Merry Christmas!

The holiday, meant to be a reflection and celebration of the birth of our Savior, has become such a clustered, crazy busy time of year, with everyone rushing around shopping, cooking, baking, cleaning, decorating, etc., that we often lose such reflection amidst our celebrations. Please take some time this week to remember Who is behind the reason we do all of this. Enjoy your time with your friends and families; enjoy the food and laughter; but enjoy the Purpose of it all: Jesus. Without Him, we would have nothing.

We want to wish you a very Merry Christmas, safe travels and His Peace this season as you celebrate His day.

"Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased." (Luke 2:14)

Ginny & Stacie

Greatest Gift of All

It’s almost Christmas! We are just over a week away from the glorious holiday… and if you’re anything like me- you still have presents to buy (not to mention wrap)… (And I am clueless on some very dear people…)

I will admit, I used to go all out on buying for friends and family. But as the years pass, and I reflect on the actual meaning of the season, I have scaled back drastically. I used to stress over finding the perfect gift, getting the best deal and not overspending (too much). In the chaos of the shopping, I lost the purpose of the holiday: love. The purpose behind each gift was to show an appreciation for the person; to let them know that I care and that they are in my heart. (But I found that the more aggravated I got at shopping, the less I carried them, or any love, in my heart.)

Christmas is the season for giving; to let others know that you care. It’s the season where generosity and love spread farther than any other time of the year. I absolutely love this month. No matter religious (or nonreligious) beliefs, it seems that almost everyone gives of themselves during this holiday; and typically in ways that they don’t throughout the other eleven months. And that is what it’s about. What better way to show our Christ to people than to give; time, gifts, love? But let us not forget that He is the reason we do any of this.

He gave up His throne, to be born a man, to give His entire life to serve others, to die sacrificially for us. There is no greater love. (John 3:16; John 15:13) So, may I suggest that you add one more Person to your shopping list? It won’t cost you anything financially; though the sacrifice will be greater than anything else you’ve ever done or given… Add Jesus. He purchased your soul for you. (1 Corinthians 6:20) Give Him something in gratitude; in love.

…Give your time to someone that needs help; whether it’s volunteering for a charity, or a widowed neighbor, or picking up a shift at work for a coworker to have more time with their family. Or you can give a little more of your money for a name on the angel tree at the mall, or the food pantry in your town, or a family in need at your church. (Matthew 25:35) Take time each day to reflect on the many blessings God has given you. Thank Him for everything He’s done. Reflect in your heart, what might be keeping you from growing closer to God. Is there something in your life/style that has hardened your heart somewhat? Give that to God. (Matthew 6:19-21) It may sound like a junk gift, but that’s the one He wants the most. It’s not regifting to Him; it’s not a white elephant present; it’s not trash…It’s the greatest form of love we can offer. When we finally let go of our fears, anxieties, dependence on things, (Philippians 4:6-7) and rely fully on Him, we both receive the best Gift of all: Love. By giving Him our pride (and that’s what all of our inadequacies boil down to: pride), we are showing Him our deepest love for Him; and we are opening ourselves to His deepest Love. That truly is a gift that keeps on giving; the greatest Gift of all. (Romans 6:23)

Holiday Greetings!?!?

Another reason to know what you believe and why… Tis the season, the season of giving (and getting). The season to be jolly (and grumpy)… And as Christians, we know what it’s like to ‘get’ the ‘grumpiness’ about our ‘Christ’ and Christmas…

“Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings…”

Is this really something to fuss over? Are we taking our Christ too far, and losing sight of Him in the process? Honestly, I don’t see the problem if someone wishes me something other than “Merry Christmas”. Firstly, the point of this whole holiday season is about love, right? So, I for one feel blessed that people want to wish me some form of love. Secondly, what if they don’t celebrate Christmas? They don’t know what my beliefs are, nor do I know theirs. Personally, I won’t be offended if someone wishes me a “Happy Hanukkah”, because that (my assumption) is their religion. My response could be the same back to them, followed by a “Merry Christmas”, acknowledging my own religious belief. How is this offensive? I don’t see how I am being very loving by throwing a fit over what greeting they spoke to me. And if I’m crying about offensive political correctness, I’m not being very Christian.

Jesus Christ is Love. (John 3:16) He was/is the ultimate embodiment of Love. (John 15:13) And I’m supposed to be representing Him to others. So- how am I being loving by getting offended by others offering me a different holiday greeting?

I absolutely believe we should keep Christ in Christmas. But I mean the ‘we’ to be Christians. Why should we force our Christ on unbelievers? That to me is not very Christ-like; and no wonder unbelievers get so angry. If I don’t want them shoving their (un)beliefs down my throat, why should they be okay with me shoving my beliefs down theirs?

Proclaiming and promoting my Christianity isn’t the way to win someone over; loving them is (I shouldn’t have to tell you I’m a Christian, you should be able to tell it by the way that I live…). When someone meets me, whether it’s at Christmastime or some other time of the year, how I carry myself and the words that I say (or don’t say), and the actions that I do (or don’t do) are the ways that people will see something different about me, and should make them want to know more; to be more ‘like me’. (Ephesians 4:29-32, Romans 12:2) And when they ask me how or what or why I am so Joyful, Loving, at Peace, then I can introduce them to Jesus (and they’ll see that He’s who I am trying to be like). (Romans 8:2) My wishing them a “Merry Christmas” most likely isn’t going to initiate a conversation; and pitching a fit that they wished me the wrong holiday greeting certainly isn’t going to make them want to be ‘more like me’ (aka- like Christ).

I think its things like this that make us Christians look bad. I think its things like this that makes the world hate our religion, our hypocrisy and our Christ. Ghandi stated it well: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Isn’t that the sad and painful truth? We Christians are not very like our Christ. When Jesus was ridiculed and accused during His trial before His crucifixion, He kept His mouth shut. He knew He wasn’t going to win them over by arguing with them. (Isaiah 53:5, 7; Mark 15:4-5, Luke 23:9) And neither will we. No unbeliever is going to want to be like us (Christ) when we’re constantly instigating disagreements about our beliefs and our Christ. The only way to sway them is to love them.

(For the record, I am not suggesting that we not stand up for Jesus and our faith, I think we need to have perspective over how to show His love verses forcing Him upon others. God gave us all free will: if He doesn’t force Himself on others, why should we?)

And just a reminder that December 25, our Christmas, is not when Jesus was actually born. Christians (Roman Catholics) picked that date to offset the Pagan holiday ‘Yule Day’, during the winter solstice festivals, with hopes to bring awareness to Christ and take it away from secular and Pagan celebrations. So, maybe we should think twice before we accuse the unbelievers of trampling on and ruining ‘our’ holiday… Also, no one celebrated birthdays back then, only proud sinners are mentioned in Scripture as celebrating their birthdays (Pharoah: Genesis 40:20-22, and Herod: Mark 6:21-27). And we’re celebrating Jesus’ birth as a man, not as God… The Bible is clear about idolatry: don’t worship or idolize any other god; but also don’t make idols to worship as our God. (Deuteronomy 4:15-19; Deuteronomy 12:4, 32). And aren’t we idolizing the Christmas trees, the lights, the holly, the wreaths, Advent, presents, the greeting, the holiday itself when we put it before the whole purpose behind it: Jesus Christ (Love).

(For the record, I am not suggesting you have to get rid of your tree, decorations and presents because they are not ‘Christ’-like. It comes down to what’s in your heart. Are you decorating and buying and cooking, etc. to celebrate Jesus’ birth in His honor? To show love to others? Or are you doing it as a show because you’re a Christian and it’s Christmas?) If the emphasis is put more on the ‘stuff’ and not on Jesus, then you might want to rethink more than just your holiday greeting.)

So before we get our berries in a bunch over what holiday greeting we’re going to say and to accept; let’s remember what this season is about: Love. Yes, we need to keep Christ in Christmas: keep the love in the holiday. Celebrate Christmas by loving God and by loving others. (Matthew 22:37-39) Spread that cheer.

He will make it beautiful

I was frantic!  The maroon wise man robe had gotten soaked when my church had performed a live nativity in the park and it had been thrown in a bag with several white costumes.  Now all of the white costumes had red streaks every where they had touched the robe.  In addition, due to the weather the bottoms of every costume was caked in clay mud.  I wasn't sure I could get them all cleaned before our next performance and there definitely wasn't time to remake any of the white costumes if I couldn't.

I offered up a prayer as I sorted everything and began washing.  Fortunately, due to some a wonderful laundry additive, all of the white costumes returned to their pristine state.  Unfortunately, the clay stains did not come out of all of the remaining costumes.  I was so heart broken that the nights presentation would have to include stained tunics and robes.  I just knew it would detract from the presentation.  But then I felt God begin to whisper...

Did you do your best?
Yes, but they are still stained!
Do you trust me?
Yes, but-
then let me take it from here...
So I packed them up and took them to the nativity.  It was again a rainy, muddy night.  Every costume ended up caked in clay mud again.  But, no one noticed.  And once the first presentation began, neither did I.  It wasn't about how pretty things looked.  God's message is for those of us who are dirty, imperfect, stained.

He came to be born not in the house of a wealthy man, but in a stable, among the animals.  He lived his life with those who got their hands dirty.  His ministry served the untouchable (Matthew 8:2-3), the disliked (Mark 2:15), the outcasts (Mark 5:1-20, John 8:1-11, John 4:5-32).  It wasn't a clean life, but it was beautiful.  Not because of how it looked, but because of what it was - love.

And that is what He asks from us in return.  No extravagant, expensive, perfect gifts.  He simply desires that we love Him, and that we share His love with others.  (Mark 12:30-31) He isn't asking for perfection from you, He only asks that you serve Him in love, which means your best effort all the time. (Colossians 3:23)  If you do, He will make it beautiful.  He will use it to accomplish His perfect will.

As for the Nativity, despite the pouring rain, many showed up to hear the story - and no one noticed a single stain.
Photo courtesy of One Eyed Jack's Photography

What really matters?

What is it that you believe? Most likely if you’re reading this blog, you believe in God. Good for you- but so does the devil (James 2:19)… So why do you believe? What is it about God that made you accept Him? And then what made/makes you stay with Him?

I had an enthralling conversation with my ‘baby’ sister the other night during a holiday family visit. The rest of our family had gone to bed, and I’ve found this is when we’re truly honest. We discussed many Biblical topics, including our upbringing, our testimonies, our learnings and our life experiences. It was awesome. While we’re both from the same family, I’m sixteen years older than she, therefore we’ve had very different experiences growing up. I was the first born; the 'experiment'. She was the last one; the ‘third times a charm’… She was raised in church continually; went to a Bible college; and married a Christian… I was not and did not. She took numerous theological courses that tested her beliefs on controversial topics from the Bible. Her viewpoint was refreshing and enlightening. (And I will admit up front that she is more scholarly than I am in many topics.) I won’t go into our beliefs, opinions or thoughts, but what we determined was that Christians don’t agree on much. We have God’s Word, and we distort Scripture to back up what we want it to say. We take it out of context and use it to condemn others (including ‘our own kind’). It’s sad that we use His love letter to use against Him and His children. Our many denominations (over 34000 world-wide and more than 1200 in America) disagree on some major ideals; and some minor as well. We will argue with each other, talk down to each other, and shame each other because we can’t agree on even the tiniest detail. What is wrong with us? We are missing the whole point of Christianity: Love. What kind of love are we showing each other with these demeaning arguments? What kind of love are we showing Christ by picking apart everything He said? And does much of it even matter?

Why waste time arguing over whether women can preach? Is baptism required to get into Heaven? Can you lose your Salvation?  Are alcoholic beverages ‘allowed’? What date was Jesus born? Do all children go to Heaven when they die (and if so- what’s the ‘cut-off’ age)? Does God still ‘speak’ to people? Is the Rapture before or after the Tribulation? Are musical instruments or dancing allowed in Worship? Is divorce and remarriage allowed? Does hell really exist? What about the laying of hands and use of anointing oils; speaking in tongues… and the list goes on and on. I’m not saying these aren’t valid, important topics of discussion. What I’m saying is, at the end of the day, at the end of this life… how much of it will matter? Do you really think that our Loving God is going to condemn you to hell because you danced during a worship song? Or had a margarita with some friends? Or you weren’t dunked in water for a baptism? God knows our hearts. He knows the reason we do or don’t do things. He knows if we really believe and accept His sacrifice. He knows. He’s a God of second, third and so on chances… so why do we think these issues matter? Does the legalism really matter?

If we, as Christians, can’t agree to love, regardless, despite, and in spite of our failures, sins, and disagreements, then we have nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-4) If we can’t agree to disagree on legalities, and work together to spread the Gospel, then we are going nowhere. What are even doing? If we can’t get along, then why would or should unbelievers even give us the time of day to hear us out? Let’s be honest, for the most part, these issues just don’t matter. All that matters is Jesus.

God’s Book tells us everything we need to know. Does it still leave unanswered questions? Yes. Why? We’ll find out one day. (John 8:32) But possibly it’s so we can interpret some of it differently. Maybe the lack of directness is so no one is alienated; to be all-encompassing… There are so many commandments and directives given to us in the Bible. And don’t so many naysayers complain about the ‘do this, don’t do that’ mentality of the ‘judgmental’ God? Maybe these uncertainties are left open so it’s not more added to the ‘checklist’ of things God ‘requires’ from us ‘in order’ to love us. Because He is a just God, yes; but He’s also a forgiving and loving God. He is a God of mercy and grace. (Hebrews 4:16, 2 John 1:3) So, again, at the end of this life—how much of these issues really matter? Isn’t all that matters what’s in our hearts? (Galatians 5:5-6) Do we love Jesus?