Helpful and Hopeful Links For the Holidays

There are some things you read that just hit home. Words that walk right through the door of your heart and startle you with God’s honest truth.

Below are links I found this week that both wrecked me and warmed me. I hope they will bless you as well.

The first deals with issues revolving around our relationships. All year long we struggle to understand one another, and maybe especially so at Christmas.

1. This humorous post is convicting but encouraging –  How to Overcome an Offense.

The second is a response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. Sometimes there are no words. But sometimes there are a few that are just right.

2.  There is comfort to be found in this Beautiful prayer written by Max Lucado.

Finally, I told you last week that I would share more thoughts on giving. This is something I struggle with each year. How to do it the right way and make the gift exchange more meaningful.

3. This is one way to turn Christmas giving upside down – 7 Ways to Have More Grateful Kids

4. Here is another cute idea that incorporates the Gifts of the Wise Men

5. And when you read this short article, Just in Time, you’ll see why you and I have been blessed for such a time as this – to give the gift of hope, to meet real needs. 

Sometimes we look at all that’s wrong in the world and we feel helpless, overwhelmed. But when we do something for another person, we allow God’s power to flow through us and we can actually overcome evil with good!

Maybe it’s as simple as offering a smile or a kind word to our neighbor next door. Or maybe we can order a life-saving gift for a neighbor living a world away through this Compassion Catalog.

But, whatever we do, let’s waste no time doing it. Because if we want to see change in this world we need to let the startling God’s honest truth settle in and move us to change.

 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21

Restore The Joy – It’s About Giving

My husband and I attended a dinner last week where we met this nice couple who began talking about their four kids and how they wish they could turn back the clock and do Christmas differently.
In fact, they said they are trying to simplify things this year and preparing their kids to enjoy the holiday more – with less. But they are running into opposition from the younger two who say that it’s not fair that their older siblings have been able to get more over the years. Sigh.
Those parents are struggling. And I feel their pain. Right or wrong, it’s hard to untie the traditions we have established and grasp hold of new ones. But we have to try.
Because this is Christmas. And we have to get this right. Not only for ourselves but for the little eyes watching and learning from us. 
The Bible says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35
So we tell them this about Christmas. It’s not about how much you can get, not about greed. It’s about giving. And that is true, but we need to share with them about the receiving part as well because the two go together.
Through the symbolic giving of our gifts to one another, we celebrate the most precious gift of all – Jesus. Immanuel. God with us.
And when we open our hearts to receive from Him, we are filled with joy.
Because He brings us what we desire most. Life. Hope. Peace.
Gifts that never disappoint.
Gifts that will last forever.
Gifts that humble us because we know we have been given
something we don’t deserve.

And the result is, or should be, that all of this blessing turns us from grateful receivers into grateful givers.

So why do we sometimes get so wrapped up in the trappings of the holidays that we forget it is a holy day? Does joy have to be something we just sing about but have little acquaintance with during this stress-filled season?
Many of us are tired of watching the true meaning of Christmas get tossed around in that mangled mass of shredded paper torn from treasures we bought on November 26th and the credit card company still owns on December 25th. It hurts to see ribbons of regret running all the way through our self-made piles of twisted expectations. 
We know what we have to do. We have to stop draining our bank accounts hoping to fill the empty spaces, these hidden holes in our hearts that cannot be named or seen, only felt.
Mary Hunt wrote a book out of her own painful experience called How To Debt-Proof Your Christmas. She talks about what she learned in this interview. Here’s an excerpt.

“We want people to love us. I’ll be honest. I wanted my children to love me and have the best memories and to be the parent of the year and for my friends to think i was wealthy. All of these crazy things. It was about me, wasn’t so much about them.”

“It was about me.” Those words keep ringing in my head like a Salvation Army bell, demanding my attention. I have to ask myself what I’m doing to keep Christ at the center of Christmas.
To put Him first, and others before myself.
Maybe it’s as simple as this. If we keep our focus on how Jesus paid our spiritual debt we will not feel the need to acquire more monetary debt.
Because we’ll realize we really do have everything we need.
I believe it’s possible to change. To do Christmas differently than we have in the past and enjoy more with less. It might not be easy. We might meet with some resistance. But God, the Great Giver, will show us the way and grant us grace in the process.
 Lord help me remember that when I light the candle of gratitude, greed melts away, the flame of joy burns bright and I learn again what it really means to give. Amen!
Next week, I will be writing more on this subject and sharing unique ways to restore the joy in our gift-giving this season.
Meanwhile, here is one fun idea –
Go catalog shopping with your family and pick out a gift to give to someone in need!

“Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you. ~ Deut. 16:17 #itsaboutgiving

Can You See Me?

I woke up this morning thinking today would be no different than the day before. That I am just a poor boy that no one sees. I was wrong.
I am a small child.
But my heart is big.

Big enough to feel sad when I see my mother cry. She does not speak of it but I wonder if I am the reason for her tears. Because there isn’t much food to eat and I am always hungry. 

A small child.
With a big appetite.

My father works when he can and I try to do my share to help out but it never seems like enough. And sometimes, when I don’t know what to do, I go to this church in my village. There are people there who tell me about a God who cares and I got your letter saying you care too.

It got me thinking.

I may only be a small child.
But God is big and he can make me strong.

Maybe one day, when I grow up, I will travel beyond the grass walls and dirt floors of my home. Maybe I will be a Compassion sponsor myself. And when I come across a little boy like me, hungry for hope, I will tell him not to give up. Because he is not invisible. His life counts for something. He matters.

Until then, I will go to sleep tonight happy. Because I can close my eyes knowing that God sees me.

A small child. 
With big dreams.

What you have just read is my response to a challenge from Compassion International to write a letter from the perspective of my sponsored child. 

Please watch this inspiring video from Sara Groves and pray for the children who are waiting for someone to tell them they are seen. Sponsors are still needed. CLICK HERE if you would like to be one.

What We Get When We Give

I remember that lady, so broken by life that she could only speak in tears. Her words, the wet and salty kind, ran right through me. She came for help like all the others who were hit hard by the failing economy. I handed her the kleenex as she filled out the necessary paperwork.

Then there was the man who had been without work for some time who sheepishly confessed that he had never had to do this before. I could feel his embarrassment at having to ask for assistance for the very first time. I listened and assured him he was not alone. 

I’ve seen many faces come through the doors of this place – this old, concrete, falling-apart building in our community where a few paid staff works with an army of volunteers (of which I am one) attempting to build up the falling-apart people we are privileged to serve.

They come in with varying needs and requests. Sidetracked by an unexpected life event such as job loss, illness or divorce. They need help finding work, healthcare, legal aid, a place to live, clothing, money to pay bills, food to put on the table for their families.

And what I’ve learned these past few years is that we are all falling apart, in one way or another, at one time or another.

We are all different, but the one thing we all have in common is our need for hope.  The hope that we are loved and cared for and that things will get better.

And I feel this – the tie that binds all humanity together – whenever I pass along a cart of groceries to that out-of-work father or a sack of diapers to that overwhelmed mother. Or even when I hand over a box of kleenex to the despairing widow. We are all connected. The young, the old and everyone in between.

We are connected by our loving Creator so that we can offer hope and compassion to each other in our times of need. And He made it so that when we open our hands to give, we also open our hearts to receive. It’s the principle of sowing and reaping, as described in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8:

“Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”

I read this and the words convict. Do I give bountifully the way God has given to me? Do I lavish love on others the way God has loved me? Is my attitude in giving always pure and unselfish? The short and painful answer is no.

But my insufficiency is all the more reason to entrust myself to the One who is all-sufficient. When I go to Him, confessing my need, He fills my empty heart with cartloads of grace, my hands with sacks of mercy. He even throws in a box of kleenex when necessary. And He dries my tears with hope, letting me know I’m not alone.

What about you? Do you know that you are loved and cared for today?

Consider what God has to say:

“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” Jeremiah 31:3 

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 

Father, thank you for your love and compassion and for showing me that, by reaching out my empty hands to carry someone else’s burden for a while, my own burden feels lighter and I get more blessings than I could ever give out. Teach me to follow your example and to give as you have given to me – unselfishly, cheerfully, abundantly. Amen

Photos courtesy photos8.com

In Search of Christmas – Gift Giving

As I approach another Christmas season, I wrestle once again with questions about how to best celebrate this important holiday. I ask myself, “Where is Christ in my giving?”

For many years now, I have searched for ways to make the tradition of gift-giving more meaningful. The older I get, the more I see how easy it is to unwittingly get immersed in the commercialization of Christmas. We fear disappointing people, so we over stuff stockings like we do the turkey thinking that more is better.

Of course, it is natural to want to lavish our loved ones with good things. We want to see them happy. To make ourselves happy. And advertisers know how to appeal to that desire by making us equate love and happiness with stuff. But I wonder what this restless quest is doing to us and what the little ones at our gatherings are learning from our retail-driven traditions.

At the risk of sounding like Scrooge, I guess I have just grown plain weary of the laborious search for the perfect gift, the hottest toy, the newest gadget, all of which will most likely wind up in a yard sale or a pile of trash somewhere down the road. Yikes! Did I say that out loud?

And, it is not because I hate shopping. I actually enjoy the sights and sounds associated with holiday shopping excursions. Christmas music playing everywhere, dazzling lights and colorfully decorated displays are fun!

Maybe I’m just longing for a good, old-fashioned approach to the celebration. A return to the simplicity of days gone by when people gave from the heart and received with humility and believed that familiar cliche, It’s the thought that counts.

And I want this holiday to truly be a holy day.

A day to honor our Lord. To worship the Christ of Christmas by giving to those in need, first of all. Remembering Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) And I also want to learn how to give to those closest to me in a way that honors Him.

I don’t have it all figured out yet. I’m just praying for God to show me how to follow His lead. Because He is the ultimate gift-giver. He gave us Jesus! And He is the whole reason we have to celebrate.

If I can just remember this. This first and foremost. That Jesus is the reason I give. That gift-giving is important because it is a symbolic reminder of His sacrificial gift of love. He fills my life with good things and my gift to Him is the emptying of myself. My heart and hands open and ready to share so that others might receive a blessing.

* I found some great resources for how to celebrate a Christ-centered Christmas over at Jennifer’s blog. She shared some helpful links here at the end of her post.

Lord, please show me how to celebrate Christmas in a way that honors you, by giving from the heart, making this holy day more meaningful and memorable.

Images in this post are courtesy of Photos8.com