This past Sunday afternoon I was in a dark and cold building sweeping up what looked like dust bunnies that had been hit by an enlarger ray in a sci-fi movie. I did this for nearly two hours and the place was still a mess after I was done. I was wearing Carhartts, long underwear and rubberized work gloves (that still somehow don’t keep my hands from turning black). The mask I had to wear over my mouth and nose was uncomfortable and made it hard to breath. Not exactly how someone wants to spend their day off…yet…for some reason I found myself smiling.
It has been a rough year for a variety of reasons, not the least of which has been the fire that consumed our business in November. As you can see from above, the cleanup process has been messy, slow and time consuming. The gigantic dust bunnies are the insulation that fell when the ceiling came down. It covered everything in the back half of the shop, things like burned up cars, melted electronics, ruined tools and tons of broken glass. There is no electricity so the only light comes from our headlamps and the meager sunlight that comes through the few windows that are not boarded up. It is a dark and cold place (another reminder that I want no part of Hell). Despite all of the gloom, my heart was still warm that afternoon and at times I even found myself singing the songs I had heard at church that morning.
These are the final days of 2014 and my mind was on the past twelve months. If I had to gauge the worth of our past year by the world’s standards I may have a right to feel sorry for myself and complain (the fire, canceled family vacations, kidney stones, surgery, etc.).
Praise God, I don’t care what the world’s opinion is. I only desire to gauge my success through the eyes of God. He has blessed me with so much in 2014: watching our church family grow and desire more of God, an opportunity to serve alongside brothers and sisters in Kentucky, seeing a friend give her life to Jesus, being provided more opportunities to share my faith, seeing the love of Christ grow in my children, watching my husband handle difficult situations with godly grace and strength, and so much more. Wow, what an awesome year!
Don’t worry, I’m not always this cheerful, I have to get my attitude adjusted frequently. At times my perspective gets skewed and I can feel the pity party starting. There are times I have been in the same burned out shop hauling garbage and I had no desire to sing or smile. I have learned it’s those times that I need a good slap of truth to get my head back on straight. One of my favorites is the same one the Pastor used on Sunday morning –
Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
And if you start Romans 12, you might as well just keep on reading, because the whole chapter is great. Verses 9-21 are about the marks of a True Christian. Verse 11, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (NIV). I love that verse, it sums up how we should take on every New Year (heck, every new day)!
How has your past twelve months been? Have you seen growth towards God in your life? Have you been working towards what pleases Him or yourself? Are you closer to Jesus now then on January 1, 2014, do you know him better? That is how each and every year must be gauged. If you aren’t sure or if you haven’t experienced growth towards Christ, this is the perfect time to start!
If you are tired of the same old resolutions of weight loss, exercise and home organization (yep, I’m reading your mind) then make a change toward eternal betterment. Let 2015 be the year that you put yourself aside and choose to please Jesus instead. Then no matter what occurs in the next twelve months, whether it’s health problems, parenting issues or losing your job, if you truly strive to serve and glorify God you will have had the best year yet. It’s time to go for it and have a truly Happy New Year!
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” – Luke 2:8-14
Why did God choose to first announce the birth of his son Jesus to lowly shepherds? Why not carpenters, craftsmen or dignitaries? Shepherds were not well thought of at that time and usually came from the lower class of society. They slept on the ground and smelled like sheep. They had to live well outside of town and tend to sheep even in the middle of the night like in the passage above.
So why shepherds? Well it is truly simple. God will reveal himself to those he chooses to reveal himself. That night he chose the shepherds; he knew their hearts were open to him. He knew they would be obedient to his directions and would proclaim the good news of the Savior to all around.
God is not concerned with your social status or occupation; he is interested in your heart. God chose these shepherds and blessed them with a special message. The same message still applies today and is now being proclaimed to you. The good news is that Jesus came to earth to redeem his people. Jesus Christ is the true Good Shepherd (John 10) and he wants to tend to your soul. Is your heart ready to receive this message? If so it is truly good news of great joy!
The Christmas season is a wonderful time of year. We decorate our homes, gather with friends and find ourselves singing Christmas carols anywhere and everywhere. There is more food, more fellowship and more joy. But what truly makes this time of year so great? Jesus of course. Most of us know that the true reason we celebrate Christmas today is because a special baby boy was born over 2,000 years ago to a young and weary couple in a lowly stable in Bethlehem.
This significant and long prophesied birth was accompanied with remarkable events. Shepherds were visited by a choir of angels (the most ever mentioned in the Bible) telling of the birth of the Savior and exactly where to find him. Wise men traveled from the Far East to come worship this Christ child and bring him gifts. I love this story with all of my heart and read it with my children every year, you can find it in Matthew chapters 1 and 2 and Luke chapter 2 (my favorite). However, it still does not provide an adequate reason for why this birth and Christmas is so very great.
Children are born every day and some into very unusual circumstances. This Nativity story doesn’t even set Christianity apart from other religions of the world. Muhammad and Buddha were also born into this world at certain points in history. There has to be more to our God to make him worthy of our dedication and celebration.
Praise God there is! What makes the beginning of Jesus’s life so wonderful is what happened at the end of his life. The Bible tells us that we can never go to Heaven to be with God if we are not sinless and perfect just like him. Sadly, all of us are wretched sinners (see Romans 3:23). In the Old Testament, according to the law given by God through Moses, the Israelites had to provide sacrifices to atone for their sins. This was an arduous and truly impossible task. Jesus came and changed everything.
Jesus was the Son of God; he lived a sinless, perfect life and performed many signs and miracles and taught those who followed him. The spiritually blind, religious rulers of the time hated Jesus and wanted him dead. They tried many times but were not able to arrest him until his true hour came, Jesus then gave himself over to them. He was questioned and found innocent by Pontius Pilot, yet to appease the rowdy Jewish people Pilot handed Jesus over to be beaten, tormented and finally crucified on the cross. Why did this have to happen? Because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:22. Jesus gave himself up to be the ultimate and final perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins.
Yet again the story does not end there, Jesus rose from the dead three days later, just as he told his disciples he would. He was resurrected and is alive in Heaven with his Father God today; the tomb is empty. This is something no one else can claim. Muhammad and Buddha have graves their followers can visit, and they certainly didn’t sacrifice themselves for the people they claimed to love (one died of old age and another was supposedly poisoned).
Jesus Christ loved us so much that he came and redeemed us through his work on the cross. He did this so that we can also be resurrected from the dead and go to live with him someday. This is what makes Christmas so great and why we can celebrate this time of year with joy and passion. Jesus was a baby born to die for us.
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9. This is straight from the Word of God. If you believe in him and have received his gift of redemption, you have all you need to celebrate this Christmas.
As a mother, there are times in our lives when our love for our children is overwhelming. Times when something takes place that we want to remember forever. We want to capture it and tuck it away in our hearts to bring back out to cherish over and over again. We want to wonder about its meaning and its significance. This is what I believe Mary was doing in Luke 2:19.
She had just given birth to a baby boy in a lowly stable. The shepherds had just visited and told her about the angelic choir they had just witnessed and how they had been told that a Messiah had been born and exactly where to find him. The shepherds were exuberant and made it known throughout the area.
Mary is there in the middle of it all, exhausted from her labor, so young and overwhelmed with the task she has been given. She feels the wonder of the moment; she loves her little boy with all her heart already. Yes, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, but I don’t think he stayed there long. As any mother would have done, Mary probably picked him up and held that precious child in her arms as soon as she was able. She would be kissing his forehead and checking his fingers and toes, in awe of how perfectly made he was. The knowledge that this child was special and the Son of the Most High God would have been too much to grasp, yet that is what she was told by the angel so many months ago. And in her heart she knew it to be true, though she didn’t yet understand all that it meant.
In the midst of this humble yet majestic scene so long ago, what did Mary do? In Luke 2:19 it tells us, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
She tucked these moments and events away in her heart to treasure and to dwell on. It was all too much to explain, too much to understand or comprehend. She believed every word and trusted in God with a true servant’s heart, but she couldn’t grasp the intense significance or know the impact of what had just occurred. She did what a mother does and tried to imprint that moment in time on her heart and into her mind. She wanted to be able to recall all these events later and think on them, ponder them. She wanted to hear again what the shepherds told her and begin to understand how everything that happened to her and Joseph on this journey was for great purpose. She could put the pieces together bit by bit as time went on and she raised her son and watched him grow.
I can’t help but wonder if while Mary was standing at the foot of the cross nearly 33 years later, if she was still placing events in her heart. She was overwhelmed again, this time with pain at watching Jesus be tortured and killed. Yet, I believe she still trusted in God to fulfill his promises, she had seen too much to believe otherwise.
Mary was a sinful, fallible human. People like to lift her high, pray to her, and even worship her. Mary would be disgusted; she would be appalled that we would even consider such despicable acts. However, we can learn a great lesson from Mary.
Throughout Mary’s earthly life she was watching and learning and treasuring all she could about Jesus. Putting pieces together little by little as she grew to understand more and more of who he was. This is what we need to be doing. We need to treasure up in our heart all that God has done in our lives and ponder his Words to us. We need to recall what he has to say to us in his gift of the Scriptures and think on these things continually. As we mature we should be seeing more and more of who Christ is and why things are the way they are. The closer we walk with him, the more he reveals to us.
This Christmas, treasure Jesus in your heart above all. Think on him and what he has done and what his life on earth was about. Ponder why he was born as a human, why he lived as he did and what caused him to die on a cross for you. Do not allow holiday busyness to push him aside so that you can indulge in material overabundance. Keep Christ at the center of all you do. If your heart and mind are set on Jesus this Christmas the rewards are eternal. Treasure and ponder your Savior.
Let me take this moment to remind you that this blog is for women. Therefore this title and blog does not apply to men. So men, no need to keep reading unless you plan to pass this article on to the lady in your life. Also, don’t forget to encourage her to find other Christian women friends and provide the time for her to do so.
With that out of the way, let’s get started. Girl…you need friends. Sure, you are tough and could make it in this life all on your own, but let’s be real… having friends makes life so much more fun! Plus, God made you a relational being; he wants you to walk life’s path with others and to encourage one another. I want you to look at a few verses that address friendship with me today; they are written by Solomon and found in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
A friend can lift you up when you fall, keep you warm when times get tough, and stand by your side as you protect each other. Those facts alone are great, but I want you to see two more important points in these verses today.
1. – “they have a good reward for their toil” – The “good reward” is the benefits of friendship, but to gain these benefits you must toil. You have to work at it. The first work that must be done is to gain good friendships. Have you ever been at this starting point in life? I sure have.
There have been times in my life where I have felt desperate for friendship (see my blog from four weeks ago, “I Know Lonely”). I had feelings of isolation and loneliness. I assumed everyone else had loads of friends and I was simply an odd ball. Ever felt that way? You are not alone; MANY women have experienced this in life. Maybe you are feeling this right now. So what do you do about it? Here is where the toil comes in…
Remember these three things: get out, open up and pray. Get out and meet others as much as you are able to. Attend Bible studies, church social events, and invite others into your home. Open up, be real and let others get to know you. I sat next to a woman at a mother’s club one time; the first thing she told me was that she was there to find good Christian friends. I loved her boldness! And she accomplished her goal. Don’t underestimate the power of being direct and courageous. Finally pray to God and let him hear your heart’s desire to find true blue friendship. He knows you need it and he will provide it at the right time.
2. – “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” – Where did this third cord come from? All the previous verses talked only about two people (two cords). Who is this third person? Well, who makes a friendship strong? God. Now, here is your warning, here comes some hard truth… no true friendship can exist outside of God. You cannot be a good friend to someone else if you have not received Christ yourself. The reverse is also true; someone cannot be a good friend to you unless they also have Christ. You can have many friends that are not Christians (and I do), but they cannot be good friends to you. A good friend has to tell you hard truths (no, you shouldn’t leave your husband because you don’t love him anymore). A good friend has to point you to Jesus when you are struggling (what does the Bible say about your situation, what would Jesus want you to do?). God must be woven throughout your friendship and, as always, he is the purpose of the relationship. Your friendship needs to honor him.
There is a strong bond between godly women who are friends, it’s called Sisterhood. It provides a deeper sense of love and understanding that only God can produce in us. It is a true blessing and I desire it for all women, including YOU. Take courage today, step out in faith and find your sisters in Christ!