Saturday, December 25, 2010

Five Gifts for Christmas

Merry Christmas! This past Sunday my pastor shared a message on the "5 Gifts that you can give every Christmas." Since Christmas is here, I wanted to take a few moments to share these five gifts with everyone. These will make great gifts that are sure to bless the receiver!

The first gift is to "Say nice things when you [we] don't have to." It's an odd gift, yes, but it's very useful around the holidays, especially when we find ourselves around a lot of people we may or may not get along with. Christmas gatherings can be trying times. Emotions are high, stress levels are out the window, and people are put in some pretty tight situations. The best thing to remember is to speak to one another with encouraging words that build up not break down (or spark past arguments and disagreements).
I Thessalonians 5:11 says, "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up..."

The second gift is the gift of simply "Being Ourselves." Family gatherings can really put the pressure on to be someone other than ourselves. We haven't seen some of these people since last Christmas and they're going to want to know what we've been up to. We've already heard that 'Suzy Jane' is the VP of Marketing with her big Fortune 500 Company, how can we compete with that? We suddenly feel that our volunteer work at the church and our ordinary 9 to 5 job isn't 'good enough' so we try to build ourselves up with a little stretch of the truth here and there. Psalm 139:13-14 says, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Instead of covering up who God has created us to be, we need to be openly giving Him praise and sharing our gifts with others. God has made us exactly the way He wanted to. We are His creation and are "fearfully and wonderfully made." The best gift we can give others is to be ourselves.

Our third gift is to "Be a Specimen of Joy." There's a lot of things going on in the World that can bring us down. Yes, there is suffering, disease, and poverty, but there is also hope, mercy, grace, and love. No matter how bad things may seem to be, God is still on the throne and in control of every thing, big or small, that is happening around us. This is comforting news that should give us great excitement and joy; a joy that we simply cannot contain. Let's remember to share the joy and the reason for that joy with those around us!

The fourth gift is the gift of "Dealing with offensive behavior directly." When there's a lot of people together there's bound to be a few toes (and egos) stepped on. What's the first thing we usually do when someone says or does something offensive to us? We tell the person standing the closest to us. Before long we've talked about the offense with everyone but the offender. Matthew 18:15 tells us "If a brother sins against you, go to him privately and confront him with his fault. If he listens and confesses it, you have won back a brother." How true those words are! If we keep the situation to ourselves and seek out the offender privately then we can save a lot of time and trouble. The problem can be smoothed out and the entire day or evening won't be ruined. Time is such a precious treasure; don't spend it sulking.

The fifth and final gift is to remember to "Make people, not stuff the priority this Christmas." Jesus is the reason for the season; He came to seek and save the lost and to give us life abundantly (Luke 19:10; John 10:10). He made us a priority. He stepped out of a glory filled Heavenly realm into a dark and dusty Earth. People, not stuff, were His priority. We need to do the same. Christmas may be the only opportunity we get to tell friends and family about Christ; make it count!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sounds of Christmas: Jesus Is Coming!

The sounds of Christmas. There's a lot of sounds going around at the this time of year; speeding cars, busy shoppers rushing around the store, lots of children laughing (and crying), cheering crowds at holiday sports games, tuning of instruments preparing for an outdoor Christmas concert, the steady beeping of the checkout lines, and of course the fast tapping of fingers across the keyboard and the click of the mouse as Christmas gifts and messages are sent across the super highway.
There were similar sounds of busyness that first Christmas too. The entire Roman Empire was abuzz with busy travelers trying to reach their cities of origin for the census. Roadways were packed with chariots, carts, horses, and mules. Animals crying, children crying, people shouting, whips cracking, these were the sounds of that first Christmas. A world of busy, preoccupied individuals trying to make it to their destination on time. Shop keepers shouting along the way hoping someone would stop and buy their goods. Beggars with outstretched arms pleading with the travelers to have pity on them and toss a coin or two their way.
Two different worlds, yet the same familiar rushing, busy sounds of Christmas. What would happen if the world stopped everything for a time of silence? What would we hear? Standing outside in the coolness of the evening, looking up at the dark, clear sky filled with stars, I stand listening to the silence and imagine what it must have been like for the shepherds, wise men, and Mary and Joseph. The angels singing to announce the birth of a King, the Savior of the world! The awe of a miraculous star beckoning to "follow me." The worried sighs of a distraught husband accompanied by the screams of a woman in labor. Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming!
Those were the sounds of Christmas that the world didn't hear that night. They were too busy to stop and listen. They were about their own business when the most important business of the great God of the Universe was taking place. What about us today? We know the story. We know the sounds of what happened. But, are we stopping to listen and remember? We're about our crazy holiday schedules with so much to get done, but do we realize or even understand the importance and magnitude of the business our Father God has given us? Are we not about our Father's business? If not, what's keeping us so preoccupied and busy that we're forgetting the real meaning of Christmas and the work that should occupy our lives every day of the year? Sit quietly before the Lord and ask Him to reveal the sounds of Christmas. Stop in the middle of everything and reflect on the work God has given us to do. Be about His business by spreading His love and the message of His saving grace to those who've not heard. Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming!

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Chance to Write

The following is an essay I recently submitted to a writer's contest. Winners have since been announced and although I was not one of them, I am deeply grateful for the contest and its theme "When Writing Made a Difference." I was encouraged to take a look at why I write and who I write for. God revealed many things to me that I had long since forgotten. I encourage each of you to ask yourselves "When ____ Made a Difference." Fill in the blank with something that encourages and motivates your life. Ask yourself how God has used that to make a difference in life. Praise Him for it and ask for His continued guidance in fulfilling the gifts He's given.

Words are always present. I find them floating around in my head throughout the day. They swim across my dreams at night. They call to me in the quietness begging me to write. I hear them, but I don’t always listen. I want to write. I’ve been told that I write with such heart and conviction. When I stop writing, readers ask for more. Something inside of me is set free when words finally make it to paper, but so often they remain hidden within my quiet soul. The enemy fills my mind with doubts and despair, whispering, “You’ll never be good enough. There are so many publishers; you’ll never find one to take a chance on you. Blogs don’t count. E-mails aren’t credible. Look at all of the pages that you’ve yet to publish. Stop while you can and find a real job.” I fight to escape these lies, but they take hold and I stop mid sentence leaving pages void of thought.

This was the writing void I found myself in before I discovered the writings of Amy Carmichael. As a young woman, Amy recognized a call on her life to take the message of Jesus Christ to people in distant lands. In her mid twenties, Amy found herself taking on a lifelong position as a missionary in India. It was for this reason that a close friend of mine encouraged me to read Amy’s biography entitled A Chance to Die written by author and missionary Elizabeth Elliot. I picked up the book expecting to be filled with an excitement and yearning to head to the mission field overseas, but instead I re-discovered the writing mission God placed within my heart years ago. Amy Carmichael was not only a great missionary, but she was also an extraordinary writer.

The most unique part of Amy’s life as a writer was that she never intended to be a published author. She simply wrote because of the passion within her to express the need of the ministry and the people she served. She kept a daily journal, wrote letters of praise to staff, sent encouraging words to friends, and mailed hundreds of newsletters home to family and friends. Amy followed no guidelines. She went against tradition and wrote from her heart sharing the harsh realities of missionary life, the desperate need for workers, and the miraculous ways God provided for the people both spiritually and physically. She would often receive letters back from the mission offices at home asking her to edit and reconstruct her words to fit within the guidelines of the church or community. On one occasion, when her work did go before publishers, Amy was asked to re-write her manuscript making missions work more appealing to readers. Amy refused and instead sent back a new title for her work, which was Things as They Are.

Amy Carmichael did not write with the intention of making money for herself, raising money for missions, or to become one of the greatest writers of her time. God gave her a gift with words and she honored that gift by writing. She devoted hours upon hours to using words to express her heart and love for the people and God she served. The only guidelines Amy Carmichael adhered to were the ones written within her heart. She left the end results of all of her writings to the will of God and it was He who ensured that her writings caught the eyes of the publishers in order to reach a greater multitude of readers.

The writings of Amy Carmichael re-ignited the writer within me. I’ve come to realize that I write because I’m a writer. A passion burns within me to communicate the words God has given me. I write not to raise money, make a living, or become a well known author (although that would be nice). I write because it is my life, my soul, my very being. If God so grants me the privilege of becoming a published author, I will be ecstatic beyond words. Should my words never reach a published market, yet somehow find their way to the one reader that needs them most, I will be in awe that such a mighty God would allow me to be part of such mighty works of His love!