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!

Nighttime in the Park

Psalm 55:6

And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest.

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Thought for the Day:  Where do we find rest?

Bound and determined to walk in the park yesterday, I finally arrived after 6:05 pm knowing the time of sunset was 6:56.  My day had already been so busy with a Christmas Cantata rehearsal for 3 hours on a Saturday morning followed with appointments for my boys to pick up their glasses at the optometrist.  When we returned from those events, there was only time to get my youngest ready to go to a birthday party.  My husband took my son to his party and I prepared to go to the park.  And of course, a couple of things got in the way of my time and I arrived later than expected.  But, I did it…and it was well worth the wait.

As I walked into the park, I looked at the sky to see how fast the sun was going down, then I made my decision on which direction to go.  Normally I walk in the morning, so I immediately began hearing the night sounds of insects and frogs.  I began walking faster than normal but was hopeful that I would take some good pictures.  As I continued walking, I could hear major honking of the geese as they made their way to the lake.  Flying over a couple of times before splashing down in the water, they obviously were “coming home” for the night.

Walking on, I entered a section that follows a meandering stream.  It was very still and serene as I passed.  Coming closer to a swampy area, I could peek through the trees to see the sun shining on the wooded area.  Fearful I would miss taking pictures of that beautiful sight, I walked faster to get to an opening to get a perfect shot.  I was not disappointed as the sun shone brilliantly on the view.

Continuing on the trail, I could hear the scurrying of squirrels and the honking of geese, but I could not get a good view.  I then was determined to get to a particular point in my walk where maybe, just maybe, I could get shots of the sunset as it made its way behind the hills.  I made it just in time and there I witnessed It…I witnessed the beautiful gift of light that only God can put in the sky.  As I looked around, there were very few people left in the park so the sunset must have been placed there “just for me”.

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But it wasn’t put there just for me.  For it was a few minutes later that I truly realized who this nighttime beauty was placed there for.  As nightfall began, I began noticing the animals making their way to their homes for the night.  The sounds began to die down, except for the occasionally honk of a goose.  And, I witnessed a blue heron flying quietly across the lake.  Then, to my amazement, I rounded a corner to see three white images, one above another, in a tree.  As I looked closely, I realized there were three white egrets sitting in a tree beginning their rest for the night.  My reaction was a quiet gasp then I found myself running to a deck to get a picture.  With it being dark, the pictures weren’t great and I had to work on the pictures when I got home to show the egrets.  My memory of the egrets is instilled in my mind and so much clearer than the pictures.  There was my “God moment” for the night when I realized that in the serene quiet of the night that the park, where so many walk and run each day, is not for me.  It is for those awesome animals who, in the nighttime, find their solace.

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So, where is my place?  Where is my “solace”?  My solace, as these animals seem to understand, is in the arms of God.  God holds them safely in His grasp as he brings the night of rest.  God holds me safely in His arms as I experience myself in the loving arms of my family and in the safety of the home He has provided.  I would love to experience a nighttime of serenity at the park…but that is not my home…it is for those animals.  In every area of that park, rest was happening.  Squirrels, deer, frogs, egrets, blue herons, little green herons, and so many other animals found rest.  When I returned home, I found rest in God’s arms shown in the arms of my family.

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:  Rest

“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”

What Can We Do?

Psalms 91:1-5

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”  For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness in a shield and buckler.  You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.

Thought for the Day:  What can we we?

As our family took a few minutes last evening to prepare our home for the storm winds and rain we should be receiving today, my heart was breaking for those in Florida and Texas.  We cleared the bicycles from our garage by putting them in our dining room so we could get our cars in, we checked the gutters to make sure the water would go away from the house as it rained, and we brought items in from our deck.  Every step of the way I kept thinking, “This is nothing compared to what is taking place a few hundred miles south of us – how are they dealing with what has been and is happening?”  And then I think, “What can we do from here, what can we do to help in some small way to bring them a little peace?”  First, in the United Methodist Church, UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief – UMCOR.org) is a non-profit organization dedicated to alleviating human suffering around the world.  100% of the donations go to projects to help those suffering.  After Hurricane Katrina so many years ago, my dad traveled with a group to Louisiana as a part of UMCOR to help friends in need.  These UMCOR friends are the hands and feet of Christ.  Brothers and sisters around the United States are working as the hands and feet of Christ as they collect items for Hurricane Relief buckets of cleaning supplies to help in clean-up efforts.  Our church has taken part in this ministry, with even the young people helping.  What better way to help these children become Jesus to someone else.

As I wrote about UMCOR and Hurricane Relief buckets, there was one thing that was left out but which is the most important.  Prayer!  Prayer is our most clear and straight line of communication with God.  It seems so small sometimes as we continue to pray, but it is also the most important.  Reading an article in Guideposts recently, I read about a lady who for years added a concern in her church’s prayer listing.  Staff members in the office, every week, wondered about those week by week prayer requests thinking that the prayer was not going to be answered.  After a very long time, the prayer answer came in such a way that the people of the church knew the call for prayer by this lady every week was indeed answered…the week by week prayer request was worth it.  Today, we pray and today we know that God is present with the people in Florida and Texas.  Today, things are fresh and the weather system is still churning in part of Florida and will cross other states today.  Tomorrow, the sun will shine and the truth of destruction will be made clear.  But what about next month and next year – will we continue praying daily for these brothers and sisters.  I hope the answer is yes – and I know that, in time – maybe much time – those prayers will be answered.  Pray.

Prayer:  Father God, we praise you today for the powerful love you show us every day.  You are almighty and you are worthy of our praise.  Today, God, many are hurting.  Some have lost everything and some do not know what to do next.  Be with these brothers and sisters today and let them know that you are near.  God, be with them today.  Help us to know how best to be there for these friends.  Amen.  

Prayer Focus:  Hurricane

The Strawberry Cake

Nathaniel cooking

Galatians 5:25

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, so envy of one another.

Thought for the Day:  God wants a very close relationship with each of us.

What a blessing it is when one sees their child enjoying something special that the two can do together.  Recently, I have had wonderful experiences in the kitchen baking with my thirteen-year old son.  We started with cookies where I helped him with the recipe and helped him understand how to cook them in our “off-temperature” oven (set five degrees lower).  He was so excited to take the cookies to Sunday School the next morning to share with his friends.  Evidently, to huge accolades.  The next week, he wanted to make cookies to take as we visited some friends.  Two weeks, two batches of cookies, and two empty containers brought back into the house.  Last night, we took on the Strawberry Cake.  Putting the recipe in front of him then watching him set the temperature on the oven, grease and flour the pans, then measuring and mixing the ingredients came so naturally and he was excited as it went.  Now, I must admit that I took the second part of making the icing and then icing the cake.  Today, we take “his” strawberry cake to share with friends.

There are times as a parent when we seem at odds with our children and we can’t figure out what has created that distance.  Then, as my son and I experienced, things come into sync and a beautiful thing happens…the cake really looks so delicious!  Where are we in relationship with our Father?  Are we at odds with God because we are not completely allowing Him into our lives?   Or, are we enjoying life because we are experiencing life side by self with our Father?  Thinking about this recently, I realize that I seem to have to be reminded to talk to God.  That is not how it should be.  I want that relationship with God where we are in sync and where we enjoy that life together in a way I have never experienced before.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, You are so precious and You are Almighty.  Thank You for waiting for us to come to You.  Help us realized that You are waiting for us and all we have to do is welcome You into our lives.  Remind us that You are near all the time…as close as our next breath.  Amen

Prayer Focus:  Cooking with our children

The Mama Duck and Her Ducklings

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Isaiah 43:1-2

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!  “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.  And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.”

Thought for the Day:  God leads us through the waters.

Spending time at my favorite place, Lake Junaluska, is refreshing and brings a feeling of joy.  Each year I take my camera to the different gardens and take pictures of God’s beauty set before me.  This year was no different except that the bridge over the dam was closed which made me take the County Road below the dam.  I do not often stop below the dam to see the water flow and to see the water find its way to a beautiful stream.  But this year, I spent some time there for just a few minutes.  I took pictures of the dam which was flowing rapidly because of recent rains and then I walked over to the stream.  As I took pictures, my eyes were directed toward a duck and her ducklings.  I brought my camera to my eye and began watching them through the lens.  This mama duck began leading the ducklings downstream.  At first the ducklings were all in a straight line behind their mother with such cuteness that my heart melted.  Then, the family came to a strong rapid.  The mama scurried in the water to get out of the rapid and I saw something spectacular.  The ducklings all became very active, swimming fast, to stay behind their mother until they were out of the rapid.  They followed her until they found their place on the rocks beside the stream.  I continued watching to see her work her family to the others side of the stream where they sunned and bathed for a few minutes.

I watched God in action that day in the stream below the dam.  I watched Him, through the mama duck, show us that He is always with us to protect us.  He is always with us to lead us through the treacherous waters of the sea.  On that day, I saw the mama duck teaching her children to make their way out of a dangerous rapid.  On that day, I heard God’s voice tell me that He is always with us to help us make our way through the wilderness of life.  Those ducklings showed me through their obvious following of their mother how to follow Christ.  The mother and ducklings all found the safety of the rocks, just as we find safety from turmoil when we follow God where he leads.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for the beauty you place around us.  The magnificence of your creation seems to glow when we look for you.  Thank you for placing your examples of how to follow you right in front of our eyes.  Help us recognize you and help us to follow you as you lead us through the wilderness of life.  You are awesome, God.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Following 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