Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Very Merry Christmas to You!

Only four more days! That’s right, Christmas is upon us! Take a few minutes to think back on that first Christmas long ago…

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon  them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them,” (Luke 2:1-20; KJV).

Wishing you and yours a very merry Christmas and a special time to reflect on the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! God bless!

*I’ll be spending time with family over the holidays, and invite you to join me back here on January 3 for the first post of 2012 – and who knows? There just may be a surprise waiting for you! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Life's Inconveniences

Only a few more gift cards to buy. Only a few days left to get them. But one of the gift cards I need to track down is from a store several miles across town. With a busy week ahead, imagine my exasperation when I realized I had a slow leak in my tire. Sure enough, the small head of a nail was peeking out at me from in between the tire treads. Talk about inconvenient!

Within a couple hours the tire shop had my tire patched. And at no cost to me! Yes, some things are still free! My slight inconvenience paled in comparison to that of some people from long ago...

The government was the cause of their inconvenience. Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that everyone would be taxed. Not only was there a tax to be paid, but everyone had to return to their home town in order to make their payment. No mailboxes in those days. No ifs, ands, or buts, the tax had to be paid in person, period. Major inconvenience for most of the townspeople of Nazareth, but for Joseph, he had the added inconvenience of a pregnant wife. Mary was nearing the end of her pregnancy and would find it difficult to travel the long distance to Bethlehem. Despite their less than desirable situation, Joseph and Mary headed on their way.

I can only imagine how many stops the couple must have made between Nazareth and Bethlehem. Maybe ten stops or more a day? And this journey was not for the faint of heart. Given Mary's pregnancy, it could easily have been a week's journey. And think about the mode of transportation. Probably a donkey for Mary, while Joseph led the way on foot. Mary couldn't have been comfortable! When I compare the rough back of an animal to the plush, heated seats of my car, I have to laugh. And vow never to complain on a long road trip again!

I remember the comfort of my own bed the night before my scheduled C-section. And the confidence I had in the team of doctors at the hospital. Mary didn't have that luxury. No familiar surroundings greeted her as she went into labor. No sterile environment, or medications to ease her pain. Not even a room in an inn. Just the sounds and smells of common animals, and a feeding trough that would have to double as a bed for their baby. "And she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn," (Luke 2:7; KJV).

It would have been so much more convenient for Mary to stay behind in Nazareth. And being nearly nine months pregnant, no one would have blamed her. No doubt they didn't welcome the difficulties, but it seems like Mary and Joseph realized there was more to life than seeking personal convenience. Through their obedience, the scriptures were fulfilled, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,"(Micah 5:2).

Next time I'm tempted to complain about life's inconveniences, remembering Mary and Joseph's trials will prompt me to be thankful instead!

Do you complain when you're faced with inconveniences? What could you do today to be more thankful? 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for both the trials and blessings You allow in my life. Thank You for reminding me of the difficulties others faced - and how they choose to be obedient to You. Help me to praise You for Your goodness instead of complaining of any inconveniences. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Praises & Presents

As the year winds down, it's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of activities - from decorating and baking, to parties and gift-giving. Yet the strains of Christmas carols have served to remind me that these festivities originated following the birth of a very special baby, Jesus Christ. I've been inspired to praise the Lord for His goodness!

David shares numerous reasons to praise the Messiah, "Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's," (Psalm 103:1-5; KJV). What a Savior!

One of the 'good things' I'm praising Him for, are my blogger friends. I appreciate each of you and thank you for sharing this journey with me. In the past couple months, I was given two awards that I want to pass on as 'gifts' to all of you! Merry Christmas!

The first award, The Versatile Blogger Award, was given by the gracious Sheri Salatin at Sheri Salatin: Farming with Heart - Writing with Passion - Loving with Joy. A big shout out to Sheri! Here are the rules for passing this award along:

*Thank the person who gave you this award, and include a link to his/her blog

*Nominate 15 bloggers for the award (they can be bloggers you've recently discovered, or ones you follow regularly)

*Finally, share 7 fun things about yourself

The second award, Tell Me About Yourself Award, was passed along by the fun-loving Cheryl Linn Martin at Life in Flip Flops. Thank you so much, Cheryl! Oddly enough, the rules for passing on this award are exactly the same as the previous award! So, enjoy!

My 7 fun facts:

* I grew up in Michigan, spending 22 years there, before migrating south. And yes, it's true, my blood has thinned and I can't tolerate the cold anymore!

*My degree is in Corporate Wellness, but my passion is inspirational/devotional writing

*My favorite meal is fillet mignon, followed closely by fish tacos

*Fall is my favorite time of year. I love seeing God's creativity in nature!

*I've been playing the piano since I was 5

*I love vacationing at the beaches of South Walton, FL

*I'm going on my first mission trip to South Africa in 2012

Thank you, ladies, for these awesome awards! And I encourage all my blogger friends to add these awards to your sidebar and join in the fun!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Right Worship

Not much is known about them. But each year they grace the front of Christmas cards. Were there three men or more? It isn't clear. Where were they from? Once again, no specific information is given. One thing IS known, however, they were wise. The second chapter of Matthew begins with these words, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem," (Matthew 2:1; KJV).

Intelligence is a gift. These men were well aware that God had given them something special - and they were using it to seek Him. A brilliant star had appeared in the heavens, and somehow they knew that it led to the long-awaited Messiah. They travelled countless miles, ending up in Jerusalem, in the audience of Herod the king.

Herod was unaware of the birth of this 'King of the Jews,' the wise men referenced. He called the chief priests and scribes, demanding where Christ was to be born. Words from the scroll of Micah were consulted, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting," (Micah 5:2).

The wise men left Herod, heading in the direction of Bethlehem. As they gazed up at the night sky, their hearts nearly skipped a beat. There it was - the star they had seen in the east. And it led them directly to the object of their search - Jesus.

The search had ended. Celebration followed. These men had trusted God to lead them to Christ, and they were not disappointed. As they were invited into the home of Mary and Joseph, they "...fell down, and worshipped him (Jesus): and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh," (Matthew 2:11).

In their wisdom, these men knew that Jesus was worthy of the finest gifts they had to offer. They came prepared to worship. From our introduction to these men on the pages of scripture, to the last words we read of them, they are faithful to use the gift God gave them to glorify Him.

Although Herod had instructed them to return to him after they found Jesus, the Lord warned them to take a different route on their journey home. They obeyed without question.

What gift, talent, or ability has God given you? Are you using it selfishly or using it to pursue Him? How will you worship Him today with your gift?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for the example of the wise men, who diligently sought Jesus. And when they found Him, worshipped wholeheartedly. Help me to use the gifts You've given me to worship and glorify You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Parenting Challenge

Parenting. It's a word that can strike fear in the hearts of the bravest. It's a job filled with rewards and challenges. Many a young couple will head home from the hospital with their bundle of joy, unsure whether they'll remember all the baby care basics. After all, babies don't come with instruction manuals.

I remember bringing our daughter, Riley, home for the first time. It was March, and yes, there was snow on the ground. The first couple days were a bit of a blur, but I DO remember the incessant crying. It was referred to as colic, and no matter what it was called, it was hard to deal with. Imagine being a new Mom, and feeling totally inadequate as your newborn squalls for hours. I was convinced I must be doing something wrong.

With each new year, the challenges change. Some are easier to deal with than others, and with clear direction from God's Word, the right guidance can be given. But parenting isn't easy!

Throughout history, parents have been faced with challenging situations. Remember Hannah? She had prayed for a child for years, and yet she remained childless. One year when she and her husband made their annual trek to the temple, Hannah prayed earnestly, "O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life..." (1 Samuel 1:11; KJV).

The Lord answered Hannah's prayer. Imagine her satisfaction as little baby Samuel filled their home with joy. But Hannah had given the Lord her word, and when Samuel was weaned, she took him to the temple and told the priest, "For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord," (1 Samuel 1:27-28).

No doubt, in the few years Samuel was at home, Hannah had patiently taught him the things of the Lord in preparation for his apprenticeship at the temple. Each year Hannah visited her son, and brought him a new coat. Surely those visits served as additional opportunities to instruct her son. Because Samuel chose to listen to his mother's voice of wisdom, it's recorded, "And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord, and also with men," (1 Samuel 2:26).

King David was a phenomenal ruler, but parenting proved a big challenge for this man of God. I'm sure it was hard for David to balance his time between his duties as king, and his responsibilities as a father. As a result, he was faced with some serious disobedience from his boys, who were now young men.

Amnon raped his sister Tamar. Look at David's response, "But when king David heard of all these things, he was very wroth," (2 Samuel 13:21; KJV). The sentence stops there. His anger probably consumed him, yet he failed to punish Amnon. David failed to hold him accountable for his actions.

Another of David's sons, Absalom, took revenge into his own hands and murdered his half-brother Amnon, two years after the incident. For some reason, David didn't confront Absalom either. It's unclear why David withheld much-needed discipline from these two sons.

Although David made mistakes, it's reassuring to read the words penned about him, "And when he (God)had removed him (Saul), he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will," (Acts 13:22; words in parentheses mine; italics mine).

Neither Hannah nor David were perfect parents, and a perfect parent doesn't exist today. Fortunately, the Lord gives grace and wisdom liberally. Lean on Him and His guidebook when raising your family!

What do you struggle with as a parent? How has the Lord proven to be faithful in your parenting?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for the opportunity to be a parent. Help me to study Your Word and find the grace and wisdom I need as I try to be a godly parent. I pray my child/children will love You with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Special Cousins

Christmas decorating is nearly done. Shopping is well under way. In just a few weeks, we'll have the opportunity to spend the holiday season with our extended family - one of the things I truly treasure this time of year. I can already picture my nieces and nephews opening their gifts and enjoying a special camaraderie that only cousins can share. My mind drifts back to some cousins from long ago.

Zacharias and Elisabeth didn't have any children. They had prayed diligently for the blessing of a baby, but with each passing year their hopes waned. But that all changed with the appearance of an angel with unbelievable news.

Zacharias was performing his duty as a priest in the Temple one day, when an angel of the Lord appeared, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. Imagine! What could this mean? Zacharias was afraid. The angel began to speak, "Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John," (Luke 1:13; KJV). I can picture Zacharias' surprise. Maybe he closed his eyes and re-opened them, wondering if his mind was playing tricks on him. But the angel was still there.

How could it be possible? Zacharias and his wife were old - surely they were well beyond child-bearing age. There was no way...He couldn't keep the question to himself any longer, "Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well sricken in years," (Luke 1:18). The angel, Gabriel's, response was a bit more than Zacharias had bargained for, "And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season," (Luke 1:20).

Imagine Elisabeth's surprise when her husband came home, unable to speak, yet sharing news that an angel had appeared to him, assuring him that they were going to have a baby! She was probably speechless herself, with words like, "No way!" echoing through her mind. But with God, all things were possible, and sure enough, Elisabeth conceived.

A few months later, and miles away in Nazareth, Elisabeth's cousin Mary received some incredible news as well. The same angel, Gabriel, appeared to Mary informing her that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. He went on to share with her, "And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren," (Luke 1:36).

The Messiah that had been prophesied all these years would be Mary's son? Unbelievable! And her cousin's son, John, would prepare the way for him. Mary chose to believe the angel's news and made a visit to Elisabeth.

As soon as Mary greeted her cousin, she was in for a surprise, "And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy," (Luke 1:41-44).

What followed, was a sweet time of praising the Lord for His incredible goodness. Two cousins, both expecting babies by miraculous means. I believe they spent an unforgettable three months together before Mary returned to Nazareth.

As you look forward to this Christmas season, make it a point to spend time with family and friends. And most importantly, take the opportunity to celebrate the Savior's birth!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of family. And for a time that is set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Help me share You with others this Christmas season. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Price Worth Paying

December. The month we celebrate the birth of Jesus. As I decorated our Christmas tree and festive music played in the background, I couldn't help thinking about the time leading up to that first Christmas so many years ago...
No doubt Mary was excited. I imagine she was anticipating her marriage to Joseph, the talented carpenter. Wedding preparations were in full swing. No detail would be overlooked. The list of food for the celebration was thoroughly checked and re-checked. Although modest, accommodations for the guests were carefully thought through.
After a full day of chores and working on her wedding dress, Mary was more than ready for a good night of sleep. Little did she know this night would radically change the course of her life.
The being in her room could be none other than an angel. Before she could react, he was speaking, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women," (Luke 1:28; KJV). A bit frightened, Mary was troubled at his words, and wondered what he could possibly mean. Before she was able to respond, the angel delivered his message, "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus," (Luke 1:30-31).
What? How could this be possible? Mary was a virgin. The angel gave her the answer, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God...For with God nothing shall be impossible," (Luke 1:35, 37).
Wow! Nothing less than incredible! To be highly favored by God, and chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. Mary's response was immediate, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word," (Luke 1:38). No hesitation. Full obedience.
As I continued to hang the Christmas ornaments on my tree, I couldn't help but think of the cost of obedience. For Mary, her reputation would be ruined. She would be shunned by family, friends, and society for becoming pregnant outside of marriage. It was possible that she could be stoned. Even her fiancé, Joseph, may not believe her. But Mary chose to believe God, and fully surrendered to His will for her. Although her life wasn't easy, Mary's obedience was rewarded by God. The Messiah was born Who would provide salvation for all mankind.
Obedience. Being willing to submit to the Lord's authority. I had to ask myself if I am willing to pay the price of being obedient to my Savior, if it means running the risk of suffering. Tough question. But one that I can answer in the affirmative when I contemplate the outcome - hearing the words of my Heavenly Father, "...Well done, thou good and faithful servant," (Matthew 25:21a).
Are you willing to pay the price of obedience to Christ? What step will you take to be obedient today?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your Word. I love the examples of ordinary people, just like me, who chose to be obedient to You. Help me to choose to be obedient to You today. In Jesus' name, Amen.

*The events leading up to the appearance of the angel are fictionalized by me. The quoted scriptures contain the factual account. For the entire story, read Luke 1:26-38.