6 Resolutions to Reclaim the Holidays

Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but I’ve always been a trailblazer. This year, in order to preempt stress, disappointment, and hurt feelings (I hope) during the holidays, I’m making a few early resolutions. 

As I enter the holiday season, this is what I hope to do: 

I RESOLVE, during a time when everyone’s rested and in a good mood, to prayerfully open a conversation about where, when, and how we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. As much as possible, we’ll take everyone’s schedules and preferences into consideration, but I will remember that the primary goals of our holidays are that Christ is honored and our family is together. Whether we celebrate the weekend before Christmas, the week after, or by Skype at 2 a.m., I will surrender my hopes for a “perfect” family gathering and accept a realistic one. 

I RESOLVE to sit down with my husband and determine what we can and should spend on Christmas this year. I will stick to this figure no matter what. This will involve deciding in advance who will receive gifts, who will receive cards, and who will receive a sincere Merry Christmas hug with no accompanying guilt. I will recognize that I do not honor the Christ of Christmas by foolishly and wantonly overspending. 

I RESOLVE to thoughtfully ponder each loved one’s love language and use it as a guideline for gift giving. While love languages don’t solve the mystery of why some Christmas gifts evoke squeals of joy and others prompt a sigh or (worse yet) a grimace, they do help. 

Instead of giving my quality-time-loving mother another collectable she has to find a spot for and dust into perpetuity, I’m going to give her a gift certificate for a manicure and a lunch date. Instead of giving my acts-of-service-loving friend a book, I’m going to give her a homemade meal, frozen and ready to reheat. As often as I can, I will strive to put careful thought and purpose into each loved one’s gift. I encourage you to read Mary Hunt's wonderful blog post on this called "The Gentle Art of Gift-Giving."

I RESOLVE to honor and acknowledge the empty chairs around our holiday table without letting their presence steal the joy from the day. I will treasure the memories of past gatherings without comparing them to the ones unfolding in front of me. I will think of special ways to pay tribute to our missing loved ones, but not in a somber, morose way. Instead, we will give thanks for the celebrations we shared, continue the traditions that bear their fingerprints, and perhaps even start a new tradition they would have approved of. 

I RESOLVE not to allow other’s poor manners, thoughtless actions, or ungrateful attitudes to suck the joy out of my celebration. As much as it lies within me, I will seek to spread holiday cheer, but I acknowledge I can’t make others happy, nor am I responsible for their happiness. 

I RESOLVE to take time to sit at Jesus’ feet every day. I want to reread the Christmas story in all four gospels (yes, there’s an account in the first chapter of John as well). I also want to read an advent devotional. If you have a favorite one, I’d love to hear about it. 

Some of my family’s favorite Advent devotional stories for children are those by Arnold Ytreeide. Jotham’s Journey is the first book we read and is still my favorite. The stories are written with elementary/middle school children in mind, but teens and adults will hang on every word and eagerly look forward to each day’s brief chapter. I can’t wait ‘til my granddaughters are old enough so I can read them again. 

These are my resolutions for the 2015 holiday season. I’m sure you can think of a few of your own. You may find it helpful, as I did, to write them down. You may prefer to keep them to yourself or share them with family and friends. 

As you approach the holiday season, I encourage you to enter prayerfully, reverently, and intentionally. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all the other details will fall into place. Purpose to model Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve. In this way, you will honor your friends, your family, and most of all, your Savior. 

May you enjoy a blessed and holy holiday season.

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God's Heart for America

There are parts of the Bible I struggle with.

I don’t struggle because the language is challenging, or because I don’t understand the symbolism. I find some parts difficult because what I read hurts my heart. The passages offend my senses and paint violent and disturbing pictures in my mind. In other words, I struggle because I don’t like the content.

The book of Ezekiel is one of these books. Written at the end of Judah’s long period of apostasy, when the people had forsaken God and were chasing every idol that beckoned them, it is a frightening and horrible book. Most of its 48 chapters contain God’s solemn warnings that if Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel) doesn’t turn back to God, it will face severe judgment. (And I won’t go into detail about what that looks like, because the details made me cry.)

The book of Ezekiel upsets me because Judah’s falling away greatly parallels my own country’s, the United States, moral and spiritual demise. It makes me fear for my nation, my state, and my fellow citizens. Like Israel centuries ago, if my people don’t repent of their sins and turn to God, they will suffer unimaginable horror. This is God’s only appropriate response to a people who consistently rejects his offer of forgiveness, cleansing, and peace.

But there are sparks of brilliant beauty on these dark pages. They burst through the shroud of death and destruction like a mighty comet blazing a fireball path across the heavens. Here’s one of my favorites:

“’Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord God, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?’” (Eze. 18:23).

From the dawn of time, God has been pursuing mankind. Inviting us to have a relationship with him. Showering us with care, provision, and love. He has wooed us and offered the ultimate declaration of his love when he allowed his beloved Son to die on a cruel Roman cross for our sins.

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all . . . .” Romans 8:32 reminds us that God signed his love letter to us in his own blood. It’s no wonder, in the middle of God’s heartbreaking declaration of the coming judgment, that he interrupts to say,

“For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies. . . . Therefore, turn and LIVE!” (Eze. 18:32).

If you've never surrendered your life to God, please don’t wait. God calls to you. Begs you. Pleads with you. Listen to his words in Hebrews 3:15:

"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts . . .”

Our only hope, but our sure hope, is to trust in Christ as our Savior, Lord, Protector, and Provider. It is only under the shelter of his almighty wings that we will be safe in the perilous days to come.

My invitation is twofold: 

If you haven’t surrendered your life to Christ, asked him to forgive your sins, cleanse you, and change you, don’t wait another day. Here’s a link to my How to Know God page, which contains verses from the Bible and my personal testimony to show you how.

 If you do have a relationship with Christ, it’s time to get serious. We can’t be wishy washy in our witness while the world rides a bullet train toward its own demise. During ever-darkening times, the light of Christ will shine brightest through clean vessels.

To this end, we must confess sin quickly and seek God’s face daily through prayer and Bible reading. Like a runner preparing for a marathon, we need to be spiritually strong and healthy to run our faith race with endurance and finish well. We cannot shrink away. We cannot compromise. We must finish our course to receive the prize and hear our Lord’s words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” 

Do you ever encounter parts of the Bible you find disturbing? How do you handle it? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below and join the conversation.

If you're reading by email and can't see the link for "On Eagle's Wings" by Josh Groban, CLICK HERE.


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The One Prayer God Won't Answer

Jealousy is a powerful thing. 

Those who succumb to its green-eyed madness have made public spectacles of themselves, done things they’ve regretted later, and even committed crimes like assault and murder. 

But why am I talking about jealousy when the title of this devotion is "The One Prayer God Won’t Answer"? Because jealousy is at the root of the answer. 

God is a jealous God. He said so in Deuteronomy 5:9: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God . . .” 

But God’s brand of jealousy is very different from human jealousy. We get jealous when our husbands talk too long to other women. Or come home raving about how the cute new intern at work has the most innovative ideas. Or mentions how terrific the neighbor looks since she lost all that weight. Human jealousy is self-focused. 

We feel jealous because we feel threatened. We compare ourselves to the other woman, the intern at work, or the svelte lady next door and realize we don’t measure up. We fear our well being is in danger. Human jealousy is rooted in self-preservation. 

God’s jealousy, however, is rooted in other preservation

God doesn’t feel jealous because people pray to Buddah, or Muhammed, or any of the thousands of gods in the world. He doesn’t compare himself to Pantheism and wish he had thought to suggest people worship trees and nature. And he doesn’t look at himself and think, If I looked more appealing, people would love me more. 

Instead of being self-focused, God’s jealousy focuses on the well-being of those he loves. That’s us. He wants us to serve him because he knows that true fulfillment comes from serving him, not from serving ourselves. He wants us to think about him, spend time with him, and get to know him because he knows our lives will be better if we know him intimately. 

He wants us to follow him only because he knows wholehearted devotion gives our lives direction, purpose, and peace. He wants us to love him not because it’s good for him, but because it’s good for us. 

Because God wants the best for us, the objects of his love, he jealously pursues us. He loves us unconditionally and forgives us every time we genuinely repent. And he withholds anything that will draw our loyalty and affection away from him

In his book, Taste and See, in a commentary on James 4:2-4, John Piper writes about “people who use prayer to try to get from God something they desire more than God” (328). 

“. . . something they desire more than God.” 

We do our best to pray for good things, but sometimes good things can replace God in our lives. Sometimes even the desire for these good things can replace God in our lives. We think if we could just find a husband (or get rid of the one we have), we’d be happy. Or have a child, get a promotion, or buy our dream home. We set that thing—whatever we’ve set our affection on—smack dab on the throne of our lives. 

And if something else is on the throne, guess Who’s not? The scary part is, most of the time we don’t even realize our desire for something good from God has displaced God himself. 

God, however, knows the truth—that we won’t be truly happy until we find our satisfaction in him alone. God knows this, because he created us this way. 

Which brings us back to the answer to my question, “What‘s the one prayer God won’t answer?” 

The prayer for something we desire more than God. 

What about you? Have you ever struggled with wanting something from God more than you wanted God? Leave a comment below and share your story.

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4 Steps to Take When You Can't See God

I awaken to a fog-filled morning. The warm, moist mist crept in while I slept, shrouding my neighborhood and reducing visibility. Peering out my front window, I can’t see farther than my mailbox. My neighbor’s house, just 25 feet in front of me, is gone. It isn't until three hours later, when the fog lifts, that the house reappears—right where it has been all along. 

Sometimes I feel like my life is shrouded in fog. Difficult relationships, job uncertainty, the loss of a loved one, or an illness hedge me in and block my spiritual vision. Like a blind man, I stumble around frightened and unsure. I develop spiritual amnesia, forgetting spiritual truths I’ve known and trusted for decades. In the uncertainty of my circumstances, I have trouble seeing my heavenly Father’s face. And while I know he is always near, my struggles sometimes blind my eyes to his presence. 

Elijah’s servant also suffered from foggy faith. He went to sleep confident and comfortable and awakened to find an army of enemy chariots surrounding his city. In danger of being killed or captured, he panicked. "Oh, my lord, what shall we do?" he cried (2 Kings 6:15). 

The prophet Elisha’s spiritual vision, however, was 20/20. Although his physical eyes saw the enemy surrounding him with apparently no way out, he wasn’t fooled. He saw with his spiritual eyes what his physical eyes could not—thousands of angels in fiery chariots encircling him. 

"’Don't be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, ‘O LORD, open his eyes so he may see’” (16-17). Suddenly the servant’s eyes were opened, and he could see the help that had been there all along. 

If you can’t see God in your present circumstances, don’t assume he isn’t there. Like my neighbor’s home, God and his angels are often quite near. You may not see them clearly, but that doesn’t change the certainty of their presence. God is intimately acquainted with your circumstances, and his arm is not short that he cannot save (Isa. 59:1). 

If you’re struggling to see God in the midst of a trial, here are three steps to take: 

1. Pray. Like Elisha, ask God to open your eyes to see his work in your life. 

2. Look intentionally for signs of his presence. Don’t miss the little things. 

3. Keep a list of what you see. 

4. Thank him specifically for his gifts, large and small, and for his tender care for you. 

Sample prayer: 

Father, open my eyes to see how you are at work in my life. Show me tangible, visible evidence of how you love and care for me. Thank you for the comfort of your Word, which reminds me that you will never leave me or forsake me. Thank you for strength to rise from bed this morning, food to nourish my body, and sunshine to warm the earth. Thank you for the chatter of birds outside my window, because they remind me that just as you care for the sparrow, so you also care for me. Thank you for the simple pleasures of a warm bed, a faithful dog, and Christian friends. Thank you for the ways you’ve shown yourself faithful on my behalf in the past, for this demonstrates that I can trust you for the future. May you be glorified in me today. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

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Why Not Have Thanksgiving MONTH?

One of the first things conscientious parents teach their children to say is “please” and “thank you.” More than just good manners, these three little words are foundational to a polite society. 

When we say please, we transform a command into a request—unless, of course, you’re my third grade teacher. When Mrs. Cavanaugh said, “Please be quiet and take your seats,” it wasn’t a request. It was an order. 

Generally speaking, however, please reminds us that we are making a request. When someone honors our request, the proper response is to say, “Thank you.” Mrs. Cavanaugh never said thank you, but my mom taught me to. Under her gentle tutelage, I learned to acknowledge gifts, courtesies, and compliments with gratitude. 

As our world becomes more consumer-oriented, genuine expressions of thanks become rarer. I’m as guilty as the next person. I don’t always thank my husband for taking out the trash, replacing the ratty windshield wiper on my car, or working hard to provide for our family. Sometimes I complain about poor service in a store or restaurant, but seldom offer anything more than a cursory, “Thank you,” to my waitress or clerk when I receive good service. 

One of my goals during this Thanksgiving month is to go beyond the simple thank you and offer a more intentional, thoughtful response. It could be as simple as sending an email that says, “Thank you so much for your help on this project. I couldn’t have done it without you, and I’m very grateful for your participation.” Or I might say to the cashier at the grocery store, “You have a great smile. It’s so nice to see a happy face at the cash register.” At least once this month I plan to write a letter to a store manager bragging on one of his employees. 

I took my idea for a trial run in September. I was preparing for a trip to Japan to visit my daughter, who lives in Yokosuka with her Navy husband. When I asked if there was anything I could bring that she couldn’t get in Japan, she responded with a sigh. “What I miss the most is Chick Fil A nuggets, and there’s no way you could bring them to Japan.” With 20 hours of travel time ahead of me, we agreed that Chick Fil A nuggets were out of the question. 

But mothers don’t give up easily. A suggestion from my sister-in-law led to a phone call to Patrick, an employee at a local ice company. “I think five or six pounds of dry ice should get your nuggets safely to Japan,” he said confidently. “Stop by on the way to the airport, and I’ll be glad to package it up for you. It’ll cost you about $12.50.” 

Knowing I had to arrive at the airport by eight a.m., I asked what time they opened. Eight o’clock, he said, too late for me to stop by and still make my flight. “I don’t mind meeting you here early,” Patrick said. “I’ll see you at 7.” 

You’d better believe I wrote that young man’s boss a letter expressing my thanks and praising his willingness to go far beyond what was expected of him. I hope my letter made them smile as much as those Chick Fil A nuggets made my daughter smile, but I doubt it. 

Thanksgiving Day will soon be upon us. We’ll eat too much, watch football, and acknowledge God’s blessings. Why not go a step further? Why not join me in dedicating the rest of the month of November to thanksgiving? I suspect the more we find to be thankful for, the happier our hearts will be. And so will the hearts of those around us. 

“He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25).

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