Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas with The Prickly People


Read Mathew 1:18-25

"Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit."' Mathew 1:19-20


And you thought Christmas with your family was stressful! How do you think the First Family's holidays went?

I was was just reading a few posts and remarks on some social media sites from people about how relieved they were to get home, and how terribly some were treated at Christmas by their family. It's sad, isn't it? However, I think every family has a little crazy in it. At least, I've not met one that didn't. It may have been well hidden, but eventually, it came out into the light. 

Can you imagine the pressure on Joseph and Mary? They were engaged, and being pregnant out of wedlock back then was punishable by STONING! This wasn't some grace-filled incident where everyone congratulated them on the new life Mary was carrying, and they all sort of went along with it. The Bible doesn't go into detail, but we do know the times and the customs. It just wasn't done.

What do you think family gatherings were like for them as Mary began to show? I bet she sat alone in a corner shunned by onlookers, or she remained in the kitchen out of sight. She probably overheard others whispering about her, although my guess is they weren't trying to keep it quiet. Keep in mind Mary was just a teenager, as well. Do you remember YOUR teenage years, ladies? How crushing!

Now that your family gathering is over and you feel as though you can breathe, please let me remind you, there will be a next year if you live long enough. (You're welcome!) How will you face your prickly people then? Will it be with the same dread and anxiety or will YOU be different?

I know how difficult it can be to be around some family members - the constant nagging and complaining, the belittling that can occur or the flat out ugliness you may have to endure. You simply can't change people. You can only change how you respond and how it affects you. There my friend, is where true victory lies - not in winning arguments.

I imagine Mary was different in the midst of all this. I mean after all, she was chosen by God to carry his Son, the Savior of the world. I bet she was made of tougher stuff. I bet she was also very gracious and forgiving to a fault. She probably chose to see the best in others, seeing past their brokenness.

Again, I can't prove any of this, but I'm just guessing that for her to be chosen as the mother of Jesus, she had a little more umph in her.

What's in you? You've got almost 362 days to find out before the next family Christmas, maybe less if your family lives closer. Stop dreading being with them and what they will say or do to make you feel uncomfortable. Who will you be in a year? Determine to be more like the you God created you to be - full of grace, forgiving to a fault and more sure of who you are in Christ, than you are today. Call forth your umph!

I bet you'll find your visit a little less anxious and your spirit a lot less movable when you're with your prickly people.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Gift of Pondering


Read Luke2:15-20

"But Mary kept all these things and 
pondered them in her heart."  Luke 2:19


Have you ever experienced something and been so deeply impacted by it that you pondered that experience for days after? I bet that's how Mary felt after all of the traffic in and out of her little family's lives after Jesus was born. He might have been God-incarnate and the Savior of the world, but to this teenage mother, he was still her baby. Let's not lose sight of that for a moment.

The birth of Jesus, our King, changed the course of the world. No doubt! But for one seemingly unseen young woman, he changed her life, and that took some mulling over.

I know friends who've suffered grave tragedies this year - the passing of children and parents, loss of income, extended hospital stays, life-changing diagnosis... I've seen it all happen to people I love. 

In my lifetime, I've walked through my own tragedies. We all have. You can't help but ponder life when you're living it and it's not going as you'd prefer. But tragedy is not the only cause for reflection.

A friend once told me about a Christmas at her in-laws' home. On Christmas morning all the grandkids/cousins were playing together and having fun, when she just happened to look over to her mother-in-law. Her mother-in-law was sitting in the midst of it all she had tears in her eyes. This woman was so blessed by the scene unfolding in front of her, surrounded by her children and their kids, that her eyes could no longer restrict the emotion welling up in her heart. My guess is, her mother-in-law was in the midst of pondering that moment.

Years ago I was asked to do something that both caught me off guard and thrilled me to no end. As I drove home from that meeting, I was wondering what had just happened and these are the words that kept replaying in my mind. "I can't believe they chose me."

It was at that moment when the Lord interrupted my time of reflection and spoke these words to my spirit. 

"They didn't choose you. I did." 

I couldn't stop the tears. I imagine my sheer awe in the midst of that interaction with the Lord, was akin, somewhat, to what Mary must've felt.

How could this be? Why me? How did this happen? These are questions we ask in both moments of joy and sorrow, and both experiences lead us into seasons of reflection.

Maybe you're pondering a difficult season in your life. It may be fresh or perhaps it has occurred over time or within the past year. It could be your pondering just the opposite - a season of joy and overwhelming goodness in your life.

Friend walking through tragedy, this too shall pass. Your heart will not always hurt. Your pain, though raw and real right now, will eventually subside. You may still feel the ache of loss for years to come, but you will not always hurt like you do. It's okay to feel your feelings. Keep pressing into Jesus. Do not lament where you are, for he can use even this to strengthen you and make you into his image.

Dear one floating on cloud nine, embrace it to the fullest! You've had tough times, though they may seem distant. So you realize how quickly things can change from one season to the next. Enjoy the blessings and goodness surrounding you today, and never ever, ever, ever stop giving thanks.

My pastor always says...

"We live halfway between heaven and hell. We're going to experience a little bit of both."  ~Steve Meeks

How true are those words. What's also true is that pondering occurs in both. Reflection is meant to draw us closer to the Lord. It's a gift, even in pain. 

Lean into Jesus in the head in the cloud moments of life and also in the neck deep water seasons. He's in both. He is after all, Emmanuel - God with us. He is so near.


Jesus, may our pondering lead us back to you when we're hurting or rejoicing. Be near to my friends today whose hearts are broken. May they become increasingly aware of your presence this Christmas. And for my loves who are rejoicing over your goodness to them, let them feel your pleasure and delight as you rejoice with them.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Grace that is greater than all our sin.



The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:4


I love this scripture in James which says, "But he gives more grace."  (James 4:6) I don't know about you but I could use more grace day, after day, after live long day. 

Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God. More beautifully put, my friend Eddie said it this way.

Grace appeared in a stable. It was revealed on a tree.

                                                                         ~Eddie Smith

How perfectly put! What began at Christmas, came full circle on the cross. Grace was extended to a broken world, with no strings attached. After all, isn't that how a true gift is given - with no strings attached?

The Father freely gave extravagant, unmerited favor to you and to me when he gave us Jesus. That babe we adore in the manger at Christmas, is also the King we worship and honor all throughout the year. Yet how many of us are lacking in grace? How difficult is it for us to extend that free gift to others? What we've been freely given, we must also freely give.

This week, with just days leading up to Christmas, let's allow our hearts and homes to be full of grace. Extend it lavishly wherever you go - to that person who just cut in front of you in line, or to the anxious driver who can't seem to make up their mind where it is they would like to turn... Pour it out on your waitress when she makes a mistake, because she noticeably looks as though she's had a rough day. Let it pour out in your conversation with the customer sales rep who really is just doing what they're told. 

This week let's abound in giving more grace as though we were made of the stuff! For we have been showered and immersed in great grace - grace that is greater than all our sin. 


Thank you, Father, for showering our lives with grace. May it ooze from our very being this week as we give it away lavishly, just as you have done for us.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Chosen

Read Romans 8:12-39

"For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren."  Romans 8:29

Jesus came to give us sonship. There was no familial relationship with the Father until the Son arrived on the scene, lived a holy and blameless life and then laid down that life for us all, making all who would believe, co-heirs with him (Romans 8:17), sons and daughters of the Most High God (2 Corinthians 6:18)

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ."  Ephesians 1:4-10

Because Christ came to earth, when we believe, we are grafted into his family and we are granted every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). Child of God, if your celebration meter is broken this Christmas, that right there should fix it. You were chosen by the God of the universe to live as part of his family, not under a curse (Galatians 3:13), but as joint heirs with his Son. So smile. Rejoice! And celebrate your family heritage this Christmas. Jesus came to give us sonship. There was no familial relationship with the Father until the Son arrived on the scene.

Are you living in sonship? We have this honor and a right as children of God, to boldly live as ones who know who their Father is. We are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26), and we should live as such, bringing honor to him and not shrinking back as though in fear. We've been adopted into his family as sons and daughters, which means we have been chosen.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Special Guest Post

Oops! Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house, not a creature was stirring!
(How NOT to drive your kids away at the holidays!)
by Denise Mira


It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas, indeed, but smoldering beneath the festive twinkle lights, there seems to be a pervasive sense of unhappiness associated with family holiday gatherings. Do You Hear What I Hear? Scores of adult kids don’t want to go home for the holidays. Is Christmas Without YOU, your adult child’s wish this year? Sadly, this is a common circumstance, and far too many parents are none the wiser.

As a recently inducted ‘empty nester’ with five grown sons, three daughters-in-law, two granddaughters, and a grandson on the way, being surrounded by my brood is truly All I Want for Christmas, and I intentionally employ a few principles to ensure I don’t have a Blue Christmas without them.  

Here are some precious gifts I’ve purchased over time during my personal journey as a mom. Please unwrap them with care, take them to heart and I guarantee you and the fam will be Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree!  

Expectations - Make it a Holly Jolly Christmas by erasing all expectations from everyone involved this year. Now folks, I could stop right there, but for some of you dyed-in-the-wool, traditional types, I will elaborate…  

Gifts - Take it from me, ‘every kiss does not begin with Kay®’, and as Americans, we don’t need any additional material possessions, so Santa Baby, why not eliminate this habitual pain in the Christmas arse from your [1]adult family festivities and see what results? No debt, no ‘perfect gift search’ anxiety, no miserable lines at the mall, no competition, no wrapping, no returns, no stress, no shame.  

A healthy relationship to my children and their presence in my life is the ‘present’ I most long for and the gift I’m willing to pay the price to realize. Without a drum roll or an attitude, let the kids know you’re not expecting (there’s that word again!) a thing, would prefer no gifts for Christmas, and you’d rather they spend their hard-earned dough on something they need! And if you still want to bless them with a few crisp greenbacks or that perfect item you’ve had your eye on for them, feel free! Just don’t drop any hints beforehand.  

Freedom - Controlling mothers, take note. You are likely not in touch with your obsessive nature to ensure perfection by micro-managing every detail and smothering your brood. (emoticon: nervous group laughter) Bottom line, we must address our tendency to control if we want to leave room for our kids to function in freedom. If there isn’t freedom in our presence, they will run and hide, not just at the holidays, but every single day of the year. When Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer and the family was rejoicing, me thinks she was of a domineering sort!  

Moods - Baby, It’s Cold Outside all across the U.S. this time of year, but let’s make sure it’s not cold inside, too! Mama, your mood and attitude will set the tone whether it’s a warm glow of love emanating from the heart of your home, or a cold chill driving the kids away. There’s a troll living under the bridge of every woman’s soul. We have to work hard at resisting her desire to manifest. Be a ‘wise woman who builds her home, not a foolish one who tears it down with her own hands’ (Pro. 14:1). Don’t find yourself the subject of this song…  

You're a mean one, Mrs. Grinch
You really are a heel.
You're as cuddly as a cactus,
And as charming as an eel. 

Food - The Miras' are most definitely foodies. We don’t just eat to live, we live, in large part, to eat fabulous, thoughtful, creative, high quality cuisine at every opportunity - better than most restaurants serve. But if we try too hard, applying pressure to those involved to make everything perfect to our satisfaction, the joy can be lost. Try to remember the perfect truth of this: ‘Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred’ (Pro. 15:17). So if Junior forgets his assigned ingredient and you don’t have those locally farm-raised, organic, non-GMO Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire this Christmas Eve, all is not lost! Pop some popcorn with a smile, and feast on love!  

Outside Invites - There are friends and acquaintances outside the Holy Blessed Sacred Idolized family unit who are alone this Christmas, and would love to be included at your dinner table or other family festivities. Open your heart and your home to welcome ‘outsiders’ who are on you or your kids’ hearts. ‘God places the lonely in families’ (Ps. 68:6) and I find, more often than not, the presence of that widowed neighbor, single Army dude or your kids’ roomie enhances our together times and adds a dimension we hadn’t expected. Ask your kids, “Is there anyone you’d enjoy having with us over the holidays?” and see if you can joyfully accommodate their request in some form or fashion.  

Thank You Notes to grandma and grandpa, auntie and uncle. Your kid’s in double digits buying his own toilet paper and paying for his own gas; it’s no longer your job to make him write a thank you note. Take a lesson from Elsa and Anna and Let it go….!” It’s not your responsibility, and quite frankly, it’s none of your business.  

Your Married Kids - OK the last thing I want to do on Christmas Day is drive across town thrice, fighting traffic and yelling at the tired kids in the backseat. Twil not make the season bright, right?! Remove the pressssssuuuurrrrrre, mom and dad.  

Relieve them of all responsibility to see you on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Did hell just freeze over? Was that blasphemy? No, but my kids want to be with me during the holidays, so maybe you should stop judging and keep reading. 
  
My married children routinely alternate holidays with the opposite sides of the family. I’m not offended and I don’t pout. It’s not about you, mama and daddy, or one single last chance, this calendar day only, holiday. It’s about goodwill and family and serving one another in love and just to key you in, much of the bending and serving is historically done by us - that’s why we’re the parents! I have literally cooked entire Thanksgiving feasts, transported them by rolling cart three floors down to the car, then transferred them across town to the kids where hubby and I unloaded it all. I know. I’m crazy. But I love blessing my kids, and they don’t need me much anymore in practical ways, so I count serving them as my privilege.  

Traditions - Maybe it’s time to let go of a few of your sacred, inflexible, stubborn traditions. Six weeks ago, at Thanksgiving, we  (GASP!) cooked and ate our entire ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving feast a day early for the benefit of all parties involved and to accommodate desired travel schedules. It was remarkably peaceful, freeing, and we all had a keen sense of wicked satisfaction the next day, thinking of you stressing out over your turkey temperature as we peacefully heated leftovers, played games and let football run all day on the big screen. Other years we’ve eaten holiday dinners at a restaurant…I know you’re shaking your head, but it was fabulous, easy and fun! Then we went to Starbucks and drank eggnog lattes and played board games before we headed to a movie. Traditions can be comforting and therapeutic to the soul, unless they become lifeless laws, sucking our joy.  

Judging. Critiquing. Perfecting. - Is a Silent Night exactly what your kids need from you this Christmas? Bite your tongue, folks. Repeat. Maybe even get the tattoo. Do you think I'm kidding?! And while you’re at it, watch your voice tones, helpful suggestions, glares, rolling eyes and all the other tools you use to serve up a side of guilt with that prime rib dinner, giving the whole crew serious indigestion. I’m laughing out loud now, but it's really not funny if it’s true. And by the way, the whole family knows you love Jesus, so how about instead of preaching throughout the entire event, you meditate privately on I Corinthians 13 and then simply ask yourself, “WWJD?” and then do it, quietly.  

Family Gossip - So your kid smokes and it smells and you’re embarrassed. And their Facebook posts curl Grandma’s hair. Well grandma’s fat and you overspend and worry too much about what everyone else thinks. Each of us is flawed. What's worse, people pleasing, cigarettes, donuts or debt? If you want to be legalistic about it, ramifications of eating poorly will kill more people this year than the implications of smoking cigarettes. [2]Fact. And encouraging gossip amongst the tribe is divisive and destructive   to your family’s togetherness. So put that in your pipe and smoke it with your holiday ham.  

Don’t find yourself, mom, dad, playing the lead role in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas this holiday season! At the end of the day, ‘let all that you do, be done in love’ (I Cor. 16:14) If this is your modus operandi each day of the year, and you work at cultivating your priceless, eternal relationships with your children, you will find spontaneous celebrations occurring throughout the year that rival any Christmas Day you’ve experienced. If you let it go, let it go, let it go, day by day, moment by moment, right here, right now, holiday by holiday, you will find it all comes back to you. I can’t speak for you, but I’d much rather enjoy A Merry Little Christmas with my contented, affectionate kids, than a grand affair with no love.  


A Prayer to seal the deal: “Lord, you know my heart, you see exactly who I am, and you know my weaknesses. Please help me to apply the truths that have spoken to me through this message. I long to become what I must be, to enter into all You have for me.”  
©2015 Denise Mira
  
[1] Gifts are always given to younger children and quite often to older children.
[2] 7-17-2013 http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/07/poor-dietary-habits-are-killing-people/#.VnBjRDbyfoo


Dear Readers, I want to give YOU a Christmas gift! Simply email me at contact@denisemira.com, tell me the number of songs you’ve counted in this article, and I’ll send you a code to receive a FREE electronic copy of my book, No Ordinary Child: Unlocking the Leader Within Your Child to enjoy or give away to someone you love this Christmas season!     

Denise Mira, public speaker, educator, author of No Ordinary Child:  Unlocking the Leader Within Your Child, and contributing author to many publications, has been married to Gregory for 35 years. They are the parents of five sons, 3 daughters-in-law and 3 grandchildren. Denise has traveled extensively, both nationally and internationally, inspiring change as she shares her empowering message for families. Her honest, down-to-earth communication style is refreshing to listeners. Watch for her sequel, No Ordinary Child Grows Up: The Uncensored Journals of a Mid-life Mama on which she is currently feverishly working! Visit her blog at www.denisemira.com, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter. 
    

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Full of Joy


"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be full."  John 15:11


I'm all done with my Christmas shopping! Woo hoo!!! In truth, I don't really have much to do. My family has a bit of a pact. We don't buy for each other if we won't see each other. So that makes it easier.

I don't get out much to shop at Christmas. I do almost all my shopping online with just a small handful of sites. In fact, I intentionally stay away from crowded places. I'm not a fan. However, I've taken a few days off from work to use up some extra time I accumulated, and yesterday, I ventured out.

I have a last minute guest coming in this weekend. The rule at my house is, "if you're at my house at Christmastime, you get a gift." So out I went to find a gift for my overnight guest. 

Seriously! If you're coming over for a visit, you get a gift. If a neighbor drops by, they get a gift. We may be sitting around having coffee, but by the time you leave, you'll have a batch of warm cookies or something out my gift closet, to take home with you. It's my love language. I love to give! It's not out of obligation or duty, and I don't give to people simply because they've given to me. Y'all, please set people free from that! Obligated gifts are the worst. They mean absolutely nothing. Bless someone just because. 

Okay. Some things just need to be said. Now back to my story! 

As I was in the store, I let out a sigh, frustrated because of my extreme lack choices. A lady was standing next to me and instantly she said, "Now don't let it steal your joy!" 

Instantly, I perked up and we started chatting about who we were both shopping for, and what gift ideas we had, and the problems we were experiencing finding those gifts. We became instant friends, helping each other look and chatting about life and important shopping matters. She helped turn a disappointing trip into a joyful one, and yes, I found a gift!

So I would like to ask you a question based on my shopping experience from yesterday. Did you bring your joy with you today? Where you are right now - is your joy with you? My new friend sure had hers and the joy that was in her, pulled mine to the forefront.

We are to be joy carriers at Christmas and always. My experience reminded me that this joy we possess is not just for ourselves. We are to give it away to others. Strangers need to be reminded, or they need to experience the joy only Christ can give. It's a gift he has given to those who believe - one of the many (John 17:13).

If you're having trouble finding your joy, take some time today to rediscover it. Think on things that bring you joy. Do something that brings you joy. Spend time with someone who is full of joy. 

What's the one song you can think of that ends most services at Christmas? For me it's, Joy to The World! Let's be that today. Share your joy with someone else and bring some joy to your little piece of the world, even if you're reluctantly out Christmas shopping.  


Read another one of my posts about joy, here on Esther & Friends.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Lowliest Ones


Read Luke 2:8-15

 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.  Luke 2:8-10

For me, one of the most impactful messages of Christmas (because there are several), is this one shared in these passages. 

Jesus came for the lowliest ones.

He came to save us all, but how much do you know about shepherds? They were a smelly bunch, not to mention that the animals they slept with outdoors, and spent all their time with, were some of the dumbest animals on the planet! I'm not making this up. Look it up. Sheep are not smart. So if you were a sheep herder, you were not held in very high esteem because you stunk and you tended animals who weren't bright.

"But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty."  
1 Corinthians 1:27

God chose shepherds to be the first to hear the good news of the birth of his Son, and he not only chose them. He sent a host of angels to these rough and ragged few to make the announcement! I think he was trying to make a point. He gives honor to the lowly.

Maybe you've had some moments where you've felt unworthy. Maybe you’ve messed up and stumbled or fell short in some way. I'm thinking the Lord has already let you off the hook on this one. Make amends. Forgive yourself or seek forgiveness, and move on. The Father has declared you worthy of the gift of his Son. Nothing you could ever do would ever cause him to relent.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

So To Honor Him


Read Isaiah 53:3-6

 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Isaiah 53:3


I can hear this passage loud and clear in my head as played on one of my favorite Christmas albums. In fact, it's what I began hearing as I was considering today's post. It's a somber passage, but one filled with great hope and promise, reverence and awe. We need some of that, don't you think?

I saw a cartoon on social media of a little guy holding up his heart to Jesus saying, "All I have is my heart." 

Jesus replied, "It's all I want."

What are you giving Jesus this Christmas? It's a strange question. I know, but not really. How are you honoring him?

This is one of those two times in a year, when church attendance will be higher than usual. Whether it's guilt, obligation or sheer tradition, souls will turn out for services especially on Christmas Eve and the surrounding Sundays. Why is that you think?

I think it's because there is a holy reverence surrounding the birth of Christ, whether you attend church regularly, are a "practicing" Christian or simply claim to be one. We all sense it and know feel drawn to celebrate the Savior's birth in some way.

May I suggest that attending church is awesome and something I pray you're all doing regularly. I hope every church in all the world experiences overflowing crowds this Christmas and beyond. I am a huge proponent of the church.  "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her," (Ephesians 5:25). I love Christ's flawed bride. But attending church isn't the best way we can honor the Lord. It's certainly one way, but not the best.

The best way to honor him is by giving him our hearts. 

Now please don't get weirded out in your doctrinal thinking and write me off as weird. I just think we can yield our hearts to the Lord daily. Certainly we gave him our hearts when we received him, but how often do we walk around in our stuff, dealing with life and our hearts are far from him? That's what I'm talking about - yielding to him anew, every moment, of every day.

So much of what we do, who we are, and how we act is born in the heart. What better way to honor the Lord than by getting ourselves in line with him and giving him our hearts. It's the gift he wants most of all.


Jesus, I yield my heart to you. It's all I really have to offer of any significance. May you be honored and may this gift bring you pleasure. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Give Yourself Away

Read Mark 10:35-45


"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:45

Every year on the second Saturday of December, our church hosts a free gift wrapping event at a local Walmart. We set up a huge tent, bring tables and provide gift wrapping for anyone who wants it. We don't charge and won't take any money for it, and peope often find that strange and difficult to comprehend. In addition, we set up a prayer tent right there in the parking lot and we have teams available to pray for anyone who would like prayer.

Inside the store, we set up shop in the employee break room and fill (and refill ) two 6' tables full of homemade treats, snacks and goodies for the employees. We fill almost every ice chest we own with sodas and bottled water, and we leave it throughout he entire time we're at the store wrapping presents. This particular Walmart looks forward to us coming every year, and we've been doing this for over 15 years! 

When I go into the store each summer to get our date down on their store calendar, they always say, "Oh, yes! You're with the church? Just tell us when!"

It takes more than just a handful of people to pull this off. In fact, each year, we need roughly 60 - 70 people serving in some capacity for this event. We somehow manage to recruit that many, year after year, but then we have some very servant-hearted people in our congregation.

We do this each year as a gift to our community. We love serving and blessing others, and this is just one way we get to demonstrate that love.

I was a servant before I was a leader and I serve now more than I lead. For some of us it comes naturally. Yet for all of us as believers, it is part of or spiritual DNA which we inherited once we were grafetd into the family of God.

Jesus is the best example of a selfless servant.  In his own words, he says he came to serve, not to be served. Yet how often do we hold back our offerings of service while we wait for others to volunteer and take the lead? I believe the most compassionate and humble people I know are servants first and foremost.

What if we all looked for ways to serve and to give ourselves away this Christmas, instead of holding back? Wouldn't that feel more like true Christmas spirit? Wouldn't we look just a little more like Jesus if we were caught in the act of serving? I think just maybe so. 




Thursday, December 10, 2015

Consider the Cost


 God loved the world this way: 
He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him 
will not die but will have eternal life. 
God sent his Son into the world, 
not to condemn the world, but to save the world.
John 3:16-17 (GW)

We all know this verse by heart, but I wanted to present it to you as clearly and plainly as I could. So I scoured several translations looking for just the right wording. I think this begins with the punch - "God loved the world this way..." 

How great is love that it would sacrifice it's own? 

Many years ago I was given one of my most memorable gifts. My baby girl (not really, but probably the only one I'll ever have), was in the Houston Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker. I had the honor of picking her up many nights after weeknight performances when her parents were out. We made some pretty special memories during that time.

For Christmas that year, her folks gave me two tickets (great seats) to see the performance live. I had never been before and I was thrilled! I was in a hard season financially and this was a luxury I never could've afforded and up until that point, was deeply sorry I had to miss since my kiddo was in the ballet.

As I considered which of my friends to invite, I began to struggle inwardly with this decision. I truly had nothing to give in the way of gifts that year, and gifts are one of my love languages. I give well and I love to get. I think long and hard about what to give others because I want to give others something that will truly bless them. So making this decision was not an easy one.

After finally deciding on which friend to invite, I continued to wrestle for a few days over offering the actual invitation. I picked out the perfect friend. He knew my kiddo and her family. We were always hanging out together anyway and we lived right around the corner from each other. However, this is the thought that kept tripping up my mind.

"How can I give him something which costs me nothing?"


That question still trips me up to this day, but not about the gifts I give to others. The Holy Spirit set me up with that one, and rightfully so. 

I can be prone to haphazardly giving myself to things that I know would honor the Lord - my attitude about certain things, going the extra mile when just good enough seems okay, things like that and much more... Yet why would I give the Lord something which costs me so little, and sometimes costs me nothing? Isn't he worth my best at all times? Shouldn't sacrifice be the norm for my life?

The gift of his Son, God gave to me is more than extravagant. It's priceless. Yet, without hesitation, knowing every wrong I'd ever commit, the Father saw me as worthy of such a gift. I just can't even... That kind of love provokes me to give well, to serve with all I have and to love harder because he is worthy of no less.