We’re on the cusp of a New Year! What will it bring?
A quick spin through Google reveals all sorts of prognostications – some funny, some serious, some terrifying. But here’s one thing we can know for sure: When our trust is in the Lord, we can live lives marked by confidence and joy rather than worry and fear, no matter what the future holds!
Consider what the prophet Jeremiah had to say:
Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
Let’s take this promise and make it our Friday prayer…or maybe just use it to cover all of 2017. You can pray this one for yourself, or for someone you love:
May _____ trust in you. Let his/her confidence be in you. Keep _____ free from fear and worry, no matter how challenging or uncomfortable the world gets. Bless _____ with a fresh and fruitful life! (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.
When I heard this little nugget of Christmas gift-giving wisdom from my friend Natalie (her mother-in-law likes to hit all four categories), I liked it. And I decided to use it as a bar against which I could measure the stocking stuffers I’d found for the men in my life.
Something you want? Golf balls and surf wax. Check.
Something you need? Razors and (because airport security has all of ours) pocket knives. Check.
Something to wear? Socks and boxer shorts. Because Christmas. Check.
Something to read? The Surfer’s Journal. And (because I am trying to drum up family interest in a visit to the Holy Land) a magazine featuring the spectacular vineyards of Israel. Check and check.
Having covered all the key bases, I was ready for Christmas morning. Still, though, something was missing. I hadn’t yet found the perfect “one-size-fits-all” gift, the annual follow-up to presents like The Posture Brace of 2013 (which was advertised as being “virtually invisible” under clothing but wasn’t, but which, looking back, had the unexpected upside of checking two boxes, since it was both something you wear and something you need).
I gave it some thought. And some prayer. And I finally came up with what I thought was a terrific gift idea:
Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods. Rick Warren (the guy who gave us The Purpose Driven Life) knows that Bible study can be tricky. We don’t do it, he says, because we don’t really know how (nobody ever taught us), we’re not motivated (we haven’t yet experienced the joy of discovery), or maybe because we are just plain lazy (ouch). Warren’s goal is to get us over all three of these hurdles and help us find an approach to Bible reading that works – specifically and personally – for us. To that end, he offers 12 different methods we can try, along with step-by-step instructions for each.
Twelve different ways to study the Bible? I figured at least one of ’em would appeal to my guys.
Now before you go telling me that they would have rather had more golf balls, consider the categories. This gift was something that they could read. And need (because who among us couldn’t use a little professional help when it comes to Bible study?). They couldn’t wear the book, obviously, but since one of our favorite uncles starts most of his mornings by looking at his wife and saying, “Tell me what I want to do,” I figured that maybe I could tell Robbie, Geoff, Charlie, and Robbie Jr. what they really wanted in their stocking.
Read, need, and want. Three out of four. Brilliant.
And, just to be sure that the fellas appreciated what a good gift this was, I tweaked the wrapping. Any old Santa can give you a razor. But a book designed to help you grow in your understanding of Scripture?
Truth be told, God gave me the book, too. Which is to say, I bought a copy for myself. Because this is the time of year when I always do two things:
First, I stop eating the Christmas cookies. (They are mostly gone, anyway, but come December 30 I start making a somewhat focused effort not to eat them. At least not until lunch.)
And second, I make a Bible reading plan. (I’ve written about this one before; click here to see last year’s ideas.) I figure that if I want to get to know God better (and I do), then I can’t just rely on my heart. I need to engage my head. I want to get to know God through the Bible, digging deep to unearth its riches – and letting them transform me. I want to get to the end of the year and say, “I grew. I got to know God better. I fell even more in love with him.
“I was changed.”
Do my guys want that too? I don’t know; I pray that they do.
I pray that all of us do. And if you’ve got your own favorite reading plans or study methods, I’d love to hear about them. Why not post a comment for others who might want to try what you like? There is not, obviously, any “right” way to read scripture; the key is mainly to grow in our faith, to fall deeper in love with our Heavenly Father, and to be equipped for whatever he has in store.
Because there’s a whole new year out there, just waiting for us to unwrap it.
String the lights, sing the songs, wrap the gifts…we have a REASON to rejoice!
One of my kids made this ornament nearly 20 years ago, and it’s always been my favorite:
Today, as we prepare our hearts and our homes to welcome the Savior, let’s borrow a few words from Mary’s song and make them our prayer: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46-47)
May we glorify you as our Lord and rejoice in you as our Savior this Christmas!
Charles Dickens begins his classic tale, A Christmas Carol, on Christmas Eve. It is a day marked by “cold, bleak, biting weather” and Scrooge can hear the people outside his office window “beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them.”
It was a day, in other words, not unlike May 21, 2016.
We were in Charlottesville then, celebrating Virginia’s U.Va. graduation. Rarely have I been so happy to have my parka and my hat. And my boots, which I bet I could have sold for a few hundred bucks (and which I did, in fact, loan to another mother whose daughter’s ceremony was after ours).
Like every other family I guess, we took the requisite Rotunda Photo that day. I couldn’t have predicted it back then (if I had, I would have at least ditched the ball cap), but it turned out to be our Christmas card pic:
Which is fitting, actually. Not because it might as well have been snowing on Jefferson’s Lawn (and I promise you, I think I really did feel some sleet), but because of the joy – and the warmth – that Christmas always brings.
In the Dickens story, the thaw happens the moment that Scrooge’s nephew walks in. We hear him before we see him: “A merry Christmas, Uncle! God save you!”
When the nephew enters Scrooge’s office, he is “all in a glow.” He has a ruddy face, sparkling eyes, and breath you can see, like smoke. Eavesdropping as the young man catalogs the virtues of Christmas and all the good that it does, the clerk (who is in the next office, freezing) can’t help himself. He applauds.
I love it.
I love it because we do the same thing that Scrooge’s nephew did, when we say, “Merry Christmas!” to one another. We warm each other’s hearts with those simple, yet powerful, words.
And I love it because that’s what Jesus did for us, some 2000 years ago. He entered the cold, bleak, biting of our world and basically said, “Merry Christmas, Everyone! God save you!”
Isn’t that just the best?
You don’t have to hate the cold as much as I do to know that Christmas changes everything.
And you don’t have to be like the clerk to applaud.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
That’s Isaiah 11:1, and it’s a verse our minister, Andy Buchanan, covered in his sermon a couple of weeks ago. The gist of the message was not so much about the stump, or even the branch, as it was about the question: “Will God really dwell among us?”
Happily, the answer is yes. And for us, the promise is this: God brings life out of things (like stumps) that appear to be dead.
If you’ve got 15 minutes and you want to listen to Father Andy’s sermon, click here and scroll down to the 12/4/16 message. If you’ve only got time for a prayer, why not do like the Apostle Paul did when he wrote his letter to the Romans, and partner the Isaiah promise with a prayer? Paul quoted Isaiah:
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.” (Romans 15:12)
And then he prayed this:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
The Root of Jesse is Jesus, the one who offers us joy, peace, and hope. Can there be any better Christmas prayer? I’m praying Romans 15:13 for you, and for your families, today!
So Buddy the Elf has been at it again.
He got inspired when we went to Dallas (where they are, evidently, as serious about their Christmas lights as they are about their hair). No sooner had we gotten home than Buddy was off to the hardware store, where he picked up a couple million more strands.
I love that guy.
Buddy also came home with a few boxes of something called the “Net of Life.” I think that name is a little bit misleading, like maybe it should be a sermon or something. Plus, there a lady on the package who, presumably, hung a bunch of lights on her snowy roof. We know she didn’t. She isn’t even wearing a coat.
But whatever. The Nets (which I bet the Dallas people do not use) did the job on our bushes, and then Buddy got out the ladder and started climbing the trees. If he wanted help, he didn’t say so. I imagine that he (like most husbands) is pretty much happy to be out of the house – out of earshot – this time of the year.
My man worked for most of the day, adding strand upon strand.
Anyhow, when when darkness finally came, Buddy was ready. And when he plugged ’em all in, I loved it. Because I’m no fan of winter. Or cold. Or darkness. Or anything, actually, that feels like Not Summer. But Christmas lights have a way of making the brrrr go away, and of filling our hearts with hope.
This is, of course, the same transformation that Jesus makes in our lives us all year long. “I am the light of the world,” he says. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Isn’t that an amazing promise? We are surrounded by a world full of darkness…but we don’t have to walk in it. Or fear it. Even back when Isaiah was alive, he knew the difference that Jesus would make and he called it: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)
The light has dawned. The light has dawned!
Come January, when it’s time to take down the sparkle, we can hang our hope on that. Because we may pack up the Net of Life…but the Light of Life will still shine.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
Bhahahaha! Hours after this blog originally posted, you began alerting me to the fact that I’d read the box wrong. Even my mother weighed in, bursting through the door of our home and saying, “Jodie! It is not life. It is lite!” Ahhhh! That makes so much more sense! I couldn’t figure out why someone would market a Christmas decoration as the “Net of Life.” Obviously, my eyes are old.
In my defense, though, I don’t think people should be spelling LIGHT like LITE. “Lite” is for diets. Which Christmas is not. Christmas is all about the FULLNESS of joy. And my prayer, for you and for me, is that we will experience Jesus as the light of life…the bread of of life..and yes, even as the Net of Life – one that is big enough to cover us all!
Merry Christmas! xo
I love the book of Isaiah. Especially now, at Christmastime, when so many of the prophet’s words point to the hope that Jesus brings. He is the Wonderful Counselor and the Prince of Peace. He’s the one who binds up the brokenhearted and sets the prisoner free. He is the one whose coming is the glad tidings – the good news – our hearts are yearning to hear.
And he’s the God who changes things.
If you long to experience this hope, or if you know somebody who does, here’s a prayer from one of my favorite chapters in Isaiah:
Bestow on _____ a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)
I love nativity scenes. I have a set made of olive wood, which I purchased nearly 30 years ago in Israel:
A set my grandmother brought home from a trip to Mexico:
A simple scene from my aunt, who was a missionary in Madagascar:
And a big, beautiful one that, for all I know, was made in China:
I do not, however, own the Modern Nativity:
You can’t really tell from this photo, but Joseph is rocking a man bun. Mary’s drinking what looks like Starbucks (while showcasing her cheekbones for the selfie). And the baby Jesus is swaddled in what has to be some sort of handmade, organic-yarn blanket and beanie. The set also features three hipster wise men (who come bearing gifts a la Amazon Prime), a couple of well-fed animals (the cow’s trough is marked “gluten free”), and a teenaged shepherd boy who’s posting the whole thing on Instagram (#babyjesus #nofilter).
Theologically speaking, I’m not really sure what the designers had in mind when they came up with this scene. But honestly? I kind of like it. It makes me feel like the whole scene is kind of…relevant. Like Jesus really is what Hebrews 13:8 says he is: the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is as present in the lives of selfie-taking, latte-drinking, man bun-wearing people as he was in the lives of the folks who gathered around him 2,000 years ago. And I don’t blame Millennial Joseph and Mary for wanting a pic with the Lord. Had I been in their TOMS, I would have taken one, too.
I’ve always thought it would have been pretty cool to be alive when Jesus was walking and talking and telling people where the good fishing was. Sometimes, I’ve even been jealous of those first disciples and all the others who literally saw him do miracles, and who could ask him hard questions, face to face. From an evangelistic standpoint, it feels like it must have been a whole lot easier to bring people to a living, breathing Jesus and say, “Look. That’s him. He fed all those people.” than it is to convince them to entrust their lives to someone they can’t even see.
But here’s the thing. Mary and Joseph and all of those early Christians got to see and experience all sorts of neat stuff. But when the time came for Jesus to be crucified, he told his followers that it was “for your good that I am going away.” Why? Because that meant that the Holy Spirit would come. As a man, Jesus knew that he could only be in one place at a time; as a Spirit, he is able to be with all of us, everywhere, all the time.
So yeah, I would liked to have been at the manger. I would like to have heard the angels sing, and seen the look on the wise men’s faces when they finally got to the stall. I would like to have pulled Mary aside and asked her all sorts of questions. I would like to have thanked Joseph for believing the angel (and for staying).
I would like to have held the baby. I would like to have watched him grow up.
But when I think about the Holy Spirit – his omnipresence, and all of the wisdom, comfort, conviction, guidance, and strength he provides – I am pretty darn glad to have that. To have him. And this Christmas, as I read verses like Luke 11:13 (which says that if we know how to give good gifts to our kids, how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to us), all I can do is ask God for more of the Spirit’s work in my life, and thank him for the indescribable gift of his presence.
So again, yeah. I would like to have known Jesus on earth. Mary, too. But you know what? I figure I’ll meet her one day, and (like all mothers, I guess) she’ll probably still be happy to talk about what her boy was like, as a child.
I look forward to hearing her stories.
(And BTW, if you decide that the Modern Nativity is something you can’t celebrate Christmas without, you can order one here for less than what Mary probably paid for those black skinny jeans.)
Christmas is upon us…which means we are stacking our desire for “peace on earth” against the chaos of too-busy schedules, relationship challenges, and a barrage of advertisements and emails that seem anything but peaceful (23 shopping days left!!).
If you find yourself taking deep breaths and longing for the peace that Jesus brings, you’re not alone. In fact, Paul closed one of his letters with that very prayer, one where he asked God for continual peace in every circumstance.
Continual peace? In every circumstance? Yes. Yes, please!
If that’s what you want (for yourself, or for someone you love), join me in this Friday Prayer:
May the Lord of peace Himself continually grant _____ peace in every circumstance. (2 Thessalonians 3:16, NKJV)
So on Monday morning, after all of the Thanksgiving guests had left, I crept downstairs, eager to enjoy a cup of coffee in the predawn silence. We’d already decorated the Christmas tree (gotta do it when the kids are home)…
…and as heart-warming as it is to watch six people climb on your bookshelves and elbow each other out of the way while carols from Pandora’s “Country Christmas” drown out the announcer on the U.Va. basketball game, I was ready for some peace and quiet. I looked forward to turning on the tree lights, grabbing my Bible, and spending a few moments with God.
And then I heard…snoring.
It was loud. And it was coming from the family room. Had a late-night intruder gotten into our Baileys? Would I find a strange man on the sofa? Should I go back upstairs and wake Robbie?
I tiptoed through the kitchen and quickly turned on the lights:
The dog is not supposed to get on the sofa. I didn’t fully trust her arthritic legs or her tumor-filled belly to keep her down, so I’d put out a spread of books and magazines as a deterrent. To which Khaki said, “Nice try.”
I was not happy.
I didn’t like how the dog had treated my copy of Southern Lady, nor did I appreciate having to get out the lint brush. Again. Even more than these offenses, though, was the fact that Khaki had rearranged all my pillows. One of them wound up on the floor:
I stood there, listening to the dog drone and looking at my fallen PEACE, and I thought: This is it. This is what my life has become. I get the peace all set in my life, tucked in among the beautiful velvet and linen, and then something comes along to knock it off.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’re staring down the weeks between now and Christmas, wishing you could experience the whole “peace on earth, good will toward men” thing, but there’s a little niggle of anxiety, or maybe even fear, that is holding you back. Maybe it’s a decision you have to make, or a deadline you are facing. Maybe it’s a sickness, or a loss, or the sense that you don’t have what it takes to do whatever it is that you feel like you are supposed to do. Or maybe it’s something totally unfounded, but still sort of paralyzing, like the time I went shopping with my mother-in-law and we got half way to the mall when she was suddenly struck by a frightening thought: What if the stores are closed on Monday?
I don’t know about you, but there are times when I let worry – both about real concerns and and imagined ones – consume my attention. But that is the exact opposite of how God wants us to live. “Do not be anxious about anything,” he says, “but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
And when we do that – when we refuse to entertain anxiety and instead bring our requests straight to God – he offers this promise: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Sounds like a plan.
But, like so many good things in life, choosing to take our worries to God and trade them in for his peace is easy to say and hard to do. It takes practice. It might even take retraining our brains, so that our default position is not so much dwelling on doubt as it is on tacking our trust to God’s promises. It’s do-able, but we might need help.
Which is where Immanuel comes in. Of all the names God goes by, I think Immanuel might be my favorite. It’s not one we think about for most of the year, but when you start opening Christmas cards and listening to carols, it pops up. And, to me, Matthew 1:23 is one of the best lines in the whole Christmas story: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”).