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Everything Christmas

No doubt about it.  Our senses are bombarded with stimuli during the Christmas season.

Decorated trees, wreaths, and garlands; figures, swags, and fairy lights festoon building after building, home after home.

 

 

Carols and holiday songs accompany every errand run and shopping excursion.

The scent of cinnamon, pine, and gingerbread; peppermint, vanilla, and clove urge us to breathe deep—frequently.

 

 

Velvet dresses, satin bows, and cloud-soft batting; feathery bird-ornaments, and fuzzy teddy bears beg to be touched.

Grandma’s stuffing, Butterball turkey, and squash casserole; Wassail, snowball cookies, and cranberry coffee cake all tantalize the tongue.

 

 

Some days, however, we practically drown from total immersion in everything Christmas. What is a worn out sensory system supposed to do?

If you Google “strategies for stress relief” you’ll be presented numerous options from the experts.  Some suggestions require more time than many of us can sacrifice during December. Examples include working on hobbies, getting a massage, or taking a vacation.

 

 

I can hear you through my computer screen: “NOT gonna happen this month!”

But there are other strategies we can weave into our days no matter what the to-do list requires. And SURPRISE! The experts often echo what scripture has taught all along.

We can calm ourselves through:

 

 

Meditation

Not mind-numbing exercises that supposedly elevate us to euphoria, but meditation on scripture, God’s works and mighty deeds (Psalm 119:97; 77:12). For me, that includes starting each morning with him and his Word, to set the tone for the day.

And as we fix our thoughts upon him, God has promised to keep us in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). He is our source of equilibrium and tranquility, prosperity and contentment of soul. Daily he supplies what we need to accomplish what is necessary (2 Corinthians 9:8).

The rest we can let go.

 

 

Music

“How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him” (Psalm 147:1, emphasis added).

Sometimes that means a loud and majestic “Hallelujah Chorus.”

But when nerves are frazzled, the experts recommend slow, quiet music. And many of our favorite carols offer just such repose.

So, when tension rises, be ready to select “Silent Night” or “What Child Is This.”  Save “Ring Christmas Bells” and “Sleigh Ride!” until the stress subsides!

 

Prayer

We can allow all the sensory input to turn our minds toward Jesus “by praying continually–simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment” (Romans 12:12 and Sarah Young, Jesus Calling).

Sentence prayers such as these:

 

 

Thank you, Jesus, for the laughter of children that opens my heart to your joy.

Thank you for the power of delectable aromas—like clove-studded ham, vanilla sugar cookies, and cinnamon rolls–that conjure up sweet memories of Christmases long ago.

Thank you for the family and friends represented in this stack of Christmas cards, who’ve left their love stamped upon our hearts.

 

 

Thank you for the familiar carols, reminding me of that wonder-filled first Christmas.

And thank you, Jesus, for lights that glimmer and candles that glow, celebrating you, the Light of the world, our Emmanuel.

 

 

They say it takes just three weeks to learn a new habit. With all the sensory reminders around us, this may be the most opportune time to become continual pray-ers.

And as we seek to turn everything Christmas into gratitude and praise, the joy of the Lord will surely follow.

 

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.goodfreephotos.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.doncio.navy.mil (photographer:  Diana Quinlan); Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.heartlight.org.

 

A Season of Light

 

Christmas is indeed a season of light.

Candles glow and twinkling lights glimmer from houses, buildings, and trees.

People love all the flickering and shimmering!  Some spend weeks decorating their yards and rooftops in spectacles of illumination.  If you asked them why, they might be hard-pressed to express more than, “They’re beautiful!”

 

 

But perhaps it’s more than just aesthetics.  Perhaps it’s a heart-response.

Light is symbolic for:

  • Beauty.  Light grabs our attention, whether it’s sparkling and dazzling or soft and luminous.

 

 

  • Safety.  Where there is light, we can navigate through our surroundings.
  • Comfort.  A nightlight offers just that for many a child who is afraid of the dark.
  • Hope.  Light gleams triumphantly in the darkness at the end of a tunnel.
  • Guidance.  Light illuminates the way.

 

 

Might it be that people respond to light, especially when associated with Christmas, because the human spirit is made to respond to the Light?

Jesus came from the Father who is Light (1 John 1:5), and proclaimed, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12).

But that statement is more than symbolic.

God the Son is our safety, because he offers eternal life.

 

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;

no one can snatch them out of my hand.”

John 10:28-29

 

 

God the Father is our comfort, because he is loving and compassionate.

  

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,

who comforts us in all our troubles.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4a

 

God the Son is our hope, because of his resurrectionWe will be raised from the dead because he was. 

 

“In his great mercy [God] has given us new birth

into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—

kept in heaven for you.”

1 Peter 1:3b-4

 

 

God the Father is beauty, because of all his exquisite attributes.  And we have the opportunity to bask in that beauty.

 

“I’m asking God for one thing…

To live with him in his house my whole life long.

I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet.”

Psalm 27:4  MSG

 

God the Father is guidance, characterized by wisdom, compassion, and readiness.

 

 

The Light of the world offers us all this and more.

I can’t imagine life without him, can you?

Let’s make time to linger in his Light during this Advent season.

 

 

Let’s be watchful for “Glory-moments, awash in his dazzling Light” (Sarah Young).

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    *

 

How else might we expand our heart-response to Jesus?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

Photo credits: http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.tOrangebiz; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.canva.com (3).

 

(Revised and reblogged from December 2, 2013.)

 

In the town where I lived till age ten, great elm trees bordered a number of the residential streets. Their wide-reaching branches stretched across the pavement and met in the middle, creating a thick, verdant archway in the summertime.

As we walked or drove underneath, the view was dominated by tree trunks—sentries of the streets in two straight rows.

One stand-alone tree, tall and far spread, is an inspiration, as Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem attests. But a double row stretching to the horizon? That’s a wondrous sight you don’t forget—even after six decades.

Not long ago I came across an observation of Charles Spurgeon, based on just such a view. And immediately I thought of those stately elms of my hometown:

 

“We delight to look down a long avenue of trees.

It is pleasing to gaze from end to end of the long vista.

Even so look down the long aisles of your years,

at the green boughs of mercy overhead

and the strong pillars of loving-kindness

and faithfulness which bear up your joys.”

(Morning by Morning, p. 366).

 

 

What better time to look down those aisles of our years than this week of Thanksgiving?

Down my own personal road…

…I do see the green boughs of mercy—times when God treated me with grace and compassion that I did not deserve—even in small matters.

One example out of many:  the time I forgot to order new books for the women’s Bible study at church. (This was long before amazon.com and priority shipping.) An emergency run to the Christian bookstore was necessary.

While driving there, I prayed to find sufficient copies of a worthwhile study that we could complete in the necessary time frame: eight weeks.

I know, I know. Such specific requirements. But sure enough, God supplied exactly what was needed, in spite of my foolish forgetfulness.

 

(Women too!)

 

…I see the strong pillars of loving-kindness—times when God demonstrated his tender and compassionate affection.

Again, one example out of many: I spilled a bit of coffee on my computer and the mouse died. Steve tried the hair dryer trick, and miraculously, my mouse came back to life.

But Steve would be the first to tell you God gets the credit, first for bringing to his mind that solution, and because “every good and perfect gift comes from above”—even problem-solving power.

 

 

…I see the strong pillars of faithfulness—times when God demonstrated his firm and devoted support.

Just a list of categories is quite long. God offers protection and provision, equipping and encouragement, instruction and guidance, comfort and strength, forgiveness and restoration, support and deliverance, healing and blessing. Surely there are even more.

Often, God expresses his strong and loving support through his Word.

One morning while settling in for a quiet time, I opened my Bible first instead of the study guide. “Wake up,” I chided myself. “You don’t even know what scripture you’ll be studying today.”

I turned to the morning’s lesson and discovered my Bible was already open to the proper page, and the prescribed verse was right at the top. Before even reading the verse I felt a strong impression from God: “Nancy, this scripture is for you today.”

Now before I reveal the verse, let me explain that just a few days prior I’d received disturbing news. Hurt and discouragement were fighting against faith and hope in my spirit.

So imagine my astonishment when I read, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7).  An overflow of joy in my heart became tears in my eyes. He saw my distress and came alongside with encouragement and support.

 

 

No doubt you have stories of your own green boughs of mercy and strong pillars of loving-kindness and faithfulness, as you gaze down the long aisle of your years.

I’d love to hear one of your examples; I’m sure other readers would too.

Please share in the comment section below, and together we can praise our God for the wonders he has performed (Psalm 105:5a)!

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.strongtowns.org (Daniel Jeffries); http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com (2).

 

What God Sees

Years ago my mother worked as secretary to a publishing company vice-president.  One spring she was invited to attend a goal-setting retreat with those in leadership. Her job was to take notes.

 

 

During the first session, the facilitator (We’ll call him Jim.) included some clarifying questions about the mission of the company.   Mom didn’t expect to participate, so she was caught off guard when Jim invited her to share. She confessed to feeling out of place and unqualified to contribute. After all, she was only a secretary.

But editor-in-chief, Bernice, exclaimed, “Why, Geri! You shouldn’t feel that way!”

Jim suggested that Bernice tell Mom why her input was important, why she was a valuable part of the team.

 

(A-Z Quotes)

 

Perhaps Bernice mentioned a few of the gifts I noticed in Mom: her creative problem-solving ability, astute interpersonal skills, and proficiency at organization.

Whatever Bernice said, the compliments embarrassed Mom but validated her deeply. Bernice had never before shared what she saw in Mom.

Jim explained that citing specific reasons, rather than simply telling someone not to feel a certain way, can more effectively foster a change of mindset.

So in light of that facilitator’s advice, I won’t tell you that God thinks you’re pretty terrific.

Let me show you from his Word what he sees in you.

For example:

God sees you as precious and honored because he loves you.

 

 

That love is not just collective for all humankind, but individual and unique—just for you.

God sees and loves you—the one who handles a myriad of details so someone else can be in the spotlight.

He sees and loves you—the one who swipes up messes hither and yon, parades laundry baskets to and fro, and traipses dishes from washer to shelf, day in and day out.

He sees and loves you—making those calls, writing those notes, pausing to listen to sales clerks and restaurant servers.

But on any given day, you may not feel particularly precious or honored—when frustration boils over into unkind words, impatience leads to anger, or unfair treatment curdles into self-pity. How can God see anything precious and honored in that?  Perhaps it’s because he’s focused on his vision for you, his work in you.

Remember,

God sees you as his child.

 

 

And like any loving parent, he delights in every step of growth, every benchmark of progress. With pleasure and pride he is cheering you on.

Also,

God sees your heart.

 

 

Perhaps that statement evokes guilt, as it did in me for many years. I contemplated the ways I disappointed God, even failed him. But there’s a positive side to that statement. Our Heavenly Father sees our good intentions, our desire to obey him, our attempts to practice his presence with praise and gratitude.

And just as we would never reject a misspelled, wobbly-lettered love note from a child, God never rejects our sincere efforts.

Furthermore,

God sees you as his masterpiece, a stunning, one-of-a-kind design (Ephesians 2:10).

 

 

He chose the colors of your personality, the form of your life-chapters, the line of movement from child to maturity, and the spaces both negative and positive that contribute to soul growth.

God also chose a particular place for you in his world-size gallery where you could best display his artistry. And like all beautiful handiwork, you evoke joy in the heart of your Maker.

 

 

Indeed, it is holy, precious perfection that God sees in you.

 

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.hanscom.af.mil (Todd Maki); http://www.azquotes.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.flickr.com.)

English poet, William Blake (1757-1827) penned those words of the title.

We don’t have to look far to see that he was right:

 

 

  • Children pick up mannerisms, inflections, even body language from their parents.
  • Couples who have been married a long time often begin to look alike (1).
  • Transplants to another part of the country frequently pick up the accent of that region.

In addition, modern neurological research has proven Mr. Blake’s statement in ways even he never imagined.

Here’s what scientists have discovered: Thoughts travel along specific pathways to various destinations in our brains. As we consider the same thought frequently, the pathway for that thought becomes more deeply entrenched. The final result? The more often we contemplate something, the more it will affect our thought patterns, how we feel, and how we behave (2).

No wonder God inspired Paul to write:

 

 

According to that research mentioned above, to behold (observe and take in) such things as Paul lists will lead us to become honorable, pure, admirable, etc. In fact, we’ll gradually begin to resemble Jesus.

 

 

But how do we contemplate the Lord’s glory on a day-to-day basis? How do we train our thoughts to etch worthwhile pathways in our brains, so we’re thinking, feeling, and behaving in Jesus-like ways?

To begin, we might check the stimuli for our thoughts:

  • the book(s), magazines, and websites we read
  • the programs and movies we watch
  • the music and podcasts we listen to
  • the kind of entertainment we choose
  • the conversations we participate in—in person and on social media

 

 

Can we describe these activities with the adjectives Paul used in Philippians 4:8? Is our reading material pure? Our entertainment admirable? Our conversations worthy of praise?

 

O God,

 

 

 

Second, we set-aside a quiet time with God each day.

It is surely one of the loveliest and most excellent activities for beholding him, as we immerse ourselves in truth for life from his Word, revel in his glorious attributes, and talk to him about the concerns on our hearts.

 

 

“Look up into his lovely face and as you behold him,

he will transform you into his likeness.

You do the beholding—he does the transforming.”

—Alan Redpath

 

Third, we infuse the hours of each day with praise.

All those descriptors in Philippians 4:8 apply to Jesus. Day in and day out we can enjoy the uplift of praise, celebrating that he is:

  • the epitome of truth (John 14:6).
  • honorable and worthy of all tribute, because he lived a sinless life and sacrificed himself on the cross for us (Revelation 5:12).
  • right in all he does (Jeremiah 23:5).
  • pure in all he is (1 Peter 2:22).
  • lovely, as the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3).
  • admirable, as the only man tempted in every way and yet never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).
  • excellent in all ways, including his servitude, humility, and obedience (Philippians 2:6-8).
  • praiseworthy, as ruler of all things (Matthew 28:18).

 

 

In addition, Jesus was a man of peace, joy, wisdom, kindness, courage and more (3).

And God wants us to be the same, to become like his Son (Philippians 1:6).

Can you think of any greater aspiration?

 

_______________________________________________

 

Notes:

  1. One theory to explain this phenomenon: We unconsciously mimic the facial expressions of our spouses, as we empathize with their experiences and emotions. Over time, repeated expressions shape our faces in similar ways.
  2. https://www.maxanders.com/we-become-what-we-behold.
  3. John 14:27; John 15:11; Luke 2:40; Matthew 9:36; Philippians 2:8.

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com.

 

 

Last Saturday eleven more American citizens lost their lives to domestic terrorism. Six more were wounded. The chief federal prosecutor called the tragedy a “terrible and unspeakable act of hate.”

And we hate the evil forces that entice men (and sometimes women) to such unconscionable violence.  Our hearts ache every time we hear of a new murderous attack, with more lives changed forever by horror, more pain and suffering, more lives lost.

 

 

How do we pray in the face of terrorism? Perhaps one of the most meaningful ways is to pray back to God the absolute truths of his Word.  For example:

 

Dear Lord God,

We pray for your compassion, peace, presence, and power to pervade those suffering in the aftermath of such attacks as the one on Saturday. We pray for your protection over our towns and cities, schools and churches, community servants and law enforcement officers, friends and family. “Bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure” (Psalm 7:9).

The question plagues us: Why, God? Why do men think they have the right to injure and destroy innocent lives? We are outraged by their cunning as they conspire to wreak destruction against those you cherish (Psalm 83:3). How dare they plot against their fellow human beings (Psalm 37:12)?

 

 

The evil imaginations of their minds know no limits (Psalm 73:7). And we cannot fathom such callousness that breeds unthinkable tragedy.

With David we want to pray:

“Repay them for their deeds and for their evil work; repay them for what their hands have done and bring back upon them what they deserve” (Psalm 28:4). 

“Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness” (Psalm 10:15). 

But your Son taught a different way—a way that disarms hatred from growing in our own spirits:

 

 

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Thank you for reminding us that enemies often carry pain of their own.

 

 

And so, as best we know how, Heavenly Father, we pray your Word over those misguided individuals who inflict terror. Remove their hearts of stone set on evil ways, and give them tender, responsive hearts, anxious to follow your ways (Ezekiel 11:19-20).

We pray they would constantly be exposed to truth through what they see and hear—even in their dreams (Job 33:14-18).

 

 

We pray for enlightenment, that the lies of the deceiver would be exposed (John 8:44).

And we pray unmistakable God-incidents would draw them to you, and they would recognize the One behind the miracles–like Naaman of Old Testament times.   When he was instantaneously healed of terminal leprosy, he said: “I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no God anywhere on earth other than the God of Israel” (2 Kings 5:15 MSG). May those who have perpetrated terror or are even now planning an attack, come to the same conclusion by the influence of your Spirit.

 

 

“Let them know that you, whose name is the Lord—that you alone are the Most High over all the earth” (Psalm 83:11), that your soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence (Psalm 11:5 ESV).

Last, we pray you thwart the efforts of those who plan vile destruction. Again, “Bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure” (Psalm 7:9).

We do praise you, O God, that in spite of the apparent madness, you are in control (I Chronicles 29:11-12). Such comforting truth! In addition, no purpose of yours can be thwarted (Job 42:2). Such reassuring affirmation! And you will use for good what misguided men intend for evil (Genesis 50:20-21). Such splendorous hope!

 

 

In the powerful name of Jesus, we pray all of these things for your honor and glory, Amen!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com (2); http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.heartlight.org.)

 

 

Some believe that indulging in memories is a waste of time, that past events have no meaning for the present. But nothing could be further from the truth— especially if we acknowledge God’s part in those events.

When we include God in our remembering:

  1. We gain a sense of perspective.

Even difficult times are part of God’s plan. Sometimes, with the gift of hindsight, we catch a glimpse of his purpose later.

For example, how many students have struggled through school, yet in adulthood flourished in careers well matched to their gifts? Most of them are actually thankful for the early challenges, because they learned perseverance and developed strength of character. Those late-bloomers are often compassionate and understanding toward other strugglers, because they remember the difficulties of those formative years.

 

 

  1. We acquire wisdom for today.

“Reflective thinking turns experience into insight.”

–John Maxwell

In my younger days I used to be a champion talker. But somewhere along the way I began to notice the listeners—caring folks who often demonstrated the gentle and quiet spirit Peter spoke of (1 Peter 3:3). They reminded me of my sweet grandmother.

I valued that demeanor and began to turn insight into a new experience of focused listening. (Please understand: practice hasn’t achieved perfection yet. But improvement? Yes.)

 

  1. We build a foundation of stability for today as we remember God’s grace and faithfulness in the past.

But memories easily fade. So some believers keep a book of remembrance or a praise journal, as a way to savor God’s faithfulness.

Just for fun, I randomly opened my loose leaf praise journal in search of an entry to share with you. Here’s what I wrote, December 23, 2003, about our older son, who was in college at the time:

 

 

(“Eric got a new job yesterday and it starts today! The owner of the bike shop has not paid Eric for ten days, but a friend offered him a job in their family’s fireplace shop at the same salary.”)

Entry after entry highlight God’s provision, protection, and guidance through the years. And each memory contributes to my foundation of stability.

 

  1. We foster gratitude in our hearts.

As you can see, the entry recorded above ends with: “Thank you, Lord, for answering our prayers and providing for Eric.”  Joy just naturally overflowed into appreciation.

On the opposing page I wrote, “I am overwhelmed, Lord, by this continuing string of blessings. You are SO good to us, always demonstrating your faithfulness and grace. May your praise continually be on my lips!”

Research has now proven a number of benefits of gratitude.*  But surely one of the best: it nurtures a contented soul.

 

 

  1. We can turn remembering into a beautiful act of worship. 

That’s exactly what scripture invites us to do: 

“Rejoice in all the good which the Lord your God has given to you and your house” (Deuteronomy 26:11).

Praise the name of the Lord your God, who has done wondrously with you” (Joel 2:26b).

“You make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands” (Psalm 92:4).

 

 

Such glorious cause and effect! Remembering God’s wonderful deeds of the past turns our hearts to worship, which causes a powerful, positive impact on the present.

 

  1. We can tell our stories of God’s miracles and mercies, to encourage the faith of others and refresh our own.

Scripture invites us to do that too: 

“I will tell of the kindness of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all he has done for us” (Isaiah 63:7).

.

 

So let’s begin here! Please share in the comment section below about a kindness, miracle, or mercy of God from your memory. And together we can praise the name of the Lord who has worked wonders for us!

 

* Another post details some of those benefits, “Happiness.”

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.nellis.af.mil; Nancy Ruegg (3); http://www.heartlight.org.

 

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