December 24 – Behind the Christmas Card – Grudges

Read Ephesians 4:31-32

I will admit, when I saw that this was a topic of “Grudges” I was reluctant to write it. However, if I have learned anything as a believer, the Lord teaches us, even in that which makes us sad.  I read Ephesians 4:31-32 and I think to myself, “I don’t hold grudges, I am forgiving”; but the Truth is that I am still learning to have a forgiving heart in certain relationships.

To shed some light on a bit of my story:
My parent’s divorced when I was 6 years old and wounds that are 24 years old are still healing when it comes to my relationship with my father. Christmas time has certain sadness because I do not have a warm relationship with my father, and, because of this, I need to consistently approach the Lord for guidance, wisdom, truth and comfort.

No matter what has occurred over the last 24 to 30 years of my life, nothing changes the call the Lord has given me when it comes to my father. Ephesians 4:31-32 is a perfect example of this Truth that He has called of me.

 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

Something I am reminded of when reading this verse is that my father is my brother in Christ FIRST and, just as I look to a complete stranger who is a brother in Christ, I need to see my father through the eyes of Christ. Jesus is the reason for the season, and this reason, alone, is one that causes a change of heart.

I am not sure if there is someone in your life that the Lord has brought to heart when reading this truth, but I urge you to take some time to pray over that relationship. Pray over the wrong that was done and allow the Lord to cover it with His peace. Allow Him to show you a new perspective of that person’s life and the relationship He wants for the two of you.

I haven’t figured anything out as far as my relationship with my dad, but, what I urge you to do, I ask and challenge this of myself too. This Christmas season, let’s choose to change the perspective we have and let’s see ALL as Christ sees them.

Kelly Lawson

December 23 – Behind the Christmas Card – Sick Family Member

Read Psalm 34:15,18

Have you ever been given something for Christmas you didn’t like? It’s even worse when you can’t return it.

About 9 years ago, my father was given something neither he nor my family members wanted. He was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD). FTD is a degenerative disease that shrinks the frontal lobe of the brain, affecting his memories, his personality and ability to say basic things. He was in his 50s and this would forever alter his life…and mine.

I remember Thanksgiving and Christmas being so tumultuous for my family as we went through a season of testing to understand what was wrong. No one wanted to talk about it; no one wanted to cry about it. We just wanted answers. But there weren’t any. So we gathered around puzzles and board games in those days, finding solace in some classic family pastimes.

Often when we’re in distress or despair, all we want are answers. We want to know why hard times have happened and what to do with the broken pieces we have in our tired hands. But answers often don’t come when we most want them. You may be in that place this Christmas.

What God offered us instead in those moments was pretty simple. He offered Himself. He knew our grief and He knew who we were. He stayed close and filled the silence with His presence. Scripture says He loves us so much He knows the number of hairs on our head (Luke 12:7). I suppose God knows every memory we hold in our hearts, too…even when we forget them.

Psalm 34 says:

“The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry…The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (vv.15, 18)

Did you see in those verses how God is close? His eyes are on you and His ears are listening. He’s not far away.

How would you save something that was crushed? You’d pick it up with tender hands, wouldn’t you? Perhaps devote careful time to restore it, piece by piece? God does that for you.

At the beginning, I said my father was “given” something, likening his disease to a gift. It didn’t seem like a gift in the moment, and I’m not saying God gave him the disease. But what I can say is that 9 years later, we know God’s presence in a way that surely is a gift. And, what God redeemed and did behind the scenes as we waited for Him as a family, was truly a gift as well.

Ben Framstad

December 22 – Behind the Christmas Card – Non Nuclear Family

Read Jeremiah 1:5

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday! I love the crisp winter air that comes with the season, the music and the spirit of joy and smiles that seem to surround the atmosphere. However, when growing up, Christmas wasn’t always a joyous holiday.

Just after my 6th birthday and before Christmas, my parents divorced and everything changed. My world flipped on its axis and I was labeled “different” by my friends. A one-time happy season turned into a chaotic discussion of how and where we were to spend our holiday.

To my parent’s credit, they tried to make it an adventure and an exciting time as “we got two Christmases’” but it didn’t change the chaos of emotions that came at every Christmas because we were, and still are, a non-nuclear family; we were, in a sense, torn apart. My favorite holiday was marked with tears of sadness. As an adult, I love the lessons that came with being a non-nuclear family; it made me the strong woman I am today. One of those lessons is that of Jeremiah 1:5.

I love what God reminds Jeremiah before his work begins. He reminds him that He formed Jeremiah, that He knew Jeremiah and consecrated him. He reminds Jeremiah, at the beginning of his call as a Prophet, that He prepared him for what is to come. God formed and shaped Jeremiah exactly for this life of his. God formed us, shaped us, and prepared us (and continues to do so) exactly for this life and what is to come. He is the true gift that Christmas reminds us of. This gift is THE answer to our chaos of emotions as we deal with changes in our family. He is the strength to cling to when things aren’t as we wished they would be. His spirit is within us to access when we can’t see anything but our own perspective.

So, bottom line; no matter what your family may look like this Christmas season, no matter who shows up to Christmas dinner, no matter who walks into Christmas Eve service with you, know that Christ has formed you and He has instilled in you the ability to walk and see life as He sees it. You just have to look.

Your family may be “different”; you may compare your family to others, but, if Christmas means anything or reminds us of anything, it is that the gift of Jesus helps us get through a rough season, even at Christmas.

Focus on Him.

Kelly Lawson

December 21 – Behind the Christmas Card – Miscommunication

Read Joshua 22:1-34

As someone who loves the art of communication, I am often quite surprised by how much I apologize for miscommunicating. Honestly, it must happen on a weekly basis! You are almost guaranteed to hear me saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t mean it that way!” or “Oh shucks, that’s not what I meant to say!” or my personal favorite, “I think I created a misunderstanding here.” – aka- I really goofed this one up.

I am reminded of just last week when I was talking with a friend about potentially grabbing lunch later in the week, and then him texting me on Friday, asking where I was. Well… I was about three hours away at a conference! Therefore, the words I used in the moment had indicated something to him that I really did not intend to communicate.

After looking at our reading today, you can see miscommunication is not something new to the world. Even if you feel like you are the only one on earth who miscommunicates, rest assured, you are not. People have struggled with communication since the beginning of creation (lest we forget Adam and Eve?).

Today’s story is one big pile of miscommunication and misinterpretation. The heads of the clans of Israel were quick to judge the work of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. Without even asking the group what their intentions were, they quickly jumped down their throats, rebuking them for idolizing false gods. Whereas, on the other hand, Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh might not have done the best job communicating to the heads of Israel what their true intentions were, leaving room for speculation and doubt.

I wonder if you take a look inside today, which of these two groups are you more like? Are you like the heads of the clans of Israel who were quick to judge without first trying to understand? Or are you more like  Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh who did not communicate their intentions and were possibly vague in their descriptions?

The fact of the matter is miscommunication happens all around us, and, because of our human nature, it is bound to happen even this holiday season. However, recognizing where our flaws might be enables us to minimize the impact of communicative transgressions, and, in many ways, helps us love people better. Your words matter and so do the intentions of your conversation. What better time to be thinking about how we communicate than right before the holidays! Spend some time in prayer this morning asking the Lord to help guide you to be a more loving communicator.

Taylor Bennington

December 20 – Behind the Christmas Card – Expectations

Read Proverbs 10:28 and Philippians 3:20-21

There are many reasons why we dread the Christmas season. Such reasons have already been mentioned in this series with another one being expectations. Getting together with family could very well include family members sharing their expectations with you:

  • “Are you really still at that job? You need to work at ___.
  • “Are you and ___ still dating? When are you going to pop the question?”
  • “You’re looking a little chunky there. You should go on a diet.”

Hopefully, your expectations aren’t that blunt, but we all face them in one way or another, either placing them on ourselves or having them placed on us.

The difference between proper and negative expectations is all in the motive.

I went to a high school that, at that time, was prestigious for basketball. When I was in Jr. High, the varsity team was state runner up back to back years. They were insanely good. When I got to high school, I had never experienced a culture such as that. It was more than just a winning culture. “You will be great. You will fight. You will train. You will run faster, hustle more and be more aggressive than anyone who we suit up against. We may not be the most athletic but we will work the hardest, run the most and work them out of the gym. They will get pressed the entire game and they will break.” The culture of that school was very aggressive and hard nosed. If there’s a loose ball on the floor, forget the floor burns you will receive; you will sacrifice your body for the ball. If winning means running through a brick wall, you do it with no questions asked.

I’m not like that. I am much quicker to call my mom when I’m sick than I am to be aggressive and fight for a rebound. There was a lot of tension during my high school years athletically because the expectations that were being put on me weren’t being met.

Then there are good motives. When I was a (VERY) immature teenager, my dad never faltered. He never failed to tell me, lovingly yet factually, that I need to be relentless in my pursuit to honor the Lord. “When you do something, do it 100%”, “Never let someone question your work ethic,” “Do whatever it takes to do the job well and, when you get credit for it, point to the Lord.”

That’s something I can get behind.

Our reading this morning talks about positive and negative motives. Proverbs references expectations made by the flesh. As much as we would consider certain family members to be wicked, Solomon is telling us to trust in the Lord and live by his expectations which are laid out in Philippians 3. Expectations from the spirit will captivate you about God! As a follower of Christ, think of your heavenly future! Now THAT is proper motivation. Do whatever you can to share this hope throughout this holiday season!

Jake Lawson

December 19 – Behind the Christmas Card – Traditions

Read 1 Corinthians 11:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and Colossians 2:8

You’ve heard it said that “We are all creatures of habit.” Habits allow us to get mundane or repetitive things accomplished without a great deal of thought.  Confession: I am not a morning person. Waking up when the alarm goes off is hard for me. I am one of those folks who will set my alarm with the intention of hitting the snooze button a couple of times until I can figure out what planet I am on.  I rely on my morning habit or routine because, the less actual thinking I need to do before I head out the door to go to the office, the better.

Then there are Traditions. This time of year we have transitioned with blinding speed from Thanksgiving to an entire Christmas season.  A season full of things we do that carry an importance to them because of the special place and the special memories we have for them in our hearts. When my children were little, dough was rolled out on the counter amidst clouds of flour. Trays of cut-out cookies formed by little hands were baked. An explosion of sparkles, sprinkles and icing followed, transforming the cookies into edible works of “art”. On Christmas Eve, gifts under the tree always meant a new pair of “Christmas jammies” for everyone to sleep in, awaiting the next morning. These are traditions that continue to this day and now include grandchildren.

Because these traditions are rooted in love, I hope they are ones that continue to be passed down from generation to generation. Paul understood how important it would be that things of the Christian faith be passed down. Our readings today highlight this:

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.”

“So then, brothers and sisters stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

Paul also saw clearly from his days as a Pharisee that it was easy to elevate spiritual laws and traditions above God in a way that made them a stumbling block. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Over these next days as you wrap gifts, drive around looking at the brightly colored light displays, and drop change in the kettle, stop along the way with me and consider all the traditions that fill our December. Are we passing the days, handing off love in words and action that point to the Savior? Do our traditions speak words of truth about The Word of Truth, saying “You are valued. You are important. You are loved.”?

Merry Christmas!

Wade Karhan

 

December 18 – Behind the Christmas Card – Loneliness

Read Ephesians 1:13-14, 2:13, Genesis 16:13 and Psalm 139:1-24

My family is in a season of grief which can be a lonely place. I can almost guarantee we are not the only ones, as there are a lot of reasons for loneliness.  However, as I am walking this new, unwanted journey, I’ve found comfort in and companionship with Jesus in an even deeper, more intimate way.  I’m still learning but here are some treasures God is teaching me about loneliness.

I’m not alone.

You may feel, and may even be physically, alone. However, if you’ve put your trust in Jesus, His spirit lives in you. The Holy Spirit is a comforter, guide, and counselor present with you, always.  I love the truth from Ephesians 2:13…Jesus is near.  I speak these words out loud and meditate on them all the time…no matter what, Jesus is near.

I’m seen.

If you read the account of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis, you also meet Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar.  Hagar has to do whatever she’s told. So, in order for this childless couple to have a child, Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham to make a baby.  Hagar conceives and dysfunction ensues.  You can read about how God meets Hagar in her lonely circumstances in Genesis 16 and 21, but my favorite verse is Genesis 16:13 . Hagar gave this name to the Lord, who spoke to her, “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”  Doesn’t it thrill your soul that God sees you?  It sure does mine! Remind yourself; – your heartache and loneliness may be invisible to others but not to God…He sees you!

I’m known.

Psalm 139 is a great place to hang out if you are feeling lonely.  I recommend you read it in more than one translation to gain even more perspective.  Sometimes we feel misunderstood, like no one ‘gets’ us.  Let’s be honest, sometimes we don’t understand ourselves.  God truly ‘gets’ us…knows us better than anyone does and He loves us!  You are known!

You may still be longing for people in your life to fill the insecurities listed above, but people or the ‘right’ person can’t cure our loneliness or provide true security. Companionship is a gift from God. Not to replace Him because He cannot be replaced, but to shore us up on this journey of life.

My friend, keep reading His word.  Practice talking to Him like a friend. Remind yourself He is always near, that He sees you, and that He knows you.   It’s amazing the comfort and confidence that will come as a result.

Shelly Eberly

 

December 17 – Behind the Christmas Card – Coping with grief

Read James 1:17

Christmas can be hard when you suffer loss, but despite the loss I have experienced, I believe God is STILL GOOD.

In 2011 my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and in 2013 we could no longer have my dad take care of her and had to place her in a facility that knew how to deal with this awful disease.

By 2014 my mom was starting to not remember my dad or myself. In 2015, we lost my mom. The loss was so great for our family, especially for my dad, because they had been married 65 years. Even though I never really had a relationship with my dad, our family decided to include my dad in every family get together and holiday. During that time, I developed a closeness to my dad that I never thought possible.

As Christmas 2015 drew closer both my dad and I were sad to think mom was no longer with us, so we asked dad to stay with us over the holidays. He was so excited to be with us on Christmas Eve and he even went to the 11:00 candlelight Christmas eve service, then stayed up with us till 2am talking and joking around! The next morning we all gathered together and dad was like a little kid in a candy store.

The Lord blessed us ALL that Christmas with the best gift ever. The chance to really get to know my dad.

Dad was a “Family Circus” cartoon addict and he would read it faithfully every day, and if it pertained to any of us in the family he would cut it out, put our initials on it and hand it to us with a chuckle. Well, the day after Christmas he cut out the one from the paper and put all our initials on it and said, “This is SO TRUE!” It read…”Santa’s going to have a hard time topping this Christmas next year.” Dad was right it was going to be hard to top.

We did get one more Christmas with my dad before he passed last year, which we are forever grateful for.

As I go into another year without my parents, the loss is still great, but the Lord is still good. As I pulled out my dad’s stocking I cried remembering what a perfect gift I received that year. The GIFT of time with my dad, the Gift of celebrating Jesus’ birth with him and the gift of knowing one day I will see them both again.

Missing a loved one is painful, but never more so than during the holidays, I know! But over the past few years, I’ve learned it’s okay to not be okay. The tears will flow, the sorrow may over take you and paralyze you, but just remember there’s one who knows EXACTLY what that’s like. God knows! He is my lifeline and he wants to be yours. He cares and is never offended by our questions or our deep pain. He just doesn’t want us to stay there! The key is to keep turning to Him, He’s our peace in the midst of our pain!

It is so true what James writes in James 1:17, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.”

Lori Lehman

December 16 – Behind the Christmas Card – Humility

Read Proverbs 27:2

A true message of Christmas is humble love with gratitude, purpose, and without comparisons.

“Humility is freedom from pride – lowliness, modesty and mildness.” (The Bible Dictionary). To humble ourselves is a condition of God’s favor (2 Chron. 7:14) and his supreme requirement (Mic. 6:8). Humility is encouraged (Prov. 15:33). Paul emphasized the humility of Jesus (Phil. 2:1-11), emphasized for us to be humble toward each other (Rom. 12:10) and spoke of himself as an example (Acts 20:19).

The birth of Jesus is the best example of humility.

Live with humble love, which was modeled from birth to death to resurrection by Jesus Christ!

In his book, Through My Eyes, Tim Tebow talks about how his parents made a rule when he was very young: He and his brothers couldn’t tell about their own feats –  usually sports related – unless they were asked about them. Apparently, there was quite a bit of bragging going on among Tim and his two brothers and others, and their parents wanted it to stop. So, at age 5, Tim and his brothers, Robbie (age11) and Peter (age 8), were not permitted to talk about what they had done well.

People and friends learned about the Tebow rule at church and in the community, so, whenever they wanted to know the latest news, they would go up to Tim on Sunday and ask, “Timmy, have you had any games this week?” Once that question was asked, the boys were permitted to freely talk about themselves and the weekend’s highlights.

We may be quick to boast about ourselves and justify it in many ways, but, in the process, we lose our focus on others and our call to serve and love others.

Now when you see Tebow talking about Night to Shine or other activities he is involved in, after years of practicing the lesson of Proverbs 27:2, you will notice that Tim is usually slow to speak about himself. Years of training have paid off.

The Christmas card is a great way to share the joy and miracle of Christmas with others. Let us continue this wonderful Christmas tradition with a humble, joyful and spiritual heart. Joy to the world!

Tom Weckesser

December 15 – Behind the Christmas Card – Discontentment

Read Hebrews 13:5

One thing I love to indulge in around Christmas time is that of the Hallmark Christmas Movies. I know, I know, how could I? I don’t actively seek them out or look forward to them; however, when I turn on Netflix and see a new one, I get a little excited. I find the characters and stories they build so fascinating, even though the acting is sub par at times. Somehow, they seem to make the air feel a little more like Christmas. However, I often have to guard my heart with them because it causes me to compare,  and, when I compare, I become discontent.

Behind my smiling face on our family Christmas Card, at times, is a mind running through the list of things that I “want” in this life. The Christmas season often highlights my wants, as people around me receive that which I desire to have, and I become discontent with where we are. Discontentment is a state of mind that I believe every human battles with at times. Any one of us can yearn for something we don’t have. I have to guard my heart and mind when watching said Christmas movies or shows (“Fixer Upper”) because I find myself looking at my life, belongings and surroundings and wanting something else or more. However, God has called our family to a season of humble means because we have an ultimate goal and He, a desire, for our family.

I am reminded of the writer of Hebrew’s words:  “ Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being discontent with what you have…”. The writer is speaking of how we show Christ in our lives and, even in this season, I get slapped in the face with the truth that my purpose is not what I have or want but about being like Him or working towards His desire for my life.

I am, by no means, saying that giving and receiving gifts is wrong, However, I am simply asking; Where is your heart this Christmas season? One thing I love about our Church during this season is that it causes us to focus on putting our funds toward a need among our church community. So think and reflect; Where is your heart? Is it on the next best electronic or that necklace you’ve been eyeing since summer? OR is it on Christ himself and what He WANTS of our lives, time, money, and talents, even in this Christmas season?

Kelly Lawson