Category Archives: Faith

Remembering the Missing Pieces at Christmastime

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See the missing piece? (Puzzle is an image of a painting by Robert Lyn Nelson.)

For Christmas six years ago, my aunt gave Robby and me a beautiful puzzle. We’ve worked on that thing for years, and we finally completed it this month! I thought I’d be happy to finish it and reclaim my dining table.

But once we were down to the final few pieces, we became nostalgic. We began to think about all our experiences over the past several years and about our loved ones who have passed on

Just as my mood was turning from merry to melancholy, we realized our 1,000-piece puzzle had only 999 pieces.

Suddenly, that one missing piece symbolized all those who are now missing in our lives, from our sweet kitty Sue to my late grandmother. It was like the hidden holes in our hearts were made visible, right there on the dinner table. I started to cry. Then Robby said Sue probably ate the missing piece, and we laughed. It seemed appropriate somehow.

The Interlopers

The emotions of loss and grief seem especially cruel at Christmastime as they settle over our merriment like a blanket of snow. What’s even worse is that we’re taught that it’s inappropriate to feel anything but happiness around the holidays. It’s as if negative emotions aren’t spiritual enough for Christmas.

But where does this idea come from? Why do we feel that sadness and loss are interlopers in the Christmas scene? Perhaps we need a refresher on the real meaning (and cost) of Christmas.

 

Cost of Christmas

Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the Christ, or the Anointed One, whose name is Jesus. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He brought salvation to mankind. That’s why the angel spoke of “great joy” when he announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. (See Luke 2:10-11.)

At Christmas, we recount the story of the birth of Jesus, His parents Mary and Joseph, the heralding angel, the shepherds, and the wise men who came from far away.

But this year I keep wondering, what about God the Father? What was He going through during the miraculous birth of Jesus?

I’m sure the Father was glad to bring salvation near to us. I’m sure that, like any good parent, He was proud of Jesus’ sacrifice. However, I can’t help but think that the Father was also sad.

We know that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Although He spoke to the Father constantly through prayer, this was the first time that He was physically separate from the Him—and not just for a day or a week but for 33 years! This idea is hard to understand mentally, yet our hearts empathize with the feeling of separation, and perhaps even loss, that the Father and Son must have felt toward one another.

One in Heaven. One on Earth.

Our gift of Christmas came at God’s expense.

 

Missing Pieces…Found

When we lose loved ones, we feel like our lives are incomplete. They’re in Heaven, and we’re here on Earth.

But the good news—the great news!—is that God is in the business of restoration. Just as the Son reclaimed His position at the right hand of the Father, so we, the children of God, will claim our rightful place with Him in Heaven. That’s where we’ll find our missing pieces.

 

Encouragement for Christmas

If you’re struggling this season, I encourage you to let go of worldly expectations. Christmas isn’t a time for us to be fake with our loved ones or with God. It’s a time to remember that God is real and holy, and that through His sacrifice, the missing pieces of our Christian family will be restored.

If you need more peace this season, start with a simple prayer like this one:

“Thank you, Father, for all that you have done for me. Help me to remember the miracle of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, and to appreciate what it cost you. Please give me peace and comfort, especially during this season when I miss my loved ones more than ever. I trust that all things happen according to your plan, and that you love me and want good things for me. Thank you, Father. In the name of Jesus, the reason for every season. Amen.”

May you come to know the heart of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—this Christmas season.

“I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).


[Click to Tweet: Our gift of Christmas came at God’s expense. #bigsisterknows #crosslife #christmas2017]

 


I want to hear from you! How is the Lord helping you deal with loss during the Christmas season? Are you helping others who are going through a difficult time?

 

Practicing Simplicity

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In my book Girls with Gusto, I explore the eight major steps of the spiritual journey as seen through Proverbs 31. In Step Five, we come to the following verse:

“She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy” (Proverbs 31:19-20 NAS).

I’ve always thought this step was about becoming a generous person, and that by extending our hands to others we experience anew the trust and faith we have in God. While I still believe that to be true, I’ve come to realize that generosity is the by-product of this step, not the primary goal or lesson.

 

The More of Less

Like the rest of America, I have a lot of stuff: nostalgic mementos, old paperwork, clothes I’ll never wear again, pots I’ve never cooked in, materials for projects long-forgotten, and books that never held my attention. You know, stuff.

Thankfully, the Lord led me to a book called The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker. This little gem has challenged me to put my stuff into perspective. It added the term “minimalism” to my vocabulary, and it gave me the freedom to dig myself out from all the junk.

But what really struck me was the author’s perspective. As a Christian, Becker’s focus isn’t on minimalism for its own sake but for what it can give him and his family—and a big part of that is being able to “meet the needs of others.” He states, “When we spend too much money on ourselves, we miss the opportunity to find greater joy by being generous to others.”

So, living simply can lead to more generosity.

 

The Generous Life

The Lord then led to me another gem, Secrets of the Generous Life by Gordon MacDonald. This devotion-style book gives practical tips on how to live a generous life, stating that giving generously is a “kind of divine work”:

“The generous life is not about doling out extra amounts of money. It is about reorienting the human heart in the direction of Christ so that we become transmitters of the same affection and care that Christ modeled in his time.”

Generosity, then, comes from focusing on God and heeding His call—which may involve the sacrifice of our money, time, or other resources for the betterment of others.

 

[Click to Tweet: Generosity comes from focusing on God and heeding His call. #generouslife #bigsisterknows]

 

The Discipline of Simplicity

God still wasn’t done schooling me on this topic. He led me to one more book, a modern-day classic: Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster. In this book, Foster highlights the thirteen major spiritual disciplines as recorded in the Bible and understood by the leading church fathers since the first century church. Imagine my surprise when I learned that simplicity—not generosity—is one of those disciplines!

As Foster explains, “the central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of His kingdom first—and then everything necessary will come in to its proper order.”

To experience this “inward reality liberates us outwardly….Our goods become available to others.” In other words, when we put God first in our lives, we find ourselves capable, willing, and even delighted to be generous to others.

However, if we focus on being generous, on getting rid of the stuff, on living simply, then we will miss the point. For to focus on anything but God is to make it an idol.

 

The Practice of Simplicity

I now realize the true value of Proverbs 31:19-20: the woman is generous to those around her because she’s learned to live simply, her eyes focused on God. If we follow her example, we’ll begin to live generous lives, too.

In future posts, I’ll dig more into this concept of the simple (and generous) life and how minimalism can be a useful strategy. But for now, remember that whatever it is you’re seeking in life—whether it’s to be more generous, to understand God’s will, or to have God’s favor—that focusing on God and His Kingdom is always the answer. Only then can everything else fall into its rightful place.

 

What about you? Are you seeking to live a generous life? What techniques do you find helpful?

 

 

Love, Truth, Love

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LoveAndTruth

I’m so pleased that author Kristen Hogrefe hosted the following blog post on her site today. Her blog focuses on seeking and living out God’s truth on a daily basis. If you haven’t already signed up to receive her blogs via email, please do so today. I’m sure they’ll be a blessing to you! 


 

My husband Robby and I have been happily married for over six years now. One of the reasons we work so well together is that neither of us likes drama. We prefer the simple life. But, sometimes, stuff happens and you just have to deal with it. And that’s when our complementary personalities really shine. You see, Robby is a natural-born peacemaker, and I’m…well…scrappy. As you can imagine, we didn’t always see this difference as positive thing.

Early into our relationship, Robby’s “can’t we all just along?” temperament grated on my “why can’t everyone just do it right?!” attitude. It wasn’t long before we realized some very important things about ourselves.

 

Truth, Truth, Truth 

I am a “truth, truth, truth” kind of person. Not only do I want to know the truth, but I want to relay the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, at all times. If that hurts your feelings, I’m sorry—but not really, ‘cause I can’t help that it’s the truth.

 

Love, Love, Love 

Robby, on the other hand, is the quintessential peacemaker. He is a “love, love, love” kind of person. Yes, he wants to be truthful in all things, but if he has to pick, he’ll choose a loving silence over a truthful discourse any day.

 

Truth or Love?

At one point, we talked about what was more godly: truth or love? Fortunately, I was taking Bible classes at that time, and we looked into the following verse:

 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24 NAS)

The teacher suggested that “in spirit” means “in love,” since we know that “God is love” (1 John 4:16 NAS).

Although the context of John 4 is worship, all of our activities can be considered worship if we do them as unto the Lord. (See Colossians 3:23.)

Pulling these concepts together, I realized that my words and actions should be as loving as they are truthful.

 

Love, Truth, Love 

That’s when Robby and I made a pact. He would be more upfront with the truth, trusting that I wouldn’t overreact or blame him for passing along difficult news. And I would be more loving, sweetening each word of truth with love. Now, we’re both striving to be “love, truth, love” kind of people—sandwiching the necessary truth in love.

I have to admit that this has made me a better person, wife, and friend. It’s also enabled me to minister to others in a meaningful way.

 

[Click to Tweet: Our words and actions should be as loving as they are truthful. @bigsistertweets @kjhogrefe #loveandtruth]

 

Learn to Love 

If you’re a truth-focused person like I am, take heart! You can learn to be more loving in your interactions with others. Here are a few tips.

God first – Remember, the great commandment is to love God, and the second is to love your neighbor. (See Matthew 22:37-39.) We can’t fulfill the second commandment until we fulfill the first. It might help to think of the image of the “love cup.” Focus on your love for God first, letting that fill your love cup. Then let God’s love overflow and pour through you into your relationships with others.

Fake it – In the meantime, “fake it ‘til you make it.” I don’t mean that you should be a fake person, but if you make an effort to be nice and caring, you’ll find your emotions follow suite.

Pray – You can’t dislike someone you’re praying for—at least not for long—so pray daily for their welfare.

 

Learn to be Truthful 

If you have a hard time telling difficult things to people you love, you can learn to be more truthful.

Right motives – We should never speak the truth out of a sense of self-righteousness or judgment. However, we should speak truth in love if it will help the other person in some way. This could be as small as telling your friend that she has spinach in her teeth; or it could be as big as confronting her with her addiction to alcohol. Just make sure your motives are righteous before you speak.

Faith – If you need to say something, then have faith in your friend and in the strength of your relationship. Even if the truth rocks the boat a bit, your friend should appreciate that you said what you did in love.

 

What about you? Have you struggled with speaking truth in love? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NAS).