December 18, 2014

Interacting with Christmas: It's Simple Really

Yesterday I finished up James Mongomery Boice's, The Christ of Christmas.  What an excellent read.  The book is a collection of sermons he preached between 1969 and 1982.  I find it to be a perfect balance of Biblical scholarship, passion for Christ, and love for the world.  Boice expands the reader's perspective on and understanding of different aspects of the Christmas story, while also challenging him/her to connect with be changed by the Lord, the Christ of Christmas.

During this year's read through, of all the wonderful thoughts and ideas presented, I was struck most by a paragraph early in the book.  It reads as follows:
Christians can know that they are of God by their conviction that Jesus is indeed God's Son.  John puts it in formula form: "If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us" (I John 4:15-16).  "Jesus is the Son of God" becomes the confession by which one can tell whether or not he is a Christian.   (p 21)
Boice's words brought forth a sigh of relief from my soul.  In the Christmas season, we can feel like we need to conjure up all kinds of Christmas spirit and, worse, like we're supposed to have some fantastic spiritual experience to top it off.  We make Christmas about works and the law, the very thing Christ came to fulfill and save us from!

Do you believe Jesus is God's Son?  Son of the Most High, as Gabriel called Him when speaking with Mary?  Then you are a Christian.

As a loved, forgiven, justified, and adopted child of the Most High through His Son, you are free from making your faith and your Christmas more complicated, and more about your abilities and accomplishments, than they need to be.  You are also free to daily give thanks to the Lord for His gift of salvation through the Christ of Christmas and the Christ of the Cross, (to borrow the title of another of Boice's books).  You are free to love God and your neighbor as you feel the Spirit lead.  You are free to repent and believe the Good News: Jesus is the Son of God and He came to the world to save sinners like you and me!

If you have never considered the Bible's claims and Jesus's claims that He is the Son of God, this Christmas season is the perfect time to do so.  Grab a Bible, grab a Christian friend, and read through the book of John together and then John's letters 1, 2, and 3.  Let this be the merriest Christmas you have ever known because your burden is lifted and your soul set free for the very first time!

"If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God lives in him and he in God.
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us."

Dear reader, it's simple really.  Rely not on your Christmas spirit.  Rely not on your ability to create the best Christmas ever.  Rely not on your good behavior or good deeds to outweigh the bad.  Rely not on your resources or lack thereof to provide.  Rely on the love God has for you!

God uses Christmas as much as Easter to remind us that our only hope is
to rely on the love He has for us.
And how reliable that love is.

Merry Christmas!

December 16, 2014

Tradition Tuesdays: Cookies!

I like cookies.  I enjoy making cookies,  I love eating cookies.  I delight in sharing cookies, as long as it's not the last one, of course.  So over the years we have developed a couple of cookie traditions: delivering cookies to neighbors and hosting a small sugar cookie decorating party.

Delivering Cookies

As you can see from the photo, we have an arsenal of cookies that we like to make this time of year.  Naturally, part of the motivation is my desire to eat them!  But the other is to love our neighbors with some baked treats.  For the last several years the kids and I have assembled little bags, boxes, or plates of cookies and gone door to door delivering them.  We have lived a couple of different places and I have found this to be a great way meet neighbors.  Wouldn't you know, other people like cookies just like I do!

Yesterday we dropped off a plate to a neighbor up our hill who we don't often see because she's had a difficult year with her health.  As we were leaving she said, 

Nothing says lovin' like something from the oven!

I thought that quote was so sweet, and I was touched to know that she got the spirit behind us sharing a plate of cookies.

Cookie Decorating Party

The other tradition we've had going for many years is inviting friends to decorate sugar cookies with us. Cookie decorating time was always an event at our house when I was young and I still love it.  It is even more fun with friends!  We bake up some cookies, whip up some frosting, set out the sprinkles and the kids take care of the rest.  What a sticky, sprinkley, happy time it is!  Afterward, everyone has a plate of cookies to take home and share with their families.

Have you been enjoying traditions with your family this year?  Do any involve inviting and gathering or meeting and greeting to strengthen or initiate relationships?  I think the reason these cookie traditions are some of my favorites is because they involve people beyond our immediate family.  (And, yes, also because I love cookies!)  Baking might not be your thing, but maybe you have a gift with crafting or music that you could share, or some other ability or resources you can use to start a new loving-others tradition this year.  After all, Christmas is all about God inviting us into relationship with Him through His Son, loving us beyond measure!  With minimal effort, using gifts He gave us, we can share that love with others.

December 11, 2014

Interacting with Christmas: Repentance

Good Thursday to you!  Isn't it remarkable how quickly the weeks go by, especially in the last month of the year?  Today has sneaked up on me, despite having a topic in mind for today's post since Saturday.

How are you doing?  Are you embracing the holy joy of the Christmas season, worshiping the Lord with gladness for His gift to you in Christ?

Let me tell you something, last week I was not.  I was a bear, a big, growling, grumpy grizzly of a bear.  I mentioned last week that I was feeling defeated by my sin and that was stealing my joy.  But to be honest, I wasn't just feeling defeated by my sin, I was wading around in it and refusing to get out of its septic waters.  Consequently, I was unpleasant to be around because all I could do was complain and command.  I was 100% focused on my discontent and lack of control over every. little. detail.

For example, I had had cleaning up this room on my to do list for weeks.  But I never seemed to be able to get to it and I really didn't want to have to deal with it.  This room became a metaphor for my week:

There is much talk nowadays of being thankful and using gratitude to transform your attitude.  I agree with much of these encouragements and know the transformation such a practice can bring.  But I also think expressing thanks can be too temporary a solution.  Last week I needed to do more than look around and say to myself, Look at all you have to be thankful for, Heather.  I was walking in the foolishness of unrepentance.  I needed to confess my sins and be forgiven.  I needed to repent and believe the good news of the Gospel!

Like that room, I was a mess.
The mess needed to be addressed!

Saturday morning I sat down for my quiet time feeling as heavy laden as each of the previous days of the week, but this time I felt the Spirit say to my heart, Heather, just say you're sorry.  Confess your sin and be free.

Wowzers, what a difference that made!  Of course God knew all along that I was wading around in foolishness when I could have been running around in freedom.  In those moments I finally saw that I had been acting toward God all week the way that my two-year-old acts at her worst: demanding, whiny, and  ungrateful.  To say it in the word that I recorded in my journal: bratty.

After a few paragraphs of confession, my burden was lifted.  I was able to pray sincerely for others, what with my eyes pulled away from my own navel and all!  And I asked the Lord for a verse to take with me into the day.  Here it is, image taken from here:

The word that caught my eye?  LET!  LET the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.

I had been doing no such thing.  I had been letting - allowing, permitting - all things contrary to the Gospel rule in my heart, when the PEACE OF CHRIST had a rightful place there.  I needed to LET GO of those things, be forgiven, and then LET THE PEACE OF CHRIST RULE IN MY HEART.

Allowing anything else to rule in my heart is a disaster.  Allowing anything else to rule in your heart is a disaster, too.  Child of God, let the peace of Christ rule in your heart today.  God deals with the mess of the other stuff we let rule there by the blood of that very Christ.

O Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

You know what else happened on Saturday?

With a heart set free, my hands were set free!  Hearts that are set free are those that know forgiveness.  The Lord makes the way to forgiveness.  The chasm between us was was too wide to be bridged by good deeds or pedigree, but not too wide for the arms of Love with hands pierced for our transgressions.  Those arms entered the world on the first Christmas as angels announced the news to shepherds and a star caught the eye of learned men.

Do you know Him?
John the Baptist said of him, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

Have you turned to Him in repentance and received eternal life?
For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Will you let His peace rule in your heart this Christmas? 

Repent and believe the Good News!

Merry Christmas, friends!

December 9, 2014

Tradition Tuesdays: Cutting Snowflakes

I read once in a Reader's Digest or something, about a family who had the tradition of always taking a walk together on the first snow of the year.  If you live in a place where it snows, you know the quiet that settles on a place when snow has fallen.  It is so peaceful, not to mention beautiful.

I liked their idea and thought it would be fun to have a first-snow tradition of our own.  So for a several years now, on the first snow of the year, we drink hot chocolate and make snowflake cut-outs.  Then we hang them around the house on ribbons or in the window.  The kids love it, producing their age-appropriate designs with enthusiasm and sometimes frustration as they elarn.  My husband always makes one or two unbelievably beautiful snow flakes using his extensive knowledge of symmetry and by taking his time.  (He is more patient than I am!)

We have seen a little snow this year, but it was before Thanksgiving, so we didn't do cut-outs yet.  But there is promise of snow in a couple of days.  Last year, we didn't do our cut-outs until winter was almost over!  Sometimes life is like that.  Traditions bring depth to our experience with family and friends, but they don't need to be so rigid that they cause turmoil!

Do you have any snowy or wintery traditions?  Maybe you go skiing every New Year's Day or something amazing like that.  Can I come?!  Or maybe you live in a place where there it never snows.  Do you do anything to mark the winter season?  I'd love to hear what your families do in the Christmastime/winter season.  Feel free to share!

December 7, 2014

A Reminder about the Refuge

Since we're a week away, now, from the Running to the Refuge series.  I wanted to remind you and me of something very important using a handy-dandy diagram:

It is Sunday.  Run to the Refuge in communion with other believers!

December 4, 2014

Interacting with Christmas: Holly-Jolly and Holy Joy

Since on Tuesdays through December I will be sharing about holiday traditions our family enjoys, I thought I would reserve Thursdays for more serious reflection on Christmas.  Don't get me wrong, I am serious about traditions!  But making this season one of special focus is much more than a basket of picture books, cutting paper snowflakes, or even showing up for the Christmas Eve service.  So on Thursdays, let's interact with Christmas!

In this interactive experience you will be granted access to the inner-workings of my brain as I try to process through the holly-jolly and get to real joy.  You know, I really love the holly-jolly - Christmas lights, Salvation Army bells ringing, the background music of carols, shopping for gifts - but maintaining the 'merry and bright' attitude of my own volition for an entire month is pretty much impossible.  Can I get an amen?


Part of my problem this week is that I don't want to have to do any obligatory work.  I came off of a week of Thanksgiving vacation wishing we could go straight into our two week Christmas break!  But that is not real life.  And if Christmas is going to make a difference it has to intersect with real life, not be a happy blip of celebration in an otherwise dull existence.

Joy of joys, and Hope of hopes, Christmas does intersect with real life and can enliven not only our celebration in December, but each day of the year.

One of our pastors was teaching Sunday school this past Sunday morning and was asking us to apply the "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace" passage to our lives, so we can give testimony to who Christ is and what He does when we interact with people this Christmas.  Cool idea, huh?  If knowing Christ is not changing our lives, how can we tell others about how He can transform theirs?
Please join me this week in asking yourself, How have I known the Lord as my Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace?

A second part of my struggle this week is feeling very defeated by my sin.  I am proud.  That leads to either judging others or envying them, and feeling very insecure.  I am impatient.  That leads to quick anger with my children, husband, and others.  I am un-self-conrolled.  That leads to over-eating and laziness.

I am a sinner.  That needs to be led to a Savior.

Thank God it is Christmastime!

She will give birth to a son,
and you are to give him the name Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.

That is what the angel of the Lord told Joseph in a dream, recorded in Matthew 1.  This is my very most favorite Christmas-story verse.

Christmas is so much more than holly-jolly.  It is holy joy!  Jesus came to save His people from their sins!!
Please join me this week in meditating on this truth when your sin threatens to undo you and satan is accusing you with all he's got.

In the midst of every-day life, with its less-than-thrilling routines and frequent uncertainties, our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace is present and unchanging.  In the face of our sin, Christmas reminds us that we are redeemed because love came down and went from the manger to the cross, then rose to life and will come again.

Please join me in clinging tightly to hope this Christmas.
May our hearts be filled with holy joy!

December 2, 2014

Tradition Tuesdays: Christmastime Book Basket

This month you won't be hearing from me every day at Life in the Valley, but I thought it would be fun to have some regular posting.  On Tuesdays in December, I will share one of our holiday season traditions.  Traditions give kids and other family members a sense of belonging and security in a world that is often unwelcoming and uncertain.  I fondly remember traditions we had in our home  when I was growing up, especially during this season of the year, like picking a tree at a local lot, sleeping by the fireplace trying to catch Santa, outdoor ice skating at Schenley Park, or making new years resolutions in "resolution booths" made out of couch cushions.

Now my husband and I have a family of our own and have created our own set of traditions, that I add to whenever I want!  What thrills me as a mom now is that our oldest anticipates and knows our traditions; for her they are part of life and she is disappointed when we can't make them happen.  She also gets the younger two excited about our family traditions - a delight to my heart!

Okay, enough of my bubbling over about how much I love traditions and the depth they add to a family's experience together.  Here's one I stole I think from Kristen Kill, who I met at an intensive at Sally Clarkson's house, blogs at HopewithFeathers, and is all around amazing!  She shared once that she had a basket of books that came out only in the Christmas season, a collection of carefully selected stories related to the time of year.  IT IS SO FUN!

We pack up the books with the Christmas decorations in the new year, then bust them back out again just after Thanksgiving!

The book basket!

Reading right away when the books came out this year!

When we first started, I collected whatever Christmas or winter-themed books we had and packed them up post Christmas.  Then I started buying each of the kids a new book for the collection each year, given on the first day of Advent.  One day when they leave the nest, they'll each have a small collection of stories to take along with them.

This year's books ready for their recipients.

Opening time!

That concludes the first installment of Tradition Tuesday.  I have a few more up my sleeve for you this December.  Many of the ideas I have stolen or adapted from others.  I would love to hear some of your favorite holiday traditions; I just might idea-steal from you next!