Conviction at Christmas

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Wishing You a Grinch-less Christmas!

Wishing You a Grinch-less Christmas!

Just before Thanksgiving, I signed on board with my SheLoves sisters to participate in Advent Acts of Kindness. We are each taking a day of this Advent season to share how God led us to practice kindness specifically and intentionally.

And as I told you yesterday, no one needs to tell us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I think I figured that out the first time I spent my own allowance on Christmas gifts for my sisters. The anticipation of giving is the best part. Once I’ve selected the perfect gift, it’s all I can think about until finally, I cave beneath the mounting pressure of a secret and unveil the spectacular surprise, long before I’ve wrapped it and sometimes even before the tree is decorated. So when Julie Fisk wrote the post encouraging us to, “Celebrate Advent in a way that serves Christ and others in a tangible, physical way,” true to form, I couldn’t wait until the designated time.

What follows is a slight expansion of what I shared with you yesterday; continued musings on the proper order of thanks and giving:

Believe it or not, fun as it may appear from one side of the counter, barista is often a thankless job. This year, I discovered that my go-to Starbucks, my home away from home, my third place, my pick-me-up, my happy spot, my daily dive, was going to be open on Thanksgiving Day and all…night…long. So my puppy, Brave, (who benefits from most every visit there, as well) packed an oversized, red and green gift bag.

We loaded it down with hand lotion, peppermint gum, granola bars and odds and ends and dropped it off Thanksgiving evening just as the Black Friday crowds encroached upon the covered portico.

Giving is contagious, in a better way than the stomach flu. Recipients are often supernaturally compelled to bestow blessings on the next person they meet, or to turn and heap graciousness right back on the lap of the giver. 

And so it happened here. I haven’t been allowed to pay for my coffee once since Thanksgiving. So, the war is on. Last week, as I pulled up into the parking lot after a brisk dog trot along the river walk, I noticed, for what seemed like the first time, Chick-fil-a, only a stone’s throw from the Starbuck’s drive thru.

I’ve worked in food service before. In spite of being surrounded by sticky buns, soft pretzels, yummy wraps and cake pops, I’m pretty sure that my barista-friends seek any other option for their lunch break. I hustled into Chick-fil-a, postponing my coffee fix. Moments later, I stood at the coffee counter ordering my decaf-quad-grade-no-room Americano. When Ryan smiled at me and waved me past the register at no charge, I placed a Chick-fil-a gift card in his hand.

But there are other things I’m learning this season, things beyond thankful smiles and the warm-fuzzies of knowing I lifted another’s spirit. My mind keeps blinking like a crazed strand of Christmas lights. That’s because this giving thing feels so good – energizing in fact. But it’s got me thinking too, why don’t I do this more often?

Where does intentionality go most months of the year?

Why am I missing out on this feeling of explosive joy so much of the time?

Another thought that keeps sputtering in my subconscious: I am so painfully selfish.
If you could shine a flash light into the corners and cobwebs of my mind, I’d be squeamish. It’s the little things.

Things like only being intentional about kindness during Advent.

The amount of mental energy wasted on deciding if I should buy a new pair of pants, and then if I need new boots to go with them.
Then returning them because I feel guilty and feeling self-conscious next to the woman wearing super cute boots at church.

Searching for the least expensive version of the toys I promised for the toy drive at my church. Not wanting to send out Christmas cards because of the time and energy it requires.

The fact that it’s so easy to buy something tiny for myself when I’m out shopping for gifts for others.

These thoughts are blinking off and on. They’re real, they are conviction, concern and curiosity. And I’m not completely sure what to do with them yet. But I know the crux of this is my obsession with myself. Oh how I want to be so other-minded, so Christ-consumed that I see myself only as the shadow cast by the reflection of my Father’s joy and His children’s blessing.

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Thanks Before Giving

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On Wednesday we talked about holidays perspectives. I also told you early this month about my commitment to join the Advent Acts of Kindness. 

I got an early start on this simply because Thanksgiving opened itself wide 0pen to me as we didn’t travel, visit or have company this year. Truthfully, it was one of the most fun Thanksgivings I’ve ever had.

Brave and I went up to The Medical Center to visit with patients on Thanksgiving afternoon. Honestly, the staff had made a concerted effort to discharge as many patients as possible before the special day. But when we got to the 7th floor, one of our favorite ladies was still patiently enduring the drip, drip, drip of an 80-hour chemo treatment.

Funny, I don’t even know her name, but it was the third time we’d seen her. Somehow, the formality of introductions never comes up, so quickly do we always launch into light hearted conversation. This time, she knew we were coming, because I’d promised her on Tuesday afternoon. Her father was sitting with her. As soon as we breached the doorway, she burst with happy tidings.

“Guess what, Brave,” she announced. “Papa brought you treats!”

Sure enough, the gentleman stretched, shook my hand and handed his daughter a plastic baggie full of dog biscuits. We stood and talked to them for nearly half an hour.

Brave and I enjoyed our visit so much and I dearly hope we brightened their holiday afternoon. But I was stymied by the joy and peace that emanated from that dreary hospital room even before we arrived. Obviously, this precious woman did not require much to experience gratitude.

Oh Father, let me know the impenetrable gratitude of a rescued heart. Let me overflow with thanksgiving despite all circumstances. Father, this Advent season, let my thankfulness begin with awe and appreciation for my Savior. 

When we left the hospital, Brave and I broke one of our holiday “codes”. We did go shopping – just briefly. While he waited in the car, I darted into Walgreens and stuffed a red gift bag with candy, granola bars, cookies, hand lotion and peppermint gum. On the drive home we stopped at our favorite Starbucks and delivered the goodies to the most energetic and kind baristas we know.

When I was growing up, they told me, “It’s better to give than to receive”. Perhaps Thanksgiving is the perfect evidence of that. Watching gratitude blossom in a sick, tired or stranger’s face is the most exquisite feeling I have ever had.

Turning the Other Cheek this Christmas

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Hi Everyone, I’m joining my SheLoves Sisters here, and doing this: Advent Acts of Kindness. (Both links are very informative and helpful to explain the whole process which is actually very simple.)

I hope you’ll join me! For once let’s not just talk about decommercializing Christmas, and perhaps not even fight the hype. Instead, this project feels a little like turning the other cheek, to me. We’re not ranting about Santa, stores and stinginess. We’re not resolving, rejecting or reframing.

We are simply sharing the overflowing Love and Joy of Christ this Christmas, multiplying our giving, highlighting His generosity and loving others as He loves us. 

Merry Christmas!

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P.S. I know you hardcore “No Christmas ’till after Thanksgiving” folks are wagging your finger at me. Believe, I’ve been you (still am to a degree). But this project requires just a tiny bit of planning, so I figured I’d give you a head start. Also, perhaps we wouldn’t get so bent out of shape about Christmas overshadowing Thanksgiving if we behaved as we believe: Jesus didn’t just come once to a stable, but that He lives here and NOW in our hearts. 

Again, Merry Christmas!

Little Miss Mary, Perhaps not so Saintly?

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At Christmas time, second only to fame of baby Jesus, is that of the virgin Mary. In fact, in many instances, she’s not even the runner up, but the main character celebrated in the Nativity. As the story goes, the perfect, serene, pious, humble virgin drew God’s attention. Because of her near perfection, He chose her to bear His one and only begotten son. But where do we get this idea?

As I read through Luke 2 and Matthew 1 this year, a couple things struck me as off kilter from my usual Christmas perceptions. First is Mary. What do we know of her prior to the angel’s visit announcing her conception of Jesus. Absolutely nothing! Imagine what her life must have been like. What if Mary wasn’t gentle? What if Mary hadn’t been fully submissive to her parents? What if Mary once slipped an apple in her pocket as she passed a fruit stand in the market? What if Mary felt guilty about a few little white lies? What if?

Previous people had found favor with God:

Noah, who ended up passed out, drunk and naked in his tent had found favor with God. (Gen. 6:8)

Abraham who lied because he didn’t trust God to care for him, found favor with God. (Gen. 18:3)

Moses, a murderer with a fierce temper found favor in the eyes of God. (Ex. 33:12)

So what of Mary? Perhaps she wasn’t so saintly. I don’t mean to disparage her, but I do think that Christendom must be wary, lest we idolize a mere human, on whom God decided to bestow favor. Did you catch that?

God decided to bestow favor. God’s favor came, not in response to anything Mary had done. I wonder if that’s why God didn’t tell us all about Mary’s life prior to become Jesus’ mother. It wasn’t important to God that Mary be perfect. He was sending Jesus to be the sacrifice for all of Mary’s failures – past, present and future. None of her little white lies, temper tantrums, disobedience or failures would ever be able to count against her.

Mary found favor because Jesus found favor.

Consider this New Year’s resolution: I will cease to work to earn God’s favor. I will stop tallying my good and balancing it against my bad. I will stop groveling before the throne of God. I will instead boldly yet struck by awe, revel in God’s favor because of Jesus.

A Greater Christmas

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I have never met anyone who argued that the man Jesus didn’t exist. Historians, secular and religious alike, recorded his footsteps through the dust of history. Religions that deny His deity, dare not deny His humanity.

But from the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, God set up time to declare the greatness of His one and only begotten son, Jesus. In Genesis 1:24, God declared that His creation was good. All aspects of creation met God’s favor in His three word blessing: mammals, fish, birds, plants, light, water, everything… except man. When God made man, He observed His masterpiece and declared that man was very good.

And Jesus was a man. Jesus came in human flesh, so at the very least He was good. But He was so much more.

“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33

Declare the Greatness of Jesus today, our Deliverer and Salvation.

Peace Presents

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I see the boxes ‘neath a verdant tree,

Of size and corners, of soft and flat.

Of tiny bows and licked envelopes.

Near are socks pinned to the mantle

Empty, gaping, hungry for the treats of Christmas Eve.

 

One question remains.

 

Good or bad? Worthy or not?

Will favor extend till Christmas morn?

Or with harsh words or one false step

This bounty quick be shorn?

 

Tiny, faceless, serene nearby

A wooden manger scene. A Prince of Peace.

One given and never recalled.

Given for liars and lonely, good and bad.

Given a bounty for hearts who will believe.

And behold, a gift again,

Peace on earth, goodwill to men.

 

This Peace eternal

Not as the world gives. Not for reciprocating or to the worthy.

Not wrapped or hidden

Never retracted.

Peace given.

Peace left.

In a name, in a babe.

Through a Prince who knew no peace.

Spread to me before assailant and foe.

Peace, a feast.

Amid green meadows, still waters.

 

This verdant tree will wither.

Gifts peeled, received or returned.

Praise the Prince! This giver of Peace!

Not as the world gives

But for the eternal enjoyment of my soul.

Who Do You Believe In?

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Recently, I was at the mall with a friend. We peered down from the second floor at the the Christmas bustle. There was a monstrous tree dangling from the ceiling. Fake snow flounced around life-sized toy trains, comical elves and of course, Jolly Old Saint Nick. I almost pitied the poor guy in costume when I heard them announce that he will be at the mall every single day from 9-6 until Christmas Eve. Especially since I’m sure not all the visiting kiddos made the “nice” list, December is going to be a long month!images

Then, I was running this morning, past decorations and lights, yard-sized nativity scenes and plastic reindeer on roofs. My mind flickered back to the mall, something seemed similar. Do you remember the story in Mark 10:13-16, when crowds of children were brought to see Jesus?

Bunches (the Bible doesn’t say how many) of parents brought their children to see Jesus. And not just to see Him, they wanted Jesus to touch them, to bless them. I imagine moms waiting impatiently in line while their rowdy children pressed forward, oblivious to any sense of order. Doubtless, they had heard about this man. Maybe they thought he was magical – he healed people, walked on water, turned water into wine!

Every single year, in the crowded center of the mall, hundreds of children cluster around a smiling old man, whom they are told is magical and can fill their every wish – if they are good.

Hmmm…that’s not so like Jesus.

Remember the disciples trying to protect Jesus from the crush? I’m sure they were irritated by snotty-nosed youngsters. They probably noted a few who should be on the “naughty” list and decided it was best to keep them out of Jesus’ way. They gently pushed the children backward and told their parents not to bother Jesus.

But Jesus stopped them. 

“Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.” Mark 10:14

Jesus pulled the children onto His lap, put his hands on them and blessed them. Did you notice what was left out? Jesus didn’t ask them, “Were you a good boy?” Instead, His love was accepting, unconditional and extravagant.

jesus-shares-time-with-the-children-GoodSalt-dmtas0089Now, let me take some literary license. Children are told that in order to get presents, they must believe in Santa Clause and be good. Obviously, if they don’t believe, coal will be their Christmas reward.

We don’t know if these children were of the decision making age, or if even their parents believed or cared that Jesus was the Messiah. But Jesus didn’t question them. He simply opened His arms and blessed them. He explained to the thicker-headed adults that a child-like faith is the key to the kingdom of God. All we must do to inherit eternal life is to believe that: JESUS IS THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD. THAT HE DIED FOR OUR SINS, ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES. THAT HE WAS BURIED AND ROSE AGAIN IN THREE DAYS, ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES. 

I urge you, make some noise about the truth of Christmas this year. There are thousands of adults who don’t believe – in the only hope for their souls. And Jesus invites them.

Christmas Colors: Black and Red

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One of the most contentious issues around Christmas is money. It’s not uncommon to hear people talk about digging themselves out of holiday debt come January. Retailers revel over the black in their checkbooks, while consumers cry over their bleeding bottom line.

For many Christians, the concept of debt is a touchy one. There are the pious few who shun credit cards, and a majority who long for the day when they can pay off all their plastic.

Recently, I heard a financial adviser speak on debt-proofing Christmas. She had tons of wonderful ideas for keeping Christmas traditions while eliminating or minimizing the cost. Wonderful ideas, good ideas, useful ideas.

However, following that interview, I got into a discussion on marital finances with my sisters. That prompted me to re-examine my perspective on money, debt, borrowers and lenders. What exactly does the Bible say?

Once when I was young, my dad loaned me money to purchase a bike. The plan was for me to earn my allowance and other funds to slowly pay off my debt. Truthfully, I don’t recall how many nights passed, but I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake thinking about how sinful, terrible and scary it was to owe someone something. One night, I climbed out bed, ran to my dad and begged him to let me take the money out of my savings account so that I could be free of this terrible debt.

Therein, I think, lies one of the Biblical cautions against debt. It invokes fear. There’s a feeling of inferiority to the person who holds the debt. That emotion, in and of itself is not Biblical. As children of God, we are not beneath or subservient to anyone. Neither should our lifestyle reflect that we are.

The problem with debt is that from either side, it is completely contrary to our personhood in Christ. We are called to be like our Father. Our God is beneath no one, in need of nothing and under no fear or condemnation. Neither are we. To live in a lifestyle of borrowing and owing is not to look like our Father.

In the relationship between a borrower and lender, Proverbs tell us the borrower is servant to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7) Consider these two roles. Both encourage an attitude that is un-Christ-like. The lien holder has the tendency to feel superior and to lord his influence and power over the borrower. The borrower is beholden, and legally bound to his benefactor.

Throughout the Old Testament, God laid out parameters  for borrowing and lending. If to do either was sinful, God would not have explained how to do so honorably. God tells the Israelites to lend freely but never to be in debt to another nation. I believe God does this for the sake of His own name.

“The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.” (Duet. 28:12)

“And I prayed to the LORD, ‘O Lord GOD, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin,lest the land from which you brought us say, “Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.” (Duet 9:26-28)

For the glory of His own name, God protected and provided for His people. He does the same today. Essentially, borrowing displays a lack of trust in God’s faithful provision.

A final criteria for Christians to consider regarding debt, is motive. More often that not, debt is acquired by greed. There is an insatiable longing for something that God has not previously provided, so in self-sufficiency we run to our own means for satisfaction.

Finally, in the New Testament, Paul instructs his listeners to own no man anything but a debt of love. Think of how you feel when you owe someone money. It is usually a pressure, a frustration, a burden. However, when love has been given, to return it ten fold is a joy, a pleasure!

God longs for His people to reflect His nature. God longs for His people to trust his sufficiency. And God longs for His people to experience the joy of effusively giving love.

Can we apply this to our checkbooks?

 

 

Missing Beauty

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Like a child at Christmas

New to a world of unbridled joy

Toys and gifts unshelved and labeled just for me

Scantily wrapped in bows to entice

And to celebrate the more beautiful giver

With an eye to Glory and Grace.

 

But I ran through the piles,

Stepped on a few.

Past love and peace and a new set of eyes.

Past my new heart and a clean mind.

I reached for the lowest branch,

And plucked an eye catching bauble.

As I turned the plastic charm around in my palm

Narcissus, I boasted in my glossy reflection.

Oh the prize of this cheap decor.

 

But a hook skewered my finger

Biting my pink, immature flesh

It held and my blood dripped upon

The beautiful gifts meant for me.

TaDA! Another Year Down, One Closer to Christ’s Return!

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Oh Friends,

What I precious time I’ve had getting to know you this year. And what generous readers you are to put up with my chatter, my learning, my sharing, and doubtless, my typos!

There’s one more day this year. Today, the 30th, Patrick and I are setting off for Oklahoma. We’ll spend a few days with his family and then travel to Kansas to spend sometime with my parents. The sad part is that my sisters were in KS for Christmas, and by the time I get there, they will have returned to TX and jobs and family life. I will arrive in the wake of some real excitement though…

JORDAN JUST PROPOSED TO RACHELLE!! My next planned trip to the midwest will hopefully their wedding! There is no way to express my joy that Jordan will now be my brother (I’ve accidentally been calling him that for quite a while now). And no one, I mean no one, is God more happy to bless than Rachelle. Her heart for Jesus and desire to love those He loves is unparalleled.

Obviously, Christmas will have passed. But Patrick and I will arrive in Oklahoma in time to take in OSU’s bowl game. We’re going to go to old stomping grounds, Eskimo Joe’s, (where we feel really old) to watch the game. Hopefully, some friends will join us.

So, on to business. January. If you had asked me 15 years ago if I expected to see 2012, I would have said no. I didn’t believe I would live that long. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to live that long. Thank the Lord that He doesn’t ask us for our opinion on His sovereign plans. To this end, I have been asked to review Simple Steps. I can’t tell you much yet, except that it is a UK website aiming to help those suffering from eating disorders. We’ll discover this treasure together as I review it for a week in January.

Also, I have joined a book review program with Moody Publishers. I will be reading, reviewing and giving away a copy of one of their books each month (Lord willing) starting in January. That will take a week of our time together as well. As you know, I am a Moody disciple – devouring everything from their radio programs to their books, to their Bible studies, to their continuing education courses to…I’m sure I have yet to discover all they have to offer.

That only covers 2 weeks of January. I trust that God will continue to teach me about Himself- the very Truth Himself. I promise to share everything with you so that together we can combat the enemy of our souls. For one week, I will delve into the truth that God has been teaching me about men. Now that could get interesting! The truth about our differences, the joy in those differences and certainly the pain. I’ll include stories, juicy ones sometimes using my marriage as a case study. Finally, I will offer related resources.

And the fourth week… NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS.  I don’t make them. Enough said??