Peace and the heart of Christmas

This Christmas, we are celebrating with not just one, but two new kittens in our family.

Every  morning I check to see what they got into during the night.  Which ornament, which light strand, which bit of garland, which wise man have  they pulled down or knocked down.

I have stopped one kitten from climbing up the middle of our Christmas tree on several occasions and rescued this same kitten when his claws got stuck to the garland and lights strung over a door.  He was hanging from them like a mountain climber repelling off a mountain.

Wrapping paper is their favorite closely followed by empty boxes and ornament hooks that they’ve detached from the ornaments they’ve knocked to the ground.

Oh, Christmas is a wonder of excitement to these two little guys and they are certainly keeping me on my toes.

They are also prodding my heart about something:

The purpose of Christmas, the very heart of God’s heart in sending His Son, is peace.  It is RECONCILIATION.

We adopted our new kittens from the Humane Society.  They apparently had been dropped off at the shelter together.  They spent time in a cage together there before spending the next several weeks of their lives on display at a pet store in a different cage—still together.

We kept going to the pet store for supplies for our other animals and seeing these two playful kittens.  Why weren’t they getting adopted?

Finally, we decided we needed to be their family only to learn as we signed our name to the adoption papers that others had been interested in taking one of the kittens, but never both of them.  Until us.

That was what the Humane Society had been looking for the whole time, a family who wanted to keep the kittens together since they’d never been apart.

And we see this at work in these little guys.  The very first week we brought them home, they were getting bolder, adventuring into new places around our house.

Then we heard the crying.  It was the saddest, quickest succession of meows we had ever heard, not  a hurt cry, but a deeply sad cry.  One lone kitten walked by, meowing as he searched from room to room for the other kitten.

Even now, after almost four months with us, if one kitten can’t find the other kitten, we hear the crying and we watch the searching.

I’ve been meditating this Christmas season on God’s heart for Christmas, the lengths He went through to reach us and bring us back to Him.  His divine plan initiated in the Garden of Eden was this:  the moment we chose sin, He made provision for grace.  He began preparing the world for its Savior, Jesus Christ, to bring reconciliation.

Then the appointed time came, after waiting and waiting, after anticipation and heartbreak, after God’s faithfulness despite His people’s unfaithfulness.

Jesus was born, a tiny helpless baby born to a poor,  seemingly insignificant couple in the lowest of circumstances—surrounded by animals, hay, and the scent of a barn.

The angels rang out the Good News:

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14 NASB)

The prophet Isaiah had promised that He would be the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Peace.

Jesus brought peace, and Jesus is still bringing that yet-to-be-attained peace.  

He brought us peace with God.  Paul says Jesus was God’s gift of reconciliation to the world:

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation ( 2 Corinthians 5:18-29 NLT)

We were divided from God, cut off from His presence.  Sin disrupted our relationship with Him, but grace bridged the gap.   Through Jesus, we can be at peace with God.

So He sends us to bring that peace to others:

Paul tells us that God brought us peace, so we now bring peace.  We are ambassadors to the world, carrying the message and ministry of reconciliation so that others can be made right with God.

And He commissions us as peacemakers:

Jesus’s heart is for peace:  Peace between us and God, peace between us and others.  He says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 NASB).

Peace is the heart of our Prince of Peace.
Is it mine? 

Peace is the fruit I bear when the Spirit is at work within me. 
Am I bearing this fruit?

Peace-making is a sure sign that I am His Child.
Can others see His heart for peace in me?

Bible Verses and a Prayer for Thanksgiving

  • 1 Chronicles 16:34 NIV
    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
        his love endures forever.
  • 1 Chronicles 29:13 NASB
     Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name.
  • Psalm 7:17 NIVI will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness;
        I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.
  • Psalm 9:1 NASB
    I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart;thanks1
    I will tell of all Your wonders.
  • Psalm 28:7 NASB
    The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped;
    Therefore my heart exults,
    And with my song I shall thank Him.
  • Psalm 30:12 NASB
    That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
  • Psalm 69:30 NASB
    I will praise the name of God with song
    And magnify Him with thanksgiving.
  • Psalm 75:1 NASB
    We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks,
    For Your name is near;
    Men declare Your wondrous works.
  • Psalm 86:12 NASB
    I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
    And will glorify Your name forever
  • Psalm 95:2-3 (NIV)
    Let us come before him with thanksgivingthanks2

        and extol him with music and song.
    For the Lord is the great God,
        the great King above all gods.
  • Psalm 100:4 NIV
    Enter his gates with thanksgiving
        and his courts with praise;
        give thanks to him and praise his name.
  • Psalm 105:1 NASB
    Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name;
    Make known His deeds among the peoples.
  • Psalm 106:1 NIV
    Praise the Lord.
    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
        his love endures forever.
  • Psalm 107:1 NASB
    Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
    For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
  • Isaiah 12:4 ESV
    And you will say in that day:thanks4
    “Give thanks to the Lord,
        call upon his name,
    make known his deeds among the peoples,
    proclaim that his name is exalted.
  • Jeremiah 33:11 ESV
    the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord:“‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts,   for the Lord is good,
        for his steadfast love endures forever!’
    For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the Lord.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:4-5 NIV
    I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—
  • 2 Corinthians 4:15 NIV
    All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 
  • 2 Corinthians 9:11-12 NIV
    You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.
  • 2 Corinthians 9:15 NASBthanks8
     Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
  • Ephesians 1:15-16 NIV
    For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people,  I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
  • Ephesians 5:20 NASB
    always giving thanks for all thingsin the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;
  • Philippians 4:6 NASB
    Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
  • Colossians 2:6-7 ESV
     Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,  rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
  • Colossians 3:15-17 NASB
     Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanksthrough Him to God the Father.
  • Colossians 4:2 NASB
    Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB
     in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
  • 1 Timothy 4:4-5 NIV
    For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,  because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.thanks7
  • Philemon 1:4 NASB
    thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers
  • Hebrews 12:28-29 ESV
     Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,  for our God is a consuming fire.

 

 

thanksgiving-prayer

Bible Verses and a Prayer about the Resurrection Life

  • Job 19:25 ESV
    For I know that my Redeemer lives,
        and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
  • Isaiah 25:8 ESV
    He will swallow up death forever;
    and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
        and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
        for the Lord has spoken.
  • Luke 24:46-47 ESV
    and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
  • John 11:25-26 ESV
    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?
  • Romans 6:4 ESV
    We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
  • Romans 6:5 ESV
    For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
  • Romans 8:11 ESV
    If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
  • Romans 8:34 ESV
    Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
  • Romans 10:9 ESV
    because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:14 ESV
    And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV
    For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV
    And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 ESV
    For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
  • Philippians 3:10 ESV
    that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death
  • 2 Timothy 2:11 ESV
    The saying is trustworthy, for:

    If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

  • 1 Peter 1:3 ESV
    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
  • 1 Peter 1:21 ESV
    who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Please join me over at (in)courage today!

WILL YOU JOIN ME?

Today I’m posting in an amazing community for women called ‘(in)courage’  to remind us of this:

Here at the start of a new year, may our prayers be simple and true: “Your will this year, not mine, Lord. Your will, not mine.”

Then, we open our hands to God, allowing Him to exchange His best plans for our faulty ones. We hold lightly to our own hopes, goals, plans, resolutions, and dreams for the year, and we hold tightly to the God who loves us so much He chose the cross.

I’m thrilled and honored to be sharing this message with the (in)courage community and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to click this link and join me over there today.  It would be a true joy to ‘see some familiar faces!’

You can click here to read the whole post over on the (in)courage page.  I’d be truly blessed if you’d leave me a comment on their site!  I’ll be popping in throughout the day to reply.

If you love the (in)courage site as much as I do, you can also sign up here to receive free daily encouragement from the writers of (in)courage, right in your inbox!

While I’d love for you to visit me over at (in)courage today, I ask for your prayers above all. May God be glorified and His people be encouraged by this message of hope in His faithfulness!

Thanks so much for the prayers and the help in sharing this message with others!

This is why we don’t have to be afraid

My son listened this year as I told the Christmas story to  a gathering of prechoolers and he reviewed it for me over the next few days.

He told me about Mary and about Joseph and about the angels.  He told me how Jesus was God but a baby and how Christmas was Jesus’ birthday.

Then, he told me how Jesus ate a lot of food, got bigger and didn’t stay a baby anymore.

Got it.

But he also says this:  “The angels kept saying, “Don’t be afraid!”

They kept saying that.  Over and over.  Those angels had this resounding message of  joy and they prefaced it with the command to “fear not.”

As we finish one year, as we prepare for the next, as we look to the unknown and the new and the yet-to-come, how do we let this message change us and change our perspective?

How do we renew hope?   How do  we quiet fears ?

 

after all,  THE GOSPEL MESSAGE IS ALL ABOUT HOPE FOR THE HOPELESS, LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS, JOY IN SORROW AND PEACE IN TURMOIL.

It’s for those hopeless enough to feel like one more day alive is too much to bear.

It’s for those of us watching the clock at night, too worried about bills and our kids, our marriages, conflicts with family, or problems at work to sleep in peace.

It’s even for a worrier like me, anxious over the little things like birthday parties and church programs and a fresh calendar awaiting the activities of a new year.

It’s for the daily troubles that we turn into crises and for the life-and-death struggles we sometimes face.

IT’S THE REMINDER THAT GOD CAME HERE TO BE WITH US SO WE WOULDN’T BE ALONE, AND HE WILL NOT LEAVE OUR SIDE.

That’s the hope we have.  Not us alone in a crazy, mixed-up, broken world.  Not us alone facing bills and divorce, depression or stress.

Not us alone against any road-bumps ahead in the days to come.

Emmanuel.  God with us.

As it says in Isaiah:

“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Fear not.

That’s the loudest message from the Christmas story.  The one grand announcement over and over: “Do not be afraid.”  That’s what my son reminds me.

That wasn’t just God’s plan for our past.  It’s been His passion from the beginning of Creation—to be with us.  It was His driving desire all those years of patiently planning for our salvation through Christ’s coming, His death, His resurrection.

It’s the great passion of God’s heart even now.  In the book of Revelation, we’re told that when the battle is over and Christ establishes His forever kingdom, God will say:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

We close another Christmas season.  We stop playing the carols.  We pack up the decorations.

We make resolutions and plans for the new year.

But this is what we carry with us; this is the hope we have every single day:

HE CHOSE TO BE WITH US SO WE COULD CHOOSE TO BE WITH HIM.

So we do not need to be afraid of facing anything in this life alone.

God is with us.

Originally published December 28, 2015

Bible Verses about Worship at Christmas

  • Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV
    For to us a child is born,
        to us a son is given;
    and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
        and his name shall be called[e]
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
        Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Of the increase of his government and of peace
        there will be no end,
    on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
        to establish it and to uphold it
    with justice and with righteousness
        from this time forth and forevermore.
    The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
  • Matthew 2:10-11 ESV
    When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
  • Luke 1:44 ESV
     For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
  • Luke 1:46-55 ESV
    Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat
    46 And Mary said,
    “My soul magnifies the Lord,
    47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
    49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
    50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
    51 He has shown strength with his arm
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
    52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
    53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.-
    54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
    55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
  • Luke 2:13-14 ESV
    And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
    14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
  • Luke 2:20 ESV
    And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
  • Luke 2:38 ESV
     And coming up at that very hour she (Anna) began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The amazing, astonishing, startling, unexpected grace of Christmas

I pieced the shepherd back together yesterday.

One night while I was out this past week, apparently there was a crash, the kind that happens when child meets breakable object.  The shepherd in our nativity took a tumble and  was left in pieces.  His lamb was missing wool.  He was missing a hand and a foot and a corner of his robe.

So, I puzzled it out piece by piece with a bottle of super glue until he looked presentable again.

This isn’t the first brokenness in our nativity.

There’s a wise men who has had some patching up, as well.  A few years ago, he crashed and lost his head and a foot.  Super glue saved the day then, too.

I bought the set years and years ago for $6 at a church yard sale, and I love it.  Truly love it.  It’s not porcelain white with gold trim.  It’s not handcrafted wood.  It’s not expensive or fancy.  It was a bargain,  well-loved, used, and slightly the worst for wear.

It’s been a little broken even from the beginning for me.  Our donkey came to us with one ear missing.  So, this little set has some history.

But I love it. There’s something about these figures that draws me, their individual expressions and personality,  the colorfulness of it all, maybe.

Maybe the beauty is simply this: Jesus didn’t come all pristine and showy.  He didn’t come gilded or gorgeous, lofty and high.

He came so low.  He came to  the humblest and the small.  He came to the broken.

He came to us.

I see this heart in Mary when she sang with astonishment at the angel’s message.  She would be the mother of the Savior! Her!  Not some princess or queen, not a woman of position and power, not a matriarch of a rich family,

Young.  Single.  Poor.

Mary sang:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name (Luke 1:36-49).

Her song rings with astonishment.  Not just that God would do  this miraculous work, but that He would do these great things “for me.”

In his book, Hidden Christmas, Timothy Keller writes:

We should be just as shocked that God would give us—with all our smallness and flaws—such a mighty gift.

God  does this.  He chooses the humble.   Scripture reminds us of God’s heart:

Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud
(Psalm 138:6 NLT)

The Lord supports the humble, but he brings the wicked down into the dust.
(Psalm 147:6 NLT)

For the Lord delights in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.
(Psalm 149:4 NLT)

So he chooses this girl Mary, and when He does she marvels at the way this is so topsy-turvy, so against the world’s expectations and plans:

He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty (Luke 1:51-53). 

He has blessed not the mighty, but the humble,  not the rich, but the hungry.

How startling that God would choose her.

And he chooses simple shepherds.  He chooses foreigners, Gentiles, from a far off nation to carry the gold and the frankincense and the myrrh to worship this new King.  He chooses the tiny town of Bethlehem; He chooses a stable, not a palace in the capital city.

How startling that God would choose them. 

It’s an astonishment we need ourselves:  How startling that God would choose us:  love us, save us, call us, use us.

Us!  Yes, us, the broken ones gathered around the nativity, held together by super glue with our cracks still evident upon up-close inspection.

 

Timothy Keller continues in his book this way:

“no Christian should ever be far from this astonishment that ‘I, I of all people, should be loved and embraced by his grace!” (Hidden Christmas)

It’s a surprise that shakes us out of complacency and into awe-filled worship.  Our God, so mighty, so worthy of praise, He “has done great things for me!”  Yes, He has done this even for me, even when I was lost, even when I’m imperfect, even when I mess up, even when I’m broken, even when I don’t  have it all together.

Such grace.  Such amazing grace.

There’s No Surprising Him #Advent

When my older girls were preschoolers, we’d keep every activity a secret until the last possible second.

If I planned to take them to the zoo, they’d find out that morning at 8:30 when I put on their sneakers and packed the cooler.

If Grandma was coming for a visit, they found out when she pulled in the driveway.  Maybe, just maybe, I’d be generous enough to clue them in a few hours before she arrived.  But that was it.  No more advance notice than that.

This parental strategy was for several reasons.

  1. Sometimes plans change, so I kept things secret so no promises were broken or kids felt disappointed.
  2. My children would pester me every hour of every day if they knew something exciting was going to happen.  “How much longer?  How many days?  How many hours…minutes….seconds?”

One year, I kept the secret that Grandma was coming right up until the night before her visit when some unforeseen event dragged the news out of me at bedtime.

Disaster ensued.  Huge childhood drama.

My oldest daughter wailed, grumped, and grew outrageously angry at me for keeping the secret.

I had not given her acceptable planning time.  She informed me, “Had I known Grandma was coming, I would have made her a project.  I had time to make a project today. Tomorrow will be too busy and I will not have time.  You should have told me!”

Oh sweet daughter, I understand.

I do truly hate surprises.  I love my planning and processing time. Springing anything on me is just asking for a meltdown and a whole lot of trouble.

Surprises rock our world a bit, even good ones.  We’re thrown off balance and take time to adjust.

And isn’t Christmas all about surprises?

Zechariah was simply performing his priestly duties when an angel appeared unexpectedly and delivered the news that he and his wife would be parents.

Gabriel arrived in the middle of an average, ordinary day and announced to a young girl named Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

Joseph was sleeping when the angel told him the news in a dream.

Shepherds gathered on the hills outside of Bethlehem to watch over the sheep just as they did every single night.  But on this night, the angels declared their Savior had come.

A people who had spent hundreds of years praying for the Messiah, searching for the Messiah, waiting and longing for the Messiah were completely surprised when the Messiah came.

It’s altogether an astonishing tale.  Everyone waking up on an average day, going about their average ways, and then the most extraordinary happens: An encounter with an angel.  A miraculous sign.

God at work in their midst.

There’s only one member of this entire Christmas account who isn’t stunned and surprised by the Messiah’s birth.

God Himself.

And this brings me great comfort.

NONE OF THIS WAS A SURPRISE TO GOD.

Not our need for a Savior. Not the timing.  Not that He’d send His Son to be born of a virgin in a tiny town.  Not that His Son would die on a cross to save His people from their sins.

He knew all of it.

The very first Christmas verse I can find in the Bible isn’t in the Gospels at all.  It’s in Genesis.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV). 

The moment Adam and Eve sinned, God declared the plan of salvation, the war with Satan, and Christ’s ultimate victory.

Sometimes surprises can send me into a mad scramble.  Life takes unexpected turns.  An average ordinary day can catapult me into a crisis with a single phone call.

It feels precarious and frightening to teeter-totter every moment, never knowing when my perfect plan will be bumped into.

But this is what I know:

Even when I don’t have a plan, God does.

Nothing sends Him into a frantic search for a Plan B.  Nothing stresses Him out or tosses Him into crisis mode because He didn’t see that coming.

God knew we’d need a Savior all along and He knew exactly how to save us.

God always knows what we’re going through and what we need.  Even when we’re surprised, He is not.

So we can rest from our vigil of anxiety and loosen our tight-fisted grip on control.

Christmas reminds us that we can trust Him with today and again with tomorrow.

He has perfect plans and perfect timing and we are perfectly cared for by a God who rescues and saves.

Originally published 12/7/2016

The Light Shines Best Through the Darkness #Advent

My son decisively flicks off the overhead lights in the kitchen.

This is inconvenient since I am actually cooking dinner at that precise moment.

So, I flick the lights back on and thereby initiate a light battle.

Off. On.  Off. On.

Finally, he pushes down the switch one more time and says, “Mom, it’s pretty!”

That’s when he points to the Christmas lights:  Our Victorian village with houses, stores, a library and church all glowing; The garland strung with lights surrounding our nativity scene; the Christmas tree glowing from the living room.

Everywhere there is light.

But it shows up best against the darkness and he knows it.

So, I acquiesce a bit because I understand this quest for beauty.

When I need to see into the back recesses of the cabinet, I turn the switch on.  When I’m finished digging out ingredients and just stirring them into the pot on the stove, I keep it off.

Maybe my son and I are kindred spirits in this.

Each morning, before I have shuffled over to the teapot to heat water for my tea, before I have poured cereal into the bowl for my toddler, before I have fed the cat, I journey around our home and plug in every string of Christmas lights we have.

Only then am I prepared to start the day’s routine.

And throughout the day, I work and clean and write by the light of tiny Christmas bulbs whenever possible.

The light and the glow bring me a sweet, indefinable peace and a little bit of extra joy. It reminds me that even when I feel surrounded by darkness, the Light has come.

That is what Christmas is.

That is what Christmas promises.

Isaiah prophesied:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2 ESV).

What a blinding revelation of God’s glory as the Light of Christ shot through the darkness into a Bethlehem night.

So many missed it, though.  So many didn’t see.

But the angels declared it.  The shepherds worshiped. The wise men followed.

And Zechariah sang a song of praise to God at his own son’s birth because he knew the Light was coming:

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace (Luke 1:78-79 MSG).    

Maybe I enjoy my son’s pronouncements that the Christmas decorations are “pretty” because I need the reminder to actually look and see.

Too often I’m the one missing it instead of following His glory like Zechariah and those angels and shepherds and wise men long ago.

This year might have worn us down.  It might have exhausted our souls and depleted our reserves of hope.

We’re so desperate for His Light in our darkness.

This week I read in the Psalms a verse that perfectly described my heart this year:

My eyes strain to see your rescue, to see the truth of your promise fulfilled.  Psalm 119:123

We want to see.  We desperately, deeply want to see promises fulfilled, rescue coming, salvation here, prayers answered.

Yet, still we wait.

Advent reminds me to keep looking, keep straining my eyes to see, keep hunting for the Light like it’s the greatest treasure and the truest longing of my soul.

Because Advent is all about the longing, the seeking and searching, the expectant wait and the assurance that the promises are fulfilled.

Christ indeed came.

God’s people didn’t wait forever.

Finally, in God’s perfect timing, the Light cut through the darkness and it shone on His people.

But here’s what else I realize as my son points to the “pretty” lights…

Sometimes we need others to reveal the light for us.

Just like we languish in the darkness, just like we long for hope, for joy, for peace, so do those around us.

And maybe this year, instead of worrying over the darkness ourselves, we can help point to the Light just as Zechariah did in his song of praise.  Just like the angels did as they declared “Glory to God in the Highest.”

Just as the shepherds did as they ran out of the stable to tell everyone about “this thing that has happened.”

Just as the wise men did as they laid their gifts before the small Messiah.

The joy of the light isn’t just in the seeing; it’s in the sharing.

May we see the Light of Christ cut through the darkness this year.

May we also share the Light of Christ, may we seek out ways to be light so that others can learn to see, too.

Originally published 12/2/2016

Bible Verses about God’s Gifts to Us

  • Ecclesiastes 3:13 ESV
    also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
  • Matthew 7:11 ESV
    If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
  • Luke 11:13 ESV
    If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
  • Luke 12:32 ESV
    Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
  • John 3:16 ESV
    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  • John 4:10 ESV
    Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
  • Acts 2:38 ESV
     And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  • Ephesians 2:8 ESV
    For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
  • Romans 5:17 ESV
    For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
  • Romans 6:23 ESV
    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • Romans 11:29 ESV
    For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable
  • Romans 12:6 ESV
    Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;
  • 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 ESV
    To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
    For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
  • 2 Corinthians 9:15 ESV
     Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
  • 2 Timothy 1:6 ESV
    For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands,
  • Hebrews 2:3-4 ESV
    how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
  • James 1:5 ESV
    If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
  • James 1:17 ESV
    Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
  • James 4:6 ESV
    But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
  • 1 Peter 4:10 ESV
    As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:
  • 1 John 3:1 ESV
    See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.