Sunday, December 25, 2011

Taking Back Christmas: Grace

Every story in our Bible points to Jesus, and Jesus brought grace.  I cannot mention anything about Jesus without also thinking about grace.

Last year at this time, if you would have asked me if I understood grace, I am sure that I would have said yes, but I most certainly did not.  But God was bringing about in me an awakening to the truth of grace.

Grace is unmerited favor with God.  It is His choosing of individuals simply because He chose them.  Not because they obeyed the rules or because they were good enough or tried hard enough.  Grace is explosive, out of the box, scandalous, and completely risky.

God became a man, stepped into our world, and suffered death on a cross.  All because He so loved every single person he ever made or created so much that He wanted to make a way for humanity to know Him.  Know as in a deeply intimate way.  He demonstrated His love for us in that while we were still sinners He suffered death (Ro 5:8).  He took a risk on humanity even though all of us would not chose to love Him in return for the love He offers.

The thing about grace is that it offers freedom.  When understood, it gives an amazing awareness to your sin all the while setting free.  However, I imagine that most of us will never totally grasp the concept of grace.

People are always making rules, rules that are meant to make it easier to experience God's grace, but those rules just make it harder to understand grace.  Some say we should teach our kids about Santa.  Some say we should not.  Some think Christmas trees are evil; some do not.  The truth is Christmas is rooted in pagan traditions.  Somewhere, some perhaps well-meaning group of people decided to merge the pagan celebration of winter solstice with their own Christian beliefs and began celebrating Jesus's birth at the same time.  Some say Jesus wasn't even born in December but in September.  So what should we do?  Does our celebration of Christ interwoven with pagan symbols such as the Christmas tree, mistletoe, and Santa Claus betlittle or degrade Christ?

I believe the answer because of God's grace is no.  In 1 Cor 8, Paul addresses a similar manner, and he says that we are free to eat food sacrificed to idols if we so desire, unless in doing so, we are a stumbling block to a weaker brother.  Romans 14-15 is also a passage important to this conversation.  I believe in this instance Christmas trees are like meat formally sacrificed to idols.  They have pagan roots, but are generally accepted by Christians as a fun way to decorate and celebrate Christmas.  And we are given freedom to do so in grace.

The Holy Spirit will lead us to the truth for us in the gray areas. What the Holy Spirit convicts me to do in certain situations, He may not convict you to do in your own situation. 

The truth of the matter is that people who don't understand grace often have much to say about others sin.  They see situations only as their rules dictate and have very little understanding of others heart conditions.  Grace gives you eyes to see and ears to hear and understand.  It doesn't allow you to get past your own sin without responding in gratitude and extending at least a portion or measure of the grace received.  Grace is gentle and speaks truthfully and lovingly.  It allows you to be you with no pressure of following all of the rules.

This year, the gift of grace is the greatest one I've received.

And I pray for you this:

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work
2 Corinthians 9:8

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Taking Back Christmas: Do Not Be Afraid

Earlier this week, I had a disappointment.  I am full of insecurities and this disappointment played on my insecurity.  It made me pause and question who I am and how I am made, and if I had heard truth spoken to me personally.  It lead me down the path of fear and of shame.

I was reminded of Mary and of Joseph and how crazy it must have been to hear an angel tell her that she was going to have the Lord's child.  How Mary must have wondered if she was crazy!  That is until she felt that baby kick within her and until she realized that a baby grew though she'd never been with a man.  Surely amidst the disgrace and doubt, she would have known it was true.  But just as certain as that, surely others looked at her in disgrace.  She had become pregnant without laying with Joseph.  As far as anyone else knew, there was only one way to get pregnant, and people supposed that Mary had done something shameful.  Yet she was innocent.  Isn't it interesting how God chooses the "foolish things to shame the wise" (1 Co 1:25)?  Our Lord was birthed into a blameless situation but people assumed otherwise.  Our sin already upon Him from the moment He entered our world.  The Pharisaical criticism already there.

The Bible does not talk about the details of those days, but I recently heard an interesting perspective on Joseph. Joseph was supposed to take Mary and have her stoned.  At the time he did not fully understood that Christ was within her, and he was going to give her a quiet divorce.  Perhaps, she even traveled to Bethlehem with him in hopes of protecting her and keeping her safe from others while he was gone.  He dealt with her with grace.  As he pondered what to do with Mary, he dreamed a dream and an angel told him the truth of Mary's situation.  He too would suffer consequences of saving and marrying a woman many believed carried an illegitimate child.

Both heard an angel say to to each of them separately, "Do Not Be Afraid."  Mary and Joseph had much reason to be afraid.  And yet they chose to submit and believe.

They acted in faith as they married.  No one would know whether this was indeed the Christ child until 30 years later when he began to minister.  Surely they saw evidences as they did at the temple when he was 12, yet I bet no one had stopped the scandalous whispers as Jesus grew up.  They chose not to be afraid of man's response and walked in faith anyway.

How often we are knocked off our rocker and driven by FEAR!  My disappointment could have driven me to fear.  In fact I considered it several moments throughout a day's time, and then God spoke and the fear was gone.  He reminded me of who I am in Him, not who the enemy wants me to think I am.

Rebekah Gilbert said on her blog recently, "Don't be afraid of the what-ifs. Don't be afraid to share the redemptive love of Jesus. Don't be afraid to live life. Don't be afraid to love. Don't be afraid of the people who would put you in shackles if they could. Don't be afraid."

Will you join me in walking in freedom from fear?
Come with me out of the darkness of men's lies and into His glorious light.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Taking Backing Christmas: more thanks

Christmas - sometimes I just find myself getting stressed with the season for no apparent reason, except the enemy.  At any rate, I want to count my joys and be mindful of my happies.  Actually, I've been missing my kids a whole lot and that's part of the problem - battling a sense of sadness.  Princess thrives in big school, but I just miss her.  {Can't wait for the Christmas break, which is far too short.}

So on to counting.

8.  Watching my son stand at the door in his footie jammies and hair sticking up this way and that waving to his sister as she leaves on the bus.  {Bittersweet because every day he too says, "But I didn't want her to go" and I join him in my heart.}

9.  Watching DoodleBug eat with her mouth so full of french fries it looked like she would explode.

10.  Watching her climb into the toy box and lay down on the stuffed dog and say, "night night."

11.  Listening to her chirp with glee, "bakpak, bakpak, bakpak."  (Backpack)

12.  Kissing Buzz Lightyear to hear Doodle's laughter.

13.  Encouraging emails from friends

14.  A love, a hope, a joy that wells up to overflowing due to the incredible goodness and presence of the Lord.  Inexplicable and immeasurable.  I have seen the favor of the Lord this year.  Experienced Him anew and grace, deep grace.

15.  Christmas cards!

16.  Listening to Princess read.

17.  Playing Star Wars music and making Princess and Speed Racer laugh.

18.  Seeing my children light up when they spotted me watching them rehearse their Christmas songs.

19.  A rendezvous to the gas station with my hubby.

20.  Waking up to this song:

First day of gratitude.

Join me in listing your joys, the things you are thankful for.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Taking Back Christmas: Conviction

I know I have probably shared things on this blog that God has since convicted me of and told me not to do.  As I grow and change, this little ole blog will grow and change.

God's been talking to me lately about convictions.  As believers we are one in the Spirit, but He convicts and moves us to different actions sometimes.

This blog and my Christmas posts are not intended to tell you how you should or should not celebrate Christmas.  I want to be careful to allow you to decide to do what God wants for you or your family, which unless it is spelled out black and white in the Bible will be different for each family.

The passages I've been looking at are Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8.  Romans 14:22 has particularly hit me hard: whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God, so that you do not condemn yourself by what you approve.  Being a word person, I must be more careful with my words.  :)

"Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.  As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.  If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.  Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.  Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.  It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.  So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves."  Romans 14:13-22

Monday, December 5, 2011

Taking Back Christmas: Awake

As most of you know, I've been writing the material for our church women's conference for some time now.  The theme of it is Awaken: A Heart to Heart with God.  I am very excited about it.  But as I've thought about awaken, wake up, awakening, and all of those synonyms, I've noticed something.  God's people are regularly being called to awaken.  There are numerous books written with a wake up call in the title or subtitle.  There are more songs than you would ever begin to imagine about waking up and awakening, and bringing the dead to life by waking up.  These things are not by coincidence, and it has really left me wondering what God is doing in His church today.  What happens to those of us who do not wake up?  And what are we being made ready for?

In regards to Christmas, I believe He is calling us to awaken to the truth of the Christmas message.  This is a Christmas song by Casting Crowns called, "While You Were Sleeping."  I get teary every time I hear it.

What if you are being written into the greatest story ever told - His Story? 

Will you awaken to be a wise man seeking Him or will you be like the rest of Bethlehem, unaware of a King in your midst? 

Will you awaken to His call to be a disciple or will you be a crucifier?

There is no reason to be unaware anymore, and yet, He is still calling us to wake up!  The time is coming when time will be no more.  Will you be ready?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Five Minute Friday: Tired


I awoke tired.  Its her birthday today, and I overslept, waking to look at the clock not realizing that it said 6:30 instead of 5:30.

The sounds of my son coming down the stairs, and my husband quickening to get her up made me take notice of the real time.

She groaned as I tried to help her quickly get ready.  Her grumbling caused daddy to grumble, and then me to grumble.  Like a snowball that builds, we were all building one bad emotion on top of another.

The day fell into me.  A sense of tiredness.  A sense of a need to stop.  To turn back the hands of time and restart.  To awake refreshed. 

Alas, my mind stops the snowball, and says, "Enough."  I quickly give Him the rest of the day to redeem from my grumbling tired mess.

He takes the battle of my mind, of my to-do list and says, "Rest."  Here in this moment.  "Let not yourself worry about tomorrow, for I am taking care of that day."

I relax, happy to oblige Him His work, and freely take mine - resting as I move about the day.


Taking Back Christmas: Giving

On the heels on my last post, a great find I am using this year for my little ones is this:  Truth in  the Tinsel.  You can make an ornament every day.  I know that I will not do that portion of things, but I love the way the story and activities are laid out.  Besides that, it seems to really  add a depth to the Christmas story for little ones that most of the advent calendars do not.

Let me be honest here, one of the reasons I struggle with Christmas is simple:  all the extra stuff.  As a mother who is totally learning home organization, managing my home and the stuff in it is many times my #1 struggle.  If Satan attacks me, he's always going to use my lack of skill in this area in attempt to defeat me.  I don't like the fact that my family has more than enough almost all of the time while others just want food or a warm coat.  Wrapping my mind around the fact that "Christmas is for kids and they should get all that they want" just isn't happening.  I'm not saying Christmas should not be a fun time for kids to look forward to, but I am saying that it does not feel right to provide above and beyond for wants when many do not have needs.  Christmas in my mind's eye is not only about God stepping into our world, but also a time to remember to give to someone in need.

Practically I want to learn to aside a portion of the new gifts we receive to give back to God.  Is this not a practical way to do what men and women of the bible did in the tithe and firstfruits?  I'm not talking about regifting gifts you did not want, but giving away gifts you just might like to keep, and teaching your children to do the same.  Is not this what we are charged with when we are commanded to teach these things to our children as we walk and talk and go about our day?  Whether I am able to give off the top or off the bottom (new or used) says a lot about my walk with Christ.

We give gifts because the wise men gave gifts to Christ.  He was recognized as a king.  But he was a lowly baby born in a stable, laid in a manger, in a town that had no room for Him.  They gave gifts to the lowly and needy king.  As God, He had no spiritual need.  As a man, He was not rich by earthly standards.  They gave to honor Him. 

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."  2 Cor 8:9

"Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys."  Luke 12:33

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.  The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’"  Matthew 25: 35-36, 40

Some ways to give to the needy:
  1. Sponsor a child in need at your church or pick one up one off an Angel Tree in the mall or at Chick-Fil-A.
  2. Consider giving honorary gifts to friends and family by giving to Compassion.
  3. Sponsor a child from Compassion
  4. Buy products from Mercy House Kenya.  This is a house that exists to help pregnant women, making a safe place for delivery and providing care for them after babies are born.  The idea reminds me of my bff from college.  See their vision statement here.
  5. Buy products from Dayspring that benefit Mercy House. 
  6. Consider Amazima Ministries.
  7. Check out this list of shops to buy from.  The only link that no longer works is the Rahab Ministries link.
Let me know if you know of other ways to give gifts that give back.


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