Thursday, December 31, 2015

What to Keep for the New Year

Many of us will gather tonight with friends and family to say goodbye to the old year and hello to the new. Some of you say, “Good riddance! I’m glad to see 2015 go.” In some ways I agree, 2015 had some rough spots, but let’s not be too hasty and count it all as loss. 
I fear too often, we buy into the world’s estimation that ‘old’ means obsolete, used up, worn out, and useless—like those who roll their eyes if you don’t have the latest I-phone, or want to sing a song that’s been out for more than two years. Just as the velveteen rabbit discovered, some things actually increase in value as they age.*

Don’t most children have a favorite ‘blankie’ or stuffed animal they sleep with that comforts them better than a new one could? Antiques are appraised higher than new furniture. Artwork, coins, documents written by our founding fathers, war relics, and signed first editions also gain value with age. And who could put a price on fond childhood memories, a lifelong marriage partner, or old friends?

On the other hand, there are a lot of things that aren’t worth hanging onto: used tea bags and coffee filters, empty toothpaste tubes, outdated clothes that don’t fit, and spices five years past their expiration date (not to mention the secret things growing in the refrigerator). Plus, if we start looking inside ourselves, we might find a bit of housecleaning to be done there as well. Bad habits, attitudes, grudges, lingering self-pity, and worn out excuses all need to be tossed.

As you take stock of 2015 and ring in 2016, I’d like you to consider these four questions.
1.      What old things am I thankful for from last year? (people, things, growth opportunities)
2.      What do I need to get rid of from the past? (habits, unhealthy relationships, rebellion)
3.      What new things would God have me pursue this year? (friendships, serving others, self-control)
4.      What new things am I better off without? (stuff, time wasters, impediments)

The following verses might help you answer:

“Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you” (Deut. 32:7).

“Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good” (Psa. 25:5-7).

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isa. 43:18-19).

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).

And for those of you who would like a little New Year’s Bible study, here are just a few things God offers for the year to come with eternal value:

Song—Psa. 40:1-3
Heart and Spirit—Eze. 11:19
Mercy—Lam 3:22-23
Love—Jn. 13:34-35
You—2 Cor. 5:17
Attitude—Ephesians 4:22-24
Hope—1 Pet. 1:3-4

Productivity—Psa. 92:12-15
Comfort—Psa. 119:52
Boundaries—Prov. 22:28
Faithfulness—Isa. 64:4
Sustenance—Isa. 46:3-4
Restored—Isa. 58:11-12
Paths—Jer. 6:16
Wisdom—Mat. 13:47-52
Faith—Heb. 11:1-2

Happy New Year to you all! May God bless you richly in body, soul, and spirit.

*The Velveteen Rabbit, written by Margery Williams

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Lyrics of Christmas

No matter how many years you’ve been singing Christmas carols, the words still ring with power. These classics address the elemental need of our hearts, giving us hope in a world desperate for glad tidings.
When Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the words of, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” he was still grieving his wife’s tragic death less than two years earlier. His oldest son, of six children, was nearly paralyzed in the Civil War. On Christmas day, 1863, as cannons boomed in the distance, he wrote about mankind’s failure to live at peace, and reaffirmed his faith in the only Source of peace.

Despite his heartache and disappointment, Longfellow lifts our eyes to heaven: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail with peace on earth goodwill to men.” 

Christmas carols declare the Good News we need to hear. Here are ten of my favorite phrases this year. 


“O come, Desire of nations…fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.” ~ O Come, O Come, Emanuel
Through flood, famine, economic disaster, abandonment, and all seasons of life, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. 

A Center of Quiet

“Heavenly music floats over all the weary world…over its babble sounds the blessed angels sing.” It Came Upon a Midnight Clear 

Christmastime can get crazy. It may feel noisy inside your own head. Be still and listen for a song in the night. Jesus came to bring us inner peace. 

Connecting With God

“Radiant beams from Thy holy face…Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.” ~ Silent Night

Do you ever wish you could have been a shepherd who saw the face of the newborn King? Or a wise man who traveled far to meet Him? I’ve envied the disciples, and those who felt His touch of healing. Christmas is the radiance of Christ. 


“Let earth receive her King.” ~ Joy to the World

Those who truly want to know God, come to the stable and bow in worship. 


“The silent Word is pleading.” ~ What Child Is This?

Jesus is called the Word of God in the gospel of John. And during His ministry, Jesus often used the word “come.” A word of invitation—to accept the love of the Father and walk with Him. 


“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope—the weary world rejoices!” ~ O Holy Night 

We all want to feel like we matter to someone. Sin cripples us with guilt and regret. Jesus’ message is, no matter what we’ve done, He came for us. 


“Cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.” ~ O Little Town of Bethlehem

Christmas gives us hope for a new start, a spiritual rebirth. We can be clean and new. 

Hope for Eternal Life

“Now ye need not fear the grave: Peace! Peace! Jesus Christ was born to save.” ~ Good Christian Men, Rejoice

With heaven in view, we don’t have to be afraid of dying; life can be full and rich. 


“Tidings of comfort and joy!” ~ God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

The best news ever! 

New Life

“Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings.” ~ Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

The message lives on—in Him, in us, ringing out into a needy world. 

Is God speaking to you through Christmas music this year? What are your favorite phrases?

All lyrics taken from Sing to the Lord hymnal, Lillenas Publishing Co., © 1993.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Keep the Lights on this Christmas

I was worried I wouldn’t make it home before the flooding prevented my way back. I traveled two hours south for a medical appointment last week just before the deluge hit. All the way home I raced against water creeping menacingly toward the roadway, from rivers and valleys too waterlogged to hold any more. 
Two hours of gripping the steering wheel and hoping my path would be clear. I realized I’d been holding my breath when I rounded the corner to our house and immediately gulped in air. My husband had turned on all the outside lights to welcome me home. They melted my tension; a safe haven from the gloom, pelting rain, and panic to get home. Better than Motel 6, someone left the lights on for me.

That’s what Christmas is—a light shining into the darkened world, guiding the way, and welcoming people home.  They come from near and far, fearful of the unknown, longing to come in out of the storm, into the warmth and security of One who will love and hold them. That’s the message of nativity—God came down in person to shine His light and guide us home.

Until Jesus comes again—in His second Advent—the light continues to shine:  

Into the Darkness of the World
 Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46). Even though the darkness is palpable, His light beams through the murky depths of hatred, ignorance, deceit, and doubt. The darkness cannot overcome it. People can choose to turn away from the light and continue to stumble in darkness, but they cannot deny that it shines. And it will continue to send forth its rays of hope to draw all men to the babe in the manger who gave himself so freely for us all.

In Our Own Dark Places
We all have times when darkness is all we can see. Difficulties topple on us like dominos until we can’t seem to see anything except confusion and sinking blackness. Even though God has never let me down in the forty years I’ve called Him Lord, I still struggle to trust Him completely. Luke 11:35 has become my theme verse this year. God spoke directly to my aching heart when I read, “See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.”He reminded me to keep my eyes to the light. (See my post on March 23rd, “See to It!” if you missed it: 

Christmas shines into the shadows of worry and defeat which weigh us down. Christmas brings JOY to the darkened soul, lifting our spirits and putting everything in perspective. Our trials are temporary; the light of Jesus is eternal.

Shining Through Us
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us (2 Cor. 4:6-7). Let’s face it, we have feet of clay—made of dust and to dust returning. We’re fallible mortals cracked and pieced together by Christ’s love. That’s what makes us perfect vessels to display His light. Through our imperfections and brokenness God shines through. 

I pray in this week before Christmas you will witness Jesus shining into our world, into your own heart, and through you to a frightened world. They’re holding their breath until they can find their way home. Shine through us, Lord Jesus; may the world see you.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Christmas Fear Factor

I don’t think we need a special episode of the “Fear Factor” to introduce us to the terrors of the holidays. We have enough trepidation in our lives to make even the bravest contestant tremble:
Should I eat this fruitcake not knowing what’s inside?
Who’s brave enough to put together toys that come with no instructions?
Who wants to face rabid shoppers at 3:00 am on Black Friday?
Can I stand another Christmas with my family who end up either fighting, or tiptoeing around each other with frosty cordiality?

Why do so many people dread Christmas? Fear seems to be a common denominator. We fear overspending, loneliness, and congregating in the same room with estranged family. We fear taking risks, loss of love, getting old, gaining weight, hopelessness, and the unknown.

Isn’t this supposed to be the season for good will? Where is “joy to the world” and “peace on earth?” Is it realistic to think we can celebrate Christmas without fear? Is it possible to celebrate Christmas when genocide, natural disasters, evil, and poverty are on every side?

Fear was around that first Christmas too. In fact, every major character of the nativity had their own set of fears and anxieties. Some, gave in to them, some looked beyond them, and others left them behind. The difference was how Jesus factored in.

Fear of Rejection
Mary was troubled by the angel’s opening line, yet her only question was a scientific query, “How will this be…since I am a virgin? (Luke 1:34).” Unlike anything we might have said in such a moment, Mary just wanted to know how God was going to do it. After He told her she went on from there with faith and bravery that boggle the mind. She must have had fears and doubt, but her words reveal only complete trust in her Lord.

She laid down her preconceived (couldn’t resist the pun) ideas about what she wanted in life. She looked beyond the gossip of the moment to the place of honor she would have throughout history. And perhaps most admirably, she kept her comments to herself when most of us would have leaned into the limelight, and expressed our own opinions.

Fear of Being Unneeded
Then there’s Joseph. How important did he feel as a husband and father? He wasn’t Jesus’ dad, or even mentioned in prophesies about the Messiah. We don’t have a single quote from his lips in the Bible and he completely drops off the page after Jesus’ twelfth year.

Yet, he willingly did his part - he got Mary safely to Bethlehem, delivered this God-formed baby without any training or help, moved to Egypt in the middle of the night to escape Herod, and raised Jesus as his own. If Joseph did fear insignificance, he overcame those feelings to do what had to be done, without any fanfare or complaint. 

Fear of the Unknown
The shepherds were literally minding their own business, the night they received news of the Messiah. Unwelcome in social situations, and unaccustomed to polite company, they might have been afraid to arrive unannounced at the birthplace of a King. Yet, emboldened by their heavenly invitation, they ventured into unknown territory and left the stable with a story to tell.

Fear of Missing Out
The wise men, or astrologers, who came to Bethlehem looking for the new King, had one great concern. After all their effort and travel they didn’t want to miss the One whose star they had followed for so long. Theologians estimate it may have taken up to three years before they arrived at the house where Mary and Joseph had settled. They never let fear keep them from their goal.

Fear of Giving up the Throne
Of all the characters in this story, King Herod and his followers were the only ones whose fears became reality. More than anything, King Herod was afraid the prophecies would come true and he would lose his throne. He was willing to do anything to ensure the continuation of his rule - including wide-scale infanticide.

The irony is, in murdering all babies under three years of age, he not only revealed his true character, but he fulfilled another of prophecy about Jesus’ birth:
“Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more’” Matthew 2:17-18
This further proved Jesus’ identity as the promised King.

Defeating the Fear Factor
Do you experience any of the same fears these people did? How can we keep fear from ruining the heart of Christmas? Each person in Jesus’ story has something to teach us about facing fear.

From Mary, we can learn to let go of our preconceived expectations regarding – gifts, decorating, family times, church programs etc.

Joseph shows us how to rejoice in being a part of God’s story, even if we don’t have a major role in –family gatherings, gift-giving, and
Christmas programs.

The shepherds are amazing examples of learning how to be less self-aware. They focused their full attention on Jesus – instead of how they looked to everyone else, and what people thought of them.

The wise men teach us diligence in our search to glimpse the face of God.

Finally, the bad guy in the story. King Herod struggled with the thing which probably troubles us the most - giving up the throne so Jesus can reign supreme. I pray we won’t make the same mistake and give in to fear, but go to Him and bow in worship instead.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Jesus, Our Only Hope: Christmas

In the movie “Star Wars” Luke Skywalker accidentally discovers Princess Leah’s secret message for help. The hologram hidden in R2D2 is to someone named Obi-Wan Kenobi.

“You’re our only hope,” she pleads. Luke is moved by her need—her utter helplessness—and is immediately ready to do whatever it takes to rescue her. (Of course it doesn’t hurt that she’s young and beautiful.)

If Princess Leah’s call for help was able to touch the heart of this young warrior, who didn’t even know who she was, imagine how God feels when we express our desperate need for Him!

This Christmas I ask myself, Am I desperate for a closer relationship with God? Am I aware I’m in extreme need of His help? Do I know I am utterly and completely lost without Him? Is Jesus my only hope?

The Jews put their hopes in the coming Messiah to rescue Israel from the tyranny of Rome. However, Jesus came to rescue all mankind from the tyranny of sin. Do we make the same mistake today - looking only for liberation from discomfort, sickness, financial ruin, worldly oppression, or the consequences of our own sinful choices?

Throughout history believers have declared Jesus is the only hope of mankind. We desperately need the eternal hope He offers, not just a temporary fix. He didn’t come looking the way people expected. He didn’t kill off their enemies the way they wanted. When the crowds who followed Jesus found out He wasn’t going to do things their way, many abandoned Him.
At this point Jesus asked His disciples if they were going to leave Him too. “Simon Peter said, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:69). In other words, “You’re our only hope.”

What about you? Has God answered your prayers in a less-than-spectacular display of power that left you disappointed? Was His answer “No” when you wanted it to be “Yes?” Kind of like getting a baby when you expected a war hero?

Have you read the Bible looking for comfort and rescue, and found He’s also calling you to commitment, obedience, and self-denial? It can be hard to swallow.
But Peter had it right – where else can we go? Jesus refuses to cram His God-ness into a box of our making. Salvation is His plan and He will bring it about in the way He chooses. In His perfect way.

The question is, will we recognize Him? Will we see our real need is not for an earthly hero, but a Savior? He came to rescue us from the despair of sin, and prepare us for eternal life with Him. This world is only temporary.

What have you been seeking this Christmas? Is Jesus everything you’ve hoped for? Is there anyone else who can meet the deepest needs of your soul? If not, look for His entrance in the quiet, humble moments of the day. Your hope will rise as you recognize He is all you need.

Reprinted from The Four Days of Christmas, © 2015, Beth Vice