The Day After Christmas…

Wrapping paper strewn across the floor
Tissue paper wads tossed in corners
Gifts opened, thank-yous said.
Yumminess of every conceivable type consumed.

It’s over.
For another year, Christmas is over.

Or is it?
Yes, the Hallmark movies will start winding down and the Christmas songs will disappear from the radio.
The decorations will come down.
And the bills will start to trickle in.
Gifts will be exchanged or tucked away in the corner of a closet.
Others will be proudly worn, used, read, or spent.
And we have until August before we start seeing Christmas commercials again.

But is it really over?
Or it is just the beginning?

It can be.
After all, Christmas celebrates only the beginning of the life of Jesus on this earth.
He had years of growing to do before he began his earthly ministry at age 30.
A few years in Egypt to escape King Herod.
The return to Israel and the area of Nazareth.
The addition of brothers and a sister to the family.
Learning to be a carpenter at his Father’s side.
And then, finally, launching the announcement that the Kingdom of God had come, that a New Covenant written in blood was in the works, that New Birth is made possible for all who will come.

Christmas was not the end of the story.
It was the beginning.

What if it is the beginning for you?
It can be.
The beginning of a relationship with the living Lord, acknowledging Him as your much-needed Savior.

Or, if you have done that already, the beginning of living under His Lordship, finally surrendering that thing – or things – you have been holding onto for so long.
Picking up new habits, new lifestyle changes, new thinking.
Being “transformed by the renewing of your mind”.
Or, letting go of those things you know He has asked you to release.
Bad habits.
Sinful patterns.
Old ways.

Perhaps it is the beginning of a renewed marriage.
Or a better relationship with your kids.
The beginning of a new discipline.
Like time in His Word every day and not just on Sunday.

Perhaps it is letting go of a good thing, like activities with your kids that happen on Sunday mornings, in exchange for the best thing – the gathering together with other believers for worship as we are commanded.
Perhaps it is turning off the social media for just five minutes to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Or perhaps it is finally surrendering all of your finances into His hands.

It is going to be different for each of us.
But He will make it clear.
No matter what it is, today can be the beginning of you walking in obedience to whatever it is He is calling you to do – or not do.

He has been tugging at your heart for a while now.
What if Christmas – or, the day after Christmas – is your fresh start?
Hands and heart open to whatever He asks you to do.
No caveats.
No holdbacks.
Simply surrendered.

A new beginning of a new life.

It’s possible you know.
Not just because He was born and put into a manger.
And not because He grew up to be sinless, perfect in all His ways.
Not because He gave us an example of how to do life really, really well.
And not because He was God in the flesh.

All those are part of the equation.
But the reason the day after Christmas can be as hopeful as all the days leading to it is because of what He didn’t do.
He didn’t stay dead.
He died the death of a common criminal.
And he was put in a tomb borrowed from an ordinary man.
He was completely and totally dead.
The Romans saw to that.

But He didn’t stay that way.
On the third day, He rose.
And the Bible clearly says that, for a Christ-follower, that same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in you.
And that He who began a good work in you will keep it up until the day you see                  Jesus face-to-face.
That you have ALREADY been given everything you need for life and godliness.
And that the Holy Spirit of God indwells you, filling you with power from on high, the power to choose to do things God’s way.
No matter which way you have tried before.
It is a new day.
A fresh start.
The day after Christmas.
The day Jesus began to grow.
To change.
To become first a toddler.
Then a young boy.
A young man.
And finally a man in his prime.
Experiencing every emotion you feel, every temptation you face,                           every situation humanity brings.
Yet without sin.
And, eventually, cut down, executed for crimes He did not commit so that He could take our sin on Himself.

And yet He is not dead today.
He lives.
So that the day after Christmas can be the most powerful day of your life.
As well as the day after the day after.
And every day after that.
If they are the days that you surrender.
The days you yield to do things His way.
The days you say, “I believe. Help my unbelief. I am yours. Do in me, through me and in spite of me all that You will.”

Yes, it starts with one day.
Perhaps for you it is Tuesday, December 26, 2017.
But it goes on and on.
“His mercies are new every morning” the prophet said.
“Great is His faithfulness!”

So today, you can spend your time being disappointed in what didn’t happen yesterday.
You can live in the let-down of post-Christmas blues.
You can use this day as another day to put off that act of obedience He is calling you to do.
Or you can make this day – and every day after – the first day of the rest of your life.
The day you surrender all.

Because He is worth it.
During the weeks before Christmas.
The day of Christmas.
And every day after it as well.
He is worth it all.
Don’t take my word for it – take His.
And see what He can do in a fully-surrendered life.
On December 26 – or any day of the year!

‘Twas the Week Before Christmas

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through my brain
Danced to-do lists and tasks, both vital and mundane
“I have to go here, I have to make this,
I have to check that thing off my list!”

So I frantically rushed from this thing to that
Wishing I too was “in my bed, in my cap”
With “stockings all hung”
And all other prep done.

But then out on the lawn I heard such a clatter –
No, that’s not right – it was in my head’s chatter
That a still, small Voice whispered soft to my soul
“Peace, child, peace, I’m still in control.”

As I drew a deep breath and turned t’wards the Voice
He said to me gently, “I gave you a choice
In this season so merry and bright
Seek My Kingdom first or push Me out of sight.”

“You’ve spent so much time making lists, checking twice
That you only glance My way, thinking that will suffice.
But now your soul’s dry and oh, so very thirsty
Come, drink Living Water, I’m not in a hurry.”

And as I humbled my heart and sat down at His feet
He drew me to Him, and it felt oh, so sweet
And then what to my wondering soul did appear
But gifts of His grace and a stilling of fear.

As these gifts filled my soul, He called them by name:
“Now come on sweet Joy! On Peace! And on Kindness!”
“On Love, Hope, and Mercy, take away this girl’s blindness!”

And with a sweet peace I lay my head on His chest
My to-do list forgotten and my soul now at rest
As He held me so tight He whispered into my ear
“Remember, this closeness is why I drew near.

You’re the reason I came, the point of the manger,
So that you and I do not have to be strangers.
That should be the point of all this sweet season
To remember salvation is really the reason.

The reason I was born in a humble barn
The reason I willingly took on human form
The reason I was tempted and yet without sin
The reason I walked and taught among men

The reason I lived and the reason I died
Was simply to have you here, by my side
I took all the wrath that your sin did incur
And died in your stead, your life to ensure.

So remember, sweet friend, in the midst of this bustle
Of presents and parties and holiday hustle
To stop often and long so that we can just be
Together, like this, in sweet harmony.”

And then, with a kiss to my forehead
We both got up from that place
He walked by my side as I dove back into the race

But the difference was clear as I went through my day
Each time I remembered to glance over His way
He smiled at me and said, “Yes, I’m still here
I will never leave or forsake you, my daughter so dear.”

So bring on the crazy, the Christmas-time race
And remember each day to walk in His grace.
If you do that, my friend, He won’t leave out of sight
But He will say, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Through A Shepherd’s Eyes…

I kneel at the manger, the cold stone of the cave-turned-stable seeping through the fabric of my tunic.
I cannot take my eyes off the baby lying there, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, just like any other baby would be.
He stares back at me with fathomless, knowing eyes.
But then his eyelids drift closed as a yawn overtakes his tiny mouth.

I am overcome.
Overwhelmed by the events of this night.
It had been such a regular evening!
The sheep had been counted and were asleep in the pen.
I had been assigned the second watch, in the deepest hours of the night and not long after my sister shook me awake, I had simply been staring at the sky, counting the stars in an effort to stay awake.

But the next thing I knew, we were ALL awake! Us, the sheep, the entire hillside, awakened by the light.
Where there had been stars just seconds before, suddenly there was the brightest being I have ever seen, glowing from the inside out as we cowered on the ground, terrified. I could not bear to look at the brightness but I also could not bear to look away!

And then a voice came from the brilliance, thundering, “Don’t be afraid! I come with good news – news that will bring you great joy!”

As I stare at the sleeping baby, I think back to that moment. Sheer terror mixed with palpable relief. I have believed in angels all of my life – but I cannot say I ever wanted to see one face to face!

But then the angel continued.
“To you is born this very day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
I remember the thoughts racing.
To me?
A shepherd? Not old enough to shave more than once a week. Barely old enough to care for the sheep.
On a hillside in the middle of the night?
Surrounded by sheep?
To me is born a Savior?
The Christ – the Messiah we have been waiting for?
This can’t be true!

But then the angel continued, just as if he had read my mind.
“This will be the sign for you. You will find the baby swaddled in cloth and lying in a manger.”

I remember the shock as his words sunk into my beleaguered brain.
The Messiah, the Savior, the One we have been waiting for, would be found in a manger? A feed trough? I only know of one place where mangers are found – and that is in stables.
With animals. And hay. And dirt.

But before I could mull that over, suddenly the light intensified. It was so brilliant we could hardly bear it! Where there had been one angel, suddenly there were too many to count! And until the day I die, I will hear their song in my head and in my heart. “Glory to God in the highest! And peace on earth to men with whom He is pleased!”

And then they were gone.
In an instant.
Just like they came suddenly, the night went back to blackness suddenly.
We turned to each other, speechless for a moment.
And then we all started talking at once.

“Did that just happen?”
“In a manger? Like in a stable?”
“The Messiah! He’s come!”
“Do you think the angels went to the wrong spot? Maybe they didn’t realize we’re just shepherds?”

But even in the midst of our confusion and our excitement, we were already on the move, packing up our meager belongings and dousing the fire. We rounded up the sheep, who were also wide awake, and started moving them as quickly as we could towards Bethlehem. In an unspoken agreement, we realized that none of us was willing to stay behind to watch them so they had to come with us.

And now, here we are.
Crowded around a manger.
In a barn. With our sheep milling just outside.
Looking at a sleeping newborn.
It’s funny.
He looks so ordinary.
Like every other newborn baby I have ever seen. Reddish face, wrinkled skin. So ordinary!
And perhaps that is good.
Because we are certainly ordinary ourselves.
Nothing special here.
Just common, hard-working, smelly shepherds, looking out for common, stubborn, foolish sheep.
I wonder why God chose to tell us first?
And why was the Messiah born here of all places?
It seems so wrong, even to us.
Shouldn’t the Messiah have been born in a palace?
Or at least a rich man’s home?
Shouldn’t he have a proper bed instead of a feed trough?
Shouldn’t his first visitors be the High Priest or the Ruling Council?
Or perhaps even King Herod himself?

But I cannot doubt the angels’ words.
I heard them with my own ears.
“For unto YOU is born this day…”

I look at his mother, propped up beside the manger on a stack of hay with a cloak thrown over it. Her hand rests on the baby’s tummy as if she is unwilling to be separated from him for even a moment. I can see in her face the weariness and stress of having given birth such as short time ago. And yet she is smiling, a weary, soft, thinking smile.

I whisper, “Um, the angels didn’t tell us his name. What will you call him?”
And she softly replies, “His name is Jesus. But my husband says his nickname will be Immanuel.”

Jesus. Meaning one who saves. The angel did give us his name!
But then the second name sinks into my overwhelmed mind.
Immanuel. God with us.

God in the flesh.
Not in a cloud like He was when He led my ancestors through the wilderness.
Not in a consuming fire with thunder and an earthquake like He was when He gave our people the law at Mt. Sinai.
Not behind the veil of the temple in a place where only the High Priest can go – and only then just once a year.

But here.
With me.
In a place I understand.
In a form I can touch.
In circumstances so similar to my own.

Immanuel. God with me.
I am nobody.
So unimportant that my only value is hanging out with sheep.
But suddenly, in a moment, I am somebody.
Because I am with Immanuel, the Savior.
And God is with me.

“…it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested…This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”
(Hebrews 2:17-18 and Hebrews 4:15)

Sometimes Christmas Stinks

So this is a re-post from a year ago.  But it resonates with me today and will hopefully bless you.  The original post was called “From Humbug to Hope”.  Still a good title – but because I am doing “Christmas Thoughts” this year as part of my own personal “taking every thought captive”, it got renamed to “Sometimes Christmas Stinks.”  Praying for you today as we journey together through this season!  

Christmas stinks.
There, I said it.
The thing many, many people are thinking – or at least feeling.
They may not have the courage to say it, even to themselves.
But tons of us battle it.

It comes in degrees.
Some of us just experience the mild letdown when the presents are open, the final celebratory meal is eaten, THE DAY is over.
Others despair to the point of contemplating – or doing – the unthinkable.
And most of us fall somewhere in between.

It also comes in waves.
Some days are good. Maybe even great!
Pretty lights, good food, laughter with friends, anticipating the look on his or her face when they open that “perfect” gift.

And some days are awful.
The movie that shines a light on everything you don’t have.
The bank account that doesn’t allow the buying of any gifts, let alone the perfect one.
The loss that is magnified by every light, every carol, every decoration, every moment.

I used to think that Christmas crankiness, holiday funks and even despair were reserved only for a select few.
Extreme cases.
The Ebenezers of this world. “Bah, humbug!”
Or those in special circumstances.

But spend long enough walking this earth, spend any amount of time pouring into people and you will discover that it is nearly universal.
Again, to degrees.
And in waves.
But almost always present.

And the person who says, “Oh, the holidays never get to me! I love everything about them!” is probably either lying to you or to themselves.

Because we all get weary.

A friend recently said to me, “The holidays basically turn a flashlight on all your issues and stresses.”
I totally agree.
Except that I would replace “flashlight” with “spotlight”. The big one. The one they use in movies for interrogations. Bright. Shiny. And pointing out every painful spot in your life.

So what’s a girl (or guy) to do?

First, you have to start with the heart of the issue – your heart.
If you are reading this and you do not have a relationship with the Living God, it has to start there. Nothing else you do will “work” if you do not have an active friendship with Jesus. This is more than just head knowledge about who He was and what He did. This is a knowing, a commitment, a choosing-to-trust, a surrender to Him. It happens when you tell Him that you know you are a sinner, deserving of punishment and in need of salvation. But it is also an ongoing walk with Him, a relationship where the God of the Universe calls you His own and where you are choosing each day to get to know Him better. Yes, you are saved from hell by that initial commitment. But if you are born into God’s family when you make that commitment and then never choose to grow, you will remain a spiritual baby. And spiritual babies, just like physical ones, do not have what it takes to thrive in this world. Instead they need constant care with the goal of them becoming more and more grown up, more and more able to thrive. So survival of any of the hard things in this world – including surviving Christmas – has to start there. With a living, growing, ongoing relationship with the Living God.

But let me assume that my audience is people who are already trusting Christ, who have already entered that relationship. If that is where you are, then the rest of this is for you. (If that is not you, then the rest of this is just spiritual mumbo-jumbo, not worth reading. But I would love to have a conversation with you about what your life could be in Christ.)

So – let’s get super practical.
We probably cannot change the hard facts of our lives, the things that make Christmas difficult.
If we could change them, we would have already.
So the circumstances are what they are.
And the spotlight is shining.

The only thing I have control over this holiday season – or any day – is me. And here is how I personally get through my own painful places:

I choose to take my eyes off of me. My pain. My feelings. My heart. My circumstances.

I turn the spotlight away from me. And I intentionally strive to do that in a number of ways.

First, I choose to remember that today is not eternity. Today is a blip on the radar screen of real life. And I can choose to live for today – how I feel, what is happening to me, my pain – or I can choose to live for eternity. I can wallow in my present pain – and even take unhealthy steps to self-medicate that pain – or I can remember that heaven is waiting. I can remember that for me, as a Christ-follower, this is the only hell I will ever know. This life is the worst it will ever get. And one day, when God calls me home, this will fade. As Teresa of Avila said, “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.” I am not supposed to choose the day I will meet Him – that is His choice – but I can choose to remember that this life is exceedingly short in light of eternity. And I can choose to trust that if I am here today, there is still a purpose for my life, something He has left for me to do. I choose to live with my feet on earth and my mind in heavenly places.

I choose to remember that God aches with me. As my friend Brent would say, “This is not how it is supposed to be.” God did not create this world with this pain in mind for me or for any of us – but He gave each us free will and with it came consequences. But even in the midst of the consequences of free will, there is hope. God is my vindicator. He is the Righteous Judge. He sees every hurt, every tear, every misunderstanding, every pain. And He is at work in them, for my good and His glory. Even when I cannot see it. Even when the emotions are overwhelming. Even when I doubt Him. He is the God who “works for those who wait for Him.” (Isaiah 64)

And then I choose to praise Him. To give thanks in all things. Even when I am not feeling the smallest iota of thankfulness. Remembering only gets me so far – but then acting on what I know is true, what I have remembered, by actively praising Him – well, that is powerful stuff. Setting aside my feelings to choose to DO Philippians 4:8, which says, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].” It is an active choice – to turn my thoughts from despair to hope, from grumbling to thankfulness, from pain to praise.

After I wrestle my thoughts into submission (2 Corinthians 10), I look around for ways to actively, intentionally bless others. That may be in a tangible way – serving here, giving there. A note. A small gift. An act of service. A listening ear. Or it may be in a more intangible way – like remembering to pray for others more than I pray about my needs, desires or pain. Taking my eyes off of me. Setting them on “things above”. (Colossians 1). And then seeing the people around me through God’s eyes. Even the annoying ones and the ones causing me pain. Choosing to be His hands and feet. Putting my faith into practice. Making it more than words.

And then, finally, I replace. I love Christmas music – but it doesn’t always lead my heart to worship. Sometimes it leads my heart right back to the wallowing! So I will listen to it sometimes – but I will also replace it. Two years ago I found an Easter CD that I played over and over again in the car instead of listening to the radio. As I belted out, “Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing that we can be born again! Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing Christ is risen from the dead!” while driving down the highway, it reminded me that Christmas is just a piece of the redemption story – and that without Easter, Christmas is just another birthday. I still have that CD – but this year I found another great CD of hymns. That may not be everyone’s cup of tea – but for me, the tunes and the words that were poured into me as a child firmly set my heart in the right place, a place of worship and adoration rather than self-pity and woe-is-me. For you, it may not be the music that needs replacing. It may be your budget for gifts. Or the movies you choose to watch. It may be how you spend your free time. Or what you are reading. They may not be bad things that you are doing – but it may be that you can replace it with something better, something that will draw your heart to God and keep your eyes off you this season.

One last thought. I love Charles Dickens. The man had a way with words. And I love that he chose “Ebenezer” for the name of his main character in “A Christmas Carol”. I don’t know if Charles did it on purpose – I suspect he did. But Ebenezer is a biblical word. It literally means “stone of help”. The prophet Samuel set up a stone of remembrance and named it that in I Samuel 7. The people had turned from the Lord and Samuel challenged them to turn back to Him. When they did, they began to have a praise-fest right there – and their enemies, the Philistines, heard about it and decided it was a great time to attack, while the Israelites were vulnerable. But what the Philistines didn’t understand was that we are at our most powerful when our eyes are off of us and on the One True and Living God. And so God defeated the Philistines – and it was then that Samuel set up the Ebenezer – the stone of help – as a reminder to the people of who God is and what He has done. We, too, have that same Help this Christmas – the Rock of Ages, the Cornerstone, who will be our foundation throughout the storms that the holidays may bring. My prayer for you and me this season is that, because we have that Ebenezer, we may truly be able to go from “Humbug!” to hope – not just in our outward appearance but all the way through to the heart.