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The Coming of Peace

peace on earthIt’s an interesting paradox that the ability to give something away ultimately gives you mastery of that thing. So to claim a mastery over fear, you have to stop clutching your fears so closely to your heart. Not a simple task, to be sure, but I am finding my grip loosening on all the things that cause me fear and anxiety through simple acts of obedience.

There have been major upheavals this past year in my church and at my job at that church. It has left me feeling anxious, a bit scared and a lot confused. But my prayer for the past six months has been, “Lead me on, Lord, I will follow”. This is a very scary prayer because He will lead you to where you need to be which is not usually where you want to be. Yet, through obedience I have allowed God to lead me to an unlikely new church home and found that I have a new found ability to roll with all the uncertainties of changing job responsibilities. Lately, I have been experiencing peace that has allowed me to let go of all the fears and anxiety that I had been holding onto. I’m not sure when this sense of peace started, but I am living out what is described in Philippians 4:7, “the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Though the same issues surround me, I am coping much better simply because I asked God to lead me. I did not ask for the problems to be solved, just for the strength to follow and peace entered into the picture.

Peace often feels like a distant dream that we will spend our lives reaching for. The world that we live in has always been a cause for anxiety and always will be. Can you imagine the fears and doubts felt by Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi 2,000 years ago? The job before each of them was daunting.

An unwed motherjesus_mary_joseph

A man told to take in that unwed mother

shepherds-1Illiterate peasants told to deliver a grand message

Wealthy kings told to cross a dangerous desert.

All were being asked to leave their comfort zones, and they all did. Relying only their obedience to God through faith, they changed the world in those long ago years. And in their obedience, they found peace. Considering their circumstances, I can only think that they must have been as surprised by the appearance of peace in their lives as I have been. This is a peace that has the ability to steady knocking knees and shaking hands, allowing you to move forward into an unknown future.

Jesus is described as the Prince of Peace in Isaiah 9:6 and promises to give that peace away freely (John 14:27) to all who ask for His leadership in their lives. Your fears and doubts will still be there. His peace helps you to gain mastery of them and in that process – let go of what you once held, mistakenly thinking that those fears were security for you.

But even with an inner peace that is spreading within me, where do I see the peace of Christ in the world today? Can we have peace in a world at war? Or in a life in turmoil, in hurting hearts or misspent lives? Yes. That peace is available to all through that little baby born in Bethlehem. I’ve found that the more that I trust Him, the more I am able to be obedient; the more I ask for guidance, the closer I am able to follow and do it all with a growing sense of His peace. I am not saying that I have become a better person (not even close!) but I have become a more dependent (upon God) person.star

We all struggle but as you continue to struggle through this fallen world, reach for Christ and feel that inflow of peace. Let that peace be like a river (Isaiah 48:18) that flows over all the rocks in our riverbed and gives us a smooth surface to float on.

This is true Peace that will give you mastery to let go of all the anxieties that come with the problems of our lives.

True Peace gives you the ability to give away the things that fear made you clutch so tightly – old habits, prejudices and prideful attitudes.

Peace in our hearts will lead us to peace with our world.

Peace while here on earth comes from peace with God.

This is the essence of Peace.

peace of Christ

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Extraordinary Love

 

jesus_mary_joseph

It was just an ordinary town

on the edge of nowhere

Just a simple, quiet night

that took the world unaware.

She was just an ordinary girl

Frightened of her part to play

He was just an ordinary guy

with a wife and child on the way

But He was no ordinary babe

Lying in that bed of straw

Surrounded by sheep and shepherds

Even kings bowed down in awe

star

Under that same old, starry night

Where one star shone out clear

A new mother held her babe

And whispered love into Love’s ear

On this simple, quiet night

He entered our world in this way

From a throne in Heaven above

To a simple bed of hay

Out of ordinary things

Comes a simple mother’s love

Out of ordinary things

Comes extraordinary Love.

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No Room in the Inn

pig-pen-innkeeperOne of the most famous characters in the whole Christmas story is one who doesn’t exist, other than in the reader’s imagination. The innkeeper, who turns away Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, isn’t recorded in the Scriptures at all. We are simply told that there was no room in the inn.

Looking throughout Jesus’ earthly life, we notice that the world he was born into does not find or make room for him. He never really fits in anywhere. His teachings are always surprising people. His actions are always being questioned by the authorities of the day. Even when those same authorities finally had him under their control, they had no idea of what to do with him. Caiaphas sends him to Pilate. Pilate asks the crowd what they would like to do.  After his death, his followers continued to have a hard time finding places to stay and ears to listen.  As a prisoner, Paul spoke out about Christ whenever he could but was told by his captor, “When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” (Acts 24:25b) No room in that inn either.story-of-christmasnativity

The only place he seemed to fit was as a child in the temple. He was perfectly at home but no one else, from the teachers there to his parents, understood. They were scratching their heads at his behavior while Jesus himself said, “Why were you searching for me?” He asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) He knew where he belonged even if no one else got it.
nativityJesus stirred things up from the time that he was born. The local tyrant reacted to his birth by ordering a mass infanticide. Shepherds and Magi reacted in worship. Jesus’ life would continue to cause people to rethink philosophies long held dear. He never seemed to fit in. He flipped lives around just as easily as he would flip tables in the temple. Some would say that he left havoc in his wake. Yet, those who stopped to listen, those who did find room for him in their hearts would disagree. They would say that he left them changed in ways that they hadn’t even imagined before and made their lives immeasurably better. Maybe not easier, but better.

 

Let’s make room this Christmas to hear his words and to live them out in our actions. If your heart is too crowded with the worries of the day, toss some out and make room for faith. Faith in the one who loves the whole world without reservations. Faith that a tiny baby born two thousand years ago will change this world one heart at a time.

 

manger

Find some room in your inn.

 

 

 


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Christmas Shepherds and Quirky Fringes

shepherds-1Even though I identify as a Christian, that doesn’t mean that I can walk on water. I am not that good, not even close. I am a Christian not because of how wonderful I am but because of how good He is. Truth is, I have a very bad temper. I have a tendency to worry more about myself than others. I try to fight my own way through issues rather than trust in the One who wants to fight for me. I read the words of Scripture, go to church and pray continually just as we are told to do and yet, I forget everything when a dark moment hits and it’s always a struggle to get back to the One who loves me.

Does all this make me a “bad” Christian?

Consider this – God sent His Son to bring us back to Himself. He needed to get the word out there but mankind hadn’t invented 24 hour news yet. So He called on an unusual choice. God appeared to shepherds outside of town and told them to go and see the new King. They then “spread the word concerning what had been told them about the child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” Luke 2: 17-18.shepherds-2

Shepherds? That’s right! The guys who spent months living with their sheep outdoors. They would have been that loner sort of person who isn’t at home in a crowd and certainly not comfortable talking to the townspeople. I often wonder if the people they spoke to were more amazed at the fact that a shepherd had entered the town and wanted to speak rather than what they were actually saying. Perhaps the news of the baby sank in later after the shock of talkative shepherds had worn off.

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It is very comforting to know that God can use me as I am: somewhat quirky, often weak and scared. I feel like I am always living on the fringes, not always accepted by the church proper because I don’t always show the correct exterior or say the right things.But when God reaches out to someone like a shepherd, it shows me that I don’t have to be good to be a Christian. I don’t have to be smart to be a Christian. I don’t even have to brave and strong to be a Christian. What did the shepherds have going for them? Although they were good, smart, brave and strong in the ways the mattered to their profession, society wouldn’t have looked up to them. In fact, shepherds occupied one of the bottom rungs of the Judean social ladder. But they had the qualities that God needed. They were willing, faithful and obedient. Not that those qualities are any easier. I would say they are harder, but that is what we are called to. And it is what He will provide for you in the measure that you need it. Then stand back and let God handle the rest.

But God choose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise: God choose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:17

Paul continued this thought in his next letter to the Corinthians:

“For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:10b

Maybe being on the quirky fringe isn’t so bad. Maybe it’s right where God wants me.

shepherds-3

 


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That time I went apple picking with Santa

christmas-lightsAs my husband and I were putting up Christmas decorations yesterday, I was humming songs to myself and remembering when my kids were young and I would take them to see Santa. They would be so excited. Then I remembered an unusual Santa sighting I had about five or six years ago. My kids were high school age so they were way too cool to believe anymore but this Santa gave me pause to think.

It was late September and the apple trees on my property had produced some beautiful looking apples that fall. I still wouldn’t eat them, though. You see, the trees are about 60-70 years old and hadn’t been properly trimmed or pruned in at least 50 of those years. Apple trees only produce quality fruit for about 20 years and as the tree ages, the fruit loses its taste and crispness. Our trees had never been cut back so they were full grown trees rising 30 feet or so in the air. Though they looked beautiful in the spring, they are a pain in the fall. Dropped apples have to be raked off the ground so we don’t attract bees. When we first moved here 20 years ago, I had baked some pies with the apples and though the fruit was tasteless for eating, you could make a decent pie with them if you added enough sugar and cinnamon.

apple-picking

That fall, the trees looked incredible with large heavy apple hanging from them. One afternoon, I heard a knock at the door. When I opened the door, I saw an elderly gentleman with wavy white hair and a full white beard. He had those crinkly blue eyes that make him look like he is always smiling.

“Good Afternoon, Madam” he began. I was staring at his t-shirt which had a picture of Santa in his sleigh with his reindeer swooshing across the sky. I looked at the t-shirt Santa and then looked up at the man’s face and thought, “No, couldn’t be”, but the resemblance was uncanny.

He laughed and pointed to the word “believe” written on his shirt, nodded his head and said, “I’m not in my usual work clothes today but you can believe what you are seeing!” I took a step back into the house while closing the door a bit for protection. “Can I help you?” I asked cautiously.

“Just saw those beautiful apples and wanted to ask your permission to come on your property and pick some. I can make some wonderful apple pies for some people who would appreciate them”, he said.

I kept shifting my eyes between the santa on the shirt and the Santa standing in front of me. Fearing retribution on December 24th, I didn’t want to take the chance of giving Santa old, tasteless apples to bake with. “They are not very tasty”, I warned him. “The trees are very old and the apples have no flavor anymore. They just look good but don’t taste very good, I’m afraid”.

santa-smiles

He crinkled up those blue eyes and let out a Santa laugh. “Don’t worry about that. I can work some early Christmas magic.”

Now it gets really strange because the next thing I know, I’m getting out the long apple picker from our garage and offering to help him. He didn’t want to be a bother and just applesaccepted the apple picker and went to work. He gathered about 2 baskets of apples, returned the picker and thanked me. I watched him drive off wondering what had just happened.

That was probably the last year that our aged trees produced any real apples although they bloom beautifully each spring. I never saw the man again and always wondered how those pies turned out and if the people he made them for truly enjoyed them. I don’t doubt that his “early Christmas magic” worked and he was able to make something tasty out of tasteless apples from old trees.

When I was very little, I used to think that Santa and God must be related somehow. They had so much in common. They both loved me and brought good things into my life. After the apple picking episode, I learned another similarity.

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God can take the junk in our lives and make the most beautiful art out of it.

God can take all the junk in my life, all my fear, doubt, anger and anxiety that hold me back and make a glorious painting that is the me He has always intended me to be. If Santa can make delicious pies out of inferior ingredients (and I have no doubt that he did), imagine what God can make out of us. If only we trust Him, If only we turn to Him in faith and stop trying to control God. Unlike Santa where we tell him what we want and expect him to bring it, God tells us to come Him with all our cares and worries and then step back and watch Him work. It may not always be brought to our homes with sleigh rides, jingling bells and flying reindeer but God will deliver what we need. And not just on Christmas Eve, but all year round.

So that’s my story of apple picking with Santa and all the strange ramblings of thought that came with that visit.

May your Christmas season be magical.

May your apple pies be flavorful.

And may the peace of Christ rule in your heart.

peace-of-christ

Merry Christmas!


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Just Believe

santa-2I worked in a restaurant in a local mall for many years. As you can imagine, I have lots of great stories from that job, but my favorite story happened one Christmas about 25 years ago. One of the waitresses was a local college student who had started with us over the summer. In September, her father was transferred to Colorado and the whole family moved with him. All except for Marianne. She was enrolled in a local college and working at the restaurant so she moved in with a family friend and waved her parents, brother and sisters good-bye as they boarded a plane for Denver. She worked hard both at school and at her job. She always had a melancholy air about her and talked constantly of taking a plane to visit her family over Christmas break. As the holidays approached, she tried to book a flight home. She could only leave on either the 23rd or 24th as she had exams and then wanted to work as many shifts as possible while the restaurant was still busy and people were in a generous tipping mood. Mare (as we called her) knew that by January, customers would not tip as well as they would before Christmas and she would still have books to buy for the spring semester. Unfortunately, all the flights were booked and she was put on stand-by. She was not given much hope since flights to Denver can fill up a year in advance with all those Christmas ski vacation packages that are offered.

When she came to work that evening after calling the airlines, she looked so sad. Mare continued to the back of the restaurant to hang up her coat and check in. It was only 5pm, but mall employees would be coming in for their dinner break.  Our first customer was the santa-3mall Santa. He just wanted a quick sandwich (nothing that would make a mess in his beard as he wasn’t allowed to be out of costume as long as he was inside the mall). The hostess led him to a table in Mare’s station. “Santa should bring a smile to her face”, she said as she winked at me. As Mare tied her apron on, the hostess told her she had a special customer waiting for her. Within a few minutes, Mare returned to the serving area with an incredulous look on her face. “The guy is nuts!” she whispered to me. “He really thinks he is Santa. He told me that I would get home for Christmas if I just believe. I hope she doesn’t seat him in my station again, he’s kinda creepy.”

Santa came in a few times a week for dinner right up until Christmas Eve. If Mare was working, he would smile at her and ask if a flight had opened up yet. She would shake her head but Santa would only smile and say, “you’ll be home for Christmas, I promise.” Talk about staying in character!

Each time I saw Mare I would ask her if she had gotten a ticket home. Each time she would answer, “no”, with tears close to her eyes. We all invited her to our family gatherings to let her know that she wouldn’t be alone, but it was no use. The kid just wanted to be with her family for Christmas.

plane

December 23rd – Mare bounded through the restaurant doors with a huge smile on her face gave everyone a hug. It turns out that there had been one cancellation and a ticket was available for the next afternoon! She would be sipping eggnog with her parents within 24 hours. As she turned around, there was Santa standing in the doorway, waiting for a table to eat his early dinner. When he saw her smiling, he laughed a big Santa laugh and said, “Just like I promised! Always believe!” I’ve never looked at a mall Santa the same again even after all these years.

It was easy to believe in Santa as a kid. It’s such a great story of a kind old gentleman who brings presents and Christmas joy. Yet, so many don’t want to believe in the original Christmas story of a kind God who brings us the present of His own Son and the joy of salvation. Why is one story harder to swallow than the other? Is childlike faith something that is reserved for childhood only?

jesus_mary_joseph

I think of Mary, who was given an impossible job by an impossible visitor – and she
believed with a childlike faith

I think of Joseph, who was told to marry the girl and raise a child who was not his own – and he believed with a childlike faith.

shepherdsImagine the shepherds blinded by the glory of God, a sight that must have terrified them – and they believed with a childlike faith.

The Magi who found the signs that they had sought for generations – and they believed with a childlike faith.magi

Churches all around the world will this month be celebrating the incredible story of a baby who would pave a way that all may choose to follow. If you listen, you will hear the story of a God who reached down through eternity to lift us up in His hands.

“We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved.”

Acts 15:11

I remember peeking out my bedroom window on Christmas eve to see if any reindeer had landed in my front yard. I fully expected to see them! I also remember scanning the night sky hoping to see a star brighter than any other. I believed then. As I look back, I can see that to believe in the impossible is not just a Christmas story but a Christian story and sometimes it can be understandably hard to accept it all. Yet, just today I spoke with a friend who has been fighting with God all his life. I have been praying for him, praying that he would experience the peace that comes with surrender to God. Today he told me that he had surrendered his life to God and has never been happier. It has been a hard battle for him but it is not over. We all fight some degree of this battle every day.

“I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24b

It is not an uncommon thing to struggle with belief. This Christmas, as we struggle with the difficult circumstances in our lives that make the road ahead look impossible, think of Mary’s faith, Joseph’s obedience and the awe of shepherds and magi. They made a choice to believe and let that choice steer their lives from that day forth.

 believe…santa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Christmas Memory

I have a great memory of singing Christmas carols with my mom many Christmas Eves ago. No one else would sing with her so I jumped in and we belted out a few. Then she tucked me in bed to await Santa’s arrival. Funny the things you remember. Well, I may not be able to carry a tune but I can still have fun with those Christmas songs that I love.

christmas music

 

 

It was a Silent Night, a Holy Night

in that Little Town of Bethlehem

When Angels From the Realms of Glory

those Angels We Have Heard on High

“Hark!”, the shepherds look on high, “The Herald Angels Sing”

 

What Came Upon a Midnight Clearchristmas music2

as Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

a message of Emmanuel

who brings great Joy to the World

 

That First Noel, O Holy Night

When Unto Us a Child is Born

One Small Child, tucked Away in a Manger

joy to the worldAnd all the world, from shepherds to kings, rejoice!

O Come, Let Us Adore Him

O Come, All Ye Faithful

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

who brings such Joy To all The World

 

 

 

We Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

The Carol of the Bells was played

so we Go, Tell it on the Mountains

“God sent us salvation, that blessed Christmas morn”

And brings us Joy, Joy to the World

christmas snowman