Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Decking the Halls

         This Christmas

Do you get as nostalgic as I do while decking the halls for Christmas? Today was such a blessed day.

I successfully decorated the house for Christ’s birth … meticulously placing pinecones and poinsettia flowers as if they were purposely placed there for His enjoyment. A smile graced my mouth every time Jaxson would say, “this is beautiful Mommy”.

Beauty, something so simple, but yet such a reward. As we look around our homes during this special time, we can see the little Christmas houses, the nativity scene, and the love that goes into making our home a haven.

I aim to do this year round, but I admit, I put a little more effort into it at Christmas. I hope after this year, I can continue putting in that extra effort each day—because each day is special when Christ is our focal point.

And that’s what makes this season so truly special. It’s not Santa, or the presents, it’s not even the family we may only see once a year … it is the birth of the Messiah, wonderful Counselor, hoped upon Redeemer.

He was born in a manger, laid upon the straw. He didn’t come barreling down in a flame of light; but quietly, simply.

We can get so caught up during Christmas with hub bub, the bells and the whistles.

I challenge you to take a more simple approach; the quiet simple approach that He took. Find peace this year, IN Him! 


Monday, November 28, 2011

Reality Check

Reality Check …. GET OVER IT

I had a reality check today. I thank God when He does that; when He brings to light something we may have squandered behind our fleshly thoughts. I am blessed that this reality check came from my Pastor’s wife, who I am greatly blessed to have had time with today.

Are you harboring ill feelings for someone? Are you angered over a fight with a family member, a friend, and you’ve allowed it to control your actions thus far?

I was doing this. I was allowing my fleshly emotions to control my actions towards people in my life; this is wrong!

But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."
1 Samuel 16:7

Harboring ill feelings towards someone will eat away at you, fill you with wickedness and I urge you that if you are doing this … LET. IT. GO.

God is not concerned with what someone “did” to you that prompted your response; He is concerned with your response first and foremost! It shouldn’t matter what someone says, that should not control how we react to that person.

I am the first to admit, I am bad about this.

When you come from the sinful place I came from, when you allowed people to walk over top of you trampling your spirit for so long, the moment when you believe this is happening the flesh instinctively wants to attack; to never let anyone crush your spirit again.

But, no one can crush your spirit when it’s His Spirit within.

He protects. And He will give the strength to respond kindly and lovingly to that person who may in their own life want to crush people’s spirits. DO NOT LET IT AFFECT YOUR REACTION.

Respond in love, without judging, and show them the Spirit that now resides within you! 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Keeping Christ in CHRISTmas

Keeping Christ in Christmas when you have accepted Christ as your Savior is more about your daily living than what you say; ie. “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”.

Revealing the character, love and spirit of Christ that dwells within us is what we should focus on each and every day, not just at Christmas time. During the holiday season, we can get caught up with the rest of the world in “buying”. I know I do. I am from one of those extremely blessed families that had a Mom who went ABOVE AND BEYOND at Christmas time. My mom was a single mom, working multiple jobs to provide for us. We went without a lot of things throughout the year, she more than made up for that at Christmas time.

When I started having children, I carried on this tradition. I tend to go a little overboard with the gift giving. Until this year that is. This year marks a new year for us—as we have very little money and refuse to put bills aside or rack up debt buying gifts we truly cannot afford. I’ve been forced to come up with ideas that center on the love of Christ—not the amount of presents you have. It’s been a struggle within, but it’s opened me up to just how selfish we are during this time of year!

I think for so many of us we think if we overload our children with gifts it shows them how special they are, how much we love them. {This may just be me}

The truth is, we are special, but we are most special to the God who created us. In our fleshly state, we are not so great. We sin, with our every breath. We take our lives for granted. And our children, they are no exception. When we shower them with gifts, what lesson are we teaching?

I want my children to know that God blesses, abundantly, but it is not necessarily always with monetary gifts. He blesses us with love, with life, with shelter and with food. I wish I could buy them everything under the sun, but I cannot. I don’t want them to have a distorted view on what we can afford.

Now, please don’t get me wrong—I am in no way saying that if you have decided to shower your sweet little ones with gifts that you are a bad parent or somehow don’t love Christ. The Holy Spirit that lives within you will guide you to what is best for your family. I am however going to give you some ideas on keeping Christ as the core of this season—keeping Him truly in Christmas.

{Not just saying that Christ was born, but truly giving your family a foundation for the season}

1.      Give God one very special gift from you to Him:
        This should be a personal gift that no one else knows about—a sacrifice from you to Him. King David in 2 Samuel 24 said that he would not offer a sacrifice to God that cost him nothing. A sacrifice is something we are giving up, something that is hard and allows His strength to endure within us.
        Perhaps your gift is to commit more time personally with Him daily.
        Perhaps it is to have a stronger prayer life.
        Forgive someone you have been harboring ill feelings towards.  
        Attend a Bible Study you have been struggling to make time for.
        Whatever the case may be, commit yourself to following through with your gift.
2.   Set aside special time to read the Christmas story:
        Luke 1:5-56 through 2:1-20
        Memorize Christmas Scripture
        {I will have a devotional on the Christmas story that you can read to your children as well as Christmas Scripture posted throughout the month}
3.  Set up a Nativity scene:
        If you do not have a Nativity Scene, perhaps you could make one. I will post a link to related crafts shortly. But this is an excellent reminder each day for you and your children that this is not about Santa Clause and the abundant gifts he will magically bring, it is about the birth of the Messiah.
4. Plan a good will project:
        Visit a nursing home
        Visit a shelter
        Have you children give toys away that they do not play anymore to needy children in your area
        Adopt a child or an entire family
5.  Go Christmas caroling:
        My church does this every year and it is such a wonderful time and fills not only the people you are ministering to, but your soul as well!
        Visit a local children’s hospital or nursing home
        Memorize classic Christmas songs and sing your little hearts out J
6. Give a surprise gift of service to family members:
        “more blessed to give than to receive” Acts 20:35
        Demonstrate Christ-like love and service by cleaning out a closet for your grandmother, running an errand for your brother or sister, give your spouse a neck massage.
        Make your gift personal and watch as the blessings multiply.
7.  Set aside a time for a family devotion on Christmas Eve &/or Christmas morning:
        Before the hub bub of gift destruction occurs, take a few minutes as a family to gather in prayer and thank God for His many blessings in your life.
        I will post some Christmas poems and prayers along with devotional options through the month.
8. Attend a Christmas church service as a family:
        Take your children to a service on Christmas Eve.
        Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, if you are not planning on going to a service that morning, think a little about going. It wouldn’t be hard to open gifts and then head out as a family to worship with Savior that was born on that special day!
        If you are alone on Christmas, invite a friend or neighbor to attend with you.
9. Send out Christmas cards that have a spiritual message:
        This is an easy way to express to family and friends what your faith is during this Christmas season.
        If you already have the cards printed up and ready for shipping, include a small scripture on the envelope or print out little tags to go along with.
10. And this is my very favorite idea: write a letter to a missionary:
        If you are blessed to have a missionary family in your church, write them a letter thanking them for what they do for the kingdom. If you do not know anyone personally, send it to a local church and have them send it to one they may be affiliated with. There is nothing like this priceless gift for many of those families that are sacrificing so much for the kingdom of God. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Women Walking Upright Bible Study

Martha & Mary: Working vs. Worshipping

“Mary…sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving.”
Luke 10:39-40

Both Luke and John record events regarding these two sisters; Martha & Mary {who also had a brother named Lazarus}. Jesus went to this family’s home on at least 3 occasions. It seemed to be a regular stopping place for Him. It is never mentioned how He met the family, but there seems to be a close, personal relationship between them.

These 2 women are a fascinating pair. They are different in so many ways but alike in a vital one—they both loved the Lord our God with all of their heart.

{Hopefully at this point you can see that this is the common link between each of the women we have studied—they all loved God with their whole heart, mind and strength and their hope and joy was found in the awaited Messiah. Everything praiseworthy about every woman thus far centered on Him.}

Scripture allows us 3 different chances to peak into the lives of these women.

1.       Luke 10:38-42 – {this is the one we will cover in depth}
        The women have a minor conflict over the best way to show their devotion to Christ.
2.      John 11 –
        Virtually the entire chapter is dedicated to the resurrecting of their brother Lazarus.
3.      John 12 (parallel accounts in Matthew 26:6-13 & Mark 14:3-9) –
        Mary anoints the feet of Jesus.
Luke 10:38-42 – In depth overview
        It is a common assumption that is made that makes Martha the elder of the two women. Luke’s description of her behavior leads many theologians to believe that the 3 siblings were young adults. Martha’s complaint sounds like one of a maturing young woman. Jesus’ reply has almost a grandfather tone to it. It is mentioned that Jesus came at Martha’s request; she was the one that welcomed him—signifying that she was the one that led the house. Martha was a conscientious and considerate hostess—admirable traits to possess. Despite Jesus rebuking her, much of her behavior was admirable.
        Jesus made himself at home as a houseguest—leading one to believe that they shared a personal friendship. He enjoyed fellowship with them, conversation. His contribution to the conversation was both instructive and enlightening.
        Mary’s instinct as they chatted was to sit at his feet. His disciples were undoubtedly asking questions and He was giving thought-provoking answers.
        Martha on the other hand was busy with the preparations. She didn’t come out right away and ask Mary for help. She probably (as many of us would have) made noise in the kitchen, clanged things around to tell of her distaste of her sister’s absence. When her subtlety didn’t work, she gave up civility and aired her grievances against Mary right in front of Jesus—in fact she complained TO Him. {I think we often do this as well; praying that someone would “do” more to help us instead of what we they may be already doing}.
        Jesus’ reply probably startled Martha—she was expecting affirmation of her irritation.
But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:41 & 42
        Luke’s account ends here—a common assumption is that this rebuking resonated within Martha and she took His words seriously and in the kind nature they were meant.
Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Martha is a reminder for us all to honor others over ourselves. Romans 12:10 urges us to, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another”.
1 Peter 5:5 “Be submissive to one another, and be clothed in humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Humility was a common teaching among Jesus’ ministry.
At first it seemed that putting on the apron by Martha was true servant hood. But, her treatment of Mary son revealed a crucial flaw in her heart. She allowed herself to become quick tempered. Her words in front of her guests were geared at humiliating her sister. She gave no thought to the hurtful effect of her words—or simply didn’t care.
{how often we do this!}
She was also wrong in her judgment of Mary. She assumed Mary was being lazy instead of seeing the glory Mary was giving to the kingdom.
Romans 14:4 “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.”
In reality, it was Martha’s heart that was in the wrong place, not Mary’s. Mary wanted to worship and fellowship with God—not cook and clean, making herself busy in the kitchen. Martha’s actions are an example of how subtly human pride can corrupt even the best of our actions.
What Martha was doing was in no way bad—she was serving her guests and the Messiah. It was her actions because of her irritation with her sister that caused the sin.
I often ask myself what I would do in this situation--& I hope you all do as well. It is my strong suspicion that far too many of us sympathize more with Martha rather than Mary. I think we would all agree that it would be rude to allow our sister to work in the kitchen serving guests while we sat chatting with someone in the living room. But, this wasn’t just any guest; this was Christ the Messiah.
We make ourselves so busy today that we lose focus on fellowshipping with Christ. We will put so many priorities before Him.
Mary “had chosen the good portion.” Luke 10:42
She had discovered the one thing we truly NEED; true worship and devotion of our heart to Christ. She established worship as the highest of all priorities and we each can learn from this as Christians.
There is nothing, and that includes service to Christ, more important than listening to and honoring Him with all our hearts.
Remember His statement to the Samaritan woman? “God is seeking true worshipers.” John 4:23
Mary was that.
It is a danger for even those that love Christ to become focused on doing things for Him as opposed to hearing Him & remembering what He has done for us.
Martha seemed to believe, momentarily, that her works determined how much she loved Christ.
We often as Christians believe that our work for Christ is more important that His work for us. Every major spiritual decline in the history of Christianity has come when the church has lost sight of the vital aspect of faith and they begin stressing what people can DO.
Martha & Mary are a beautiful reminder that God uses all kinds of people. He has gifted us differently for a reason, and we’re commanded not to despise one another based on those gifts. Just because we have different temperaments or contrasting personalities as Martha & Mary did doesn’t mean we don’t have a place in the kingdom.
John 11
        Virtually the entire chapter describes the event in which Martha & Mary’s brother Lazarus died and was brought back to life by Jesus.
        John gave detailed descriptions of how the 2 sisters were deeply affected by the death of their brother.
        He explains in detail how Jesus ministered to the both of them in a profound and personal way; and how he gloriously raised Lazarus from the dead.
        More than any other act during Jesus’ ministry; this one was the most dramatic and public miracle and it sealed the Jewish leaders’ determination to put Him to death.
        If He could raise people form the dead—they knew people would follow Him and they would lose their power.
“So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, ‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’" John 11:47 & 48

John 12

        Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with costly ointment and wiped His feet with her hair.
        Both Matthew and Mark describe this event as well, however neither of them mention Mary by name.
        Matthew 26:12 & John 12:7 indicate that Mary, in some sense, understood that she was anointing Jesus for burial.
        She may have suspected strongly that the resurrection of her brother would drive Jesus’ enemies into hatred, determining to put Him to death ( John 11:53-54).
        Jesus went to Ephraim right after raising Lazarus, but Passover brought Him back to Jerusalem (John 11:55-56).

Martha was a noble and godly woman with a servant’s heart and a rare capacity to work. Mary was esteemed as more noble—with a heart to worship and to seek wisdom. Both were extraordinary in their own ways. Together they give an extraordinary example of what God calls of His followers.