Forget the glamorous and polished looks. Go simple this season. That's how Jesus did it.
That first Christmas was dirty and dingy and wasn't attended by anyone important. There weren't even any gifts that night. The gifts came later when the important dudes showed up.
For the next two weeks my BBC (Blunt Bible Club) kids, the teenagers in my church, two adults and me are preparing for our Christmas play performance which is scheduled for Friday, Dec 20 at 7 p.m. I wrote the play. It is called I Believe.
It is the Christmas story we all love. It has a bit of humor and a bit of singing.
I've been fretting about it. We will really only have two practices before the performance, but I chose simplicity recently and it has made it a whole lot better. I walked through it myself last weekend and cut out a few blocks of dialogue. The costumes will much simpler than originally planned. And there will only one prop that needs to be moved a couple of times. That is the manger.
Go simple this season. A lot of stuff is not necessary. I love the presents. I'm totally not against presents. They are so much fun to give. And I'm not against parties -- enjoy yourself (though I don't do parties normally. I'd rather sit in bed and read a book).
But focus on relationships, building them, making them better, getting closer to the ones you love.
That's why Jesus was born for us so long ago anyway -- to be in a relationship with us. A real relationship.
Don't give gifts to impress.
Don't go somewhere just to be seen.
Whatever you do this Christmas season do it in love, and do things that show your love and appreciation to those in your life.
"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us . . . And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty Gd, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6
People are like onions too -- but we don't always know what is behind the layers. That's where God comes in. That's when God can show us the hurtful ways in us that need to be changed. Often those hurtful ways are hurting us and those we love.
We can pray as David prayed in Psalm 139:23-24
, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts. And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way."
Above is a current picture of me. I took it on Thanksgiving Day at my home (I don't think I'll ever get into the take-a-picture-of-myself movement that seems to have grabbed most young people (30 on down)).
You can't really learn that much about me from looking at this picture. Maybe you see a nice looking middle aged woman who is probably of Scandinavian descent. She appears to have blue eyes. Her hair is tied back. She appears happy.
Is any of that true?
I am middle aged. I do not have blue eyes. I am usually content, even happy.
David's prayer of seeing within is a much better gauge of who we are.
Yesterday I was unsettled after opening the mail. A bill caught me off guard -- not that I was surprised it was coming, but of the letter that came with it. It truly isn't a big deal but it hit me wrong yesterday. I got really down within -- it just didn't make sense to me.
It turned out to be a good thing. God used it to uncover a wrong perception in me about myself that is totally not true. Why was He able to use that piece of mail yesterday? I don't know. For if I had opened it the day before it probably wouldn't have phased me in the least.
But spiritual things work like that sometimes.
And now that I see the wrong perception of myself, the diagnosis of a wrong belief if you may, God and I can remove it together.
And that is a very good thing!
Don't forget to recite the spell correctly.
Don't forget the four magic words or it won't come true.
"In Jesus' name, Amen."
Uh-oh, did I just call those four words a spell?
I did because that is how we often treat them.
The Free Dictionary Online says a magic spell is
"a verbal formula believed to have magical force."
Jesus says to pray in His name in John 14 but I don't think He meant it in the way we so often use it.
There's no problem with saying "In Jesus' name, Amen" but that isn't what makes our prayers effective.
(And it's best to end prayers like that if you're praying in front of others because if you don't you will make some Believers stumble.)
John 14:13-14 says, "And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it."
Here is what I thought this morning about what it means to pray in Jesus' name:
When you use someone's name as a reference you are using all that person is, who that person is to say you are qualified. If you say so-and-so recommends me for this job, if the hiring person knows your reference and respects that person, it will raise you up in the hiring person's eyes.
Do you get it?
Here's another example that I come across a lot in my life. Since my daughter died in March many things come up where we will say, "Maggie would have loved that; Maggie would have said _____ about this; (or) Maggie would have hated this freezing weather."
I can say all that because I know Maggie well. She would definitely have hated the frigid weather we are experiencing right now. I know what her reaction would have been to the snow day our school district had yesterday (yeah!!!); and I even know how she would have walked down our ramp to the car every morning these days.
The better we know Jesus the better we can pray in His name. We use His name when we know what we are asking is something He would ask for, something He would want to do. Those are the prayers we are told to pray. Those are the prayers He guarantees will be answered.
God is not going to grant things that would get between Him and us. He is not going to grant things that will muddle up the lessons He is trying to teach us. He will not grant things that will hurt us spiritually or push us from Him.
A prime example is people praying for a big financial windfall -- like winning the lottery or winning some huge cash prize. I know this happens and there are times that God is in it I'm sure, but the majority of the time God will not answer this for most people because a huge cash flow might seem wonderful but it has ruined so many people's lives. Instead of being a dream it becomes a nightmare.
What about those prayers that are definitely something He approves of but still don't get answered?
I think of my 14 year old who can't walk or talk and has several seizures daily. Why hasn't God healed him? At least from the seizures?
Maybe it isn't the right time. God's timing is perfect. He takes everyone and all things into account when He answers our prayers.
Continue to use those four wonderful words "in Jesus' name, Amen" but know that when you are saying them you are saying that what you are praying is what you believe Jesus would ask for.
Are you being true to Him?
Our pastor spoke about us being lighthouses yesterday. He mentioned Jesus' words in Matthew 5, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden."
He mentioned how we are the lighthouses and Jesus is the light that shines out of us.
It goes back to that old song "This little light of mine. I'm going to let it shine."
We let Christ shine through us and refuse to allow ourselves to get in the way.
But do you know what I was thinking while listening to the sermon?
I was thinking of all the dull days a lighthouse keeper must have. He or she must go for days without hearing about a ship or boat the lighthouse guided safely to shore. He or she probably don't hear much from the people the lighthouse's light helped. Very possibly it might be years between stories.
(And now according to one site there are no longer manned lighthouses. Automatic timers, maintenance from the Coast Guard made it unnecessary to pay a lighthouse keeper's wages)
And I thought of me as a lighthouse - -how I must shine no matter what, day and night. I have no idea who is seeing the light that's coming out of me. Most of the people see it will never talk to me, will never communicate with me about how that light helped.
And that is okay. It isn't "My light" anyway. It is the light of God.
Shine well this Holy Christmas Season. It is a wonderful time of the year.
(And please don't be a Scrooge. Jesus isn't.)
I picked up some knitting needles again after years of no knitting to make a Christmas present.
I knitted for hours yesterday and the day before. I had a huge square done.
This morning I unraveled the whole thing. My kids won't understand. They'll say, But Mom, you worked so hard on it! What a waste! Why did you do that?
I wasn't liking how it was looking. I could have fixed it in an unconventional way but that would have been more work and it might not have worked at all. In the long one it was just easier to start over.
And they will think it was a waste of time but it wasn't. I found out that I can knit. It does hurt my hands because of the RA, and I went to bed with sore hands and wrists. But my hands aren't swollen or hurting more this morning. So it is okay.
And I remembered I enjoyed knitting.
So today I will begin again.
This is what we have to do in life too. If we mess up, if we go in the wrong direction, sometimes the best thing to do is to just go back and start over. God blesses do-overs. And He will give you strength and endurance and it will be a whole lot better than trying to make do with the mess up.
(And what did my family say? My oldest daughter said, "Why did you do that?" My husband had a shocked look on his face and said, "You've never done that before!" Well, people change! God is good and has been working on my heart!)
What a wonderful country we live in where we can have a holiday totally about thanking God for the bounty in our lives!
Enjoy your day tomorrow. If things get hectic or a bit chaotic thank God for that chaos. If your day is quiet thank God for the quiet.
I'm going to give a blog mini shout out for the project I'm working on right now. Part of the title is Confessions of a Broke Believer. I'll have to pray about when I can share the rest with you. I've got a good feeling about this project. It is powerful, honest, raw writing that I believe, could touch many lives for Jesus. It has 50 confessions from me. So far there's quite a bit of humor in it just because that's life. Even in hard times, there are things to laugh about (but not at people -- don't do that -- it isn't nice ...and that thing that people say, "I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing with you" is a bunch of bunk. Usually the people they are laughing "with" aren't laughing...okay, I just stepped off my soap box).
God is good.
God is good.
God is good.
Can you see the wind in the picture above?
We can see what it does but we can't see the wind -- just like God.
John 3:8a says, “The wind blows wherever it wishes
And you hear the sounds but cannot tell
Where it is coming from or where it is going;"
This is the kind of God we serve, the kind of God who loves us.
Like a tornado, He cannot be controlled.
Like a hurricane, He cannot be stopped.
Like a soft breeze on a warm morning, He will touch our lives gently. As Aslan says, "I'm not a tame lion."
God is not tame but He's good, very very good.
When He begins to act, just hold on and watch Him work.
"Then the earth shook and quaked;
And the foundations of the mountains were trembling
And were shaken, because He was angry.
Smoke went up out of His nostrils,
And fire from His mouth devoured;
Coals were kindled by it.
He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With thick darkness under His feet.
He rode upon a cherub and flew;
And He sped upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness His hiding place, His g]">[g
]canopy around Him,
Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.
From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds,
Hailstones and coals of fire." Psalm 18:7-12
Wait in anticipation. He will act. He is never late.
Believe no matter what.
Something that is desolate is dismal, bleak, very very empty, one could have say it appears dead. There is no apparent hope. There are no apparent resources. There is nothing that can be done. Apparently.
This is where the disciples found themselves when Jesus told them He didn't want to send the thousands of people away hungry "lest they faint on the way." Matthew 15:32
The disciples heard Jesus' compassion for these people, but what were they supposed to do about it!
They even justify their inability to meet these people's needs. They say, "Where would we get so many loaves in a desolate place to satisfy such a great multitude?"
Jesus, are you crazy? Don't you notice where you've brought us? Don't you recognize the emptiness, the lack of resources, the lack of hope in this kind of place?! Jesus, you are asking us to do the impossible!
Jesus answers their question with a question. He asks them, "How many loaves do you have?"
When they answer He doesn't tell them what He's going to do. He doesn't even tell them it will be okay. He doesn't say, Hey watch this, I'm going to perform miracle.
Instead He tells the thousands of people to sit on the ground.
His disciples must have been livid or confused or frightened. What was going to happen when all these hungry people realized they weren't going to be fed? Would they get violent?
Jesus is a cool cat. After He tells them to sit down he blessed the seven loaves and the fish (they had a few small fish too). Then He broke them and gave the pieces to the disciples and told them to feed the crowd.
If I had been there I would have been so nervous. What would I do when my pieces ran out?
Do you think the disciples were stingy with the food? I would have been tempted to be even though God is never stingy and we all are called to generous living.
The scripture says, "And they all ate, and were satisfied, and they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, seven large baskets full."
Wow, wow, wow.....
Jesus will do this with us too. He will show us a need. He will ask what we have and then tell us to go give it even though we know it won't be enough.
But with God, it will be more than enough. Somehow God can take our broken pieces and create masterpieces.
Author Jennifer Kennedy Dean writes, "Jesus told His disciples that their way up would be down. That the one who followed Him would follow His way."
What is His way?
Death leads to life.
Inadequacy leads to abundance.
Lack leads to an overflowing unending love.
If that is where you're at, know that something's getting ready to happen. God is at work.
Above is a picture of my 14 year old son Hawken. I took this yesterday. We were outside chilling in the chilly November air.
Do you ever wonder?
Do you ever wonder about your life?
In Daniel God is called the God of mysteries.
And Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:9 that we hold "to the mystery of the faith."
Most everyone loves a good mystery.
But when it comes to one that is not answerable it can be unsettling.
My son Hawken can't talk or walk or feed himself (etc). There are days I truly believe he's happy. Other days I just don't know. I ask him. And my husband asks me if Hawk is happy. I don't know.
I guess in those times when we don't have the answer we just keep doing what we're doing until we're told differently.
Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 "do not grow weary of doing good."
To the Galatians he says, "And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary."
What do I know for sure I am supposed to do?
Love my son.
Love my family.
Love everyone God puts into my life.
So if we're loving those in our lives we're doing good. And if it doesn't seem to be producing fruit, just keep on loving.
Because Love never fails (that is in 1 Corinthians 13).
Suffering is pain.
We all have pain at times -- mental, physical, emotional, spiritual.
When we think of suffering in regard to our faith though, I think we think about the big kind of suffering -- like what many of our Christian brothers and sisters experience in other countries. Some are killed for their faith. Some lose all they have. Some are tortured or imprisoned for their faith.
And yes, that is big suffering and we should not forget them. We ought to pray for them and do what we can to help them.
But that doesn't mean we don't suffer.
We all suffer in some ways. We all have pain. To deny that is to deny we are human and living in a fallen world.
My question is -- who are you suffering for?
What are you doing with that suffering, with your pain?
Who are you giving it to?
Here are a few scriptures I read this morning:
"For it is better if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong."
1 Peter 3:17
"Though He slay me, I will hope in Him, Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him." Job 13:15
"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that, which is lacking in Christ's afflictions." Colossians 1:24
"As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him." Colossians 2:6
Again, who are you suffering for?
Who is benefiting from your sufferings?
Who are you giving them to?
What do I mean?
If you are suffering well, if you are suffering for Jesus, you are doing it in faith. You are believing no matter what that He will come through. You are believing He will bring good out of whatever you are dealing with.
But if you are suffering in unbelief, if you are suffering to despair, if you are suffering in worry, you are not doing it for Jesus. You are giving gifts of suffering to your flesh and the enemy and that strengthens them.
Let's not strengthen the enemy or our flesh ever!
If you are dealing with something right now that is hard or inconvenient or painful, don't give it to the flesh. Don't give it to the enemy. Give it to God. We can give Him anything. And whatever we give Him we will use for great good.
Let's do that.
Let's do that today.