The Feelings of Christmas

 

What is it about Christmas? …about the feelings this time of year brings about in us?

The stage is set in our intentions:

the twinkling of lights,
Christmas cookies baked by the dozen,
the wow gift for each of our loved ones,
a fresh-cut tree brimming with ornaments,
parties galore,
a crackling fire,
Christmas songs lulling us into a smile,
peppermint cocoa brimming our cup,
the sound of laughter,
the feeling of contentment,
[cue the softly falling snow].

How many of us experience the idyllic Christmas of our mind’s eye?  Sure, we find it in our head, and we have meaningful intentions in our hearts, but there’s a gap in what actually transpires as we ready ourselves for the season.

What are you really looking for this Christmas? …and can it be filled by the things of the season? 

Be encouraged to seek and to search. Feelings can be a challenge to deal with, yet spending some time with them can help to bring about a clarity which equips us with the courage and expectant hope to be more real in our own head and heart.


 

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Finding Hope in the Seed of Honor

Honor is a seed sown inside of each of us. How we nurture and tend to that seed within every season and every step of our lives will determine what that seed produces.

From that seed, fruit can be borne. The fruit might be integrity, determination, humility, servitude, fairness, courage or trustworthiness.

If not properly nurtured along the way, resentment, revenge, selfishness, arrogance, dishonesty, maliciousness or wickedness may be what is produced from this seed that, at one time, had so much potential.

My friends! Choose honor. Bear fruit. I have to remind myself to do the same.

The path of honor is rarely straight and easy, but it is a path of peace, of joy, of contentment and of opportunity…opportunity for rewards that serve to better self, family, community, and Kingdom with what really matters in life.

What do you see around you?

Do you see the seeds of honor?
Do you see the fruit of the seed?
Do you see a harvest that honors, collects and gathers for a greater purpose?
Do you see rotted fruit that once had much potential?
Do you see the seeds of destruction?

If my life is anything like yours, we’re seeing every bit of it…even in places where we’d expect to find the opposite.

What can we do?

Look carefully,
plant carefully,
harvest carefully…
and do it all very prayerfully.

 


 

Finding Hope in Expectant Hope

I have a friend who is fighting a tough battle with cancer, and today she has a new appointment with a new doctor in a new place for a new round of hope in her future.

I often don’t know what to say to someone else who is fighting a battle, but it’s just in my God-given nature (truly, not of my natural self) to pray that people never give up hope. So, I do.

Wondering hope leaves us wondering.
Expectant hope leaves us expecting.

There’s a huge difference between these kinds of hopes, and my prayer is that she can find even more expectant hope through her trial—more than she’s already had to muster up in all phases of this years-long journey.

“Expectant hope is powerful and never wasted.”

Those were some of the words I shared with her this morning as she reached out to her friends on social media before her appointment.


We’re all battling something. 

Maybe it’s cancer.
Maybe it’s abuse.
Maybe it’s racism.
Maybe it’s not being understood.
Maybe it’s legal trouble.
Maybe it’s prison.
Maybe it’s anger.
Maybe it’s pornography.
Maybe it’s bankruptcy.
Maybe it’s pride.
Maybe it’s worthiness.
Maybe it’s food.
Maybe it’s smoking.
Maybe it’s our boss.
Maybe it’s our wayward child.
Maybe it’s our church.
Maybe it’s shattered dreams.
Maybe it’s loneliness.
Maybe it’s fear.
Maybe it’s our past.
Maybe it’s self.

Wondering hope leaves us wondering.
Expectant hope leaves us expecting.

My encouragement to you today (and it’s a needed encouragement to my own self-talk, too), is to stop wondering and start expecting. Expectant hope is powerful and never wasted, especially when you stop hoping in the circumstance, and begin hoping in That which is greater than the circumstance.

 


 

Finding Hope in the Unexpected

This is a Palm Sunday re-posting,
originally written two years ago.
The questions are timeless,
and so are the answers we’re seeking.

Donkey.HS

What am I expecting?
Hoping for?
Looking for?
Longing for?

Two thousand years ago, they were hoping for a way out of oppression.
They were longing for freedoms.
They were looking for a king…
…a king who would do all of this and more for them.

This past Sunday, Palm Sunday, marked the commemorative start of the Christian Holy Week. In many of our churches, we marked it by handing out palm fronds. Sometimes the fronds have been woven into a cross-like symbol meant to be kept as a remembrance. Some churches give out a single spear from a palm leaf, some give a small frond, and some hand palms out to wave during a particular worship song.

Last year I happened to be in Montreal, Canada, for the start of the Holy Week, and I visited the Notre-Dame Basilica just before Palm Sunday. I had been there as a teenager on a senior trip with my French class, and I wanted to see the grandeur of that church again. The only way to see the interior of the church on that particular day was to pay for a narrated program, laser light show and brief tour. That wasn’t what I had been hoping for. It’s amazing how one’s perspective on a church building can change after a few decades.

I also wanted to revisit the Gardens of the Way of the Cross at St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal.  We came upon the glass doors leading into the garden only to find them locked. Deep snows covered the ground, so we couldn’t take in the peacefulness of the Stations of the Cross. The “Gift Shop” with a book about the Gardens was closed, too, but, those palm frond crosses many churches hand out on Palm Sunday? They were selling them inside the entry on this particular afternoon. That wasn’t what I was looking for.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey.  His triumphal entry into the city is the day we now mark as Palm Sunday. On that particular day, the Jews laid their cloaks on the ground and laid branches, taken from nearby trees, on the road to hail His arrival and to celebrate Him as a the one sent to save them. This account is told in all four gospels, and it’s told from a slightly different perspective in each:

Matthew 21:1-17;
Mark 11:1-11;
Luke 19:28-44;
and John 12:12-19.

They were expecting Him to be THE ONE who would cleanse the Temple, free them from Roman oppression and help them to regain their national strength and identity. They expected a military leader, but instead, got a humble servant riding into the city on a donkey. He had come to save them for all of eternity, but not necessarily to save them from the Romans. That wasn’t what they had been longing for. When they realized He wasn’t there to do as they had expected, they turned on Him. Days later He was brutally beaten and nailed to a cross to die a criminal’s death.

That wasn’t what His followers had expected.

He was crucified on a cross on a hill outside of Jerusalem. The grave couldn’t hold Him, and His resurrection a few days later brought new life.
That wasn’t what His followers expected, either.

Life isn’t easy. We often make it more difficult by adding expectations to our anticipations. These often go unmet, and we’re left with disappointment. When hopes don’t turn into what we’ve longed for, do we turn toward Him, or do we turn on Him? Do we surrender our expectations, longings and hopes just enough, while yet still trying to control the outcome we’re looking for?

His resurrection did bring us the opportunity for new life.
With that life, we can find hope when we turn toward Him.

We’re heading into the heart of the Holy Week right now. It’s more than egg hunts, bunnies, chicks, chocolate, new clothes, a big dinner and church attendance.

I hope you can find a tad more than you are expecting.

What are you expecting?
What are you hoping for?
Looking for?
Longing for?


 

Great is His Faithfulness, Even in Grief and Mourning

CT.4-7
Photo and artwork belong to ComparisonTrap.org

This is the continuation of an earlier post about a Bible study in which I’m facilitating and participating.


Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness, I say to myself,
“The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
~ Lamentations 3:22-24

The Comparison Trap:  Week Four, Day Seven… Some of my reminders and my takeaways from the daily devotional include:

It’s been an insightful day. My takeaways are from the Scripture verses and from some of Sandra Stanley’s shared thoughts, but not too much from today’s devotional content. This has just been one of those days, but the Scripture still applies to the day.

I spent the afternoon and evening serving at church for the visitation of a friend’s husband who passed away suddenly on Monday morning. That friend has been a part of this Comparison Trap group study. Tomorrow is the funeral (on the day you’ll probably be reading this).

When I walked her to the restroom today on a break from greeting hundreds upon hundreds of people who had come to pay their respects and to honor her husband, she told me a story about the amazing love she’s seen poured out over her family.

Her husband was a state trooper, and the fellowship given to her by his brotherhood has overwhelmed her. Her coworkers took her car and had new brakes, rotors and other needed maintenance done on it when she had to leave it at work after hearing the news of her husband’s death. Her table-mates from the study and many of the women from the group and church stepped forward to bring food and serve in the kitchen with whatever needed to be done today.

“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail,”  the verse above reads. The body of Christ has surrounded her through this tragedy, and it’s through His compassion she’s been able to see it in others.

“God is compassionate. It breaks his heart to see us struggle,”  Sandra tells us in this final devotional. It does, and His way of showing us His compassion is often by using others to display it.

“Great is your faithfulness…” 

The book of Lamentations is full of lamenting, wailing and grief. It covers pain, judgment, mourning and suffering. The book paints a picture of suffering so great that it is often difficult to see hope and to remember the promises of God.

But tucked away within the mourning of Lamentations, there are promises of hope to come. Within the heart of the message of this book, we can see that the writer expresses his confident assurance that God does not turn away from those who turn toward Him for help.

Tomorrow is the funeral for my friend’s husband.

In her grief, I want her to know that the Lord weeps with her, and it breaks His heart to see her struggling. His compassions never do fail, and His love for her will not allow her to be consumed by her grief. His mercies are new every morning, and His faithfulness in her life is truly great. The Lord is her portion, and her faith in Him will get her through the challenges to come.

There will be thousands of troopers who will stand in honor of this fallen police officer; there will be hundreds of friends and family members who will come to grieve with her; there are dozens of small group members who are praying for her; but, there is one Christ Jesus who will be there to comfort her and to bring her His hope in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

Great is His faithfulness. Friend, you are loved.