Advent Day 21 – What’s on Your Christmas List?

 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

What Do You Want for Christmas? Jewelry? Clothes? Something for your house? (Maybe a Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle?J) Or you just might prefer the one-size-fits-all cash gift.  Sometimes our wishes are pretty big – my son wanted a LEGO® Star Wars Death Star (retail 499.99) – needless to say, he did not get it.  Some of us are satisfied with a bit less.  When I was a little girl, I just wanted paper and pencils – guess I’ve always been a writer at heart.

Or maybe your Christmas list is less tangible – something that can’t be wrapped up and put under the tree.  If you wrote it out it might say “peace” or “joy” or “hope” or “love.” Maybe your list includes “acceptance” or “freedom” or “rest.”  You and I know that we can’t buy those at the mall or order them online.  There’s only one place for these Christmas wishes.

To the one who asks for peace, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27).  Peace in our hearts only comes through Jesus Christ.  For the one who has lost their joy David wrote, “You will fill me with joy in Your presence” (Psalm 16:11).  Joy is found in Immanuel – the God who is with us.  If you need hope this Christmas, hear God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  In the Lord’s hands we have hope – for this life and for all eternity.  Do you wish for love? “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).  Not just a little, not even a “bushel and a peck,’” but poured out on you lavishly, without measure and overflowing.  In fact, this same verse fills your desire for acceptance – God calls Himself your Father and He accepts you as His child.  If freedom tops your list you can find release – the Psalmist says “O Lord, truly I am your servant . . . You have freed me from my chains” (Psalm 116:16).  The blood of Jesus breaks the chains of this world.  Maybe you just want a little rest this Christmas.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  Just sink back into His arms and let Him carry your burdens and you.

Whatever you long for this Christmas, you can find it in Jesus.  There is nothing on your list that He cannot provide. He is the greatest Gift of all and your heart’s deepest longing.  No, this gift isn’t jewelry, toys, or clothes wrapped in paper and ribbons sitting under your tree.  It is the peace, joy, hope, and love of God wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

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Advent Day 12 – The Story of Christmas

“God is love” (1 John 4:16).

It is a scene from one of the most beloved Christmas programs ever made.  A bewildered Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there someone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  I always get goosebumps when Linus walks to center stage, says “Lights please,” drops his blanket, and recites the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2.

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men” (vs. 8-14).

It is a holy moment in the middle of a simple animated television show.   For fifty years the world has heard the Christmas story through a blanket-carrying theologian.  Perhaps for many, it is the only time they hear the true meaning of Christmas.

As much as I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Linus’ message, I’ve always thought there is an even better verse that he could have chosen to explain what Christmas is all about.

“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).

Christmas is all about the love of God that send His Son to earth as a baby who would grow up to die on a Roman cross for the sins of the world.  Linus recounted the events around the Christmas story, but the heart of Christmas is a loving Heavenly Father who gave the very best He had to redeem a lost world.

The blessed Christmas story is about a manger and a star and shepherds and angels.  It is about a young mother and father with their newborn son in a stable.  But the story isn’t complete until the baby in the manger is the Savior on the cross.  Because the story of Christmas is a story of love.

Read 1 John 4:16-21

Advent Day 6 – The Perfect Christmas Gift

“The wise men opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

I believe the best gifts come from those who know us well.  My favorite Christmas present came from my sweet husband early in our marriage.  I was an avid cross-stitcher (back when my eyesight was better) and my beloved went to the local craft store and bought every color of embroidery floss that DMC® made, along with storage boxes to keep them in.  I LOVED it!  I appreciated the gift itself, but what I loved  most was the fact that he paid attention to what I enjoyed doing and took the time to learn about my hobby and what it involved. The gift was great, but the love that went into the gift was even greater.

Without a doubt, our Heavenly Father is the greatest Gift-giver of all.  He who created you knows you intimately.  He knows your dreams and your joys and sorrows. He knows what delights you and what frightens you. He knows your favorite color and your least-favorite relative.  He knows what makes your eyes light up and what keeps you awake at night.  He knows your every thought, your hopes and wishes and your deepest, truest love.  And because He knows you so well, He knew the perfect gift for you—Jesus.

James 1:17 reminds us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”  Could there be a more perfect gift than His precious Son?  Is any gift as good as the “gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17)?  This gift is given with overflowing grace (Romans 5:15).  It is a gift that never wears out, never fades, and never goes out of style – it is the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23).  It is not something you have to earn – in fact you can’t earn it – you can only receive it by faith (Ephesians 2:8).    It is a gift of immense love given by the One who knows you better than you know yourself.

Have you received God’s priceless, perfect gift?

Read Matthew 2:1-12

 

What Do You Want for Christmas?

165043-849x565-christmas-giftsWhat Do You Want for Christmas? Jewelry? Clothes? A good book? Something for your house?  Or you just might prefer the one-size-fits-all cash gift.  Sometimes our wishes are pretty big – my son wanted a LEGO® Star Wars Death Star (retail 499.99) – needless to say, he did not get it.  Some of us are satisfied with a bit less.  When I was a little girl, I just wanted paper and pencils – guess I’ve always been a writer at heart.

Or maybe your Christmas list is less tangible – something that can’t be wrapped up and put under the tree.  If you wrote it out it might say “peace” or “joy” or “hope” or “love.” Maybe your list includes “acceptance” or “freedom” or “rest.”  You and I know that we can’t buy those at the mall or order them online.  There’s only one place for these Christmas wishes.

To the one who asks for peace, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27).  Peace in our hearts only comes through Jesus Christ.  For the joyless David wrote, “You will fill me with joy in Your presence” (Psalm 16:11).  Joy is found in the presence of God.  If you long for hope hear God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  In the Lord’s hands we have hope – for this life and for all eternity.  Do you wish for love? “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).  Not just a little, not even a “bushel and a peck” (anybody remember that?), but poured out on you lavishly, without measure and overflowing.  In fact this same verse fills your request for acceptance – God calls Himself your Father and He accepts you as His child.  If freedom tops your list you can find release – the Psalmist says “O Lord, truly I am your servant . . . You have freed me from my chains” (Psalm 116:16).  The blood of Jesus breaks the chains of this world.  Maybe you, like me just want a little rest this Christmas.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  Just sink back into His arms and let Him carry your burdens and you.

Whatever you long for this Christmas, you can find it in Jesus.  There is nothing on your list that He cannot provide. He who is the greatest Gift of all is ready to give you the gift you most desire.

Advent 2015 – Day 26 – Wondrous Love

Advent candles 4

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

There is a hymn that I think beautifully captures the purest essence of Christmas:

 

 

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.[1]

This hymn is the gospel message; the Christmas and Easter stories rolled into one glorious proclamation of wonderful love.  God saw mankind, enslaved to the curse of sin, and chose to bear the cost to set His creation free.  What kind of love would die that you and I might live? Jesus told us in John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.”  The amazing truth of His love is that we “were alienated from God and were [His] enemies” (Colossians 1:21).  And yet, Jesus lay down His life for us anyway.  This is greater love.

We were hopelessly lost in our sin, and we desperately needed a Savior.  But no savior could be found on earth, because only divine blood could cover the sins of all humanity.  But God is eternal, and He cannot die.  So the Son of God became a man in order to shed His divine blood from human veins.  Jesus the man was born to die.  This is divine love.

God loved you before you were ever born.  In fact, God loved you from the creation of the world.  How do I know this? Revelation 13:8 says “the Lamb (Jesus) was slain from the creation of the world.” Why was He slain?  To redeem His beloved creation.  To redeem you, because He loves you.  This is eternal love.

God loves you perfectly—but not because you are perfect.  You and I are far from perfect, but God’s love for us is never-failing, never-ending, flawless and more certain than the earth itself.  He says, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfairly love for you will not be shaken” (Isaiah 54:10). This is perfect love.

This is the message of Christmas: that God’s heart would be so tender toward mankind that He would give His own Son to save us, even though we turn away from Him.  Only love could make such a sacrifice.

What wondrous love is this? It is a greater love. A divine love. An eternal love.  A perfect love.  This love is Jesus.

To all my dear Deeper Roots friends:  I wish you the merriest of Christmases and all God’s favor and blessing in the coming year.

[1] Words: American Folk Hymn; Music: William Walker’s Southern Harmony, 1835; arr. William J. Reynolds, 1920-2009.

Advent 2015 – Day 25 – The Debt of Love

Advent candles 4Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8).

It is such a joy as a parent to watch our children on Christmas morning opening their gifts with great excitement.  They squeal with delight and shout, “It’s just what I wanted!”  When we see their happiness, we decide it was worth whatever it took to get them these special gifts.  Until January, when the credit card bill comes in, then our joy is replaced with groans of “Why did I spend so much money?”  Financial experts estimate Americans will spend on average $600 to $900 this Christmas season, and the majority of shoppers will use credit for their purchases and “pay the piper” for months afterward.

The apostle Paul says that we should only have one debt on our balance sheet: “the continuing debt to love one another.”  Financial planners can help you devise a plan to pay off your credit debt, but Paul says that love for one another is a “continuing debt,” that can never be finished.  It is a life-long obligation.  Yes, you read that right—love, as Paul sees it in the context—is an obligation.  How is that so?  Look at verse 12 – “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”  He is drawing from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:37-40 where the Lord says that “All the law and the prophets hang on [the command to love]. Loving God and loving others encompasses every law and commandment in the Old and New Testaments.

Love is more than a “warm fuzzy feeling,” love is a choice we make every day. 1 Corinthians 13 offers us a practical example of choosing to love. You may be very familiar with it, but I want to challenge you to read this passage a little differently. Instead of the word “love,” put your own name in the verse and read it aloud:

_______________ is patient, _____________ is kind. ____________ does not envy, ______________does not boast, _______________ is not proud. ______________ is not rude, ______________ is not self-seeking, _______________ is not easily angered. ______________ keeps no record of wrongs. ______________ does not delight in evil, but ______________ rejoices with the truth. _____________ always protects, _______________ always trusts, _____________ always hopes, _______________ always perseveres (v. 4-7).

So how did you do? I don’t know about you but I started to squirm at “does not envy.”

Love doesn’t require any money, but it is costly. It will cost you time and attention and patience and ego, but it brings amazing dividends! Every day you and I have the opportunity to share the love of God in this world. When we are patient, kind, humble, considerate, forgiving, honest and compassionate we are making installments on our never-ending obligation to love. What would your home, your workplace, your church and community look like if you followed Paul’s payment plan?

Advent 2015 – Day 24 – Love Makes Room

Advent candles 4“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 room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).

I had lunch last week with a new friend from our new church in our new hometown.  She is a busy lady, involved in many different ministries in the church in addition to responsibilities in her husband’s company and raising her children.  But she graciously made room in her life for me.  She carved out a couple of hours to spend with the newbie and make me feel welcomed. It was a delightful visit over a couple of hamburgers.

She and I share many things in common, a love for women’s ministry and the Bible, and one in particular: a love for mentoring young men and women.  She told me about a young woman whom they came to love and even open their home and family to while she was in the area.  I shared with her about my family’s season of serving in college ministry.  We came to love so many of those precious students, their feet were often under my kitchen table.  They were—and are—dear to us and many still call us “Mom and Dad.”  Through that time, I came to understand Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (2:8). Like Paul, we made room for others out of love.

Love opens doors to the lonely.  Love puts one more plate on the table.  Love slides over to share the seat with a weary soul.  Love sleeps on the couch so the visitor can have the bed.  Love opens the circle of friendship to add one more person.  Love doesn’t shut others out; love welcomes people in.

In the town of Bethlehem some two-thousand years ago, a baby was born in a dark, damp, smelly stable—little more than a cave hewn out of a hillside—because there was no room for his little family in the inn.  They were turned away because there was no love there.  Now—think about what Jesus told His disciples just before His death: “In my Father’s house are many rooms . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Why?

Because love makes room.

Advent 2015 – Day 23 – How Much Do You Love Me God?

Advent candles 4“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19.

When I am being a little lazy and I want something to drink, I’ll ask my husband “How much do you love me?”  He will answer “With all my heart.”  Then he’ll ask, “What do you want?”  I’m really not trying to “measure” his affection, besides, there’s no tape measure long enough to gauge love.

That is what Paul is trying to convey in our key verse.  God’s love is truly immeasurable.  Paul is not trying to put parameters around God’s love, but rather to express the immenseness of it.  He is trying to describe the love of God with dimensions that will hopefully help us better understand its vastness.

How high is the love of God?  Psalm 103:11 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him.”  Man may have climbed to great heights through space exploration, but we have yet to pierce the highest heavens.  God’s love exceeds heights man can never reach.

How long is the love of God? Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” God loved us before time began, and He will continue to love us throughout all eternity.  His love for you and me will never end.

How deep is the love of God? Psalm 86:13 says, “For great is Your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.”  Our greatest enemy is death, an enemy we ourselves have no hope of defeating.  But “Jesus Christ, being in very nature God…made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…humbled Himself…to death” (Philippians 2:6-8, sel.)  Jesus Christ stepped from the glory of heaven, and humbled Himself all the way to the depths of the grave for you and me.

How wide is the love of God?  John records the death of Jesus: “Carrying His own cross, He went to the place of the Skull.  Here they crucified Him” (John 19:17-18) Jesus willingly stretched His arms out to their full span, allowed His hands to be cruelly nailed to the cross and gave His life to save you and me.

Unlike man’s love, God’s love is not an emotion.  It is His very essence.  You cannot be good enough to make God love you more.  You cannot be so bad that God will love you less.  God loves you because love is who God is.  You will never be able to measure the love of God, but you can trust it and rest in it and share it with others.  There is more than enough to go around.

Advent 2015 – Day 22 – What Christmas is All About

Advent candles 4“God is love” (1 John 4:8).

It is a scene from one of the most beloved Christmas programs ever made.  A bewildered Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there someone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  I always get goosebumps when Linus walks to center stage, says “Lights please,” and recites the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2.

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men” (vs. 8-14).

It seems to be a holy moment in the middle of a simple animated television show.   For fifty years the world has heard the Christmas story through a blanket-carrying theologian.

As much as I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Linus’ message, I’ve always thought there is an even better verse that he could have chosen to explain what Christmas is all about.

“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).

Christmas is all about the love of God that send His Son to earth as a baby who would grow up to die on a Roman Cross for the sins of the world.  Linus recounted the events around the Christmas story, but the heart of Christmas is a loving Heavenly Father who gave the very best He had to redeem a lost world.

The blessed Christmas story is about a manger and a star and shepherds and angels.  It is about a young mother and father with their newborn son in a stable.  But the story isn’t complete until the baby in the manger is the Savior on the cross.  Because the story of Christmas is a story of love.

Advent 2015 – Day 18 – The Secret to Finding Joy

adventcandlesweek3“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’”  Matthew 22:37-39

What is the secret to finding joy?  The answer is in the word itself.

JJesus

OOthers

YYourself

It is the perfect accompaniment to Matthew 22:37-39 and it is the truest path to real joy.

To love God is the highest joy we can have.  To love Him with all your heart and soul and mind is to love Him with your entire being.  The heart—kardia—is the seat of emotional thinking, it is the place from which our truest self emanates.  When the Bible expresses the character of a person it describes the condition of his heart: “His heart was righteous; His heart was evil.”  The mind—duaboia—is the seat of conscious thinking, where we process information, establish our understanding, and, most telling of all—make choices.  When we say “My heart is set on” a certain thing, what we are really saying is “I’ve made a choice and directed my heart toward this thing.”  The mind and heart are inter-connected.  When we talk about our soul—our psyche—we are speaking of the part of us that is immaterial and eternal – the part that God placed in us when He made us in His image.  Interestingly, the root word for soul is psycho, which means to grow cold.  A healthy psyche is a soul that burns with a passionate love for God.

As we love God in this all-consuming way, we cannot help but love others.  Such love overflows from our heart and touches others around us, our families, coworkers, friends, even people you don’t even know can be touched by the love that springs from a heart in love with God.  You won’t have to force yourself to love them, it is a natural response when God is the greatest love of your life.

The Lord doesn’t want you to neglect love for yourself.  God loves you, that’s reason enough to love and care for yourself.  Be kind to the one that Jesus loves.  Be kind to you.

Joy is not hard to find, it is as simple as loving—Jesus—Others—and Yourself.