The Essence of Christmas

Writers are challenged to condense each story down to a one or two sentence tag line. What would be your “tagline” for Christmas? In other words, what does Christmas mean to you? If the pretty lights, snow, times with family and friends, baking, tasty treats, and frantic shopping disappeared, would it still be Christmas? This is one of the themes I explore in my new novella, Cecile’s Christmas Miracle.

Christmas Tree Cookie

Maybe you’ve never stopped to think about the essence of Christmas. Where and when did Christmas start? What and why should we be celebrating?

According to Dictionary.com, Christmas is:

“the annual festival of the Christian church commemorating the birth of Jesus: celebrated on December 25 and now generally observed as a legal holiday and an occasion for exchanging gifts.”

“before 1150; Middle English cristmasse; Old English Cristes mǣsse Mass of Christ”

The Bible tells about the birth of Jesus Christ in several passages:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18-21 NIV)

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:1-7 NIV)

“8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:8-20 NIV)

“and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:9b-11 NIV)

“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8 NIV)

present

If I had to condense all of this down to a tagline, I would say Christmas is celebrating the gift of salvation, available to us because of Jesus Christ.

Do you think I’ve accurately captured the essence of Christmas? Is there anything you would add or subtract from my Christmas tagline?


Guest Post – Rejoicing in the Present

Today I’m happy to welcome my friend, Marcia Lee Laycock, as my guest. For more of Marcia’s writing go to http://marcialeelaycock.com/

Marcia Lee LaycockMarcia says: For the past thirty some years, I’ve been a pastor’s wife, mother of three girls, caretaker of two dogs, two cats and sundry fish, and oh, yes, a freelance writer. The writing began in the attic of my parent’s house where I wrote stories for my dolls. None of them complained, so I kept it up. The Lord has abundantly blessed, challenged, rebuked, healed and restored me through the process of writing and being involved with writers. I now have two award-winning novels in print as well as three devotional books. My ebooks are available on www.smashwords.com and some on Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc.

*****

It’s already November, we have a few inches of snow on the ground and the temperatures are telling us it’s definitely winter. Some of my neighbours turned on their Christmas lights this week and a friend emailed to say she had put her tree up. We’re planning the Christmas program and dinner at our church and we’ve even starting singing the carols. It all makes me smile. It’s a little early for me to turn the outdoor lights on or put the tree up, but I am looking forward to Christmas. Looking forward to the bright decorations, to having my family around a table laden with good food, to the laughter and perhaps even tears as we open presents.winter-view-westridge-drive-4

Traditionally Christmas is a time to look back, far back, to a day over two thousand years ago, when a tiny baby was born in a village in the Middle East. But, because of who that child was, it is also a time to look forward and a time to ponder the present. That child, Jesus Christ, was God’s present to us, a child who was to change the course of future history, not just for a space of time on this earth, but eternally in that mysterious place called heaven. Because of Jesus, heaven would be populated with humanity, those who would accept Him as their Saviour and the Son of God.

But I’m also trying to practise the ‘present’ of Christmas in another way – taking time to pause and enjoy all the moments, all that comes with this season – the music that tells the story in public places, the lights that proclaim His glory on the streets, the bustle of shoppers on a city street that speak of the spirit of giving and grace.

I’m also practising the ‘present’ of Christmas by taking time to pause and listen for the Saviour’s voice, time to read His story from the Bible and get to know Him more. I know my present – every moment of the day – can be transcendent when I draw close to Him. I rejoice in each day He gives me, enjoying His creation, yes, even the snow and cold temperatures, His people, family, friends, even strangers, and most of all, His presence.

This Christmas I’ll be looking back, looking forward and rejoicing in the present. All because of Jesus.

*****

You can purchase Marcia’s novella, An Unexpected Glory from Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble.

An Unexpected Glory - cover


The Real Me

In our study of Renee Swope’s A Confident Heart, we took a look at personality traits, natural gifts and spiritual gifts. Renee shares a Spiritual Gifts Assessment which she has found helpful. A month ago, my husband and I also took the Gifts Test which Vince & Cindy D’Acchiolli of On Target Ministries use. There are also other assessment tools available. None of them are perfect, but I’ve found it helpful to spend some time thinking about who I am and what makes me “come alive”.

In chapter eight, Renee challenges us to ask ourselves a question, “Am I doing what God may be calling others to do while leaving undone what He has called me to do?” If we don’t know what our strengths and weaknesses are, how will we be able to determine where we fit in or what God is calling us to do?

Here is what I’ve discovered about myself:

  • I am naturally an introvert. I enjoy spending time alone, reading, thinking, and meditating. In order to have my alone time, I get up at 5:30 on weekday mornings. I also go for walks by myself with my camera in hand to capture the beauty God created.
A picture I took after a recent snowfall.
A picture I took after a recent snowfall.

 

  • Teaching young children makes me feel alive. I love the enthusiasm of preschoolers and their thirst for knowledge. It’s wonderful to see their creativity and spontaneity. That’s why I decided to teach Music for Young Children.
  • I thrive on order. Nothing frustrates me more than working with a group that is in chaos.
  • People often look to me for leadership. Sometimes this frustrates me. Sometimes I wish I could just go somewhere and enjoy being part of the crowd. However, I have come to accept that God has placed abilities in me that other people don’t have and I want to be faithful to His calling on my life.
  • People tell me I’m a good peacemaker. I tend to be a listener rather than a talker. However, when I’m asked for my opinion, I’ll give it to you.
  • My hobbies are reading, writing, photography, and crafts (especially card making). In the past, I also enjoyed embroidery, sewing (I made my own wedding dress), cross-stitch, knitting, quilting, and latch hook. My youngest child is now 5, so I may be able to dig out some of my treasures I hid away when my children were young. (I found it too frustrating to get started with a project and then have to put it away so that no one would play with it.)
  • My personality type is Phlegmatic/Choleric. In other words, I desire peace and control. I tend to be a calm, balanced, witty, low-key, considerate, peacemaking person who is a problem solver, decisive, organized, task oriented, energetic, and confident. My downfalls are that I’m also stubborn, hard to motivate, sometimes careless and unenthusiastic, as well as opinionated, insensitive, arrogant, and manipulative. (Ouch!) I have a workaholic tendency and may try to take on authority God has not given me.
  • From the assessments I’ve participated in and the feedback I’ve received from trusted friends, my spiritual gifts are exhortation and administration. In other words, God has called me to “deliver challenging and encouraging words” as well as “to organize, administrate and promote the various affairs of the local church’s ministry to direct them effectively.”

“Exhorters are oftentimes referred to as encouragers. People with this gift will tend to look for and find the best in others. They tend to be patient and love long conversations where they can get to know others. They also love to share personal experiences as a form of encouragement and counsel . . . They make wonderful coaches and counselors and enjoy helping bring out the best in people. . . A great combination for leadership is exhorting combined with administration.”  (From the gifts test by Vince & Cindy D’Acchiolli)

One thing I really appreciated about the presentation by Vince D’Acchiolli was his focus on how people with different gifts can either work well together or experience incredible conflicts. When we understand how God has created us, it’s easier to celebrate our differences and use them to honor God. Renee Swope sums it up this way:

“When we fall into the comparison trap, it’s easy to feel like we don’t have as much to offer as others do . . . God never intended for us to compete with each other; He wants us to complete one another, celebrating and encouraging each other’s strengths while discovering who He created us to be.”

So there you go. Now you know more about the “real me”. Have you discovered your unique abilities? How will you allow God to use them?

 

 


No More Condemnation – Romans 8:1

“Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow  Isaiah 1:18
“Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as
white as snow Isaiah 1:18

This week in our study of Renee Swope’s, A Confident Heart, we were encouraged to try verse chaining. Here is what I discovered from Romans 8:31

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” – Romans 8:1 (New King James Version – emphasis mine)

John 3:19  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

John 5:29  and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

Romans 5:16  And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.

Dictionary.com says to condemn is “to pronounce to be guilty; sentence to punishment: to condemn a murderer to life imprisonment.”

John 20:31  but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

New 2 Corinthians 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Romans 8:4  that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Galatians 5:16  [ Walking in the Spirit ] I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.footprints
As a believer in Jesus Christ, I am no longer judged or declared guilty. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses me from all sin. When God looks at me, he doesn’t see me as the dirty, guilty, condemned sinner I used to be, but he sees me as pure, clean, righteous, and free from sin. Jesus paid the price and has redeemed me from slavery to sin. I am free from the power of sin and can choose to walk in the Spirit. I have new desires (as a new creation) and can look to the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength as I walk with God each day. In the future, I will not face condemnation either. Instead I will celebrate with Jesus Christ as an adopted child of God the Father, enjoying His presence in Heaven. Wow! I have a lot to celebrate 🙂
What have you been learning in your walk with God? I’d love to hear about it!

Who I Am in Christ

This week in our Proverbs 31 Ministries online Bible study of A Confident Heart, Renee Swope talked to us about dealing with thoughts of “I’m not good enough.”

“It’s easy to think that if we were taller, prettier, skinnier, smarter, younger, or had all that we wanted, we’d be secure. We think all those things could make us feel like we are good enough. But the truth is, even women who ‘have it all’ still struggle with feeling like they aren’t good enough.”   -Renee Swope

We all have “mind tapes” which play over and over in our heads – messages which tell us we’re no good, or we’ll never make it, or we’re stupid, or we’re ugly etc. We need to choose to “record over” these negative messages, replacing them with the truth of God’s word. Dr. Neil Anderson has shared a compilation of Scriptures (see Victory Over the Darkness) to remind us of who we are in Christ. Ginny Blankenship created this visual based on the Scriptures. Every day we need to consciously fill our minds with these truths.Who I am in Jesus Christ

This morning as I sat down to write this post, I was excited to share what I was learning. When I went to sign in to my WordPress account my password wasn’t accepted. I tried several, but none of them worked. Finally I had to request a password reset. Then I logged in and started writing my post. I thought it would be fun to do a Wordle, but when I tried to do that, I found out my Java software was out of date, so the Wordle wouldn’t work. I accepted the fact I wouldn’t get my post written in the time I thought I would, updated my software and then prepared breakfast for my family. While we were getting ready to have breakfast, my husband and son had a confrontation. I thought my husband was being too harsh and voiced my opinion. My husband didn’t appreciate my interference and told me so. We made it through breakfast and then it was time to get our five children out the door for the bus. As they were getting snow pants, jackets, and mitts on, my youngest daughter couldn’t find her mitts. I looked everywhere, but couldn’t find them. I went to a box of old mitts we have and found two the same colour, but for the same hand. No matter how I searched, I couldn’t find any others that were remotely suitable, so out the door she went with mismatched mitts.

At the end of chapter 6, Renee poses this question:

“What area of your life – as a woman, mom, wife, friend, daughter, housekeeper, professional, leader, etc. – do you currently struggle with most in believing you are good enough?”

This morning I was tempted to believe I was NOT good enough in several areas:

  • Computer/technology
  • Marriage
  • Motherhood

Renee says:

“Sometimes it’s not the big things — it’s the smaller, everyday things. How often do you hear doubt whisper, You’re such a failure, when you make a dumb mistake, say something you regret, argue with someone you love, let a friend down, dishonor your husband, or fall into a pattern of sin? How often do you beat yourself up with accusing internal dialogue, saying things like, I always do that. I keep saying I’m sorry, but I’ll never change. I’m constantly disappointing someone. . . we need to remember that accusation doesn’t come from God; it comes from our accuser. . . Accusing is what Satan does best, but instead of believing his accusations, we need to let them lead us straight to Jesus so He can have the final say.”

These are the Scriptures (taken from Neil Anderson’s list) I’m choosing to mediate on this week:

  1. I Corinthians 6:19-20 – I have been bought with a price and I belong to God
  2. Ephesians 1:3-8 – I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child
  3. Hebrews 4:14-16 – I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ
  4. Philippians 1:6 – I am confident God will complete the good work He started in me
  5. 2 Timothy 1:7 – I have been given a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind
  6. 1 John 5:18 – I am born of God, and the evil one cannot touch me
  7. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 – I am a minister of reconciliation for God

Here’s my Wordle

SONY DSC

Today I’m choosing to celebrate who I am in Jesus Christ. Will you join me?

 

 


Why are you troubled? Luke 24:38

‘He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?’ Luke 24:38 (NIV)

Image

There’s a wide divide between saying we believe something and showing we believe it by our actions. In Luke 24, we are able to listen in on the events which took place after Jesus was crucified. Imagine for a minute what it would have been like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ – to walk with him, watch him heal the sick, listen to his exhortations day after day. We know at least Peter grasped the amazing fact that he was friends with the promised Messiah:

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.” Luke 9:20

There was a major problem though. The disciples figured that Jesus had come to earth to save them from the domination and abuse they experienced at the hand of the Romans. They were limited by a physical understanding of Jesus. They had no real concept of the spiritual significance of Jesus’ life. What they expected and what really happened were two very different things. Imagine their horror and confusion as they witnessed their Messiah, their Saviour and Deliverer, hanging on a cross between two criminals and dying.

Now what were they supposed to believe? What about all their hopes and dreams? Where was God?

Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. As we know, three days later, God raised Jesus from the dead. In Luke 24 he makes an appearance to the disciples as they are gathered, perhaps hiding out while they try to sort out their beliefs from their reality. This is the context of the question in Luke 24:38.

Jesus asks them why they are TROUBLED and why they have DOUBTS.

Here are the definitions of trouble from Dictionary.com:

1. to disturb the mental calm and contentment of; worry; distress; agitate.
2. to put to inconvenience, exertion, pains, or the like: May I trouble you to shut the door?
3. to cause bodily pain, discomfort, or disorder to; afflict: to be troubled by arthritis.
4. to annoy, vex, or bother: Don’t trouble her with petty complaints now.
5. to disturb, agitate, or stir up so as to make turbid, as water or wine: A heavy gale troubled the ocean waters.
The disciples were probably experiencing everything described in these definitions – worry, distress, agitation, pain, discomfort, afflictions, annoyance, vexation. They probably felt like they were truly in the middle of “a heavy gale” as far as their faith.
It’s one thing to be troubled. It’s another thing to allow doubts to fuel everything. According to Dictionary.com, doubts are:
5. a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something.
7. a state of affairs such as to occasion uncertainty.
8. Obsolete . fear; dread.
Think about it, everything the disciples had put their lives and energy into for the past three years was wiped away when Jesus died on the cross.
Perhaps you are experiencing similar worry and doubts in your life. Sometimes life makes us worry and doubt our faith in God. If God truly cares, why is He allowing ______ in my life?
I took the picture above at the NAME Marriage Conference which my husband and I were able to attend last week. I went to the conference burdened. God allowed our family to go through a very difficult time this past year, a time which could have blown our family apart. I was still hanging on to worry and doubt, confusion and a lack of forgiveness. During the conference, Jack Winnicky challenged us to write down anything that was holding us back and then “nail it to the cross”. How freeing it was to write all my worries and doubts down; the thoughts that were weighing me down and interfering with my life. Jesus dealt with our guilt, our sin, and our shame on the cross. They are gone! But sometimes we hang on to them. Jesus wants us to let them go.
Today, Jesus is asking us, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” We can be free, but it’s a choice.
Today I’m choosing freedom. Are you?

When – Then: Allowing God to fill our wells

This week in our online Bible study of A Confident Heart by Renee Swope, we are on chapter three, “Finding Love that Won’t Fail Even When I Do”. I highlighted many sections throughout the chapter, but the following quote sums up the chapter for me.

“Our schedules are full, our minds are full, our stomachs are full, our refrigerators are full, our closets are full, our lives are full. Yet we find ourselves with so many empty places. Why? Because the wells of our hearts were created to be filled by God alone. . . By recognizing and replacing our emptiness with the fulness of God’s promises, we drink the gift of living water. We  acknowledge our need, which allows Him to pour His truth into the well of our hearts.”

At the end of the chapter there are questions to help us think through the ideas presented during the chapter. Question 7 says:

“We were made for love that isn’t measured by our last accomplishment but marked by God’s measureless grace (pg. 62). Write a few when-then statements for areas of your life where you can apply this truth.”

ImageHere are my “when-then” statements:

1. When I am tempted to measure my value by how well I am doing as a mother, I will stop. Then, I will thank God that He always sees me as precious and valuable.

2. When I am tempted to fill my emptiness by eating, I will stop. Then, I will celebrate God’s presence and thank Him for his sufficiency to meet all my needs.

3. When I am tempted to look to my husband to meet all my needs, I will stop. Then, I will rejoice that God loves me with a perfect love and He is sufficient for all my needs.

4. When I am tempted to satisfy my needs by being overly busy, I will stop. Then, I will seek God’s wisdom and guidance in my life and trust Him to provide for my needs.

As I read through this chapter, I was reminded of how we get tricked into thinking so many other things will meet our needs, and we switch from relying on God to relying on other things. It’s good to try to be the best mother possible, but I will fail. My husband is a wonderful person, but he is only human and will never satisfy all my desires. Food is necessary for life, but eating doesn’t satisfy emotional needs. Work provides income and a measure of satisfaction, but work was never meant to fill the God-sized hole in my heart.

Renee reminds us:

“A confident heart is found in a woman who knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that she is loved no matter what. Lasting security comes when we bring the empty well of our hearts to Jesus and ask Him to fill and fulfill us with the security of His unfailing love.”

She also says:

“Salvation is a one-time decision, but finding satisfaction in Christ and living in the security of His promises is a daily process.”

I don’t know about you, but I need these reminders. I am saved, and I have found satisfaction in Christ, but I often get derailed in my walk with Him. Today I am choosing to live in the security of God’s promises. Tomorrow, and the next day and each day after that, I will need to “recalibrate” and choose again.

Are you choosing to find satisfaction in Christ so that you can live in the security of His promises?


I Believe

I’m participating in another online Bible study with Proverbs 31 Ministries. This study is based on the book, A Confident Heart: How to Stop Doubting Yourself & Live in the Security of God’s Promises by  Renee Swope. Here’s one of the questions I’m tackling this week:

“In order for change to take place, we have to first believe it is possible. Refute your own thoughts of doubt with declarations of faith”

Here are my declarations of faith:

  1. I believe God was watching and actively participating in my creation when I was formed in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139: 14-16)
  2. I believe God has a specific purpose for my life. (Ephesians 2:10)
  3. I believe God is always with me. (Psalm 139:2-12; Matt. 28:20)
  4. I believe God leads and directs in my daily life through His Holy Spirit, His Word, other believers, and circumstances He allows. (Luke 12:11, 12; 2 Tim. 2:15)
  5. I believe God strengthens me and helps me as I rely on Him. (Isaiah 40:31; Isaiah 41:10)
  6. I believe God understands my weaknesses and works through them. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
  7. I believe God wants me to be holy. (I Peter 1:16)
  8. I believe God forgives my sin when I confess and forsake it. (I John 1:9)

Life can be difficult. That’s why I need to continually turn away from everything else and focus on God and His word. Then I’m able and equipped to step out in faith with Him.

What about you? What promises do you cling to? How are you stepping out in faith?