Our Christmas morning tradition is to have a family devotion before opening presents. We begin with a family prayer and then Fred, my husband, reads passages from the Bible that pertain to the birth of Christ. We discuss the verses as a family and then take turns opening presents.
As I looked around at my kids while my husband was speaking, I wondered were they “getting it”. Did they understand that we wanted them to know Christmas as a celebration of Jesus’s birth and what that birth means to us today? Was it registering that the amount of gifts under the tree was not an indicator of our love for them? In fact, we decided years ago to only give one gift and stocking stuffers. We explained to our kids that our reason for doing this was to take the focus off of us and gifts and place it on Jesus.
As parents, we try so hard to teach our kids to live right and treat people right. We pray that they are learning what we are teaching them and will use what they’ve been taught to contribute to society in a positive way. God feels the same about us. God gave us Jesus as the ultimate example of His love. Jesus was God’s gift to us. God wanted us to learn from Jesus and follow Him so that we could not only develop a right relationship with Jesus but develop a right relationship with God.
My kids dutifully listened and my son Noah joined in with scripture reading. We opened gifts one by one and joined in each other’s glee. We patiently waited for each other. Watching my family enjoying each other and each other’s gifts was the gift I wanted most.
The day culminated in dinner with family and friends that included wonderful food, fun games, lots of talking and listening and much picture-taking. These are gifts I look forward to each year. I believe Jesus is pleased with gifts like these. Gifts of relationships, encouragement, support and love. I pray that we continue giving Jesus these kinds of gifts. I pray that we don’t think that after Christmas Day, we don’t need to give Jesus gifts. Our lives should be gifts to God every day. Christmas peaks Christmas Day, our celebration of Jesus’s birth and continues throughout the year.
Merry Christmas and may the love of Jesus be yours and be shared throughout the coming year.
It’s Christmastime and everyone is shopping. If people aren’t shopping, they are partying. If they aren’t shopping and they aren’t partying, they are planning for Christmas dinner or reassessing the gifts they’ve bought.
By Christmas Eve, a lot of people stop for about an hour for a Christmas Eve program. Then, it’s back to shopping, cooking or checking gifts.
That’s not my life anymore. I have refocused on the reason for the season – Jesus. My younger kids and I were talking about Christmas during one of our devotions a few weeks ago. We talked about the greatest gift given to us all – the gift that started Christmas for Christians – Jesus. What would Jesus want for His birthday celebration? Gifts Jesus would want, we discussed, would be more service and relationship oriented. Acts of service to others would be high on the list. We decided that we would seek to give gifts to Jesus in the days leading up to Christmas Day.
Since that discussion, I’ve been focused on gifts for Jesus. I’ve been so focused on gifts for Jesus that I didn’t distribute cards or gifts at work. I decided I would give New Year cards and gifts. I’ll take care of Jesus first.
Because of my new approach to Christmas, I’ve been much more relaxed and at peace. I’ve really thought about and meditated on the sermon series about Christmas at church. I haven’t just “gone through the motions” this year.
As you prepare to celebrate Christmas, stop and think about what you are celebrating. What do you want to convey to your children, family members, friends? Is the feeling you have for Christmas a feeling that will vanish on the day after Christmas? Should the feeling you have for Christmas last throughout the year?
Conflict. Most people don’t want conflict, but it happens. Even though people who are in community care about each other, there are still times of conflict.
What exactly is conflict? Well, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word conflict can be used as a noun and as a verb. As a noun, conflict is a fight or battle; a competitive or opposing action of incompatibles; a mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes. As a verb, to conflict is to contend in warfare; to be different, opposed or contradictory.
There will be times of conflict – when people in community have opposing views. Having different views about a topic or different ideas about how to solve a problem isn’t bad. The key is to resolve the conflict in an agreeable way for those involved in the conflict. Doing so results in a “win-win” situation.
Conflict can actually help us to grow. Knowing how to resolve differences of opinion is important in life. You won’t always agree with your spouse or your best friend. Your teammates won’t always agree with you or think your idea is the one that should be used. It’s ok.
Decide before there is conflict to agree to disagree, if necessary, and move on. Decide that your relationship is more important than a difference of opinion. Your marriage is worth more than a disagreement over where to squeeze the toothpaste. Your friendship is worth more than a disagreement over how the dress you wanted to buy looked on you.
Relationships are important. We were made to make connections. Make the right connections and accept that sometimes you will need to agree to disagree.
Becoming in community starts by caring about people around you. Caring enough to at least say “Howdy!” (my version of “Hi!”) is the beginning of interacting with people around you. While you are at the park, walking your dog or in the grocery store, there are opportunities to start relationships.
Being in community is really a mindset – an attitude. I care about people around me. I want to build relationships. It’s important to me to acknowledge and connect with people around me.
When I started going to the Wednesday night group meetings at Pinellas Community Church, I didn’t know anyone. I had spoken with the small group leader on several Sundays but I didn’t know her. I didn’t have a relationship with her. I was in a church community but I wasn’t in community with anyone.
After attending several Wednesday group meetings, I began developing relationships. The other women and I began greeting each other on Sundays at church and talking a little after group meetings. We were becoming familiar with each other and greeting each other became easy.
Now, the women in the group and I are in community. We interact with each other on GroupMe every day to encourage each other and share Bible scripture. When someone has a concern, we pray for that person and help in other ways if we are able. When someone has a celebration, we celebrate with that person.
Because I am in community with the women in the group, I look forward to checking GroupMe in the mornings, I have supportive relationships with women in my church family, we have joined together to help in the community and I look forward to greeting the women in the group on Sundays at church. I am enriched by my relationships and empowered throughout my life.
We were made to connect with others – to live in community. What do you need to do in order to be in community with the people you interact with regularly? If you are in community with the people around you, how can you reach out to others?
We all live in communities of some sort. But not all of us are in community. In order to be in community, we must interact with the people around us. We have to be involved with the people around us. We have to speak with the people around us. We have to care about the people around us. That’s how we become in community.
So what’s the big deal about being in community versus being in a community? A lot! When you are in a community but not in community, your neighbors may not speak to you or even know your name; if there have been a lot of summer car break-ins on your street, you probably don’t know; if your neighbor has viewed people in his backyard at night from the camera in his yard and is concerned, you might not know. If you are in community in a community, you speak to your neighbors; if there have been summer car break-ins, you found out because one of your neighbors told you or you shared the information with your neighbor; if there have been people in your neighbor’s backyard, you know because you and your neighbor discussed the situation and how to watch out for each other.
Being in community means you are concerned about people around you and you help each other. These people are not just in your home community, they are in all of the communities that you are in: work community, your children’s school community, friends, church family, etc. The best and most recent example of being in community for me is the movie Blind Side.
This movie exemplifies being in community at it’s best! On the way home from a family outing, the mother notices a child (Michael), from the school her children attend, walking down the street on a cold night. The family stops and after a brief conversation, the mother realizes that Michael has no where to go for the night. She decides to take him to their home for the night (in community). The next day, she finds out that Michael does not have a place to spend Thanksgiving, so she invites him to stay for Thanksgiving dinner (in community). Really, the first example of in community is shown by a father in the community that Michael lived in who allowed Michael to stay with his family because Michael’s home life was not stable.
You may think that these are extremes but they aren’t. Blind Side is based on a true story. People are reaching out to the people around them every day because they are in community with the people with whom they interact. Teachers who reach out to the families of their students. Neighbors who mow the yards of neighbors who are ill or unable to do so. Children who raise money for baskets of supplies for new mothers who need support. All of these people are in community.
Being in community is a win-win situation for everyone involved. So, how about you? Are you in community with those around you?
What does Good Friday mean to you? A day off to relax, shop, do errands? An extended weekend? A short vacation? The day Jesus was crucified?
For me, as well as other Christians, Good Friday is an extremely important day. Because of Good Friday, there’s Easter. Good Friday is a time to remember and reflect upon the events leading up to the death of Jesus, the death of Jesus on the cross and what those events meant then and mean now.
What must the people during that time have thought as Jesus struggled to drag the cross through the streets? Why didn’t someone try to stop the events? How could people justify treating Jesus so cruelly? How must the mother of Jesus have felt?
During the Good Friday service I attended, women portraying twelve women who were healed by Jesus and/or who ministered to Jesus and followed him described their connections to Jesus. It was as if they were talking directly to us. It seemed that we knew the women better after hearing their explanations. I left the church pondering how the women portrayed must have felt the day Jesus was crucified. Even now, I’m wondering if they walked away after Jesus was taken off the cross or if they stayed at the foot of the cross in shock.
Though I have a lot of questions, I don’t question the significance of Good Friday to Christians and the impact Good Friday had on the world. Let’s continue to ponder the events of Good Friday and specifically the significance of those events for our lives.
Maundy Thursday. Just the phrase reminds of going to church on the Thursday before Easter. That’s the day we remembered the last supper Jesus had with his disciples. It was always a somber, reflective time.
The church I attend now does not have a Maundy Thursday service. Christians that I know don’t mention Maundy Thursday. I’m not even sure I heard anything about Maundy Thursday on the radio on my way to school. But, there was a Maundy Thursday service on the radio on my way home.
Why isn’t there much said about Maundy Thursday. I think it’s because it’s not a fun celebration. Maundy Thursday is a time to think critically and deeply about what Jesus did prior to being arrested, tortured and killed. Most people don’t find that type thinking enjoyable.
Somber, reflective thinking may not be enjoyable but that type thinking is necessary periodically. Why? Because reflective thinking causes us to deeply think about our relationship with God through Jesus and to take a closer look at our lives.
As I continue to think about mercy and grace, I realize that Jesus showed mercy and grace to the disciples during the last supper and especially so to Judas Iscariot. Jesus knew that Judas Iscariot was going to betray him and he showed him love anyway. Jesus even washed his feet. Jesus knew that the disciples would scatter when he was arrested and even deny knowing him and... he showed them mercy and grace anyway. Even washing their feet. That’s amazing! And – that’s God.
On our own, we couldn’t do that – show mercy and grace to someone who we knew was planning to set us up to be hurt and mistreated. We have a hard time being civil to someone who “we heard” said something negative about us. It would be difficult for most people to be kind to someone who they knew was plotting against them and would betray them. On our own, it’s almost impossible. But, with God’s help and guidance, we can show mercy and grace to those around us.
Let’s remember Maundy Thursday. Let’s take time to reflect on the last time Jesus had supper with his disciples and how he washed their feet and what that meant then and now. Find a quiet place to read and reflect upon: Matthew 26:14-35; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:1-35; John 13:1 – 17:25.
Two weeks ago, the focus of our small group meeting was reconciliation. We were challenged by Pastor Rick Warren (through the video) to be agents of reconciliation.
I thought about conflicts I had been in and how the situations had been resolved. For one of the conflicts, after trying to make things better, I backed off. I limited my contact with the person involved and didn’t bring up the issue of the conflict. Whenever I was around the person involved in the conflict, I maintained the same attitude with the person I was in conflict with as the other people we were around. It took a while, but we have moved on and now have a pleasant relationship. We are both getting to know more about each other.
We didn’t admit to anything or continue to blame. We moved on. Sometimes in conflict, you need to move on with no blame assigned and no guilt confessed.
What would happen if we all sought reconciliation? I suspect there would be less conflict or conflict wouldn’t last long. With less conflict, there would be less stress. There would be better friendships and marriages. There would be increased productivity at home and work.
No. I’m not thinking of utopia. I’m imagining peaceful living. Stress free living. It’s possible. Let’s start a movement of reconciliation. You and me. Where we are.
The right word at the right time is like precious gold set in silver.
[Proverbs 25:11 – Contemporary English Version]
Are You A Gossiper?
At church on Wednesday’s, we are involved in a video- based study for small groups called “The Miracle of Mercy”. The study was written by Pastor Rick Warren. The study is about showing mercy to those around us.
Last week, the focus was showing mercy to difficult people. The fourth way to show mercy to difficult people was to refuse to gossip about them. I was ok with that statement. That statement made sense to me. The definition of “gossip” given by Pastor Warren is what really got my attention. The definition of gossip that Pastor Warren used was “telling something to someone who is not a part of the solution”. What!? That’s not the definition I know.
I’ve always considered gossip to be repeating something that someone told you that you know may not be true. Or repeating something without knowing for sure that it is true. I had never thought that telling someone something about someone else that really isn’t their business was gossip.
I felt convicted of gossiping immediately. And the feeling wasn’t a good one. Me? A gossiper? No way. I prided myself on avoiding gossip. If someone tried to tell me about “something they heard”, I would change the subject or say something vague like “well, that might be. I’m not sure.” And keep moving.
The day before our book study last week, a teammate at work had asked about a meeting I was in that involved another teammate and I had mentioned that the teammate in the meeting had not been doing as well as she thought. I felt a little guilty at the time because I knew I shouldn’t have said anything about what happened in the meeting. I rationalized that we were all on the same team and effected by each other so it was ok to mention what happened in the meeting. I didn’t mention details about the meeting. But, I still didn’t feel right after talking to the teammate.
Watching the video reminded me of that conversation and I questioned whether I had indeed gossiped. As I think about everything now, I realize I did gossip. The teammate I had spoken to was not a part of the solution and didn’t need to know that the teammate in the meeting had not been performing as expected. I vowed after the small group to make sure that what I say
In the future is necessary and that I’m giving the right information to the right person.
It’s so easy to get “caught up” in the moment and say too much or say the truth to someone who doesn’t need to know. James 1:19 came to mind: “…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;”. I’m going to think about that verse a lot this week.
What about you? Have you been guilty of gossiping too? What will you do to avoid gossiping and avoid listening to gossip? Decide now so that when the situation involving gossip arises, you’ll already have a plan in place.
Well, we’ve celebrated Christmas. Now what? For me, it is still Christmastime and a time of celebration. 🙂 I’m still celebrating Jesus. I’m also pondering my gifts to Jesus. I’m using this time to rest, renew and reevaluate my focus and goals.
On Christmas Day, eleven family members enjoyed Christmas dinner at our house. God kept Fred and I healthy and sane enough to complete the floors in the dining room and den and to complete the ceilings in the kitchen and the den (though the ceiling in the den still needs to be sanded and painted). We’ve been gathering for Thanksgiving and Christmas for the last six years.
As we were all sitting at the dinner table having multiple conversations, I looked around and smiled. Everything wasn’t finished and I wasn’t able to do all the things I wanted to do but all was well. Everyone was healthy and present. What mattered is that we were all together enjoying Christmas dinner.
When Jesus was born, things didn’t work out the way Joseph and Mary would have liked. But everything worked out the way God wanted them to work out. Jesus was born. The shepherds heard the news, received the news of Jesus’ birth and shared that news with others. Wise men followed the star placed in the sky by God to find Jesus. JESUS WAS BORN.
Christmas morning, Fred and I had gathered with our kids in the living room and Fred read scripture about Jesus’s birth. We talked about God’s gift of Jesus to us and our gifts to Jesus. What had we decided to give Jesus as a gift or had we decided on our gift to Jesus? We also discussed the importance of moving forward with Jesus in mind in all that we do.
I hope you are still enjoying Christmas and that you have had quiet moments to yourself as well as fun times with family and/or friends. Take time to reflect on your life and what God has for you to do.