Star of Bethlehem ornament on my tree, Haven, KS

Some things are worth the wait

Something really exciting is happening this coming Wednesday. It’s something I’ve been waiting for almost a whole year: my best friend is coming home! If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ve heard about her. And if you follow my writing blog, you probably saw my adventures in England and Scotland when I went to visit her this summer.

I can’t even explain how eager I am to have her home. I’ve felt like I’ve been missing a limb this year, or maybe the other half of my heart. And as I was sitting here freezing in my unheated upstairs office (it’s 13 degrees outside), I started thinking about another instance where Someone long-expected dropped by for a visit.

Star of Bethlehem ornament on my tree, Haven, KS

Star of Bethlehem ornament on my tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Titus 2:11-14.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.

Did you realize God promised to send Jesus to save us in the book of Genesis? That’s the first book of the Bible. Shortly after Adam and Eve sinned, God promised to send a Savior. From that moment on, people were waiting for Him. Prophets wrote about Him. Writers composed songs about Him. And believers in every nation of the world never stopped searching the skies for Him.

They waited thousands and thousands of years. Shoot, that makes my mere 11 months of waiting for my Katie to come home seem like nothing. Thousands and thousands of years? Good grief. And I’m going to be giddy with excitement when I see her. Imagine how people felt when Christ came!

It’s no wonder the wise men travelled so far. It’s no wonder the shepherds bowed at the manger. They had been waiting a very, very long time.

When you get right down to it, we’re still waiting for Him. He came, yes, and He left again, but He promised to come back. And Jesus always keeps His promises. So the world has lapsed back into
watchful skepticism, waiting for Him to appear on the clouds and take us home.

How many people died waiting for Him to come in the first place? How many people dreamed of the moment that He would come to Earth and what they would do and what they would say, and then they died before that moment could come to fruition? I’m sure it happened. There have been many people who have died before they got to experience the fulfillment of God’s promises on Earth. True, they got to experience the fulfillment of God’s promises in Heaven, which is ten times better than experiencing it down here. But waiting can be disheartening.

Sometimes the longer you wait, the harder it is to believe that those promises will ever actually come to be. In those moments when you want to give up and despair, remember who God is. This is the God who made the universe, who knew we would betray Him and loved us anyway. This is the God who has kept every promise He ever made, even when we didn’t deserve His kindness. This is the God who sacrificed His own Son so we could have life.

God promised to send Jesus to save us, and He did. God has promised to redeem us, and He has. God has promised Christ will come again. So we’re waiting, and we’ll keep waiting until we finally get to see Him.

It’s like knowing you’re going to get a Christmas present but not being able to see it until the day you can open it. It’s like waiting for your best friend to come home after a year away, knowing that she will be there soon but not being able to hug her until you’re in the same room. It’s something you know but you can’t experience yet.

Waiting is hard, but we don’t wait in vain. God isn’t late; He’ll show up exactly when He means to, exactly when the time is right. So don’t give up. Keep waiting. And imagine how exciting it will be when we finally get to meet face to face.

Red bird ornament, Haven, KS

The true story of Christmas

Don’t you love Christmas movies? The ones that leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside? You know, Christmas movies. Like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon.

I’m only partly joking. But what makes classic Christmas movies so classic? Like A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life or other movies from that same vein? The storyteller in me could pick them all apart for hours, but I really think the theme that ties all Christmas movies together is hope. Yes, there are movies about family and forgiveness and selflessness, but if you think about it, the motivation that moves the story along stems from either a lack of hope or a rediscovery of it.

Hope is one of those feel-good fuzzy terms that people throw around a lot, but the tricky part about hope is that if it’s not grounded in something, it’s just a word. It doesn’t mean anything. You can talk about it all day long, but if your hope is only rooted in temporary things, your hope will be temporary.

Red bird ornament, Haven, KS

Red bird ornament, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Peter 1:3-4.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.

The true Christmas story is the greatest story ever told, and the point of it was a rescue mission. That’s what Christmas is about. Cute little Baby Jesus, laying in a manger, may look adorable on a Christmas card or as a plastic ornament in your yard, but His purpose was something much less glamorous. He was here to save us by dying for us. He came to die, but in dying, He brought us hope. Not the hollow, foundationless hope culture talks about this time of year. But real hope.

Hope that this life isn’t all there is. Hope that He will never leave us. Hope that He is working to make everything all right, even when it feels like our lives are falling apart. And it’s not just words either. We have hope because He promised, and He always keeps His promises.

Have you met people who have lost hope? Their lives aren’t very bright. Every day is a struggle, and every challenge is too much. And it takes every ounce of their strength just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe that’s you. The beautiful part of the Christmas story is that hope isn’t lost. It’s never lost. It’s just waiting for you to make up your mind.

We all have hope. It’s just up to us to believe in it–to believe in Him–or not.

If you’re a Christ-follower, you can live with great expectation. That’s what this verse says. You don’t have to settle for an ordinary life; you were born again to the extraordinary. You were born again for an abundant life. You were born again for eternity. And even though this world isn’t our home, we can have joy through the trials and troubles we face today, waiting for the day that Christ promised to come back for us.

Our world is broken. We all face sorrow and sadness and loss and pain. But if you believe in Christ, this world isn’t the end. There’ s a better world on the other side of this one, and that’s where our true citizenship lies.

No matter what impossible thing you’re facing today, you don’t have to face it without hope. That’s the true story of Christmas.

Serenity keychain turned into an ornament, Haven, KS

Stop crying and party

There’s no time of year like Christmas. No other season is as busy, as crazy, as absurd, and as insane. Everyone’s running around doing something, whether it’s cooking or baking, shopping or wrapping presents, travelling or working. And then there’s the requisite Christmas Eve rehearsals at church and the million and one social events. Before you know it, your entire calendar for December is stuffed full, and you don’t have a single moment to spare.

I’m speaking from experience here. This always happens to me. And I always swear I’m going to slow down some day, but I never seem to figure out how. So before today gets away from me, I just want to take a moment and stop.

Serenity keychain turned into an ornament, Haven, KS

Serenity keychain turned into an ornament, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Nehemiah 8:10.

And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”

The ornament pictured in this photo isn’t an ornament. It’s a key chain, but I’m hard on key chains. And it broke. So I stuck it on a wire hanger and hung it on my handmade Christmas tree. For those of you who aren’t science fiction nerds like me, this is Serenity a space ship from Joss Whedon’s amazing television series Firefly. It has nothing to do with Christmas. Nothing at all. But it made me smile.

I think that’s something people need to do more of, especially in the Christmas season. Smiling is good for your health, and it’s good for the health of other people around you.

The book of Nehemiah is a really interesting story because much of it is told in narrative format, which is unusual for the Bible. Nehemiah is in charge of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and this particular verse comes from a moment when the Law was read out loud to the people and they understood it. They were all so overwhelmed with being able to understand the words of the Law, they wept. And that’s why Nehemiah was telling them to stop crying and go party.

Honestly, I think that’s news American Christians need to hear. Our country is in a dangerous place right now, and there’s trouble everywhere you look. Name a part of American society, and I bet you can find something wrong with it. We’re a mess. And I know lots of people who are actively engaging in trying to right the wrongs in our country, and I have the highest respect for them. But sometimes I wonder if we all just take ourselves too seriously.

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of this is serious stuff, and it deserves to be taken seriously. But all the time? Do we have to focus on everything that’s wrong in our world constantly?

Come on, Christians. Lighten up. Rejoice in your salvation. That’s what Christmas is about. It’s a time for us to celebrate and remember that our Savior came for us so we could have life! And not just life–abundant life. A rich life. A life full of joy and hope and peace and wonderful experiences.

It’s easy to get down about what’s happening in our world, and it’s even easier to get down about all the things that are wrong in America. But take a moment and try to focus on something that’s going right, even if it’s just the relationship between you and God. If that’s all you have to celebrate, you still have a huge reason to rejoice. Because you’re right with God. Through Christ, you’ve been reconciled to God, and you’ll never be alone. And if that isn’t worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.

Maybe the world is a mess and maybe America is falling apart, but that doesn’t mean we have to focus on that this Christmas season. Instead, focus on what God has done in your life today. The joy you find in Him will strengthen you so that you can face any challenge.

So stop crying, Christians, and let’s party. We have a lot to celebrate.

Hand-painted ornament given to me by a Sunday School teacher, Haven, KS

A gift worth more than it costs

Christmas is one of those holidays that everybody can celebrate, regardless of wealth or status. Growing up, I knew a number of kids my age whose families were much wealthier than we were, financially speaking. All of those families were extremely generous and opened their homes to my brother and me on more than one occasion. But I remember even as a kid wondering about how nice and orderly and symmetrical their Christmas trees looked.

If you come to my house and look at one of my Christmas trees, the first thing you’ll notice is that there’s nothing symmetrical about it. The ornaments don’t match. They don’t follow a color scheme or a particular theme. Most of the ornaments on my tree are handmade and all of them have sentimental value of some kind, probably because I’m a sentimental person. One of the ornaments I love putting up every year is the one in the photograph today. It was given to me by one of my beloved Sunday School teachers. I was in sixth grade at the time, and it’s one of those gifts that I have cherished for years. And I’ll continue to cherish it because of the relationship it represents.

Those are the best kind of gifts, the ones that represent something. They may not be the most expensive gifts on the shelf, but they mean something deeper than a price tag can communicate.

Hand-painted ornament given to me by a Sunday School teacher, Haven, KS

Hand-painted ornament given to me by a Sunday School teacher, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Mark 12:41-44.

Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”

Our culture would love for everyone to get caught up in the financial strain that is the Christmas shopping season, but I have learned that the gifts people love the most are ones that come directly from the heart. At least, that’s how it is with me. It’s those gifts that people spend time creating or gifts that people expend effort to make possible that stand out to me, that touch my heart in a way that nothing else does. Time is such a precious thing that to use it up for my sake means a lot to me.

When it comes to giving gifts, we need to learn to look beyond the price tag. Like the story recorded in Mark’s Gospel about the widow’s gift. This is one of my favorite stories from the life of Christ. Not everyone would notice a lowly widow dropping worthless coins into an offering box. Such an action would be lost amid the hustle and bustle of the big givers. But the widow in the story gave more than the religious crowd because she gave everything she had. It wasn’t about cost with her; it was about worth. And she believed that giving her all to God was worth it.

How often do we live like that? When was the last time we focused on worth rather than on cost? So many times we talk about counting the cost of following Christ, but do we ever think about what it’s worth to follow Him? My little wooden ornament made by Mrs. Reid probably didn’t cost much, but to me it’s worth more than a whole box of expensive ornaments.

Following Christ can either cost your life or it can be worth your life. There’s a big difference between those two perspectives, and the one you choose will determine how you see God.

Nail ornament on a Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Nails on a tree

Christmas is my favorite time of year, hands down. I love the songs. I love the cold weather. I love the decorations, the ornaments and the lights. I love the food and flavors. I love everything about it. And I love that the whole world comes to a stop to celebrate, even if they don’t really understand what they’re celebrating anymore.

I have known Christ-followers who don’t celebrate Christmas, stating that it has too many worldly influences in it, but I don’t go for that. And I’m not enough of a historian to be able to debate or rebuff any of their claims. All I know is that for all my life Christmas has been a day to celebrate and remember the birth of Christ, and that’s what it will stay for my family. We exchange gifts in remembrance of the Gift that was given, and we decorate a tree in remembrance of another Tree.

Nail ornament on a Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Nail ornament on a Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 2:13-14.

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.

If there’s one part of the Christmas season that I dislike, it’s the materialism. It’s the commercialism. Granted, I understand the need for it, to a certain extent. I’m not one of those people who will say all the commercialism of Christmas needs to go away. Without the commercial aspect of Christmas, much of our economy would suffer. Most retailers rely on the Christmas season to break even.

But people tend to obsess. Have you notice that? And it can’t just be about giving gifts to each other? Christmas has become about getting gifts. It’s become self-centered and focused on things, the biggest and best and most extravagant. And in spite of all our culture’s wishy-washy reminders to embrace the spirit of the holidays or to remember the spirit of Christmas, nobody really seems to be able to shake the commercialized notion of big screen TVs and iPad minis.

And that’s where Christ-followers need to step up. That’s where we need to be a shining beacon, reminding the world that we celebrate Christmas for more than the best and biggest. We celebrate Christmas because more than 2,000 years ago, the Son of God came to Earth to be born in dirt and filth for a single purpose–to die for us. Jesus came to bring us hope and rescue. God sent Him as a sacrifice to save us, to be nailed to a cross, to die a horrible death so that we could be free. That’s what Christmas is about. That’s why we celebrate.

Strange how easily that message can get lost in the hustle and bustle of Black Friday shopping.

So don’t forget this year. Make an effort to remember why Christmas exists. Make an effort to celebrate what truly matters this season. And when you decorate your tree (or see it, since both of mine are already up), remember why it’s there. Christmas trees should remind us of the Cross, the other tree where Christ died for us so many centuries ago.

I guarantee if you look at Christmas like that, you’ll never see Christmas trees the same way again.