Sunday, December 30, 2007

Rethink your New Year's Resolutions

For our fifth wedding anniversary on December 28th, Ryan surprised me with a night's stay at the Blue Lantern Inn--in the same room where we stayed on our wedding night. It was so relaxing and wonderful. I felt like I got to see my husband for uninterrupted, precious time, away from phones, e-mail, blogs and a little distraction called Carter. We had dinner at the Charthouse, walked in the harbor and spent much of the time discussing and writing our annual marriage goals.

Now, when I say goals, I am not talking about your typical New Year's Day goals of which the world speaks. Since we got married, Ryan and I meet together on our anniversary weekend to do annual goals. He will be training other couples in this practice at an upcoming Thrive night, and I cannot stress the benefit we have seen in our own marriage.

We started the session by telling one another what the other did well in 2007. I encouraged Ryan that he is a godly dad with Carter, he is a wonderful provider, he is responsible and organized with our budgets and finances, he is doing a wonderful job serving the church body by co-leading Thrive, he is amazing at encouraging me, he has done a fantastic job at getting home earlier from work and balancing the two worlds of work and family, he has been a gardener extraordinaire at our home each week, he is much better at bringing up issues or discussions at ideal times, and he is doing a wonderful job at planning dates and trips for our family. After we read our list of encouragment, we have a safe time to offer some ways in which the other person has an opportunity to improve or grow. For example, I can work on organizing piles around the house and not getting defensive when Ryan wants to help me find places for things that are sitting around the house. This time is convicting (as you know your spouse is right on the mark), but it always is such a blessing to us both. Issues are brought up lovingly and at an appropriate time, and we really think about what the BIG issues are to us when we make our list--tending to those weeds that might creep into our marriage.

After this time, we make goals as a couple (about 10) and goals as individuals (about 10 each). The goals cover our walk with God and spiritual growth, our marriage, our finances, our home and personal "other." For example, my goals for this year are to memorize at least 10 more verses, along with reviewing and knowing my last 20. In addition, I need to quickly recall the Old Testament books in order (those minor prophets always get me). I will do learning time with Carter for 30 minutes, three times a week (one on one, focused learning time for Bible teaching, letters, numbers, art, fine motor, etc.). And the list goes on . . .

We then end the session, which takes a full day, so we break it up into chunks and take breaks, by going over our finances and budget for the year. This helps me plan grocery shopping, budgeting for clothes or home stuff, etc.

What is most important in our goals, which we discussed this year, is the flexibility of our goals to allow for God's leading and will. We might plan to take a trip to such and such place in May, but God might have us all sick that week. I don't plan on leading a Women's Bible study small group next year, as I imagine I'll be in bed sick for months if we get pregnant later in the year. However, God has every ability to give us a smooth pregnancy, and I could lead a small group again next year. Our finances might currently set a particular budget, but Ryan could lose his job or get transferred to Kentucky, and then we'd be back at square one. It is fine and, I believe, responsible to plan, but we must be open to God's leading and be holding on loosely to dreams and goals.

Have you made any New Year's goals? I highly recommend meeting as a couple and communicating about these issues. Have your husband lead the discussion and goal setting. It is such a blessing to be in Biblical roles when planning for your family in the year to come. Ultimately, however, hand it all over to God and let His will be done. He will change some of your plans, and He will exceed your expectations in other areas. The blessing is knowing that He has the final say and His sovereignty is filled with holiness, mercy, grace and love. Let trusting God in your goals be number one on your list this year!

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good
crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns
and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And
I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take
life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool!
This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you
have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with anyone who
stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:16-21

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Five Years

I love my husband. He is such a joy in my life. When I was looking for God to send me my future husband, I had a list of ideals in my head. Ryan is better than any man I had determined in my imagination.

December 28th is our anniversary. We were married five years ago. I had always wanted to get married near Christmas, with evergreens all around, twinkle lights in all the trees, and red (my favorite color) decorating everything. My affinity for Christmastime led to some issues--a very stressful December, high priced floral arrangements, and a difficult time finding an inside venue for up to 200 people.

However, my memories are not of all the difficulties. I remember how Ryan and I both were shaking with emotion in the church, the glow of the little chapel we chose in which to get married, how sweet he was in helping with all the details, and the absolute joy I felt on the day he graciously became my husband. He and I both were looking to face a "hard first year", as people warned us, but we never really did. We had adjustments to make, but perhaps getting married at 28 and 29 years old had prepared us for some bumps in the road. Having the Lord as the foundation of our marriage has kept the tempests or trials from causing too much harm.

The past five years have been a true, wonderful answer to my prayers. We have enjoyed traveling all over Europe, the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica. We have nested in our first house and made our home a place we love to be. We have been blessed with a little boy who is so much like his father, and I am so glad! May he grow up to be as loving, honest and thoughtful as his dad. We have been very involved in attending and serving in our church body, and I have loved every minute of watching Ryan lead and grow in his relationship with God.

God is so very good! I know that every blessing is from above (James 1:17), so the wonderful husband that I have is a gift from my loving Heavenly Father. Thank you Lord for Ryan and all the events you have placed in his life to make him the man he is today. May I never take this gift for granted and may I always submit to both him and You. Happy anniversary, Ryan! You are an amazing husband, and I love you tremendously.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On the Fourth Day of Christmas . . .

This year we had four days of Christmas! Saturday, we got together with my sisters, their families, and my parents for gifts, pot roast, and a great kickoff to family get togethers. The cousins all piled on my parents' bed to watch movies and relax. Carter's highlight was getting a bike--he can't even reach the pedals. He loves the fact he has a bike, though!

Sunday, we went to church, and then we went to Ryan's extended family celebration to have ham, cheesy potatoes, green bean casserole and more gifts. We had a nice time seeing all the aunts, uncles, cousins and Happy. Carter and Ivy had fun being as silly as they could for their "audience."
Monday, we went to Christmas Eve services at church and then went to Ryan's mom's to open gifts with his immediate family and have prime rib. This was a fun evening, as we did kid dinner and gifts first and then put Ivy, Carter and Gabe to bed. We were able to have an unrushed, adult conversation dinner and then open our presents without meltdowns, accidents or whining. It was wonderful! Carter loved the baseball toy he got, but his two train track sets are his current obsession. He gets down on his tummy, face in his hands, and just watches the train (or "choo choo") go round and round. He also narrates what the train is doing, "down, tunnel, up, whoa," etc.
Christmas morning, Ryan and I realized that Carter has his meltdown on the fourth day of Christmas. He was grumpy, tired and not into presents anymore. Luckily, we bought very little for him, as he is blessed by all his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. He took a long nap after we opened a few presents and enjoyed homemade cinnamon rolls. Then, we had a neighbor and both of his grandparents (our parents) over for Mexican food and a mellow ending to our family get togethers. Carter slept over 12 hours that night, and I figure it will take a few days to recover from our four day whirlwind.

Christmas was wonderful, but, as every year, I realize the presents mean figuring out storage, food means buckling down on a New Year's diet, and so many family meetings mean tired individuals after four days of visiting. It is refreshing to know our true reason for celebrating brings nothing but joy and hope for Christians. Thank you Lord Jesus for the gift of salvation you bring! I pray you all had a joyous Christmas in Christ!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Joy to the World

Psalm 98
Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
2 The Lord has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
3 He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to the house of Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
4 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
5 make music to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 let them sing before the Lord,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.

If I have a moment in the day, I like to read newspaper editorials. I believe it is mainly to jolt myself out of my complacent attitude and to remind myself how most people in the world do not truly have Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They possess no truth and have relativistic thinking as their only compass.

Such was my experience in light of reading the Register today. A columnist had entitled his column, "Christmas is what we want to make of it." Right away, I knew I had found a goldmine of worldly lies and misplaced hope. The article had quotes such as, "After all, in America the Christmas holiday is whatever we want to make of it", "Nobody owns Christmas--and how we choose to celebrate it shouldn't offend anyone else just because they choose to do it differently, or not at all", or "We can celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, or revel in Santas and reindeers, or simply enjoy a quiet day off from work, or any combination thereof."

All of these points are enough off the mark of Biblical truth to elicit a reaction, but I was left extremely sad when I finished reading the article. What prompted my despair was, in his attempt to encourage those experiencing loss or sadness this December, his hope and advice was this, "I hope that the memories of joyous Christmases past, and the hope for joyous Christmases in the future, will give you comfort in this Christmas present." To him, joy can be grasped at by finding memories of happiness or uncertain futures of possible happiness to get us through the present. This was depressing!

In the face of this article, I was reading a book that tells the history of hymns and carols. The song Joy to the World was written in 1719 by Isaac Watts. He took the 98th Psalm in the Bible and used this as his inspiration. This song has survived nearly three hundred years to tell us that true happiness and joy is that the Lord is come! He is our King and Savior, who humbled Himself to live a perfect life for us and who died to pay the penalty of Christians' sins. Because of this, we know our futures are secure in a perfect, eternal place with Christ and our Heavenly Father.
"Joy to the world! the Lord is come; Let earth receive her
King. Let every heart prepare Him room, And heav'n and nature sing, And
heav'n and nature sing, And heav'n, and heav'n and nature sing.
Joy to the world! the Savior reigns: Let men their songs
employ, While fields and floods, Rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding
joy, repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sin and sorrow grow, Nor thorns infest the ground. He
comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found. Far as the
curse is found, Far as, Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the
glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love, and wonders of His love,
and wonders, and wonders of His love."
This is true joy--a joy that transcends circumstances and memories. It is realizing that Christmas is NOT what WE make it. Thank goodness! It is joy because of Jesus Christ coming for us so many years ago. God made Christmas and will continue to be faithful to His promises. People might find comfort in their autonomy and ability to choose Santa over Jesus, but this is a fleeting struggle for happiness. To my dear friends and family, who are my brothers and sisters in Christ, joy to you for our Lord is come!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Finding Meaning in some Traditions

With Christmas just a week away, I was wondering about some of the history of our culture's Christmas traditions. Many of the secular traditions have pagan origins, but the church has added some of their own meanings along the way. Here are some traditions I researched, but please let us know if you are aware of more detail or information. Merry X-Mas everyone! (You'll read why I say X-Mas below) . . .

The wreath--Pagans began using wreaths on the head to symbolize victory, such as in the Greek Olympics. However, Christians have come to see the wreath as a perfect symbol of our eternal God. (The circle never begins or ends). It is also adaptable to say, using the victory analogy, that the final, ultimate victor is Christ.

The Candy Cane--This has no pagan origin. It was created with Christian meaning when it began. The shepherd hook shape represents Christ, our Good Shepherd (I Peter 5:4). The candy is hard because God is our rock. (I Cor. 10:4) There are 3 stripes in a traditional candy cane, which stands for the Trinity. The stripes represent the lashes and pain Christ received before He was crucified. The largest stripe is red, standing for the blood He shed for our sins. (Ephesians 1:7) The white stripe shows us that Christ was spotless and washes away our sin when we place Him as Lord of our lives. (2 Cor. 5:21) The Peppermint flavor relates to the herb hyssop, which is from the Psalms verse about being washed clean with hyssop. (Psalm 51:7)

The Christmas Tree--This definitely has pagan beginnings--the early Germanic tribes worshipped their gods of nature, such as the tree. However, there are several legends of redeeming this tradition. It is said that Saint Boniface was trying to convert these tribes to Christianity and saw them worshipping an oak tree. He cut it down and later a fir tree sprouted. Boniface used the triangle shape of the fir tree to teach the pagans the concept of the Trinity of God.

It is also said that Martin Luther was one of the first to place a tree with "lights" (candles) in his home, in order to represent the beauty of the star-studded sky on the Christmas Eve when Jesus was born. People place an angel or star on the top of their tree to represent the nativity story. Also, it became popular to put apples on the tree at one point in Puritan history, in order to represent the Garden of Eden and remind ourselves of our fall from grace.

Christmas Cards--These began first by a British Postal worker named Sir Henry Cole. He had an artist depict 3 scenes on a card. In the middle was a family together at a feast/dinner at home. The right side picture was of the needy being clothed. The left side of the picture was of the hungry being fed. He even included the famous "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" on his first card.

Stockings--The beginnings of these are deep in folklore and probably started as a pagan tradition to get blessings from the gods. (In shoes left out at night). The stockings idea began in the 3rd or 4th century when Saint Nicholas, a bishop, used to make anonymous gifts to people all the time. He was traveling in the Caspian Sea area where a widower had 3 daughters. They were poor and had no dowry, so they were not going to be able to marry. It is said he gave them an anonymous gift at night by placing "gifts" in their stockings, which were drying by the chimney.

Santa (Saint Nick)--Santa isn't a completely forbidden word in our home, but we are not teaching our boys that Santa Claus is real. We want to focus on Jesus. However, we do teach our boys about Saint Nicholas, who was a bishop/pastor during the 3rd and 4th century.  We tell our boys that people who don't have Jesus as Lord have to attribute characteristics of love and generosity to something, so they focus on a man named Santa Claus, rather than God.

Here are some facts about Saint Nicholas, the bishop from whom Santa comes. He was extremely generous and loved Christ in word and action.  There is a great sermon on him from our pastor with many details.  You can listen to the message here:
Over the years, humans have elevated a sinful man (just like all of us) in a way that is much like an idol. As I stated, Saint Nicholas was a bishop in the 3rd and 4th century. He was very generous and gave many anonymous gifts. He became very famous and legend built up around him.
Certain churches claimed he stopped a storm on the ocean (sound familiar of Christ?) and became a patron saint of sailors. He also was said to have brought 3 young boys back to life, 7 years after they had been murdered and cut into pieces. Thus, he became the patron saint of children too. His death in December and the celebration and remembrance of him got mixed in with Christ's Mass in the Catholic church. Thus, Christmas all became intertwined with St. Nicholas Day and Jesus. Voila! There you have it.
We, as Christians focused on Biblical truths, choose to expose the folklore as false and celebrate the real man who lived in service to Christ and loving others with generosity.  His life points to Christ's example, which is the REAL deal!

X-Mas--People might cringe at this saying, thinking modern, liberal people are trying to replace Christ and make it neutral. They might be, but little do they know that the early Christian church used the Greek symbol X (chi) to represent the name Christ. So, this gives you an opportunity to explain this 2,000 year old tradition to the next person who says or writes this to you! They might be shocked!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Blue Christmas

This year particularly, it seems some friends of ours have hit deep valleys and trials in their lives. It is especially painful to face such dark times in the blaring lightheartedness and merriment of Christmas--parents dying, children being called to heaven, terminal diseases and other big hurts in our earthly pilgrimages. Family and friends expect a smile, cheer and the usual joy that surrounds the holiday. It is difficult.

Ryan and I were doing our Bible study together before bed two nights ago and the topic was on suffering during the Christmas season. Though it is a call for celebration that Christ came to redeem Christians, the passage of Isaiah 53 reminds us that it was also a solemn occasion. Jesus left His glory to begin a life of suffering and pain. He understands the difficulties that people face in life. This passage in Isaiah says,

"He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his
appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was
despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed
him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was
pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed
and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to
the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did
not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and
judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he
was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people
he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the
Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes
his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will
see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous
servant will justify many,
and he will bear their
iniquities." Isaiah 53: 2-11

It is comforting to know that God is with you in trials, but it is even more reassuring for those in pain that Christ is personally familiar with such extreme sorrow. He understands. What is most amazing is that He faced these difficulties not as a result of life's circumstances, but by choice and submission to God the Father's will. This year I have greatly enjoyed Bebo Norman's new Christmas CD. The song "Born to Die" is speaking to me powerfully, as it touches upon Christ's sacrifice from the moment of His birth.

If you are experiencing a blue Christmas this year, read Isaiah 53 and cling to Christ's work and suffering for you. His pain brings Christians hope, redemption, life and a promise of heaven. This is how we can find joy and peace in the midst of a blue Christmas.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

An Unexpected Pause

This past week, I have been busier than I can remember. No, I was not out buying presents, decorating the house or running from Christmas event to Christmas event. I was doing insane amounts of laundry, fetching popsicles, searching for blankets, scrubbing bathrooms, making soup, and heating and re-heating the hotpad for your back. Yes, our house was struck by the stomach flu. Carter began the adventure on Monday night, and Ryan followed course at 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning. God graciously spared me, and I was able to tend to my poor, terribly sick guys.

Through this detour in the Christmas season, we have neglected the advent calendar, not wrapped any gifts and have had to decline our attendance at several Christmas events that happened over the course of the week. Though this was a disappointment at times, it was also refreshing to step back from the flurry of December and focus on God and our family. We were forced to step back from my list of "December must do's" and pray for health and give thanks for foundational blessings such as God's provision, the power of prayer and our ability to approach God, and the amazing, ultimate blessing of salvation. Though we all fought tears and exhaustion this week, God gave us a gift of refocusing us and putting us back on the proper path of gazing on Him and realizing the simple blessings--such as health--that we so often take for granted.

Hopefully it won't take the stomach flu to focus your family on God and each other. Amidst all the decorating, baking and shopping, schedule time to continue Thanksgiving--for God's goodness, provision and the blessing of family.

James 1:17 "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning."

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Spotlight on Jesus

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:5-11

I recently read an article in the paper about a woman who was "sidelining" Christmas this year. She grew up a Catholic/Buddhist due to the mixed religions of her parents, and she believed that the ideas of Santa and gifts (what she considers the "Christian" aspect) aren't as noble as the mission of Buddhists at this time of year--peace on earth/general goodwill for mankind. Therefore, she wasn't celebrating Christmas with the commercial trees, gifts, etc. She was going to celebrate family and friends on Christmas Eve by just being together. My heart was just aching as I read this story, because she was missing the foundation for Christmas. She was comparing two man-made and human-focused ideas and seeing which measured better on her "moral" scale. She didn't even mention Jesus Christ and the hope He brings to mankind.

As true Christians and followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, this season of the year should not be merely the worldly celebration of Santa Claus, parties, lights, cards, cookies, trees, and gifts. There is nothing wrong with having these be a PART of your Christmas, but the world should see that we have a more noble cause to celebrate. A more prominent focus should be our SAVIOR, who came to earth in the form of a human so that He could live a perfect life for us, could be a perfect sacrifice in place of us to pay for the punishment of OUR sins, and could rise to life again to conquer death for us and ensure the hope of our eternal life with God in Heaven.

As Carter is getting older, I want to make sure this message is crystal clear to him. We have received two invitations to birthday parties for Jesus this December. I am impressed at the creative way my friends are pushing Jesus to the forefront of Christmas in their homes. Ryan and I want to also take the focus off US and OUR enjoyment. We are trying to think of ways to serve others and to point to Christ. Instead of toys or chocolates, Ryan put scripture focusing on Jesus in our advent calendar doors. We are scaling back on the gifts we are giving among the three of us, and we are giving Christ-focused Christmas CD's we burned to all of our neighbors. My Bible study co-leader had a great idea of buying Feed the Children donations and letting our small group know we all are paying to feed two children this year in lieu of our Christmas gifts we would normally buy for the group. In our Thrive group, we are sending care packages to soldiers who are family members of Thrive attendees. In addition, Pastor Dale is letting us know some families within our church that we can bless with donations, food, gifts and scripture this Christmas.

With all this, I still worry that the worldly focus of Christmas will overtake our true celebration. I know how creative you all can be. I'd love to hear how you put a spotlight on Jesus at Christmastime when you were growing up, in your family now, or in church activities. Are there any traditions you would like to start that you haven't put into practice quite yet? The true joy of this season belongs to Christians. Give praise and thanks. Our Lord has Come!

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14