I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
 
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
 
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
 
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
 
Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

 

These words written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the Civil War are still true today. Hate is strong and peace is not found in the world. Yet, it is possible to be at peace and to find peace and forgiveness in your heart. True peace comes only from knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ as a human baby. Jesus left his home in Heaven and willing came to Earth to live as among us and to sacrifice His life for us. Without Christmas, there would be no Easter—no death on the cross, no resurrection, no hope of salvation.

This is the good news the angels spoke about when they announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds.  “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you:  he is Christ the Lord…Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”     (Luke 2: 10 –11, 14)

As you celebrate Christmas in a few days, I pray that the true meaning of Christmas will bring joy and peace to your heart.  If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Savior, there is no better time to invite Him into your heart.

Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow

Many people take time on Thanksgiving to count their blessings and give thanks, yet they forget to thank the One from whom they have received their blessings.  Thanksgiving is a day to thank God for the blessings He has bestowed on us and our nation.  As you gather around your Thanksgiving feast today, I encourage you to take a moment to thank God for all He has done for you.

I’d like to share a few of the many, many blessings God has bestowed on me.

1) My large, wonderful family.  I am blessed with an amazing family.  We currently number 39 with two babies on the way.

This is most of my family at the time of Jon and Ashley's wedding.
 
 

2) A wonderful church family.  We are members of a spirit-filled, God-loving congregation.  Each week we hear an inspired message from God’s word, and I have the opportunity to minister to children through Girls Ministries and children’s church.

Some of the beautiful girls in Girls Ministries
 
 

 3) A great job that I love.  In a time when so many, including my husband, have been unemployed for long periods of time, I am thankful that I have a job with great benefits that I enjoy.  I am rewarded each day as I help individuals desiring to start a business to assess their options, evaluate the opportunities, and navigate the requirements for opening a business.

4)  The freedoms afforded us in our great nation.  It’s true that our nation is facing many challenges and that many of our religious freedoms have been restricted in recent years.   However, America is still “the land of the free and the home of the brave” and I am proud to be a citizen of this great nation.

5) All the comforts of a middle-class lifestyle.  We aren’t rich, but in comparison to most of the world, we are extremely wealthy.  I am thankful to have a warm home, plenty of food, and more clothing than I really need.  All of my necessities are met and most of my wants. 

6) The ability to share my blessings with others.  Opportunities present themselves each day to share the blessings God has bestowed on me and my family with others who have not been blessed as much materially.  It is a privilege and a joy to sponsor a child in the Dominican Republic, to donate food to locate food distribution ministries, to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, and to take advantages of other opportunites to bring hope and joy to those from whom life is more challenging.

When you count your blessings this day, I pray that you will be filled with joy, hope, and thankfulness and that you will remember to thank the One who has so blessed you.

“Let us come before him with thanksgiving.”  Psalm 95:2

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise Him all creatures here below

Praise Him above ye heavenly host

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

 What blessings are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving?

 

Restorations and Reconciliations: Stories of Finding God’s Love and Forgiveness

Everyone messes up from time to time, probably more often than we care to admit.  I try to make a joke at lunch and end up hurting someone’s feeling.  The prank you play on your friend goes awry and she winds up needing stitches.  I fail to give my full attention to driving and cause a fender bender. 

Mistakes make us feel foolish, and they cost us something.  We may have to humble ourselves and apologize or make restitution.  We may be assaulted with thoughts such as “I’m the world’s biggest idiot” and “How could I have been so stupid?”  However, we typically forgive ourselves for our blunders quickly and move on.  Unless…

Unless the mistake has larger consequences.  Unless the mistake results not in embarrassment or damage that is easily repaired, but rather in broken lives and broken relationships.  Such as the mistake Karen Harper made. 

Restorations is the story of Karen Harper’s journey to find forgiveness and a second chance at love after turning her back on God and damaging her most important relationships.  It’s been two years since her husband’s death. Karen knows that he would still be alive if she hadn’t…well it’s just too painful to think about.  Karen knew her actions were wrong but she never imagined the pain they would cause.  Hoping to escape her past, Karen moves to Fredericksburg with her three sons.

She has a new job that she loves and she’s dating Kevin, a man she met on the Internet.  Although Karen thinks Kevin may be “the one,” her oldest son, Trevor, hates him.  Of course, Trevor hates everything these days and he barely speaks to Karen.  He blames her for everything that’s wrong in his life.

When the nightmares start, she realizes she will have to deal with her past and forgive herself for her mistakes before she can hope to move forward with her life.  As Karen allows God back into her life, she finds the forgiveness she desperately needs.  Then God begins the work of restoring the broken relationships in her life.

In contrast to Karen Harper, Kevin Peterson hasn’t made any big mistakes in his life.  He knows he’s not perfect, but by almost anyone’s standards, he’s a pretty good guy. He’s an honest car salesman, a loving son, and a loyal friend.  Kevin is doing just fine without religion or God in his life.

In Reconciliations, God shakes up Kevin’s life to show him his need for a Savior.  Kevin has to learn that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” and that no one can ever be “good enough” on their own.

Kevin’s life is going along pretty well except that he’s been unlucky in love.  Christine, his ex-wife, left him three years ago after he caught her with another man in his bed.  He dated Karen Harper for a while until she got religious.  Religion might have helped Karen deal with her past, but Kevin wanted no part of it.  He’s glad to have both women out of his life.

With a single phone call, God brings both women back into Kevin’s life.  This is more than Kevin can handle.  He needs help. It arrives in the form of Pastor Mark Vinson.  As Kevin spends time with Mark, and members of his congregation, he begins to see himself in a new light.  And he doesn’t like what he sees. 

When Kevin admits that he, too, is a sinner, he is finally ready to be reconciled with God.

Karen and Kevin acknowledged their errors and confessed them to God, and they accepted His forgiveness of their sins.  When they did, they found peace and hope.

You’ve made mistakes, too.  We all have.  Perhaps, like Kevin, you’ve been able to brush your mistakes aside and convince yourself that you are one of the good guys, but you know deep inside that you can never be good enough.  Or maybe, like Karen, you cannot escape your mistakes; they haunt you day by day and make you feel worthless.

It doesn’t have to be like this. You don’t have to ignore your mistakes or be troubled by them. Remember there is hope.  You have another option.  You can confess your sins to God and accept His forgiveness.  Then you, too, can have true peace and the hope that God has great plans for your life.

You’re Blessed!

The Beatitudes from Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount:

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only than can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are–no more, no less.  That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.  He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being “care-full,” you’ll find yourselves cared for.

You’re blessed when you get your inside world–your mind and heart–put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.  That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

You’re blessed when your commitment to god provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

Not only that–count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.  What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.  You can be glad when that happens–give a cheer, even!–for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds.  And know that you are in good company.  My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Matthew 5:3 – 12 (The Message)

May your life be truly blessed this week in all the ways that matter.  May you feel God’s presence in your moments of grief, disappointment, and weaknesses. May you know that God loves you far more than you can comprehend and that He will never leave or forsake you.  May you bask in His presence as you read His word and spend time with Him in prayer.

The world offers no peace, no contentment, no satisfaction compared to what God has offered mankind through His son Jesus.  If you haven’t taken the time to know Jesus and to make Him your Lord and Savior, please consider doing so today. Only when you do so will you be truly blessed.

A Prayer for the Twenty-first Century Proverbs 31 Woman

Heavenly Father, I thank you for preserving me as a virtuous woman for my husband.  I ask that your hand would be with me today, helping me to live virtuously and honorably before you.  I thank you for the trust and respect my husband has in me.  May I honor and bless him through my words and actions each day.

As I go through my day, help me to do good to my husband.  Bring to my mind each day ways to lighten his load and make our home a true haven of rest for him.   Help me to remember the small “touches” that let him feel cherished and appreciated.

Please be with me as I work to make my home more comfortable.   Give me creative and economical ideas and help me to incorporate these ideas into my home.  Help me to stretch our financial resources to meet the needs of my family; let me not bring stress to my family by living beyond our means.

I ask for guidance as I plan meals and shop for food for my family.  Let me make meals that are nutritious, economical, and delicious.  Help me to view cooking as a creative challenge and a way to show love to my family, and not as one of many mundane chores.  This also applies to laundry, dishes, and house cleaning—let me view them not as labor, but as labors of love.

Father, help me to rise early and spend some time with you and my husband before we start our busy days.  Please help me to rest well each night and get up feeling refreshed so that I can be a pleasant companion in the morning.  It is important for my husband and I to share some time and eat breakfast together before we leave the refuge of our home for our work places.

As I work, inside or outside of my home, help me to work enthusiastically and energetically.  My family and my boss deserve my best each day.  Help me to make wise decisions that will benefit my employer at work and my family at home.

I know, Father, that I need to take care of myself each day—making time for daily devotions, exercise, and a little pampering—so that I may be strengthened and renewed to care for my family.  Help me to make these activities priorities and to incorporate them into my daily schedule.

Help me, Lord, to be aware of the needs of each member of my family and to work to meet those needs—whether it is a need of new clothing, help with school work, individual attention from Mom, or discipline and instruction.

Help me to use my time wisely each day, while still allowing time for fun.  Help me to limit time spent in activities that are not productive or that bring no real pleasure, such as watching television shows I’m not really interested in or playing computer games.   Help me to redeem this time to talk, read, or play games with my family. 

Father, your Word tells us that charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but good deeds done in your name will last through eternity.  Let me be particularly in tune to your voice encouraging me to write a letter, make a phone call, or say a kind word.  Help me to be generous to the poor and needy, to those who are lonely and need a friend, to a stranger who needs a smile and a kind word, and to friends who need encouragement. 

May I look to you each day, Lord, for wisdom to guide me through the day, and for the strength to be the woman you want me to be, so that my husband and children will feel loved and blessed.  Thank you, Father.

Delight–Revisited

I read a blog yesterday in which the author discussed his One Word choices for the past three years and how he chose his One Word for this year.  While he remembered clearly his Words for 2008 and 2009, he was unable to recall his One Word for 2010 and had to look it up.  Interestingly, the word he forgot was Enjoy.  Enjoy seems like a pretty easy word to focus on for a year, and I was first amused that he had forgotten it.    Clearly, he was not successful in Enjoying life fully last year.

I was less amused as I read his explanation that he failed to live up to his word because he is more of a Martha than a Mary.  That observation hit close to home.  I am definitely more of a Martha.  For those of you who don’t understand the reference, this Martha was a friend of Jesus and sister to Lazarus and Mary.  When Jesus came to visit, Martha rushed around cooking and serving while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet feasting on his words.  When Martha complained to Jesus that her sister wasn’t helping her, he replied that, “Mary has chosen what is better.” (Luke 10:42)

For those of us who are doers, sitting at the feet of Jesus does not come naturally.  It is easier for us to volunteer to teach Sunday school or spend a day helping with an event than it is to spend an hour in quiet reflection in God’s Word.  We get so busy doing that, like the author of yesterday’s One Word blog, we forget to enjoy our time with God.  We may also have a hard time fully enjoying our families, our friends, our hobbies, and our work.

The dictionary defines Enjoy as “to take pleasure in; to find or experience pleasure.”  Delight is Enjoy compounded:  “a high degree of pleasure or enjoyment; to give great pleasure; to take great pleasure in.”

When I chose Delight as my One Word for the year, I was focused on Delighting in God and recognizing that He Delights in me.  I will now add another focus—remembering to take Delight in my everyday life.  I will try this year to Delight in time spent in God’s word, to Delight in time spent with my family and friends, and to Delight in those I minister to or who minister to me.  I will try to relax more and be fully present in each moment.  I will try to avoid thinking about everything on my to-do list and what I could be accomplishing when I should be focused on those I am spending time with.

Several years ago I read Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver.  This insightful book speaks about having a balance between doing goods works and spending time communing with God.  Both are important if I am going to be the woman God has designed me to be.  Every couple of year I reread Having a Mary Heart to help me keep my focus.  It may be time to read it again.

Have you chosen One Word to focus on in 2011?  How is your One Word helping you to achieve personal growth?

Unto Us a Son is Given

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6

Each year, Christians all around the world celebrate the birth of baby Jesus in a stable more than two thousand years ago.  For those of us who have made Jesus Christ our Savior by accepting His free gift of salvation, Christmas is a pivotal point in history. If Jesus had not come to Earth as a human baby and lived a sinless life, He could not have died for our sins and we would still be lost.  Through the birth of this tiny baby, salvation came into a darkened world

God used another baby boy to draw my family into a relationship with Him.  My brother John was born when I was 5 years old. Although our mother had contracted rubella early in the pregnancy, John was declared healthy and sent home.  However, we soon learned that John had serious heart defects and the he could neither see nor hear.

John underwent open-heart surgery when he was three months and endured several more surgeries in his first few years of life.  My mother began praying, asking God to heal John.  One day she asked an acquaintance to remember John in her prayers.  The woman proceeded to share the gospel with my mother.  Although my parents had attended church all their lives, until that day neither of them had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

My brother died from heart complications before his eighth birthday.  During his short life, both of my parents and many other family members came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Although we miss John and think of him every day, we know that one day we will be reunited with him in Heaven. 

This Christmas, and every Christmas, I am thankful that the Son of God humbled Himself and became human on our behalf and that God used a blind and deaf child with a bad heart to show my family our need for a personal relationship with God.