Evaluating What Remains

Unpacking Christmas Evaluating What Remains

We return our decorations to their storage boxes to conclude another Christmas past. Upon evaluation of what remains, alongside the pine needles and glitter specks, I find wonder.

The wonder for Christians post-Christmas continues; the decorations are laid to rest year after year but our Savior lives on.

We pack away temporal Christmas treasures symbolizing peace, love, joy, and eternal hope; yet, eternal life is the gift that remains. No one can put a lid on the true meaning of Christmas because inexpressible light and joy promises to live on in the hearts of believers until such a time for His second coming.

The wrapping paper and boxes are disposed, the gifts received, and a few presents returned and in it all is this: The gift was given just over two thousand years ago and His is the gift which gives eternal.

As we embark on a new year, it is with the knowledge that no present brings peace and no gift brings reconciliation except the Christ whose birth we celebrate each year.

We stand on the threshold of a new year remembering His promises: Jesus will return and until such time He rewards those who live with faith and earnestly seeking Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Happy New Year, dear ones. I look forward to seeking our Savior with you in the year to come.

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Unpacking Christmas: Three Gifts

 A Christmas Poem

Christmas dawned cool and bright; I awoke at 6 AM that morn’.
All the presents were still wrapped and the ribbon yet untorn.

I began to wonder with delight what the day’s festivities would bring
Would I get that iPod shuffle, a DVD, perhaps a ring?

After breakfast came three presents they were wrapped just as I liked.
When I shook them they were silent, small, and tender…was that right?

The first I gently opened wondering, “Was it delicate and sweet?”
I gasped as I discovered Forgiveness had been given me.

I wept as I recounted all the selfishness, anger, and pride
that had accompanied my character; those traits I try to hide.

I was thankful for this present, overwhelmed at such generosity
to be given what I hadn’t asked for, nor deserved, but yet would be
the greatest gift that only Christ could offer which cost His life on Calvary.
I lingered with Forgiveness one more moment then proceeded to open next,
a present a little larger and more glittery than the rest.

Grace and Mercy came pouring out as soon as I unwrapped the ribbon then
light shone all around it as I gingerly looked in.

Ah, Grace, greater than all my sins which beckons me to come
and Mercy to let me visit with my Savior and consider all that He has done.

Grace, which accompanies Forgiveness but continues to set me free
to pursue the King of Glory and to know the King of Kings.

I marveled once more at Mercy that would allow me to behold
a precious gift much greater than all my weight in gold.
Could there be more to this Christmas? One more present still left beneath the Christmas tree?
I rubbed my eyes in wonder as His Spirit had set me free.

The third gift looked more rustic a little rough that was clear to see.
I eagerly unwrapped this present and was astonished to see… me.

A dirty mirror met my gaze and I started then to fret
as I picked up a note inside then proceeded to read it.

11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:11-13

Dear One,

I have saved you to make My Name and Glory known among the nations.  Let us move beyond your childish ways this year and clean this mirror together. It is not an easy task, but with Me all things are possible.  Let’s make this a year to love others. I want to use you to extend Forgiveness, Grace, and Mercy to all mankind. Will you join me?

Love,

I Am

Oh, Christ whose grace is greater than all my wicked sins,
would you choose to use this vessel though it is dirty deep within?

That you would change me and use me to set other captives free.
Yes, I will join you on this journey, take up my cross and follow Thee.
Will you join us on this journey, take up your cross and follow He?

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Unpacking Christmas: The Empty Seat

Unpacking Christmas The Empty Seat

The first Christmas came pregnant with anticipation and the heralding of angels upon lowly shepherds in a dim-lit field. For thirty-three years Mary remembered the night her son, our Savior, was born. She pondered the events in her heart and poured over the man the Son had become. On the thirty-fourth year after His birth, she found herself celebrating an unexpected Christmas: God and Son reunited, mother and Son separated by heaven and earth.

As we remember this Christmas the angels heralding his birth, we too may find ourselves celebrating an unexpected Christmas like Mary’s 34th Christmas. A Christmas celebration marked by loss even as we are cradled in the cross of Christ. The Father empathizes with our empty place settings at the table this Christmas. He sees every tear and knows the aching of our hearts. The loved ones who are united now with the Father have left a scar on our souls; a separation that only death can bring. Thankfully death lost its final sting at the resurrection, and those who were in Christ in life now celebrate Christmas with the One of whom it was prophesied:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. ~Isaiah 53:4-6

The separation from our loved ones is potentially temporary because Christ first separated Himself from the Father. He brought us peace in His pain and healing in His affliction. No one comprehends the sorrows of a grieving heart like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Indeed He sympathizes with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) and gives grace in our grief. As unexpected Christmas’s are celebrated all around the world, petitions are made to the One who brought us eternal peace asking Him to pour His healing balm on temporal suffering hearts once more.

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Unpacking Christmas: The Manger

Manger

Every year I gingerly unpack the green and gold Lenox boxes containing our hand-me-down nativity set. Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the shepherds and wise men typically grace the table in quick succession. However, this year I am trying something a little different. We are adding to the nativity as we read about the accounts of the blessed historical characters of Christmas. Our nativity will unfold as does the Christmas account over the course of Advent.

As I consider the people surrounding the story of Jesus’ birth I am reminded of how His purpose in mission was foreshadowed in the details of His birth.

  • He was born to two poor, humble parents. Followers of God and expectant of the coming Messiah long before they understood Mary would be the chosen vessel, He chose these two, the seemingly powerless, to welcome the Most High God.

Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. (1 Corinthians 1:27)

  • He identified Himself with poverty of means in birth and foretold His poverty of Spirit even centuries before He came to earth.

He was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. (Isaiah 53:3)

  • Angels heralded His birth not to the wise and wonderful, but to the lonely and diligent servants of sheep for He would set the lonely into families.

God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. (Psalm 68:6)

  • No royal robes did he don, but swaddling clothes as he lay in a manger where animals fed.

But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12)

As you gaze upon your nativity this year consider the true account of Christmas as told in the gospels and ask yourself, “What have we as a culture added to the story of Christmas? What have we taken away?” A wonderful resource to read to rediscover the history of the nativity is Answer’s in Genesis’s booklet: Uncovering the Real Nativity. (See here.)

Also, a closer look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, may prove profitable for you this year. Consider reading, Mary Christmas, a post I wrote over at Raise the Risk a few years ago or the fabulous account in this month’s Homelife Magazine, written by Liz Curtis Higgs, Between Now and Then: When you wait with God, you never wait alone. In this excerpt from her new book, The Women of Christmas, Liz pens, “God didn’t choose Mary because she was unique. Mary was unique because God chose her. ”

May our hearts turn ever more to beat in sync with the Savior of the world as we seek to know Him and make Him known.

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Unpacking Christmas: Books

Unpacking Christmas Books for the Heart

A thoughtful, well illustrated book is a gift that continues to resonate long after “the end” is read. Last night we read a few Christmas books before bedtime and one happened to be a scratch and sniff book by Joan Walsh Anglund that I received as a young girl over 25 Christmas’ ago.  The real surprise…you can still scratch and sniff the pepper-minty pie, pepperoni pizza, and beautiful fir tree that Mary and Willie prepare for their Christmas party guests!

Below is a listing for the youngest to the oldest of readers to enjoy within your home this Christmas. I hope you experience the true meaning of Christmas in a fresh way this year and every one thereafter as you unpack these Christmas books in the years to come.

A special note to my readers without little children in this season of life, the last five books are for you. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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Unpacking Christmas Traditions

Unpacking Christmas 1

Seasons Greetings! For the next three weeks we will unpack Christmas together. Much like we unpack the holiday decorations for our home before we enjoy the sights and smells of Christmas, we will unpack the meaning behind the people, practices, and promises of Christmas. Today I invite you to begin with a closer look at three Christmas traditions:

  • Tangled Christmas Lights (here)
  • Ugly Christmas Boxes (here)
  • Why Our Children Know the Truth about Santa (here)

May today be merry and bright!

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Of Grace and Peace

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:2)

Paul’s letters begin with these words: grace and peace. Each time they are accompanied by, ” from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” In his letters to Timothy, Paul also adds mercy.

Jesus mercifully came to pour out His grace so that the Holy Spirit might forever reign in believers hearts giving them peace.

That I would carry a greeting of grace and peace to my brothers and sisters in word, heart, and spirit. That takes the infiltrating mercy I receive from God to turn and pour out mercy upon mercy. Giving mercy just as I have been freely given mercy.

How often is my soul in a state of unrest? Worry, sin, and striving can lead to this state, but abiding in Christ Jesus and growing in love and knowledge of Him ushers forth His grace and peace in my spirit and yours.

When the angels told of the birth of Christ, they ushered in their tidings with,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased. ” Luke 2:14 (emphasis mine)

In the form of a warm and fleshy baby boy, peace and joy were birthed to earth so that striving and death could be ceased.

I long to behold the baby boy of Bethlehem whose birth we celebrate over two thousand years later. To be one of the lowly shepherds to coddle, kiss, and worship his tiny fingers and toes. To bask in the earthen glow of a heavenly Savior is to know Love.

Our King.

I must recognize my thirst for my Savior and His Word beckoning to me, “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The shepherds momentarily laid down their duties to partake of His grace and joy. I should do the same.

How did the lowly shepherds spend the rest of their earthly days?

What joy did they take forth into their mundane tasks?

Was that moment in a stable enough to sustain them till heaven or did they ask God for more? How many of them lived the thirty-three years more to receive the eternal anointing of the Holy Spirit?

Indeed the baby boy of heaven changed everything.

This Thanksgiving which ushers in the Christmas season, might we remember to receive His grace and peace in all things as we worship the new-born King of Kings turn Risen Savior? Might we pause from tasks, turn from distractions, and then bow our heads in meditation and wonder at the gift of Christ our Savior?

Grace and peace to you in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ this Christmas season and every one thereafter.

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

I’ve begun to wonder if we haven’t romanticised Christmas.

The snow, the lights, hot chocolate and fur-fringed attire…I wonder if all of our man-made fluff hasn’t gotten in the way of the real heart of Christmas.

Christmas: a story that only God could craft. The Christ child born to a virgin and a simple carpenter from an obscure town.

Only the King of Kings, holy in all His ways, would write His Son into a story of simple obscurity and then cloak it in heavenly lights and angels heralding His birth to the poorest of the poor: nomadic sheep keepers seldom in the company of people much less the Son of the Most High. In a single night, royalty was tied to poppers, and peasants were afforded the honor of being the first to welcome the Messiah. And aren’t we all the least of these apart from our adoption in Christ?

Christmas is for all people: the rich, poor, the simple, the wisdom seekers, the joyful and sorrow-filled.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. ~Luke 2:10-11

The sights and sounds of the holiday are a welcome reminder of the reason we should celebrate our Savior all year long. The true gift is the One who was given.

I pray that this Christmas season will find us wrapped in thoughts of Jesus, grateful for the gift of salvation that He brings to all mankind; not pining after a nostalgic ideal that misses the mark of CHRISTmas… God with us.

Yes, partake in all the seasonal festivities as much as the Holy Spirit allows you freedom to do so. However, also steal away from the crowd as Christ himself did and spend time in private awe of The Gift, giving Him thanks and the glory due His name.

May we not rob Jesus the joy of worship in the season that celebrates comfort and joy.

Praising Him along with you this Christmas season and always,

 

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For When You Don’t Want to Trim the Tree

I lay on my unmade bed, “I don’t really want to decorate this house. I have the nativity up, isn’t that enough?”

Decorations were strewn all over the bedroom and living room and I was strewn on the bed in desperate need of a mental and physical break.

Wasn’t I the woman who had all her Christmas presents purchased before Thanksgiving for a few years in a row? Wasn’t I the one who occasionally decorated for Christmas prior to leaving for Thanksgiving celebrations with family in Alabama? My how things had changed.

Then I recalled Emily’s quip, “The tree looks beautiful mama!” This after I had only plugged the lights in! Then it came to me: I am no longer decorating for myself; I am decorating the house for the kids now.

I lay there a little while longer and let this reality set in. Even decorating the house for Christmas has taken on a selfless twist with the dawning of parenthood. Ashamedly, this was novel news to me. I always thought my mom decorated because she loved Christmas, but maybe it is always for the ones she loves?

After brainstorming what remained of the decorations, I began my quest to decorate the house in such a way that the kids and Ron would happily reflect upon in years to come. The new flannel Christmas sheets hit the mattress, the second nativity the dresser, garland and ornaments for the chandler, and the finishing ornaments on the tree.

Truly, Christmas was never about the presents nor the decorations it’s always been about man’s sinful heart which needed to be redeemed by the sinless Messiah.

The decorations in our home are an outward reminder and a marker to share the story of redemption. The story that all started when the Son forfeited Heaven to lay down in a bed of hay and start our journey Home.

 *A special thanks to the wonderful Neely Farms. We look forward to our traditional after Thanksgiving Day visit every year.

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Of Christmas Without “Them”

I can still hear her voice quiver as each year she gathered her houseful of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren around the table. Just before the blessing, she would recount her love for her family and her thankfulness to God for being alive to share in the celebration of Christmas with those she loved most.

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My great-grandmother was a mother to five, three girls and two rambunctious boys, but known as “Mama” to most. I called her Grandmother Cost. She lived through the depression, along with her husband and children, and her life-long work ethic was a testimony to this.

Each Sunday she would prepare a home-cooked (usually home-grown) meal complete with a made-from-scratch, scrape the plate clean, chocolate cake. For any and all family that would gather to eat after church, Mama’s was the place to congregate.

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Her home would not grace the spreads of any fashionable magazines, but rather was a place of memories made. I can picture in my mind the brown and gold shag carpet and worn linoleum floors. Feel the coolness of rooms long ago filled with laughter and quarreling, that in the later decades remained shut to sustain heat in the main living areas.

It always felt to my childhood mind that the presence of those past memories and people,  namely at that time my great-grandfather I  never knew, roamed about in those rooms, but that is probably attributed to the overactive imagination of a child.

Mama worked her own garden and mowed her own lawn until her death in her mid nineties.  If the Braves or Crimson Tide were playing, you could find her in her matriarchal recliner occasionally arguing with calls made.

Sunday’s you would find her at church.

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My Grandmother Cost knew that her days were numbered, but she did not know the number of her days. That is why with tears and a quivering voice each Christmas before grace was said and thanks was given, she would let her offspring know of her love and appreciation for us all.

When we were ready to eat, we knew that Mama would be making her yearly speech and the room would grow uncomfortable with the thought of not having her presence at the table in subsequent years. They were the words of a woman who loved and was loved and needed to tell you one more time.

As we are entering Christmas week, my thoughts turn to broken hearts that have lost loved ones this year. How they must weep with their loss. I can recount the lives that I know have passed this year. A father, husband, and cop. A daughter, mother, and sister. A friend, co-worker, Papa and dad. These are only three lives who have in someway intersected with mine, but who bring hot tears when I think of their loved ones who miss them so much.

What about us? Who is it that we need to express our love, extend our gratitude, or grace with verbalized (perhaps unsought) forgiveness this Christmas?

This may be the last Christmas… or the beginning of more meaningful friend and family-filled Christmas’ to come.

I would much rather be remembered for a quiver in my sentimental voice than have regrets that I did not say, “I love you, He loves you, and the only real decision that will matter in light of eternity is:

What did we do with Jesus?”

When the coffin is closed, when death has stung, when our time has come, what did we do with the baby born in Bethlehem? The Christ-child turned crucified Savior and finally the risen King of Redeeming Kings?

We may have some regrets as we contemplate the thought of one last Christmas or that last Christmas with the one we loved. Our Father knows that we are but dust-formed lives. He sees, He knows, and He forgives those who ask. I pray for healing in hurting hearts that may read this post. After being a wreck earlier this year, I know even more fully that it is God who numbers our days.

As we joyfully celebrate this blessed season, may we seek restoration in Him and seek to restore others who are hurting and broken over Christmas without them.

If you are reading via e-mail subscription, get out your tissues and click here to watch the accompanying music video by Matthew West.

Raise the Risk Challenge:

  • Say, “I love you, I forgive you, or thank you,” to those whom God speaks on your heart.
  • Write a card or word of encouragement to someone who is spending their Christmas without a dear family member or friend.
  • Help a family in need in spiritual and physical ways this Christmas.
  • Watch this message by my pastor, Dr. Willy Rice.

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