see people. I see individual personalities with specific likes and dislikes. I see individual tastes of fashion, decorating and activity preferences. I see unique gifts that God has given them, as each one of them has a soft spot in their heart for different things - for example one of them has a heart for disabled children, one loves animals and babies, and one of them cannot stand to see anyone cry or hurt. I see little people who have different talents, such as art, music and sports. My older ones have a passion for missions work, while my younger one is still learning who Jesus really is.

I see little people that are quickly (too quickly, I might add) growing into the unique, individual, and amazing individuals that God destined them to be. People who will one day be used by God in amazing ways, if they say yes to whatever He lays on their hearts, and continue to depend on Him throughout their lives. Although I would love to keep them young forever, I know that they must grow, and I am so excited to see the amazing people that they will one day become.

As we think about another new year starting up again, it is so easy to make surface level resolutions. Sure, I plan to work on losing the eight pounds that I have gained over the last few months. I hope to stick to my exercise regimen each day, and maybe do better at balancing my checking account.

But most of all, I pray that I will allow God to use me, in whatever way He chooses. I pray that through my conversations with Him, He will make it clear to me what His will is for me in 2010. Maybe it could be something huge and unexpected and exciting. Or maybe it can be to simply be a good servant. To be a good mom. To be a good wife. To be a good neighbor. To be a good writer. To be a good speaker. To be whatever/whoever God has planned for me to be, even if it was not on my to-do list for the year.

So as you think about 2010 quickly approaching, and all the plans you have for yourself, take time to stop and pray and ask God to reveal what His plans are for you. You see, no matter how old we are, we can still ask God to turn us into the people that He destined us to be.

We dont have to be young, to be usable. We dont have to be perfect, to be usable. We dont even have to be talented or fabulous to be usable, we just have to be willing.

We are not simply embarking on a new year, but a new adventure, if we allow God to take the wheel of our life as we drive forward into the next year.

Making Plans For The New YearSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas To You!

God's Christmas Gift

'Twas the night before Christmas and in Heaven above,
The angels were watching with such intense love!
For the Prize of all Heaven was coming to earth.
And, a manger was chosen as His place of birth.

Mary, his mother (so weary and worn),
Was glad Joseph found a place cozy and warm.
And now, as she labored, a new life began...
Destined to bring life to each willing man.

While out on the hillsides, the angels sang, "Glory!"
Shepherds stood, trembling, as they heard the story.
Quickly, they followed the angel's clear way...
And found baby Jesus upon the clean hay.

Down from the heavens, there came a new light.
A star born anew on that very night!
Softly, the mother sang sweet lullabies...
'Til sweet baby Jesus closed His little eyes.

Humbly, the shepherds gave worship and praise;
Bowing down softly where God's baby lay.
They told how the angels had spoken to them,
"Joy to the world and peace to all men!"

The wise men were coming, they followed the star.
They were bringing the Savior their gifts, from afar.
And up in God's Heaven, a great sigh was heard;
As the Angels looked down on God's own Living Word.

Their wings swept Him, for just one more touch.
Then they nestled by legions, above His wee bed,
And spread out their wings; enclosing the shed.
Yes, trials would follow. A plan was engaged.

But just for tonight, the angels would say,
"Oh, men of earth, who struggle in vain...
Seek here and find release from all shame.
Peace on the earth! Oh, learn it anew.

Peace! God has sent His own Son to you!

Merry Christmas To You!SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Standing up for Jesus On His Birthday

Twas the month before Christmas, when all through our land, not a Christian was praying, nor taking a stand.

See the politically correct-police had taken away, the reason for Christmas - no one could say.

The children were told by their schools not to sing, about Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.

It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say, so December 25th is just a ' Holiday '.

Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit, pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!

CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-pod, something was changing, something quite odd!

Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa, in hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.

As Targets were hanging their trees upside down, at Lowe's the word Christmas - was no where to be found.

At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears, you won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.

Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-si-ty - are words that were used to intimidate me.
Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen

On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton!

At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter, to eliminate Jesus, in all public matter

And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith, forbidden to speak of salvation and grace.

The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded, the reason for the season, stopped before it started.

So as you celebrate 'Winter Break' under your 'Dream Tree', sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.

Choose your words carefully, choose what you say, shout MERRY CHRISTMAS,
not Happy Holiday !

Standing up for Jesus On His BirthdaySocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Gift of Life

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Life is the fourth gift we receive this Christmas from the words in John 3:16.

God provided the gift of life through Jesus, but just like all the other gifts, it is our choice whether or not we accept the gift.

I get frustrated at times when I hear about all the many people and religions that believe that works gets them into heaven, or sacrifices make them seem more appealing to God, or that they are closer to being accepted by God because of the people they have helped, or the churches they have served in.

I understand that everyone has a right to practice whatever religion they choose, however, what I do not understand, is how one can distort the information that comes out of Gods Word in such a way that it meets their own expectations? Or how they can believe in parts of the Bible and incorporate those parts into their religion, and leave out other parts. How does one become so confused about the truths found in Gods Word? How does one who may have formerly been a Christian, suddenly decide the Bible is no longer true, and begins to allow doubt to overtake what they know to be true?

Unfortunately, people do all of those things at times, and the saddest part is that it leads them down a path of confusion, exhaustion, and frustration because they will never feel as if they are good enough for God, and they will always feel like something is missing. But thank goodness, that God knew we would get misguided, and He made it clear what it takes to recieve the gift of life.

John 6:28-29 Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

This verse clarifies what God meant when He promised life, and what He expects of us. He did not say that we had to read the Bible through six times, that we had to serve on four committees at church, that we had to always make good choices, or that we should never sin. He did not outline specific ways to make Him love us, or guidelines for getting into heaven.

He said simply, "BELIEVE", and you will receive life.

We are given life, not because we try to please God, but because we trust God; not because we are deserving, but because we are accepted by grace; and not because of who we are, but because of who He is.

Nothing we can do - makes us deserving of that grace - only our faith - our belief in who God is, and that His Word rings true - every Word, not just the ones we like.

Max Lucado once said, “Religion is man’s attempt to please God. Grace is God reaching down to man.”

You see, religion is based on do’s, but salvation is based on done. The payment for our sin has been paid, and grace is Gods love in action. That grace is what grants us life, not our efforts; belief, not works.

I came across an article on the internet recently about how to find the meaning of life. The topic grabbed my attention, but as I read the words, my heart sank, as I thought of the countless people who would read this article and believe that there was any truth in it. The article said this:

"The meaning of life is not found in nouns that describes places or things. It is not found in adjectives that describe experiences. Rather it is found in verbs of action. As the master of your own destiny you have free will. Even if your belief system is religion-based, free will is still an integral part of that belief - the basis of good and evil deeds. Therefore, no matter what your belief system, it's what you do with you life that determines its ultimate meaning.

There are many roads that can be taken in determining your life's course and its meaning. We have found four elements that act as our life's compass and guide us in whatever we do. We hope they have as profound an impact in guiding your life as they have had on ours. Click on each to learn more. LIVE - LEARN - LOVE - LAUGH."

What???!!!! Seriously? All we have to do to have life long happiness is breathe, think, spend time with people and go see a comedy show? I know that what we do with our life is important, but will we ever feel like we are doing enough if we are basing our worth on our own efforts?

Also, if I am truly the master of my own destiny, then I am going to start shaking in my shoes right now, because that is far too big a job for this girl, and I promise you, the ending would not be pretty.

And if what I do in life is truly the determining factor for whether or not my life has eternal meaning and significance, then I am already doomed.

What a huge weight to bear, for those who really buy into that self-motivated, self-prophesied, self-fulfilling, and self-defeating concept of how to be happy in life. This article says nothing about eternal life, which implies that it does not matter, because life is all about the here and now, our thoughts, our actions, our free will - not the future of where our souls will spend eternity.

If you think about it, looking for fulfillment in life outside of God is like trying to save ourselves from drowning. Think about how someone acts when they are drowning - kicking, screaming, bobbing up and down in the water, gasping for breath, frantically grasping for anything to hold on to, but nothing can be found. Nobody can save themselves from drowning, they desperately need help.

The rules of a lifeguard are to wait until a drowning person nearly surrenders before attempting to save them. The strength and fervor of the person drowning is so strong, that they can pull the lifeguard down with them, while everything in their body is fighting for life. The truth is, even though it sounds harsh, is that until the drowning person calms down, gives in, and surrenders to to the help of the one trying to save them, they will perish.

The same scenario can apply to our life. While we are fighting life on our own, grasping for help and guidance in all the wrong places, we are like that person drowning in the water. Helpless. Frantic. Panicked. Confused. Hopeless. Desperate for someone to reach down and help us get our heads above water.

But God - sent His son to save us. He sent Him to pull us back up. To give us life. And He is reaching down to save us, but we have to reach up first.

As Jesus hung on that cross centuries ago, he was taunted and mocked by the crowd. He was laughed at and spit at. They harassed Him, and yelled up to Him, as told in Mark 15:30 saying “come down from the cross and save yourself!"

Jesus could easily have called a thousand angels to His side. But Jesus did not come to save himself, He came to save you, and me.

He gave His life, for our lives. That is why He is called the Savior. The One who saves.

Recently, someone was telling me a true story about a family who had experienced tragic loss. A husband and wife and their ten year old son were involved a fatal car accident. The husband perished, and the wife and son were critically injured. The wife recovered and was released from the hospital, but stayed there for weeks with her son who was in a coma.

On one glorious day, the little boy awoke. His condition improved and he began talking. One of the first things he said to his mommy, was that he had seen Jesus while he was asleep, and that he had also seen his daddy in heaven.

The mothers eyes filled with huge tears. She shuddered to think how close her son had possibly come to death, but she also wondered if he was really just dreaming....until he asked her why she had never told him about his little brother.

The mothers face went white as she asked what he meant. You see, this mother had experienced a late miscarriage before she got pregnant with her current son, but she had never told him. But her son vividly explained how he had met his little brother in heaven, with his daddy, and with Jesus. He wanted to get closer to them, but they said he needed to be home with his mother, and it was not his time to be there.

I cannot stop thinking about that story. It was not made up, it was not fictional, it was not just another feel-good story. It was real. This little boy saw Jesus, with his little eyes, and lives to tell of that experience. I cannot even being to imagine how God will use Him throughout His lifetime and how this experience will impact his heart forever.

We cannot see Jesus with our eyes, but friend, Jesus is alive. He is real. He is there for you and for me. He is living in eternity, preparing a place for us. He is holding the ones we love that we have lost. He blesses us with life on earth, and promises us eternal life with Him.

He gave us this gift of life, through His life, and if you have never opened and embraced this gift of life, what better time to accept it, than at Christmas, when we are celebrating the most precious of gifts.

If you have accepted this gift in the past, treasure it today. Remember to unwrap it day after day, and allow His peace and love to saturate your heart.

If you used to treasure this gift in your heart, but life has pulled you away from God, He is still waiting for you to open the gift again, and embrace it.

And lastly, this gift is too wonderful to keep to ourselves. It is a gift worthy of re-gifting. :) Pass it along this Christmas, and help someone else discover the gift of life. Embrace the joy that comes as you see someones eyes being opened to look into the face of Jesus for the very first time.

The Gift of LifeSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, December 17, 2009

So Proud Of My Man

Today I interrupt our regularly scheduled program, to boast. Not about myself, but about my man!

I am so proud of him today, I can hardly stand it. You see, a few months ago, he was nominated to be a deacon in our church. We have been at our church for fifteen years, and he has served in many capacities, but this was a huge and unexpected honor.

Just like we all have experienced, when we feel God is calling us to step out of our comfort zones, he was unsure of whether or not this was Gods call on his life - whether or not he was qualified or capable of filling those shoes - whether or not he should take this leap of faith and turn the reins of his life over to God.

But God worked in his heart so mightily over the past few months, and he was elected by the church, and officially ordained last night. Last night during the service, he poured out his heart and shared his personal testimony of life, faith, and learning life and faith, and as I sat in the pew, so filled with pride, appreciation, admiration and respect for him, my eyes filled with tears of joy.

You see, I have seen God work miracles in our life this year, in me, and in him, and in us. God has truly proven that he can and will use everything to His glory, and that if we believe, and trust, and obey, He will surely bless.

So, today, this one is for you Michael! Thank you for being such a wonderful provider, loving father, amazing husband, and the best friend a girl could ask for. I am sitting on the edge of my seat, anxiously waiting to see the doors that God will open for you as you walk this journey of faith, and to witness how He will use you in amazing ways. Thank you for your heart, and for the invaluable gift of being my husband for almost twenty years.

I can think of no better gift that I could receive this Christmas, or any Christmas in all the years to come for that matter, than to know that my husband loves and follows the Lord with all his heart.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Raising Thankful Children

1 Chronicles 16:34 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Being right smack in the middle of the holiday season, our minds are usually more prone to think about the things for which we are thankful for: health, family, shelter, friends, blessings — all of these things seem to become more important during this time of year.

I usually find myself trying to instill this thankfulness in my kids during this time of year, especially when it comes to making sure that they show extreme gratitude and appreciation for every gift they receive at Christmas, even if it is a pair of orange socks.

But how though, do we as parents instill in them an attitude of gratitude that they can carry in thier hearts year round? How do we help them realize how much they truly have to be thankful for?

Today I found myself having a conversation with my ten year old son that I have had so many times, I should just write it down, print it out, and hand to him each morning when it comes up. My son is an A-B student, a good athlete, has lots of friends, and is a well-rounded, happy little boy. But he hates getting up and going to school. Maybe if school started at 9:15am, instead of 7:15am, it might be a different story. But several days a week, he drags out of bed, whines about how tired he is, and says he hates school.

As a result, several days a week, I find myself coercing him into his clothes, trying to perk him up with breakfast, and reminding him that there are kids in this world who would give anything to be able to go to school. Kind of like when our own mothers used to tell us to eat our broccoli because there are other kids in the world who are starving. Im not sure if that tactic really works!

But I would probably be correct in saying that most modern parents have said at one time or another to our kids, that they need to be more grateful. In fact, I even have to remind myself at times to be more grateful and content. It is easy to lack an attitude of thankfulness, and so it is unfair to expect our kids to just inherently have an abundance of gratitude in their own hearts.

So what can we, as parents, do to help foster an attitude of gratitude in our childrens hearts, especially in this season of the year, when gifts and presents, Santa and shopping seem to be the heartbeat of the Christmas season?

I think it starts with our own commitment to be grateful and content. I find myself at times, whining as a result of my own lack of contentment, like I wish I had a new kitchen counter, some new couches, or some new clothes. But then God pricks my heart, to remind me that at least I have a kitchen, and food to cook; at least I have a warm house to sit in, with comfortable couches, even if not perfect; and how blessed I am to have clothes to keep me warm.

I believe that instilling that attitude of gratefulness in their hearts, has to begin with our own attitudes. Including watching what we say, how much we whine about our wants, and how thankful we are for even the smallest things.

There are some other things we can do as well, especially around this time of year, to help our children build a thankful attitude.

Here are a few tips for fostering an attitude of gratitude in our children, which will help them grow into thankful, and grateful adults:

1) Give love, not just rewards.

When my daughter turned 13 this year, I gave her a gift of time. You see, I have learned over the years that her love language is time - I think she inherited that from me. Time spent together with people she loves, means much more to her than tangible gifts. So I printed out a little 'gift certificate' and wrapped it in a box, and told her that as soon as we could, we would have a mother-daughter day out, with lunch, and a little shopping, or whatever she wanted to do together. Her smile spoke volumes as she came over and wrapped her arms around my neck to say thank you.

Consider ways you can give the gift of love to your children, and help them see the importance of gifts that cannot be bought from the store.

2) Give your child some responsibility.

One thing that has always annoyed me, is when people do not take care of their possessions. My children know that if they leave their things laying around the house, or carelessly throw phones or IPODs in the car floor where they could easily be stepped on and broken, or haphazardly leave their expensive jackets or other items in classrooms or at other peoples homes, they are sure to hear a lecture about responsibility. It would be easier to just replace lost or broken items, or overlook irresponsibility, than teaching life lessons constantly, but doing so would be teaching our children that we live in a disposable world, and that we do not need to be responsible.

Instilling responsibility in our children can start even when they are little. For example, my sons "job" this month is to keep the Christmas tree watered. He is the only one little enough to fit under the tree to check the water level in the tree stand, so it works out perfectly! I have told him that if he doesnt be responsible with his job, that the tree will soon die, needles will be all over the floor, branches will droop, and our tree will die before Christmas. Just knowing that what he is doing really matters, helps encourage him to keep it going. Each of my children have their own areas of responsibility (not that they always act responsibly of course!), but at least we are making efforts to help them learn that character trait.

Think of some "jobs" that you can give your children, and then expect them to be responsible about it. When they are not responsible, help them understand that there will loving consequences, to help them learn this important life lesson.

3) Lend a helping hand.

This time of year is packed with opportunities for community service - from helping your neighbor with a meal, to visiting nursing homes and prisons, to giving away used coats and clothing items to those in need.

Seek out some ways that you and your family can help others during this time of year, and possibly consider a plan for carrying it out into the new year. There are people in need all year round, and as our children see how other people are hurting, it helps them to better appreciate and be thankful for the abundance in their own lives.

4) Be a positive role model.
Recently I was riding as a passenger in my car while my fifteen year old daughter was driving. I noticed she was going too fast on one section of a road, and told her to slow down. She did slow down, but said "Mom, you always go this fast". Ouch. It was a great reminder that children will imitate their parents, whether they are three years old or fifteen years old. This imitation can also happen with attitudes of thankfulness, making it so important to let our children see us exhibiting a thankful attitude in our own life.

Showing traits of gratitude, contentment, appreciation for our blessings, and thankfulness to the One who gave us everything we have speaks volumes to the hearts of our children. They need to hear us say thank you when people do something for us, and be kind to the people we interact with on a daily basis. They need to see us praying on a regular basis and spending time in Gods Word; they need to see us helping others; and they need to see us using common sense and restraint when it comes to buying things we think we want, but do not really need. They need to hear us talk about being grateful for what we have, and thanking God for all things, good or bad.

They need to see us thank them, when they behave well, when they do something kind for someone, when they make good grades, whey they try their best, and simply because they are the most precious gifts that God has given us.

Thankfulness is not merely a Thanksgiving and Christmas activity. It is a mindset that we should, and can, carry around all year, if we make it a priority in our own hearts.

If thankful attitudes are practiced each day of our lives, our children will learn that those attitudes should be a way of life, not just a season of the year. What bigger blessing could we ever receive, than to know that our children have grateful attitudes and a love for themselves, their God, and other people.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

The Gift of Faith

So far this month we have talked about the gifts that God gives us in the verse John 3:16, with the first one being love, and hope as an extension of that gift, and the second gift being Jesus. The third gift that this verse promises is the gift of faith.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, SO THAT WHOSOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM.....

Belief, requires faith.

So many people in this world today are hurting, lonely, desperate, and hopeless - and many of those people are Christians. Many people who say they are believers, still surrender to a life of pain and heartbreak, finding no reason for joy or hope.

I think we are all guilty of feeling that way at some point in our lives, but the evidence of someone exhibiting in true faith, is that they choose not to stay in that pattern of defeat.

Even Christians who say they have faith, can live lives, or have attitudes, that do not portray that. When that is the case, is it possible that maybe they dont really understand faith? Maybe they believe in God, but they do not fully trust Him and His sovereignty? Maybe they are having a hard time believing that God is good, because they are basing their faith on proof, not blind faith? Maybe they dont really understand the power of prayer?

Never would I claim to be an expert on faith, much less an example of faith. Never would I claim to be a person who lives by faith every moment of their life and never falters. Never would I even place myself in a category of strong faithful people. I struggle, I fall, I feel broken at times. We all do. But I just think there is a diference between surface faith and heart faith - and that what we want to strive for in order to be fully dependent on Christ, is heart faith. Grounded faith.

Faith is such a precious gift. We have free will to choose it or not, but it is one of those gifts, that if left unopened, wanes and diminishes.

I dont think anyone allows their faith to diminish on purpose, it just happens - stuff happens - life happens - circumstances happen - to pull us away from God. Those series of events can sometimes cause us to feel so disconnected from God, that it seems like the journey back to Him is too long and impossible, so it becomes easier to give up, than fight the battle for faith. Sometimes giving up seems easier than giving in to God.

But no matter how far we have gone, faith is always available. We can always choose to embrace a new journey of faith. So what is heart faith? Lets take a quick look at what is faith, and what faith is not.

-Faith is not religion. It is not ideas, doctrines,traditions, or positions.
-Faith is not by-laws and church procedures.
-Faith is not just going to church every Sunday.
-Faith is not just agreeing with your mind that God is real, for even demons have that kind of faith. Faith goes beyond belief, into true acceptance.
-Faith is not a way to manipulate God to doing what we want Him to do (like telling God, "I will love you forever, if....")
-Faith is not wishing, or empty dreams. It is believing that God is listening.
-Faith is not just hoping anxiously for results to prayers, but being confident that God is already working on your behalf.

-Having the kind of trust and confidence in God that leads you to feel peace in any situation, knowing that He is in control.
-Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.
-Faith is a spiritual force inside of us that compels us to serve God, and that is so strong, we simply cannot help but follow Him.
-Faith is from the heart. It is not merely intellectual. It causes you to know in your heart before you see with your eyes.
-Faith involves the complete surrender of your heart and life.

So many role models of faith for us in the Bible, but just to name a few:

- Noah - built the ark - he didnt understand it or like it, but He did it
- Abraham - left his home, and went to the promised land as a foreigner
- Abraham - believed he would have a son, even though he was very old
- Abraham - willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, even He loved him dearly
- Moses’s parents - hid him in a basket in a river, trusting in Gods care
- Gods people crossed the red sea, knowing it would not engulf them
- The walls of Jericho fell after Gods people walked around them for 7 days
- Esther - stood up to the king at the risk of her life, but saved her people
- David - fought and killed the giant with one stone with confidence and zeal

And the list goes on and on. Are these people just stronger than us? Were these great characters in the Bible just better people than we could ever be? Did these people have less fear and worries? Were they better equipped emotionally, physically and mentally to handle issues than us?

No! They simply had accepted the gift of faith, and acted on it. They allowed faith to penetrate their inner thoughts and control their outward actions. They believed in the power of God with their whole heart and soul, not just with their mind. All of these people were regular folks like you and me, but they were guided by God, and not by their own agends, opinions, frustrations, doubts or desires.

They trusted in who God was, not just what they could see God was doing.

There are things in life that are so hard to have faith about. Things that we desperately want to sustain faith about, but find ourselves questioning God for answers and reasons.

As for me, right now I am facing serious health issues of several family members - my sister has a progressive form of Multiple Schlerosis; my step-mother has terminal lung cancer; my aunt has recently had surgery for ovarian cancer and beginning chemo; my father is facing a potential cancer diagnosis this week; and other family members and loved ones have different difficult issues to face. My marriage has its ups and downs, finances are not completely secure in this state of economy, my children are not without pressures. And I am constantly being asked to pray for people who have such heartbreaking situations occurring in their lives, that it crushes my spirit with sadness for them.

Life is not carefree, and Im sure you have your own list of concerns and problems. But what we share together, as sisters in Christ, is faith.

The one thing I know I can rely on, and that I always try to look for hope and answers, is Jesus. I try to believe to the core of my soul when Romans 8:28 says that all things will work for Gods glory in some way. That is the only thing I can believe, when times seem hopeless, scary, confusing or disappointing.

Without faith, what else do we have to help us get through? Without faith, where can we find hope? Without faith, what is left to do besides focus on despair?

A special gift always lifts a persons spirit, even when they are down. God knew we would have hard times, He assured that this life would bring trouble. But He equipped us to handle life, through His gift of faith.

Faith - an immeasurable, invaluable, priceless gift that sustains us, gives us life and gets us through life. Have you fully opened this gift this Christmas?

Consider taking some time to read Hebrews 11 today, the passage of faith. Ask God to show you ways that you need to trust Him, and areas of your life that you need to turn over to Him. Pray for His guidance and love during this month that we have set aside to worship the gifts that He has given us.

The Gift of FaithSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas 20 Questions

Funny how everyone has such different likes and dislikes at Christmas, which is part of what makes Christmas so delightful!

As I was thinking about that recently, I remembered a situation that I experienced last year, when I was doing some after-Christmas bargain hunting. I was browsing at Hobby Lobby, and saw a tall, sparkly, hot pink artificial tree standing in an isle, all alone, with broken ornaments and miscellaneous Christmas items scattered about.

I chuckled to myself, wondering why any company would even make such a hideous sight, and thinking that nobody in America would ever buy such an ugly tree. Hot pink? But as I headed to the checkout counter, believe it or not, a lady was buying that hot pink tree! I wanted to ask her what she was going to do with it, but I decided against it. I guess that old saying "to each his own", rang true!

Today I am going to share my answers to 20 Christmas questions. If you have anything special or unique to share with us that you do at Christmas, then post it in the comments! Or copy and paste all 20 questions to answer. Merry Christmas, and happy differences!

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Egg nog - ewww. The thought of drinking soggy, cold egg residue actually makes me gag a little. Hot chocolate with whipped cream or marshmallows, definitely.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? My mother used to get so upset when I was little, because my grandmother would wrap our presents and put "from Santa" on the tag - so I never do that! It was a little confusing at the time, and I didnt want to pass down any confusion to my own kids. So Santa sets out the gifts for the kids in each of their assigned areas on Christmas morning, and all the presents under the tree are from Mom and Dad (even though none of my kids believe in Santa anymore, sniff, sniff, we still do this).

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? I am most certainly a white-light kind of girl. My kids wish I was a little more exciting with the lights, but white lights seem so elegant, and peaceful, and beautiful, so I always stick with that. I did give in and put colored lights on our little Christmas tree in the kitchen that is decorated with all candy-themed ornaments, so that satisfies everyones color needs.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Nope - where do you get that stuff anyway? Hmmm.

5. When do you put your decorations away? Usually the first or second day after Christmas. Since we get a live tree every year right after Thanksgiving, I usually have had my fill of millions of pine needles on the floor by the time Christmas is over.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Sweet Potato Casserole, covered in gooey marshmallows and crushed pecans.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: Oohh, so many. To name a few....Sitting at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning with my brother and sister, waiting anxiously as my dad started the fire, turned on all the tree lights and the Christmas music, and then called us downstairs to see what Santa had brought. Also going to the Moravian Love Feast every Christmas Eve. And visiting my grandmothers house and being filled with the smells of delicious goodies as soon as we arrived, while being "forced" to sit at the piano with her and sing Christmas carols - an activity I would give anything to be able to do now.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? When I looked out the window one late Christmas Eve, scanning the skies for Santas sleigh lights, and instead noticed my neighbors garage light was on. I then saw them carrying a large swinging chair down the driveway, and the next morning, that same chair was sitting in my living room, from Santa. I think I already knew the truth before that, but that was the kicker.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Actually we celebrate Christmas with my in-laws every Christmas Eve, so we open lots of presents! But that does not spoil the fun on Christmas morning, just makes the fun of Christmas last even longer.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? I have three trees (okay, remember I told you I was a Christmas-aholic, so give me some grace. Smiles) My main tree is decorated with all red balls, Santa ornaments, red poinsettias, and red ribbons. My upstairs tree is decorated with all silver ornaments and crystal ornaments, and silver ribbons. And the third tree is our candy tree in the kitchen, with peppermint ribbons and lots of yummy looking ornaments. (not including the four huge holly trees in the front of the house, that I decorate with white lights each year)

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Love it when it falls, hate it two hours later. Glad we only get snow every few years in Charlotte, and only two inches at a time. I despise snow make up days at school, because it always interferes with our life. So Im fine with no snow, thank you very much.

12. Can you ice skate? I used to ice skate as a child, even on real frozen ponds. Now I would probably just break my leg, and other essential body parts.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Remember that swinging wicker chair I mentioned? Loved it, for years, even took it to college with me.

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Spending it with my family, and making it memorable and special for my children. Remembering the real reason for the season.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Blueberry Crunch Cake (awesome recipe from Paula Deen), Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie (nothing beats my mothers homemade pecan pie!)

16. What tops your tree? All three of my trees have big oversized bows on the top, with the ribbon cascading around or down the tree. When I was growing up, we had a little angel that topped our tree every year, named Angie. She was like a special sweet friend that we pulled out every December. My mother gave her to me several years ago, and now me and my children carefully pull Angie out each year, and prominently display her on our mantle.

17. Which do you prefer - giving or receiving? Although I love presents, (of course, what girl doesnt?!), I do love giving. I love to see people open something that I handpicked just for them, and especially when they like it, it fits, and they dont want to return it. The joy of giving became even more special after we had children - seeing the smiles on their faces on Christmas morning makes receiving gifts seem unimportant!

18. What is your favorite Christmas Song? I share the love of the song that has always been my mothers favorite song - Its Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas. Considering the fact that I listen to Christmas music for about eight weeks every winter, to the chagrin of my family, it is hard to narrow down anything more than that.

19. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?? Yummy, as long as they are the normal peppermint candy canes, and not all those strange flavors and colors that are on the shelves now.

20. Favorite holiday movie? My all time favorite is Its A Wonderful Life, but now with all the new Christmas movies, that is a hard question for me to answer. I could watch the movies ELF and Christmas With The Kranks, every day of my life and still laugh hysterically. Plus I love all the Santa Clause movies, and Home Alone. Believe it or not, I still love Rudolph and Frosty.

Did I say I really like Christmas? That might be the understatement of the year.

Hope these little questions helped think about some of your fun and special Christmas memories and traditions today!

Have a Christmas spirit-filled day!

Christmas 20 QuestionsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

.... He Gave His Only Begotten Son.....

Today we are going to unwrap the second gift that we are given from the verse John 3:16.

The first gift was love, "For God so loved the world..., and the next gift is Jesus,... "that He gave His only begotten Son".

For believers, Christmas is all about celebrating this gift of the newborn King. This gift of Gods one and only son, that He so sacrificially gave to us.

Jesus was a gift that we did not deserve.

Have you ever received a gift that you felt guilty accepting? Maybe the person who gave you the gift, was someone that you had talked negatively about just a few days earlier. Maybe the person who gave you the gift was someone who you really didnt like at all, but felt obligated to keep up a good front when around her. Or maybe someone gave you a gift, but you did not get them anything in return.

In any circumstance, it can be hard to enjoy a gift that we know we do not deserve! Sometimes, I think about how I do not deserve the gift of Jesus. In fact, there have been so many times in my life when I have found myself wondering why Jesus even loves me, and why God would send His son to die, for someone like me.

Why would God give a gift to the human race, knowing that so many would not receive it, understand it, accept it or appreciate it? Why did He give us that gift of His son - knowing that we were imperfect, helpless, broken people?

The answer? Love. Infinite, unconditional love. No other reason. Just love.

You know, we usually feel like we need a reason to give someone a gift, such as a birthday, a holiday or a special occasion like a wedding or a new baby. But I bet you will agree, that a gift given just because someone loves you, and not out of obligation because of a special occasion, is so much more treasured and appreciated. Nothing lifts my spirits more than to receive a gift from someone, "just because they love me". Those types of gifts are the ones that truly fill my heart with love.

And that is exactly the type of gift God gave when He gave His Son. He emptied Himself, so that we could be filled - "just because".

He emptied Himself so that we could filled - with life. So many people think the only reason that Jesus died for us was so that we would not go to hell. Carrying out that belief is like only opening the gift halfway and barely peeking into the box. Its like never fully opening the gift and reaping all of its benefits, because Jesus was not given to us to provide fire insurance - he came to provide life insurance!

Insurance is nothing more than a guarantee against loss or harm - is that not exactly what God provided?! He sent His son Jesus, to give us a guarantee of life.

Not a guarantee of a trouble free life, but a guarantee of a joyful earthly life through Him.

In order to be eligible for physical life insurance, one has to sign up for it, accept the terms, and sign on the dotted line. You have to go through a lot of health screenings, medial approvals and legal hula hoops. But in order to be eligible for Gods life insurance, we merely have to unwrap the gift, accept it with open arms, and say thank you.

An undeserved gift, given out of love, just because.

In just a few weeks, the Christmas season will be over. You and I both will probably have received gifts that we dont know what to do with, we didnt really want, or that do not fit us or our lifestyle.

But the gift of Jesus is always a perfect fit. A gift that never breaks, never wears out, and never goes out of style. A gift given for other no reason than love.

Now that is the type of gift that I want to open this Christmas. What about you?

The gift of Jesus definitely gives us a profound reason to celebrate at Christmas.

.... He Gave His Only Begotten Son.....SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Gift That Changes Lives

Just over two years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the city of Quito, Ecuador, on a vision trip with Compassion International with some of my P31 sisters. And just a couple months ago, Compassion took another team of women from Proverbs 31 Ministries on this trip, and hearing of their stories, and seeing the pictures of their journey, brings back a flood of memories from my own trip.

I remember so many hurting children, so much poverty and desperation, such sadness in the eyes of the children, but also in the eyes of the mothers who watched their children suffer every day, because they can barely provide for the most basic of necessities.

I remember meeting my own little sponsored boy named Marlon. I took him some clothes, a spiderman bookbag, and a pile of little matchbox cars to play with. Those seem like small items, but to he and his mother, it was a blessing beyond belief. I will never forget his mother, standing a couple feet shorter than me, holding my hand, praying for me through an interpreter. And as my head was bowed and my eyes were closed, she said the words "Lord, thank you for sending me this angel. Someone to love me and my child through your love." It left me without words.

This month Proverbs 31 is focusing on helping other children become sponsored through Compassion International. Today's devotion by Suzie Eller, talks about her experiences in Ecuador. You can visit her blog by clicking on her name above to hear more and see some of her photos.

Here is the link to see some photos of my trip to Ecuador, from an older post that I shared, but still seems perfectly relevant to encourage people to sponsor a child. You have no idea what blessings sponsorship brings, when you read the handwritten letters from a little girl or boy on the other side of the world who think you are their heaven sent angel. Read that blog post here: Someone to Hold.

My experience changed my heart completely and opened my eyes about the huge need of these sweet people across the world. I even have recently become a Compassion Advocate, and plan to help run booths at Compassion events to help increase the number of children sponsored. If you are interested in doing more for these families, you can also check into becoming an advocate on the Compassion website.

I am also uploading some photos today from my Ecuador trip onto Facebook - I am a picture taking maniac, so there are a lot of them! Check them out and get a better feel for exactly how your gift helps those in need. Click on my Facebook icon to the left to link to my page, or friend request me.

What a great way to share the love of Christmas all year round, by sponsoring a child, and giving them a gift that will change their lives forever.

If you are interested in learning more about Compassion, please click on the Compassion icon at the left, on my sidebar. And if you decide to sponsor a child, please let me know about it!!! I would love to celebrate with you and answer any questions you may have.

Have a blessed day!

The Gift That Changes LivesSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, December 7, 2009

Finding Some Christmas Hope

For some, Christmas is a time to remember the joy, peace and hope that this time of year brings. The joy, peace and hope that exudes out of the manger scene when we study the Christmas story. For some, this is the season to be reminded of hope.

But for some, Christmas is a time void of hope. A time of loneliness, sadness or regret. A time where hope seems to be something of Christmases past, not Christmases present or future.

But hope is one of those precious gifts that God has given us, and one that can easily sit unopened, unwrapped, and unappreciated. Hope can sometimes seem like that sparkly gift just beyond our reach - we really want to open it; we dream about how beautiful it might be; we wonder about the peace found within; we yearn for the soothing comfort - but we just cant get our hands on it, no matter how hard we try.

Is it possible for everyone to reach that gift of hope, regardless of circumstances? Regardless of what has or has not happened this year, or in years past? Regardless of what the future seems to offer?

The Bible answers that question with a resounding yes, and we can unwrap that hope that we once felt in our hearts or that we so long for. Lets start pulling at some ribbons, by taking a quick look at our past, present and future in a new perspective.

First, think about your past. I know, I know, that is not something that can be done in a moments notice, because life is huge, packed full of emotions, events and people, and maybe far too many years that we would like to admit to. But I feel so confident that in your past, God has done some amazing things in your life, in your relationships, and in your heart. Do you ever think about those things? Have you forgotten to remember all those special times in life when God did something huge in your life, granted you unexpected blessings, provided for you in special ways that could have only been orchestrated by Him, or gave you the strength to get through a really difficult situation, of which you could have never survived without knowing that He was there for you?

Todays Christmas, is as hopeful as Christmases past, even if life circumstances or dynamics have changed. The same God that was there for you then, is there for you now. When I am facing a difficult situation, or begin to drown in feelings of hopelessness about that situation, I try to remind myself of what God has already done. Spending some time reminiscing about what God has done in the past, helps me to unwrap a little hope in the present.

Secondly, think about the present. Maybe the present is great right now, maybe it is not. But either way, how easy it is to take life for granted, especially if the present seems hard or hopeless. But if you had to choose between your life, and no life at all, would it be a hard choice?

Do you know people that faced difficult situations in the past, but were still able to count their blessings and maintain joy in their heart? Maybe you were someone like that. That type of perseverance comes from hope, and a love of life. Life is not always a bowl of cherries, but its better than having no cherries at all.

Psalm 46:1 says "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." Now read that same verse from The Message Bible - "God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in seastorm and earthquake, Before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us."

Wow. How can we not have hope, when God is ready to hold us up the moment we need Him? This verse gives us strength to face the present, and open the present of His hope. He is our refuge in times of trouble, and we can always find hope in the present help that comes from the Lord, if we seek it.... if we choose to unwrap that gift.

Thirdly, think about the future. Maybe it seems dismal. Maybe it seems scary. Maybe it seems confusing. Maybe it seems exciting. But regardless of our human emotions, there is great hope in what the future holds for every child of God.

1 John 3:2 "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."

If there were no hope for the future, no promises for something wonderful despite the curves that life throws us, this world, from a surface perspective, would seem like a pretty terrible place.

The world has so much suffering and pain; so much hatred, anger and violence; so morally deficient; and so much brokenness. But this is not the world God made, He made a perfect world, but man messed it up. Thank God, literally, for the gift of hope that He gave, because better days are always ahead. We may not be able to see them, but they are there.

Things will not always be the same. In the middle of a crisis or difficult time, or a lonely Christmas, we feel like they will be, but one day, by the grace of God, that pain will be nothing but a memory. Lost strength will be restored. Peace will resume. Joy will again make its presence in your heart. Time goes on, and faith grows.

The bible tells us that before God is finished, the dead in Christ will be raised and the living believers will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye. This life is not the end.

That wonderful day has not yet come, but it is coming. We can bet our bottom dollar on it, even if it is the last one we have, and that truth is our hope.

Hope is not a new thing, or just for some. It is for all.

It was birthed into the world 2000 years ago in the little town of Bethlehem. It has existed ever since, but if we want that hope to invade our lives, we must do the same things that those shepherds did so long ago - seek, find, and bow before the newborn King.

Hope is alive and well, and readily available, but only to those who take the time to pull the gift of hope off the shelf, blow off the dust, and joyifully and excitedly unwrap the gift of life and love that is ours for the taking.

If you cannot find any other reason to celebrate this Christmas, remember those two priceless gifts that we are promised through John 3:16 - For God so loved the world -and that love gives us infinite hope.

Finding Some Christmas HopeSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Gift of Unconditional, Endless Love

I dont know about you, but I am ready to do some frantic unwrapping! I am so ready to have some virtual bows, ribbons and colorful paper flying through the air as we excitedly unpack the gifts that God has under His tree for us. So lets get started!

John 3:16 is the verse that I eluded to yesterday (so a couple of you guessed correctly!) and it says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

There are four gifts packed into this one verse. Four gifts that are the main thread that run through the entire bible, and all the stories that fill the pages of Gods Holy Word are based on these gifts. I believe this one verse makes it obvious that although the Bible can appear to be so big and overwhelming, God really wrote it in such a simple way that even the least of us can understand. After all, four little things should be pretty easy for anyone to remember!

So, John 3:16 is the verse that holds the gifts that we will be unpacking this month. A short, seemingly simple verse to understand, but filled to the brim with an overflowing abundance of precious and priceless treasures.

The first gift that we derive from this verse is that "For God so loved the world". Not just emotional love, but unconditional love. Endless love. You know, it is sometimes hard to even comprehend that type of love, so to help put this in perspective, lets dig into this word "unconditional", which means "without limits, and absolute".

When I think about this type of love, my children come to mind. Regardless of what my children do, mistakes they make, attitudes they may have, or ungratefulness they may show, I love them unconditionally. They could never do anything or say anything that would ever cause my love for them to wane. On the flip side, I know that they love me unconditionally. I am their mommy, and even when I have to punish them, fuss at them, or cannot give them everything they want right when they want it, they still love me. Even when I lose my patience, regret my words or actions, or dont pay attention to them when I am in the middle of doing something, they still love me, and nothing could change that.

That type of love is hard to find. In fact, outside of blood relatives, there are probably few, if any, people in our lives that we can truly say love us unconditionally. Even our friends, co-workers, and acquaintances, of whom we think offer unconditional love, could surprise us. I have had close friendships in the past that fizzled out, or came to an end when a problem arose. In one particular situation in my life, a friendship came to an abrupt halt, and I still have no idea to this day why this person chose to no longer be my friend - and that betrayal and rejection stings deep. When we think someone loves us, and then we realize that love was conditional, it hurts.

So besides our children and close family, is there anyone who can really offer us that unconditional love? And if there is nobody in your life right now that you feel offers you that unconditional love, where can you find that security, and true, endless acceptance?

What does that word "love" really mean anyway? When God said He loves the "world", does that mean just in a general sense? An overarching purpose of caring for what happens to mother earth? Of course not, it means He loves YOU. He loves ME. He knows YOU by name, and He knows ME by name. He knows what YOU are dealing with, He knows what Tracie is dealing with. He wants to help YOU through life, and He wants to help ME through life. It was not a generic, cold, empty offering. It was personal.

I have received gifts from people in the past, that I know took them about two seconds to pick out. For example, secret Santa gifts given at an office party. Unless the person who pulled your name out of the secret Santa hat is a close, personal friend, the gift will probably be void of real meaning to you. It will be something that they grabbed in a store on their way out the door out of obligation. That is not the type of gift that God is offering here by saying "He loved the world". He meant He loved US, in a personal, heart felt way - and He gave a LOT of thought into the gift that He picked out for us.

So many times I think we take for granted the individualized, personalized depth of the love that He offers in this verse. It is easy to forget that during the year, but even during Christmas, I bet that most of us probably focus on one or two things - either the busyness of the season and all the things we have to get done, or we try to focus on Jesus by remembering the manger scene.

But the manger scene is not the meaning of Christmas, it is merely the memorable event that God orchestrated to help us remember His gifts. The meaning of Christmas is not about Mary and Joseph, wise men, sheep or drummer boys. It is about love.

John 1:14 says "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." That is really the core meaning of Christmas. God sent His son, Jesus, to become flesh, as a helpless and innocent infant, of a virgin, because He loved us.

Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love, and this love should be our only driving force for celebrating Christmas. Celebration of not the manger scene, but the love that came out of that scene.

So how does that gift really impact us? How does this gift really help us get through hard times? How can His love really make a difference in our lives? Why should we really get excited about this gift of love?

Hmmm, where do I begin? :) His love is important to us because........

* it is unconditional - He loves us regardless of our sins
* He loves us regardless of the mistakes we have made in our life
* He loves us despite our imperfections, and our constant struggles to follow His lead
* He loves us enough to meet our needs
* He loves us even when we do not love Him
* He loves us and continues to bless us, even when we do not give Him credit or gratitude
* He heals our broken hearts
* He mends our hurts
* He eases our disappointments
* He gives us purpose

He loves us because of His character, not because of our conduct. He loves us because of who He is, not because of who we are or anything we have done. His love is unconditional, and that type of love, is priceless.

I bet you can come up with your own examples of how you have seen God show His love for you. Take some time to think about those things today.

If you have been feeling forgotten by God this year, or wondering if He really does love you as you consider the difficult circumstances He is allowing you to struggle with right now, ask Him to help you feel His love. Ask Him to help you see a glimpse of what good purpose can come out of that situation so that you can see that He is loving you through your circumstances.

Ask Him to show you His presence in your life, and to open your spiritual eyes so that you can see when and how He is pouring His love down upon you.

And be sure to come back for a visit with me on Monday, as we talk about an extra gift that stems out of this unconditional love - a sub-gift you might say. A gift that is so amazing that I dont know how anyone can survive life without it.

What is the extra gift, out of love? The gift of HOPE.

The Gift of Unconditional, Endless LoveSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Gifts Under God's Christmas Tree

Well, well - can it really be December 2nd already? Yes! And we know what that 'em or hate 'em, the holidays are here!

Regardless of whether you are a lover of the holiday season, someone who dreads the holiday season, or someone who likes the holidays, but tends to get overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the season, we are all in this thing together!

The truth is that everyone has special feelings about the holiday season - good or bad. You see, for most people, the holidays loom larger than life – it is a complex and emotionally powerful time of the year.

The Christmas season could really be lumped into two categories of emotions. It is either a wonderful time of celebration, sparked with love, family togetherness, giving, cheer and joyful times - a season of delight. Or, it is a time of strain, sadness, isolation, loneliness, and feeling overwhelmed and disappointed.....a duty instead of a delight.

But despite our differences in opinions about Christmas, we all get pulled into the holidays in one way or another. In fact, the truth is, that Christmas is the largest celebration around the world every year. Think about it - every other holiday day of the year only gets one day, but Christmas gets an entire month (actually over two months really, thanks to our friendly retailers who try to jump start Christmas before Halloween even takes place).

But billions of people every year put aside their normal daily routines to decorate their homes, attend festive parties, shop for hours, mail Christmas cards, attend special church services, sing holiday music, watch holiday TV specials, travel and visit family that they rarely see.

Christmas sights, sounds and aromas fill the air everywhere you go, and it is practically impossible for any living human being, despite their religious beliefs, to miss the onset of the holidays.

Upon knowing all that, is it not absolutely astounding that the simple birth of a little baby boy in a manger, over 2000 years ago, out in the Middle East, is the root cause of all of this international celebration?

Is it not even more astounding that the entire holiday is a celebration of His birthday, but millions of people do not ever speak the name of the birthday boy at all? Or that millions of people celebrate a date on the calendar, without ever acknowledging the original reason for why the celebration began in the first place?

Is it not even more disturbing, that so many Christians, get caught up in the celebration, and often forget to focus on the birthday boy too?

Regardless of whether your opinion of the Christmas season is one of delight or duty, we can find ourselves easily distracted - if not by seasonal busyness, by life circumstances.

Maybe you are excited about kicking off the holiday season, but maybe you cant find any reason to celebrate at all. In either case, we can easily lose focus on why we are supposed to be celebrating. Lets take a quick look at an excerpt of the Christmas story from Luke:

Luke 2:8-14 (NIV)
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

Did you notice what the angel said in verse 10? The angel said he/she was bringing "good news of great joy for ALL people". It does not say, great joy - for all those people whose lives are perfect; great joy for everyone who had a terrific, trouble-free year; for only those people who have not made mistakes; for only those people whose marriages are intact, whose children are divine, whose financial situation has survived the recession; for only those people who have secure employement; and for only those people who are healthy, and who do not have any loved ones suffering with health problems.

Nope - the angel said GREAT JOY FOR ALL PEOPLE. Seriously? Have you ever found yourself wondering at Christmas, if that type of great joy is even possible?

Christmas is supposed to be a time of great celebration, jubilation and joy - not because life is great, problem-free, or without difficulties, but because God divinely arranged this joyful birthday party.

Great joy, because God promised it, not because we deserve it. Great joy, through His peace, not through peace on earth. Great joy - if we embrace it, instead of considering the dozens of personal reasons why we cannot be joyful.

Usually when we go to a birthday party, we watch the person whose birthday it is, open all the gifts. But at this party, we get to open gifts too! Whoo hoo!

Through the birthday of Jesus Christ, we are given some very special gifts. Gifts that impact our hearts. Gifts that change our lives. Gifts that change our destinies. Gifts that impact our life on earth. Gifts that determine our eternal life.

So how do we get past our own myriad of emotions, our own inclination towards busyness, and our inability to find joy, and focus our hearts on the real reason for celebrating? What can we do to truly remember to celebrate the Reason for the season, and not just celebrate the season?

I think the answer lies in opening gifts. No, not gifts from under our Christmas tree, but the gifts that lie under Gods Christmas tree.

These precious gifts are all laid out for us in one special bible verse.

One verse that justifies and solidifies everything in the bible.

One verse that is the reason for all the anticipation of holiday fever that we get each year.

One verse that summarizes the entire reason that we celebrate Christmas.

Do you know what that verse is? Give it some thought, and let me know your opinion. What better way to prepare our hearts for Christmas than to ponder the verses that offer us the greatest promises?

Come back tomorrow as we begin to delve into the scriptures and start some serious unwrapping of some very special packages, that most definitely give us reason to celebrate.

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