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What’s the Meaning of Christmas?

Quick..what is the meaning of Christmas?

My two year old can tell you without missing a beat.  Me?  I have to think about it for a few seconds.  Not because I don’t know, but because my mind is so consumed with everything that daily life entails that I have to think before I answer any question.  I bet you’re the same way.

While I’m sure that is just a normal part of being an adult.  It is a little bit sad to me.  Even if we are in a Christmas state of mind, it may take us a bit to come up with the answer: Jesus!  Oh yeah, almost forgot about him.  Not because he’s not important to us, but because Christmas has become so many things to so many people and none of them are the truth.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Christmas time: trees, lights, music, presents.  It is a time of joy and excitement.  There is nothing wrong with giving gifts or shopping or putting up a giant snowman on your roof.  The problem is that the world sees Christmas as ONLY those things.  And I truly believe that I find so much joy in the Christmas season because I know the real reason that we celebrate.

It is never more evident that the world is lost and looking for a Savior than when you are out Christmas shopping.  I haven’t done a lot of Christmas shopping outside my house this year because I have two toddlers and it’s a little difficult.  But I have ventured out a few times with some truly interesting experiences.  It amazes me how someone will almost run you off the road to get a better parking place than you – and then still be mad about something.  I have no problem walking an extra fifteen feet, and I can do it with a smile on my face because I have the source of joy living in me.  On one occasion, I saw a woman yelling at a man in the 20 Items or Less isle at Walmart because he had more than 20 items – and he was BEHIND her in line!

Some of these experiences make you roll your eyes and maybe even sigh in exasperation.  But next time you are out shopping this Christmas season, look around you at the people.  Stop looking at all the stuff for a minute and just look at the people.  There are so many sad, mean, mad expressions on faces you would think we were all being forced to buy presents for a dictator that would kill us if we didn’t deliver.

I have caught myself walking through a store with a scowl on my face, thinking about what else I needed to get on my list.  So, while I’m not saying that all of these people who have their mean faces on are non-Christians, we need to realize that many of them are.  And the only way they will know the true joy of Christmas is if we show them.

So, why not instead of going shopping for your cousin’s fiancé and your neighbor’s dog tonight, you go to the mall and watch people.  Let the Holy Spirit lead you to tell people the good news, or just offer help carrying bags, throwing away trash after they eat, or just saying “God loves you.”  Spread some true JOY.  I promise you the people who don’t get gifts from you either won’t notice or they will be overjoyed to hear what you spent your shopping time doing instead.

If that is too much for you, and I completely understand that some people are terrified by the thought, tell your cashier at the grocery store that she looks pretty, let someone go in front of you in line or pay for another person’s lunch without telling them.  Or just walk through your life saying tiny little prayers for each specific person that you see who looks like they need a touch from an Awesome GOD!

We don’t have to do much to show people the true meaning of Christmas.  But we should do something.  It will not only help others, but it will renew within us the true reason for the season.  Keeping our minds focused on Jesus and what He wants us to be doing will help us to answer quickly when people ask us the meaning of Christmas.  To celebrate our Savior!

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In Everything that I Do…

Last week, in all the craziness of Thanksgiving and cooking meals and getting where we were supposed to be on time, we had some stressful moments in our week.  After all, just sitting in our living room trying to decide what game to play or what episode of Barney to watch can be taxing with a one year old and a two year old.  My remedy for stressful moments, last week and usually (when I remember), is to sing hymns and worship songs.  Avy and Scarlett, my daughters, usually calm down when we sing and have a good time with it.

However, at one point last week, Avy, my two year old, was stretched to the breaking point over something.  I started singing “Jesus Loves Me” and I invited her to sing with me.  She flung herself face down on the floor and said, “NO! Mommy not sing!!”  I said, “But, Avy, we’re singing about Jesus.”  Without even looking up from her facedown pout session, she yelled, “I NOT LIKE JESUS RIGHT NOW!!”

It was all I could do to keep a straight face, and I could almost feel the rumblings of laughter pealing through Heaven.  It was almost sweet in its own blatantly honest, borderline blasphemous kind of way.  Eventually she got calmed down and we did sing Jesus loves me at the end of which she tagged on an “I love you, Jesus.”

But the whole scene got my sanctified imagination rolling.  How many times are there in my life when I blatantly, rudely, downright blasphemously, tell Jesus that I don’t want him interfering in what I’m doing right now?  No, God…I don’t want you to be here while I’m spending time with my friends.  Not now, Jesus…I’m watching a movie.  Sorry, Lord…you aren’t welcome in my decision about how to spend my Saturday afternoon. 

While I make a thousand decisions a day that are neither good nor bad in their own way, are they things that I am letting Jesus be the focus of?  Or am I too busy doing it my way, that I refuse to let those things be an opportunity to praise God?

What I fail to remember is that letting Jesus into every moment of my life won’t necessarily change decisions like what I will eat for lunch.  He won’t demand that I never do anything enjoyable for myself.  He won’t ask me to give up my thirty minutes of watching TV with my husband after the girls go to bed every night.  And if he does ask me to sacrifice these things it will be for something better…something that gives me a bigger return, spiritually and physically.

How often do I forget that every breath I take is an opportunity to praise my Creator, my Father, my Sustainer, my Healer, my Friend…

Today, it is my prayer that God will remind me that when He knocks on the door of my heart, my mind, my consciousness, asking to be let it, it isn’t to spoil the party.  He just wants to be here with me all the time because He loves me.  And I should want that too, because I love Him.

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What Are You Holding Onto?

Watching my daughters play with each other today I was struck with a truth straight from God that I want to share with you.

While we were all playing together (my children are still too young to realize that it is physically possible to play without me in the room), Avy, my two year old, was playing with a toy car.  Scarlett, my one year old, walked over to her and touched the car.  She didn’t pick it up or even try to take it away.  This, of course, brought on a round of two-year-old hysterics that included ear-piercing screams and pushing her sister down.  Scarlett started crying and ran immediately to me.

As an only child, I am completely unprepared for how to deal with sibling issues.  I have never really witnessed them, especially among children as young as mine and I have to rely on my own intuition and intense prayer to know how to make them interact with each other.  After punishing Avy, I made her hug and kiss her sister and tell her that she loved her.  She grudgingly hugged and kissed Scarlett and then said, “I love you sister.  Don’t touch my car.”

I almost laughed out loud.  Definitely one of those quotes that goes into the baby book.  But when I thought deeper about it, I realized that God was speaking to me through that situation.  Because what Avy was really saying was, “I only love you if you don’t touch my car.” And maybe not even then.

How many times in my life do I tell God that I love Him, but then refuse to give certain parts of my life to Him?  Maybe material possessions like my house or my car.  Maybe abilities like my writing.  Maybe relationships or habits or thoughts.  There are all kinds of things that we refuse to let God have. 

I love my husband and my children with an unbelievable degree of devotion.  There is nothing that I could even fathom that I wouldn’t do for them, nothing I wouldn’t give them.  So, why does God get less than that from me?  Because I don’t trust Him.  Not that I don’t trust Him to do what is best with me and my things, but that I don’t trust Him to do what I would have done with them.  He might make me uncomfortable.  He might ask something of me that I don’t want to do.  If I fully surrender everything in my life to Him, He could take it all from me just to teach me a lesson.

Well, this thinking is flawed, human thinking in a couple of ways.  First, because God desires only good for me.  He loves me.  And even when He puts me through hard times there is a purpose, and it always results in what is best for me.  He wants me to be happy and healthy and have things that I enjoy.

Second, I either love God or I don’t.  If I don’t give Him everything I have, then I don’t really love Him.  That’s a hard pill to swallow, but it is true.  And I learned that very important lesson from my two toddlers.  “I love you, but…” isn’t “I love you” at all.

What are you holding back from God?  It is my prayer that He shows me and you what we are holding back from Him, so that we can surrender it.  Doesn’t He deserve at least that from us?

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My Down Time

There comes a time in every day when we have exhausted all possible play options, all distractions have become blasé and I reach the end of the number of requests I can take in one day.  This point in our house generally seems to merge with the lost hour before my husband gets home from work and we get the kids fed and then in bed.  So, imagine sleepy, restless, bored toddlers.  My solution for this time of day is almost always a light snack and TV time.  They get to choose, which usually means Barney or The Lion King.  It doesn’t matter to me what we watch, because I usually sit on the couch with my phone and check my email or browse Facebook.

A couple of weeks ago it was getting to be that time of day when my two-year-old, Avy, came to me with my phone in hand and said, “Watch Barney?”

If you have ever read any of my other blog posts you know that she is my little walking, talking manifestation of the Holy Spirit in my life.  It was no different on that day as I was convicted that my sweet baby girls see me as the mom who passes out on the couch with my phone the minute I have some free time.  And it made me think: what do I want my children to see me do when I have spare time?

Instead of picking up my phone with every available opportunity, I started reading my Bible and praying.  I have a daily quiet time, but it is while my girls are sleeping and they rarely saw me with my Bible or praying before a couple of weeks ago.  Avy was ok with the Bible reading but the praying threw her off a bit.  When I pray with Avy we bow our heads and put our hands together, but during my own personal prayer time I usually pray with my head down either face down on the couch or even the floor.  So, for the first couple of days she would spend that time trying to wake me up until I explained to her that I was praying.

Then after a few days, she started to expect it.  She would bring me my Bible for Barney time.  Then, one of the happiest moments of my life happened just the other day when Avy came to me and said, “Mommy, let’s pray.”

Sometimes we get caught up with doing things the way that they benefit us the most without thinking about how they will affect others.  But it isn’t just about us.  Our children, our families, our friends and even those people who don’t know us all need to see God in us.  They need to see our faithfulness to Him. 

For all of their lives, I want my children to be able to visualize me reading my Bible and praying.  I want them to think of me not only as a follower of God, but also as an example of what a daily walk with Him looks like.  I never really thought about it before.  I have a strong, personal relationship with my Heavenly Father.  My family, friends and even acquaintances know that for the most part.  Even my daughter’s know that, but seeing it is a different story.

Is there someone in your life that needs to see your commitment to God?

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How Much of God Do You Want?

In my Bible study this week I came across a quote that I had written down a few years ago from a sermon.  I don’t remember much about the sermon (sorry, Bro. John!) except this quote, but I remember writing it down.  It obviously made some kind of impression on me at the time or I wouldn’t have written it down at all.  I believe, honestly, that the Holy Spirit prompted me to write down this quote to come across today and maybe even many more times in the future.  Because today it made an impression.

Here is the quote: “You will have as much of God as you intensely desire to have of Him.”

It is one of those quotes that when the preacher puts just the right amount of emphasis on it and then pauses, that you dutifully write down in your notes.  You probably even think about it briefly and nod your head in agreement.  But that is where the impact ends.  Why?  Because most of us don’t intensely desire to have more of God than we have now.

We have learned that when we invite more of God in things can get uncomfortable.  He may start to call us into service opportunities.  He may start pointing out our sins to us and asking for repentance.  He may even want us to start reading our Bibles and praying regularly.  And all of that is just the beginning.  When we tentatively start praying for God to work in our lives, we usually have our own agenda that we expect Him to follow.  But God doesn’t work that way.

In the last few months of my life, God has been working in just about every area of my life to draw me closer to Him.  For years I have been praying that God would keep me in His will for my life, even when I cannot see it or feel it, that He would keep my feet on a path that leads to His will.  That prayer has started to pay off in ways I never even imagined it would.  And I have started to intensely desire more of God in my life.  I want more of Him in my daily life.  I want more of Him in my marriage, my home, my parenting, my friendships.  I want more of Him in my professional life and my acquaintances.  I even want more of Him in my trips to the grocery store.

What prompted all this, you may ask?  Well, some things started happening that made me realize that I cannot control my life.  There is absolutely nothing about my life that I have control over.  I cannot control even whether I wake up in the morning or not.  I am totally dependent on Him for everything that I have and do and say.  While for some people this may be a depressing or difficult thought to comprehend, for me it was incredibly freeing.  It means that I don’t have to have control over anything.  All I have to do is give it to Him.

So, I have.  I have given Him everything in my life.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a daily struggle to put away my sinful nature and take up the righteousness that He calls me to.  I fail repeatedly every day.  But I get back up and look at my Heavenly Father for guidance.  I ask for His forgiveness when I fall and reach for His hand to help me back up.

There is absolutely no way to describe what an amazing experience it is to seek God with everything in you.  He is breaking down walls in my life, bringing healing and restoration, cleansing me of things I never knew I needed cleansing of.  It is a difficult, gut-wrenching, heart-changing process.  I feel like physically and spiritually I am being put through a ringer.  I end every day exhausted from the process, but I also end every day so full of joy and contentment that there is no room for worrying about the exhaustion. 

It is my sincerest hope that every person who reads these words will be called into a deeper, more intense relationship with God.  If you don’t know how to get there or where to start, simply start by praying that God will give you a more intense desire for Him.  No restrictions, no conditions, holding nothing back.  That is a prayer that I promise you God will answer.

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Invest and Invite…This Sunday, September 9!!

Thank you to Bro. John for this reminder…

In a summer sermon series, we introduced into the Highland conversation the words “invest, and invite.” Now those words are on signs around our building. However, they were never intended to be just a sermon series or a banner. They represent a movement, a change in wind direction, a new atmosphere. Each of us has a natural network of relationships to which God has strategically connected us. Investing in those lives and inviting them to join us when we gather for Bible study and Worship is a simple, non-threatening way to walk out the Great Commission.

Investing in others and inviting them to join us should be the constant habit of our lives, but occasionally we need to be challenged to do that together. This Sunday, September 9 is going to be one of those days of concentrated focus. On April 15, the day Unite began, several people were invited by friends. Many of them stayed and have gotten connected. I believe that can happen again this week, so I am asking you to take the challenge seriously. Invite someone to be your guest at Highland this week.

As always, we will gather at 8:45. Our guests need you to be here for those first fifteen minutes of fellowship. That is when conversations happen, connections are made, and relationships begin. Please make it a priority to be here early this week (even if it is not your normal habit).

When it gets time for small groups, at least three new ones will begin. The group led by Phil Flannigan and Scott Clark will launch a brand new couples’ group. Scott Clark and David Brown will lead the new group and Phil will be joined by Johnny Deaton and Justin James. There will also be at least two new college small groups. It is going to be exciting.

April 15 and the beginning of Unite changed the conversation at Highland and moved our young adult ministry to a brand new level. If the Lord has used it to bless your life, sharing it with someone else should be your natural response. I am praying for you as you invite your friends this week and I look forward to meeting them. My prayer is that September 9, changes the conversation again.

 

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Come to the Water

I walked into the dimly lit sanctuary last Tuesday night taking in the crowd, the band, the atmosphere.  The room was filled from front to back with college students.  The air was pulsing with excitement and worship.  I had entered The Well on its first night back from summer.  And He was there.  In every song, every smile, every hand that was raised.  He was there. 

The music stopped and our college pastor, Allen Tate, stood up to speak.  During the next thirty minutes, he challenged us to step out of the complacency of our spiritual wading pool and dive head first into the deep-end of God’s will for our lives. 

If you are anything like me, you love a good action movie.  The kind with good guys who, against all odds, always come out on top and main characters who are always looking towards the greater good.  The kind that leaves your heart pounding, your spirit stirring, and a war cry in your throat.  The kind where the world is saved, honor is maintained, and characters are changed for the better.  After years of observing this genre of film and the hype that is attached, I have come to a conclusion about humanity.  We all desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.  We all want to know that the world is a better place because we did something worthwhile.  We all have these great ambitions, yet most of us stop short.  Changing the world sounds great in theory, but in reality, it is hard.  It is tedious, uncomfortable, and challenging in every respect.  It requires sweat and blood.  It demands sacrifice.  And from the starting line, it is a scary view. 

However, Allen’s point was that it’s worth it.  Wanting to be a part of something difficult is not a sign of a need to hit the self-destruct button.  It is a mark that tells us we were created by Someone greater, intended for a purpose bigger than anything we could ever imagine.  It is a desire for Him. 

When the music stopped and the lights came up, my heart was pounding, my spirit was stirring and a war cry was on the tip of my tongue.  I have decided I want to be a part of something bigger, something greater.  I have decided spiritual complacency just won’t cut it for me. He has saved me, He has changed me, and I cannot help but follow Him wherever He leads. 

I have decided to follow Jesus.  No turning back.

To be one of 245 college students worshipping a Savior worth following is an experience I can never fully describe.  No words can do it justice.  So instead of counting on me to give an adequate description, come and join us tonight at The Well at Highland Baptist Church, 7:30 p.m.  Come be filled with the Living Water and satisfy that thirst for something greater. 

“Father, make of me a crisis man.  Bring those I contact to decision.  Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.”

 –Jim Elliot

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