Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christmas Thoughts

Yesterday, I shared a devotion at our church's women's brunch.  I thought I would post it here.  These are thoughts that have been on my mind this week, because it was such a crazy, busy, over the top stressful week for me.  But, it is done now.  The next week portends to be a stressful one as well, but it is Christmastime!  I want to focus on the Lord and remember Christ's birth, but it can be challenging when life is crowding in.  These were the thoughts I wrote down when I sorted through it all...

What are you dwelling on?

Who? What? When? Where? Why? And How? Yesterday, I was struck that these are amazingly simple questions that have enormous relevance to our lives. I'm going to tackle these questions today in a round about way and how they apply to Christmas and our lives.

The Who is the easy part of the picture—us.

Then we can move on to the
WHAT: What are you dwelling on?

The Past? The Present? Or the Future?

When I was a kid, I always looked forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas. I loved the traditions that came with the season for my family. Thanksgiving was always at my Grandma's house with the same foods (divided up among the family to make). Then, came the wide extended family Christmas party
that happened with people that I wasn't even sure who was who. But, I was a kid, so I loved the yummy fudge that was always a dependable guest at the food table. On Christmas Eve, we had my grandma, great-grandma, and three families over that we knew. Every year they came and every year the menu was the same. Homemade noodles, meat sauce, bread, salad, and ice cream for dessert. Christmas Day brought presents under the tree and then dinner at my grandma's house with my aunt's family.

When I became a young adult, headed off to college, and my parents divorced, everything changed. I still came home and enjoyed Christmas with my mom, but it wasn't the same. Christmas Eve was the same, but at her home, and I had to leave her to go spend Christmas Day with my dad's family. And then I got married. And Christmas got complicated for many reasons. Chris and I began navigating which traditions we'd keep from each side of the family. Because it was my family traditions that I remembered most, it became really important to me to make new traditions for my own family.

As an adult, I realized that holidays in general are complicated. I think it's easy to focus on a lot of things besides what we're supposed to be focusing on at Christmas—Christ's birth.

So, what are some of these things?
They could be the past-- hurts, stresses, bad memories—or good memories that you miss and wish you could have again

They could be the present-- Christmas brings lots of activity and busyness that can be consuming. My week sure was! Your life might not be the way you wish it was, or there might be an unpredictable family member that you just don't know how they're going to act on Christmas—or you may love Christmas with your family and be focusing on presents, gift giving and your friends and family, but you know it is only for a time

They could be the future or near future-- what are your expectations? How will you react if they aren't met? How will you react if they are?

So, what do we do with all of this?

WHEN: When do we dwell?
WHERE: Where do we dwell?
WHY: Why does it matter what we dwell on?

Last Sunday, my husband spoke at the beginning of service of thinking of God throughout the day. I find that the room in my mind often gets crowded by some mixture of the past, present, and future and it ends up all muddled. All of these things are the cares of this world. This doesn't mean they don't matter. They do, but we have to be careful about getting lost in them and losing sight of Christ. We also have to be careful about dwelling on these things because we can start thinking more about what we think God isn't doing instead of seeing what He is.

I was listening to a 69 year old woman in a doctor's office on Wednesday afternoon tell me that she struggled for years—believing that God didn't care about her because her family wasn't at peace and her husband was still an unbeliever after 40 years of marriage. Just last January, her family found peace. Her husband is still an unbeliever, but there was reconciliation in her family and she saw that God cared. I understood how she felt because I had the same thought about God, “Does he care?” when I was 21 and had doubts.

The truth is that God is always enough. He does care. Sometimes the cares of this world can bog us down, though, and make us feel like he doesn't.

Cynthia Heald writes in her book, Becoming a Woman Whose God is enough, “God is always enough, but we have the choice of believing whether He is enough or He is not. The Bible encourages us to believe, trust, and let go of these cares.

Luke 9:23New International Version (NIV)

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Philippians 3:13-14 New International Version (NIV)

13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:2New International Version (NIV)
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

Romans 12:1-2New International Version (NIV)

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Luke 12:22-30 English Standard Version (ESV)

22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[a26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,[b] yet I tell you,even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his[c] kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

So, HOW can we change what we're dwelling on?

I like this quote from The Renewing of The Mind Project by Barb Raveling,

“Our job is to open up the windows and let the light of God's Word in so it can transform us. That's different than opening the drapes and plopping down on the couch with a good book. But too often that's what we do as Christians....

We're starting from a point of already being accepted by God if we're his children through faith. We can rest in His love and walk hand in hand with Him, working on this project together.

How do we do this? How do we dwell on Christ in this advent season instead of getting lost in the cares of the world?

Last week I read an email that Marti Mylin had sent me just before Thanksgiving. In the Lord's timing, I read it in the middle of my muddle this week.

She encouraged me to read Hebrews 12 and here are a few verses that spoke to my heart from it.

Hebrews 12: 12-15
12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 andmake straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for theholiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled

Barb Raveling lists in her book 7 things and explains each one that we should be doing after we're saved, if we want to be transformed.  Barb's book goes into each one of these in detailed, practical ways. But, I'm going to focus on one thing we can do that addresses #1 Renew your mind and #2 Hiding God's Word in your Heart.

How do we do this at Christmas time?

Well, around Christmas time, one of the quickest, fastest, and easiest ways for me to renew my mind and rethink my day is to sing a Christmas carol—either outloud or in my head. I watched a movie once about Fanny Crosby, the hymn writer, who said that people get their theology from Hymns. I remember getting upset about this quote at the time because I felt the Bible was where our theology should come from. Looking back, I see now that when she was writing hymns, many people couldn't read. Yet, they did know hymns. Today, we can read, yet it is worship songs and hymns that often stick in our heads easiest. Christmas carols bring joy to our hearts with their words and remind us of the hope of Christ's birth. It is this hope that shines the light into the darkness that comes when the cares of the world creep into our hearts.

Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time when we come together to celebrate Christ's birth. What a blessing it is that God sent his one and only begotten son to die for our sins that we might be saved and have eternal life!

I know there isn't a magic pill that I can take when I have a week like this one. Doctors appointments and tests, birthday parties, homeschooling, a car accident, and all the regular stuff of life to boot! I know I'm not alone in all of this—all of you have so much going on in your lives as well! But, at the end of the day, there is HOPE. The HOPE of Christ. We can savor and be thankful for Christ's birth, remembering the much bigger picture—that Jesus is the reason for the season.

I've made some bookmarks listing some common Christmas carols. I thought that maybe you could put one where you'll come across it and see the name of a familiar carol you can sing (outloud or even in your head) and remember the Hope that the Christmas season reminds us of.

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