A MERRY MONTH OF CHRISTMAS

Some people dread birthdays. Not me. I love them! My birthday celebrations sometimes stretch for an entire month as the calendar fills with lunch and coffee dates with friends and family. I confess: I enjoy being fussed over. I also like to fuss over people I love on their birthdays – I want them to know they are loved and appreciated. If we do that for each other, how much more should we “fuss” over Jesus as we celebrate Christmas, His birthday? As a new mom, when my daughter Aimee had her first birthday, I wanted everything to be perfect. The camera was ready to record birthday memories. I spent the entire day cleaning the apartment, wrapping gifts, cooking, and baking. The one thing I did not do was spend any time with Aimee, other than to feed her and change her diapers. Several times I promised to play with her after I did “one more thing.” She started to fuss as I tended to the last details just before company arrived. I was about to put her off once more, when mother-guilt hit: it was her birthday, and I did everything but pay attention to her. I was more concerned about what our guests would think about my housekeeping and the food I prepared. Convicted, I sat on the floor, pulled Aimee on my lap and we read her favorite story book. My husband snapped a picture at that moment. Whenever I see that photo, I’m reminded of my misplaced priorities on that special birthday. Each December we spend the month shopping, spending, wrapping, mailing, baking, cleaning, and decorating. Then, it’s over. Sadly, for many of us, we spend too little time with Jesus, the Honoree at this birthday party. Here are some things we did to keep Christ in Christmas when our children were young: At the beginning of Advent we set up the nativity in the family room. It was a visible reminder of the humble birth of our Lord Jesus. We enjoyed the tradition of the advent calendar. Each year I searched for one that told the Nativity story. The girls opened a window as part of their bedtime ritual. We made a paper chain from red/green construction paper to visualize the count down to Christmas. We found an Advent Devotional that had a reading and a family activity to do, i.e. Bundle the family up, get out the sleds and tour the neighborhood to enjoy the Christmas lights – our reading that night was about Christ, the Light of the world. (A free Advent devotional is available from Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family). Our house was always filled with the music of Christmas. As far as we were concerned, it wasn’t Christmas until Evie Tournquist sang, “Come on, Ring those bells, Light the Christmas tree, Jesus, we remember this, your birthday.” Our house is decorated each year with trimmings I bought the previous year at 50%-80% off. My girls have made it our family’s joke to exclaim, “Mother, How festive!” Decorating isn’t about impressing others; it’s about setting an atmosphere of celebration. It’s almost December. Jesus’ birthday is just around the corner. Let’s see to it that we get Him properly fussed over. May it be a magical, holy season for you and your families as you celebrate a merry month of Christmas....

THANKSGIVING: IT’S A COMMITMENT, NOT JUST A DAY IN NOVEMBER

“Mom, I’m calling to give you an update: I was just almost killed.” I hate phone calls like that. My daughter Molly had just moved to Grand Rapids as the result of a job offer. However, the job fell through just as she was leaving Miami. She immediately started a job search when she arrived in Michigan. Molly was returning from dropping off a resume when she had a close call on the expressway. She saw something lying on the road in front of her, but it was too late to swerve. She heard a loud crash and waited for something drastic to happen to her car. She pulled off at the first exit, only to find that a four- foot length of steel pipe had pierced her headlight and rammed into her engine compartment. She said, “Don’t worry, Mom; a nice man followed me off the expressway. He pulled out the pipe and is taping up my battery wires. He said he’ll follow me home to make sure I get there.” In my mind, I immediately questioned this man’s intentions toward my daughter. I wanted to ask Molly to describe him and give me his license number and the make of his car, but I didn’t want to alarm her on top of her trauma. I just asked she call me when she arrived home. Molly called shortly after to let me know she was home safely. She said, “And Mom, that man really was a nice man, not a serial killer.” Apparently, I hadn’t concealed my concern as well as I thought I had. At the time, I was preparing a presentation called, “Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude.” I was inspired by the story of Matthew Henry, noted 17th century scholar. After being accosted by thieves and robbed, he wrote: “I am grateful that although I was robbed, it was the first time. I am grateful that although they took my purse, they did not take my life. I am grateful that although they took my all, it wasn’t much. I am grateful that it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed.” When I applied Henry’s logic to Molly’s situation, it turned what started out to be a bad day into a time of giving praise and thanksgiving to God. In my presentation, I wrote: “I am grateful that this turn of events with Molly’s job falling through did not take God by surprise – He has a plan for her. I am grateful that although Molly is unemployed, she has skills and is motivated to look for a job. I am grateful that although the pipe broke her headlight, it did not go through the windshield and kill her. I am truly grateful that although I was upset to get this phone call from her, it wasn’t from the State Police informing me that my daughter was in the hospital – or worse. I am grateful that although it will cost her $100 for her deductible, she has car insurance. I am grateful that the man who stopped to help was not a serial killer; he was a Good Samaritan (or a guardian angel) who saw to it that she got home safely. I thank God for His protection and mercy.” Gratitude doesn’t change our circumstances – it fixes our eyes and our trust on a loving God who has promised to work out all things to our good (Romans 8:29). How wonderful that we have an official day of thanksgiving in our country…but as believers, let us make a commitment to praise and thank God in all circumstances – 365 days a year. The Psalmist David did.  He recorded his commitment in Psalm 34:1 (NKJ) – “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” The apostle Paul encourages us to “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV). Even when we can’t honestly thank God for our circumstances, there are three things we can always praise and thank God for: 1.Who He is. 2. What He has done. 3. What He is going to do. Thanksgiving is a commitment, not just a day in November. God bless you as you commit to thanking Him in all things. Happy Thanksgiving!...

JESUS KNOWS ME

“Jesus knows me – This I love!” My friend Lisa shared this twist on the old favorite song, “Jesus Loves Me.” She saw it on a plaque in a friend’s home. A few keystrokes later (Google Search is a writer’s best friend) I learned that the phrase is actually the title of a children’s song written by Raymond Elliot. It was recorded by Kidz/Daywind Music Group. Jesus knows ME – and He knows YOU. Amazing. He knows our name and everything about us! Here are a few of the things He knows: He created us and knew us before we were born and He knows the number of days we will live. Psalm 139:13, 15-16 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written for me before one of them came to be.” He knows when we sit down, when we stand up, when we lay down, all of our coming and going, our thoughts and all of our ways! Psalm 139:1-3 says, “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” Sometimes I am surprised by the words that come out of my mouth, but Jesus knows my words before they are ever uttered. Psalm 139:4 tells us, “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.” According to Matthew 10:30, Jesus even knows the answer to the trivia question, “How many hairs are there on Kathy’s head?” My hairdresser Kay has cut my hair for the past 35 years, but she probably wouldn’t even venture a guess as to the exact number of hairs on my noggin. Jesus, the Living Word of God, discerns our thoughts and the attitudes of our hearts. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Point made: Jesus knows us. He really knows us. As intriguing as it may be to think of all that Jesus knows about us, what I find most amazing is that, in spite of what He knows – He loves us! He really loves us! “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV). Jesus loves us, in spite of ourselves – not because of whom or what we are. My friend Barb used to say, “We are all turkeys saved by grace!”  Jesus knows that, too. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14 NIV). Jesus knows us – and incredibly – Jesus loves us! My prayer for you today is borrowed from the Apostle Paul: For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ my dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the 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 3:14-19 NIV). Jesus loves us – this we...

TAKE OFF THE MASKS!

It’s time to take off the masks. Halloween is over, but too many of us are still wearing masks. One of my favorite poems is “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying.” Charles C. Finn nailed it when he said, “Don’t be fooled by the face I wear for I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them is me.”  We all wear masks at times. We are afraid to be who we are. We are especially afraid to show on the outside what we feel on the inside – it’s called a “fear of intimacy.” As much as we desire to be known, loved and accepted for who we are, most of us learned at an early age that, at times, such self-disclosure brings rejection and ridicule. So we play it safe – we hide behind “masks” that portray the image that all is “fine”, when that is the farthest thing from the truth. Christians are possibly the best – or worst – mask-wearers. Somewhere along the line we got the message that it is not okay – not “Christian” – to be angry, worried, depressed or to mess up. When someone asks how we are doing, we whip on the mask and reply, “Fine! How about you?” “Oh, fine.” We are all fine… Sometimes it is appropriate to give a one-word answer when someone inquires in passing how we are doing – we are just exchanging pleasantries. And sometimes, “Fine” really does describe in a nutshell how we are feeling. Other times, we are hurting, confused, overwhelmed, and anxious, but we dare not take off our “happy” mask for fear of being judged. I once lived in fear of being “found out.” I had a full wardrobe of masks, but none of them showed any vulnerability. If anyone ever commented that I looked sad or down, I immediately threw out excuses, i.e. “I’m just tired. I didn’t get much sleep last night.” Heaven forbid that I should actually feel “down.” It didn’t fit with my expectations for a believer living the “victorious life.” My thinking began to turn around when I attended a seminar presented by Jeff VanVonderen, author of Tired of Trying to Measure Up and Families Where Grace is in Place.  He talked about people with “shame-based identities” – when they screw up, they take it as an indictment of who they are, not just of what they did. Forgiveness is usually in short supply in their families of origin. Shame-based identities lead to self-defeating behaviors such as addictions, codependency, eating disorders, etc, which, in turn, cause feelings of…shame. Shame does not want to be found out, so it hides. Our “I’m fine. You’re fine. We’re all fine” masks keep us from being real or asking for the help we need. I flushed with shame at the seminar that day. I was a bobble-head most of the day as I nodded each time I identified with Jeff’s message.  The very next day I called a Christian counselor and scheduled an appointment. I walked into her office and said, “I need help.” For the next six months, my counselor helped me identify and understand the issues that had kept me “stuck” for so long. A big part of the solution was admitting that I was human and prone to make mistakes. I needed the help of God and others to take off my “Christian mask” and allow others to see me as I was. I learned to reprogram the lies I believed that kept me mired in shame. When I blew it, I learned to say to myself, “Only God does not make mistakes. I am human. I can take responsibility to correct this mistake.” It may sound silly, but it really helped me to just be “me”. Today I am free to be me. I can honestly say, “What you see is what you get.” How about you? Are you honestly showing on the outside, who you are on the inside –with at least one person you trust?  There is only one “you.” The world and the church need you. With the help of God and others, you can be free to take off the mask and be who you are. It’s time. TODAY’S CHALLENGE: Take a step towards emotional honesty today – share how you are really feeling with just one person you trust. Take off your mask and trust God with the outcome.      ...