Spiritual Christmas Gift List

Monday, December 22, 2014

Gift giving is a Christmas tradition ever since the Wise Men went bearing gifts to the baby Jesus. 

You all may have gift giving traditions in your family. We do. The whole family – all 20 of us – go to my parents house on Christmas morning as we have for my whole life. We eat breakfast -  pretty much the same menu for 60 years. Egg dish, biscuits, ham, fruit, something sweet and the Le Conte Sunrise, a fruit slushy. We hear the Christmas story and then in descending order of age, we descend down the stairs to the basement, pausing to have our picture  made on the last step and enter Christmas wonderland. The gifts are stacked in the exact same place as the year before and the year before, etc. We each know exactly where to go. Then we begin the opening. Some years we try to bring more order than others, but with the tribe increasing, it takes too long to wait on every person to open a gift before moving on to the next. If family members are getting the same gift, we make sure they open them at the same time. It’s all complete organized chaos and a whole lot of joy. Then we all simmer down and watch the matriarch and patriarch open their gifts. There are always a lot of laughs and some tears, for someone always manages to give a framed photo of a momentous occasion and we all ooh and aah and snap the cameras. Yes, gift giving is an important part of celebrating in my family.

Giving is important because of the effort, love and time it takes to make or purchase an appropriate gift. And in wrapping, mailing or delivering it! There is usually a lot of love wrapped up with gift giving! Some of us enjoy giving even more than receiving. We rejoice in our ability to create little blessings in people’s lives, by the things we are able to do for them!

We also need to make a Spiritual Christmas Gift List. Who are the people that you need to show the love of Jesus to during this season? Are there people you come across in your everyday life that need a little dose of Jesus?

The women of Christmas – Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna – offered spiritual gifts.

As we close, let’s look at the gifts our women of Christmas gave.

Elizabeth’s gift was joy. Elizabeth was joyful in her own news and in Mary’s news. It’s easy to be joyful when good things happen to us but how joyful are we with the good news of others?  Elizabeth stayed joyful even when she didn’t understood how in her old age she could bear a child. She stayed joyful when Mary arrived to share her own good news.

Mary’s gift was faith. Mary didn’t understand the news the angel brought. How could a virgin conceive.  However, because of her faith she accepted what she was told and was honored to be a part of God’s big plan.

Anna’s gift was gratitude. Anna was an old and lonely widow living in the temple. She spent her time worshipping God day and night and waiting for the redemption of Israel. She responds to the visit of the baby Jesus with thanksgiving. She’s thankful even after many years of hardship and loneliness.

Let’s pay attention to the gifts these women brought.. This Christmas, I pray that you use the gifts these women have brought: the joy of Elizabeth, the faith of Mary, and the thanksgiving of Anna.

Let us pray that God will show us the individuals in our world who still need the gift of Jesus. Let’s add them to our spiritual Christmas List.

 Every good and perfect gift is from above.              James 1:17

To hear the full audio of this lesson, click here.
Spiritual Christmas Gift List

Mary and Joseph: Life Interrupted

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mary and Joseph had a life interrupted, so to speak. This happily engaged couple must have been in the middle of wedding plans when their lives took a sudden turn. You know what it’s like to be engaged - picking out the location, the cake, the guest list, and making all the other hundreds decisions betrothed couples make.  Then…the angel visits. Suddenly, their lives center on very different decisions. Joseph finds himself with an unmarried but pregnant fiancée. His initial knee jerk reaction was to quietly divorce her. He could have embarrassed her, disgraced her, or let her be killed…but he “considered these things.” I’m sure there were many potential joy stealers in Nazareth waiting to pounce on any bit of scandal! Joseph listened to the angel and considered God’s opinion before making his final decision. The gospel writer Luke tells us Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. Luke 1:24

 Joseph consulted God when his life was interrupted.

So what do you do when your plans get interrupted? Who do you consult when your plans are dashed, your ideas are nixed, when you experience disappointments, defeat or failure. Whose opinion do you consider when people attempt to bring disgrace to you? The naysayers and joy stealers? When life is interrupted, it’s important to consult God, the one who came to bring joy, not steal it.

Not only were there plans interrupted but Mary and Joseph had to deal with the reactions of the townspeople. I’m sure there were the gawkers, the critics, and the judgers. How about those who might have even be envious? These people would make many attempts to steal the joy right out from under Mary and Joseph. We’ve all experienced joy stealers.  Desperate people take desperate measures to steal our joy. God created the beautiful deep blue oceans for us to enjoy and to provide us food, yet sharks still swim in the ocean. And so it is with people. God created people to do good and to love each other, but there are still “sharks” among us. What’s so sad is these joy stealers in Joseph and Mary’s lives probably believed they were doing and saying God’s work and righteous Jews.  Self-righteous, sanctimonious people sat in judgment on the work God himself was doing. You know what is wonderful to think about? Mary and Joseph had a God who gives joy and doesn’t steal it. They both trusted God. And think about this, Mary and Joseph had the truth on their side. They lived in the truth, an important lesson when someone tries to steal our joy with lies and deception.

Do you think Mary and Joseph recalled the words of Samuel when they were dealing with joy stealers?

 17 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
18 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
19 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
20 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me. 2 Samuel 22:17-20 New International Version (NIV)

What can we do when our plans are interrupted and when people try to steal our joy?

For courage, wisdom, guidance, and peace. Sing prayer of praise to God in the middle of the interruption.

Mary sang, My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Luke 1:46

Properly process the information. Look for the truth of the situation. Deal with what you know to be true.  Consider these questions: are you dealing with a life changing interruption or a momentary bump in the road? Is this interruption a true catastrophe or are you dealing with catastrophic thinking? Look at the reality. Find where God is in the situation. Live in the truth of what you know and not in the speculation of the unknown.

Mary and Joseph trusted the angel. They believed that God could do a miracle through the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m sure they had many discussions about the unlikelihood that Mary had been unfaithful, but they lived in the facts of the situation and trusted God with the details.

Properly React
After praying and processing what you know to be true, be intentional, assertive, positive, and proactive in your response. Avoid knee jerk, negative actions that you will regret.

Joseph initially had a very human knee jerk reaction. He wanted to completely distance himself from Mary. However, after processing what he knew to be true, he properly reacted. He acted as God would have him act.

God is in control. God is in control. He is waiting to give his love and support and his peace in the interruptions. There’s an old gospel song that my sister and I sing out every once in a while called, “God’s still running this world.”  When we have doubts, interruptions, or come across joy stealers, we can find comfort in knowing that God is in control. We can lean into him.

Just as Mary and Joseph experienced interruptions, so do we. Our lives don’t always go as expected either. There are people who want to interrupt us and those who want to steal our joy. When they come, let’s give them to God and praise him in the middle of them. God will work things out.

To hear the audio of this lesson, click here.
Mary and Joseph: Life Interrupted 



Women of Christmas: Elizabeth

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The gospel writer Luke uses the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents of John the Baptist, to set the stage for the birth of Jesus. This couple had lived a long and happy life together seemingly content even though they didn’t have the child they longed for. Elizabeth’s barrenness is seen as a disgrace and the couple endure years of people attempting to dishonor them or shun them. However, they are more concerned about what God thought than what others thought -  a good foundation for a marital relationship, by the way!

Then… Gabriel is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells him Elizabeth will bear a son who will be great in the sight of the Lord and who will prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Unfortunately, in the most momentous encounter of his life, Zechariah doubts. As a consequence, he is struck speechless.  Luke tells us,

 Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. 25 “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” Luke 1: 24-25

For the entire pregnancy Zechariah is speechless. However, he remains faithful to God. After the birth, at the circumcision ceremony, Zechariah confirms the name when he writes it on the tablet. “His name is John.” Instantly, John could speak again. His first words were of praise to God.

Elizabeth and Zechariah serve as heroes of the faith. Zechariah represents those who may doubt God for a moment but are willing to obey. Elizabeth embodies those who remain faithful and praise God even when they don’t understand his workings.  Even though they felt hopeless, God was waiting for the right time to encourage them and take away their disgrace. We see through them that God can do great things to anyone who allows God to work within.

This is the most exciting thought for me – God is working behind the scenes on our behalf too even when we don’t realize it. Imagine all the days, months, years of forethought that went in to choosing Elizabeth and Zechariah to give birth to John the Baptist the man who would prepare the way for the Messiah. Imagine all the years people had attempted to bring shame to their name, to dishonor them, to discredit them because they were childless. All along, God was working behind the scenes on their behalf. Elizabeth and Zechariah would have known the words of the prophet Jeremiah: God “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” He had a plan and purpose for their lives and when the time came for him to reveal it, they were found faithful.

Elizabeth and Zechariah offer us encouragement when we face doubt or feel hopeless or when people attempt to disgrace us. This righteous couple trusted in God and held on to each other during the times when people must have scorned them. And when the pronouncement came from the angel that Elizabeth would give birth at an old age and then she appeared in public for the first time, I’m sure the naysayers and doubters attempted to stir up a scandal. But through it all Elizabeth praised God and proclaimed, “The Lord has done this for me. How kind the Lord is.”

Let’s remember that God is working behind the scenes on our behalf. God wants us to know our purpose and to live an exceedingly abundant life. When we face doubt or feel hopeless or when people attempt to disgrace us, let’s remember that God is faithful. In order to live in our purpose and enjoy God’s abundance we need to do as Elizabeth did: trust and obey. The old hymn tells us, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way. To be happy in Jesus we must trust and obey.”

 For more of my lesson on Women of Christmas: Elizabeth, click the audio link below.


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