Friday, December 23, 2011

Anticipating The Nativity

This weekend is Christmas, and there is no better way to wrap up our
 movie series than with the birth of the Savior.
Happy Birthday Sweet Jesus.

(If you have never watched The Nativity, you should consider watching it this season.
It truly brings the Reason for the season - to life.)

Merry Christmas

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Finding A Miracle On Your Street

Whether it is the old 1947 version, or the more recent 1994 remake version, Miracle on 34th Street is a classic.

There are two primary lessons that I pulled out of this movie, and neither of them have to do with believing in Santa Claus! Instead, both of them have to do with believing in Jesus as the foundation for finding joy at Christmas, and all year round.

The first lesson is forgiveness, and the second is faith.

The two main characters in the movie are a single parent named Doris, and her little girl named Susan.

Due to the breakup of her marriage, Doris's heart had hardened. She sincerely loved her daughter, but in her efforts to avoid ever being hurt again, she had become stoic, guarded, skeptical, and overly businesslike in all situations. Her attitude was curt, and she rarely showed genuine emotion.

The sad part is, that not only do these character deficiencies impact the mother's own heart, but she inherently teaches these to her daughter as well. As a result, Doris instills her lack of faith, hope and trust in others, and even in Santa, into her daughters heart and mind.

It appears that Doris has adopted a mentality of bitterness, and that unforgiveness and a lack of faith in people, and God, was holding her heart captive.

In fact, even after the new man in her life proposes with a beautiful diamond ring, the past hurts in her life bubble up to the surface. Instead of gleefully accepting his invitation to marriage, she tells him he is a fool for putting his trust in her.  But a while later, she admitted to him, that she was simply afraid.

Afraid to forgive. Afraid to trust. Afraid to have hope. Afraid to have faith. Afraid to believe in others. Afraid to believe in magic. Afraid to love. Afraid of the future. Afraid to believe in the unknown.

Fortunately, Doris eventually embraces the importance of having faith in other people. Her relationship with the daughter she loved, the man she wanted to love, and the faith she longed to have, melted her heart.

I started thinking about how this movie would have ended differently, had Doris not regained her faith. Thinking hypothetically, of course, I have to wonder.....

What if Doris......

- had continued to have a fear of being disappointed, affecting all her relationships
- had held on to past hurts
- had not allowed her heart to love someone new
- had not found the strength to forgive her ex husband, releasing her to love again
- had not allowed herself to put faith in a new man
- had not given herself permission to let down her guard and open up
- stayed determined to hang on to bitterness,destroying her chance for future happiness
- had stuck to believing in only what she could see
- had held onto skepticism, instead of embracing joy
- had never allowed herself to have faith in others again
- had continued to instill in her negativity and doubt about life and people into her daughter's heart

If these things above had actually happened in the script of the movie, the ending would not have been happy at all.

Doris would have most likely ended up as a sour, lonely, grumpy old woman, and Susan would have been on a journey to that same fate. Neither of them would have found joy or happiness in life, because their hearts would have been too full of bitterness and resentment to let anything else fill them.

At one point in the movie, Susan’s mom stated that “faith is believing in things when common sense tells you otherwise”. If you ask me, that was a pretty profound statement, and based on biblical principle.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Sometimes it is hard to choose faith, in people, and in our God. That is why our walk with Christ is often called a "faith journey". Life is a journey, with ups and downs, disappointments and frustrations, heartbreaks and celebrations. It takes faith to get through it all.

More times than not, it is hard to choose to forgive and let it go. One of my favorite phrases, is that "unforgiveness is like ingesting poison, then waiting for the other person to perish". Unforgiveness slowly kills us, not our offenders. Forgiveness releases our hearts from bondage, and frees our souls to love others, have faith in others, and trust in the future that God holds for us.

A quote from the movie, straight from the mouth of Santa, but surely sparked by Jesus in his heart, said ... "if you cant accept anything by faith, then you are doomed for a life dominated by doubt."

Faith is something we choose to receive. Once we have it, then forgiveness is something we choose to give.

Both ingredients are necessary for a life of true joy, instead of a life dominated by doubt and pessimism.

Just maybe, if we choose to embrace faith and forgiveness with our whole heart, soul and mind, then we just might experience a miracle on our own street this Christmas. The miracle of CHRIStmas.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

It Really Is A Wondeful Life

(If your time permits, watch the below movie clip before reading today's post, so you will better understand the points I make below. Email subscribers may need to click over to my blog to view the clip. Tip: The main point of this clip is around the 2 minute mark!)

At the beginning of the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, the first thing we see is a scene in outer space. We get a glimpse of an infinite galaxy filled with blinking stars and asteroids, but we soon realize that God and Joseph, who are being depicted as stars, begin to talk with one another.

God and Joseph have heard the dozens of prayers that were being sent up to heaven on George Bailey’s behalf. Although everyone did not know the severity of Georges problems, they did know he was in trouble. Family, friends, loved ones and mere acquaintances were all so worried about him and the strain he was under, that they were pleading for God to intervene in his life.

So out of love and compassion for one of His own, God decided to take action.  He called in one of His angels - Clarence - and assigned him to be George’s guardian angel.

In this first movie clip above, we hear and see the three of them talking, and during the conversation, God said something very interesting that caught my attention.

As God was telling Clarence that a man named George needed his help, Clarence asked God if George was sick. God responded by saying: “No. Worse. He is discouraged.”

You see, God knew that discouragement could be much more damaging to a person’s heart, than any type of physical sickness could be.

George had experienced so much disappointment, heartache, regret, and frustration, that he was overwhelmed with emotions. He had countless unmet dreams and life goals that had not been met.

He was facing trials and great hardships. And as the movie progresses, we see that he was also facing jail time, due to evil Mr. Potter stealing the Bailey Building and Loan’s $8000 bank deposit on Christmas Eve, leaving George liable for financial fraud, theft and misuse of funds.

George had hit rock bottom. He was in the deepest pit of his life and saw no way out. He had no joy in his life at that moment, and fear crushed his soul and his desire to live.

George began to wonder if life was really wonderful. The enemy began to fill his head with lies, through a variety of means. One of those means, was when Mr. Potter told George that he was "worth more dead than alive", due to the value of his life insurance policy, which prompted George to wrestle with his thoughts about life and death.

The holidays are often a time of year when some people experience this same heightened level of discouragement with life. When our holidays, or our life, do not meet up to our desired expectations, we begin to see ourselves, and our lives, as flawed and broken. We listen to lies of the enemy, and wrestle with thoughts of unworthiness.

In fact, we may even feel a little like George Bailey, and wonder if life is really all it is cut out to be. We may find ourselves wondering if it really is a wonderful life, considering all our circumstances that are less than wonderful.

So how can we remember that life is a gift, despite life? How do we embrace the gift of life, and be thankful for it, when we get bitten by the bug of discouragement? How do we find joy, in the midst of heartache, fear and disappointment?

If you ask me, the answer can be found in one verse in the Bible. One verse that justifies and solidifies everything in Gods Word and clearly explains why Christmas is a time to remember to celebrate life. That verse is found in John 3:16.

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."

This verse reminds us that we are celebrating because of Gods gifts. The gifts of earthly life, our Saviors life, and the promise of eternal life with Him. It is a three-in-one gift.

If you have been struggling with situations in your life which make life seem less than wonderful, remember the three-in-one gift of life that we are celebrating this season.

Through Christ, we can begin to believe that things will work out to Gods glory, that He really is in charge of everything. We will learn to walk by faith, and not by sight. And we can begin to embrace the truth that God wants us to have a happy ending too, just like 'ol George Bailey.

During this movie clip above, God told Clarence that George is "getting ready to throw away Gods greatest gift - LIFE" - so they spring into action to help George see just how priceless, and wonderful, life really is.

If you are struggling today with situations in your life, try to begin focusing on why life is wonderful, instead of all the things that would fall in the 'not-so-wonderful' category.  Ask God for a fresh does of spiritual encouragement, and to heal your heart if you are weighed down by discouragement.  Pray for a glimpse of His intervention in your life and a new perspective on the situations you are dealing with.  And then, wait in patient expectation that God hears your prayers, and believe that He will take action on your behalf.

George had an angel to help him see that life is wonderful, and thankfully, we have a Savior.  Sometimes it takes looking at life from our Savior's perspective, to remember that it is really is a wonderful life after all. 

(Email subscribers may need to visit my blog to view the movie clip.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Gift Of Family

(Email subscribers may need to go to my blog to see the first movie clip if it is not visible below)

Just in case you have not seen this movie, it is about a little boy named Kevin McCallister, who is the youngest child in a large family. His immediate and extended family members are all spending the night at his house, so they can all leave the next day to travel to Paris for the holidays.

His family was getting on his last nerve, to say the least. A house full of extended family, spouses and cousins is quite often a recipe for conflict, and this situation was no different.  At the height of his frustration, Kevin accidentally created a mess with the pizza and drinks, and was sent to the attic bedroom as punishment. In his anger and aggravation, he wished that he would never see his family again.

Through a series of mishaps and oversights the next morning, and due to the chaos of oversleeping and the looming possibility of missing their flights, his parents forgot that he was sleeping upstairs - and Kevin was left behind, and left home alone.

Kevin and his family lived in an upper income area, which was being targeted by thieves, so he spends the remainder of the movie trying to protect his home from burglary, and regretting that he had wished his family would disappear.

Some of the borderline violent tactics that Kevin uses to protect his home makes my stomach lurch a little bit, but in the end, this movie has a wonderful lesson about the importance of family. In fact, for anyone who has ever felt as if they could not stand their family for one more millisecond, much less another holiday, this movie becomes great food for thought.

Let's be honest matter how much we love our families, we would probably all have to admit to having at least one of those moments when we wished our family was different, or better, or like our friend's family, or maybe not around at all. Whether our families are blood relatives, or simply people that have become family by virtue of sharing life together, tensions and emotions can build over time, and nerves can get stepped on.

Just like Kevin, you may soon find yourself in the midst of chaotic holiday gatherings, secretly wishing that you were alone, and that everyone would "disappear". In fact, you may be dreading those pending family get-togethers already, for fear of feeling that way! 

With that in mind, let's play a "what if" game for a moment....

- what if there were no more gatherings with family or friends?
- what if you could never look forward to getting together again with people you shared life with?
- what if the house was completely quiet for the entire holiday season?
- what if you were expecting no visitors, and had no plans to visit anyone?
- what if your family really did disappear?

When we consider how we would feel if those "what if's" came true, it might help us to hold a different perspective about being with those we love.

Even though the thought of being alone in peace and quiet for the holidays might seem appealing on the surface, what would life be like if it were really void of family?  Would we run around the house in exuberant celebration like Kevin? Would it be all we imagined it to be? Would it be a time of joy and relief? Or....

Would our wish end up being something we quickly learned to regret? Would we long for what we once had, realizing how precious it really was? Would we wish we could go back in time, and treasure all those moments we once took for granted? Would we develop a new perspective about the value of family? Would we miss the people and circumstances who are in our life right now?

I think the most common answer would be a resounding yes. Certainly there may be exceptions, but the reality is that we often take people for granted, until they are gone.

In this movie, when Kevin first realizes that he really is all alone, and that his family really has disappeared, he is ecstatic! He has an awesome time jumping up and down on the bed, eating popcorn and rubbish, watching violent movies, and having the house all to himself - all the things his parents would never allow him to do.

But it does not take Kevin long to realize that loneliness, fear, despair, regrets and new wishes are filling his heart. Although a lot of things about his family made him frustrated and upset, he soon began to miss all the good things his family brought him, such as security, protection, companionship, affection, friendship and love.

He realizes that although his family was not perfect, he still needed them, wanted them and loved them... and most of all - he missed them.

Even though we see quite the opposite of a sweet, gentle, loving family in the movie (such as belligerent kids, sibling rivalry, the bullying brother, the nagging sister and the mean old uncle) there is genuine love for each other underneath all of that. And in the end - they miss Kevin too and regret not treating him kindly, or loving him like they should have.

As the movie progresses, and while Kevin's mother is desperately trying to get back home to him, Kevin learns a valuable lesson that we can tuck into our hearts for this Christmas, and all the holiday celebrations to come.

He learns that family can sometimes be a mess - but that mess is a precious gift from God.

Kevin thought he wanted his family gone - but when they were - his heart ached for them to return.

The Bible has much to say about the importance of families. God provides countless verses and stories about the value of the husband and wife relationship, the relationship between parents and children, and even relationships among extended family members.

His Word teaches us that the institution of family is of divine origin, and meaningful purpose. All these things lead us to the understanding that family is valuable in Gods eyes, and therefore it should be valuable in our eyes as well.

Family - with all their quirky ways, inadequacies, craziness, difficulties, habits, mistakes, faults, differences in personalities and perspectives on life - is a gift.

A gift that may seem a little crazy, off the wall, broken, chipped, cracked, dented, imperfect and slightly used - but a precious gift nonetheless, and one that can never be replaced.

Kevin teaches us, and the Bible reiterates to us, that family really is a gift that we should treasure, even when they are getting on our last and final nerve.

Hug the ones you love this Christmas season, and love the ones you are with.

(Bonus clip: I found this hilarious, and perfectly relevant short music video about Home Alone, and I just had to share it! Watch it below and enjoy.)

The Gift Of FamilySocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Avoiding A Kranky Christmas

Christmas is supposed to be a time that brings out the best in people. A time where we feel that extra urge to be compassionate, giving, and help those in need. A time when we should be filled with love, patience and gentleness, and all those sweet things that the birth of Jesus stands for.

But let's face it - sometimes it seems like Christmas does just the opposite, often bringing out the worst in people instead. Stress, frustration, hurting hearts and holiday chaos can cause people to react in not-so-nice ways.

It seems as if rudeness has become an epidemic of great proportion. An epidemic that is harmful and damaging to the person being rude, and the person who is the recipient of the rudeness, yet it is highly tolerated and accepted in our society -  by believers and non-believers alike.  In fact lately, it has seemed like there are Grinches around every corner!

A few weeks ago, I was leaving a store and opening the glass doors to walk out, and a young woman right behind me put her hands on my lower back and literally pushed me out the door, ranting and raving that I was walking too slowy. As she quickly shuffled off, I said God bless you too. She turned around and gave me "the look", and walked away murmering under her breath. I was simply amazed at her rudeness.

And just last week, I was on my cell phone on a business call as I drove to the grocery store to pick up a few groceries.  I had been put on hold for a lengthy period of time, so although I had arrived at my destination, I didn't want to hang up the phone and start all over at a later time. So after pulling into the parking lot, I put my car into 'park', and sat there for a few moments, hoping to finish my call before I went inside to shop.

I happened to glance over at the car beside me, and noticed that an elderly woman, who had her windows down and was reading a newspaper, was giving me a very ugly look.  I looked away, a bit perplexed, and continued to sit there minding my own business, waiting on my caller to return to the conversation. After a few more minutes, I felt as if someone was staring at me (you know how you get that feeling?), so I side-glanced over at the woman in the car again.

Just as before, she was looking at me with a painful grimace on her face, and shaking her head angrily. Out of sheer confusion, I finally rolled down my window and asked if something was wrong. She threw her hands up in the air, and said "Yes!! Your motor is TOO LOUD and it's bothering me!".

What??!!  My motor? I am in the parking know, that place where cars are supposed to be, and where cars run their motors. ?

I was so shocked at her response, that all I could do was stare back in utter disbelief with my mouth hanging open. I then rolled my window back up, while biting my tongue so that no words would slip out that I might later regret. Fortunately, I had decided that silence was the golden choice of the moment.

These are not the only times I have experienced extreme rudeness this year, and I am sure you have experienced your fair share too.  It seems rudeness has become so commonplace, that people have no qualms about being rude, and have actually come to consider it a normal, acceptable behavior. It is almost as if the value of politeness and common courtesy for others has become a thing of the past.

Unfortunately, Christmas time is no longer a remedy for this widespread disease of the heart, but instead, often makes matters worse.

Christmas With The Kranks is another one of my favorite Christmas movies.  I always laugh at all the scenes, even though a thread of extreme rudeness is rampant.

The storyline is that Christmas has always been a big deal for the Krank family, characterized by lots of holiday festivities, decorating and hosting an annual neighborhood Christmas Eve party.

But when their daughter Blair joins the Peace Corps and goes to Peru, the idea of a big Christmas doesn't seem so appealing anymore. So Luther (Tim Allen) proposes to his wife Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) that they skip Christmas, and go on cruise instead.

At first, they feel liberated from the expenses and hassles of Christmas, and trying to keep everyone happy. But when their friends and neighbors start to put pressure on them to conform, Luther is defiant, Nora gets upset, and the neighbors are furious, causing them to exhibit extreme rudeness and lack of consideration.

The Kranks spend all month fighting off the expectations that society and their neighbors have placed on them to conform to the traditional Christmas celebrations, but at the last minute, Blair calls to say she IS coming home for Christmas - and she will be home in just a few hours. Thus the craziness begins.

They frantically begin decorating and shopping, trying to keep their 'skipping-Christmas' plan a secret from Blair.  One of the funniest scenes in the movie is when Nora is trying to get a Hickory Honey Ham because it is her daughter's favorite meal, and a part of their traditional Christmas dinner. Nora does not realize, as she innocently sets out to buy a ham, that she is about to experience some serious holiday rudeness. Take a look at this short clip below:

Poor Nora. First, a very rude woman races her to the deli counter in a fight to get the last ham, leaving her sprawled out on the floor amidst a pile of fallen groceries. Second, a car nearly runs over her in the parking lot and just beeps the horn at her, as if she didn't have the right of way. And thirdly, a man bumps into her, knocking her ham out of her hands, and then just walks off, as her poor little ham rolls down a hill only to be crushed by an eighteen wheeler.  In the movie, all this rudeness is quite funny, but in real life, it is not very comical at all.

Sadly as it is, this extreme rudeness does not only happen in movies. Case in point: rude lady in parking lot who got mad because my car was running; and getting shoved out a door by a hurried shopper.

Rudeness has become an epidemic. But we do not have to catch it.  We can immunize ourselves by using God's Word as our reference for how to treat others.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NLT) tells us that nothing else matters, if we do not treat people with love:

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

So it doesn't matter how nice we are to people we like, or how much we serve at church, or how often we read our bible - if we are rude a stranger, the sales clerk or the unfriendly neighbor.

And 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 addresses how to treat the disease of rudeness:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Most of us encounter rudeness every day, and if we fail to immunize ourselves from it, by committing to showing love to people even if they are not very lovable, then we will most likely be infected by it instead. 

The Christmas season has become known for harboring an epidemic of rudeness ---- long lines of traffic... road rage.... massive crowds carelessly bumping into one another... fights over bargains... fights over parking spaces... theft of gifts... theft of outdoor yard decorations... family feuds.... yelling at cashiers...

But we can go against the current, and mirror the One who set the example we should follow.  Rudeness does not have to beget rudeness, if we are in Christ.

I'll leave you with this thought. I had another example of rudeness the other day. Again, I was in my car and was pulling out of the mall parking lot. Apparently, I got in the way of a woman who was trying to turn into the mall, and I could see her spewing hatred, screaming harsh words at me as if I could hear her. I just smiled and waved at her - she looked stunned, then angered, and ended our encounter with a not-so-nice gesture.

But that's okay, at least I know that I did not allow her rudeness to infect my heart.

I challenge you today to go out of your way to be kind and loving to someone who has not been that way to you.

We may live in a cranky world, but we do not have to become a cranky soul.

Through the strength of Christ within us, we can fight this epidemic of rudeness, one heart and one encounter at a time.

James 4:17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

1 Corinthians 13:4-5 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Get On Board

COCOA Winner Announcement!
Thanks to all of you for sharing the various ways that you and your family keep Christ in Christmas. I wish I could give everyone a COCOA cup but that would not quite fit into our Christmas budget!
But I do want to wish all of you a very Merry in-focus Christmas!

The winner of the COCOA giveaway from last Friday is Courtney, who left her comment on December 16, 2011 8:43 PM.  Please email your address to me asap and I'll get your gift in the mail!
Now back to our regularly scheduled program in the Reel Christmas series:

Last Thursday, I talked about The Polar Express - a wonderful movie which draws us in with it's graphics but quickly engages us in the emotions of the characters, helping us to embrace the truth that believing is seeing.

Another great lesson which can be derived from this movie, is that sometimes spiritual believing and seeing, requires a personal encounter of faith.

At the end of the movie, when the train has stopped at the little boy's house to drop him off after an eventful evening at the North Pole, the conductor steps off the train, and stands in front of the boy. As they stood there in the snow, with cold breath on their faces, the conductor gazed down at him with eyes filled with wonder, and said something very profound.

He said:  "It doesn’t matter where you’re going; what matters is deciding to get on.”

Sometimes we think where we are going in life is what is most important. We focus on building careers, raising families, making money, gaining financial success, recovering from losses, relocating to a new city or home, and just getting through to the end of each day.

But even though we are all living in the same world, we all have different paths in life, different careers, different families, different struggles, different sins - our lives all go in different directions. The tricky part, is determining if we are on the path God prepared for us, or if we are trying to figure out if we want to get on board with His plan. Or maybe, we are still unsure what His plan is for our life.

Our unique differences are exactly what God uses to route our journey, making it completely different from someone else's journey. The important thing is whether or not we are trying to drive the train ourselves, or allowing God to be the conductor. Whether or not we have faith, and a trusting heart to believe in the unseen, instead of making and following our own plans.

It takes a lot of faith to trust that God is orchestrating our lives in a predestined way that He ordained. It takes a lot of faith to believe that God can use our past mistakes and sins to glorify Him.  It takes a lot of faith to trust God enough to trust His plans, even when we don't understand them, feel qualified for them, or even like them.

Yet, it is imperative that we embrace unshakable faith if we want to possess the confidence to believe in a God that we cannot see, and the courage to embark on a journey we may not understand.

The little boy in Polar Express could not believe in Santa, until he had a personal encounter with him. After this encounter, he believed with his whole heart.  Just as the little boy's faith in Santa Claus soared after his personal encounter with him, our faith in Jesus will also soar when we experience a personal encounter with Him. We cannot see Him with our physical eyes, but we can encounter Him spiritually  - through prayer, quiet time, worshipping, hearing His voice, answered prayers, and seeing His activity in our lives. 

A jingle bell held a special meaning in this film. In the beginning, the boy thought the bell was broken because he couldn't hear it jingle. But after his faith in Santa was renewed and his enthusiasm for Christmas was awakened, he could hear the bell jingling loud and clear. 

If you think about it, faith works in the same way.  Some people do not believe in Jesus, because they cannot hear or see Him - but the truth is, it takes believing, before seeing and hearing can occur. That is what is faith is all about.  When we believe with our whole heart, then our spiritual eyes and ears are open, and it then we can begin to see and hear Jesus loud and clear.  His faith opened his ears.

Believing is seeing, not the other way around, and personal encounters with Jesus reawaken our faith, and renew our enthusiasm for Him as we get excited about 'seeing' Him all around us. Faith brings life, to life.

Are you ready to believe, so you can see? Are you willing to allow God to be the conductor of your journey?

God knows exactly where you are going - He is simply waiting for you to get on board.

If you have never accepted Jesus Christ into your heart, and allowed Him to be the conductor of your life, will you make that commitment today?  If so, visit this page for more information. Proverbs 31 Ministries would be honored and blessed to pray for you, and celebrate your salvation and new faith commitment.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

10 Ways To Decorate Your Heart For Christmas

I am taking a break today from my December "Reel Christmas" series to focus on the devotion I have running over at P31 Encouragement For Today, called A Cup of Christmas COCOA.

If you are visiting my blog today, then welcome! At the bottom of the post, find out how to win today's COCOA giveaway which was mentioned in the devotion.

It is hard to believe that Christmas is only nine days away. It seems that it takes forever for the holidays to begin, then the whole season flies by way too quickly! So quickly, it often comes around before we have all the gifts bought, decorations put up, and cards mailed. There is just too much to do in too little time!

Unfortunately we often use this excuse of "busyness" to secretly justify that it's okay to focus all our time and energies on all those Christmassy-type things that are screaming for our attention.  But deep in our hearts, we know Jesus should be our focus, and we may even feel a twinge of guilt for having an out-of-focus Christmas. So how do we change that habit? How do we get in-focus, in the midst of the holiday whirlwind?

Today's devotion talked about using the acrostic C.O.C.O.A. to help us stay focused on Christ - because COCOA is synonymous with Christmas, right?!

Aside from drinking hot cocoa, and to insure that I stay focused despite all my crazy-Christmas-to-do's, I made a list of ways to decorate our hearts for Christmas. Even though there are only 9 days left until Jesus' birthday, it is never too late to get in-focus on the reason we are celebrating!

1. Display a nativity scene in a prominent place. If you don't have one, consider getting one. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and range from very expensive at specialty stores, to very inexpensive at dollar stores and thrift stores. Regardless of the monetary value, any nativity scene is beautiful. You can even make your own if you are a crafty type of gal, by doing an Internet search with the words "homemade nativity".

2. Read scripture each day of the month, including the Christmas story found in the gospels.

3. Attend a Christmas program, or a Christmas Eve service at a local church. If you do not have a home church, attend at a friend's church, or check your local listings. This year you can also attend church on Christmas Day, since most churches will offer regular Sunday worship.

4. Listen to Christmas music that is focused on Jesus, not just jingle bells.

5. Spending more time in prayer this month than you usually do - thanking God for the blessings of the past year, and seeking His peace and blessings for the coming year.

6. Keep a Christmas journal. Record your thoughts about the Christmas season, how God is working in your life this month, or meaningful Christmas poems or articles that you come across. You could also jot down Christ-centered ideas or activities that you have heard about from others, and consider doing them this year or next.

7. Share Christ with someone who needs to know that there really is "Something more" to Christmas, just like the Grinch discovers.

8. Step outside of your comfort zone to serve someone in a way that you would not normally do. Put aside convenience, and put on compassion.

9. Give the gift of scripture. A special way to share God's Word is through a blessing box, or a treasure box as I have often referred to it. It's a little box full of bible verses, with your friend or loved one's name inserted into the verses. This is a priceless gift, which can minister to someones heart all year round. Click here to see a previous blog post for more information and a list of verses.

10. Give a gift to Jesus. Give each family member a red note card, and ask them to write down one gift they want to give Jesus this year. It could be forgiving someone who has hurt you, surrendering a negative attitude, committing to serving others, stepping out in faith to embrace a special calling, or spending more time in His Word. It is simply a promise from our heart to God's heart. Hang the completed note cards on your tree, or wrap them up and put them under the tree, and open them on Christmas morning and pray over them.

Today's COCOA giveaway is a festive Christmas coffee cup with Romans 6:23 on it, filled with chocolate, and the acrostic C.O.C.O.A from the devotion attached with curly ribbon. It would make a great Christmas gift for a friend, or keep it for yourself!

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment stating how you keep Christ in your Christmas!

**Drawing will be held on Monday, December 19th, and will be shipped the same day,
or as soon as the winner emails their shipping address. **

10 Ways To Decorate Your Heart For ChristmasSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Do You Really Believe?

When the Polar Express movie was released a few years ago, the first thing that caught my attention was the amazing graphics and life-like portrayal of the characters. The scenery was beautiful, and almost breathtaking.

However, after I watched the movie, I realized that there was so much more to it than what first meets the eye. The underlying kindness and genuine meaning of the story captivated my attention, and my heart.

You see, it is much more than just a magical story about a train ride to the North Pole, or even a story about Santa Claus.

It is really a story about faith that is lost, reawakened, and renewed.

This movie contains no religious imagery as we saw in The Grinch or Charlie Brown. It does not have any highly comical scenes like Elf.

It quotes no Scriptures, and never once does it mention the words God or Jesus. Yet, it is a movie that touches the spirits of young and old, and has a lesson in faith for all of us.

It is not only a journey to find the magic of Christmas, but a journey of faith, and the faith it takes to believe in the unseen.

At the beginning of the story, we see a little boy, struggling with letting go of his belief in Santa, and trying to force himself to believe that he does not exist.

He is torn between two truths: "Seeing is believing", or "Believing is seeing."

In the movie, when the Polar Express pulls up in front of the boys house, he wonders if what he is seeing is really true.

He sees the train in the snow as plain and vivid as the nose on his face. He sees and hears the conductor inviting him to board the train, and he plainly sees the other children peering through the windows, beckoning for him to get on.

But still, his heart doubts. Through influences from the media, parents and friends, his innocence had been stolen. His faith had been crushed. And the doubts in his mind were stronger than the deepest longings of his heart.

As a result, the little boy had all but convinced himself that Santa did not exist, so he struggled with what he thinks he sees, and wonders whether or not he should step outside of his comfort zone, and take that first step onto the train.

The little boy found himself in a place where many people find themselves every day -in a struggle between the seen, and the unseen; a struggle between doubt and faith; a struggle between believing, and not believing.

As the little boy weighs the "evidence" he can see, versus the lack of evidence in his mind, he hesitates on boarding the train. His own inhibitions, doubts, and lack of faith are standing in the way of him moving forward.

I found it so interesting that the conductor did not force the boy to get on - he merely extended the invitation - and then - he waited. He waited for the boy to determine whether or not he would let himself believe.
The boy had to choose for himself whether he would join the conductor on the journey, and he finally did decide to board the train. However, he really only boarded with his physical being, because in his spirit, he still was overcome with doubt.

Throughout his journey that snowy night, he continually questioned the existence of Santa and the North pole. He asked the other kids; he asked the 'ghost' on top of the train; he asked the conductor. Despite all the evidence he could see and everything he was told, he still doubted.

Unfortunately, this happens a lot in real life.  There are many people who claim to believe in the unseen Savior, but who do not truly believe with their heart, mind and soul. Wonderful people, who carry out the motions of being a good Christian - attending and serving in church, helping others, trying to be a good person - but who secretly, maybe even unknowingly, do not truly believe with child-like faith that the Christ is all He claims to be. 

People who have professed faith with their lips, but not their hearts. People who just simply cannot find the courage to push aside their doubts, and believe in what they have not seen. People just like the little boy in this movie.

I wonder if the reason that some people have a hard time truly believing is that they have not encountered Christ for themselves, in their own lives, consumed with always trying to weigh the evidence.

The little boy boarded the train, with unbelief and doubts, and he continued to doubt despite the evidence. However, once he experienced Santa for himself - then - he truly believed.

It was not until the boy encountered Santa first hand, for himself, that he could honestly say "I believe".

He finally accepted what he felt in his heart was true - despite what anyone else thought, how old he was, who agreed, or what the world had to say about it.

At the end of the movie, the conductor said something very meaningful to the boy. He said, “The most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

Being a Christian means believing in Christ - not because we see Him with our physical eyes, but because we feel Him in our hearts and see evidence of Him in our lives. Once we encounter Christ, our attitude is changed, and our faith renewed.

Once the little boy believed, his attitude changed, and he could even "hear" things that he had not heard before - like the sound of a jingle bell.

Our faith is exactly the same way. When we are doubting the true existence of Christ, or doubt whether He is involved in our lives, then we have a hard time seeing or hearing Him at all. 

Believing comes first. Seeing is the reward for believing.

John 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (NIV)

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (NIV)

(Email subscribers need to link over to my blog to view the movie clips)

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where are you, Christmas spirit?

The Charlie Brown Christmas special is a traditional family show watched in households across the country for years and years, and my kids and I always look forward to it. It is a fun cartoon to watch, but also a great reminder about how we can all lose our Christmas spirit, yet remembering the reason for the season will help us to find it again.

When Charlie Brown was walking with Linus through the snow to go ice skating, Charlie aired his feelings about the holidays to Linus:

"I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel . I just don't understand Christmas I guess. I like getting presents, and sending Christmas cards, and decorating trees and all that, but I'm still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed."

Have you ever felt like Charlie Brown? Wondering why you used to love the holidays, but now they seem more of a duty than a delight? Do you ever feel like something is missing? Like maybe Christmas is just not what it used to be?

Or maybe you know why your Christmas spirit has waned, but you do not know how to change it or get it back. Maybe it does not look the same as it once did, due to children growing up, families changing, divorces, remarriages, or the loss of loved ones, and as a result, you just do not have the same feelings about Christmas anymore. The passion is gone.

One of my favorite songs during the holidays is Where Are You Christmas, sung by Faith Hill. It fits in perfect with the feelings that Charlie Brown was feeling as he struggled with his emotions about Christmas. Here are some of the lyrics to that song:

Where are you Christmas
Why can't I find you
Why have you gone away
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me
Why can't I hear music play

My world is changing
I'm rearranging
Does that mean Christmas changes too

Where are you Christmas
Do you remember
The one you used to know
I'm not the same one
See what the time's done
Is that why you have let me go

Just like is described in this song, Charlie Brown knew in his heart that something was missing- he just didn't know what.

All he knew, was that he longed for the joy and enthusiastic feelings that other people seemed to feel around the holidays. He wanted to know what had changed and where his Christmas spirit had gone. He just wanted to enjoy Christmas again.

The other day my teenage daughter said with a sullen look on her face, "Mom, it just doesn't 'feel' like Christmas. It feels different than in the past."  It was as if Charlie Brown's statement above was spilling from her lips. Although she could not quite put her emotions into words, I understood completely what she was saying. I remember being her age, when Christmas began to "feel" different, seem less exciting, and more "ordinary".  When the magic of childhood innocence is gone, and the wisdom of adolescence kicks in.

Her comment gave me an opportunity to remind her that life changes as we grow up, but Jesus remains the same. The thrill of celebrating His birth has to come from our hearts, not from our traditional practices. Her comment opened the door for us to both to refocus on Christ, not just Christmas.   

Linus reminded Charlie Brown of this truth as well, and helped him to see that what was missing from his Christmas, was the fact that they were celebrating the birth of the Savior, not the holiday season. He reminded Charlie, that Christmas was about Jesus - nothing less and nothing more. Just Jesus. Glory to God on the highest, and peace on earth. Let's take a look at his speech:

(email subscribers will need to visit my homepage to view the movie clip)

Linus is a shining example of how the faith of one person can help other people rediscover true Christmas spirit. His passion about Christmas, made other people feel passionate about Christmas too.

In today's society, Christmas is under attack from every angle. We are universally discouraged from keeping Christ in Christmas. That is why we are told in 1 Corinthians 16:13, Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. (NIV)

As long as we carry the real reason for the season in our hearts and minds, nobody can ever take it away.  Growing up, changing families, problems of life and the influences of a fallen world will always be a reality - but Jesus Was, and Is, and Always Will Be - and He is the reason we celebrate.

Through standing up for our faith, and sharing the reason we celebrate, we can give the gift of Christmas spirit to someone who knows that something is missing, but just needs someone to help them find it.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011


As I mentioned yesterday, I love Buddy the Elf's attitude and his sense of Christmas spirit. I love his hilarious smile and his innocent perspective on life. I love his outlook on innocence and love.

But most of all - above all else - I love his enthusiasm.

If I had to pick one scene from the movie as my very most favorite - it would have to be when the department store boss announces that Santa is coming to the store. Watch that clip below:

(email subscribers may need to visit my homepage to view the movie clip)

Hahaha! Okay, maybe something is wrong with me. I just love that clip so much! And not only because it is funny and makes a huge grin sweep across my face uncontrollably (because smiling is my favorite), but also because I long for that kind of enthusiasm - for Jesus.

I cannot help but wonder how I would react if someone told me that Jesus was coming tomorrow at 10:00am.

Even though I feel sure that a flood of thoughts would race through my mind in a flurry of emotions, I can also envision myself jumping up and down with excitement, bellowing out and screaming "Jeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssuuuuuuuuuuuuusssssssssss!!! I know him! I know him! Yeah!".

Several years ago, I kind of experienced a situation like that, when I had a dream about Jesus. I typically dream in vivid color and detail, and usually remember my dreams, and this one was no different.

On this particular night, I dreamed that I was standing alone in a field full of swaying, tall grasses and beautiful flowers, with a cool breeze blowing on my face. Off in the distance, my eyes caught a glimpse of a large Greek-style amphitheatre, like the ones that existed in biblical times.

Then suddenly,  I was surrounded by hundreds of people who were slowly walking towards this venue. I began to walk with the crowd, as I meandered along, not knowing exactly where we were all going,  the wind began to grow stronger, and clouds began morphing into various shapes and forms in the sky.

As I looked up into the bright blue sky, squinting and shading my eyes with my hand, I saw a cloud slowly transform into the shape of a shepherds staff. Then, it appeared that the staff was gently bobbing up and down as it grew closer, as if an invisible hand were grasping it, raising it up each time they took a step forward.

As the staff grew closer and larger than life, I heard people around me begin to yell out with excited voices, "It's Jesus! It's Jesus! Jesus is coming!" Everyone was overjoyed and in awe that Jesus was about to arrive.

Even though it was merely a dream, I can vividly remember the overwhelming enthusiasm and excitement that bubbled up in my entire body, causing my heart to feel as if it were overflowing with uncontrollable joy. I even remember my face feeling red and hot, and my heart beating fast, thumping hard in my chest.

I felt so overcome with the joy and anticipation of seeing Jesus, that I could barely breathe. I had the urge to spastically jump up and down and scream at the top of my lungs, just like Elf did in the scene about Santa, and chant "I know Him! I know Him!", but in my dream state, I felt speechless.

Then suddenly, and way too abruptly, I woke up. The dream was over. But my heart was still beating rapidly, and the experience seemed acutely real.

For a few solemn seconds, as I lay there in the quietness of a dark house before daylight, I tried desperately to go back to sleep; to transport my brain waves back into a deep slumber, in the hopes that I would see the beautiful vision of Jesus right in front of me. Yet, I was wide awake.

My heart felt heavy. Jesus was coming - I was almost close enough to touch Him, but I didn't even get to see His face. I longed for the experience that I missed, even though it was only a dream.

This dream had such an impact on my heart, that I will never forget it. And every time I watch this comical movie clip from Elf, I am reminded about how exciting it will be when Jesus really does return, or when I meet Him face to face in heaven. I cannot wait to exclaim that "I know Him!"and hear Him say, that He knows me too.

Knowing how wonderful it will be makes my heart ache even more for all those who do not know Jesus; all the people who do not believe that they will one day meet Jesus face to face.

I feel sad for people who celebrate empty Christmases, filled only with presents and decorations and parties - without ever acknowledging why tthere is a celebration in the first place.

Yesterday I focused on the positive attitude of Elf, and today my focus is on his enthusiasm, and how our spiritual enthusiasm for Jesus should be inward and outward.

Inward enthusiasm for Jesus is necessary, before we can display an outward enthusiasm that is contagious to others, just like our attitude. After all, what does it matter if we put on a fake smile every day, but miss out on the true joy that Christ offers? Will people "catch" our spiritual enthusiasm, if we don't live out loud for Jesus?

This is a wonderful time of year to contemplate how important our faith really is in our life. A time to do a self assessment, and rate our own spiritual enthusiasm.

In the spirit of Christmas, and the spirit of enhancing our walk with Christ as we celebrate our relationship, lets put ourselves to the test:

- Am I really, genuinely enthusiastic about my spiritual journey?
- Am I still overwhelmed with gratitude for Gods gift of life, or have I begun to take it for granted?
- Do I really make Christ the center of my Christmas, or have I inadvertently become more focused on the commercialization about Christmas?
- Have I become so caught up in dealing with life, that I have buried the enthusiasm that I once held for Christ in my heart?
- Is my spiritual enthusiasm being fueled by ALL of my heart, soul and mind?
- Do I really KNOW HIM, or just know about Him?
- Does He really know me?
- How would I feel and react if I met Jesus face to face tomorrow?

Matthew 22:37 says “Jesus replied:‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment." (NIV)

If we truly love Jesus with ALL of our being.... seriously.... we would not be able to contain our enthusiasm! We would be jumping up and down with the same level of excitement as the Elf was about Santa! We might get a few stares and smirks, but who really cares!

At the very end of this movie, the narrator says this: "So Buddy managed to save Christmas. And his spirit saves a lot of other people too."

His enthusiasm for Christmas was contagious to the people around him, and he 'saved' them from themselves. Only Jesus can truly save in real life, but our enthusiasm for Him can open to the door to the hearts that need the saving.

Christ is coming!!!! Are you excited?! Are you showing it?!

Make smiling your favorite this Christmas!! :)

I KNOW HIM!!!!SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, December 12, 2011

Is Smiling Your Favorite?

I know this movie is not a classic, especially since it was only released a few years ago, but honestly, it is my all time favorite movie ever!

My husband always gives me a confused side glance as I laugh hysterically at this movie, considering that I have watched it dozens of times. For some reason, he just fails to see the amazing humor in it that I do, but that is okay - to each her own, right?

So I admit it -I love the movie Elf, starring Will Farrell. I kid you not, I could watch it a thousand times and never get tired of it (maybe that says something about my intelligence, or sense of humor, but what-everrrrrr). Smiles.

The truth is that I just love to have a good laugh, and this is a sure recipe for that every time. But if I had to choose one thing I love most about this movie, it would be the attitude of Buddy the Elf.

Of course I realize that Buddy grew up at the North Pole, where life revolved around happy elves, sweet candy canes, friendly penguins, hot cocoa, toy making, and song singing. Anybody could learn to have a good attitude in that environment.

But even in the real/reel world, when Buddy treks out to find his real dad in New York City, he does not let the negativity, rudeness from others, and overall bad attitudes of society, affect his own joyful attitude and positive outlook about life.

It all started after Buddy journeyed through the Candy Cane Forest, which somehow miraculously landed him in Times Square, where he sought out his father in a high rise building.

At first glance, Buddy's father (who had no knowledge of his existence) and everyone else, for that matter, found Buddy to be extremely odd.

After all, his green elf outfit, cotton-ball eating, loud singing, and crazy smiling was a little out of the ordinary, to say the least. But it was not only his appearance that people found bizarre - it was his optimism and joyful attitude.

Because of his outgoing personality and positive perspective about life, people were not only extremely rude, but actually pushed him away. People were simply not accustomed to such joy.

Although Buddy's feelings were hurt, it did not change his attitude. He pushed forward, continuing to exude joy, despite how people were treating him, or the disappointments that he encountered.

Eventually, everyone came to realize that there was something special about Buddy....on the inside. They began to look past the odd outward appearance and different mannerisms, and see the joy and happiness in Buddy's heart.

His joyful attitude became contagious to all those who knew him.

Have you ever been around someone who was always negative, discouraged, pessimistic, unhappy and constantly complaining? If so, you may have you noticed how easy it is to be infected with that person's negativity, and maybe even start becoming negative and pessimistic as well. Have you ever noticed their bad attitude can be contagious?

I have certainly experienced this, and I remember working hard to ward off becoming infecting with their negativity, once I realized how contagious it was.

In fact, pessimism is one of the most highly contagious airborne germs that exist. The good news is = is that optimism is just as contagious!

Buddy's attitude, although a little off the chart when it comes to enthusiasm, was warm, optimistic and positive. He constantly saw the good in people and situations. He found joy in the little things, and was always filled with love. It appears he did not have a negative or unkind germ in his body. So when his optimism, and Christmas spirit, began spreading, people were changed for the good.

Is it possible to be like Buddy, in the real world we live in? A world packed full of attitude stumbling blocks from sunrise to sunset? The answer is yes... IF.... we choose not to let the attitudes of others affect our own, and, because we have that "something more". Remember? :)

At the end of this movie, Santa's sleigh can barely get off the ground because the hearts of the people of New York have lost their Christmas spirit. They have become consumed with the holiday activities, and lost sight of the holy-day attitudes.

But when Buddy's girlfriend, Jovie, begins to sing holiday songs, her Christmas spirit becomes contagious to everyone around her - even complete strangers. Soon, everyone in the crowd begins singing, and the Christmas spirit engine on Santa's sleigh is re-energized, helping it soar through the sky for all to see. She had caught Buddy's contagious joy.

Sadly, the real world is lacking in Christmas spirit - not merely holiday spirit, but The Spirit. Our world is full of lost people, refusing to believe that Christ is the reason for Christmas. Refusing to catch the joy in their hearts.

Although the Christmas spirit in this movie was focused on helping others believe that Santa is real - our Christmas Spirit should compel us to want to help others believe in Jesus. To show others, through our own attitudes, that Jesus is real, and alive.

We can never have a problem-free life, filled with candy canes and sugar plums every day, however, we can still have an attitude worth catching. An attitude that can change lives and impact hearts. An attitude that exudes joy, even when circumstances of life are not joyful.

An attitude that is focused on smiling, simply because of Jesus.

One of my favorite lines in the movie Elf, is when Buddy's boss at the department store inquires as to why he keeps smiling, and Buddy answers "I like to smile. Smiling is my favorite!"

Buddy's Christmas spirit was off the charts. Where would you rank your Christmas spirit today?

Consider these three questions:

1 - What attitude you have chosen today/this Christmas - do you want it to be contagious?
2 - Are you an angry elf (as Buddy calls the grumpy midget in this movie clip) or are you a joyful elf?
3 - Is smiling your favorite?  :)

In the words of Jovie, "the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear"... or... is it living loud for all to hear? Hmmm.

The movie clip for this post could not be embedded: CLICK HERE to watch a video clip from the end of the Elf movie where Jovie sings loud and clear, spreading the Christmas spirit for all to hear.

I just love this movie. Did I say that yet? Hee Hee. As a result, I am going to talk about more lessons from Buddy again tomorrow. Keeping smiling!

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Real Grinch Who Tried To Steal Christmas.....But God....

"Every Who down in Who-Ville liked Christmas a lot... But The Grinch,

Who lived just north of Who-ville, Did NOT! "

The Grinch's story explains how much the Grinch hated Christmas, so much so, that he wanted it to disappear. In fact, he wanted to stop it from coming altogether.  So as was mentioned in Tuesday's post, he devised an evil plan and carried it out, stealing all the presents, decorations and even the baked ham.

He thought that stealing the things they possessed, would also steal the emotions they felt - but oh, was he wrong. While he was basking in the aftermath of his sinister thievery, and standing amongst all the presents he had stolen, he heard something low and faint in the distance.

The Grinch heard the sweet sounds of peaceful singing permeating the air, floating up to the mountaintops from all the way down in the quaint valley of Whoville. He thought he had won - but he soon realized that he was wrong about that too.

In the same way, Satan wanted Christmas stopped too. However, just as the Grinch heard the songs of the people, Satan heard the news about Jesus. He tried and tried to steal Christmas away, but all of his attempts fell short. Let's take a look at attempts the real mean one tried to carry out:

First attempt: In biblical times, adulterers, especially women who were pregnant out of wedlock, were to be stoned. So the first attempt of Satan to prevent the birth of Jesus, was done through rumors in the community of Mary and Joseph.

As we read in the Christmas story, Joseph struggled with worry about whether or not Mary had been unfaithful to him. He wondered if he should allow her to be punished, and if he should abandon her to protect his own reputation. He surely felt taunted emotionally by thoughts of doing what was right in the eyes of the world, versus what was right in his heart.

But God... sent an angel to visit Joseph and tell him of His holy plan.

If Joseph had believed the rumors and been influenced by the opinions of others,  instead of focusing on his faith and his love for Mary, he could have fallen prey to Satans attempts to steal Christ-mas, before it ever started (Matthew 1:18-25). Josephs heart was set on obeying and trusting in God, even when things looked bleak.

Second attempt: Satan tried to prevent Jesus from having a safe haven for birth. There was no room in the inn in Bethlehem. No shelter from the cold. No protection from the wild.

But God...  provided a stable, which offered warmth, shelter and hay for the manger.

Third attempt: A couple years later, Satan (the grinch) tried to use Herod to steal Christ-mas, by prompting him to kill all boy toddlers who might be a threat to his authority. Herod was not a follower of Jesus, therefore, in essence, he was a follower of the grinch. He was influenced by the lies of the enemy.

But God...  told Joseph to leave the city, and provided an escape for them, which allowed Christ to grow into a strong young man who would eventually calm the storm with His hand, and save generations and generations of people.

There were many other failed grinch attempts, where satan tried to alter history by causing Jesus and his followers to stumble. In fact, there are too many attempts to list.
All throughout the life of Jesus, Satan tried to steal Christ-mas. He tempted Him, tormented Him, turned people against Him. He tried every trick in the book to pull off the ultimate heist, but failed time and time again.

But God...  never failed.

Even for three days, after Jesus was crucified and buried, Satan thought he had finally won the battle. He probably had an evil smirk on his face, as he twisted his pointed fingers together in delight.

But God...  called Jesus from the grave on the third day, restored Him to life, and set Him at His right hand side in the heavens.

No matter how hard he tried, Satan, the grinch, could not steal Christ-mas! God always won, and He still does today. Victory is already His.

Yet, unfortunately, until the final victory is claimed, the grinch will continue to lurk in our lives, attempting to trip us up, striving to steal, kill and destroy, without ever giving up.

He tempts people with pleasure and sin. He turns families against each other. He prods us into holding onto unforgiveness and selfishness. He makes us long for worldly pleasures, even if means sacrificing family or going into debt as he revels in our desires for more. He takes pride in our country's strides to be "politically correct" and "tolerant", at the expense of having freedom of speech about our God. He pours busyness and chaos into our lives so that our lives are too full for church and prayer. He fills our heads with doubts and tries to confuse us with science and theology and logic. He fills us with pride so that we begin to believe that we really don't need God at all.

He has worked diligently for thousands of years to take Christ out of Christmas, and Christ out of our hearts, and in some ways, he has experienced some success. He stole Christ from our governments, schools and communities. He stole Christ from our laws. He is trying to steal Christ from our television screens and publications. He has stolen the sanctity of purity and marriage. He has been hard at work, with glee.

But God...  calls us to trust Him and not to worry; and to remember that the battle is already won.

Satan could not stop Christ-mas from coming, so now his mission is to do everything possible to steal Christmas from our hearts, and to prevent people who do not know Jesus from ever believing in Him. We must be on guard, and be aware, at all times, and put on the full armor of God to fight this battle.

Unless we allow it, Satan cannot steal Christ from our hearts, or Christ from our Christmas.

That gift is ours to keep.

The gift of "something more" that can never be taken away. 

*** If you have been feeling distant from Christ this Christmas, and unable to really tap into a reason to celebrate, check out my feature article in this month's P31 Woman magazine.  The enemy has hard at work, waging war against my family this past year, BUT GOD has made Himself known. I pray this article will encourage you to remember that although the battle exists, we have the power within us to fight. And in Christ, we can also have a reason to celebrate.

The Real Grinch Who Tried To Steal Christmas.....But God....SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Who Really Stole Christmas?

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch. You really are a heel. You are as cuddly as a cactus, you're as charming as an eel. Mr Grinch. Your a bad banana with a greasy black peel.

We all know the Grinch stole Christmas, right? But who first stole Christmas from the Grinch?

In the remake movie version with Jim Carrey, we get a better glimpse at how the story began than we do from the old animated Dr Seuss version. You see, it all started out when the Grinch was just a boy. He was different, unique, even green and hairy.

At Christmas time, his teacher told all the students to bring in a special gift for the person they cared about, so he set about his task of diligently making a homemade gift for the little girl he had a crush on.

When the other kids laughed at him and his gift, he threw his gift across the room, and was so overcome with anger and humiliation, that he vowed to never celebrate Christmas again - and to never love again either. Due to hiding away alone in his mountain cave for years ,without giving or receiving love - his heart simply shrunk.

He allowed the memories of Christmases past, to determine how he would feel about Christmases of the future, and life in general. He adopted a permanent mindset laced with bitterness and negativity. If I were to describe how the Grinch may have felt inside, I would have to say:

He felt betrayed - and vowed to never trust anyone again.

He felt disappointed - and vowed to never expect good things to happen to him again.

He felt hurt - and vowed to never love anyone again.

He felt rejected - and vowed to never let other people get too close.

He felt embarrassed - and vowed to alienate himself from others so that he would never feel that way again.

He felt unloved - and vowed to believe that being unloved was better than the risk of sharing your heart.

Welcome to a peek into the mind of the Grinch - before he decided to steal Christmas  from others, and allowed it to be stolen from himself.

The trials, difficulties and painful emotions of life had stolen Christmas from his heart, and sadly, this mentality is not that far from reality.

All too often, we too allow past or present circumstances to define our attitudes about holidays, but also life in general.  There are many lessons we could pull from The Grinch, and although the movie does not overtly specify a Christian theme, it has a lot of biblical imagery.

For example, in both the cartoon and remake versions, we see the Grinch with an evil grin, with crooked fingertips poised together for a sinister plan. He exhibits a coldness of heart and is distanced and estranged from other people. In the same way, the real devil possesses these qualities too. Before he was tossed out of heaven, the devil's heart had become sinister and cold due to pride and rebellion against God.

The Grinch had a goal to deceive the people of Whoville and rob them in more ways than one. He didn't just want their presents and decorations, he wanted their hearts to become angry. The real devil has that same goal, and is hard at work every day, striving to cause us to sin in the hopes that our hearts will turn bitter.

Another commonality is that The Grinch was the master deceiver, adept at lying, even to the most innocent of innocent, like little Cindy Lu. The devil deceived the innocent couple Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, convincing them that God didn't really mean what He said when he told them not to eat from the fruit of the tree of life. He caused them to doubt the real meaning of God's Words, and to develop their own self-serving interpretation.

The Grinch's final deception was assuming the disguise of Santa - a symbol of joy and giving; a character that most people love, embrace and trust. The Grinch disguised himself as something pleasurable and good, when in fact he was evil and bad. He tricked Cindy Lu into thinking she could trust him, and that he was doing her a favor. In the same way, satan is the master deceiver today - often disguising himself as something good, so that we will want what he has, only to discover that we have given up much more than we gained.

In the same way that the Grinch walked around in broad daylight, in plain view of all the Who's in Whoville, the thief is in our midst too, disguised as something good or pleasurable.

He tempts us with sin, causes us to stumble in our faith, orchestrates trials in our lives, and longs to steal our joy. He fills our heads with lies that nobody cares about us, that we are worthless, that we are unlovable - just like the Grinch. He encourages us to hold onto bitterness, regret, and unforgiveness so that we will feel separated and alone.

The Grinch proceeded to carry out his evil plans to steal Christmas from Whoville, and to make matters worse, he took great pleasure in his evil thievery. In fact, the narrator in the movie says that the Grinch "steals Christmas with glee". 

In the animated version, the Grinch even slithers through the living room to steal the Christmas trees, holiday decorations and presents.. Hmmmm... sounds a little bit like a serpent --- the symbol of satan himself.

The root problem is not that the Grinch hates Christmas, but that he envies the joy and happiness that the Whos have in their hearts, Then he experiences anger and aggression because of this envy. He wants to hurt them, as he has been hurt, and he wants to have control over their emotions and their happiness.

The lyrics of the song summarize this analogy between the Grinch and the real enemy:

"a heart with an empty hole; garlic in his soul; no tenderness or sweetness; the king of sin; filled with poison; crooked and dirty; an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of rubbish imaginable mangled up in tangled up knots; a soul full of gunk."

King of sin... coldness... deceit... evil.... theft.... sour.... an empty heart...poisonous....crooked... disgraced.... all words found in the movie, that are also found when we read about the character of satan. The ultimate mean one.

John 10:10 tells us that the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, and that is exactly what the Grinch had in mind when he came up with his plan to steal Christmas from Whoville.

He wanted to steal their joy; kill their happiness; destroy their holiday.

He wanted to ruin their lives and dampen their future.

He wanted to crush relationships. He wanted to carry out his evil schemes in the hopes that he could steal so many precious things from them, that they would never celebrate or sing again.

He not only wants to steal the joy of Christmas from our holiday, but the joy of Christ from our heart.

On the surface, this movie could be interpreted as nothing more than an outcry against the commercialization of Christmas, but oh, how it really is about "something more".

John 10:10 also tells us that Jesus came to give us abundant life.

Now for the good part!!! I actually really enjoy watching this movie and laugh all throughout it, despite its' underlying evil plot, and my favorite part is when we witness the total transformation of the Grinch.

I especially love the scene in the remake version, where the Grinch is crying for the first time ever, and thinks he is "leaking". Then in that same moment, the clouds in the sky part, beautiful orange sunshine streaks burst through the clouds and fill the sky with a glowing light. (Click HERE if you would like to watch this scene)

Then.. something from the skies touches The Grinch's heart. He begins to feel all "toasty" inside - the warmth of love that has been absent for far too long - and his heart is changed forever.

Through the support and joy of his community, and a little heavenly intervention if I may, the Grinch transforms into something good, from something bad. He realizes that his total self absorption, lack of forgiveness, and bitterness has kept him captive in a world of complete alienation, filled with loneliness, discouragement and feelings of worthlessness.

Even though we know that the real-world grinch will never embrace redemption, what a wonderful scene it is, when the fictional Grinch finally comes to understand that Christmas really doesn't come from a store.....that Christmas truly is "something more".

Although the movie does not specify what that "something more" is - I think we all know. That "something more" is Jesus.

Only the love of Christ can cause someones hearts to grow three sizes and beat out of their chest. Only the love of Christ can cause us to "leak" tears of joy.

That "something more" is found in the realization that Christmas is not a holiday, but a feeling of absolute peace, stemming from the assurance that we are dearly loved by the Creator of the universe and that love is a gift. It is "Something More" that we cannot see with our eyes, but feel in our hearts.

Christmas is a state of heart and mind, which can never be stolen away - unless - we give the grinch permission to take it. Let's vow to never let the grinch steal Christmas again.

(Email subscribers may need to visit my blog to see the movie clips)

On Thursday, we'll take a deeper look at how the first grinch (Satan) tried and failed at stealing Christmas too.

Who Really Stole Christmas?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, December 2, 2011

Longing To Be Like Rudolph

If I were to ask you about a Christmas movie you remembered from childhood, I bet a lot of you would immediately say Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.

For some reason, Rudolph just seems to stick in our minds forever! How silly that one little rigid, clay reindeer can prick the hearts of children and adults for more than forty years. And how amazing, that no matter how many years pass, we always remember the words to the song!

If you ask me, there is a lot more to love about Rudolph than just a red nose, including his raspy voice, sweet personality, and selfless attitude. In fact, when I think about Rudolph, his shiny nose is not really what comes to mind at all.

You see, Rudolph lived a pretty hard life. He was born into a family that loved him, but desperately wished he were different. As a result his father Donner being ashamed of Rudolph's physical attributes, and because he did not look "normal" like all the other reindeer, he caused Rudolph to feel ashamed as well.  Unfortunately, Rudolph bought into the lie that he needed to try to fit in at any cost - even if it meant hiding who he really was (by covering his nose with black mud).

After a year of masking his flaws, Rudolph went out to flying practice. A little tussle with his friend Fireball caused his nose mud to fall off, and it all went downhill from there.

When everyone realized that Rudolph was different, he was ridiculed by peers and adults, and was eventually excluded and cast out, causing him to feel so humiliated that he ran away.

Sounds familiar doesn't it? Especially in today's society. Just like the real world -  people (kids and adults) can be mean, and their hurtful words and exclusionary tactics can cause permanent emotional damage.

So Rudolph ran away because he was ashamed of his imperfections, but it was exactly those imperfections, which caused him to meet up with Hermey -an elf who wanted to be dentist, and was who was feeling like an outcast as well.

Hermey and Rudolph were both desperate for acceptance. They were searching for someone, some place, some situation, where they would fit in and be accepted. They longed to be loved and accepted. Their hearts needed to know that they mattered, and that they had a purpose. And they found all those things in each other, and the journey that they embarked upon together.

I bet most of us would admit that there have been times when we felt a lot like Rudolph or Hermey.

Unaccepted. Criticized. Flawed. Different. Unloved. Cast out. Imperfect. Excluded. Sad. Lonely.Wandering.

In fact, sometimes the holidays can bring on more of these feelings than any other time of the year.

How unfortunate that a season of the year which is supposed to bring inclusiveness and love, can sometimes leave us feeling excluded and unloved more than any other time of the year..... and that is exactly why Rudolph is such a great example at the holidays.

You see, although Rudolph intially felt defeated, he pulled himself together and went on a search for his purpose and meaning. And what he thought was a flaw about himself, is the exact attribute that allowed him to find new friends, and new meaning in life.
With each other's support, their eyes were opened to see that even if they were 'misfits', that didn't have to stop them from pursuing something great. Yet the real change came when they stopped focusing on themselves, and started focusing on the needs of others instead.

They helped the prospector, who was driven by greed of silver and gold, to see the importance of friendship. They saved all the misfit toys and helped them find good homes. They made personal sacrifices so they could search and rescue their loved ones. Then they changed the heart of the abominable snowman.

Last but not least, Rudolph went down in history, because he led Santa's sleigh through the dense fog and Christmas was saved. He enlightened Christmas for many children. He gained respect and adoration from all who knew him. He shed his light, and made a difference.

Okay, okay. I promise, I really do know that Rudolph is a fictional character. Really. But still, dont you just love what he teaches us?

We all feel flawed, insecure, less than perfect, and sometimes, may even like a full blown misfit.

But God loves misfits - and all of us misfits are accepted by Him, and created for a unique purpose. We can either allow our insecurities and imperfections to keep us bound in shame or lack of confidence, or we can turn them over to God and ask how He wants to use them in a special way.

Rudolph, Hermey, all the misfits, the prospector, the abominable snowmen - they all thought they didn't fit in for one reason or another - but when they believed in themselves, and began to focus on impacting the lives of others, their lives were permanently changed.

About eleven years ago, I adopted Jeremiah 29:11 as my life theme verse. In fact, I have often said that God stalked with me that verse for several years. It kept popping up everywhere, all around me, in the least expected places and in the most unusual of ways.

God continued to put Jeremiah 29:11 in my face, until I finally tucked it into my heart.

Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." (NLT)

God sees our imperfections - in fact, He created them - and he has a predestined plan to use them to His glory - if we take our eyes off of ourselves, and place our eyes on Him instead.

There came a time in Rudolphs life, that he became immensely proud of his red nose - his light. He realized that his imperfection had a purpose, and it was good. He quit worrying about what others were thinking, and pursued the calling that he had been equipped to pursue.

John 1:4-5 says, "The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.The light shine in the darkness,and the darkness can never extinguish it." (NLT)

If we embrace what God calls us to do, then just like Rudolph, we can shed light in the darkness too - His light.

(email subscribers may need to visit my blog to view the movie clip if you do not see it below)

Longing To Be Like RudolphSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend