Christmas Celebrations + Body Life

Dear friends,

Are any of you like me, with grand plans for all the things you’d like to accomplish for the Lord?  I love Jesus so much and want to do ALL the things.  But, I’m just one person with just 24 hours in a day and those days are already full.  So, when God began impressing on me to reach out to the ladies in my neighborhood, I began to pray for God to send someone to work alongside me.  He did.

Through the wonders of Facebook, I found a fellow Christ-follower who also wanted to reach out to our neighbors.  She offered to make and distribute flyers to invite the ladies over, while I opened my home to host it.  Debbie even went so far as coming over 3 hours early to decorate and set up!

God blessed me with this passage conveniently scheduled that morning in my Scripture Typer app.  1 Corinthians 12:4-7 ” Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;  and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

I love to talk, to pray, to share the good news of the love of Jesus.  And I got to do just that within the comfort of my beautifully decorated home.  Thank you, Jesus!  And thank you, Debbie!  And thank you to my 2-dozen neighbors who stopped by!

Friends, God didn’t design His body to operate as cut-off individual members.    We have different gifts, different passions, different ways to serve.  We need each other on purpose!

Heart-check: What God-sized goal is in your heart that you need someone to partner with you?  How are you trying to operate in your own strength, separated from the body of Christ?

Let me leave you with something I wrote several years ago, but seem to revise every year!

Keeping Christ in Christmas – Every Day of the Year

When a friend posted this question on an online forum, “How do we keep Jesus Christ and His birth at the center of our Christmas celebration?” I gave a lot of thought to my answer. This question is particularly important to me because I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, and yet, my family celebrated Christmas. We hung stockings, decorated a Christmas tree, exchanged gifts and played Santa, just like every other red-blooded American family.

By the time I was a teenager, I was an outspoken atheist who loved to argue with my Christian friends, and yet, I had little understanding of the Christian faith. I did not understand that Christians believed that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh and that Christmas was celebrated to remember the day He was born on earth to live as a man. It was not until I was 21-years-old and had many heated debates with a Christian young man (who later became my husband) that I heard the good news of the gospel – that I could be forgiven by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, turning away from my sin and following Him.

So, with that background, let me encourage everyone how truly important it is to keep the birth of Jesus at the focus of your Christmas celebrations. In response to the question, “How do we keep Jesus Christ at the center of Christmas?” the answer is to intentionally seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, setting your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1-2)

Yes, we festively decorate our home and Christmas tree. Yes, we buy gifts for our children and other members of our family. Yes, we drive around town and look at pretty Christmas lights. But, no, we don’t spend days and weeks putting up and taking down decorations. We refuse to go into debt feeding our kids’ appetites for stuff and our own appetite to impress others with our earthly possessions. And, no, we do not pack on December with a dozen holiday events because, truthfully, they take our family’s eyes off the true gift of Jesus and just add busy-ness to our already full lives.

After following Jesus for over twenty years, though, I have learned that the Christian life is so much more than a list of do’s and don’ts. It really is a living relationship with the great Creator, Ruler of the Universe, and Lord of my soul, so please do not see my suggestions as added rules and burdens for you to follow. Evaluate your own advent activities to see whether they are drawing your family to a closer relationship with Jesus or pushing you farther away. Truly, when you seek the Lord with all your heart, you will find Him. Jesus is truly our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His Word is a light to our feet. You can trust Him, and you can trust His Word.

With that said, here are some choices we’ve made to help us not lose Jesus amidst our Yuletide celebrations –

  • We taught our kids from a young age that playing pretend is fun, but it’s just pretend. God is real. Santa is pretend. The Bible is real. Fairy tales are pretend. Yes, we put out cookies for Santa. Yes, we stuffed stockings. It was fun! But our kids knew the truth. I decided that God wanted us to be truth bearers and I wanted my kids to trust that Mommy and Daddy always speak the truth. That didn’t mean we couldn’t play pretend – but they knew we are pretending.
  • We try to have most of our gifts bought by December 1, so our minds are not consumed by shopping. The stress of finding “the perfect gifts” is not good for the “Christmas spirit.”
  • We limit ourselves to three gifts per child. This limits not only the money, but also the time and energy, we spend on Christmas gifts.
  • I force myself to go to bed at night. If it’s not done by 10:30, then it doesn’t need to be done. Tomorrow is another day. A tired mommy is a cranky mommy.
  • Each of our four children chooses a gift for each of their siblings and parents and they use some of their own money to buy them. This helps them focus on giving, rather than just receiving.
  • When it’s time to open gifts, we each take turns giving our gifts to the recipients, rather than the recipients taking their gifts.
  • We enjoy a daily time of prayer, scripture reading, and discussion for the 25 days of advent.

Which leads me back to the original question: “How do we keep Jesus Christ and His birth at the center of our Christmas celebration?”

This certainly is a good question to ask, but may I suggest that the better question is this:  “How do we keep Christ at the center of every single day of the year?”  365 days-a-year we can choose to seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, setting your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. I’m praying that this holiday season, and for all the days of our lives, that we would, trust in the LORD with all our hearts, leaning not on our own understanding, acknowledging Him in all our ways. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

You can download your own copy of Keeping Christ in Christmas here:
Keeping Christ in Christmas 2018

God with us

The English name “Jesus” is taken from the Greek word “Iésous,” which is from the Hebrew for “Jehovah is salvation.” So, when an angel of the Lord told Joseph, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

As I’m pondering this I’m considering 3 things:

  1. God works through all different languages, which I find particularly fascinating.
  2. God is communicating to Joseph that “Yes, He (Jehovah, Yahweh) saves” — AND that this baby boy conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb will HIMSELF save His people from their sins. This is additional confirmation that Jesus Christ, our Messiah, is Himself God in the flesh. There is only one God and Jesus is Yahweh incarnate (in the flesh).
  3. This is confirmed in the next two verses (Matthew 1:22-23) “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).

Come let us worship the Lord our King, God who took on flesh to save His people from their sins.

Thanks Giving

Earlier this week, I shared the origins of the American Thanksgiving celebration with my dear “little sister” Zoe in China,

Here is her reply:

In this week of Thanksgiving, I want to give thanks in all circumstances.

There is always plenty to give thanks for, even if we sometimes have to search harder for it.

Father, thank you for a wonderful week spent with my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and four of my nephews.

Thank you for the blessing it is to be a wife and a mother.

Thank you for the freedom to worship that I enjoy here in America.

Thank you for our financial blessings – for plenty of good food and warm clothing and homes larger than we need.

Thank you for the beauty of sunrise and the sunset and the big blue sky. Thank you for your majesty revealed from the heavens, that mankind would seek you and find you.

Thank you for the sisterhood of believers, both near and far.

And then … right at this moment, just as we’re driving back home across the great plains of the Midwest … just as I’m midway through composing this blog post … just when I’m chatting online with my little Chinese sister, encouraging her to walk by faith …

I received this heart-breaking message:

Is God real?

Does God work in time and space to draw men to Himself?

Does God use His children here on earth to share the good news of eternal life through faith in Christ?

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Stay tuned — there’s more to this story.

Heart-check: Where are you struggling to give thanks? How can I pray for you?

TWIG

To the weary, laboring, and heavy-laden

I grew up in the great state of Iowa, where the corn grows tall and people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. My parents were hard workers, raised by hard workers. My mother’s parents were world-class farmers. My father’s parents were children of immigrants. My grandfather became an attorney of excellence. Hard work runs strong in my blood.

For years Matthew 11:28-30 has been special to me. I have (no-joke) labored to memorize this passage, treasuring it in my often weary heart. Indeed, I have labored and indeed I am thankful for the rest Jesus promises me.

“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

This past week, as I’ve been studying this passage in more depth, I’m finally seeing the context in which Jesus is speaking.

These verses are sandwiched between Jesus denouncing the Jewish cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, and Jesus telling the Pharisees that they don’t understand what “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” means.

This paragraph begins in Matthew 11:25 with, “At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to little children.”

Jesus is talking to the Jewish religious sect called the Pharisees. Despite being eyewitnesses of Jesus’s miracles and hearing His preaching first-hand, they did not recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah. The Pharisees remained unrepentant. The Pharisees would have been considered the wise and understanding, but they missed the joy, peace and freedom that faith in Jesus could bring.

Like Jesus explains in Matthew 23:4, the Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” (You can read Matthew 23 for more on this)

These heavy burdens are not farmers’ chores, like plowing fields, slopping pigs, and shoveling out horse stalls. They are not housewives’ chores, like cleaning your house until the floors shine, cooking three nutritious gourmet meals every day, and homeschooling a dozen children.

Rather, the Pharisees’ heavy burdens are religious duties designed to earn salvation from God. Religious duties like strictly tithing, offering animal sacrifices and keeping the Sabbath down to the minute detail.

Or in modern American Christian culture, attending church twice a week, serving monthly at a homeless ministry, and knocking on your neighbors’ doors to share the gospel. And, unfortunately, in the modern American Christian homeschool community where I dwell, it may indeed include working your fingers to the bone cleaning your house until the floors shine, cooking three nutritious gourmet meals everyday, and homeschooling a dozen children.

Friends, these are all good things. Please, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men, like Colossians 3:23 instructs. Please, be workers at home, like Titus 2:5 says. Please, put your hand to the plow and don’t look back! (Luke 9:62) Please do!

But, do these works, because you’re following Jesus. Let these deeds flow from a place of rest, a place of joy and blessing. Jesus loves you and He wants to work through you to bring Him glory. Wow! What a privilege, that this little girl from Iowa can bring glory to the Lord of Heaven and Earth!

Jesus, the promised Messiah as foretold by the prophet Isaiah, took my sins upon Himself at his death on the cross. Jesus bore my griefs. Jesus carried my sorrows. I have been healed by His wounds. (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Jesus invites us to give Him our burdens, to come to Him with the trusting faith of little children. In Jesus, we can find rest not only for our bodies, but for our SOULS.

Does your SOUL need rest? Are you tired of working to pay God back? Are you tired of trying to earn salvation? Are you tired of trying to atone for your own sins?

Friend, you can never, ever be good enough. Never. You can never pay God back. You will never deserve being saved.

Jesus paid the price for you. He is inviting you to take His yoke upon you and learn from Him, that you can have soul-rest.

Heart-check:

How are you tying up heavy burdens for yourself to carry? For others?

Have you come to Jesus and taken His yoke? What stands in your way?

How can I help you?

TWIG