Comfort and Joy

There are tons of great songs that are played and sung during the holidays, one that came to mind recently was ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,’ and especially the lines “Oh tidings of comfort and joy/Comfort and joy/Oh tidings of comfort and joy.” As much as we run around, as many parties as we attend, as large as our shopping lists are, as many decorations as we hang, as much food as we cook and eat, I still feel like there’s a sense of peace and comfort that surrounds all of it.

The first Christmas wasn’t any less stressful or busy than we are today, what with Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem and not finding a place to stay and having to stay with animals and place the newborn Jesus in a manger. But along with the joy that we feel with it, we also feel a sense of peace and comfort, probably because Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, has arrived. There’s no more waiting, no more questioning when, no more questioning if. He’s here. And along with Him comes the reassurance that all that was prophesied was true; that there is a Heaven, God does exist, and there is salvation available to those who believe.

The holidays also bring comfort because we typically get to be with those we don’t always see but miss. There’s something satisfying about having your family and friends gathered around, even if it’s simply getting coffee or picking out trees together, or only together for a weekend before they/you travel back home. And then there’s all the food that we only cook and create during these holidays with special cookies, traditional dinners, and breakfasts that don’t get made just by adding milk or popping something in the toaster. I think some of the Christmas foods are the very definition of ‘comfort foods’ for me.

What is Christmas comfort for you? Is it attending church and singing carols? Is it gathering around a roaring fire to tell stories? Is it bundling up to walk through the flurries with your significant other? Is it baking cookies and other treats you used to make with your grandmother? Is it reading the Christmas story and the Night Before Christmas? What is Christmas comfort for you?

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Fears of the Holidays

I was re-reading the passage in Luke that talks about Mary learning she would be the mother of Jesus, God’s son recently. As I was reading it, I got to thinking about the fear that she experienced in this moment and probably throughout her pregnancy, as well as the fear Joseph experienced in committing to Mary knowing all that was going to happen, the fears many felt as they went through the journey to return to all their respective home towns, the fear Mary and Joseph later experienced as they were fleeing to Egypt with Jesus, the fear the wise men felt when they were told by God that Herod was a danger to Jesus and they should avoid him, and the fear of parents around the kingdom that Herod would choose to kill their son.

It’s incredible that something we see as such a happy and joyous event was so filled with fears. But then the other day I was talking with a friend who shared that her company’s payroll company screwed up earlier in the year and now her checks are less to make up for the difference/mistake and she’s not sure how she’s paying for things (including where she lives) this holiday season. It made me think about this time of year and the fact that we still struggle with fears even though, or especially because, it’s the holiday season. We have fears about our finances, we have fears about how cold it will be (especially if we’re homeless or struggling with bills), we have fears about seeing certain people again, we have fears about attending all the office and other holiday parties with people we don’t know, some even have fears about buying gifts and getting the absolute wrong thing for someone.

Fears are something we live with and work through on a regular basis, but it seems like they’re amplified during this time of year unfortunately. Just when we’re trying to do the right thing and have healthy relationships and give to others and experience the spirit of the season we’re stuck struggling with fears that have the power to dampen if not ruin the holidays for us.

If you’re facing fears this holiday season know that you’re not alone. Just like you work through the fears that pop up during the rest of the year the holiday season is no different and you can work through these fears too. You may never quite get over the need to make the holidays special for those you love and the fears that surround all of the trimmings, but just like Mary and Joseph I think we can learn to make them fade to the background by focusing on what’s important and on what you can control and do something about.

In the (Christmas) Beginning

This week begins the season of Advent which leads up to the birth of Christ.  While Jesus isn’t born each year, it’s still a special time to celebrate life and the amazing gift that He gave us when He came to earth.  You know, every story starts somewhere.  Usually it starts in the beginning.  So today I thought we’d talk about the least favorite beginning of the story of the birth of Jesus: the list of people in Matthew 1. I know, as a kid you probably skipped over the chapters you had to read in the Old Testament of people who were born, died or were just being counted. Endless lists of names don’t really seem to have a purpose, or do they?  So as I was thinking about this and about Christmas, it got me thinking.

The beginning is where people always start.  We can’t skip to the middle of the story of our lives, we have to start at the beginning.  And as Jesus’ story in Matthew reminds us, the beginning technically starts before our true beginning: someone had to come before you in order for you to exist and they had a story.  I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with history, mostly because some people have decided that the only way you can talk about history is to make it drier and more boring than an old wild west town during a dust storm.  The truth is that each and every period of history was exciting!  But it was only exciting if you knew where to look, talked with the right people or started looking for the stories behind the people of those times.  Jesus is no different: there are people with amazing stories who come before Him.  Those stories we’re familiar with: Ruth the courageous widow, David from shepherd to king, Josiah the boy king, and Zerubbabel of Nehemiah’s time just to name a few.

However, the truth is also that there are some people with stories in Jesus’ line who aren’t that great: like Ahaz and Manasseh.  Their less-than-stellar lives could lead some people to raise eyebrows or think less of Jesus (or anyone else who came after them).  Think about people in our time who look funny at you just because you’re related to a Kardashian or Cyrus?  But you cannot do anything about who came before you, just like you have no control over who comes after you.  Unless God decides to end the world, there will be people who come after you who may have things to say about your life.

My point today is very simple: everyone starts in the beginning.  How the story ends isn’t set in stone yet.  You’ve got the power to choose not only which ancestors you see as role models as well as where your life takes you.  Even better, just because your past is not so great it doesn’t mean that your future can’t be amazing.  In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says “Don’t think that I have come to destroy the Law of Moses or the teaching of the prophets. I have come not to destroy their teachings but to give full meaning to them.”  You can’t destroy the past, all you can do is create the future.  What will you do with your future?

30 Days of Thanksgiving: Faith

We face lots of challenges and tests in our lives, it’s part of the life journey and can make or break us depending on whether we’re willing and able to push through, the support we have and the faith we have. What kind of faith do you have? Are you investing in your faith on a daily basis? Are you letting it guide your decision making and encourage you when the going gets tough? Are you struggling with or questioning your faith because of recent events?

Faith does give us the strength to keep going, it can encourage us, it can unite us, it can give us peace that passes all understanding. Faith can be a guide to help you make decisions and foundation to build your life on.  And while your faith may waver or you may question your faith for a time, I think it’s hard to truly lose all faith and never be able to return to it again, and for that I’m thankful.

Time and again I’ve returned to my faith and restrengthened my faith. There’s only one who has never let me down and is always there, regardless of how quickly or clearly I get an answer. Sometimes it’s not even about getting the answer from God, just knowing that He is supporting me and aware of all I’m going through is enough.

We’re almost at the end of another year, some of us may be questioning what’s next for us at work or in a relationship and faith is a great starting point. Start having faith that it will work out, that God will open your eyes to His plans and the direction you should go. Believe in yourself and your abilities and how perfectly God made you. Give thanks for all that you have and all the blessings that are coming your way.

“Therefore, thus says the Lord God: See, I am laying a stone in Zion, a stone that has been tested, A precious cornerstone as a sure foundation; he who puts his faith in it shall not be shaken.” Isaiah 28:16

30 Days of Thanksgiving: Giving Thanks All the Time

One of the psalms I’ve reflected on this month as part of my thanksgiving journey is Psalm 136. You may not know it by number, but it’s the Psalm that includes the line “His faithful love endures forever.” repeated after every line and reason to be thankful. Ultimately it gives 27 reasons to be thankful including that “His faithful love endures forever”, which is a really good reason to be thankful in my book.

The Psalm goes through some historical events that are shared in the Bible like victories over kings and nations, the time in Egypt and crossing of the red sea, and the Creation. It also talks about the fact that He feeds every living thing and is always there to give us strength when we need it. The third topic it talks about as a reason to be thankful is for who God is: the God of Heaven, a good God, and the Lord of Lords.

Some people struggle with the topic of repetition in the Christian community, there have been debates throughout the years over the repetition in songs and here in Psalm 136 we’re facing more repetition. Sometimes repetition means that you’re not getting the point across, that you’re wasting time and words, or that you’re lazy because you didn’t come up with anything else to say. While that is true some of the time, other times the fact is that we need the repetition. It’s been said that if you do something for 3-8 weeks (depending on which study you believe) it becomes a habit. There’s nothing more to doing something for that amount of time that consistently except repetition.

I think that giving thanks fits in really well with being a repetitious activity: the more we do it the better we feel, the happier we are, the more those around us feel affirmed, and the more supportive our communities are. Not to mention that giving thanks to God means you’re recognizing more of the blessings He sends your way, not just the really big and obvious ones. How are you planning to make giving thanks a regular part of your life all year long and not just during the official Thanksgiving season?

30 Days of Thanksgiving: A Psalm of Celebration

Sometimes what you need most to find your thankful attitude, to see the things you can be grateful for, to remember that the whole world isn’t bad, to be the person who stands out in a crowd, is a little encouragement.  One part of the Bible that we can rely on consistently to deliver that encouragement and help us refocus on God and what’s good are the Psalms.  Today I want to share one of the Psalms that talks about being thankful, Psalm 100:

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

I encourage you to take a moment and celebrate how awesome God is.  Then ask God to show you all that you have to be thankful for, and even to send you some extra blessings that you can be thankful for tonight and tomorrow on Thanksgiving.

God is My Rock

This week on Facebook I asked an important question: how has God been your rock? I think it’s important to talk about God as our rock, as well as the people in our lives who have been a rock for us because there comes a time in your life (or several times) when you just can’t handle it all on your own. There’s no shame in admitting you can’t do it all and that you’re not perfect. In fact, doing so can make you a stronger, more confident, more fulfilled person because you’re no longer chasing things that you don’t need in your life.

But even for those of us who aren’t trying to do everything, sometimes life just is too much for us to handle alone. It’s why we have doctors and lawyers and police officers and farmers and home builders, among many others who make our lives work a little easier. It’s these people we turn to when we need some expertise that we don’t have or need some muscle that we don’t have. We put our trust in these men and women believing that they’ll be there to support us when we need them. Yes, they are human so sometimes they mess up just like we do, but overall we are able to rely on them in our times of need.

Unlike humans, God isn’t going to screw up or not be available or not be strong enough. God also goes with us and grows with us, there’s no stage of our lives we can reach that He won’t be able to help us through it because He is God.  He’s the most reliable and trustworthy person in the world and beyond.  He won’t let you down when you need Him most.  Even if you don’t see an act of God (a big answer to your prayer), He may send someone or something your way to reassure you or help you get to the next step of your journey.  How will God be your rock this week?

“I am the Lord, and I do not change…” Malachi 3:6