No More Resolutions, Excuses and Regrets

No More Resolutions, Excuses and Regrets

I stopped making a “new years’ resolution” several years ago because they just didn’t stick. We all know in January the gyms are full and so are Weight Watchers and other dieting programs. Memberships start to dwindle in March. (I know, I have tried several gyms but I don’t enjoy going to the gym…) The intentions are good but often the goals are fuzzy or not worth the effort to follow through.

The noun resolution has a few related meanings having to do with being firmly determined about something. If you lack determination, you’ll never fulfill your New Year’s resolutions. . If you approach a task with resolution, you do it with determination. And if you make a resolution, you make a firm decision to do something or meet some goal. ( from vocabualry.com)

Because many of our resolutions are just wishful thinking, what follows is a terrible cycle of excuses with all the reasons to justify why we quit moving forward and even going backwards. This in turn can lead to regret if we do not learn from the experience. The Bible refers to regret as a way for Satan to get inside you mentally. Regret can be devastating if we don’t keep it in check. The apostle Paul addressed the root of the problem.

Romans 7:15–25 (The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language)
What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.

How can we fortify our resolve to be better, do better? First we need to recognize our strengths and weaknesses before making plans. It is all too easy to let the tyranny of the urgent to take over. The newest crisis or “important” activity bumps what we know we should do. Sometimes I find myself living by the boxes on my calendar without leaving margins for health and soul care if I don’t prioritize and ask for God’s help.

We all need to begin the new year and every new day with a the right attitude for a fresh start.

Psalm 51:10 (ESV) Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold (sustain) me with a willing spirit. ( NIV reads : renew a steadfast spirit within me)

Philippians 4:13 (ESV) I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Psalm 37:5 (ESV) Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.

Instead of making a “resolution” try to form specific goals for the month or year. Ask yourself how important each goal is. What will it take to start moving in a positive direction to reach the goal? What are some action steps to take? How long will the goal really take to complete or see a difference? This is a more thoughtful process to get things accomplished. Blessings are in the new year my friends if we look to Him for guidance, discernment and determination.

A riddle for the new year: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

The History of Christmas Carols

The History of Christmas Carols

I cannot imagine Christmas without singing carols and listening to music everywhere. Our traditional carols often started as poems. The words were taken from the scripture and then published in prayer books before being turned into songs. Most of our old favorites were written before the 20th century. The Puritans tried to ban them in the 16th century altogether because they were thought to be too secular and frivolous. It is believed that the first Christmas carol service was invented in Truro England in 1880. But the the first “Christmas choir” is recorded in the gospel of Luke when the angels sang to announce the birth of Jesus.

Luke 2:8–14 (ESV)
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
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 among those with whom he is pleased!”

Many favorite Christmas hymns retell this part of the story. “ Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was written in 1739 by Charles Wesley, “Angels frome the Realms of Glory” in 1816 by Scottish poet James Montgomery and “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” by Nahum Tate (1700s). “Angels We Have Heard on High” is based on an old French carol that was first published in 1819 but probably originated long before that. The stanzas of each hymn were translated from various languages and the tunes were written and reaaranged by several musicians into what we have today. They are all steeped in scripture and deep theology that is often lost due to our illiteracy and understanding of the Bible today.

I enjoyed researching the history of our Christmas hymns. “Silent Night” was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 in a small village in Austria. A young priest named Father Joseph Mohr wrote the words the year before. There was a flood that damaged the church organ so he brought the poem to organist Franz Gruber asking him to please compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the evening service. So there you have it, the first guitars in Church!

Did you know that “Joy to the World” was not written as a Christmas carol? In its original form, it had nothing to do with Christmas. It wasn’t even written to be a song. In 1719, Issac Watts, one of our great hymn writers, published a book of poems in which each poem was based on a psalm. One of those poems was an adaptation of Psalm 98. Watts interpreted this psalm as a celebration of Jesus’s role as King of both his church and the world. More than a century later, the second half of this poem was slightly adapted and set to music to give us what has become one of the most famous of all Christmas carols.

One great Christmas carol is also a great reminder of our responsibility to tell others about the One who came to bring us Salvation. That hymn is “Go Tell it On the Mountain“. A negro spiritual dating at least to 1865 was written down by by a black educator named John Work, around 1907, who was not well received by the white establishment of the time.

Whether you are singing in your car or kitchen, out in the community or church choir, think about the words! Find a hymn book or google all the words because there are so many beautiful songs of joy and praise. The tunes may be familiar but the message may be new to someone you know. Share the angels song: the good news that a Savior was born for us. Share the shepherds story: how the experience of hearing the message and finding the Christ Child changed your life.

Go Tell It On the Mountain

Go, tell it on the mountain,
over the hills and everywhere.
Go, tell it on the mountain
that Jesus Christ is born.


Is Your Creche More Than an Heirloom?

Is Your Creche More Than an Heirloom?

Soon after Thanksgiving is over the fall decorations are put away and down from the attic come the boxes of Christmas decorations, lights and my Precious Moments nativty set. Since my set is porcelain the children weren’t supposed to play with it but they did. I would find the sheep had wandered to another part of the stable and one time a camel suffered a broken neck. After my now adult children have visited I will find a ball for baby Jesus or a small tree and one time Spiderman was hanging above watching over the cradle. I don’t mind though because they know the true story.

Tradition has it that St Francis of Assisi created the first creche in 1223 when he mounted a living nativity scene, consisting of a manger, an ox and a donkey. It was for the the Christmas Eve Mass he organized while visiting the mountain town of Grecio.

Ornate nativity sets are often passed down through families and I have visited large collections from around the world from small to life size. The word creche comes from Latin and means “a nursery.” In Britain, childcare centers are called a creche (I did not know this). When you set out your home collection is it just another decoration as a nod to the Biblical narrative? The real nativity (place of birth) for the Son of God was crude, noisy and smelly. So many people had packed into Bethlehem that the stable was the only private space the Inn Keeper could offer. Mary and Joseph were exhausted from a very long and difficult trip, estimated to be about 70 miles, and then the poor girl delivered a baby. I found the image below on Pinterest and I think it is a better representation of the scene.

Micah 5:2 (ESV)
2But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)
14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)
6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

It is believed that the wisemen were highly educated astrologers and astronomers that traveled from Persia which is appoximately 400 miles away. They saw a new star that signified a special, spectacular birth and they had studied the Hebrew scriptures. The new family would have only stayed in the stable a short time and Matthew 2 states “they went into a house” and worshipped the child. Some scholars estimate it may have been almost two years later, just before Herod tried to find and kill the new born King. The treasures the wise men brought were of significant value and prophetic importance.  Gold, highly valuable fit for a king and we are told in the book of Revelation that the streets of heaven are filled with gold. The frankincense was a fragrant spice used as incense in the Temple and the Magi bowed to worship the Messiah. Myrrh was a holy annointing oil for the priests and also used in embalming. This signifiesJesus’ role as our High Priest who would die for us.

Jesus, One with the Father stepped out of glory to come to earth to dwell with mankind and experience everything we do. He lived a sinless life with the purpose of one day offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sin so we can be forgiven, made holy and have a relationship with God.

It is my hope and prayer that as we look at a creche or visit a life size nativity scene this year that it will be more than one more thing on our “to do” list, more than an heirloom to put out. Because a creche is only a model of the beginning of the greatest story ever told.

from Amy Grant’s Heirlooms

Wisemen and shepherds
Down on their knees
Bringing their treasures
To lay at His feet
Who was this Wonder
Baby, yet King
Living and dying
He gave life to me

Time never changes the memory
The moment His love first pierced through me
Telling all that I come from
And all that I live for
And all that I’m going to be
My precious Savior
Is more than an heirloom to me

What Does Advent Mean and Why Do We Celebrate?

What Does Advent Mean and Why Do We Celebrate?

When I was growing up, my Church did not observe the season of Advent in a formal way. It is not in the scriptures but neither is Christmas as we celebrate today. The tradition of focusing on a season of prayer, scripture readings and lighting candles throughout the month of December goes back to the 4th century. The word “Advent” means “arrival” or “coming” and symbolizes the waiting for Christ’s birth but also His final return as was prophesied.

Isaiah 9:6–7 (ESV)
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

There are many different traditions around the world but the wreath as we commonly use today first appeared in Germany in 1839. A Lutheran minister working at a mission fashioned a wheel with twenty small red candles and four large white ones to teach the children the importance of waiting for Christmas. One red candle was lit each morning and a large white candle on Sunday. Today our wreath usually involves four candes around an evergreen wreath and many add a fifth candle in the middle which is lit on Christmas day.

  • The first candle symbolizes hope and is called the “Prophet’s Candle.” The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival. The purple color symbolizes royalty, repentance, and fasting. 
  • The second candle represents faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.” Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David. The second candle is also purple to symbolism preparation for the coming king.
  • The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.” To the shepherd’s great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too. In liturgy, the color rose signifies joy. This candle is colored pink to represent joyfulness and rejoicing.
  • The fourth candle represents peace and is called the “Angel’s Candle.” The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace–He came to bring people close to God and to each other again. This color is also purple to represent the culmination of love through the Messiah.
  • The (optional) fifth candle represents light and purity and is called “Christ’s candle.” It is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day. This candle is white to represent pure light and victory. Copied from Crosswalk.com

The green wreath (and tree) symbolizes eternity, life and hope. A ring shape is used to remember Jesus is the King of kings and would one day wear a crown of thorns for us. In this darker season (in the northern hemisphere) the candles and lights represent Christs’ coming to bring light and love into a dark and cold world. We are to be like lights to show others the only way to peace of heart and mind.

Another popular tool to help children count the days until Chrismas is an Advent calendar which was first printed in 1908. There are many creative versions and I have seen some very elaborate heirloom quality wooden boxes with a small drawer for each day.

I believe we should focus our attention on the reason for the season to keep our hearts centered on what is important. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in all the commercial trappings and lost in busyness. There are many tools we can use to enhance our observance from devotionals to ideas on Pinterest. But first we must purposely choose to keep Christ in Christmas in our hearts and in your homes.

Preparing Your Heart for the Holidays

Preparing Your Heart for the Holidays

In America we are beginning our holiday season and the tension is already beginning to build. Thanksgiving is approximately two weeks away but the stores have been putting Christmas decorations out since October. How do we prepare our hearts for all the added activities, family gatherings, difficult personalities and enjoy the traditions that mean the most to us? We can start by setting boundaries and goals.

In the 1989 movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Clark Griswold plans to have the best Christmas ever with his entire family. His grand idea includes having the biggest tree they can find, lighting the entire house in twinkly lights and enjoying a wonderful sit down dinner in harmony. However once the grandparents arrive the bickering begins and his dream starts falling apart. Clark is perpetually optimistic and sometimes in denial but still passionate about putting on the perfect family holiday. His wife Ellen doesn’t share his outlook but supports him all the way. After a hilarious sequence of mishaps the movie ends with everyone on the front lawn enjoying the beautiful lights and Clark is satisfied that his goal was achieved. ( Warning : this movie was originally rated R for language and some racey scenes. It is often modified for TV)

What can we learn from this crazy tale? Clarks’ heart was in the right place but his goals were unrealstic. Beverly was the perfect hostess, “we have plenty of room, plenty to eat and plenty of balnkets” and was supportive of her husband. They were kind to unexpected company as well as elderly confused and grouchy relatives. Everyone truly tried to make the best of the situation and enjoyed the evening. We can control some of the chaos.

Set realistic goals: If this has been a difficult year for you whether financially, health issues, loss in the family; keep it simple. Family size and traditions can change. What is most important to you? Don’t fall into the trap that more is better.

Be a good host or guest: The goal is to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable. Ask how you can help if you are the guest.

Manage expectations : Despite careful planning something inevitably will go wrong. Be flexible and don’t let it ruin the day.

Share blessings: Before eating and asking a blessing on the meal and people gathered, ask each person to share one thing they are grateful for.

Shut off the electronics for awhile: I know, big football games are on! Weather permitting go for a walk. Play board games or a group game like Pictionary. Look at old photo albulms together. After Thanksgiving day enjoy the free lights and activities around town.

Be sensitive to those who are struggling: Anyone struggling with a crisis, loss, over stimulation or trauma may want some space. Let them opt out of the activities in a quieter corner.

Guard the conversation: Don’t react to negative comments and try to steer clear of politics and other hot topics.

Put the fun in dysfuntion: We live in a broken world with broken families and we all have weird relatives. Focus on the good. Tell stories and have a good laugh.

1 Peter 4:9(ESV) Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Thanksgiving should be a time to focus on what we do have and not what is wrong in our lives or our world. The first Pilgrims had plenty to complain about but they chose to be grateful. Most of us have plenty of everything. Let us be intentional on sharing the good things God has done over the past year and show the light of Jesus in our homes.

Psalm 100 A PSALM FOR GIVING THANKS.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Have You Heard the Pumpkin Gospel?

Have You Heard the Pumpkin Gospel?

A story of a new start with God!

My big round pumpkin shows me God gives us a clean heart.

He will forgive our mess-ups. He offers a new start.

The slime that fills the pumpkin, all stringy slipp’ry goo,

reminds me of my insides before God makes me new.

I scoop the mushy gushies like God cleans out my sin,

When He says “I forgive you,” I smile a great big grin.

Come look into my pumpkin: he is all clean inside.

And outside he is wearing a smile that’s big and wide.

God’s love is like a candle that shines from iside out.

It’s beaming deep within me, and so I now can shout.

To glow like my big pumpkin and have a nice clean heart,

ask God to please forgive you. You’ll have a brand new start.

By Mary Manz Simon

Matthew 5:14–16
14You are the light of the world. A city located on top of a hill cannot be hidden,
15nor do they light a lamp and place it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it shines on all those in the house.
16In the same way let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Dear Readers, This delightful story, “The Pumpkin Gospel ” can be found in boardbook style on Amazon and at Christianbook.com for your children and grandchildren.