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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God’s View from Above

Psalms 139:13-14

For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful.  Wonderful are thy works!  Thou knowest me right well.

Thought for the Day:  God sees the beauty from above the canopy.

Over my past couple of walks in our beloved park, I have gone up…I have gone up into the hills for exercise and for seeing the colors from different heights.  One section of the walk literally lets one look down over the tops of small trees and a creek area.  As I walked recently, I began thinking about God and how He looks down to see us.  What does He see?  What does He think?  From our perspective, many things are out of balance and when we look at ourselves we see our flaws.  I know I look at myself critically in how I look, how I act with my family, and how I teach my students.  I am never satisfied.  But, what does God see?  As I stood looking down at the tops of the trees last week, I realized that the colors looked more vibrant from above and I couldn’t see all the little flaws of the downed trees and fallen leaves below the canopy.  Is this how God looks at us?  Is this what He sees?  We are God’s creation and we know that God loves us as we are.  This is what God sees.

Now, does this mean God does not see the bad and the ugly?  I don’t think so.  I believe God sees everything and I believe God knows our struggles and stays with us throughout our time of grief and sadness.  But, I believe God knows that when we get “Home” with Him in Heaven, that all will be beautiful and glorious.  We might have a lot going on within us that is not beautiful, but God created us and as I have heard before, “God ‘don’t’ make no junk!”  We are His children and we are beautiful in His sight.

Prayer:  God, thank you for loving us and for looking at us from above to see a beautiful canopy.  Thank you for always being with us through our struggles and for seeing the beauty within.  Help us each day to see the beauty in those around us.  Help us see from above the canopy.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  God’s view from above

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

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

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

Father’s Day

Proverbs 20:7

A righteous man who walks in his integrity – blessed are his sons after him!

Thought for the Day:  God sends fathers

“Daddy, can you do the ‘Tickle Spider?’”, I hear as the time comes for our youngest to go to bed.  “Why sure!” is the reply and the laughter begins.  As time wains, I begin hearing scriptures being said with Mark saying a line and Jonathan repeating.  Then I hear them saying “The Lord’s Prayer” together.  As Mark talks to our oldest, Nathaniel, I hear the serious talk about the day followed by “The Lord’s Prayer” ending their conversation for the night.  As a mother who has never been great at memorizing scripture, I hear the beautiful spoken word of my husband as he speaks words of faith with our two sons in a way that touches me deeply.  What a great father this man of God is to his sons, and what a great devotion the boys feel toward him.  God brought our family together where this man could share Jesus with all of us.

As I think about God and the way He loves us, I realize that my husband loves his boys in a special way.  Our family is special because God is the Head of our family and my husband follows His heart to teach our family about God’s love.   Together, God and Mark are a great team.

Prayer:  God, thank You for loving us enough to send dads, special dads to teach us about Your love.  Be with all dads on this day that they can see and recognize the love from their children.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Father’s Day

Seeing and Hearing the Sights and Sounds of God

Job 12:7-10

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare you.  Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?  In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”

Thought for the Day:  God wants us to see and hear the sights and sounds of the world.

I have enjoyed taking pictures recently as I have walked around our nearby park, a park filled with beautiful land and awesome wildlife.  A couple of people recently have mentioned to me that I must have an eye to see things to take pictures of.  As much as I would love to think that so, I have a different thought about it.  First, many times it is just the camera – that automatic focusing camera that does a great job.  Then, it is timing – timing of the day that gives the best light.  But most importantly, it is God’s sounds and visions.  As I walk I see glimpses of where God is leading my eye – it is as if it is just placed in front of me.  And, as I walk I hear sounds – it is as if I have passed something God wants me to see and He has to make a sound to draw my attention back to the photo opt that I have passed up.  I would love to think it is my eye, but it isn’t, it is what God places in front of me.

I believe God leads us whenever He places something of beauty in our sight, and occasionally it is whenever He places something in front of us to make us think – that homeless person sitting on the corner, or that donation stand for food collection for a food pantry.  Yes, God places the beautiful things in our thoughts to remind us of how much He loves us, but then He places the needs in front of us to let us show His love to those in need.  Where is God leading our eyes and ears today?  Is it to view the beautiful animals and plants we can see if we visit a park, or is it to see with our loving eyes the needs of those around us?  Can you see it? Can you hear it?  God is right there showing us the way through our eyes and through our ears.

Prayer:  God, thank you for loving us in a precious way to bring our sight on those beautiful things around us.  Thank you even more for focusing our eyes and ears to hear the needs of those we meet.  Amen 

Prayer Focus:  The sights and sounds of God

The Hand Squeeze

(This Devotion is repeated, with a few changes)

A SIMPLE HAND SQUEEZE

1 Corinthians 13

So faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.

Twenty-two years ago today, my husband remained in the Trauma ICU at the MED.  The accident that happened the night before had injured him so badly that he was unrecognizable and unable to talk.  The doctors finally called us back to see him in the afternoon.  Seeing him with swollen face and lying so still was difficult, and I was not sure how to talk to him.   All I could think of telling him was how much I loved him.  As I held his hand, I felt a familiar hand squeeze.  It was three squeezes from David’s hand to mine.  I immediately squeezed his hand back four times, and cried “I love you, too.”  Throughout our relationship and marriage, we had the hand squeeze message of three squeezes for “I love you”, and four squeezes for “I love you, too”.  That was the best feel I could have ever imagined as I sat beside his hospital bed. Even though there was sense that he would not make it through this, God gave him the strength to give me the message, through a simple hand squeeze, of his love for me.  That simple thing, but not simple at all, gave me the confirmation that our love was strong and that God’s love was also with me.

Throughout our lives, it is important to see God in the little things. With me on that day, the hand squeeze showed God’s love for me and David in a most extraordinary way.  That simple hand squeeze, twenty-two years later, still reminds me of the wonderful message that our love was strong, and that God was going to make everything okay. My husband, Mark, and I began that handshake when we married and have continued through our years together, and I am reminded of his love for me when we communicate in that way.

Prayer:   God, thank you for the little simple things that show your love in such big ways.  Help us to see your love in the little things we encounter every day.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  THOSE WHO EXPERIENCE TRAGEDY

Thank You, God

Exodus 33:18-19

Moses said, “I pray thee, show me thy glory.  And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name “The Lord’” and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy”

Thought for the Day:  Thank God today for the large blessings and the small.

Hot Dogs and Hot Fudge Cake – who would have thought that those two items would bring so many thank yous from my family.  As we shared time together earlier in the afternoon, my husband saw a picture of one of his all time favorite desserts – the Hot Fudge Cake from Shoney’s.  So, I said, “I think I can make that”.  As I began working on the dessert, I realized it was going to take longer than I thought, however, I was able to rush it just a bit to have it finished by dinner.  So, buns, hotdogs, mustard, relish, ketchup served quickly and simply made a few “men” happy.  Then, to top it off, the serving of the hot-fudge cake began.  My husband oohed and aahed, my oldest son began eating very quickly, and my youngest decided he only liked the whipped cream – handing his dessert over to his brother.   Bigger Brother dug in and we laughed when we witnessed our teenager with chocolate all over his mouth.  We finished and my son helped me clear the table and clean the kitchen.  “Thank you, Mama, for the dessert – and thank you for taking me to the store this afternoon.”  “Honey, thanks for making such a wonderful meal tonight – it was very special.” The Thanks actually went on awhile – what a delightful evening.

As I think about these awesome feelings of appreciation from my husband and sons, I wonder how God feels when we thank Him. Reading an article this morning, I read that “God is Glad” and “God is joyous over us”.  Just as my heart leapt as my family responded to that simple meal and dessert with thanks, God’s heart has to leap when we show our love and thanksgiving to Him.  God wants us to love Him and to give thanks for the gifts He gives.  More than that, I think, God wants us to realize the gifts are from Him.  Personally, I believe I take gifts from God for granted and do not realize they are from Him until I look back and see they were indeed from Him.  In that article about thanking God, I read that when we wake up and before we go to sleep, we should say the words, “Thank you, God!” for the gifts He has given that day, realizing that we are thanking Him for things we haven’t even seen as gifts from Him.  We need to remember that “all gifts are from God.”

Prayer:  Our Gracious Heavenly Father!  Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for the blessings You give us each day.  Forgive us for taking those gifts for granted by not realizing they are from You.  We love you, Lord, and want You to know how thankful we are for the simple things and for the large things.  We pray we will be more diligent in thanking you each day – many times a day – for Your many, seen and unseen, blessings.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Thanking God