When the Christmas Season Hurts

You may be celebrating your first Christmas without a loved one. Or perhaps you just lost your job and have no idea what the future holds. Maybe you long for the Christmas in your memories when you and your family were close and could all celebrate together. You might be facing Christmas in the midst of broken relationships that you have no control over.

We all have imperfect lives that we share with other imperfect people. At Christmas time, it seems that all the difficulties are magnified because we want it to be the perfect season, the “Hallmark” Christmas. Even before Hallmark got into making movies, they had their Christmas card commercials on TV that gave everyone those warm fuzzy feelings about the holidays. This may cause us to set our expectations too high.

I learned long ago that it is a rare occasion to have all my family together at Christmas. Last year was one of those years and it could be a long time before it happens again. I’ve learned to be thankful for those family members that I have around me each year and enjoy my time with them rather than waiting for the “perfect” Christmas with everyone present.

But maybe your family has had some bigger challenges and aren’t even speaking to one another. The holidays can become something you dread instead of look forward too.

This is when you must remind yourself of the reason for the season. Jesus came to give us hope. He brings peace on earth. And only He can bring peace into our families. Only He can comfort our hearts in the midst of our sorrows.

If Christmas looks bleak from where you stand, change the direction you are looking. Turn around and look for those you can bless. Finding ways to brighten someone else’s holiday will bring joy to you as well as others.

How can you show the love of Christ this Christmas?

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” – John 14:27

Help With Your Laundry

Doing the laundry can be an unpleasant experience. When I had a houseful of little boys it was sometimes downright disgusting. It’s not something you would want others to see so it’s done out of sight if at all possible. Sometimes in a separate room or the basement. Far from where you would entertain guests.

We all have dirty laundry. It’s really laughable to think about how we hide that sort of thing thinking it would be inappropriate for others to see.  I’m sure all of us have laundry stories. None of us would be shocked by yours.

I remember a season when I was in a difficult circumstance. I’d just had my seventh child by an unplanned C-section. My husband was self-employed and working long hours. I needed help with household tasks and the laundry for nine people topped the list. While I didn’t relish the idea of others doing our laundry, there were a few close friends that I felt comfortable entrusting that chore to. I knew they wouldn’t love me less when they saw my disgusting laundry!

Can I tell you that this picture is a picture of the church? While it isn’t really appropriate to “air your dirty laundry in public” there are people God has put in your life who will not only still love you when they see the ugly things in your life,  they will pull out their washboards and help you sort it out and scrub it clean.

Sometimes we just need to allow others to see into our lives so they can come alongside us and help us work through our stuff. Maybe they can’t solve the problems but they can listen and perhaps lighten the load a little. And God has just the right people in mind for you. People who won’t be shocked by the things you share but who will roll up their sleeves and start scrubbing.  Be willing to do the same for them.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” –
Galatians 6:2(ESV)

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”1 Thessalonians 5:14(ESV)


Do you know of someone that could use this word of encouragement today?

Please share this with your friends. Perhaps it’s just what they need to get through their day.

Sometimes You Gotta Do the Hard Stuff

Several years ago, I sent my 15-year-old son on a plane by himself. I knew it was the right thing to do. But it wasn’t the easy thing to do.

And I don’t think it was a coincidence that at the same time he was changing planes in Chicago, I was working on my Bible study lesson. The lesson was about how difficult it would have been for Paul and Silas to send Timothy to the Thessalonians by himself. He was young and inexperienced but they had confidence that he would be fine.

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I thought about how God orchestrated that moment to show me something. As I wrestled with the feelings a mother gets sending her children off on their own, I heard God speaking to my heart.

There are many times that God asks us to do things that seem hard. Many times we feel stretched beyond our capacity to face the challenges that are set before us.

But the good news is that God has full confidence in us as he asks us to do the hard things. He already knows the growth that we will experience by trusting Him as we take steps that might feel a little scary.

What are you facing that seems hard today? Be encouraged! God will walk each step with you. As a mother, I couldn’t go with my son on that plane, but I knew that my Heavenly Father was right there with him.

And who knows what work the Lord did in that young man — and his mother — because we were both bold enough and brave enough to trust Him with the outcome.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” –Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)

Jesus is Always Out of Reach

Jesus is always out of reach? What? Is that a misprint?  No, it isn’t a misprint. It’s true. But there is a catch.

I believe Jesus IS always out of reach… if we stay where we are. Picture Jesus standing in front of you with hands outstretched toward you. I believe you will never reach him if you refuse to move.

All he requires is that you take one step toward Him.  Just one step to let Him know you truly want Him. And stretching forward without moving an inch from where you stand doesn’t count. He will still be out of reach. We can pretend we want Jesus and lean forward, stretching as far as we can. But if we are unwilling to move toward Him, how serious are we, really?

The good news is that as soon as you take that step, He quickly closes the gap and draws you into an embrace like nothing you’ve ever experienced

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8(ESV)

God’s Response to Spilled Milk

Back in the days when I had seven boys around my dinner table every night, there was a high probability that something would get spilled. And during the season when we were foster parents and had nine boys at the table it was almost a given that there would be a clean-up necessary during the meal.

Our youngest foster son was three when he came to live with us. He was a precious little guy who needed lots of love and patience. One night at the dinner table, he not only spilled his milk but spilled his brother’s at the same time. Waving his arms around as he told us something he was excited about, he bumped both cups at the same time and milk went everywhere.

The horrified look on his face broke my heart. He expected major consequences for his actions, but that wasn’t how we operated at our house. We simply cleaned it up, poured another glass of milk for each of the boys, and went on with the meal.

I think this is how God wants us to expect Him to respond when we do something that makes a mess. Instead of His response being,  “now look what you’ve done!” I believe He comes alongside us and says,” Here, let me help you clean up this mess.”

As a mom, I know that sometimes my patience wears thin and I may respond more harshly than I would like, but God never runs out of patience with us. He is always ready to help us with the messes that we or others create in our lives.

How do I know this? Because God showed us that this is how He works. He saw what we’d done and sent Jesus to help us clean up the mess. If He was willing to do that, we can be assured there is no mess we can make that He will not help clean up.

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)

 

Take the Stairs

At the mall, my husband and I take the stairs as often as possible. We avoid escalators and elevators because we know we need exercise whenever we can get it. Sometimes we get funny looks when we choose to climb a flight of stairs while other shoppers relax as they ride effortlessly to the next level. As they ride, those other folks can casually look around, taking in all the distractions happening in every direction. We, on the other hand, must pay attention to our climb or risk losing our footing and taking a tumble.

I believe our life in the Lord is the same way. God didn’t design our walk with him to be a mindless ride where we glide along without a thought of where we’re going or how we’re getting there. He intended for us to invest some effort into growing in our relationship with him. He meant for us to focus on our daily walk with each step. We aren’t supposed to begin our life with Christ by taking that first step toward him as we take the first step on an escalator and then just relax and enjoy the ride.

The destination is important, but what we invest in the journey we take to get there is of immeasurable value.

Choose today to be intentional in your relationship with Christ. Choose today to take the stairs.

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:12-14(ESV)

One Brick at a Time

 

What if your life was like a brick wall? One brick would represent each day that you live—each one adding to the wall that tells the story of your life.

Scripture has many references to walls. In most cases, they represent the strength of a city or a nation. Some references speak of building up the walls and providing protection while in others the picture is of a nation being destroyed as its walls are demolished. There is strength in a well-built wall.

What if each day you wasted left a hole in your wall? Would you have gaping holes? But let’s not get rigid about this—some holes might be perfectly acceptable. After all, a few windows here and there might add a nice touch.

But, if wasted days are holes and you accumulate too many, you would weaken the whole wall.

What counts as a wasted day? Perhaps one where you spend more time on yourself than on others. Maybe a day where you procrastinate and never really accomplish what you set out to do. Or it might be times when you spend the day nursing hurt feelings or holding a grudge.

We don’t always get it right, but each day we can purpose in our hearts to be faithful and continue building.
One brick at a time.

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” – Ephesians 5:15-16(ESV)

Do You Feel Heard?

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who you knew wasn’t listening? They may have been distracted by activity around them or perhaps they were in pain or worrying about something else happening in their life. We can excuse those things because we all have stuff to deal with and sometimes lose our focus.

There is a similar conversation that may be more challenging and hurtful. It’s the conversation with someone who isn’t listening because they’re too busy thinking about what they’re going to say next. They’re so focused on the importance of what they want to say that they can’t really listen to you. This situation is addressed in Proverbs 18:2.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (ESV)

Sometimes we can be so self-centered that we don’t even realize what we’re doing but God doesn’t let us use that as an excuse. In James 1:19 it says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (ESV)

Still, we are human and we will continue to make mistakes. But there is good news! God is never distracted when we talk to Him. He isn’t in pain; he isn’t worried; he isn’t distracted by what else is happening at the moment. And the funny thing about this? God isn’t focused on what He wants to say—even though His words are THE most important words in the Universe!

God is focused on you. He wants to hear every word you say. He wants you to come to Him with every care and every prayer. You can talk to Him without concern that He isn’t interested. Try it!

“I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.” Psalm 116:1-2(ESV)

Are You Staying the Same?

I volunteer in the guest services ministry at my church on Sunday mornings. As I stand under a bright orange tent at one of the many entrances of the building, I watch for the people to arrive, looking for first-time visitors. At first, folks begin to trickle in, just a few at a time. At a certain point, usually about fifteen minutes before the service begins, I can look across the parking lot and see a steady stream of people all moving toward me. They come in couples or groups and some come alone. I greet each one with a smile and say good morning.

Today, one man looked at me and said, “You just can’t stop smiling, can you?” He was right. I couldn’t stop smiling as I saw so many of God’s people coming to His house to worship together. It was a beautiful morning, much cooler than what we’d experienced for several months, and many of us were cheerful. But it wasn’t the weather that made me smile. It was knowing that God’s people were gathering together.

After the rush was over and the service had started, there were still a few stragglers who came quickly up the sidewalk; I welcomed them as they hurried into the building.

Then it got quiet, and I thought about the people I had greeted. Some smiled and responded to my words. Others nodded and glanced away. There were also those who refused to make eye contact at all (I don’t judge them, they are probably introverts like me!)

The people going in were of all different walks of life, different ages, and different marital statuses. They were also at different levels of understanding of the things of God. I thought about how God saw each person who had passed my greeting station and I realized something important.

God doesn’t care what we’re like when we walk IN the doors. He doesn’t care how we compare to the people walking behind or in front of us. He cares about what has changed in us and what we’re like when we walk back OUT the doors. His purpose is for each of us to change when we encounter His presence and the teaching of His word. He never stops helping us grow.

Did you go to church on Sunday? Did you leave changed, never to be the same again? If not, God was speaking, were you listening?

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” – Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” – 2 Peter 3:28 (ESV)





Stay Away From the Edge

Have you ever hiked in the mountains? Two years ago I had a son get married in the mountains of Tennessee. Since I’ve lived most of my life in rather flat places and now live in Florida, where it’s very flat, I’ve always had a fascination with mountains.

During our trip to Tennessee, we took some time to visit one of my son’s favorite viewing spots. We drove up and up a winding road and finally came out on the top of a mountain with a breathtaking view.

As we walked along the boardwalk to the viewing platform, I could see spindly little trees determined to grow out of the crevices in the rocks. I could see the many variations of green as I gazed across the mountain range, and since it was the beginning of fall, there were splashes of oranges and yellows.

I walked to the edge of the platform and leaned against the fence to look way down into the valley below. Suddenly I realized that I wouldn’t be able to stand where I was without the fence! I’d never have the courage to stand so near the edge without some sort of barrier.

The Lord showed me a beautiful truth at that moment. God wants us to experience great pleasure and joy in this life. He has so much to share with us while we are on earth, but He’s put safeguards in place to keep us from falling; barriers to keep us safe. We are not to flirt with sin, so He desires to keep us away from the edge. While there are times we must be near the edge, perhaps in ministry to others, we must always take care to stay behind the fence.

We can also use this picture to understand how accountability works. Are there areas in your life where temptation is great and you find yourself dangerously close to the edge? That’s the time to reach out to a brother or sister in Christ and ask them to help you build a fence.

God doesn’t use fences to hold you captive; He does it to keep you from falling. It’s for your good that there are barriers in your life.  

“Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:24-25(HCSB)


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