Happy Christmas!

Matthew 1:21, Christmas, Jesus our Savior

I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas resting in the greatest gift of all,
the Savior who provided for our salvation.

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus,
for he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us).

Matthew 1:21-23

Celebrating His Coming by Neglecting His Presence

Several years ago, a couple from our church invited us to their home for dinner.

I had long admired the wife. She was one of those people about whom I wondered, “How does she do all she does?” She had the same number of children I did, close to the same ages. She was active in several church ministries. She sewed for herself, her daughter, her home, and for other people. Her home was not only clean every time I saw it, it was nicely decorated.

Meanwhile, I felt I was barely keeping my head above water as a wife and mother. I concluded that God gave people different capacities. Maybe she was a ten-talent person, while I . . . was not.

As we enjoyed our visit at this couple’s home, the wife often popped up to go check on or do something. I understood that. As a hostess, you have to check on the kids or the potatoes or whatever. But her forays away from us seemed excessive. I wondered if we caught them at a busy time, and if so, why they didn’t reschedule. I mused that maybe she was the type of person who couldn’t sit still for very long, and maybe that’s how she got so much done.

I am not so needy a guest that I want 100 per cent of the hostess’s time and attention. But I confess to feeling just a little neglected.

As a child, I often saw a plaque in peoples’ houses which contained words about Jesus being the unseen guest of the home. Some time after I became a Christian, I understood that when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, He is not just an occasional guest. He is with us all the time. He is Lord. It’s His house.

Through our church’s Bible reading program the last few years, I’ve particularly noted God’s desire and effort to be with His people. First, He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. When they sinned, they broke fellowship with Him. When He delivered Israel from Egypt, He instructed them to build a tabernacle. Later, after they settled in the promised land and David was king, he wanted to build a temple. Both tabernacle and temple had a heavy curtain between the holy place and the most holy place. No one could just barge in there. Only the high priest could enter once a year with a sacrifice for the people’s sins. When Jesus died on the cross, that curtain was torn in two, signifying that the ultimate sacrifice had been made and the way was now open to God. His kingdom was within those who believed on Him. Someday, when He comes again, we’ll dwell with Him as we never have before.

God desires our fellowship, to the point of sacrificing what was dearest to Himself. This season of the year, we run amok doing so many sweet and lovely things fraught with nostalgia, ostensibly for the sake of remembering the birth of His Son. Yet, in a sense we leave Him sitting at the table, neglected. It’s not that He needs us. He loves and and desires our fellowship. And we need Him.

Yes, He is with us all the time. With even our closest human relationships, much of our time and conversation together occurs while doing something else: shopping, cooking, working in the yard, etc. But even in those relationships, we sense a need to sometimes just stop, lay everything else aside, focus on and listen to each other.

How much more should we spend that focused time with our Lord? Yes, we can talk with Him all through the day, thanking Him for a good parking place or a good sale or a beautiful sunset, telling Him the concerns on our hearts, singing along with the hymns on our playlist. But sometimes we just need to sit with Him, spend time in His Word, listening, learning, worshiping. loving.

We are prone to celebrate the fact that He came by neglecting Him now that He is here. We need wisdom in the use of our time, simplifying, maybe laying some things aside. But most of all we need to remember who and what we’re actually celebrating. Let’s not neglect His presence. Like Mary, let’s choose the good portion, sitting at His feet and listening.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

A Perfectly Ordinary Thanksgiving

I was working through a couple of blog post ideas, trying to decide which to use. Then I remembered this was Thanksgiving week.

“Hmm,” I thought. “I should probably say something about Thanksgiving.”

But what could I say that I hadn’t already said? What new angle or twist could I come up with?

Then I thought—does Thanksgiving really need an angle? Can’t we just—be thankful?

But what if we’re not feeling so thankful?

Well, thanksgiving isn’t a feeling. It’s an action, an act of the will. And once we start giving thanks, it’s not long before we feel thankful.

If you’re not feeling so grateful this week, maybe you could read some psalms, like 100 or 103 or 107 or 145.

Or you could sing or read some hymns, like “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” or “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

Or you could recount your Ebenezers, those times in your life you especially saw God’s hand at work.

Or you could make a list of simple blessings: a beautiful sunset, a warm home, friends and family, food to eat, and so on.

Though we should be thankful every day, Thanksgiving is a good reminder that we do have a lot to be thankful for. I’ve found that once I get started looking for things to be thankful for, it’s hard to stop.

It’s fine to create a Thanksgiving feast (we will) or try some new ideas to spur thankfulness (we have) or set out Pinterest-worthy decorations or or try some Thanksgiving-ish crafts (done those, too).

It’s also fine to eat out or use paper plates or grill hamburgers or make sandwiches.

But simply giving thanks to the Giver of all good things often gets lost in the shuffle of everything else. Whatever else we do, may giving thanks to Him be our main focus.

Here’s both a hymn and a thankful list! It’s beautifully sung by the Sacred Music Services‘ men’s chorus.

I wish all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, someone to share it with, something good to eat, some time to rest, and some time to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Have mercy on your pastor this Mother’s Day

When the COVID pandemic first began, I saw a lot of blog posts and articles pleading with people to be compassionate towards their pastor because he had likely never shepherded people through such an occasion before. It would take time to discern the best course of action in response to ever-changing information, and he had people on opposite sides of every fence involved.

Pastors face a similar dilemma on Mother’s Day, no matter whether this is their first pastoral Mother’s Day or their 50th. They will likely have people in all these circumstances in their congregations:

  • women who desperately want to have children, but God has not granted them yet
  • women who love their children but are tired and discouraged
  • women who are in despair over their parenting failures and need guidance
  • women who have no desire to be mothers
  • women who are single by choice or by circumstance
  • women whose children are wayward and breaking their hearts
  • women whose children have died
  • people whose mothers were not honorable
  • people who are estranged from their mothers
  • people whose mothers have died
  • people who don’t even know they need a Savior

Anna Jarvis probably had no idea she was creating such a minefield when she sought a simple way to honor her mother.

I’ve seen posts on Facebook already indicating that Mother’s Day shouldn’t be observed in church because it’s not a national holiday. Prophets and preachers in the Bible spoke about current events, and honoring parents is a biblical teaching. So it’s not wrong to observe the day. But whether that observation should be just a passing acknowledgment, or the whole service should be built around it, is up to each pastor’s leading of his particular congregation.

Whether pastors let the holiday go by unobserved and carry on with whatever book or series they are preaching through, or they choose to honor mothers in some way, someone is going to be offended.

Can I urge us as Christian women to be mature in response to whatever path the pastor chooses to take? To remember that love “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:5). To understand that there are different needs among the congregation? No one sermon will meet them all except as it points us back to the only Savior who can help and heal and provide grace.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” (II Timothy 3:16-17). Whatever God lays on the pastor’s heart to preach this Sunday, if it is based on the Word of God, it will be profitable for us.

Let’s pray for our pastors to preach the message God wants him to preach that day. Let’s pray for grace for our particular triggers, seek to get from the message what God has for us, and seek to encourage others rather than focusing on self.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Preparing for Easter with C. S. Lewis

Preparing for Easter: Fifty Devotional Reading from C. S. Lewis. is a compilation of selections from his writings.

C. S Lewis is one of the most quotable Christians to have lived, maybe second to C. H. Spurgeon. In fact, I have a book titled The Quotable Lewis. So any book of quotes by him will have value.

By the title of this book, you’d expect an arc of quotations on the subject and application of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, leading up to Easter Day. If there was such an arc, I didn’t detect it. The book just seemed more like a random collection.

Of course, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ touch everything in the Christian life, so, in one sense, any subject within Christendom could be related. Yet many selections in this volume didn’t seem to fit the theme. For instance, one had to do with the value of myths. Did the compiler feel that any part of the true Easter story was a myth? Or was he applying this quote to the bunnies and eggs part of Easter? I don’t know.

The book is set up to begin about six and a half weeks before Easter, with the last reading for Easter Day. The readings aren’t numbered in the book, but I numbered them in my notes. I was confused when I ended up with forty-seven. Then I remembered some day’s readings contained two short selections. So, as the title says, there are fifty readings, but not over fifty days. I started a week late, so I ended the Sunday after Easter.

Some readings are familiar quotes, such as those from the Narnia series or Mere Christianity. Others are from more obscure sources, like private letters. I’m always amazed at how literary Lewis sounds even in a letter. I wonder if he was a perfectionist who made several copies of a letter until it sounded just right? Or did such prose just flow from him? I remember reading somewhere that his books did not need much editing, so perhaps the latter is true.

Though some of the selections were easy to grasp, some suffered from the loss of their context.

I was also reminded that, though I love much of what Lewis wrote, I don’t agree with him on every little point of doctrine. I have several of those places marked, but I don’t think I’ll list them all here for the sake of time and space.

So, all told, I was more than a little disappointed in this volume. Nevertheless, as I said, there are always rich nuggets in his writing. Here are a few I found:

Our model is the Jesus, not only of Calvary, but of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions, the lack of all peace and privacy, the interruptions. For this, so strangely unlike anything we can attribute to the Divine life in itself, is apparently not only like, but is, the Divine life operating under human conditions (p. 7, originally from The Four Loves).

I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say, ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble. But this is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us. He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture. How should we know what He means us to be like? (p. 14, originally from Mere Christianity).

We may be content to remain what we call ‘ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience (p. 15, originally from Mere Christianity).

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven (p. 58, originally from Mere Christianity).

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same (pp. 60-61, (p. 58, originally from Mere Christianity).

If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically (p. 72, originally from Present Concerns).

The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars (p. 72, originally from Present Concerns).

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing (p. 80, originally from Mere Christianity).

Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in (p. 212, originally from Mere Christianity).

One of the most poignant passages to me was a letter from Lewis to a Warfield Firor about facing the ramifications of aging (including compulsory retirement and rheumatism) and letting those “begin . . .to loosen a few of the tentacles which the octopus-world has fastened on one” and remind that “what calls one away is better” (pp. 138-139). (A portion of the letter is here.)

Though I doubt I’ll reread this book in coming Lenten seasons, I was blessed by some of its pages. I was also encouraged to reread Mere Christianity some time and to look up The Letters of C. S. Lewis.

 

 

Easter Teaches Us of New and Better Life

Several years ago, we got word that a lady in our former church had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She had been one of the merriest people I’d ever known. When we went back to that town for a visit, it was hard to see her in the church lobby looking confused and suspicious.

When our former pastor announced he had pancreatic cancer a few years ago, I was stunned that God would take someone in his prime with an active ministry and love for people who was doing so much good. Our pastor admitted he was going to have to take by faith that what God had for him in heaven was going to be so much better, because what he had on earth up til that time was pretty good.

I wondered why God would let one of His beloved children end up in pain or confusion.

But then I remembered this was not their end. Alzheimer’s and cancer were just stopping places in their long journey home. God promised that their sufferings would produce and eternal weight of glory.

 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

We get so caught up in the things we have to and want to do, our families, our ambitions, that we forget this world isn’t all there is.

We look forward to heaven . . . some day. But when we get there, we’ll probably wish we could have come sooner.

C. S. Lewis wrote to a friend of the unpleasant effects of aging: “the growing realisation that there were a great many things one wd. never have time to do,” studies one could never take up, facing retirement and “the infernal nuisance (to put it no higher) of patching up some sort of new life somewhere,” and so on. “I am therefore (with some help from the weather and rheumatism!) trying to profit by this new realisation of my mortality. To begin to die, to loosen a few of the tentacles which the octopus world has fastened on one.” He acknowledged that a good night’s sleep or a pleasant day would likely dispel his gloomy mood. But, he went on to say:

One ought not to need gloomy moments of life for beginning detachment, nor be reentangled by the bright ones. One ought to be able to enjoy the bright ones to the full and at that very moment have the perfect readiness to leave them, confident that what calls one away is better. . . (Letters of C. S. Lewis, October 15, 1949).

It was said of those in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 that they desired “a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (verse 16).

I admit I am too caught up in the bright moments of this life. God kindly breaks in and turns my attention up and away to that world to come. “Eternal glories gleam afar . . .”

I’ve found a Friend, O such a friend! All pow’r to Him is given,
To guard me on my onward course, and bring me safe to heaven.
The eternal glories gleam afar, to nerve my faint endeavor;
So now to watch, to work, to war, and then to rest forever.

James G. Small, “I’ve Found a Friend, O Such a Friend

Easter speaks to me of many things—redemption, forgiveness, new life, and more. But this year it reminds me that this world and its pleasures and problems are temporary. We’re going to spend a lot more time in eternity than we did here. Are we ready?

Jesus came to earth as the Son of God, God in flesh. He lived a perfect life in our place because we never could. He died to take on the punishment for our sin so we wouldn’t have to. When we repent of our sin and believe on Him as Lord and Savior, His righteousness goes on our account: God sees Him instead of us.

Forgiveness of sin, His presence, His peace, his help, His grace—and heaven too!

Do you know Him? Are you ready for eternity?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Hearth and Soul, Scripture and a Snapshot, Senior Salon, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements, Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)

Merry Christmas! Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery

I wish for you and yours a special time of wonder remembering God’s love for us and showing His love to each other.

Come behold the wondrous mystery
In the dawning of the King
He the theme of heaven’s praises
Robed in frail humanity

In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us

From “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” by Matt Papa, Matt Boswell, Michael Bleecker

Book Review: Loving My Actual Christmas

Though we love Christmas time, its busyness stresses us out. Calendars are full anyway, and then we add gatherings, programs, extra shopping and food preparation, wrapping, decorating, and various traditions.

Alexandra Kuykendall tried an “experiment in relishing the season,” as her subtitle says. Instead of an idealistic or nostalgic or “perfect” Christmas, she wanted to create a realistic Christmas that didn’t leave her exhausted and frustrated when it was over. She lets us in on the experiment in her book, Loving My Actual Christmas. Though she includes ideas and tips, “it’s more for your spirit to absorb the message of the holiday among the lights and gifts.”

She chose the four weeks and themes of advent to guide her. She wanted not just to “do better” organizationally, but to implement, foster, and be guided by hope, love, joy and peace.

Because hope, peace, joy, and love are certainly words I want to associate with this time of year. Rather than overspending, overeating, undersleeping, and underrejoicing, I want to notice the goodness God has offered in the here and now. In this year. This Christmas. Regardless of the circumstances. Because I don’t want to resent this actual Christmas, I want to love it.

For each week of Advent, she wrote down her approach, the Scriptures she read, a daily recording of what happened that week, a summary of what she learned, a list of what practices she’ll continue, and questions for reflection.

One of the first things she did was consult with her family about their desires. Expectation can make the holiday sweet and exciting but also set oneself up for a letdown. So they discussed the different programs, traditions, etc., to see what was most important to everyone and what, if anything, could be left out for sanity’s sake.

Here are some of the quotes I highlighted:

Circumstances may not be what we want, but we can step over the “whens” and “if onlys” to notice God’s gifts right in our midst.

“And heaven and nature sing.” Because he rules the world, all of his creation rejoices. That’s it. It doesn’t say heaven and nature sing when the Christmas card is beautiful and perfectly photoshopped, but because he rules the world. That’s it then. Joy does really come back to Jesus.

My people don’t need the perfect Christmas, but a present mother, daughter, wife, friend.

Christmas isn’t a race that ends on the 25th with recovery after, but a true season of relishing.

Jesus didn’t come to earth in order that we might overspend every December and have terrible arguments about the holiday bills. He came that we might have life. Let’s figure out what we can afford and live within those parameters.

You don’t want to end the party season depleted by executing the details, but energized by the relationships that are strengthened by a shared time together.

There are no awards shows for Christmas party throwing. No prizes for “Best Able to Pull It Off Alone.” Ask guests to bring food or help with decorations, invitations, setting up, or cleaning up.

There was one place that made me wince a bit. In discussing the circumstances of the first Christmas and Mary’s quiet pondering mentioned in Luke 2:19, the author writes, “Here Mary has just given birth to God . . .” I know what she meant. Jesus was (is) God in flesh. He didn’t originate in this birth: He existed eternally. And He is part of the Godhead, along with the Father and Spirit. The author would agree with all this, so she’s not saying God had His beginning here. She’s just pointing out the wonder of a young woman giving birth to the Messiah in such a setting. But the way it was phrased was a little uncomfortable to me.

Most of us have to do some mental adjusting about the holidays by the time we’ve had many Christmases as adults. We have to continually reminds ourselves what the season is actually supposed to be about and adjust our perspective. I found the author’s thoughts and tips very practical and helpful.

(Sharing with Grace and Truth, InstaEncouragement,
Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Christmas Lights

symbolism of Christmas lights

Christmas lights are my favorite holiday decorations. Just when the landscape becomes bare and dreary and the nights are longest, cheery lights go up inside and outside. I miss them when we take them down at the end of the month.

I don’t know if I did a good job teaching my children the symbolism behind many of our Christmas customs. But the symbolism behind Christmas lights is a favorite.

God began creation by saying “Let there be light”. But He soon saw His world engulfed in darkness when sin came in. Nevertheless, He promised light would shine again.

“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness (Isaiah 42:6-7).

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2).

The Isaiah passage that foretells of the child born, the son given who will take David’s throne, rule in righteousness, whose “name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” begins with “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).

Scripture points repeatedly to Jesus as the light.

Jesus said, “ “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:4-5).

When we believe on the Lord, His light shines through us:

At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light (Ephesians 5:8-14a).

The NKJV renders that last phrase “But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.”

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1: 5-7).

Someday, for God’s children, “night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). How desperately we need to choose light now, because those who don’t will be “thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).

For now, though we have the light, we live in a dark world.

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God (Isaiah 50:10).

Keep looking to the light!

In your light we see light. Psalm 36:9

(Sharing with Hearth and Soul, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Remember Me Monday, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)