Saturday, December 23, 2017

Gifts Gifts Gifts!

by Sylvia Gaston

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? My favorite gifts always involve photos of my loved ones.

When our children were young, and we didn’t have a lot of money, my husband would secretly gather our children to make me a gift – a poster with photographs of each one with words of love written on it. These were often decorated with markers, sequins and chenille stems. I have 4 of them, given to me for Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day. If our house was on fire, I would grab them first as I ran out the door. They are precious to me.

As they got older, my oldest son Bryan and his wife, Megan, would gather the other three and go out for a photo shoot. These pictures were then framed and wrapped and given to me for Christmas or Mother’s Day. Also, something I would grab as I ran out the door of our burning house.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever given? Some of my favorite memories are of a time when I have given a gift that I knew hit the target perfectly. It was thoughtful, personal and precious to the recipient. I remember anxiously waiting and watching for them to open it up.

One, in particular, comes to mind - a crinkle-edged pastel drawing that my husband drew when he was 8 years old. I sent that poinsettia drawing off to be printed onto a canvas that would last for years to come. He loved it and it hangs prominently in our home.

Other gifts that brought squeals of delight come to mind – toys, bikes, phones.

Now, in the midst of Christmas shopping for a lot of people, I know that some of the gifts I’m buying will hit the target and some of them are just practical things that I know will be appreciated but not necessarily make the recipient ‘freak out’.

And, in the midst of all of these holiday traditions, we are reminded to remember why we celebrate Christmas. And, I do.

I remember that God gives me great gifts. He has given me life, a body that works miraculously every day, a family, dear friends, a fantastic career. He has given me a beautiful planet to live on – with water, air, and indescribable beauty to behold.

God has given me free will. To take whatever path I choose – right or wrong, good or bad, smart or foolish. I’ve probably been a little of each over the years.

But, most importantly, the Bible says God sent Jesus to us as a gift. In Luke 1:32, it says, “He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High.” In Romans 6:23, we are told, “…the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”.
Jesus is our way of living forever with God. And, until that day, we have His Holy Spirit speaking to us, guiding us, comforting us, and showing us the perfect path for our lives.

WHAT?!! I get a gift of eternal life! In a heavenly place beyond my imagining?!

Put a bow on it. I’ll take that! I pray the same for you. That you, too, are the recipient of this, the best gift ever.

Merry Christmas to you and to those you hold dear! May God’s presence be felt and evident in your life and in your home.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Let’s Spend Less And Give More This Christmas

by Tim Howard 

As the 2017 Christmas season began, I gave some additional thought toward this time of celebration. I asked myself these questions: Does frantically running from store to store looking for the perfect gift – for that perfect someone add or detract from the joy of Christmas? Do I really want to buy things I cannot afford or don’t really need? How would our families respond if we focused more on our time together than the gifts we receive? Do material things provide what families really want and need  or is there a better way to celebrate the Christmas season?

After talking to myself and answering a few of those questions, I’ve decided to conspire with others and find a way to celebrate the Advent of Christ without yielding to the spirit of consumerism, which is very much alive in our culture.

I’m not implying we should spend nothing! It’s not about being stingy, miserly or acting like a scrooge.  Share nothing, have nothing or give nothing.  NO! It’s all about giving gifts but giving gifts that mean something and make a real difference in a person’s life.

Spend less and give more – That’s my mantra this year!  Sounds impossible unless you realize that the greatest gifts we can give people cost nothing at all in a monetary sense.

Three of the greatest gifts came to us through the birth of Jesus Christ and you can give these three gifts to others.  He came to reveal the Father’s love.  He came to give us joy and He came to offer forgiveness and freedom from our past.

A Doctor by the name of Luke makes mention of these three gifts by recording the announcement of Christ’s birth in the Bible.  He says in Luke 2:10 -11, “the angel of the Lord said to them, ‘…behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Did you notice that Jesus came for everyone and not just a few?  The very fact that God decided to live among us reveals His great love toward us and when you add joy and forgiveness to the equation you have three pretty awesome gifts. That’s not only good news, that’s great news!

The spirit of consumerism can blind us from seeing the real message of Christmas. If we miss out on what’s truly important – the Christmas season can be a burden to endure rather than a blessing to be experienced.

Maybe we should consider returning to the true meaning of Christmas if we’ve missed it. A decision to celebrate God’s presence rather than focusing on getting presents might be the best thing you could do. Give more of yourself by serving rather than spending. You will have more money in your pockets and more life in your heart at the end of the season.  You will honor God by exalting His son Jesus Christ and that’s extremely important since it’s His birthday celebration.  He is the reason we say: Merry Christmas!

Many gifts can be purchased for people this Christmas but Love, Joy and forgiveness are among the best – and they won’t cost you one monetary cent!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

When The Math Doesn’t Add Up

by Candace Cortez

During one of the most expensive times of the year, I’d like to share a story with you.

I sat down tonight to “balance the books.” To make sure all our bills are paid, and our money is accounted for. After years of marriage, we are seeing the effects of faithful stewardship in our finances. We’re not rich, but we haven’t seen a zero balance in a while. We work hard not to spend more than we earn, even if it means no cable that month, my roots growing out an extra centimeter or two between hair appointments, eating meals at home instead of at restaurants, or whatever the sacrifices may need to be. It was not always this way.

Years ago, when my husband had to stop working to finish his education, this money planning process was not nearly as rewarding. No matter how much we sacrificed, we could not make ends meet. I simply did not make enough money to support us financially. This was difficult for my family on so many levels. Our comforts were hit, our entertainment took a dive, and so did our pride; especially my husband’s. Providing for our family is a part of his identity as the leader of our household. No matter how many things we cancelled, bringing our bills to the bare minimum, we couldn’t make the amount of money made, match the amount of money required to keep the lights on and house warm. The math didn’t add up.

As we balanced the books we would circle the final dollar amount by which we would be short that month. We prayed. We prayed a lot. Then we prayed some more. Those months were some of the most faith building months we have ever experienced. We watched as family, friends, and even random members of our community reached out and bridged the gap, bringing our balance to zero, if not just over it, giving us a few dollars to breathe with. One day, a check came in the mail for the exact amount of our circled gap amount. Other times, I had to do the hard ask. It’s not easy to ask for help. Some of my most vulnerable conversations have been requests for help because I could not do something on my own. For 10 months in a row, the math didn’t add up for us to live without help or adding debt. For 10 months in a row, somehow, our bills were always paid. God. Is. Good.

I smile writing this because God is a God who balances things differently than we do. When I see a gap between what is and what’s expected, I am filled with fear, worry, doubts, stress…you name it. God doesn’t bat an eye. He shines in those math gaps. When things don’t add up, it gives space for God to do miraculous things. Thousands of years ago, when the people were expecting a king, God sent a baby. That didn’t add up. When the boy only had two loaves and 5 fish, thousands left with full bellies. That didn’t add up. When we were sentenced to eternity away from God in suffering because of our sin, and the price for freedom was far beyond what we could pay, Jesus said “it is finished” and rose again three days later. That doesn’t add up!

Don’t fool yourself. There is nothing you can do to earn what God is doing for you and through you always. We can never donate enough money, take care of enough sick or rejected, plant enough trees, solve enough problems, to be able to bridge the gap between us and relationship with God. It will never add up without Jesus.

This really is the most wonderful time of the year, unless you’re trying to fill that gap with anything other than Jesus. Do not let the desire for stuff ruin your focus on the fact that when the math didn’t add up, God made a way by sending His Son. Do not let material things ruin the glow and joy we can find in being bought at a price beyond what we can pay back. When the math doesn’t add up for our souls, God makes it happen. Let’s celebrate THAT this Christmas.