Kindling A Joy-Filled Christmas

SD 12-16-19 Joy-filled Christmas (1)

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” —Psalm 126:5

Ever been so filled with joy that you shouted? Maybe you felt a bit conspicuous after having done so, but oh, it felt good. This sweet release of proclaiming pure joy is like the rocks crying out in praise of God. If we don’t express joy, it will burst out at some point.

But it is likely that we do not all live in that place of continual joy. Not to sound jaded, but reality snuffs out joy if we focus on the waves instead of the Maker of the waves. We can easily fake smiles and put up a good front, but our hearts are not convinced of this inner joy we claim to have.

At Christmas, we can feel mocked by the bright sounds and colors surrounding us while inwardly we mourn the loss of the life we thought we had. How do we find this elusive joy in a world filled with hurt?

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Finding Joy at Christmas

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Inspirational Thought of the Day:

Sometimes we have to lose joy to find it.

Scripture of the Day:

Psalm 124:1

“If the Lord had not been on our side”— let Israel say this!— if the Lord had not been on our side, when men attacked us, they would have swallowed us alive, when their anger raged against us. The water would have overpowered us; the current would have overwhelmed us.  The raging water would have overwhelmed us. The Lord deserves praise, for he did not hand us over as prey to their teeth. We escaped with our lives, like a bird from a hunter’s snare. The snare broke, and we escaped. Our deliverer is the Lordthe Creator of heaven and earth.”

Christmas can be a difficult time for many.  The celebration of Christmas does not deliver what we hoped.  Painful memories echo in our minds of family members who left us or harmed us.  Thoughts of what should have been or could have been – regrets and longings can loom large and steal our joy.  Maybe you do not even want to read this or dare to hope that there could actually be real joy at Christmas – keep reading.

The world offers many solutions for this emptiness of our soul. Entertainment, satisfying the flesh, avoiding the pain.  God’s prescription is quite different – feel the pain in all of our humanity, but come to Him, Who can heal our souls.  It is not a “just be happy” or just “choose to be happy” solution, but it is a choice to come to God and a real answer in the face of real pain.

One of my favorite books of the bible to read from when I am bummed is the book of Psalms.  A songwriter myself, I cherish David’s songs – a heart cry to His LORD. If anyone understands what it is to have emotional torment, it is David.  He could have been diagnosed with many labels in his day – PTSD, panic and anxiety disorders, even depression.  He said as much in many of the Psalms.  But He was looking to One who he knew would resolve the battle within.  David demonstrated again and again what looking to God for help would do – give hope and peace – even joy again.

That is what Christ does for us.  He offers us hope through His trustworthy promises and deliverance.  Christ understands suffering, too, and when we look to the Christ child this Christmas, we see a God Who is our Master, but Who also walks beside us.  He chooses to call us friend – we are friends with a King!  Now a King can grant any request – so it is with our God.  Happiness at Christmas or any other time is not based on getting what we want, but on being content with what God has allowed.  We can trust Him and He can bring real lasting joy more than a day ever could.

Pain is real – what do we do with it?  The pain may not be absent and scars might last the rest of our days, but there is a healing balm in Jerusalem found in an infant Who changes our heart, understanding and perspective.  The compassion gained through our pain is a beautiful gift we lay at the feet of our baby King, and He is pleased.  May we lay down our idols as gifts much like Frankincense, gold and Myrrh, of what we wanted from life and Christmas and humbly accept the gift of life that God has given us.  This is when joy enters our soul and we are relieved of the burden we have been holding onto. Give it all to Him and ask Him to help deliver you.  He will do it and His grace is sufficient to all who call on His Name.  It is going to be a Merry Christmas, after all, friend.

Thank You, LORD, for the amazing gift of your baby Son.  What a treasure, what a delight!  We lay our burdens at Your feet and trust You with all of what life brings our way.  Amen.

#JesusIsTheCureForDepression

30 Days of Cultivating Thankfulness: Day 30 – Faith

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Inspirational Thought of the Day:

The Christian faith is formed in a living faith based on grace and forgiveness.

Scripture of the Day:

Hebrews 11:1

“Now faith is being confident of what we hope for, convinced about things we do not see.”

In concluding 30 days of gratitude, I realize there is vastly too much to be grateful for that could never be fully expressed. But today I am grateful for the gift of faith. How is it that I came to believe? That God would have mercy on me? It was God alone Who opened my eyes to see and understand His amazing salvation and God alone Who overcame my unbelief. And I am grateful beyond words.

This faith is a conviction deep within our souls despite not seeing fully what we hope for. Though it is tested, the confirmation in our souls is not swayed by the storms of this life. The storms of this life only serve to strengthen our faith as it is built on Christ.

When God first opened my eyes to understand His salvation, people around me said it was a crutch. I was mocked and persecuted and it only made me believe all the more. This lost world mocks faith yet has a faith, as well – in the creation rather than in the Creator.

This false faith formed in manmade, dead religion, is based on fleshly pursuits and good works that a fallen people could never fully achieve. The Christian faith is formed in a living faith based on grace and forgiveness by a God Who knew we could never be good enough to please a Holy God.

Each day God’s word is a love letter to His people, inviting them to go deeper with Him. Come be a “fool” alongside me and find the greatest joy of your life. Michael Card says it well in “God’s Own Fool” – Christ humbled Himself to reach His people with the message of the cross – foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God.

Lord, thank You for the gift of faith and enabling us to know You – Our God.

30 Days of Cultivating Thankfulness: Day 28 – Freedom from Sin

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Inspirational Thought of the Day:

In our misguided pursuit of freedom, we are rebels destined to selfish living apart from God’s kind intervention.

Scripture of the Day:

2 Peter 1:10

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to be sure of your calling and election. For by doing this you will never stumble into sin.”

2 Peter 2:19

“Although these false teachers promise such people freedom, they themselves are enslaved to immorality. For whatever a person succumbs to, to that he is enslaved.”

Galatians 5:1

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Freedom has been the theme of man’s desire from day one. We don’t like to be boxed in, whether it is to an endless routine, someone’s definition of us, or someone else’s rules. In our misguided pursuit of freedom we are rebels destined to selfish living, apart from God’s kind intervention.

The inhabitants of this world long to be free, but don’t know what we really need to be free from. Freedom from authority, freedom to do whatever we want is not truly freedom at all. But freedom to abstain from sin – this is true freedom – and our loving God provides freedom within His perfect boundaries.

When my children were small I would purposely set a coveted object in front of them and tell them not to touch it. Sounds cruel, huh? But it was actually a desire to teach them self-control and to learn that we need to be able to master our desire for things that are not good for us. I still need work on this, myself, when it comes to chocolate.

Sometimes we fall short and can begin to wonder if God forgives us still. This is one of the greatest aspects of our freedom in Christ. We are free to live Holy lives by His grace, but we are also freely forgiven when we fall. This is not to be mistaken as an abuse of grace, but a humbling reminder that our freedom is not something we could ever achieve on our own and it cost our Savior His blood. What motivation to reach for His grace and to abandon sin and its empty promises!

I am grateful that Christ showed us how to live for God and die to self and gave us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us when we are tempted. Christ set us completely free. Though we are in cases of clay, we can overcome and live victorious, free lives.

Lord, thank You for setting us free from the bondage of sin so we could live worthy lives for Your glory!

30 Days of Cultivating Thankfulness: Day 24 – Family & Friends

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Inspirational Thought of the Day:

No sorrow in a family is so great that God cannot take that sorrow and create something beautiful in its place.

Scripture of the Day:

1 Peter 2:10

“Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Psalm 68:5

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”

What a good God Who would provide family. From the beginning He saw that it was not good for man to be alone, so He provided a wife for Adam. The fruit of the union of man and wife is the greatest privilege man is given – to raise children for the LORD.

In His wise design, He provided people to surround us with love and counsel as we walk through the few days we are given in this life. To be loved by my husband has brought immense healing to my heart that seemed irreparably broken. Likewise, it has been the greatest joy to be able to love my children unconditionally and to show them the truth God has revealed to me. Watching them grow up and develop their own relationship with God brings this mom joy inexpressible.

But sometimes in the midst of God’s perfect plan, the institution of the family is attacked. Individual sin, death of loved ones or political agendas threaten to undo what God put in place for our joy and protection.

Families are an anchor for our souls as we travel through this world. They can be a source of the greatest acceptance and comfort or the source of the greatest agony and suffering. What God can do to a family yielded to Him is nothing short of miraculous. While no family is perfect, God’s plan will not be thwarted and ultimately we have a family that will last forever.

In a day and age where broken families are more the norm than families who have not experienced brokenness, there is a family that is never broken – the family of God. If you are alone this holiday, please know that you are not ever alone. Come and join the family. You are loved and accepted – just receive the free gift of a forever family that God has given to you. Join a Bible-believing church and watch how God makes strangers into brothers and sisters making up the body of Christ – a family of friends that reflects His glory.

Lord, I am so very grateful for your redemption and for the precious family that You have given me – in the flesh and in the Spirit. No sorrow in a family is so great that you cannot take that sorrow and create something beautiful in its place. I love, You, Lord. Thank You for being the Abba Father to all. I pray many more will come to accept Your invitation and know the peace of God we can have on this earth, no matter what family we come from.

30 Days of Cultivating Thankfulness Day 20 – Unconditional love

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Inspirational Thought of the Day:

As we are rooted and established in God’s love, we cannot help but offer the same gracious love that we have been given.

Scriptures of the Day:

Deuteronomy 7:7

“The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.”

Romans 8:35

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”

Ephesians 3:17-19

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the LORD’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

The greatest and first commandment from God is that we would love the LORD our God with all our heart. The word “love” in this commandment from God is agapaō, which is the verb form of agapē. Agapē is the word the Bible uses to describe God’s love for us.

This love of God is not earthly, nor is it dependent upon reciprocation. It is not an emotion that ebbs and flows, but an act of God choosing to set His love on the object of His affection and devotion – His creation.

More than God setting His love on us, despite our lack of gratitude and righteousness, God promises that we can never be separated from this agapē love. Never. Separated. Think about that. As humans, we easily get offended and shun one another because our pride is hurt. That is not the agapē love that God gives and places on us and that He also calls us to demonstrate. We who are loved so greatly are called to love God and others in the same way.

We cannot say we are complying with the first commandment if we refuse to do the second. Unconditionally loving those around us who sometimes seem unlovely is hard for our flesh, but as we are rooted and established in God’s love, we cannot help but offer the same gracious love that we have been given.

Oh God, thank You so much for loving us and demonstrating what agapē love looks like. Help us to love as we have been loved and to never forget what we were when You chose to set Your love on us.

 

30 Days of Cultivating Thankfulness Day 17 – Relationship

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Inspirational Thought of the Day:

We were made to relate to God and to one another in a redemptive way in this mystery called life.

Scripture of the Day:

John 15:5

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:13

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Sometimes we can become hardened in a world of busyness that threatens to undo the essential need at the core of our humanity. Relationship. We were made to know and be known. Our value does not come from our accomplishments (which are really God’s) or from our function in this life. It comes from Being. In. Relationship. With. God. And. Others.

Yes, I know that last sentence is incorrect. But I, too, wanted to pause and soak those words in. I get busier than I should be and need the same reminder to be still before my God and to make time for people in my life.

Abiding is not an easy thing. The natural thing is to drift away from God and others and to allow sin to separate us.

We were not made to be isolated, not made to be an island. We were made to relate to God and to one another in a redemptive way in this mystery called life. All too often relationships can be difficult as pride and self are on the throne more than people or honoring God in those relationships.

Christ exemplified perfect relationship with God the Father. He and the Father are one. He told us to be the same.

So how do we relate to a Holy God when we are unholy? By the mercy of God alone. How do we relate to people when we are different from one another? By God’s grace.

God has given us access to Himself though we did not deserve it. So often this access is not utilized and we can take this amazing reality for granted. God wants us to be in a relationship of dependence upon Him, where our needs are met by Him and we can enjoy His presence. He wants us to seek His will and understanding, constantly reading His love letter to us – His Word – and praying to Him. This is where we find our greatest peace, when we are living as God intended.

Religion is the complete opposite of this privilege of relationship we have with God in Christianity. Religion is man-made, dead, focusing on a performance mentality of doing good works. Sadly, for the one pursuing religion, they will never arrive at their goal or achieve real relationship.

In our relationship with God, it has all been done. This truth causes us to worship the One Who set us free so we could know Him. It also causes us to realize that we need to relate to one another in a way that God intended.

Do we see the people in our lives as precious gifts from God? Even the thorny relationships that bring us to our knees? How can we relate to one another in a humble, others-centered way? It might mean dying to our own agenda, building others up instead of ourselves, and pausing long enough to think, serve and pray for others.

In the end, relationships with people cause us to go deeper in our relationship with God. When relationships of this world fall short of our expectations, our God helps us to pick up the pieces and to be like Christ, Who laid down His life for others.

When Christ is at the center of our human relationships, it is a beautiful witness to the world of what it means to know God and one another and still be accepted and accepting.

Lord, thank You for drawing us near to You that we could know You – our God and Creator. Help us to never forsake this amazing privilege and to love others as You have loved us.

30 Days of Cultivating Thankfulness Day 15 – Provision

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Inspirational Thought of the Day:

Sometimes it is not until we are lacking that we can see God’s provision.

Scriptures of the Day:

Ecclesiastes 7:14

“In times of prosperity be joyful, but in times of adversity consider this: God has made one as well as the other, so that no one can discover what the future holds.”

Philippians 4:19

“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Matthew 6:26

“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

Simply thanking God for provision would be hardly sufficient for all He provides for us. He gives us life and grace to live this life. He provides for our basic needs and even delights to lavishly express His love and care for us.

Psalm 34:10

“The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing.”

I vividly recall seasons in my life when my husband had lost his job due to the economy and the Federal Government cutting back on defense spending budgets. Trying to find a job when whole offices were let go was challenging, to say the least, but this time became precious to me as I noticed the many ways God provided for us.

Sometimes it is not until we are lacking that we can see God’s provision.

I remember telling my children that we would have to do without things we were accustomed to. Things that we thought were necessary were now understood as amazing blessings. During this season of “lack”, our garden flourished (boomed!) and we were able to give to others.

Unspoken requests and desires in my heart were met by my God Who sees all and Who sometimes goes to great lengths to demonstrate His care. I missed coconut oil, feta cheese, fruit, veggies, cheese and popcorn. I thanked the LORD for the times when we could afford those things and repented for when I had not been more grateful. Barely were these thoughts formed, when, within days, two people randomly said they felt led to give me coconut oil, feta cheese and popcorn. Wow. I had not told anyone. Friends brought fruits and veggies that were not growing in our garden and I realized how blessed we were to have a God Who lived in these precious friends who considered it a joy to help us in our time of need.

In times of need, our flesh can be prone to doubt God’s goodness. But it is in the times of scarcity that we can draw nearer to our God and accept blessings and burdens from His hand. For the burdens of this life cause us to depend on our Maker and remind us that we were not made to live solitary lives apart from God. We were made to know and worship Him.

God truly gives us every single thing we have. Friends, family, home, food, health, work, talents, favor, joy, hope, strength . . . EVERYTHING! His gifts are never taken back, but given at just the right time. Most of all, I am grateful that God provided Himself as a sacrifice for us because of His great love for us. Saved. Forever.

We cannot boast in any belonging, any gift of God in our lives. We can only humbly bow to our Jehovah Jireh, our magnificent Provider, who faithfully gives His children what they need.

Oh, God! I worship You, our Provider! Thank You for all You graciously give to us! Help us to cultivate gratitude in our lives as we recognize Your abundant provision moment by moment!

30 Days of Cultivating Thankfulness Day 13 – The Holy Spirit

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Inspirational Thought of the Day:

In God’s amazing compassion and mercy, He gave us Himself in the flesh and in the Spirit.

Scripture of the Day:

Acts 2:38-39 

“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.'”

John 14:16

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.”

Ephesians 1:13-14

“And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)–when you believed in Christ–you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.”

Job 32:8

“But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” 

Today I am grateful for the Holy Spirit and His activity in the life of all believers. In God’s amazing compassion and mercy, He gave us Himself in the flesh and in the Spirit.

We are not merely one dimensional; not just fleshly beings. We were made for something so much more. We who are in Christ, who have been forgiven every single transgression, were also given the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us to live this life for God’s glory.

The Holy Spirit comforts and counsels us in our relationship with God, guides us and emboldens us to do the work of the LORD, reveals truth and convicts us of sin, fills us and produces beautiful fruit and character within us, just to name a few of the activities of the Holy Spirit within believers.

As we consider the many various denominations within the body of Christ today, God is LORD over them all and the Holy Spirit is evident in them all. He fills every person who has believed on Jesus Christ and accepted the gift of salvation. As we ache for the LORD’s return, we have not been left alone.

Lord, thank You for Your Holy Spirit and continual communion we have in Your presence because of Your amazing grace and atonement for our sins.

This article by author Frank Viola lists 50 things the Holy Spirit Does in the life of every believer.

30 Days of Cultivating Thankfulness Day 9 – Salvation/Forgiveness

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Inspirational Thought of the Day:

God stepped into time and flesh and radically demonstrated His love for us all.

Scripture of the Day:

James 1:18

“By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

1 Peter 1:23

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

2 Timothy 1:9

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”

Acts 4:12

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Created in the image of God, we lost our way and worshiped something less worthy – the creation itself. How it must have hurt the heart of our Creator that we would not see how much He loves us and choose to live as objects of wrath rather than as His children.

But God.

Stepped into time and flesh and radically demonstrated His love again, wooing us back to Himself. I am forever grateful that God would cover our sins with His own blood and restore us into a relationship with the One Who made us.

This lavish love and redemption from God fills us with 

Joy  –  affects our

Eternity    –  Leads to our

Salvation  –   Transforms the sin

Underneath – and makes us

Sons and daughters of the King of kings!

When we consider so great a salvation that He has given to us, we have to proclaim that He is Worthy of worship! My new song, “You are Worthy” depicts our need to worship one Who is greater than ourselves and the peace we find in so doing.

Lord, thank You for forgiving our sin and the guilt of our sin, setting us free to live for You! You are Worthy of worship!