Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Christmas Prayer

by Andrew Cromwell

Christmas is here and gone before you can blink. And as soon as this one is over, the countdown for next year’s December 25th is on. The date doesn’t ever change and except for an occasional leap year, it is an easy 365 day count from one to the next. We never should be surprised by Christmas.

For even if somehow we miss it on our calendars, there is no way we can miss the onslaught of Christmas music, decor and sweaters.  And if that fails to rouse the most oblivious among us, the fail-safe will surely be the never ending stream of advertising aimed squarely at convincing us of the need for this year’s new-fangled model of whatever.

The Christmas season, at its worst, is an over-commercialized holiday ripe with guilt, greed and sugary poison. And for all those grinches out there who can see nothing else, we all collectively can say “I’m sorry” for ever allowing it to become such a thing.

But at its best, Christmas is alive with hope, love and joy. It is an echo of the love our Great Father has for all of His children—the short ones, the tall ones, the skinny ones and the fat not so skinny ones. As we gather together with family and friends and give gifts to one another, we reflect, whether we realize it or not, the Father’s heart to give gifts to His kids and His desire to pull into the circle all those who are distant.

My prayer for you and your family this Christmas season is that you would not miss the miracle in the midst of the mess of Christmas.

Don’t miss it in the people pushing and shoving at the stores,
Don’t miss it as the advertising gets shoved through your doors.
Don’t miss it in the rush to get it all done,
Don’t miss it as your fingers fly to finish that cake made with rum.

It’s so easy to miss when God is at work,
because so often we’re too busy doing the Christmas-twerk.
Our homes are filled to the brim and decorated tip top,
but often we’ve forgotten to leave room for Pop.

God’s gifts often come in packages so small,
that we tend to forget they are there at all.
A kind word, a smile, and a hug filled with love,
These are little treasures He’s sent from above.

During this season filled with laughter and cheer,
let’s don’t forget that He has drawn near.
He sent us a child who became a man,
And gave Himself according to God’s plan.

God became flesh and moved into town,
a Divine visitation, a Child with a crown.
And to Himself He gathered all who had gone astray,
this little Child named Jesus, born in the hay.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Money – Money – Money…

by Tim Howard

This Christmas season started out by putting up some lights, getting the tree decorated and visiting some of the local stores in hopes of purchasing a few gifts for those I love and care about.  Since we are cutting back on the gifts I was sure my shopping would be done in a few hours.

Even though it took a few more days than anticipated – I’m glad to say I am finished!

During this time, I was reminded of that familiar phrase “Money Talks!” I think you would agree – because we’ve all heard its voice: It shouts, “Spend me!” and whispers, “Save me!” Someone said, “Money talks: Mine is always saying, ‘Good-bye!’”

That phrase means money has power and influence. Money talks…and one of the most dangerous things it says is: “LOVE ME!”

The Apostle Paul said: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs”   1 Timothy 6:10
Money is intrinsically neutral but loving money opens the proverbial Pandora’s box.

Maybe you’ve seen ‘A Christmas Carol,’ which is an 1843 novella by English author Charles Dickens. Many have seen or read this great fictional and prose narrative but if you haven’t you should. The story tells of a sour and stingy man named Ebenezer Scrooge and his ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation resulting from supernatural visits from Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

Before the radical change, Mr. Scrooge LOVED money and USED people when he should have loved people and used money. When anyone confuses these two priorities, life is altered for the worse.

Jesus summed up the two greatest commands this way:  “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

When a passion for God and a compassion for people become your top two priorities, you experience what Scrooge missed. Life and True Love!

Money talks, but God also talks and says: Use money!  It’s a tool for helping others but love people.

In this season of giving, remember the greatest gifts can’t be purchased. You don’t need to go into debt to prove you love someone. Money’s important but one thing is very clear in his Word: Money is not the most important thing!

Churches talk about giving money; businesses talk about making money; Frugal people talk about saving money while extravagant people talk about spending money. Penny Pinchers talk about wasting money, Financial Consultants talk about investing money but God talks about Stewarding His money and using it to bless people.

When you hear the shouts of  ‘Money, money, money’ ringing in your ears this Christmas, make sure you maintain a correct perspective. You will be much happier and cause people to be filled with a whole lot of joy!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

It's Back

by Andrew Cromwell

The holidays are back.  You know, that time of the year immediately following Halloween when the stores convert their displays to the Christmas theme and fill the air with the dulcimer tones of Christmas carols.  People exchange “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” greetings and, perhaps most wondrous of all, join together with extended family for the required festivities.

For many, this time of year is filled with joy and holiday cheer. These fortunate individuals find the holidays to be a wonder-filled season punctuated with tearful reunions, delightful culinary delicacies and a general sense of ecstasy.  You know the people I’m talking about, they have smiles permanently fixed on their faces, a sparkle in their eye and an extensive collection of red and green sweaters in their closet sufficient to carry them through the season without repeats.  It is as if they are mainlining their own private stash of holiday smack.

But such is not the case for everyone.  For many, the holidays are not a season of cheer, but a reminder of loved ones lost, failures not forgotten and brokenness unhealed.  I think of my grandma for whom the holidays are a sharp reminder of the loss of her husband of more than fifty years.  I think of a friend who is newly divorced and for whom the season is now a reminder of broken relationships.  I think of those who join with family only to be faced once again with that alcoholic and tyrannical family member.

It is for these, and for all others who find the season overshadowed by a dark cloud, that I seek to offer this encouragement during this difficult season.

First, remember the One who was rejected by all and lost all so that you could be accepted.  So much of what ails us during this season has to do with rejection and loss that we have experienced in our lives.  We can take comfort in knowing Jesus Christ walked this way before us – rejected by those who were His closest friends, there was even a moment when God the Father turned away.  But because Christ carried the weight of our brokenness, the Father will never turn away from those who have made Christ their focus.

Second, recognize the reality of your emotional state.  You can wish it were otherwise, but for many, depression and the holidays go hand in hand and no amount of wishing will make it not so.  Denying it does no better.  So admit it, but decide not to make it the focus.  Don’t allow yourself to descend into its depths.  Instead, seek out friends, go to church, go for a walk – do the opposite of what your emotions tell you to do!

Third, release the past and focus on the future.  Remember, the holidays don’t last forever, and neither does this life.  For those who have placed their faith in Christ, this sad day will soon be no more for we will be in the arms of Jesus.  We can do no more to change the past than we can to keep the wind from blowing.  So we must let it go and give it to Him who can take the brokenness of our past and work it into something beautiful in the present.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Power of Gifts

by Tim Howard

The Christmas season may not be enjoyable for everyone but I love it! Not only because of what it represents and the remembrance of Christ’s birth but because of the lights, the love, the laughter and the joy of children.

At our home the Christmas tree has already been erected – the lights are strung and the house has a very festive feel – thanks to my wonderful wife. Christmas is a time for families to unite, people to celebrate, kindness to be demonstrated but let’s not forget or underestimate the power of gifts.  Oh THE GIFTS!  It’s extremely difficult for children and me as well to celebrate Christmas without thinking about the giving and receiving of gifts.

Maybe I feel the way I do because of all those beautifully wrapped presents I see everywhere or possibly it’s because my childhood was filled with fond memories of Christmas.  I loved the toys and my dad made sure we always had at least one under the tree!  Maybe it’s because I currently enjoy watching my grandson tear through the wrapping paper and seeing his eyes light up like a Christmas tree when he sees what now belongs to him.  Whatever the core reason might be, I’m convinced it’s a great motivation to celebrate the season.

Over the years I have received a variety of gifts – I hope you have as well.  Some were expensive and others were cheap.  Some I’ve kept and some I’ve re-gifted.  Others have made great yard sale items and some are still in my possession to this very day.  My most memorable and precious gifts, however, are not necessarily material in nature.  They weren’t purchased with money but have influenced me greatly. If you’re looking for the perfect gift or some great gift ideas this Christmas that don’t cost you any money but bless people in a great way – you might consider these five suggestions:

Give people some space. Don’t try to micro manage their lives. This gift is called Kindness.

Give people a break. Everyone needs a second chance. This gift is called Forgiveness.

Give people the benefit of the doubt.  When you hear something derogatory about them – think the best instead of the worst.  This gift is called Love.

Give people a hand.  Refuse to give a hand out but make sure you give people a hand up.  We all fall down and need some help now and again.  It’s not how many times you fall that counts but how many times you get up.  This gift is called Mercy.

Give your family some time.  Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them.  Play some games.  Tell them the story of Christ’s birth, and why He came to live with us.  Tell them how much God loves them.  This gift is called the gospel or good news.

The Bible tells us that three wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  They were honoring God who gave to all of us the greatest gift of all – A Savior!

The gifts you share with others this Christmas season don’t need to cost an arm and a leg! If they are from the heart they will be meaningful to people.

May every gift you give be in honor of Jesus.  After all, it is HIS BIRTHDAY we are celebrating.  Merry Christmas.