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Psalm 73:25 on My Mind

NewOMM“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” –Psalm 73:25, NIV

I don’t know about you, but I can remember some pretty greedy Christmas moments from my childhood. I remember one in particular. I must have been four, maybe five. I’d asked Santa for a baby doll that year. But not just any baby doll. I wanted a very particular baby doll. And when that very particular baby doll did not show up under my family’s Christmas tree on Christmas morning, I was pretty angry with Santa for letting me down. In fact, while holding the new baby doll I’d received that wasn’t the particular baby doll I’d wanted, I pouted all the way to Grandma’s house and all through the first few hours of our extended-family Christmas celebration.

Imagine my surprise to learn, as we started the gift-opening portion of the day, that Santa had indeed brought that doll for me. As my grandma explained it, she’d wanted to see me receive it, and so, had asked Santa to bring it to her house instead of mine.

In hindsight, I think I should have caught on to the Santa scam that day. Instead, I felt sorry for being so angry with Santa for not bringing the baby doll I’d wanted when, in fact, he’d brought the one I’d wanted plus one more. I learned to be more patient in future years.

Such can be the drama of Christmas morning. Thankfully, I’ve outgrown those days. At least, I hope I have! I’m sure that you have, too. Now the joy of Christmas morning comes as we watch others open gifts we’ve carefully chosen for them: some they have requested, others meant to surprise and delight.

Why is it that brings us joy?

Because, in Christ, we have everything we need. His Presence fills every longing and promises so much more! For eternity! We celebrate this fullness by letting it flow over into others, generously, as God leads.

The tangible gifts are just a symbol of this, of course. The real celebration is the coming of Christ Who permanently meets the needs and desires of all the world. As we give and receive gifts this Christmas, let’s remember this verse—and be thankful indeed.

Jesus, thank You! You are the reason we celebrate, the reason we look forward to Heaven someday. Earth has nothing for us compared to the joy of being loved by You. Amen.

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A Parachute Prayer for Postal Workers

Parachute PrayerI got a unique view of the post office the other day. Waiting for my son to apply for a passport, I was sitting in a back room just behind where what must have been all of our city was impatiently waiting in line in a frantic attempt to get last-minute packages sent. Every service window was open! It must have been the busiest day of the postal year.

Behind where I was sitting was another customer service window leading into a small back office. A sweet lady was sitting at her desk, talking with customers on the phone. I couldn’t help but hear her:

“Please don’t yell in my ear, ma’am.”

“We care about every single piece of mail that comes through this facility.”

“We know it’s important that packages get there for Christmas. We’re doing the best we can.”

“Sometimes things go wrong.”

I was amazed at this woman’s patience as she fielded angry call after angry call, always remaining calm. Between calls, she even managed to tease my son about his age, telling the passport representative to double-check to be sure he was really old enough to apply. Her light-hearted attitude encouraged everyone in the room.

Which gave me an idea for a Parachute Prayer: for the next few days, whenever you see a mail or package delivery truck or go to check your mail, please take time to whisper a prayer for the people who are working so hard to get your gifts to your loved ones and to you. By now, you’ve probably shopped for, packaged, and shipped everything. You’re relaxing and waiting for Christmas to come. But the delivery people are working harder than ever to get presents to people on time.

Let’s pray them through!

And while we’re at it, let’s make an earnest attempt to be patient and kind, calm and encouraging. Because they care about every piece of mail. But sometimes things go wrong.

Father, please bless the people who deliver our Christmas cards and packages. Keep them safe as they work quickly, yet strive to be efficient, too. Bless them with a calm presence and a sense of humor in the midst of great chaos. And help us to be kind and thankful—even if things go wrong. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Linking up today with Spiritual Sundays and The Weekend Brew.

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Celebrating Christmas Love

“God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” –1 John 4:16

Words Aptly SpokenAndrew Murray said that love “is the deep desire to give itself for the beloved. Love finds its joy in imparting all that it has to make the loved one happy.”

As we prepare for Christmas this year, that seems especially profound to me. Truly, God, Who is love, gave Himself—His whole self—for us. And it wasn’t because He wanted us to do something for Him, but because He loves us. He offers us eternal happiness in Him—in the only place where we can find such joy. God desired to give Himself for us. God finds joy in giving all He has to make us happy, not happy in the ways of the world, but happy forever, for real. That’s why John says, “God is love.” God’s very Being defines the word.

So as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth by opening our own carefully chosen gifts of love to one another, let’s remember our greatest gift: God Himself in the form of true love. Let’s find time to bask in that love–to let God fill our hearts and dwell within that His love will spill out to everyone around. God will help us desire to give of ourselves for our loved ones—to impart all we have to make each other happy in Him. We live in love; we live in God. And God, Who is love, lives in us.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Colossians 2:6-7 on My Mind

NewOMM“As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so continue to live in him. Keep your roots deep in him and have your lives built on him. Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always be thankful.” –Colossians 2:6-7, NCV

I love these two verses from Colossians because they so simply and clearly state what matters most in a Christian’s life: being rooted and growing in Christ. They also tell us how:

Continue to live in him. Paul, the author of Colossians, wants his readers to know that being saved (by receiving Christ) is only the beginning. Rather than check the block and wait for eternal life to begin “in Heaven someday,” we are blessed to be able to live that life right now. As soon as we receive Christ into our hearts, we can begin to live in Him.

Keep your roots deep in him. We live in Christ by growing in Him. Henri Nouwen said, “Think of yourself as a little seed planted in rich soil.”* In Christ, the conditions for growth are perfect. We do our part by resting comfortably in His Presence, allowing Him to nurture us, talking with Him about everything that’s on our minds, studying His Word and His world to learn more about Him each day, and by meeting regularly with others who are doing the same.

Have your lives built on him. We do this by remembering that Jesus Christ is our foundation. When everything we do is for the good of His growing Kingdom and the honor of His name, we are faithfully building on Him. Remembering this, that Christ is our foundation, will help us make wise choices about how to spend our time each day.

Be strong in the faith. As our roots grow deep and we build our lives on Christ, our faith will grow proportionately. We’ll see God’s work in and through us which will give us an ever-greater understanding of and confidence in what He is able and willing to do.

Always be thankful. Once we have Christ, we have everything we need for all eternity. Anything else He blesses us with is just gravy on the potatoes of life. Therefore, as we draw closer to Jesus, we always have something to be thankful for. Notice His faithful work and His generous gifts and express your gratitude.

Father, please help us to get these words of Yours firmly stuck on our minds through meditation and memory. May Your Spirit use them often to remind us of the one priority that matters most to our lives: living and growing in Christ. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

*In Joyful Hope, Meditations for Advent, p. 24

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Praying for Families Apart for the Holidays

Once upon a time, when my husband was deployed over Christmas, I remember being reduced to a puddle of tears right in the middle of the baking goods aisle at the grocery story by Karen Carpenter’s beloved song, Merry Christmas, Darling, playing throughout the store.

You remember the one. Merry Christmas, Darling. We’re apart, that’s true . . .

Bah. Humbug.

I didn’t fare much better with Elvis’s, Blue Christmas, or the ever-popular, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, playing at the mall.

I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit cruel. I’d like to formally request that all merchants nationwide stick to playing cheerful Christmas music in public places this year. No offense meant to Karen, Elvis, or any other Christmas crooners.

Alas, I don’t have much faith in the power of one blog to change the playlists of shopping centers across the country. So I’d like to suggest a more positive twist:

When we hear these songs while Christmas shopping, let’s pray for military families who can’t be together for the holidays this year. Who knows? The lady one aisle over may be frantically trying to bury her tears in a bag of brown sugar. Ask God to cheer her heart, keep her husband safe, and happily reunite them soon.

Lord, it’s nice to be together at Christmas, but sometimes it just isn’t possible. Please encourage families who have to be apart. Remind them of their purpose. Assure them their sacrifice is not in vain. And help them to find creative and meaningful ways to celebrate together by heart, if not by locale. Comfort them, Lord, as only You can. Thank You, Jesus! Amen.

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Book Review: A Christmas Gift for Rose

I would classify A Christmas Gift for Rose as an Amish historical fiction romance with an emphasis on the historical romance. Set near the end of World War II, this story opens with the main character, Rose, feeling both heart-broken and perplexed. Her ex-fiancé has just returned from an overseas tour of duty as a medic. His choice was controversial and suspect because the Amish are pacifists. His people expected this man to go to jail for refusing to serve rather than volunteer before even being drafted. Rose has heard all of their worries, complaints, and judgments and feels she must stand firm in her decision not to marry after all. She hasn’t heard his side of the story, though.

And Rose’s life is about to change with unexpected news about her own, shaky standing among her people. Rose will have to come to terms with who she is and to whom she belongs as everything she believes is hers will seem to be taken away.

I enjoyed reading this story and appreciated how author Tricia Goyer handled such subjects as military service, post-traumatic stress, poverty, and adoption. Readers who favor historical fiction with an enduring message will want to read this book.

I thank Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending a complimentary eCopy for this honest review.

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Deuteronomy 4:9 on My Mind

NewOMM“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” –Deuteronomy 4:9, NIV

My grandmother used to tell me all the family stories—of ancestors who came over on boats or traveled across the country by wagon or train. I’ve recorded these carefully to share with future generations, yet some details have been lost to time. Grandma couldn’t answer all of my questions because she either didn’t remember or hadn’t been told a particular detail of interest herself. And, as I think of new questions now, it’s too late to ask them.

Among these stories are very few about my ancestor’s salvation experiences. I know several were Christians. I know which churches some of them attended. I know that my great-grandfather enjoyed attending revival services wherever he could find them and got to hear some of the greatest evangelists of his generation in person. But I don’t know, specifically, how most ancestors came to Christ. I would so love to know these stories. For now, I can only look forward to listening to my ancestors tell them in person in Heaven to honor Jesus someday.

If your parents are Christians, do you know how they came to Christ? Have you told your own children about the day you invited Jesus into your life? These testimonies are priceless for several reasons:

  1. This isn’t mentioned in Deuteronomy 4:9, but our salvation stories honor God. When we share them with others, we’re talking about what God has done. Telling true stories about other works of God in our lives brings glory to His name, too.
  2. Testimonies of God’s work in our lives encourage our children and others we know to get to know Him, so they can begin to see His work in their lives, too. Our children are our primary mission field. Anyone else God brings into our immediate sphere of influence is part of that mission field, too. Let’s brag on God’s amazing work whenever, however, we can.
  3. Telling our experiences to others helps us to remember them with more clarity and for a longer time. In fact, if we write about them in our journals (or on our blogs), they’ll be available for us to review whenever we need to be reminded that God is faithfully at work.

As Moses commanded God’s people, let’s do whatever we can to keep our true, faith stories on our minds, in our hearts, and in our loved ones ears. Let’s be careful and watch ourselves, so we will not forget.

Father, we thank You for Your continual work in our lives. Help us to see it. Help us to share it. Help us to remember in honor of Your name. We love You, Lord! Amen.

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In Search of Little Birds This Christmas

Note: This is a repost from my original blog, Wildflower Thinking. The event that follows took place in 2008, but the lesson seems especially appropriate for this busy Christmas season. Let’s all be careful to watch for little birds this year.

Our family was leaving the mall. Mike opened the door, and I noticed something flopping around underneath it. As I followed Mike out, I looked more closely and realized I wasn’t imagining things—it really was a little bird. “Oh, no!” I yelped as Mike closed the door, running over the confused bird again.

I knelt down quickly, oblivious to the fact that I was now in the path of the door and about to be run over myself. Mike ran interference while figuring out why his wife had suddenly lost all common sense. He started nudging the bird with his foot.

“What are you doing?” I asked, quite alarmed.

Mike rolled his eyes. “I’m moving the bird away from the door, so he won’t get run over again.” (He’s pretty smart, that man.) Then he looked around to see where to safely direct the bird. (He did this all for me, you know! Either that, or he knew he’d never get home until we’d taken good care of the bird.)

Realizing the nearest bush was several feet away and that kicking the bird that far would probably do more harm than good, we did the next best thing. We told Seth to pick up the bird. (Yes—it was a classic LIFE cereal moment. “I’m not picking up that bird.” “Well, I’m not picking up that bird.” “Let’s get Seth to pick up the bird! Hey, Seth!”) Seth picked up the bird, I took pictures, we introduced the bird to its new refuge spot—all was well with the world, we could go home. Mike was still rolling his eyes.

So now I’m wondering how many other little birds we carelessly run over as we go about our daily routine. I’m not talking about real birds anymore—though we almost missed the one at the mall! How many hurting people do we cross paths with every day who feel constantly run over by life? They’re standing there stunned and confused as people walk on by, pushing them aside without even realizing they’re there. How many people do we talk to regularly, maybe even at church, who need, not just small talk, but a true listening ear or a nudge toward safety? God can use us to help people if we’ll notice who’s flopping around.

Lord, You know that I can’t save every little bird, but open my eyes that I will see to help where I can. Make me aware. Remind me to stop and take time to express genuine care. There’s nothing more important that I have to do today. Amen.

For more devotional thoughts today, visit Essential Fridays and Spiritual Sundays.

Special Announcement: The Kindle version of my new book, Home Is Where God Sends You, is on sale this week. Click here to purchase your copy.

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Remembering God Once We’ve Found Home

Finding Home“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” –Judges 17:6

I started reading the book of Judges this week. Though it’s one of the historical books of the Bible, it kind of stands alone, covering a period of Israel’s history that’s otherwise mostly ignored—a between time of sorts. Genesis 12 through the book of Joshua tell of God establishing His people: of the Patriarchs they came from, of their rescue from Egypt, of their wandering in the desert for 40 years, of their finally entering and taking the Promised Land. The next big thing after that is the establishment and fall of their monarchy with David, of course, being their most famous king, the man after God’s own heart whose ancestral line led to our King Jesus.

Judges, however, covers the time between the establishment of God’s people and the events leading up to demand for a human king. The theme of the book is found in Judges 17:6, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”

But here’s the thing: Israel did have a King. The God Who established them as a people and led them to the Promised Land wanted and deserved to be their King. Yet as soon as they arrived at their destination, the people stopped following God. Instead of conquering all the people He told them to conquer and clearing the land of false gods, they cleared just enough to make space for themselves and starting cozying up to their new neighbors, intermarrying with them and worshipping their gods. Instead of being set apart and living in a way that would draw others to the one, true God, they chose to mingle, compromise to fit in, and worship idols. Judges 1 and 2 tell us all about this. Judges 2:20-22 tells us what God did about it:

“Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and said, ‘Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their ancestors did.’”

When the Israelites stopped doing their part, God stopped doing His—just as He’d warned them He would. He removed His protection and allowed them to interact with the people who would cause them harm. He let them suffer the consequences of their own decisions. When they eventually remembered Him, He was there, appointing judges to help them out of their predicaments. When they forgot Him again, He watched, but left them, by their choice, to suffer on their own.

The lesson for us is clear: when we’re facing a move or going through one (or struggling with some other trial that makes us feel unsettled in our own land), it’s easier for us to remember to lean on God for guidance, wisdom, and strength. Our need for Him is never more clear!

When the dust settles and the boxes are unpacked, however, we have to work a little harder at remembering Who’s our King—and why. We must, though, because the God Who created us and established our families and homes deserves our worship, our loyalty, and our recognition of His place in our lives.

A few ideas:

1. Keep a journal during “wilderness” times. Record your prayers, God’s answers, and Bible verses that speak to you. Once you’re settled, read over these from time to time and thank God for being there for you.

2. Set aside a specific time of day each day to read God’s Word and pray. Talk with Him about everything! Offer praise and thanksgiving. Present your concerns.

3. Train yourself to practice God’s Presence, talking with Him throughout the day whenever something in your life reminds you He is there. You wouldn’t ignore a friend sitting in your living room. Learn to recognize and acknowledge God’s Presence, too!

Father, thank You for establishing us as Your people through Christ. We love You and are so thankful and awed to know You love us, too. Through good times and bad, help us to remember that You are here and You are King. We serve You alone. Amen.

• What do you do to remind yourself of God’s Presence and help yourself walk more closely to Him each day?

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Luke 2:7 on My Mind

NewOMM“She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” –Luke 2:7, NLT

Yesterday morning, we sang a hymn in church that I haven’t heard in so long it was almost new to me. My husband and I both struggled to follow the words while singing the right notes. More amazing, it’s a Christmas carol! I guess it’s one that’s sliding into obscurity, but I enjoyed the visit yesterday.

The name of the carol is Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne. The words ponder how it was possible that God’s own Son, King of Kings and Lord of Lords Himself, could have left the splendor of Heaven where He was celebrated by angels only to find no room on earth: no room in the inn, no place to lay His head, no acceptance by His own people, only their scorn and a crown of thorns.

In the words of the chorus, the grieving lyricist does her part to set things right with this invitation: O come to my heart, Lord Jesus; There is room in my heart for Thee. Then, after the final verse, she looks to her future in Heaven: My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus, When Thou comest and callest for me.

So many aspects of Christianity have a past, present, future element to them. The first Sunday of Advent, celebrated yesterday, is one beautiful example of this. It’s a day of anticipation and expectation: we remember how God’s people were waiting for the first coming of their Messiah, our Lord, Jesus Christ. We celebrate that historical coming as we thank Jesus for it through this present season. Yet we also look forward with hope to the expected and much anticipated second coming of Christ to occur on some future day. (Or maybe even today!)

We see the same in Luke 2:7 combined with the words from this almost forgotten hymn. We remember there was no room available for Jesus when He first came—and we grieve the tragedy of that. We thank Him for preparing a place in Heaven for us someday, for making it possible for us to find room with Him. Finally, we examine our own hearts to be sure that right now in this moment, nothing is trying to push Him out of His rightful place. If we’ve invited Jesus to live in our hearts, to be Lord of our lives, we don’t want Him to have to compete with any other person, place, or thing.

Jesus, I’m sorry there was no lodging available when You came to earth as a baby so long ago. Thank You for not holding that against us, though. Thank You for completing Your mission, for fulfilling Your purpose, that You could offer us the promise of eternity in Your home. Please search our hearts now and point out anything You find there that may be crowding You. That space is Yours, Lord Jesus. Our hearts are Yours. Amen.