A Naked-Tree Christmas

My Christmas tree stands naked this Christmas except for the pre-strung lights. I’ve seen pictures of so many beautiful trees on social media, yet I haven’t managed to hang the special ornaments which our family has collected each year since our children were born. A busy schedule, health issues, and simply not making it a priority have all stood in the way.

But today as I noticed how plain and simple it looks, I thought of the night our Savior was born as recorded in Luke 2. There was nothing fancy about His birth. He was not born in a palace or even the nicest inn found in Bethlehem. There was no huge family celebration or extravagant baby shower. Instead God brought His son into the world quietly in a stable with a feed trough for his bed. It was a simple birth for the Son of God and Savior of the world.

My naked Christmas tree reminded me that we often lose our focus. We put so much time and effort into making the perfect Christmas that we forget to spread the good news as the shepherds did that first Christmas. My naked tree reminded me how important it is for us to take a moment and ponder on the true meaning of Christmas: the humble birth of our Lord Jesus which would bring great joy for all people (Luke 2:10).

When the shepherds had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:17-19). Have a Naked-Tree Christmas and make the time to ponder on the good news of Jesus’ birth and experience the true joy of Christmas!

God Calling

Last night my cat darted outside and refused to come back even though a cold front was quickly dropping the temperature.  This morning as I was getting ready for work I could hear her outside the window calling to me.  As I got ready for work, she followed me from room to room and called to me from each window.  She was relentless until I finally took the time to go and open the door for her.

God is also calling to us.  Like my cat, He will follow you to every room of your life calling out to you.  Maybe He’s sent messages through the words of a friend, a scripture, a devotional, or a song.  Maybe He’s calling to lead you in a particular direction, to guide you back to a close relationship with Him, or most importantly to offer you the gift of salvation. 

Do you remember the story of Jonah? God called him to go to the city of Nineveh, but he didn’t want to go. Instead he boarded a boat and ran in the opposite direction trying to escape God’s plan. But when God sent a huge storm, the men threw Jonah overboard after deciding that he was the reason for the storm. God then sent a big fish to save Jonah because He still had a plan. After three days in the belly of the fish, Jonah finally agreed to obey God’s calling and go to Nineveh. 

Imagine how much easier things would have been for Jonah if he had answered God’s calling the first time. I’m so glad that He is persistent like my cat and keeps calling my name. Unfortunately sometimes He must take drastic measures (like a huge fish) to get our attention, but thankfully He’s also a God of second chances. 

God speaks to us in many ways. I’m so glad that He is persistent like my cat and keeps calling my name when I don’t listen. Honestly I don’t often respond to His first call because I’m busy, hard-headed, in denial, hindered by pride, afraid, uncomfortable, or just want to do things my own way.  Recently, I  was contacted by two people about using a gift more, one a dear friend and the other someone I’ve never met personally.  I now recognize that as God calling my name.  He is calling me to open the door.  A door that He is waiting to lead me through, a door of obedience. I just have to prayerfully open the door. 

What is He calling you to do?  Maybe it’s a call of action.  Something He wants you to do.  Someone He wants you to forgive.  Someone He wants you to contact. Something that is outside of your comfort zone and makes you want to run like Jonah. Don’t keep ignoring His call.  Whatever the reason you’ve not answered, stop now and listen.  Really listen and open that door of obedience instead of running in the opposite direction. I assure you that once you make the choice to obey, God will equip you with all that is needed. 

Find Hope in Him

Tonight as I read of the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, my heart is broken because so many families are hurting.  My heart is broken because I know there are people whose faith will be challenged. There are people who will become angry and blame God, and allow Satan to be victorious just as I did years ago.  Satan is a master of confusion and doubt.  He uses acts of terror like this to cause us to turn our backs on God in a time when we should instead find hope in Him.

Decades ago, before the mass shootings we hear of today, the pastor of my youth was shot and killed in the office of his church.  My heart was broken.  My faith was shattered.  And for a time Satan was victorious because for years I questioned how God could allow such an attack on my previous pastor.  Jeff Krahn was in the church!  He was doing what God called him to do!  I began to doubt everything I had learned about God.  I grew angry with God for allowing this to happen, but eventually I learned that Jeff would not want me to be angry with God because he was prepared for death no matter the time or form in which it came.

It was during that time of doubt that God gave me the following scripture to restore my wavering faith:  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:14-15). These verses confirmed for me that I could continue trusting everything I had learned about God since childhood.  Everything that I had learned under Jeff’s teaching and the pastors and Sunday School teachers before him.  Everything I had learned from my mother and grandmother.  All of those things convinced me that God is real, He loves each one of us unconditionally, and true hope can only be found in Christ.  I realized that each of us has an appointed time, and all that matters is whether we have accepted Jesus as our personal Savior.  We may go through difficult times that cause us to doubt, but we can lean on and trust the things that we have seen God do in the past and know that He will see us through again.

Since then I have been through many other difficult times, but my faith has grown stronger each time because even through the trials, I’ve also seen God do miraculous things.  I’ve felt His unconditional love, and I refuse to give Satan the power to shatter my faith again.  I’ve learned that there are times that God stops pain, and there are times that He allows it.  I don’t always understand, but I do know that even in times of desperation, God is still on the throne.  He is still in control.  He will always be right there with us, and we can continue to hope in Him.
When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you.  When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.  When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:2-3)

Pray today for those suffering after this tragedy to find hope that only God can provide.

You will not drown

 

Satan is a Bully

The most powerful bully we will ever encounter attacks in ways that we may not even recognize as his work.  Satan is a bully with many tactics, and he will use absolutely anyone or anything to initiate his attacks.  He will attack your relationships, your health, your confidence, and your ministry.  There is absolutely no part of your life that he considers off limits.  He will use the actions and words of people around you to cause doubt, confusion, and insecurities in yourself.  He will cause  widespread chaos in your life in an attempt to knock you down physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

He attacks when you are weak.  He doesn’t care how much you’ve already been through or even what you are currently going through.  He attacks when you are strong.  His goal is to bring you down, to discourage you, to break your faith in God.  He purposely seeks you out.  Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).    

The defenses we teach children to guard against the attacks of a bully can also be helpful with the attacks we face daily from Satan.

  • Walk away – Turn your back on Satan or any issue he throws your way and turn your focus instead to God.  Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
  • Go tell a teacher/adult – Run to God.  Tell Him what’s going on.  I assure you that He already knows what’s going on, but running to Him shows that you trust Him to take care of you.  He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield (Psalm 144:2).
  • Stay calm – Don’t let fear of what Satan is doing control your thoughts and emotions because God is with you.  Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
  • Ask for help – Seek support from Christian friends.  Let them know you are struggling, so that they can encourage and pray for you.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
  • Stand up for yourself – Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:11).

When Satan attacks, seek God’s direction for reassurance that you are doing what He’s called you to do.  If you are in His will, don’t stop.  Keep pushing forward no matter what seeds Satan tries to plant in your heart or mind.  I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart.  And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.  So don’t be troubled or afraid (John 14:27)

For Such a Time as This

Don’t ever doubt that God is at work in your life. He is working in you and through you to accomplish a greater purpose. You may not see it, but He’s doing something bigger than you could imagine.

Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this? Esther 4:14

Esther was told that she may have become queen just so she could save their people from the plan to have all Jews killed. She didn’t just wind up in this position. Maybe God placed her there for the exact purpose of approaching the king to beg for the lives of the Jews because only she had the exact qualities needed to accomplish that task.

Three qualities Esther had that we can also use when facing a challenge: willingness, wisdom, and courage. First, she was willing. She didn’t immediately say no. So often we say no without even truly considering if it’s something God wants us to do. Also, Esther was wise. She asked her friends to pray, and she waited for God’s timing. During that time, God prepared the heart of the king, but He also prepared Esther’s heart. Finally, she had the courage to know that God was in control and would guide and protect her. She didn’t allow fear to discourage her.

What seems like an overwhelming situation or even an insignificant detail in our day or life, may actually be part of God’s plan and purpose.

We don’t always realize it at the time, but maybe where you are right now is because you were made “for such a time as this”.

Strength Renewed

The Lord goes before youThe journey of life is often long and difficult. There are many obstacles in our way that cause discouragement, grumbling, and questions. Our circumstances may leave us feeling like the Israelites as God led them to the promised land. God had promised something better than the life they were leaving, but they faced many struggles along the way.

Exodus 13:17 says, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.”Why not?The Israelites were finally free from slavery, and God was leading them to the PromisedLand. Why wouldHe make them go the long way? As we read on we see that travelling the shortest route would result in being attackedby the Philistine army. God knew if they faced a battle, they might turn and head back to Egypt.They simply were not ready.SoHe protected them from an immediate battle…

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Strength Renewed

Don't let anythingDo you ever feel that you are less of a Christian than others?  We often wonder why others have more faith or why some people seem to have it all together while we struggle daily.  Satan thrives on those insecurities and self-doubts and works diligently to convince us that we have less to offer than others.  Satan assures us that we are “nobody” and could never accomplish what Moses and so many others have done before us.  But God did not create all of us to be Moses.  He wants you to be the person he created you to be.  He has a special plan just for you.  God chose you to be you!

A famous Jewish quote says:  A rabbi named Zusya died and went to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waited for God to appear, he grew nervous thinking about his life and how…

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