THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR

Call me crazy, but I can’t wipe this smile off my face. It’s the most wonderful time of the year – it’s Christmas! Don’t judge me, but my house has been decorated since before Thanksgiving. The tree was up, and lights were strung throughout the house days before the smell of turkey wafted in the air. My excuse was that my grand-kids, Grace and Emma, were coming. But the truth is, I love a month of Christmas. Jesus is the reason for the season, and I love to celebrate Him! In the frozen North where I live, it’s dark until after 8 AM. The first thing I do in the early morning – after putting the coffee brewing – is plug in all of my lights. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Just as the gospel of Jesus Christ sheds the light of God’s love into our hearts and lives, Christmas lights dispel the darkness of December mornings. Beautifully wrapped presents are under the tree – tokens of love for family and friends, to be sure, but also symbolic of the greatest Gift ever given: “For God so loved the world that he GAVE his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, emphasis mine). The Nativity is the focal point of my living room from the beginning of Advent. Its place of prominence reminds me where my focus should be amidst holiday preparations and celebrations. The angel announced to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12). The decorations on the tree – angels, wise men, miniature nativities, lambs and stars – tell the story of Christmas. Also hanging on the tree is a cross to remind us that while Christ’s birth is worthy of celebration, His death was the reason He came: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15) That truth hit home the year I used an old hymnal for my morning Advent meditations. As I meditated on the joy-filled carols, I realized that the next grouping of songs was for Good Friday and Easter. Jesus was born to die. The music of Christmas is everywhere: in my house, in my car and in my heart. It is all a reminder of the angel choirs that sang that first Christmas: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14) The popular song “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” speaks to the longing we have to be with family during the holidays. Although it’s a secular song it, it hints at a bigger truth: Because God has put eternity in our hearts, we long for the day when wrong will be made right and we will gather with loved ones in the very presence of God. Until that day, let us celebrate Christmas, not just as the most wonderful time of the year, but also as the most wonderful birth that ever was. What a birth! What a Savior! Today’s Challenge: There are reminders of Christ in our Christmas traditions. Ask God to help you be mindful of them; then share the meaning with your children and grandchildren. It is the most wonderful time of the year – celebrate...

GOT LOVE?

Got love? It’s the stuff we were made for. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. The Hallmark Card Company hopes you “care enough to give the very best.”  Florists have hired extra staff to keep up with the demands of the love-stricken. Candy makers can only wish every day was Valentine’s. As a matter of fact, Necco (New England Confectionery Co., (established in the 1800’s, when Abe Lincoln was president)  cranks out billions of pieces – of their popular Conversation Hearts each year. They boast of helping you say “I love you” in 100 ways: “Pick Me,” “Be Mine,” “I’m Yours,” “Me & You,” “True Love,” ‘Forever” and “Crazy 4-U,” are old favorites.” To stay current with culture, they’ve added new sayings such as, “Text Me.” Romantic love aside, Necco did not write the book on expressions of love. God did. The Bible is a collection of “love letters.” It took 66 smaller books combined to hold God’s declarations of love for us. Even then, the half has not been told!. Necco’s love phrases could have been lifted right off the pages of the Bible: “Pick Me” – Wait no longer for love to come along – you are chosen! “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). “Be Mine” – God is a Gentleman; he does not push himself on us, instead, he persistently, lovingly pursues us – and when it comes to love, who doesn’t want to be pursued?  Throughout our lives his Holy Spirit whispers, “Be Mine” – through God’s Word, in creation, and in our pain (C.S. Lewis called pain “God’s megaphone”). “I’m Yours” – God patiently, yet longingly, waits for the day we will say, “I’m Yours.”  The very moment we do, the angels of heaven rejoice with hallelujah choruses (Luke 15:7), sharing God’s joy that we said, “Yes!” “Me & You” – If your heart belongs to Jesus, you will never be alone. He promises to never leave or forsake you. Nothing can separate you from his love (Romans 8:38-39). He’s on your side. You are a team! Together you can do all things (Philippians 4:13). “True Love” – What is true love? “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends…I have called you friends” (John 15:13, 15). “Forever” – There is no such thing as “till death us do part” with God’s love. He said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 33:3). God’s love is eternal…forever. No one or nothing will ever change that. “Crazy 4-U” – God not only loves you – He’s crazy for you! Perhaps you read the email forward that says, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it!” The prophet Zephaniah put it this way: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). “Text Me” – God invites us to call on him as needed: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). He’s available 24/7. My prayer for you on this Valentine’s Day is borrowed from the Apostle Paul: I ask (God) to strengthen you by his Spirit – not with a brute strength but a glorious inner strength – that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its lengths! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God (Ephesians 1:17-18, 3:14-19, The Message). Got love? You bet you do! God bless you as you bask in His great love today.  TODAY’S CHALLENGE: Cozy up to God’s  love for you today. Read some of His “love letters” to you. Write a Valentine to God expressing your love for Him. Tell Him, “I’m yours.”...