Christmas revisited

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This comic cracked me up. So many of us “bent” the rules to make Christmas work for us. Whatever you decided, hope you had a wonderful Christmas! Our family chose Zoom, Facetime and outside, 6 feet apart meeting for an hour. I know others did Christmas like any other year. Some did a blend. So how did it go?

For me, I spent the day after Christmas reflecting on the changes we implemented this year. One of my favorite parts of the day was Zooming with my brother, who I haven’t seen since he recovered from Covid. Another favorite was making a yummy meal with my teens. We all worked together in the kitchen and it tasted great too! Not having the chaos of ton of us piled into my parent’s family room, that was missed. Our Christmases are always filled with laughter and light-hearted banter. I missed several parties with friends. Some cancelled, some continued on and I chose not to attend.

Now comes the hard question – how are your relationships with others? Are you mad at those who gathered without caution? Are you mad at those who skipped gathering because they felt cautious? You are most likely in one camp or the other. A friend of mine commented that we are seeing a side of people we wouldn’t normally see in every day life. We are seeing their beliefs played out in front of all of us. Do they value others lives? Do they value their own well-being? Do they respect authority? So many of us are forced to face these questions and see friends and loved-ones in a new light. I have one word for this dilemma – GRACE.

We need to extend grace to those who have disappointed us this season. We don’t have to restore and mend all of those broken relationships, but we do need to extend grace and forgiveness. We need to release the anger we may feel towards others. We need to let go of feeling blind-sided by people’s comments that were in direct opposition to our own. We need to let people be who they are. We need to move on. People disappoint us. They always will. God will not.

And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. ~ Romans 5:3-5 NASB

For me, I will put my identity in Christ. I will allow some relationships to change based on new information I have learned about them. I will continue to press on to be God’s hands and feet in this troubled world. I encourage you to be reflective and productive.

Dream Big! Pray Big!

The Christ Candle

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Tonight we light the Christ candle in our Advent wreath. We celebrate the birth of Christ. His gift of light to our dark world. As we anticipate Christmas morning, we also anticipate Christ’s 2nd return. Tomorrow, we can relight the Christ candle to remind us that He has come and is coming again. Such hope.

In this very odd year of social distancing and zoom celebrations, Christ shows up right in our homes. You may be missing the company of your extended family. You may be alone and celebrating only online with others. You may choose to meet in person and hope everyone stays healthy. Whatever your choice, make sure Christ is in the midst.

So many have said to me “it doesn’t feel like Christmas.” I was pondering why. Normally I would attend a few parties and would have visited face-to-face when delivering gifts to friends. I would have spent Christmas afternoon with my entire family at my parent’s home. The main difference I see the year is though is that I’m less busy. I had more time to sit and ponder who God is and praise Him for His work in my life. I had more time to sit by the Christmas tree and admire the beauty of it. I had more time to chill and watch Hallmark movies with my daughter. I am missing a bit of the bustle. However, I love the pace of this year’s holiday. I am more present with those in my Covid-Bubble and I feel God’s presence more this year. I am lamenting and celebrating. I am embracing the reality of the first Christmas.

Jesus was born after his mom and dad walked a long journey to Bethlehem. I am sure there was pain for Mary and concern for Joseph. All the visitors – shepherd and wise men – were a wonderful surprise. However, not long after his birth, Joseph and Mary fled with their newborn to Egypt to escape Herods’s wrath to kill all newborn sons in the region. They had celebrating and lamenting. That’s reality. That’s life. That’s humanity. God in the midst of our struggles. God in the midst of our joy. Let’s be real about where we are this year. Let’s invite Him to be a part of every portion of our emotions and our life.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this. ~ Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV

Merry Christmas!

Dream Big! Pray Big!

Peace

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Our last of the 4 Sundays of advent was yesterday. On Christmas eve, we again light all 4 advent candles (hope, love, joy and peace) and also the Christ candle. I look forward to that celebration. We will focus on Christ’s coming on Christmas and anticipate His 2nd coming. He is our Prince of Peace.

We have a weekly Advent book provided by Fellowship Monrovia Church that we have used this advent season. The question was asked “When you pray for peace, what is it that you hope for?” Most of us hope for a miracle cure to our problems. A quick fix. Something to take all the pain and difficulty away. As the booklet says, “Many times, we are hoping for some “zen-like” calm to just wash over us, take away our problems, and give us visions of rainbows and sunshine.” Sounds nice, but that isn’t true peace.

Peace isn’t the removal of circumstances. It isn’t the cure-all. It isn’t the quick fix. If that is your expectation of peace, you will be disappointed. In the Bible, Jesus tells us that We will have trouble in the same paragraph that he encourages us to find peace in God. Peace and trouble coexist. Peace in the midst of trouble is what we are seeking. Peace in the midst of difficult, trying circumstances is our goal. In Him (Jesus), we have this peace.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. ~John 16:33 NIV

What does that mean? If peace isn’t the taking away of hard times, what is it? It’s a knowing “I’m OK” in the midst of hard times. It’s the ability to sit still and be at rest in the midst of hard times. Who does that? Believers. Followers of Christ. Not the world. You can’t find peace without Jesus. You just can’t. True peace is a resting in God, His promises, His hope, His Son, Jesus. As Paul says in Philippians, it “transcends all understanding.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:4-7 NIV

Peace makes no sense when you are in a tough time. It makes no sense at all. It baffles others who see us OK when times are time. By OK, I don’t mean no tears or struggle. I mean, you have a contentment and a calm in a time when others would be distraught. During this pandemic, if we find peace, we are teaching people about Jesus. They won’t understand how we can be OK when it’s not OK. Friends, you have an opportunity to reach others for Him during this time. Seek His peace. Don’t fake it. Don’t say God’s got this and walk around without a mask. Be wise. Be real. Feel your feelings. Cry if you need to. Lament. Let others see your journey. Yet while you feel all of this, you come to place of stillness and hope. That’s peace. Seek it. Share it. Live it.

Dream Big! Pray Big!

JOY

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One of my favorite songs about joy is “Joy” by King and Country. You can’t sit still when you listen to it. I have it playing while I type this. It always elevates my mood. What is your favorite joy song? Share in the comments. Here are a few ideas.

Joy to the World

I Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in my Heart

The Joy of the Lord is my Strength

I know you have heard many times before, joy and happiness are two different things. Joy is not based on circumstances. It’s a deep, confidence, and hope inside of us. Happiness is based on circumstances. Joy can coexist with tears. Yesterday, in my time with God, I was doing a study I found online. The author encouraged us to write down Things to Grieve and Things to Celebrate. It was powerful. I not only identified what is weighing heavily on my heart, I focused on the items of celebration that lift that heavy heart of mine. We all need to take a moment to reflect this week. You can’t have joy if you don’t acknowledge reality. Joy isn’t forced or fake. It is generated within by the Holy Spirit.

As my Christmas plans drastically changed yesterday, I began to grieve. I want all my traditions. I want to be face to face with all my family. I want to go to the parties I was invited to. I want my kids to interact with their cousins. This year, it’s a no. It’s a quiet Christmas. No extended family or friends. (Side note: You may choose to do your holiday differently and each family can make their own choices. Let’s be respectful of one another’s choices this year.) This weekend, I’m sad. I have been crying over this. I’m lamenting. It’s OK. This morning in church on my couch, I was led to tears of joy. God washed over me with our worship and then after the service while announcements rolled across the screen, one of my favorite Christmas songs of all times played. I wept with joy as God filled me with His presence and hope. (The song is We Are The Reason. I know the old David Meece version but will link to the Avalon – more contemporary version). Let God wash over you with songs about Him (it’s Christmas – most songs are about Him right now). Let God comfort you as you identify the things to grieve. Let God fill you up with joy as you soak in His presence and hope.

Find joy my friends. Joy is there in this season. Joy is there in 2020. Rejoice, Christ has come and will come again. We have much to celebrate. We have much to grieve. Together, we have joy!

Dream Big! Pray Big!

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. ~ Psalm 16:11 NIV

Advent: Love

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Last night for Advent, we celebrated Love.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. ~John 3:16

God’s love is all we need. It really is. I know we want other things in the world, including the love of another human being. Love is powerful. It’s exciting. It’s fulfilling. When it’s coming from another human, we can get disappointed, hurt and betrayed. However, God’s love will never disappoint, hurt or betray us. He is with us always and loves us fully. He gave us Jesus, His Son, so we could have relationship with Himself. If you don’t yet know Him, get to know Him today. Reach out to me for more tips on how to do this – Debbie

Once we receive His love, we are commanded to give that love to others. Pass it on.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” ~ John 15:12-13

How can you show love to someone today?

  • Wash the dishes in the sink, even if they aren’t yours
  • Leave a post-it note on the computer that says I Love You
  • Call a friend or family member
  • Hug someone in your covid-bubble (I guarantee you, they need it)
  • Post a Bible verse on Facebook
  • Apologize

Love is easy to share and, almost always, welcomed. How have you been shown love recently? Share your stories in the comments. Here are a few of mine.

  • A friend brought me my Christmas present early
  • Prayed on the phone with a friend
  • A hug from my kids
  • A lick from my dog (ick but it’s his way to love)
  • God brought relief to my back pain
  • My church went above and beyond this week in worship music – powerful

Give love and receive love this week. Thank God for His love and His amazing gift of His Son, Jesus. He is the reason for the season.

Dream Big! Pray Big!