The True Meaning of Christmas

John 3:16-17

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Thought for the Day:  Remember the true meaning of Christmas

Over the past weeks, since Thanksgiving, actually, the busyness of the Christmas Season and end of school semester has kicked into full gear.  Children’s musical, school observations, grading, planning for Christmas parties, Christmas Cantata rehearsals, etc.  My mind has been put to the ultimate test. This weekend has been spent doing the chores around the house that have been put off for weeks and now, I sit and ponder.  I sit and ponder what it is all about.

Our children’s musical, “Christmas Spirit”, was presented one week ago with children remarkably telling us about the True Meaning of Christmas.  Experiencing the cast members learning their parts so perfectly and so quickly (to my amazement) was such an answer to prayer, and the choir learning the music to such beautiful songs touched my heart.  My heart was touched several times during the rehearsals, but one thing touched me more than any other.  It was when I saw with my eye one cast member “getting it”.  As the lines were rehearsed, we noticed that this child smiled at times when the character should have been very serious.  In watching, we realized that the reason for the smile was that she didn’t understand what the lines meant.  How does a young child understand the meaning of the birth of Christ and the meaning of the Crucifixion? As we shared with the child that Christ is the Son of God who was born in a manger and who died by being hung on a cross for us – for her, she began having a look in her eye of understanding.  She had heard the story of Jesus Christ before, but had never understood the true meaning.  During the presentation, she was able to portray her character perfectly and was able to tell the true meaning of Christmas.  So, what is the true meaning of Christmas.  “That God loves me…He sent His Son beloved, to die on Calvary.  And on Christmas morning, a new hope was born – and now I know the secret.  That’s what Christmas means to me.”

The Christmas musical was about a little girl who saw all the hustle and bustle of the season in the gifts given and the craziness that surrounds the time.  In her heart, she knew there must be more…but no one gave her a satisfactory answer.  It took a dream, or was it a dream, for her to get the answer and for her family to see the answer as well.  That was the same little girl who “got it” in rehearsal.  And she told the true meaning of Christmas to those in attendance.

During the coming weeks, as we go through the hustle and bustle, keep in the forefront of your mind the true meaning of Christmas.  The true meaning of Christmas is that God loves you…He sent his Son to die on Calvary…for you.  Hear that…for you, He died on the cross for you.

Prayer:  God, thank you for sending your Son to be born in a manger for us, and for sending Him to die on the cross for us.  This love you showed to each of us should not be overlooked by the hustle and bustle of the season.  Please forgive us when we let busyness and selfishness keep us from seeing You.  Be with us each day to help us hear over and over the true meaning of Christmas.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  The True Meaning of Christmas

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You Gave Your Beauty

Psalms 104:24-25

O Lord, how manifold are thy works!  In wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy creation.  Yonder is the sea, great and wide, which teems with things innumerable, living things both small and great.

Thought for the Day:  Look for God’s great surprises!

“Cloudy, Really?!”, I said when I looked out the window this morning.  Each week, I work into the evening on Friday evenings to clean the house where I can take my walk at the park on Saturday morning.  But this morning, No!  Clouds in the sky promised to make me miss the beauty of the sun shining through the trees.  I asked my husband to check his phone about the weather, and it predicted clouds all day.  I was very disappointed.  But then, I began noticing the sun peeking through the clouds.  By the time I made it to the park, there was a soft fog and within just a few minutes there was full sunshine. God gave me the gift of sunshine – and through the sunshine the beautiful colors of the park.  What happened to the clouds, I do not know.  But in my heart, I believe God saw my disappointment and said, “I did this just for you.”  The colors were beautiful and the surprises were such fun.  As I walked the park, I tried to capture the colors but along the way I captured so much more.  Going up the upper path, I focused my camera on a wooded area only to find a deer looking straight at me.  She let me take several pictures before she walked away.  Then, coming back down the walk, I heard the sound of  leaves falling and was surprised when a leaf that caught my eye floated through the air and landed right on my chest.  When I shared this with my child, he said, “It landed on your heart!”  And when I thought about it, I realized that indeed it had.  I finished my walk with a special feel in my heart that I had received a great blessing from God in the park.

So, what exactly happened in the park?  I believe God happened in the park and when He showed up He showed out in all His glory.  The gorgeous colors were placed in front of me, behind me, and in every direction.  The surprises in the park were all over the place in obvious placement by God.  I was there, well, because the park is the one place I plan on going whenever I can and I will work to get myself there for my time with God.  Thank you, God, for putting it there just for me.

Prayer:  God, thank you for your beautiful world.  Thank you for sharing so much of your beauty with us.  God, you are a good God and we bless your Holy Name today.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  God’s Beauty

His Sister Said, “WOW!”

Psalms 16:11

Thou dost show me the path of life; in ty presence there is fulness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Thought for the Day:  Look for God’s great surprises!

Today, I awake so excited!  My children’s choir is singing at the beginning of one of our worship services and I am so excited!  Today, I have the usual butterfly feeling in my stomach, as I always do when I direct my children’s choir…but today, I am really excited!  Walking into my children’s choir rehearsal only four days ago, I truly did not know who I was going to choose to sing the little solo that begins the song for today.  I decided the best thing for me to do was to let the track play and let anyone who wanted to try, sing a little bit of the song for me.  I went child by child and heard their sweet voices.  Then I got to one little girl, Addison.  Her little voice was so clear, so perfect, and so beautiful.  My heart leapt, and I looked to see my accompanist behind the child with a look of, “Yes!”, on her face.  Then I kept going around the circle.  As I went around, it happened again. His little voice was so clear, so perfect, and so beautiful. And he was the brother of the little girl who had caught my attention a moment before.  My heart melted when I heard Landon’s sister go, “Wow!” as a reaction to his singing.  You see, these two sweet voices belonged to twins.  These two have been in my choir for a couple of years and have sung many times for me, but this time, there was something special.  This time was a “God Special Moment” because when I heard the sister’s reaction to the brother’s singing, I knew instantly that they would be singing a duet to begin the song.

As we went to the Worship Center to rehearse, the adults listened in awe of what had happened.  These two children, who are so different, sounded as if they had the same voice.  These two children didn’t even realize the other had such beautiful voices.  God put it all together and set His plan in motion as they sang a tiny part of a song for me.  Today, they will sing together and I am so excited.  There are so many “God moments” in the song today but the biggest “God moment” will be hearing these twins, who had no idea the other could sing so beautifully, will be singing together.  I am in total Awe of God today.

Prayer:  God, thank you for giving us your “God Moments” when we can get excited over you.  We praise you today for your wonders.  Amen. 

Prayer Focus:  Look for the God Moments!

“Giddy” God Moments

Nehemiah 12:43

And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced.  And the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off. 

Thought for the Day:  Joy comes

As the weather has begun getting cooler in Georgia, we have had to bring out the light jackets.  The breeze in the air is cooler and it has been welcomed by many.  Before recess each day the children ask me if they need to wear their jackets as the weather seems to change from cool to pleasant from early morning when they come to school to the time we have recess.  One morning this week, I had a sweet student come to me and say excitedly, “Mrs. Locke, this morning when we went outside, my cousins and I breathed and ‘smoke’ came out of our mouths!”  As I listened to her, with such wonder in her eyes, I realized quickly that this particular student had come from another country that is located in the warmth of the Caribbean.  She had never experienced anything except warm weather, so she was shocked to feel cool weather and to see this spectacular event happening.  My heart melted when I realized what I had just witnessed and of course I took it as a teachable moment to explain why her breath looked like “smoke”.  I couldn’t hold back hugging that sweet girl in that moment – she brought joy to my heart.

When do we feel excited about events in our lives, giggling and taking in God’s creation!  This little girl was giddy to tell me that she had seen “smoke” come out of her mouth.  I get giddy when I am at the park and see the animals showing out as they fly or see how the leaves change colors between my visits.  Maybe we get giddy as we help others and see God’s changes happen in those around us.  Or, do we get excited when we see our children get excited over accomplishments.  Today, I want to look for those “God Moments” that bring giddiness to me.  Those moments are all around us.  We just need to look.

Prayer:  God, thank you for giving us your “God Moments” when we can get excited over you.  We praise you today for your wonders.  Amen. 

Prayer Focus:  Giddy “God Moments”

A Small, but LARGE, Piece of the Puzzle

Psalms 27:13

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the Lord.

Thought for the Day:  God has a plan, we just have to wait.

One week, one wonderful week with twenty-two second graders walking into my room.  One week of being back in the classroom after two years of being in transition from the school where I taught second grade for seven years, to kindergarten, to substituting, to Early Intervention/second grade long term substitute, to full time EIP, and then back to second grade. Over the past two years I have seen a few doors opened that allowed for me to work with children in the classroom.  It has been wonderful and I have loved those opportunities but they were not permanent positions.  I have had so many interviews attempting to find positions that were just right for me, and those doors were closed.  I drove long distances to those interviews, as far as over an hour, but those doors were closed.  I drove shorter distances to those interviews, as few as ten minutes, but those doors were closed as well.   Along the way, I met some awesome school administrators and had wonderful talks with them.  Some were looking for part-time teachers, para-professionals, long-term substitutes, upper grades, etc.  Although I knew the positions were not what I was looking for, I gave my all in the interviews but still didn’t get the positions.  I began questioning what I was doing and if it was worth it.  I began questioning God and asking, actually begging, for Him to lead me to where I was to go.

One wonderful evening, that call came and the voice on the other end was a fabulous administrator asking me to join the staff of her school, my son Jonathan’s school.  In an instant, in a very tiny instant, I knew why God has closed all those doors.  He had something in mind for me and had to keep it hidden until the small parts of that plan could fall into place.  When I reflect back over the two years of uncertainty, I picture a huge jigsaw puzzle…I had already put together the border as I moved to a new place and our family began our precious relationship in our new church.  Many pieces began being placed on the puzzle as we found our children enjoying school and finding new interests.  More pieces began being placed as I began leading a children’s choir.  More pieces were put into place as I continued my writing.  But scattered through the puzzle were many missing pieces…and one big one…the one piece missing was a full time position for me.  But that call came and then later a visit to the administrator’s office asking me to join the second grade teaching team.  That puzzle piece was found (maybe under the sofa)….that God kept hidden until He was ready for me to find it.  Now, is life perfect? “No”, we will continue working through some of the rest of the puzzle.  But has God placed a huge piece of the puzzle in front of us? “Definitely Yes!”

One week, one wonderful week with twenty-two second graders learning together in my classroom.  The piece of the plan has fallen into place.

Prayer:  Precious God, all praise to you this day!  Thank you so much, God, for your plan.  Sometimes we do not understand where you are leading us but we know you have the perfect plan for us.  Help us wait for you and help us refrain from getting ahead of you. 

Prayer Focus:  Waiting for God’s plan

God’s Plan After the Closed Doors

Isaiah 55:8-9

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Thought for the Day:  God Knows

Riding in my car the seven minutes to work recently, I found myself struggling with leaving my family that early in the morning.  This left my husband to get our youngest son on the bus and to wake our oldest son for the morning.  As I drove, I noticed it was cloudy and that the clouds brought beauty to the hills in front of me.  In that moment I began praying, thanking God for putting my family in this beautiful place and for reminding me with the clouds that He was taking care of our needs.  As I turned on the road to the school, I began tearing up as I remembered the many times I drove to that school and sat in front of it praying that God would bless me with a position there.  “How many doors did You close, God?  How many interviews went well only for me not to be called back?  How many times was I heartbroken after feeling excited after my visits to schools?”  So this time, as I drove into the parking lot of the school and looked at the building, I was able to say, “This is why You closed those doors…this is why.”  I am in a very special position at a very special school and now I feel…I know that God has put me in this place.

So many years, so many times I prayed and so many times I shared with others my belief that God had something planned for me in teaching.  In my human thoughts, I had to admit that my faith in myself that God had something special planned for me began to become weakened.  There were doubts and there was fear.  But I kept saying, “God has something planned for me” and “I just have to wait for God to give me His plan.”  I kept telling people about my faith, although my faith was not so strong inside me.  Now, I can share my faith with others and tell them that I have seen God’s hand lead me to the right place for me…the perfect place.

Prayer:  God, thank you for bringing your plan to us in Your time and in Your place.  We doubt sometimes, God, that You really have our life planned in Your special way.  We lose faith and we feel fear.  But God, You come through to help us led by Your mighty hand.  You are amazing, God, and I am thankful.  Amen

Prayer Focus:  Closed Doors

How are You Still Standing?

Psalm 91:1-2

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, He who abides in shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”  

Thought for the Day:  God is as close as our next breath

Spending time in conversation with my new work partner, who will be sharing a classroom and teaching experiences with for the coming year(s), was so special.  We have learned about each other’s children and we have talked about our past work experiences and what brought us to this place.  As we listened, we learned that we are very much alike in personality and that we are anxiously excited to be working with each other.  Neither of us has ever shared a classroom with another person so we will both be experiencing something new….but we can already tell it is going to be special.  Maybe it became special when we realized she was born the year I graduated from high school.  Toward the end of sharing, as we shared about past experiences, I shared about my family and what brought me personality to the place I am today.  Her reply was, “How are you still standing here in this place?  You’ve been through so much.”  I have heard similar statements many times through the years, but there was something in her voice that was different.

Over the past few days, several have brought up the subject because of a song I sang in church on Sunday about finding God’s blessings in the struggles of life.  This morning, awaking very early on a Saturday morning, I found myself contemplating the question, “How are you still standing here in this place?”  My answer, the only answer I can explain, is that I am here because in every tragedy and in every heart-break, God has placed the people and events and memories and His planned blessings in front of me where I knew the direction I was to go.  I sang the words Sunday, “What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near.”  As we have almost made it out of the last tough period, I thought about those words.  From the day that my husband’s position was eliminated in our previous church to the time I was offered my position to teach this coming school year was 1,011 days.  Laura Story’s song, Blessings, became a theme song for us a few months after our time of change began.  I remember hearing those words, “A thousand sleepless nights” and thinking…”I hope this doesn’t take a thousand days.”  But it has.  But in those thousand days we have fallen in love with our new church family, we have made wonderful new friends, we have found a place to live that is beautiful and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.  God has blessed us in a mighty way and looking back, we can see where His hand has led us in such a mighty way.

“How are you still standing?” I am still standing, I believe, because through tragedy one learns to keep the faith and to know God is there…”Closer than your next breath”… and He will never let you go.  There might be a lot of blessings in the tears and there might be many nights where rest does not come.  But, God is in that next breath and God is placing who and what you need to lead you through the hard times.  “How am I still standing?”  That’s easy…God is why I am still standing.

Prayer:  Almighty Father, thank you for loving us in such a special way and for bringing us through storms.  Thank you for sending the blessings of people, experiences, and heartaches to bring us through with the knowledge that You are right there beside us.  You are our Almighty Father and it is humbling to know that you are always as close as our next breath.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  God’s Blessings

A Special Birthday

John 14:21

He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. 

John 14:21

Thought for the Day:  He knows Christ and Makes Him Known

Fifty-nine years ago, a baby was born to Reeves and Mary Priscilla Locke.  What a blessing that fourth child was and what an amazing man he has become.  Yes, there was the time he got excited about holding a soda bottle, spun it around and let go of it straight into a huge store front window (Men inside went flying!)   Yes, there was a time he began throwing his dad’s church keys up in the air then catching them…only to throw them up one too many times with them coming down into one of the church chandeliers.  But then, there was the time, at one week old, that he began his campmeeting life at Joyner’s Campmeeting.  There was the time he walked into his parents’ kitchen to tell them that he had decided to direct church music for a living….they were not excited about that decision at that time, but boy were they proud when he became one of the best around.  And, there was the time he began his time offering his music love with the folks at Joyner’s Campmeeting as he became song leader.  Personally, there was the time yours truly visited Joyner’s Campmeeting with her parents and talked for the first time with this man…and she realized there might be life again after losing her first husband over a year before.  There was the time a little red-headed baby, and later a little black-haired baby (yes – black-haired), were placed in his arms making him a Daddy.  More than anything else, fifty-nine years ago God placed an amazing baby on this earth who became a wonderful musician, a wonderful pastor, an awesome friend to many, a tremendously perfect husband and father, and a man created to share his love of Christ with everyone he met.  Mark Locke became a God-fearing, God-loving, Ordained Deacon in The United Methodist Church to show Jesus to the World.

So, Happy Birthday, Mark G. Locke! May God bring His loving arms around you.  May God bless all who come into your presence as You show them God’s love.  You were born to “Know Christ and to Make Him Known” and you do that very well.

Prayer:  God, thank you for placing people in our lives who show us how to live in love for you.  Be with all of us to help us become Your face to the world, as others have been to us.  

Prayer Focus:  Born to be a Follower of God

Time Spent with God

John 15:1-5

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser.  Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:1-5

Thought for the Day:  Find time to be with God today.

Centering ourselves to be more in touch with God can be difficult. Waking up to my alarm clock going off normally begins my day and lately, the snooze works very well on my alarm.  Getting out of bed to drink coffee because we can’t seem to wake up without it seems to be the routine.  Turning on the television to watch the news can be overwhelming and can cause more stress to our day.  But, no matter how busy our mornings seem to be, we all know that stopping the morning madness and turning to God for even a few minutes can change our entire outlook for the day.  For me personally, putting on my walking clothes, grabbing my camera, driving to our park, and beginning my walk is my moment.  As soon as I enter the lush green trail entrance, my heart calms and I forget about my to do list because I am entering my time with God.  For my husband, pulling out his Bible and devotional guide brings his moment with God.  He studies the devotional and then writes special scriptures on cards to place in a scripture box he has next to his devotional materials.  The most important part for both of us is that we have that moment to center ourselves, if only for a moment, on God.

As I watch people in our church and other friends, I see so many beautiful ways to spend time with God.  Small group times of sharing with special friends, helping in food pantries and soup kitchens, group Bible Studies, worship services, and individual quiet times are ways to find special times with God.  My personality calls for my personal quiet time with God.  Others need more group times with God.  God just needs us to be with Him where He can share Himself with us.

Prayer:  Father God, today we are praising You for the love You have for us.  Help us to see that love more by spending special time with you.  Help us see Your words as we read the Bible or as we see Your precious creation in nature.  Be with us today to see where You are and to help us remember to stop for a moment to spend time with You.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Time with God

The Red-Winged Blackbird

 

Matthew 18:6

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Thought for the Day:  God loves us

How can it be that in one hour of walking around our park, I witnessed red-winged blackbirds tormenting other birds.  I haven’t seen it before so I was a little surprised, as I know nothing about that bird species.  As I began exploring the internet, I quickly realized that the reason they seem to attack larger birds is that the birds fly over their nesting areas.  So, much like geese do not like it when other animals get too close as they are nesting, and the blue herons scream out loudly if other animals get too close, the red-winged blackbirds are just protecting their babies.  As a mother, I know I can be almost over-protective of my children.  I hover over them when they are sick and make sure they know about harmful possibilities in the community.  So, am I over protective or am I similar to the red-winged black bird in my want to be a good mother and to help my children succeed in life as I make every attempt to teach them to live a God centered live.

Now, I look to our Parent, God, who loves us and will help us whenever we need Him.  He sends His angels to protect us and He guides our hearts in the way we should go.  All we have to do is read the Bible and we will find the hundreds of stories where God led people to where they needed to go, and opened the doors that needed to be opened.  God showed His love to us.  So, red-winged blackbird, protect your babies where they will know how to live when it is their time to fly free.

Prayer:  God, thank you for leading us where we need to go and for directing our feet.  Thank you for the birds of the air as they show us that they, too, protect their babies.  Help us look at all of nature to see how God shows His love to even the smallest animal – which shows us how much He loves us. 

Prayer Focus:  Parents