Category Archives: Christmas 2016

Bursting with God-news!

I’m bursting with God-news;IMAG3151
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.

God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!

What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.

His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.

He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.

He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.

The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.

He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.

It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

~ Luke 1:46–55 MSG

Have you ever thought about Mary’s Magnificat, how it is both personal and corporate at the same time? She starts out by worshiping in wonderment that God chose her. Other versions of Mary’s song use phrases like: He took notice, He looked with loving care, He looked on me, one who is not important. Mary stands in wonder at that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords chose her.

Then Mary moves into praise that is both personal and corporate, for her son would also be her Savior. Mary worships the Messiah who came to scatter bluffing braggarts, knock tyrants off their high horses, and pull victims out of the mud. (Other versions say He scatters the proud and exalts the humble, that He brings down rulers and fills the hungry with good things.)

As I read this passage today it feels intensely personal.

He looked upon me.

Upon you.

The King of Kings and Lord of Lords took notice, looked upon us with loving care. We may think we are not important, that we are humble and lowly. Nobodies. But God chose us.

He chose us to be the recipients of His grace and mercy. He chose us to receive His light and life-giving truth. He chose us for truth that sets us free. He chose us. For us He comes, baring His arm and showing His strength. He fights for our freedom.

He won it at the cross.

And He fights for each of His beloved, showing them the freedom already won.

He stands firm against evil and teaches us how to do the same.

He invites our poor, hungry hearts to a banquet of His love.

He came so we could flourish.

I love Mary.

I imagine her—young and weary. She’s spent way too much time on a donkey and now she’s given birth—for the first time—in a dirty, stinky place. I’m sure it wasn’t what she expected when she sang out her Magnificat. But then the shepherds come. Shepherds. They are the class of people who don’t intimidate her, but certainly not who was expected to celebrate the birth of the King! But they have lovely, breathtaking news. When her son was born, the very sky opened wide revealing a multitude of angels singing and dancing and shouting about His birth. And they sent shepherds—shepherds!—to gaze upon her little boy.

Mary’s been through a lot. The accuser has been hard at work, heaping condemnation upon her. Instead of the honor she expected as one chosen to carry the King, she’s been called a harlot. And worse.

But the shepherds get it.

They see and honor her child.

Honor her.

They say her baby, her baby, is the Savior of the world.

In those weeks of unjust condemnation, in those months of ridicule and gossip and pointing fingers, those months when her body swelled and hurt, when her emotions were raw, when weariness overcame her, it’d taken all she had to believe the truth.

She wasn’t condemned.

She was honored.

Chosen.

Blessed.

And her son, her tiny baby sleeping in a trough meant for animals, was King, Savior of the world.

Nothing really made sense, but God was at work. In those brief moments of wonderment, when His Spirit gave direction and explanation, she saw it. She held onto it. She had to.

Life was much harder than she expected.

But it was also more glorious.

Angels.

Shepherds.

“Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself” (Luke 2:19, MSG).

Later the magi came. Then the wild flight to safety in Egypt. Finally to Nazareth, where the wagging of tongues continued.

But through it all, “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart,” (Luke 2:19, NASB).

Friends, our freedom came at a cost for Jesus.

It comes at a cost for us.

Only our Lord knows what events will take place on our journey into the glory of His plans.

But He comes to us with promise.

Personal and corporate.

We believe the Scriptures, the promises that our Savior freed us us from the darkness and places us in His kingdom. Those promises are for all, corporately and individually. But He doesn’t stop there. He whispers truth as we read His Scripture. We hear wisdom in the words of those around us. Lines from songs jump out and grab our attention and play for years in our hearts. We learn His voice. Sometimes He whispers in the night or gives dreams or sends prayer warriors. We test everything to be certain it is from Him, and we cling to, ponder, treasure all of it in our hearts. When He comes with instructions—personal instruction—like it’s time to flee a tyrannical king or receive a personal blessing—like hints of the great callings of our life, we respond. Quickly. We believe.

Jesus, like Your mother, Mary, I am just me. Complicated and simple. Emotional sometimes. Afraid often. But capable of great movement as I surrender to Your Spirit. I treasure everything You’ve told me, every event You’ve orchestrated. You regarded my lowly estate and fought for my freedom. I am Your servant. Your bride. Your beloved. I have a bigger picture than Mary did. I know how Your life here on earth unfolded. I know that the cross, which pierced precious Mary’s heart, won the victory for my life. I know You purchased me so I could live in joyful intimacy with You. You won me for Yourself. I surrender to Your love. To Your sacrifice. I ponder all You’ve done for me, personally and corporately. Help me to listen to Your voice. Keep me from the lies of the deceiver, the voice of the accuser, and help me to know Your voice only. When You speak, let me be like Mary and say yes to all You ask. Help me move when You ask me to move. Help me surrender to the call of my life, the plans You had before the foundations of the world.

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

Wonderful! Counselor!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6 KJV

IMAG3018Do you hear the music? I can’t read this verse without Handel’s Messiah singing through my heart!

Hallelujah! (Pun intended. Get it?) The message cannot be held back or trampled down! Even without a background of Christmas celebration, the joyous worship, seeped in Scripture about Christ’s birth and passion is forever engraved upon my life (and no doubt the lives of countless others) through Handel’s great work, created under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

This book on freedom—a book that includes a set of Advent devotionals—isn’t complete without meditating on the first seven verses of Isaiah chapter nine.

Read the whole following passage slowly. I chose a version that might be less familiar so we can think about the words instead of blazing past them:

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. The light will shine on those living in the land of dark shadows. . . . You will give them great joy. They will be glad before You. . . . For You will break the heavy load from their neck and shoulders. You will break the power of those who made it hard for them. . . . For to us a Child will be born. To us a Son will be given. And the rule of the nations will be on His shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Teacher, Powerful God, Father Who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to His rule and His peace, upon the throne of David and over his nation. He will build it to last and keep it strong with what is right and fair and good from that time and forever. The work of the Lord of All will do this. (Isaiah 9:2–7, NLV).*

The first phrase that jumps out at me is “land of dark shadows.” I don’t know about you, but some of my most painful seasons felt shadowed. It was almost like life played out in black and white instead of in color. But God “has rescued us and has drawn us to Himself from the dominion of darkness, and has transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13, AMP). Because of His work on the cross, the heavy burdens of sin and condemnation are lifted from our shoulders, and He breaks the power—the control—of the evil that seeks to weigh us down and make life hard on us.

When we see God as He really is—the glorious One who is wonderful, our teacher and counselor, all-powerful, and full of peace, the God who gave so much to set us free, the God who is love—we learn to look to Him for identity, leadership, and strength. As we discover who we are in Him, mining Scripture for our identity instead of listening to the false voices, praying and seeking God’s perspective and learning His voice, we live more and more in the freedom He purchased for us at the cross.

We were taken out of the land of shadows.

Remember the despair? The depression? The feelings of self-loathing? He moved us “outta” that awful place and took us to a place full of light! The light shines all around us illuminating a beautiful, colorful landscape. In this Kingdom of Light, He tells us things like:**

I love you. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:33, NIV).

You are my treasure. “Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure” (Deuteronomy 7:6, NLT).

I gave my most precious Son to make you my own. “For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, AMP).

You are free to live outside of bondage! “It was for this freedom that Christ set us free [completely liberating us]” (Galatians 5:1, AMP).

You are My precious child. “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5, NLT).

You are pure, righteous, holy. “Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin” (1 Corinthians 1:30, NLT).

I never condemn you, My child. “Therefore there is now no condemnation [no guilty verdict, no punishment] for those who are in Christ Jesus [who believe in Him as personal Lord and Savior]” (Romans 8:1, AMP).

You are my masterpiece and through you we will do good works. Who you are and what you do is valuable to Me. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT).

I’ve prepared a place for you to live with Me forever. “There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2, NLT).

You are my beautiful bride. “[(The Bridegroom)] Behold, how beautiful you are, my darling, Behold, how beautiful you are! Your eyes are dove’s eyes” (Song of Solomon 1:15, AMP).***

Oh sweet friend! The birth of Jesus changed everything!

Let’s ponder our passage again in light of what you just read:

“But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish. . . .

The people who walk in [spiritual] darkness

Will see a great Light;

Those who live in the dark land,

The Light will shine on them. . . .

You will multiply their joy;

They will rejoice before You

Like the joy and jubilation of the harvest,

As men rejoice when they divide the spoil [of victory].

For You will break the yoke of Israel’s burden and the staff (goad) on their shoulders,

The rod of their oppressor . . .

For to us a Child shall be born, to us a Son shall be given;

And the government shall be upon His shoulder,

And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

There shall be no end to the increase of His government and of peace,

[He shall rule] on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness

From that time forward and forevermore.

The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this”

(Isaiah 9:1–7, AMP)

Hallelujah! For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth! And “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty [emancipation from bondage, true freedom]” (2 Corinthians 3:17, AMP). Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is love, for God is love (1 John 4:8)!

Praise to Almighty God, Omnipotent Father! Praise to Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lord, who came as a vulnerable baby and died as a courageous God-man to set us free! Praise You Triune God, Lord of heaven and earth! You establish your kingdom of freedom and uphold it with righteousness and justice. You liberated me. In You I have true freedom. I am emancipated! I am loved and free to love!

* This prophecy was originally given to the nation of Israel. The New Testament makes it clear that when we accept Jesus we are adopted into the promises given God’s people. In quoting this passage I left out phrases I thought might distract you from the message of these verses. Most of the ellipses replace phrases that would make sense to someone in Israel when it was written, but that might not give you much clarity. It might be fun for you to look these Scriptures up in your Bible and think further about the passage in its completeness.

**I could go on and on about how wonderful God is and how wonderfully He loves us! I could write books about who God says you are and how He talks to you! Actually I guess I have. It’s the heartbeat of the first three books of the Soul Scents series.

***Scripture calls us the bride of Christ. One of my favorite places to discover His love for me is in the reading of the Song of Solomon as a statement of His love for me, personally. Have you read it lately?

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

Glory to God in the Highest!

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flockIMAG3149 by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. . . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. ~ Luke 2:8–14, KJV

 

It’s no accident that when I was in high school I was chosen as one-half of a two person performance based entirely upon Scripture. The script juxtaposed Jesus’ birth with His crucifixion. The other actress had a strong, powerful voice. My voice has always had a more gentle quality. She was given the dramatic lines “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”, while I was given the gentle wonderment surrounding the nativity. To this day I have huge selections from Luke’s account of the incarnation memorized. I love that even in the years I wasn’t able to celebrate the nativity, the Lord implanted worship and wonder around His birth.

My favorite part of the passages I memorized is, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. . . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Even as I type it today I hear the rise and fall of my voice, the wonder and passion I felt as I acted out this scene so long ago.

Isn’t the Lord sweet? I may not have heard the nativity, read from Scripture, around a glowing tree at Christmas, but He planted my love for the celebration of His birth deep within me as I rehearsed my lines—from Scripture. This worship, grounded in the truth of Scripture, couldn’t be denied me.

I invite you into that world I loved as a sixteen-year-old “actress.”

Pause a moment.

Reread the verses, only don’t glaze over them because you’ve heard them a million times. Read them like an audience is in front of you, and you are trying to convey the emotion and wonder of every phrase. Maybe you want to stand up right now and do this in the presence of your Lord.

Ask Him to make them alive in you as you do.

Ready?

Go!

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. . . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Did your voice rise on the words “and the glory of the Lord shone round about them”? Maybe you emphasized the important parts. “And the glory of the Lord shone round about them.”

Did you feel the fear as you whispered, “And they were sore afraid.”

Does your voice take flight as you say, “Good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people”?

Are you breathless as the next line unfolds? “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord!”

Now, if you’re like me, you’re practically shouting with the multitude of heavenly host, “Glory to God in the highest!” Then your voice cracks a little at the wonder of the great ending, “and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

We rush over it. It’s too familiar. You’ve heard it in songs and at Christmas Eve services and even watched cartoon characters speak it on TV.

But my friend. Oh my friend! Jesus is come. Jesus is come. JESUS IS COME!

The great King of all the universe came to earth and brought light to the darkness, peace to the chaos, goodwill—favor—to men! For years the enemy had woven bondage, darkness, and lies over God’s most treasured creation.

Then Jesus.

Jesus!

His life revealed the very heart of God. He Himself was God and was in closest relationship with the Father (John 1). Those who saw Jesus saw the Father, for Jesus and the Father are one (John 14).

As Jesus revealed God to the world, nothing was as the enemy had said. It wasn’t about a wrathful, vengeful God piling rule upon rule on vile mankind.

God is the Father of the prodigal son running out to embrace His wayward child.

He is the businessman who sells all to purchase us, pearls of great price!

He is the compassionate healer who touches blind eyes and makes them see, who makes the lame walk.

He is the One who looks beneath the rule-giving and rule-keeping to the issues of the heart.

He is the One who sets captives free.

That God. That Jesus.

The God of love.

That’s who left heaven’s splendor to be born into a dusty, dirty world full of manure and poverty and despair.

No wonder the angels declared, “I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem!” (Luke 2:10–11, TLB).

Jesus, I lift my heart to worship with the angels giving glory to God for this great gift. Place the great joy of the good tidings deep within my heart that it might rise up to praise You. You are love. You are good. You are full of splendor. Mighty God come to earth. It’s unthinkable the extent You went to so that we could be saved from the darkness, rescued from the lies of the enemy, and shown immeasurable love. Thank You for the peace. Thank You for the freedom. Glory to God in the highest heaven! Praise You for the most joyful news ever announced. You came!

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

Breaking Chains

You will open the eyes of the blind. You will free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons. ~ Isaiah 42:7 NLT

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No more let sins and sorrows grow

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found.

~ “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts

One of the events I most look forward to during the Christmas season is the hanging of the lights at the intersection near my home. When a gentle breeze stirs the branches, they seem to dance in the rhythm of my heartbeat, singing that my Light has come. Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let every heart prepare Him room! No more let sin and sorrow grow! He came to make His blessings flow!*

My heart hasn’t always sung at the thought of Jesus’ birth. There was the whole not being allowed to celebrate Christmas thing, but there was more to it. Though I accepted Christ at a young age, my understanding of the magnitude of this event was severely limited as was my grasp of Christ’s death and resurrection. I knew Jesus, God’s Son, came to earth to save me from my sins and make sure that I could spend eternity with the Father. But I was in my thirties before I began to truly grasp His transforming grace. If you’ve read the Soul Scents collection, you know my story.

Christianity meant a ticket to heaven and a long, hard struggle to walk the straight and narrow until I got there. It meant trying very hard and failing often, living under the bondage of failure. I felt I couldn’t live up to what I thought were God’s expectations of me. I didn’t pray enough, read my Bible enough, or witness enough. Motherhood was especially debilitating. I knew I failed there. I should discipline better, be more patient, play with them more, spend more time on their academics, pray for them more often, teach them more skillfully, be a more organized housekeeper . . . the list was never ending. Often I approached God with my head hung in shame, condemnation rolling over me.

Then there was that whole shame around failing my mother. Condemnation was a beast to be slain.

Somewhere I missed the verse that told me that God didn’t send Jesus to the world to condemn it, but to save it (John 3:17). Furthermore, the next verse, John 3:18 begins by saying that whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned!

I used to think these scriptures simply meant I wouldn’t go to hell. While that is a very good thing, it is a limited understanding of why Christ came. It’s not just the condemnation of the final judgment that Christ did away with, but also the condemnation in my daily life.

Everything I’ve done in the past, am doing now, or will do in the future is cleansed by Jesus’ blood. When God looks at me, He sees Jesus.

And Jesus is perfect.

These concepts are especially hard for those of us who were victims of gas-lighting or other emotional, verbal, or religious abuse.

As the year draws to a close and with it this collection of devotions, my heart cry is for your freedom and mine. And friend, freedom comes from Jesus and His glorious grace.

Have you ever really noticed verse three of the beautiful hymn, “O Holy Night”? There is a powerful phrases that says, “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.”**

What oppresses you? What holds you back? Where are you chained? Where in your life is there slavery to lies instead of free living in truth and grace?

Maybe, like me, you need to let go of striving, performance, perfectionism.

Maybe, like me, you’ve taken on false identities, things the enemy said to you that you believed.

Maybe, like me, there are some people you have to forgive if you’re going to move forward. Maybe you have to admit how bad it really was before you can completely let it go.

Maybe, like me, your failures eat at you. Your inability to be all you wanted to be pulls you down.

Maybe, like me, there are rooms in your heart you’ve refused to enter for years that need Jesus.

Maybe, like me, your scars and wounds have whispered shame and unworthiness and have tried to shut you down.

Oh sweet friend. Chains come in every size.

Give Him permission to reveal them, cut them apart, untangle them.

If you’re like my husband and me, you’ll need Him to start with the really big, thick ones. In your surrendered state You will make big choices. Like drawing difficult boundaries or leaving bad theology or forgiving someone whose actions were unthinkable. Then He’ll cut more chains by asking you to do something weird. Like write a book series or buy your first Christmas tree. And while He’s working on those really big, visible chains, He’ll also be working on the tiny ones in your heart. These are like golden necklace chains. They aren’t bad, but instead of adorning you for His glory, they somehow got all twisted into tiny knots, so He gently rubs the spots, untwists the golden lines, careful not to waste a single thing He plans to use for your joy and His.

Hallelujah!

Jesus broke the bondage of our heavy, chained souls. He freed us from the curse of condemnation from within and without. He spread His blessings as far as the curse was found. He broke generational strongholds and patterns of dysfunction. He saved us from the voices. He saved us from ourselves.

It’s a done deal. It’s ongoing glory.

All the while He whispers that you are worthy of His every effort. He doesn’t leave things undone, but faithfully works, as long as it takes, to show you how to live in the healing and freedom He purchased for you at the cross. He calls you to leave the crap behind and stand in the fullness of who He created you to be. He invites you to warmer climates and clean, open spaces where you can run and laugh. He longs for you to embrace His favor. There is no greater worship than surrendering to His love, than embracing His favor, than becoming all He created you to be.

As you drive through the twinkling lights in your neighborhood this Christmas season, remember that your darkness is pierced, your light has come. May our hearts prepare Him room, singing, “No more let sin and sorrows grow, / Nor thorns infest the ground; / He comes to make His blessings flow / Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found. . . .”

Joy to the world! Our Lord is come!

Precious Jesus, thank you for being the light that shines into the dark places, releasing me from sin and despair. You broke the slavery chains in my life. You continue to unravel knots and set me free. You placed me in a wide open space where the warmth of Your presence lights my way. I commit to worshiping You by embracing Your favor. By living as one who is loved, forgiven, and free to dance in joy. I give You all my “not good enoughs” and simply rest in the deep, penetrating grace of Jesus. I let those who’ve wronged me off the hook, handing them over to You for Your healing justice. Thank You, Father God, for the cross of Christ. I trust You to make my heart move with Jesus’ life rhythm. After all, He lives within me, and our hearts beat as One.

*Excerpts from “Joy to the World,” text by Isaac Watts

**Excerpt from “O Holy Night,” text by John S. Dwight

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

Light Glory

imag0374“I am the Light of the world. So if you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, for living light will flood your path.” ~ John 8:12 TLB

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine!” ~ Matthew 5:14–16, MSG

Our first Christmas tree had only white lights. For years we’d hung white lights as a reminder that Jesus, the Light of the World, came to save us from darkness within and without. All other decorations in the years to come will build on that first strand of lights, just as our lives build on Jesus.

Everything begins with Jesus.

Everything of worth builds upon Him.

Life is to be illuminated by His grace and truth. Our lives, our thoughts, our identity, our decisions are illuminated by His light shining into us and through us.

It doesn’t matter where the enemy lied to us or who tried to steal light from us. It doesn’t matter, because Jesus, the Light of the World, is with us now.

Where there is light, darkness flees.

Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light.

Jesus chases the darkness away.

Jesus is the victory.

Life lived in Him is alive. His life lights our way. His light heals us, chases away the darkness in the rooms we’ve kept locked. His light leads us forward to freedom.

Jesus is the Word Incarnate. The Word is a lamp to our feet, a light to our path.

Jesus, our Light, reveals next steps. Steps of life-giving light.

In Jesus is life, and His life is the light of all mankind. The darkness of this world has not overcome His light. It cannot! (John 1:4)

God’s light is pure. In Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).

He not only lights our way, He lights us! We are like the Christmas tree. It can sit, unnoticed deep in a forest. When night comes, it is shrouded in darkness. But when wrapped in twinkle lights, that tree cannot be hidden.

When we are illuminated by the Light of Jesus, shining from His place as the foundation of our lives, we also are not hidden. We light up our space in this world. We are like Him: pure, white light, like a city set on a hill that can’t be hidden. Like a lamp or a candle set in the middle of a dark room.

Even in the dark times of our lives or of the world, His light shines in us and through us.

The first chapter of John says darkness cannot overcome the Light. In this world of suicide bombers and gunmen in schools, the darkness fights for position. In this world of hidden abuses that tear at personal worth and identity, darkness tries to suffocate.

But it cannot win.

In the places of the deepest despair, the most inky black darkness, the tiniest light always pushes back the black. Whole caverns of darkness cannot overcome one little flickering candle.

There is no greater worship than a life surrendered to the Light. Surrendered lives pierce the darkness as they lift glowing arms to point to Jesus.

Jesus, You are perfect light. In You there is no darkness at all. I surrender to Your light. Take it deep inside me and heal me. Shine it at my feet and guide my next steps. Glow within me, lighting me up from the inside out that I may bring glory to Your name. To be Your light is my greatest act of worship. Do what You do best. Shine! Shine in me. Shine on me! Shine through me!

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

A Child of Celebration

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

But whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God, the Creator of all light, and he shines forever without change or shadow.  ~ James 1:17 TLB

As recent as last year, even with our Christmas tree by the front window, there was dance at broadmoortension around how to celebrate Christmas in our home. As I schedule this post ahead of time, I don’t know what this year will hold. For years Jerry and I have hashed out the specifics, me always, always pushing for more Christmas stuff. As if the next decoration or tradition would satisfy my yearning for celebration.

But I’ve learned something writing these devotionals. For years I thought my deepest wound at Christmas was not being free to create for my children the fullness of the experience I wanted them to have. I thought my hurt centered around whether or not we went to Christmas Eve service or had a Christmas tree or . . . well, you fill in the blank. Each of these decisions to celebrate did bring a measure of joy and freedom, but they are not complete and never will be. This struggle with Christmas celebration is for me only a microcosm of the greater struggle within.

See, I was created to celebrate.

The trappings of Christmas are simply an expression of this need to worship, to sing, to dance. What I really seek is complete freedom to be who I am, to praise my God in abandon, to enjoy every ounce of beauty I can find, without majoring on minors or intense self-evaluation of the rightness of every choice.

From the beginning of my life the enemy tried to steal this identity from me. Children of celebration don’t do well with strife, but I was surrounded by it from day one. They need free expression and movement and beauty. As a child, religion created within me a mistrust of the aesthetics. The culture I was raised in didn’t give much credence to the arts. In the early years movies were considered evil. Dance classes a sin. And much of art inappropriate. Beautiful spaces were not particularly appreciated. There was a prevailing attitude in the church of my childhood that poverty was more acceptable than riches. Too much emphasis on outward adornment was also suspect. As a religious culture, there was a scarcity in our ability to celebrate, to embrace the abundance of the gifts God offered us. Christmas was but a tiny piece of a prevailing attitude that found suspect anything that included too much celebration, too much joy, too much beauty—too much abundance of any type.

This morning I read:

“God is not way out there somewhere. He is here! . . . He is the essence of both our inner and outer life. O God, You are here! O Christ, You have come that I might have abundant life. O gracious Spirit, You are as invisible as the wing yet as real as the air that surrounds me, which I inhale to energize my body! You are within and without.

“It is in You, O my God, that I live and move and have my being. You are the environment from which my total life is derived. You are the energy and dynamic of my whole being. Every good and every perfect bestowal is derived from You. The vitality of my spirit, the energy of my emotions, the drive of my disposition, the powerful potential of my mind, the vigor of my body; in fact, every facet of my total, abundant life is a reflection of Your life, Oh Lord, being lived out in me and through me. . . .

“I sense some of His glory in the wonders of the world He made: the flaming sunrises and sunsets that still the soul, the awesome grandeur of the mighty mountain ranges and sweeping plains; the restless roar of ocean waves. . . . All of these contribute something to the total environment which supports and sustains me. Each in its own way contributes to the well-being of my person. . . . He has put it at my disposal for full and enriched living. All that is sublime, beautiful, dignified, noble, and grand has this as its source. The finest in our literature, music, arts, science, and social intercourse has its base in the generous giving of our Lord”

~ Phillip Keller.*

Part of worship is the freedom to live and move and enjoy every single gift the Lord has for us. Worship is not about scarcity. It is about abundance! To enjoy each gift God has for us, every tiniest bit of delight He created on our behalf is to honor Him and His goals to bless us!

It is possible a child of a different temperament would weather the religious culture of my childhood better than I. Some personalities have less need for the aesthetics in their worship than I do. Some don’t have this inner drive to sing and dance and write words of praise. Some don’t need to hang twinkling lights or cut out intricate snowflakes.

Then again, maybe those people need people like me, people who lead them to celebration and beauty.

Keller’s words are true. Every good bestowal is from the hand of our good God. Every ounce of beauty that delights our souls. Everything that points back to Him. His vitality is sensed in the energy of a dance. His powerful mind in a complex riddle. All that is lived through us that is joyful and good and beautiful and abundant is a reflection of the life of our God, who dwells in joy and abundance. After all, He is the One of whom the psalmist wrote, “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11, NASB).

As I ponder this book and specifically the wounds I’ve carried surrounding Christmas, epiphany comes. My deepest wound of this season is not the lack of presents or a Christmas tree or a family meal. It is the crushing of my innate person, the one created for celebration. It is the agony of loss of freedom in worshiping my Jesus when my personality cries out for every avenue to be explored. It is the chopping off of the flow of celebration and love that comes from Him and is designed to flow through me to my loved ones in a myriad of ways in any given season.

It isn’t just Christmas the enemy has tried to steal from me.

It is life!

The right to be who I am and breath my own air the unique way He created me to do it!

You see, I am a child of dance and song. I am a child of celebration. From the beginning the enemy has sought to steal this from me. He has tried to exploit my desire to please God by turning it into striving instead of joyful surrender and praising advancement. He tried to twist the deep parts of my personality, the “old soul” that is me to make me melancholy instead of simply reflective and insightful. He tried to poison my sanguine temperament with hopelessness.

But he has lost his battles. His schemes are crushed into the ground. Where he sowed pain and despair my Jesus came in and poured His healing blood and turned all evil had planted into seeds of faith. My Jesus watered those seeds with the showers of blessings and storms of trial and the every-single-day-new-hope of His Light. The seeds are bursting forth in blossoms, and the garden of my heart where He dwells is fragrant with grace. The turtledoves have arrived and coo their love song there in my garden heart. The garden my Lord planted for His enjoyment. Here there is hope. There is dance and song and celebration. For I am His child, created for joy.

Oh sweet friend, whether your temperament and mine are dissimilar or very much the same, all of us were created for a joyful expression of worship and celebration to our King, Jesus! All of us have fought the battle to turn from the enemy’s lies and deceptions to step more fully into who we were created to be. We’ve all been pressed down. Held back. Blocked at every turn. But no more! He is come! This baby in the manger, this King on the cross. He broke the chains of sin and death and set us free to be all the Father intended at our creation.

Sweet Jesus! Thank You for setting me to celebrate. To enjoy the good in this world. To live a vigorous life in Your energy. You already won the victory in the battles I face. Show me where the enemy has stunted my growth and how to claim the freedom You already won for me. I want it all! Full experience of freedom in you. The ability to become all You intend me to be and to enjoy all You intend me to enjoy. Where celebration and love and freedom have been dammed up within me, clear out the blockage!

*Selections are from chapter nine of A Shepherd Looks at the Good Shepherd

Christmas Communion

The Word of the Lord is worth more than gold, even more than much fine gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey straight from the comb. ~ Psalm 19:10 NLV

“Come sit under the Christmas tree with Me.”18269-large

Perhaps above all else it was these words of beautiful intimacy, whispered to my friend and shared with me, that made me hunger for whatever it was I missed by not embracing Christmas. They played in my thoughts, year after year, as I wondered what celebrating Christmas truly meant. My friend told me that when she responded to His sweet voice and joined him next to the tree bedecked in twinkle lights, He shared His heart with her as she recorded His thoughts in her journal. She read part of it to me, the part that wasn’t quite so intimate. It was early in my journey to believe God speaks to me, before I was able to trust it is His voice I listen to.

Oh how I longed to hear and record His voice as she had!

How I longed for Him to be that near, that relational, that sweet to me!

My friend and I were traveling when this happened, sharing a hotel room. As I slipped into sleep, I told Jesus how I longed for intimacy with Him. That night I dreamed Jesus stood at the foot of our separate beds. He said that when He saw me, He saw the things He saw in my friend, a beautiful pink heart, one healthy with grace and love, one designed for intimacy. He told me I was loved no less than He loved her, that I was precious to Him too.

Then He held two white rocks in front of me. He said that on each was written a special name, one of them was the name He’d given her, the other the name He’d given me. The white signified how pure and clean we were, washed by His blood and saved by His grace. Each name was intimate. Special. Something He treasured in each of us. He didn’t tell me our names. It’s a kingdom secret I look forward to knowing in eternity.

I’d longed for a pretty Christmas tree to decorate as a child, but the longing that grew with my friend’s story was at a whole new level. I wanted every ounce of intimacy and worship He had for me.

“Come to the tree,” I hear today.

2d6f00940e456a368404153933242329Only in this moment I sense a different tree. It is cleared of branches and needles. It is shaped like a cross.

When I finished Soul Scents: Bloom, it was late. My family slept quietly, and I delighted in the white space to be alone with God. Instead of going to bed, I slipped into my recliner and pulled out my journal. I wanted to celebrate the moment with Jesus. As I wrote to Him, I sensed Him say, “I celebrate with you! Grab a glass of wine.”

I opened the refrigerator. There were two options, but I sensed He wanted me to pour the mead, which is wine made from honey. One time during a prayer gathering the woman praying for me told me that she saw God’s anointing upon my words, that what came from me would pour out like honey, sweet and healing for those who listened. Receiving that promise in faith, I poured from that bottle to celebrate with my Jesus. It got a little weird when I felt He asked me to pour two glasses. After all, I didn’t really expect Him to drink it, since we are together in spirit rather than flesh. I decided to have our little celebration outside, on the deck I so often thank Him for. I suspected He would ask me to pour the second glass on the ground, like a drink offering before Him. I remembered something about David doing that in Scripture.

What I’m about to share, I share in brief, holding back the words I believe were specifically for me and sharing only those words I believe He speaks to all of us. In reality I was writing in my journal, pausing and praying, never seeing His face. In my spirit I sensed His position in heaven, surrounded by friends who dined with Him there, but I never saw anything.

I offer this experience to you with a bit of embellishment, told as a story, in hopes you can read as though you are the heroine. As you digest the following portion, imagine yourself as the “I.”

Hear His heart for you.

Ponder His request.

Receive His love.

I sit in the night breeze, chilled though it is summer. The dim light illuminates the two glasses of mead on the glass table before me. The flowers I planted in pots around the deck are colorless shapes, shadows in the darkness, but their beauty is still present in my heart. I scan the sky for stars and moon and watch the tree limbs stir as they reach toward heaven.

The glasses of honey wine call to me. Am I crazy? Did He really ask me to pour two glasses? “It is hard to trust this is Your voice, Jesus, telling me to do this strange thing. But Your voice, Your words are desired by me. More than gold. They are sweeter even than honey. I do want intimacy with you more than I want anything.” I stare at the goblets, side-by-side. “Won’t You speak and show me what to do with these glasses of mead?”

“Take. Drink. This is our communion. This sharing together.”

I sense His voice rising from my heart, I don’t hear with my ears, but the words are sweet, so sweet. Just to know He speaks is beyond joy.

“This sharing together is our celebration. Take up your cross and follow Me. Receive from My hand both blessing and sacrifice. Trust Me in each.”

“What are we celebrating, Lord?”

“My sacrifice and yours. Your surrender. My victory upon the cross. My resurrection Spirit within you. This moment of victory in your journey. Take up the glass and lift it to heaven!”

I close my eyes and lift my glass, shutting out the deck, the flowers, the night. I hold my glass and listen for His voice, sensing He no longer whispers to my heart, but speaks out loud in heaven, inviting His friends there to listen.

“I toast you. Here is My partner and my bride. She bears many scars, but each is lovely to Me. I see no fault in her. I am highly pleased! Raise your glass, my sister, my bride. Believe in our marriage, our oneness, our unity! You fear failure. Obscurity. Lack of impact. Poverty. How can that be when you are married to the One who is highly exalted above all powers? Raise your glass, for I am King. I have conquered sin and death. I am victorious and joyful and full of delight—and I delight in you!”

My voice comes quickly, eager to praise Him, the worthy One who declares me valuable, who claims me as His bride. “Praise You Jesus! King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Praise You for Your kindness and mercy. Your patience and long suffering. Your sacrifice on my behalf. Your healing unconditional love! Praise You, Jesus!”

Surely they hear me in the heavens. Surely heaven’s hosts, seated in His banquet hall, rise from their seats, praise on their lips! “Glory to Jesus! All glory to the Lamb of God who was slain, who bore humanity’s iniquities and presents them whole and clean before the Father! Glory to Jesus! The Lamb slain who rose again! The baby who became Savior of the world!” Their words are an exultant roar. “All praise to King Jesus!”

The moment becomes private again, the banquet hall fading, the deck filling my vision. The two glasses before me.

“Drink now, my daughter.” His voice is tender in my ear. “Receive the joy. Receiving the anointing. The smaller portion the suffering. The greater the blessing. Both a gift of my hand. Recall this night in the years to come, how I married the suffering and the blessing and called both good. For each brief moment of suffering, you reap great harvest. Others will see the glory of My kingdom because of your surrender to this. Believe. Do not doubt. The mead is sweet, is it not?”

“Yes, Lord.”

“The cup of suffering and the cup of blessing are both sweet when poured by My hand. Fear not the future. Trust My sweet presence will abide with you always, even to the end of the age.”

I tremble. Is it the cool in the air or the magnitude of my surrender to this difficult request? To drink of not only blessing, but suffering. “Every drop You pour I will drink.” My voice barely a whisper. “If You but protect me from all else and hold me in Your sweet presence in sunshine and in rain.”

I pick up the first cup, the cup with less wine, and I drink of suffering. “I surrender again to Your plan, Jesus, the sweetness of honey wine upon my lips. Let the meditations of my heart be pure and holy and a blessing to You, my Husband. My Lord. My King.”

Reaching for the second cup, the one full of blessing, I drink easily, savoring each sip, awash with His presence.

It’s as if He is right there next to me, the breeze like a tender finger brushing my cheek. I can almost see Him place a finger beneath my chin and lift my gaze to His. “Rest My dear one.” Oh the sweetness of His voice! “Trust that I am in control and all I ordain will come to pass. I will never leave or forsake you. Where could you flee from My presence? No matter where you go, I am there. I am one with my beloved. We can never be separated. Whether you dwell in joy or sorrow My presence will comfort and heal you. I hold you to My heart always. My heart beats for you, and I sustain your heart and enable it to beat for Me. Our love affair has just begun. It will grow through the ages of the earth and through the age of eternity. You will know what it means to be truly loved.”

Ah, sweet friend. Come to the tree. The rough, scratchy tree with the three nail holes. It is here our Savior taught us how to pick up our cross and walk through suffering to eternal victory.

Ah, precious friend. Come to the tree. The tree that sparkles with tiny lights and joyful declaration just as the sky glistened with the light of the heavenly hosts declaring, “Glory to God on the highest! Peace on who God’s favor rests!” Enjoy the celebration. The blessings! The magical wonder of an eternal King who came as a baby.

Both are the same tree. Blessing and suffering together. Both necessary for the greatest gift of all. Both are the tree of intimacy.

Lord Jesus, I come.

Oh sweet friend, do you feel it? The sweetness of surrender? The depths of His love?

Much love,

Paula another test (401x192) (2)

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

The Two Trees

20161202_205404

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

 

 

He took the punishment, and that made us whole.

Through his bruises we get healed. ~ Isaiah 53:5, MSG

evergreen1I don’t know much about Christmas trees. I’ve owned only two. Both were breathtaking in their beauty. Both awakened worship within me. Both gave me hours and hours of joy.

But they smelled different.

The first one, the one Jerry chose for our family, was much more fragrant.

I learned that particular kind of Christmas tree is shaped by the blade. It’s perfect triangular shape comes because it was cut, refined, prepared for its life purpose.

theoldruggedcrossOh my.

Sweet Jesus.

So often the sweet aroma comes in the breaking.

As King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Your majesty fills worlds seen and unseen.

Yet . . .

It is Your very crushing that sends forth the sweet, clean scent.

Yours.

And mine.

He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.

One look at him and people turned away.

We looked down on him, thought he was scum.

But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.

We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.

But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!

He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed. . . .

~~~

He was beaten, he was tortured,
but he didn’t say a word.

Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
and like a sheep being sheared,
he took it all in silence.

Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
and did anyone really know what was happening?

He died without a thought for his own welfare,
beaten bloody for the sins of my people. . . .

~~~

Still, it’s what GOD had in mind all along,
to crush him with pain.

The plan was that he give himself as an
offering for sin

so that he’d see life come from it—life, life,
and more life.
And GOD’s plan will deeply prosper through him.

~~~

Out of that terrible travail of soul,
he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it.

Through what he experienced, my righteous one,
my servant,

will make many “righteous ones,”
as he himself carries the burden of their sins.

(Isaiah 53:3–11, MSG)

Sweet Jesus, You were crushed to heal my crushing, the bruises and scars put upon me and that I put upon others. You took the punishment and made me whole. Thank You for coming to us.

Thoughts on the tree keep getting deeper . . . more tomorrow.

Until then,

paula-another-test-401x192-2

First Gift Giver

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 2: 14–15 NASB

imag0398I didn’t know Christmas had this fragrance. I breathe deeply, filling my nostrils with the clean, fresh scent of the evergreen tree. The aroma is like God’s favor washing over me. In it I smell His faithfulness. His kindness. His attention to detail.

I pause, away from the busyness, away from the bustle and noise. Seeking. Seeking Him.

“Thank you,” I whisper. “Thank you for what you have done and will do in my husband and in all of us. For being the One who fights for me, my family, and our hearts.”

He whispers, “I Am the First Gift Giver. I Am the ultimate Gift Giver.”

The day outside is a wintry gray, but my tree twinkles, full of light. The dimness outside the picture window only makes the lights prettier. I climb into the recliner gifted to us when Bernice passed away, the recliner that replaces the big blue one where I rocked my children and sought my Savior year after year. Pulling my special blanket around me I snuggle in, staring at the twinkle lights, inhaling the scent of Christmas.

“My Father is the Gardener.”

I grab my journal and listen, ink flowing across the page, recording the sweet Jesus whispers.

“My Father does great works of beauty in the human soul. I treasure the garden of the hearts of My people. When You let My Spirit cultivate a dwelling place for Me, you prepare a fragrant offering.”

I breathe deeply again, inhaling the aroma of this gift, this tree.

I watch the snow fall and think about Jesus.

How does He smell? Does Jesus have a manly, clean scent like that of my tree? Spicy like the cinnamon of my holiday baking? Or maybe his scent is hearty and tantalizing like homemade bread.

I may not know His exact smell, but I believe all these lovely aromas, like of all of creation, point to Him.

He is nourishing like bread.

Fun and a bit feisty like cinnamon.

Strong and clean like the fragrance of my Christmas tree.

My tree.

This gift of God, given through the willing hands of the man who loves me, is forever a reminder of the God who keeps His promises, the God who is forever green, strong and vibrant through storms, always producing something new in this world.

In my family.

In me.

And you.

And through all of us.

This Gift-giver is the God who gave His very self so we could be intimate friends with Him.

Friends close enough to catch a whiff of His fragrance.

My mind wanders to the Song of Songs, a love story I’ve taken for my own. I am the beloved of the Bridegroom.

We who love Jesus are His treasured bride.

His voice leaps from the pages of my Bible:

“I went to my garden, dear friend, best lover!
breathed the sweet fragrance.

I ate the fruit and honey,
I drank the nectar and wine.

Celebrate with me, friends!
Raise your glasses—‘To life! To love!’”

(Song of Solomon 5:1, MSG).

Precious Jesus, You are altogether lovely. You smell good. You are good. The garden of my heart is yours. Breathe in the fragrance of my love, the garden love You planted to be a sweet aroma to Yourself. How I love You! I celebrate You—Your entrance to this world as a baby, your offering upon the cross, your dwelling within me. But most of all I celebrate our friendship. Our love. Help me inhale Your clean, fresh fragrance every day. As we hang out together, make me so much like You that as I pass others a whiff of Your clean fragrance trails after me.

Still talking trees and Jesus tomorrow . . .

Until then,

paula-another-test-401x192-2

Are Christmas Trees Pagan?

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.

They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.

It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

~ Jeremiah 17:7–8 NIV

imag0261

I enjoy beautiful trees wherever I go!

The happy ending to yesterday’s story writes like a Hallmark Christmas movie, and while it is a glorious, joyous memory, the reality of the experience wasn’t quite so simple. It was a huge challenge for my husband to make the choice to bring home a Christmas tree. The teachings that held him back ran deep. He bought the tree out of a desire to obey God and a desire to love me well, but the tree’s presence in our home made my man uncomfortable.

I spent untold hours enjoying its twinkling lights and crisp, fresh fragrance, but for a while my husband avoided the room where it was. He had acted in obedience and love, but the choice went against every fiber of his being. It was hard for him to get used to the foreign object in his home, one he’d vowed would never be there.

Jerry made the choice to buy the tree after praying for many days about a note he’d received from a friend. It encouraged him to buy a Christmas tree, by sharing the following thoughts:

“The tree is Mine,” says the Lord. “It is beauty. It represents how I am forever green, even when life is full of snowstorms and cold winds. When stripped of its leaves it represents the foundation of the cross. And when it produces pinecones it represents newness. . . . It will be a healing tree and a place that marks a new beginning for you. When you look at it you will be reminded that My promises are true. . . . The pagans and the world lay no claim on it for My Word says, ‘Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time’” (Ecclesiastes 1:10, NIV).

I love that my husband was willing to ponder our friend’s message. I love that he went before the Lord and spent the nights tossing and turning and seeking confirmation that those words were really from his God. I love that once Jerry was convinced God spoke to him, my dear husband acted in obedience, doing something completely foreign to his upbringing, something he never expected to do.

We printed out the words about the tree and framed them. It’s important to Jerry that the children and I understand why he made the choice to bring the tree into our home. He did it out of obedience because the Lord showed him that before there was even a Christmas to celebrate, the evergreen tree was created to bring its Creator glory. It stands beautiful and tall as a metaphor of God.

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This tree is at the Briarwood in Golden, CO

I sense a whisper inside that it is also a metaphor of what He does in us. As God remakes us into the image of Jesus, He gives us the strength to stand forever green—alive—even when our life is invaded by cold wind and storm—or heat and drought as today’s Scripture talks about. Sometimes we feel stripped of our beauty, scarred, and yet in all things He works to make us into a symbol of hope and redemption. We experience rebirth in salvation and rebirth as we are healed. He produces new things, good fruit, from our lives.

I hope you enjoy your Christmas tree as deeply as I enjoy mine. As we gaze upon its beauty this year, may it remind us of God’s creative, redemptive heart. May we worship our God as One who is forever green, vibrant, verdant, and alive in every storm, the who helps us choose life in our storms! Even as our hearts lift in wonder of the incarnation, when we look upon our Christmas tree, may we also see it as a reminder of His greatest act of love—the willingness to sacrifice Himself upon that cross, so we can be made anew!

Oh, Lord, how beautiful You are! Nothing in all creation can be stolen from You, debased to be less than it is. Your creation, whether an evergreen tree or a person is beautiful and right, pointing all of creation back to the wonder of who You are. You are forever green no matter the struggles of this world. Help me to be alive, too, not deadened by the storms I’ve endured, but living awake—flourishing. Verdant! You came to earth anticipating the cross. Your act of sacrifice purchased me for Yourself, so I can live in the fullness of who You meant me to be. No one. Nothing. Not in this world or the unseen realms. There is nothing in heaven or earth that can debase me or put a godless mark upon me or take away my beauty. Your act on the Golgotha’s tree promises I am new. Thank You, Jesus for coming for me. As I gaze upon the gaily lit Christmas trees this year, remind me of Your strength and the strength You give me. Remind me that even when I feel stripped, You create a vessel of honor. Remind me that You make all things new. Help me to stand tall gazing at Your beauty, and to believe that You see beauty when You look upon me.

More thoughts about trees coming the next several days.

Until tomorrow,

paula-another-test-401x192-2