Christmas Courage

We’ve reached the end of another holiday season, the end of another year, and also the end of a decade. Unless you’re an unreformed Grinch or Scrooge, you probably don’t want the holidays to end anymore than I do. I’m always sad when December 26 rolls around and every store and radio station packs away the Christmas stuff for another year. As I shared about with my devotion readers this week, Christmas is a beginning, not an end, so for everything to just end so abruptly, it’s sad and not a real reflection on the Reason for the Season.

Today I want to share one last thought on Christmas, and it’s also something that will be relevant as we move into the new year and decade. We can learn a lot from the Christmas story, about God, about how God interacts with us, about God’s plan for the world, about love, and about our fellow humans. The Biblical Christmas story is an intimate look into the lives of 4 key players and several other supporting characters, and we get to see the emotions they work through and their experiences and reactions to how everything goes down and the birth of Jesus. It’s reassuring to know that God has a plan for everyone, that He’s willing to share some reassuring and encouraging words when we’re unsure of the situation (as we saw with Joseph and the dream he had), God wants everyone to be part of the celebrations from the wisest to the average joes, and something very small can really bring hope.

But something that we don’t talk about much with regard to the Christmas story is about courage. Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zechariah were all fully human, and while they were all likely people of faith (we know Zechariah was), the story still tells of the doubt and confusion that these four faced when the angel first came to each of them. They knew that despite it being God’s plan, other people wouldn’t necessarily understand or agree with their choices to accept the babies and that they would always have to accept that as much as the babies were theirs, they were first and foremost God’s. It took courage to step up and say yes to the angel and welcome in those babies.

If the last decade has been rough for you, I can understand why you might be looking at the new one ahead with trepidation, although for the same reason you may be looking at it with excitement. Those mixed emotions are probably exactly what the people of the First Christmas experienced. Just like them we’ve each got the choice to find our courage and move into the new year and decade excited that Jesus has come and is part of our lives, or focus on something more negative. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather move into the new year with a courageous stride than be pulled kicking and screaming over the line. If you’re not sure what to make of or do about the year ahead, maybe you want to focus on living a courageous year.

“”Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”” Deuteronomy 31:8

Reality Reflection: People of a Decade

I’ve expressed in a couple of places how surprised I was a couple weeks ago that we’re not just entering a new year, but also a new decade in the coming week. I still have trouble processing that at times, and as I was looking for ideas the other day I was surprised to see that there weren’t that many decade-in-review articles and stories as I would have expected. Maybe others are also as unaware of the change as I was.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about especially recently is the people we’ve lost this year, and now have lost in this past decade as well. Each year some sites do post about the celebrities we’ve lost, but what about the amazing leaders and other notable figures that we’ve lost? As I was thinking about this I opened an email and was pleasantly surprised to see that the organization was going to donate profits from the purchase of an item to the foundation of a leader who died recently.

Over the past decade we’ve lost some incredible individuals who fought for something in one way or another, whether it was for their health, for the freedom of a country or nation, the success of a company, or just to share the lives, practices and happenings of other people and the world with the world. We’ve lost many people over the last decade, some of whom we would know if we heard their name, but wouldn’t necessarily be able to list off the top of our heads.

Yes, it’s important to live your life well, to make a difference while you’re alive, but what happens after you die? Of course your immediate family will remember you for several decades to come, but what happens after that? Everyone just becomes a ‘historical figure’ and we move on to people who are contemporaries with us? Maybe we won’t all be remembered by name, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing our best to make a positive difference in this world that we all share. Maybe you won’t choose to make a direct difference by creating your own foundation or being famous in one way or another, you’ll just donate to organizations that have missions you believe in.

I think it’s more important to focus on making a difference than it is to make sure that your name will be passed through the ages. If you’re able to use personal celebrity to further your message or make a difference in the world, you certainly can, but the bigger focus should be on the legacy you’re leaving, not that you won’t be forgotten. Many of the people that we’ve lost over the past decade have started organizations and foundations to support their work long after they died, and contributing to those organizations is a way for us to ensure that those men and women won’t be forgotten. But the bigger focus should be on the work they did and their organization is still doing, and less on how they specifically inspired us.

So this coming week go ahead and toast to the men and women who made an impact on your life this past decade, whether they’re still here or have passed on, but then focus on the new decade ahead and the people, including yourself, who have the potential to make a positive impact in this new decade.

Songs of the Season: Away in the Manger

Today is Christmas. As I was thinking about what or if I would share today or tomorrow, the words of Away in the Manger kept coming back to me. Away in the Manger is one of the most well-known spiritual Christmas songs, taught to every boy and girl that enters a church building and those who enter as adults learn it quickly too. It tells the story of those moments right after Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in the little town of Bethlehem some 2000 years ago:

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus! look down from the sky,
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And take us to heaven to live with thee there.”

It’s such a simple song and yet it says so much in these 3 short verses. I know Jesus knew what He was getting into when He agreed to come to earth, and yet I feel like this was a big reality check for Him, on whatever level He understood being fully Divine even though He was a fully human baby.

This song shares a bunch of similarities between Jesus’ story and ours. We all start where Jesus started, although most of us start in a better place than a straw manger with stars as our overhead view. We all are going to face some hardships and challenges in our lives. We all need our sleep. And we all want at least one person to be there with us through it all.

We all have things that we wished we would get this Christmas, some got luckier in that regard than others. Some of us do struggle with our housing and having people who support us in our lives, and maybe we feel as vulnerable as baby Jesus sounds in this song. But we can be assured that Jesus will stay with us and care for us, and the evidence is found in the fact that He did come to earth some 2000 years ago on Christmas and stuck around to die on a cross and rise again three days later.

As you thank others for the gifts they gave you today and throughout this holiday season, make time to thank God for the gift of Jesus, and for Jesus being the best gift ever.

Facing Fears with Faith

Christmas is almost here! How has this Christmas season been for you so far? What has been different about it? How much more ‘stuff’ do you have going on before you get a break (do you get a break)? Christmas is one of the many seasons and stories and times in our lives that brings up many questions. These are just a few of them, and others include ‘How long until we get to…?’ ‘When will Santa be here?’ ‘Is it too early to open presents?’ ‘Have you been good this year?’ And of course we’ve got lots of questions asked in the Biblical account of Christmas, where we listen to Mary, Zechariah, Herod, the Wisemen, and Joseph ask questions, and there had to be tons more questions that weren’t written down but were asked during this adventure they all went through both by them and the people they knew and met.

Some of the questions we ask are asked because we’re heading into the unknown or things aren’t clear to us, and we want clarification and understanding. These are important questions to ask and can help us from making big mistakes, or having to do things again because we didn’t understand.  Other times we ask questions because we’re excited and can’t wait for something to happen and keep checking in. Then, there’s another set of questions that we ask, and those come from a place of fear or avoidance.

Fear is something that we all deal with at some point in our lives, we all have fears, and we all deal with fear in different ways. Sometimes fear can cripple us, other times we’re able to face our fears and power through them, other times we face them and are wrecked by them. Fear is definitely present in the story of Christmas, I can’t imagine being any of the people and not experiencing some level of fear. Each of the characters face their fears in different ways, some working through those fears with more grace or quicker than others, but all were able to conquer them and became an integral part of the Christmas story.

Since Christmas has already happened and Jesus already came to earth, died for our sins, and rose again, God’s not going to ask any of us to do anything like what Mary, Joseph and crew went through. But God’s still just as present and powerful as He was some 2000 years ago and can and will face any and all challenges with us that we face in the coming days. You may experience fears as you face these challenges, and God will ask you how you will respond, just as He asked the people of the First Christmas. What will your response be?

“”Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”” Luke 2:10b-12

Reality Reflection: Past, Present and Future

I was watching one of my favorite Christmas Carol renditions today and got to thinking abotu the different spirits that Scrooge meets. The first ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, made an impact on Scrooge, bringing up both good and bad memories of the past, but seeing the past and facing it doesn’t always transform a person as much as it gives us lessons to learn from or a foundation to build on.

Meeting the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge learned what it was like to celebrate life, whether it’s a life of financial riches or a life of richness in family, and live in the moment. The meeting ends with Scrooge asking the ghost not to leave because he learned so much from this ghost. I think Charles Dickens could have finished the story at this point because Scrooge did learn a lesson and saw that there’s more to life than the way he was living. It’s a lesson many of us could learn, appreciating life and those in it instead of being so focused on what could go wrong or what our future might look like.

Yes, it’s important to have an eye to the future and make sure that the way you’re living today won’t have a seriously negative impact on the future of the world or on others, and that you’re prepared for some of the challenges life will likely send your way like old age or health challenges. After all, as Scrooge learned, the future can be pretty grim. The only way to change that is to live your life now with thought to past, present and future. It all comes back to how you’re living now.

This holiday season I would encourage you to take time to stop and enjoy. Enjoy the life you have, the people in it, the gifts you are given, and the memories you are making. Be thankful for getting this far in life and getting through your past as you have. Have a positive attitude about what the future will bring and the legacy that you will leave, but don’t let the future have too large of an influence on your life now that you can’t enjoy it or make a difference as the moment calls. What are you celebrating and appreciating today?

Songs of the Season: Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Today I want to talk about one of my partner’s favorite Christmas characters and the story shared through the song Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The song tells the story of a reindeer with a red nose who was teased for having one because all the other reindeer had regular dark colored noses, how fog created a dangerous flying situation for Santa on Christmas Eve, causing Santa to ask Rudolph to lead the way so they could see and deliver all the presents to kids for Christmas, and being a true leader Rudolph stepped up and led the way and saved Christmas.

One of the biggest reasons people love the song is because it’s about victories for the underdog, for the weird ones, for those who are different.  I don’t know too many people who haven’t been bullied at some point in their life or felt different and like they couldn’t compare to others.  Sometimes our harshest critic is ourselves, but often that rejection or questioning starts with what someone else says or does.  It’s sometimes hard to accept what’s different about you as something good, but as Rudolph showed, it’s being different that can make the biggest impact or be exactly what’s right in a situation.

It’s also a song about teamwork. Most of us have worked with a team in our years in school or work that has been less than awesome or supportive. It wasn’t an easy experience and you may have been downright excited to be done and not work with that group going forward. I can’t imagine Rudolph was excited to work Christmas Eve with the other reindeer, at least not until they showed him that they were accepting of him being part of the team, that he was a valuable asset for the team, and that he was welcome with his red nose. Rudolph had to have the courage to be open to accepting their change of heart and trying to work with those who he hadn’t gotten along with, or his hurt could have ruined Christmas for all those children.

This Christmas I encourage you to embrace what’s unique and special about you. After all, that’s what the Christmas stories are about: both Santa and Jesus bring something to the table that the rest of us can’t and don’t. And if you’ve got a relationship that needs some work, I encourage you to step up and try to make your part in it right so that you can hopefully move forward better together. Life is too short to let our differences keep us apart or for us to let things that should be fixable to cause permanent division. Choose to celebrate together this holiday season and work together to make victories happen for those you love.

Christmas, Doubts, and Assumptions

Something I’ve always wondered about is the passage in Luke where John the Baptist is born (Luke 1:57-66). In this passage you’ve got people asking Zechariah what the baby’s name should be and using “gestures” to ask him. This sounds odd in general, but the part that I’ve found strange is because earlier in Luke 1 it says he would be “silent and unable to speak until the child is born” because he had questioned God’s plan for him and Elizabeth. Being mute doesn’t mean you can’t hear, and the Bible doesn’t say that he couldn’t hear as well, just that he wouldn’t speak until when John is born.

This possible mistake that people are making with Zechariah is a good reminder for all of us about assumptions. Sometimes they can be helpful, like assuming it might rain so you keep an umbrella in your home and one in your car, or assuming you’re going to be exchanging gifts with friends when you meet during the holiday season (they can be returned if you don’t), or assuming you’re going to want to eat and going food shopping on a regular basis.

But more often than not they set us up for mistakes, misunderstandings and issues. Not asking questions at work can lead to doing a job several times, not talking things over with your partner can lead to hurt feelings or plans that conflict, and assuming someone else did something without checking with them can mean that it doesn’t get done.

The same is true with faith. We can assume that others know what we believe, that we all like the same church activities, or that their life is as perfect as it looks, and it may or may not be true, and could cause some hurt feelings and drive separation if your assumptions aren’t true.

The one thing we can safely assume is that God loves us, and we’re assured of this every year when we celebrate Christmas. God would not have sent His son with such joy or celebration if He didn’t love us or care about our souls, and He would not have let Jesus die on the cross some 30 years later to save us from our sins. Our Bible-based questions may not get answered until we get to heaven, but we can be assured of God’s love for us and attention on what goes on in our lives.

Whether or not Zechariah could hear isn’t really the issue, although I would like to know, the issue is whether or not you’re going to follow through on what God has shared with you. Zechariah and Elizabeth did and they were blessed with their son John and the special role he played in Jesus’ life. This holiday season I encourage you to check in with God and make sure that you’re both on the same page and assumptions aren’t being created.

Reality Reflection: The Myth of Catching Up?

Lately it seems like all I’ve been doing is trying to catch up. It’s not always my fault either, like when the weather is bad and adjusts my plans for me, or when ants decide my house looks great to live in and stops the work I was doing, or other people change their plans and delay mine. I don’t cause any of those things, but as a result things I’m trying to get done or places I’m trying to go become exponentially more challenging, and things get pushed off because other things are of higher priority. While I have some more to manage in my life than others, I do know that others have even more they’re trying to manage than I am, and it got me wondering if anyone ever truly catches up on their whole to do list.

I think it is a good lesson in learning to prioritize, making sure that we are doing what’s important and letting go of what’s not really important. It’s also a good teacher of patience, that we learn to be patient with ourselves and others. Finally, it’s also a good lesson in alternatives and being able to restructure, reconsider, redo or find options that work.

As I was thinking about catching up, I got to thinking about change and how some say that change isn’t good or they don’t like it. I don’t know about you, but I like to change my clothes each day and I like when the weather changes to be warm again, and people like to change to a partner that’s more loving and caring. Often change can be good., and we experience many of the same emotions when it comes to change as we do catching up. We feel feelings of frustration and fear when we’re behind or not on board with the change, and we experience happiness and excitement when we experience good changes and catch up on things.

So I don’t believe that ‘change is good’ is a myth, I think it’s definitely possible for change to be good, depending on the situation. I don’t know if it’s truly possible to ever be all caught up though, because with each new day we’re given new things that have to be tackled, even if they’re the same things we did the day before like eating or getting the kids to school. Maybe the point isn’t about getting caught up, but being productive and slowly but steadily getting things done.

Songs of the Season: Light of the World

This week I’m sharing a song that you may not be familiar with if you don’t listen to more religious Christmas music, it’s Lauren Daigle’s Light of the World. It’s a song that speaks to the faith-based Christmas story, and much of the emotion behind and through the story. The beginning of the song goes:

“The world waits for a miracle
The heart longs for a little bit of hope
Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel
A child prays for peace on Earth
And she’s calling out from a sea of hurt
Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel

And can you hear the angels singing

Glory to the light of the world
Glory, the light of the world is here.”

As part of one of my newsletters this week I talked about how kids are expecting or looking for some pretty crazy things to happen during this time of year (Santa visiting all the kids in the world in one night and delivering toys to them). As adults we know that it’s not even remotely possible unless he multiplies himself and has an absolutely unlimited budget and resource supply, but the idea of a miracle like that is exactly what happened some 2000 years ago when Jesus was born. After all, who sends their kid to earth from heaven to be born as a baby and later die? Who volunteers for that unless it’s something really awesome that’s taking place? Which is exactly what happened.

Most of us could use a miracle in our lives today, most of the people I know need a miracle in one way or another, whether with regards to finances or a job or relationships or health. Yes, we do have the ability to work hard, and we should work to accomplish what we want and need in our lives. But sometimes there’s no amount of regular work that can make something happen, and that’s when we need a miracle, some luck, some blessings, and some help. If presents are being handed out this Christmas, some that seem pretty miraculous to the kids of the world, why can’t we adults ask for and believe in miracles for our lives, too?

The second part of the song lyrics I’ve shared here today speak to the awe inspiring celebration that is Christmas. Yes, there are some serious moments, I have to imagine that at the First Christmas there was some moments that took away all the words as people looked at this little baby and tried to comprehend how God could be right there with them. But as I was reminded by a recent Christmas devotional, Christmas is a celebration for us, for God and for heaven. The birth of this baby was God’s first step in giving us the biggest and best gift ever, and God so loves us that He was equally excited about the birth as we should be about Jesus arriving.

This week I encourage you to go ahead and sing along with the Christmas songs and celebrate the season, and also consider what you would ask for if you had the ability to ask for anything. If a miracle could happen some 2000 years ago and some people do still experience miracles today, maybe it’s time to believe that a miracle could be on the way for us as well.

Looking for Hope

Hope is found in some really strange places. In the case of the Christmas story, it’s found in a couple of babies, some shepherds, and maybe less surprising, some angels. As much as hope is an idea or concept, the Christmas story really brings the message of hope to life and makes it something tangible that people were able to not only see but touch. We can’t touch or see any of the people from the Christmas story, but we do have signs all around us that remind us of them like nativities we have in our homes and churches, plays telling the story, and stained glass windows in churches of scenes from the Christmas story.

The Bible is a journey of ups and downs, much like our lives are. We may not be able to relate to living in tents or being nomadic or fighting wars and battles or all the farming like some of the people in the Bible, but we can relate to the different interpersonal struggles they have and other challenges they face in their lives about safety, food, family and money. Where the story of Jesus is found is after many books of struggle and doom and gloom from the prophets. Yes, they had some words of encouragement too, but a lot of it was God reminding the people that they’re living in sin and not listening to Him. And then we happen upon the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah who find out they’re going to have John the Baptist, and the whole story of Mary and Joseph and angels and long trips and shepherds and wise men. It’s a bit of a surprise, and very refreshing to read this whole story after reading the struggles the Israelites had gone through for so many years.

The struggles weren’t over just because Jesus was born, nor were they after He died and rose again. But finally there was a definite light at the end of the tunnel. The prophesies were finally going to come true, we finally have something to look forward to after dealing with all that we do in this life, and there’s nothing that can take away or change Jesus being here and being part of the story of the Bible, no number of bad days, or amount of suffering and struggle.

Some of us are struggling as we reach the end of this year and work through the Christmas season, things that aren’t typically erased by Christmas celebrations or the story of hope that we’re hearing. My prayer is that even though the struggle won’t likely be removed from your life, God would bless you with some hope this month. Hope that you aren’t alone and that it’s hard to beat the crazy story that is the Christmas story. Don’t give up and don’t lose hope.

“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” Isaiah 9:2