Holidays

Never Alone

Blog_Christmas_SadHow can we celebrate a season built around relationships and family when we feel alone? We could be surrounded by people, but still feel like a barren tree in the middle of an empty forest. The snow is falling all around, and the tree is frozen from the deepest root to the highest branch. But no one seems to notice.

Just as that tree lost all its leaves in the midst of autumn, we might feel we’ve lost everything and won’t make it through the winter season of bitter coldness and death. The Bible speaks of a woman who had lost everything in life. Her name was Anna. She was widowed only seven years into her marriage, and there is no mention of her having had children. She stayed in the temple, fasting and praying. And waiting.

Maybe she watched the people who came to the temple—seeing families with children, and wondering why she suffered such loss in her own life. In her day, society looked down upon widows and often presumed that some sin led to their desolate condition. But God saw Anna’s heart, and chose her to be among the first to embrace the child who would one day die to bring salvation to the world.

What was she thinking when she saw the baby? The Bible doesn’t say except that she “gave thanks to God and spoke of the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” To redeem is to take something that is bad and turn it into something that is good. It’s when God takes the ashes of our lives and turns them into something beautiful; when God uses the death of autumn and the silence of winter to bring about the life of spring. Anna knew that God was going to take her difficult circumstances and turn them into something good. And He did.

Just like He did for all those who had gone before her—those who were part of the lineage of the Savior. Among them were widows who, like herself, had lost everything: Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba. Each story in the history of our Savior involves loss, but also reveals how God is able to take the trials of our lives and turn them into testimonies. And each story reminds us that even when we’ve lost everything, we’re never alone.

In the midst of war and battle, drought and famine, slavery and loss, our Savior came. Our Savior is also called “Immanuel.” It means “God is with us.” And He is.

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A Necessary Reminder

 

Blog_FallLake.jpgGratitude reminds us that we have all we need. It tells us that loss brings life. It leads us to transform in the glory of knowing God’s mercies are new EVERY morning.

 

 

Photo Credit: Free stock photo of fall, forest, lake

Thanksgiving Comes First

Blog_AutumnLeavesThe last of the leaves take their final stand against the impending cold. Soon, the branches will be empty, the ground paved with a glittery blanket of snow. Autumn’s season of beauty and death is coming to a close. In its midst—Thanksgiving.

Before holiday revelers haul out the holly, trim trees, and haunt the malls, Thanksgiving comes, quiet and gentle. Before gifts are exchanged, Thanksgiving. And before the clock turns to welcome a new year—Thanksgiving.

We want to skip the season of death—when color is gone and trees, barren. The rush of the holiday season promises to suppress the feeling of loss. Deals at the stores await, beckoning us to forget. Maybe we just need someTHING new, someTHING tangible, someTHING to hold our attention captive. Or maybe we just need a whole new year.

But Thanksgiving comes first, putting everything into perspective if only we still our souls to listen and learn the secret.

Death becomes a thing of beauty. We’re able to let go, no longer needing to fill the empty spaces with the latest and greatest distraction to hit the holiday shelves. We no longer need to wait for a New Year for change to come.

Gratitude reminds us that we have all we need. It tells us that loss brings life. It leads us to transform in the glory of knowing God’s mercies are new EVERY morning.

The holiday season is upon us. And Thanksgiving comes first…as it always has, and as it always should.

New Every Morning

Blog_SnowSunriseThe New Year brings with it the promise of new opportunities. When the calendar turns, we see a clean slate before us. Things we’ve been waiting to change finally meet the resolve that comes with a fresh start. As we reflect on the year that’s fading into memory, we consider the year to come and all we desire it will bring.

Unfortunately, many of the resolutions made with the turning of the year never come to fruition. A few weeks pass, and discipline wanes. Desire for change is overcome by the monotony of life, and it becomes easier to slip back into old patterns. It isn’t long before our resolutions are forgotten, and the guilt of not meeting our goals is buried beneath the tyranny of the urgent. “Oh well,” we think. “We can always wait…’til next year.”

Why must we wait? Why put off change for another year, when there’s an opportunity to change…now? God’s Word carries the good news that change is possible every day: “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

With God, every day is New Year’s Day. He supplies the power we need to change. We don’t need to keep putting it off. When we stumble and fall—when we wrestle with our old habits and ways, we don’t have to wait long for another chance to turn it all around. Every minute of every day is a new opportunity for transformation. Today is the day of salvation, this moment is the moment for renewal and change. We don’t have to wait another second, another minute…another year. This is the time for new beginnings—a new season, a new day.

Yet with this hope comes the somber reality that tomorrow is not promised. We never know when we will take our last breath. So why not spend our every breath living the transformed life we desire, rather than living dead in the grave of regret? Change is possible. Today is a new day. We may not have tomorrow, so let’s make the most of the gift of the time we have.

Five, four, three, two…

Blog_NewYears_TimePassingThe countdown has begun. Even before the Christmas décor was transferred to the clearance shelves, New Years items decked the aisles not far from Valentine’s displays, reminding us we have only a few days left to procrastinate on our resolutions. As the clock swiftly ticks away second after second, we down the last of our holiday sweets knowing it’s a matter of time before we trade the chocolate box for a gym membership.

Just the other day, I came across an ad for a decadent triple-chocolate cheesecake across from another ad for a miracle weight-loss program. Yeah, it’ll take a miracle to lose the pounds gained from eating a slice of that cheesecake before the next New Year. That is, IF I choose the miracle weight-loss program. OR any weight-loss program that takes me beyond the newness-inspired first month of the year.

But maybe there’s another option. Maybe I could choose to change today. Except, of course, that would mean resisting the urge to eat the whole cheesecake.

Actually, I don’t care much for cheesecake, though there are plenty other calorie-filled temptations out there to lure me away from a good resolution. But the whole thing has me thinking…why do we always procrastinate when it comes to change? We’re always waiting for the clean slate of tomorrow, or next week, or a new year.

What difference would it make to know that change is possible today, and every day, and every minute of the day? And that change doesn’t only have to do with shedding a few New Years pounds. Change is possible in the most impossible of circumstances, the most stubborn of habits.

I think of the story of a man named Zaccheus—a tax collector in Bible times who’d devoted his life to cheating people of their hard-earned money. Until, that is, an encounter with Jesus changed it all. His heart was so deeply transformed he gave half his possessions to the poor and refunded four times what he’d stolen. He didn’t wait for another day or a new year. The moment he was prompted to change, he repented.

That’s the GOOD NEWS. Change is not some obscure future event. It’s a NOW event. And we don’t have to wait for another countdown.

All Things New

blog_christmasgiftsretroIt’s over. The gifts are unwrapped. Toys are scattered across the floor. The cookie plates are empty of everything but crumbs. And we’re passed out in bed, exhausted from the whole ordeal.

In a few minutes the kids will wake up to play with their new toys. In a few hours, they’ll be bored. In a few days, at least one of those toys will be broken. The rest will be lost, worn down, or missing parts. In a few weeks, they’ll be forgotten; in a few months they’ll be in the garbage. In a year, the kids will be asking for new toys all over again.

It’s the circle of life, Christmas style. Have you noticed the theme? Nothing new stays new. No matter how we take care of our things, they’ll all waste away.

Yet written on our hearts is a longing for permanence. Wouldn’t it be nice if everything stayed new all the time? Instead, we watch our treasured possessions slowly disintegrate before our eyes.

The message of Christmas breathes life into the surrounding decay. It’s a reversal of things—the old made new, the dying made alive. The hopeless infused with hope. Everything of worth will last.

God has promised to make all things new. Because of Christmas, broken hearts can be restored, lives can be renewed. When all is lost, everything is gained. It’s then that we find life that is truly life—a hope that can never fade away.

So it’s not really over. Christmas is the beginning of all things new.

 

Photo Credit: Free photo: Retro Gifts, Christmas Tree – Free Image on Pixabay …

The Gift We Can Never Repay

Blog_ChristmasGiftsChristmas is a time of giving. As God gave the gift of His Son to us, so we give gifts to one another. The blessing of a gift is that it comes without cost to us. While there may have been great cost to the person presenting the gift, the gift is free to the one receiving it.

Too often we allow Christmas to become a contest in gift-giving. We want to see who can give the most costly or creative of gifts. If we receive a gift from someone, we feel obligated to give one in return—even if we had never initially intended to present a gift to them. A sense of guilt or shame comes upon the one who has nothing to give in return for a gift they’ve received.

God, unlike man, has given a gift that can never be repaid. Many times, we think that we can out-give God: that our earthly offerings can somehow surpass His offering to us. Even if God were never to give us more than salvation, it would be impossible for us to repay Him—for everything we have comes from Him. It’s like a child asking her Father for money to buy him a gift: truly, the child has sacrificed nothing to buy the gift. Her resources for her father’s gift came first from her father.

God has given us life and light. HE has given us all creation, and every good thing to enjoy. In Christ Jesus, He has given us abundant life here on earth and the hope of eternal life in His presence. What do we have that He did not give?

Our attempts to repay the Lord are an exercise in futility, because apart from Him we are bankrupt. He is worthy and deserving of our praise and thanksgiving: of our lives, and we give these gifts in humble recognition that He is the ultimate gift-giver. He is the source from whom we derive our being. When we give to Him, we are only returning what belongs to Him. When we give to others, we demonstrate God’s sacrificial heart. So let us gratefully receive the abundance He has given! And let us humbly give our lives to Him, knowing that all we have has first been given to us.

“For who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:35-36)