Thursday, December 29, 2016

God Loves You So Much!

The Christmas tree looks empty with all the presents gone and many of you have probably taken down your trees and packed the decorations away. I want to enjoy the lights a little longer so ours remains up. When all the presents are gone, they have been opened by the recipient. The gifts have been given. The joy has been shared.  The light has been spread. The anticipation is over but there is still much to learn about the gift: all the ways to use it, how to make it work, and what it can do. The gift owners are still discovering more about the gift.

That is what the world is doing following the arrival of the baby king. It is time to explore and learn again about all that Jesus can do as He grows into a man on earth. There is more to understand about this gift that has been given for us to follow and imitate. There is more to realize about how personally this gift was selected and crafted for us, of how perfectly this gift meets our every need. There is a relationship to develop and build and grow with Jesus our Savior.

This gift of baby Jesus, the human form of God, was given with such love for us. The gift was a rescue rope stretched out to reach us on the rocky cliff and pull us safely closer to Him where we could feel His heartbeat, His loving arms, and hear His whisper in our ears. This gift was God-man: all divine and all human, perfection in a physical being, One of a kind, uniquely Holy, yet visible and touchable.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not sent his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God" (John 3:16-21 NIV).

What a gift we have been given! May we cherish this gift of Jesus every moment of every day of our lives. For Jesus is the gift of the greatest love ever expressed.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Savior is Here!

"The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. 

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, 'This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' 

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known" (John 1:9-18 NIV).

That tiny baby who was found in the manger by the shepherds and the wise men became a man full of light. He was a holy human filled with wisdom, compassion, healing, love, understanding, truth, mercy and grace. Jesus Christ came to bring heaven to earth and to show us the ways of his Father. He lives with us, even today, when we choose to walk with Him. Let us not allow Christmas to pass by and become only a faint memory of crumpled wrapping paper and dirty dishes; let us celebrate His presence with us every day, every hour, every sunrise and sunset.

May the spirit of Christmas, who is Jesus Christ - Immanuel, live in your heart forevermore.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Music for My Heart

"My heart is stirred by a beautiful song" (Psalm 45:1 God Speaks Interactive Bible NET).

I love this translation of Psalm 45:1. Truly that is how I feel about Christmas music.When I hear a familiar song my heart takes me back to a memory from the past. Sometimes it brings tears; sometimes it lifts me to happiness. Either way, my heart is stirred with the meaning of Christmas.

For many years my father, Corwin Springer, was automatically penciled in as a soloist for our church's Christmas Eve service. I remember as if it was yesterday, his last performance of "O Holy Night" in the front of our church, trying to steady himself with his cane. I also remember the following year when I so proudly listened to our pastor's son, Dan, sing it beautifully.

Christmas music is so closely tied to my family that I can't separate the feelings. Daddy sang with the Marshalltown performance of Handel's "The Messiah" for several decades. I grew up attending the annual presentation in the beautiful First Methodist Church and the songs are forever in my heart. It has been difficult for me to return to the event since Daddy is gone. Mama is included in the memories because she would play the piano for Daddy when he practiced at home and she was always in the audience. She, too, is gone; accompanied by the "Hallelujah!" Chorus as she left the church for the last time.

One contemporary song that has touched my heart for several years is, "Not That Far From Bethlehem" by Point of Grace. One Christmas season a trio of voices from our church sang this so beautifully. I think of this especially this year as I remember Jodeen Beeghly's alto voice, with Cynthia Moore and Denise Hoy. Jodeen is singing with the angels in heaven this year.

When our family gathered at Mom and Dad's for Christmas we often spent time around the piano singing carols. And the annual caroling day with the church was always a very special time. That is another event I can't yet return to without my parents. Music touches so deeply that emotions are nearly always awakened and moved.

"Silent Night" will always remind me of the human circle with candles around our church sanctuary at the end of our Christmas Eve service each year. The sanctuary is gone now; only memories of it remain.

This Messianic psalm describes God's blessing upon our Savior, Jesus Christ. "My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer. You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever" (Psalm 45:1-2 NIV).

May music bless your Christmas season with meaning and with joy for Jesus our Savior is reason to sing!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Focusing On the Nativity

Christmas decorating begins with clearing off all the flat surfaces in the area to make room for the Nativity scenes. I have more than 10 sets, all quite different, yet, very much the same. They remind me what Christmas is all about: the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us.

Because of my 'thing' for sheep, each Nativity features a number of sheep and shepherds. And one set is a scene of sheep in costume, acting out the Nativity. Some might call it sacrilegious or irreverent but I find it wonderful. I believe, even the sheep that came with the shepherds to find Christ that night were worshipping the new King. And if sheep had human abilities, they too would retell the story of the angel's visit and announcement in the pasture.

When our first grandchildren were little I purchased a Fisher-Price Nativity that they could play with and it has been placed on our fireplace hearth every Christmas since. It plays "Away in a Manger" when you press on the angel on top. Some people wait and place baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas day but I have Him in the manger throughout the Christmas season because He is the focus of our celebration, and our daily lives. I love the Nativity scenes because they remind me to look at Christmas from the eyes of a child, with wonder and excitement.

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:1-7 NIV).

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rescued by the Good Shepherd

"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-- and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:14-16 NIV).

Sheep are funny animals. They can easily get themselves into a bind that they can't get out of. The sheep are experts at putting their heads through a hole in the fence but being unable to get their heads back out. It was the shepherd's job to rescue them. In a pasture with acres of grass, the sheep want the grass on the other side of the fence. With miles of fence line, the sheep will find the one stray wire sticking out and cut himself on it. Thus was the life of a shepherd. Near Bethlehem the ground is rocky and hilly. There are many places where a lamb could get in big trouble. And there were hungry enemies on the prowl, just waiting to pounce on a stuck lamb. The shepherd's job was his livelihood. Every lost lamb was money or a meal out of his pocket.

Our Good Shepherd knows us well. He sees the trouble we get into and He laid down His life for us. He knows there are still hurting, hungry, lost sheep out there and He has a plan to rescue them all. When they hear His voice they will come to Him and listen, and soon they will become part of His flock, staying close to Him, following Him.

""And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger"" (Luke 2:8-12 NIV).

Monday, December 12, 2016

Satisfied By the Bread of Life

The Christmas season brings with it plenty of temptations: frosted sugar cookies, homemade caramels, gingerbread men, fudge, divinity, candy-coated pretzels, Chex mix, peanut brittle, sour cream twists, candy canes, mints and so much more. Because of the temptations I have cut way back on the Christmas baking and making that I used to do. And I was taught by the best: my mother. She started baking and making in November and by Christmas she had her freezer filled with box upon box of goodies - ready to create beautiful trays of goodies to give to others for their Christmas season.  The key is to keep it out of sight until you give it away.

I have a terrible sweet tooth and often crave something sweet, especially at the end of a meal. But none of the delicious goodies I crave give anything useful to my body. The sugar-high soon wears off and leaves me empty, unmotivated and without energy.

"Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day"" (John 6:35-40 NIV).

Everyday I work on building a craving for Jesus instead of sweets. I wish I could announce that I have made that transition from desiring sweets to only wanting Jesus, and that I no longer have any longing for sweets. Unfortunately, I will probably have to work on this for the rest of my life. I've been told that He is the only one who can fill the emptiness I feel inside. That emptiness often results in depression and emotional eating.

I know Jesus is my bread of life. He will never let me go hungry or thirsty as long as I believe. I do believe with all of my heart. I depend on Jesus to walk with me through whatever the day may bring. So why do I still struggle with the challenges of life? God doesn't promise us a rose garden without temptation or thorns to avoid. But He does promise that if we don't give up our struggle, there will be a reward waiting for us on the last day.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Following the Bright Morning Star

"We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19 NIV).

We have a star on the top of our Christmas tree. A glittery silver star sits on the fireplace mantle. There is a star over the top of the stable in most of the nativity sets I have displayed and a cluster of star ornaments help decorate a small Christmas tree in the family room. Most of the Christmas cards I have sent through the years included a star above the shepherds and sheep. I love the drive home from 'midnight' Christmas Eve worship because the stars shine so brightly against the dark sky as we drive through the countryside, reminding me again of that holy night when Jesus was born.

I love to gaze at the stars and fortunately we have an open area behind our back yard that is unencumbered by street lights, making the stars visible. I can pick out a few constellations but mostly I stand in awe of the miracle of God's creation in the night sky. I can visualize what the wise men saw and how the star's extra bright light must have guided them for days, or weeks, or even months as they searched for the king of the Jews.

"Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2 NIV).

A star is a perfect reminder to us of the announcement of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. As you view the decorations of the season, look for the star and hold its light in your heart. Truly Jesus is the Star we follow so closely, especially as we move closer to the celebration of His birth. May you see His reflection in every star this season.

"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star" (Revelation 22:16 NIV).

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Vine and the Branches

One of the first Christmas decorations I put out is the Christmas tree. Since we have a natural-looking tree that is artificial, we don't have to worry about it drying out. The first task is choosing the location and second is bringing the huge bag to the spot where we will assemble the tree. This has always been my job and I am always very careful when I pack away the tree, to group all the branches from each level together so I know where they go. They are color-coded but the color seems to disappear after time making it a challenge to fit branches where they belong.

I had a helper this year, my beloved husband volunteered. He is colorblind and he failed to understand how the branches were grouped together. After I assembled the stand I turned around to find six or seven piles of branches spread around the room and he was removing branches one-by-one from the bag and placing them on a stack, attempting to match the length of the branches. Though it was a bit of a challenge we eventually connected all the branches into the center trunk and erected a fairly well-shaped tree.

It is only when the branches are connected to the trunk that they are able to support the lights, ornaments and tinsel. With a live cut tree the branches receive life-sustaining water by being connected to the trunk. The branch will die and become brown and brittle if it is severed from its life-source. As I look at our Christmas tree I am reminded of the life-giving vine I am connected to: Jesus Christ. During this Advent season I am diligently focused on keeping my relationship connection with Him.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches" (John 15:1-5a NIV).

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Light of the World is Here

One of the first signs of the Christmas season in our world today is light. It is also one of my favorite symbols of the coming of Jesus, our Savior. From the brilliant lights that adorn houses and trees to the flickering candles seen on window sills, all remind me that Jesus came into the world, bringing His light of hope; spreading His promise of salvation, and shining His overwhelming love on all of mankind.

Just as the star shone so brightly to lead the shepherds and the wise men to baby born in Bethlehem, the Light of Jesus leads us to a beautiful, heavenly home with our Father, where we can live with Him eternally, free and forgiven of our sins.

The colorful displays we enjoy, serve to remind us of our one true Light: the Messiah, who came and fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus shines into the darkness of the world, revealing the evil ways of man and enlightening the pathway to salvation. The light of Jesus erases all fear and brokenness revealing His truth and His majesty. Jesus reigns in luminous reflection of His Father. Jesus is the Light of the world.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne, and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish it" (Isaiah 9:2-7 NIV).

May every colorful, sparkling illumination you experience this Advent season, bring you warmth and comfort in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.