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

The Open Door

Acts 14:27

And when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

Thought for the Day:  God opens doors

For two years, I found out yesterday, well a little shy of two years, a precious lady at our church has been praying diligently for me to find a job.  As she came up to me yesterday at church, “How have things worked out for you in finding a teaching position?”  Excitedly I told her that I do have a position for the next school year.  She teared up and said, “I have been praying for you….I always love hearing about prayers answered as it reminds me that prayers work.”  She has been a constant encourager for my family and me through this time since we have been in Georgia, and the love shows on her face every time we are in conversation with her.  As I shared with her about all the different doors that seemed to close for me, even after having great interviews, was discouraging at the time and I wondered why God was closing the doors.  I didn’t get it.  Then, when a long-term substitute position opened at my son’s school, I jumped in and began work.  I loved my work and was encouraged every day by those around me, but having it lead to a full-time position was not clear.  Then the day came, at 9:30 in the evening, when I was offered a position in the school nearest me…and in one of the best elementary schools around.

I shared with our sweet friend that at that moment, I knew why the previous doors had been closed.  God simply did not want me to walk through them.  Two days ago, we drove by another school in our area where I interviewed.   The building is exactly like the building where I got a position.  As I drove by I shared with my child, “Honey, can you see that school is the same type of building as your school?”.  “If I had been offered a position and taken it, I would not be at your school next year.  God closed that door and I am so glad.”

Many prayed for me and could not understand why so many doors were shut for me.  But then the door that was supposed to open did….and God let me walk through.  God knew, but I believe God wanted me to interview in the different schools.  He knew that I needed to receive knowledge through each of those interviews of steps I needed to take.  Through those interviews, I realized that I needed an extra endorsement on my teaching certificate – ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).  So, I studied and took the ESOL test and passed.  Adding that endorsement helped in my search of a position, but more than that it gave me essential skills to succeed in my new position.  God said yes and opened the door when HE knew it was the right one – because HE led me to that widely opened door.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for friends who pray for us and encourage us in such special ways.  Through the prayers of those remarkable people, we realize how You listen to us.  Thank you also, God, for the closed doors that keep us from going into places you do not want us to go.  Thank you for making clear the open doors we are to enter.  You are awesome!  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Friends who are encouragers

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

Answer the Knock on the Door

Revelation 3:20

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” 

Thought for the Day:  He stands at the door and knocks, will we open the door?

The day was dark and rainy so I decided all I could do was to stay in and clean the house.  Throughout the day I cleaned bathrooms, vacuumed carpets, cleaned hardwood floors, and washed and folded many loads of clothes.  Through that time, my two boys kept coming to me asking me question such as “What is your favorite food?” and “What are your favorite colors?” The two kept very quiet and were very secretive.  Over the next couple of hours, I continued working and the boys continued being quiet.  When I finished my cleaning chores for the afternoon, the boys called me into my 13 year-old son’s bedroom.  They had worked and finished a Mindcraft project on their gaming system about me.  They had my face (well sort-of), a rainbow colored decoration, a Filet Mignon steak (that was my favorite food answer), and an online-plague saying “I love you”.  As we sat on the floor together, I felt very special….my boys shared their love with me in a very unique way.  As they shared the Mindcraft images with me, they were excited and a visible way that they had created something wonderful for me and I was excited that they had me in their thoughts.  What a special afternoon!

I wonder, what can I do for my God to show Him how special He is to me?  “What is your favorite food?”, “What is your favorite color?”.  “How can I show You how special You are to me?” As I thought about this question this morning and read in the Bible, the answer is simple.  God wants a personal relationship with us.  God wants us to invite Him into our hearts to share with Him all of our thoughts and dreams.  God wants us to listen to His voice where we will know how to follow the plans and dreams He has for us. God wants to share time with us and to feel our love.  God wants to sit and dine with Him.  God wants us to always, every minute, share our time with Him. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

Prayer:  O God, You are awesome and wonderful!  We praise You today for being our great Father.  God, we want to have an everlasting and beautiful relationship with You today.  Help us answer the knock on the door and to let You into our hearts in a way we have not before.  Come into our hearts today, Lord, we want to dine with You.  Amen 

Prayer Focus:  Those desiring a stronger relationship with God.

The Laundromat

The Laundromat

 1 John 4:9-12

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.    

Thought for the Day:  Love our brothers and sisters around the world.

 “We have to order a part for your washing machine.  It will take about a week to come in and we will call you.  You cannot use the machine until then.”  These were not the words we wanted to hear but as soon as I heard them I knew my afternoon was going to be spent at a laundromat.  After looking on the internet to find the closest ones with good reviews, I sorted and bagged all the clothes and towels, put my laundry supplies in a basket, and went by a store to get some change.  All set, I began my drive and found that the two laundromats in the little town I had driven to were covered up with people, so I got back in my car and began driving.  I ended up a long distance from where I had planned but it was good.  When I entered, I found a couple of people washing clothes, and the laundromat was clean and nice.  I began putting my clothes in the washing machines and setting them to start.  My thought was that I would study for a test I have coming up, but found that by the time I finished loading and starting the washing machines, my first load was finishing.  Then the drying began.  My process of folding and hanging the clean clothes began and continued for quite a while.  My blessing came as I shared conversations with a mother and daughter who were washing clothes for their families.  They shared about their families, including many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  And I shared about my boys and my husband, and how they were such blessings to me.  Then, I talked to a man who was in the laundromat with his brother.  They lived together but their dryer had gone out recently.  I giggled as he asked questions to an older lady about what temperature to set the washing machine.  He was a very kind man who seemed a bit overwhelmed over his situation.  I then witnessed another lady as she and her elderly mother came into the laundromat holding a huge bedspread.  I knew she was new to going to a laundromat because she came in and went directly to one of the dryers and placed her bedspread inside.  She laughed out loud when she realized what she had done.  I’m sure she was there because her home washing machine would not hold such a large piece.  My conversations continued throughout the afternoon, and I finished my job and began to leave.  As I made the many trips to my car with the hanging clothes and baskets, I was blessed to have a couple of young men opening the door for me.  I found that my time at the laundromat was delightful and I met some pretty fascinating people.

As I left and remembered all my conversations and the people I met, I realized that I had been in the company of other God’s children.  It was obvious we came from different backgrounds, but we were all there together with the purpose of cleaning clothes for our families.  The conversations were wonderful, but just a sweet was the experience of having families of different ethnicities as one little girl shared with me that my washer had stopped, and one young man opened the door for me several times in a very polite and precious way.  I was in “the family of God” in the laundromat, and I feel very blessed today having shared that special time with them.

Prayer:  Father God, You are almighty and You are our Father.  Help us each day to remember that we are all Your children and no matter our backgrounds, we are all living together in this beautiful world.  Help us learn to better respect and love our brothers and sisters around the world.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Family Who Adopted Me into their Fold

Romans 9:6-8

But it is not as though the word of God has failed.  For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants, but “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants. 

Thought for the Day: We all belong to God.  

On this quiet morning, two days after Christmas, I sit in a quiet house.  It is cloudy and rainy outside so it seems the others in the house are sleeping in.  I did too.  But now I sit and reflect over the past few days and look forward to days to come.  Christmas Eve services were absolutely wonderful, followed by our Sunday Christmas Service that was sweet and beautiful.  Yesterday came and I woke to a house that needed to be cleaned.  Dressed in my warm ups, I cleaned everything that could be cleaned as I knew family would be arriving today.  Today I look forward to visitors coming to our home to celebrate Christmas.  This year, I have not been able to spend time with my family, as my immediate family is gone and distance kept us from seeing my extended family.  Today, however, I do get to spend time with family – special family members who took me in twenty years ago and welcomed me with opened arms into their family.  They wrapped their arms around me and I became their sister.  I wrapped my arms around them and they became my brothers and sister.  I did not know at that time that in only a few years, they would be my immediate family but I am thankful they were there when the time came.  My sweet husband, my boys, and I are finishing those last things where we will be able to welcome “our family” into our home.

Adopted into their immediate family is what I was.  Adopted into a family that accepted me with full open arms into their circle.  As we adopted our children, we welcomed them completely with every ounce of our hearts and with as much love as can be imagined.  There are many times, admittedly, I begin to feel sorry for myself that I no longer have my sweet Mama and Daddy, my two brothers, and my first love.  But then, I look at where has God led me and how He so perfectly placed me in the midst of those who loved me.  He gave me my first husband’s parents as my parents after my parents died.  He gave me a wonderful husband who loves me deeply and whose family took me into their fold. He gave me two of the most precious sons a mother could ever ask for.  My family is full, not by the one I was born into but by the one that adopted me.  “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants.”  My family is coming today and I am so very thankful for them.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for knowing us and leading us to the people who become our family.  Help us remember that each of the special people around us are our Family in Christ, and that You put them there for us.  Help us know that we are a part of the whole as You have adopted us.  We love You!  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those needing to feel loved.

The Brick

Matthew 10:5-8

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.  You received without paying, give without pay.”

Thought for the Day: Remember to love.  

This morning brings so many stories on Facebook that bring tears to the eyes and thoughtful contemplation.  This morning, I glanced at Facebook as I normally do and a video popped up.  It was about a man who was driving through a part of town and thought he saw a child from the side.  As he continued driving a brick hit the side of his car.  He got out of the car, very upset, and ran over to the child asking why he would throw a brick at his car.  The child replied, “Because it was the only way I could get a car to stop.”  The child’s brother had fallen out of his wheelchair and had been injured.  He was trying to get help for his brother because he could not lift him and take care of him by himself.  The man helped the little boy get his brother back into his wheelchair and helped bandage his scrapes.  After he left, he decided to leave the dent in the side of his car to remind him that God had to get his attention with a brick because he didn’t hear God’s voice when the little boy came to the side of the road waving for help.

During this time of year, there are many people in need who do not know where to turn.  God sends us small messages to nudge us to help, but many times it takes a “brick” to get our attention.  Today is Christmas Eve and we are very busy people with worship services, wrapping final gifts, and all sorts of other things.  But, thinking about why Jesus came to us as a baby brings us to the true thoughts.  As a song, “Welcome to Our World”, says, “Fragile finger sent to heal us, tender brow prepared for thorn, tiny heart whose blood will save us, unto us is born, unto us is born. So wrap our injured flesh around You, breathe our air and walk our sod.  Rob our sin and make us holy perfect Son of God, perfect Son of God.”  As a sister to that boy in the wheelchair who protected her brothers as much as she could.  As that sister who “gave the look” at anyone who stared at her brothers because they sat in wheelchairs.  As a sister who loved her brothers enough to do anything for them, maybe even throwing a brick to get them help.  God sent Jesus as a tiny baby to live among us to get our attention to be on those in need, to die on the cross for us to save us from our sins, and to show us how to love.  On this Christmas, let’s love as Jesus came to teach us how to love.

Prayer:  God, thank you for the reminders of Your love and for sending Your child to earth to save us.  Thank you for bringing us love in the midst of turmoil, for sending peace in the midst of war, but mostly for teaching us how to love as Your Son, Jesus Christ, taught us so many years ago.  Thank you for Baby Jesus.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Loving those in need

The Light in the Night Sky

Luke 2:1-2

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?  For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” 

Thought for the Day:  Let the light in the night sky lead your heart to Jesus.

Over the past couple of months, news about the “Super Moon” had friends and photographers grabbing their cameras to take many awesome photographs we saw on Facebook and on the news channels.  I was one of those as well, although my images did not turn out as vibrant as the others.  As that night progressed, I took my camera out every few minutes to see if I could get a good view of that wonderful moon.  It was built up for several weeks before the night came and the night came and went.  We had great photographs to look at but it didn’t really change anything.  But one night over two thousand years ago, another bright light lit up the night sky.  That star appeared leading the wise men to the place where Baby Jesus laid.  They followed the star to Bethlehem where they brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  That star, that bright and glorious star, led the wise men to Jesus and it did indeed change everything.  There were no pictures of the star, there were no newscasts telling of its coming, but it changed everything.  There were no pictures of the Baby Jesus, there were no newscasts telling of the birth, but it changed everything.

As I think about that event that changed everything, I reflect about how it has affected me.  That baby, that sweet Baby Jesus, changed me.  I would have been a totally different person if Jesus had not been in my life.  I have always known about Baby Jesus and Christmas, and that knowledge has formed my life.   God sent His Son in the form of a baby to live on earth and to die to save us from our sins.  I have seen the bright light, not in the sky, but in my faith and love of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Prayer:  Father, our Father!  Thank you for bringing Your bright and glorious “star” in our night sky to bring our hearts to Jesus.  We may not have seen that light as the wise men saw that night long ago, but we have seen that bright light in our hearts.  Thank you for Jesus.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those needing to see the star

Told for the Very First Time

 

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Isaiah 11:6

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and fatling together, and the little child shall lead them.

 

Thought for the DayHow will we take the love of Jesus Christ out into the community and world?

The children came and offered their gifts preparing our Worship Center for the telling of the birth of Christ.  The little children dressed as animals, the middle aged children dressed as angels and shepherds, and the older children came dressed festively to tell the story.  And, of course, we had our Holy family including a sweet baby and a sweet “littlest angel”.  Then He came.  God came through the doors and straight into the heart of each of the children.  The music started and the children sang, then the speakers came to the microphone and perfectly told the story, and of course…the animals began taking their costume parts and handed them to their director.  Wait, I don’t think that was supposed to happen, but it sure brought an extra, unexpected element to the program.  The story was told, that story of the Birth of Jesus Christ was told for the very first time by the Children’s Choir in that new Worship Center.  By the end of the program, everyone present knew that the church of which we are a part is filled with people who take the story of Jesus Christ out into the world every day.

The church serves over a hundred families each week through the on-sight food pantry, serves over 300 families Thanksgiving and Christmas family meals, welcomes every one with hospitality beyond anything I have ever seen, serves over 500 children during Vacation Bible School, serves over 200 people a week Wednesday evening meals through the “Kitchen Angels” ministry.  The story has been told “for the very first time” in a new Worship Center building where the people in that church been telling the story throughout the entire life of the church.  “Hey Yall! Are you ready?” “Yes, Yes, Yes! Let’s Give these walls something to talk about……what will they talk about years from now?”  They will talk about the people who have worshiped in that room and have taken the love of Jesus out into the community and out into the world.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for children.  Thank you for the excitement and love they bring to new and wonderful situations.  Help each of the children learn about You and learn how to carry Your love out into the world.  Thank you for the innocence of children and for the way they can bring a smile to those who see them.  Be with the church, throughout the world, to tell about Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:   Children’s Choirs