Tag Archives: Christmas

The Most Lavish Gift of All

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The following blog was published on Lift Up Your Day. I have included it in its entirety below. I hope it blesses and encourages you!


The Extravagant Gift

I was in a store recently when a homeless man came in and began chatting up the sales clerk. Apparently, John (as the clerk called him), had been in the store earlier and had picked out a reproduction of a painting.

“I told you I’d be back,” John told the clerk. “My sister Susan is going to love this! She’s done so much for me over the past few years, and I just want to give her something to show my appreciation. You said you can ship it to her, right?”

I watched as John produced $45 in wrinkled bills and an old envelope with Susan’s name and address on the return label. (I was reminded that homeless people don’t carry credit cards or use smart phones to manage their contacts.)

Although the painting was one of the most expensive items in the store, John didn’t haggle over the price. In fact, he seemed overjoyed to spend the money. Still, I wondered if he had any left to buy dinner. Where would he stay the night? Would his sister be pleased with the gift or upset over the cost?

As I tried to figure out how I felt about the situation, I watched John float out of the store on a bubble of joy and excitement. I realized he wasn’t just sending his sister something—he was sending her a grand gesture, an extravagant gift, and the joy he felt in giving it was its own reward.

 

The Idol of Frugality

I thought back to when I was 16 years old. It took me weeks to save up $110 to buy a birthstone ring for my mother. It was a lot of money to spend on a single present, which was exactly the point. I wanted to show Mom how much I loved her by giving her a lavish gift.

My mind shifted again, this time to our current Christmas preparations. My husband Robby and I live on a budget, so we agreed to keep the presents to a minimum, focusing on those around us with immediate needs. Still standing in the store, I mentally patted myself on the back for planning a frugal Christmas. That’s when the Lord convicted me: “You already know that money can be an idol. So can frugality.”

It felt like I had been kicked in the gut! I thought I was being smart, but in those two sentences, the Lord showed me that I was beginning to live in fear—fear that the money would dry up, that the needs would exceed the funds, that God would leave us high and dry. It wasn’t conscious—I know God will take care of us—but I’ve been holding a firm grasp on the purse strings, afraid of giving God full reign.

 

The Most Lavish Gift of All

As these thoughts were pouring through my mind, the Lord told me something very important about Himself: “I am not a frugal God. I give lavishly out of my abundance.”

How profound! Our God is the most lavish spender of all time—and He spent everything on us! God gave His Son Jesus to mankind on Christmas, and then Jesus gave His life for us on Easter. God didn’t hold back with us. He didn’t budget or skimp. God gave us 100% of His net worth in the person of Jesus Christ—and we didn’t even deserve it.

 

Let Us Freely Give

Now, I don’t propose that we max out the credit card bills in a misguided attempt to “bless” everyone around us. However, we should be more like John—focused not on what we lack but on our access to God’s abundance.

This Christmas, let’s allow God to guide all of our decisions—including how we spend our money—resting in the surety that He will not lead us astray. And let us freely dispense the priceless gifts of compassion, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love, this season and throughout the new year.

“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NAS)

Carrying Jesus

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Manger Scene (Photo by Ashley Jones)

Manger Scene (Photo by Ashley Jones)

 

Expecting God

 

As we wait expectantly for Christmas, my thoughts turn to Mary and Joseph. I wonder what it was like for them as they waited for their first child to be born, knowing that child was the Son of God. I imagine they would have had a lot of questions:

 

What would Jesus look like?

Would He look fully human, or would He look more like the angel Gabriel – tall with golden skin?

Would He look Jewish?

Would He take after Mary?

 

Would Jesus have special powers?

Would He perform miracles, like heal people and raise the dead?

Would He fly, become invisible, or walk on water?

Would He be super strong or able to run very fast?

Would He need to eat and drink?

Would He feel pain?

 

Would Jesus grow up normally?

Would He grow up like a normal boy, or would He mature quickly?

Would He understand everything going on around Him, even as a baby?

Would He speak as an infant, or learn to speak over time?

Would He learn from Mary and Joseph, or would He immediately begin to teach them?

 

How long would they have Jesus?

Gabriel said He was the Son of God and that He would reign over the house of Jacob forever. Did that mean He would live forever? Or would He disappear from this world and go to be with God?

 

I find it very humbling to think about what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph who found themselves responsible for the most important person in the world, the greatest gift to mankind. I believe the Holy Spirit must have guided Mary and Joseph’s steps every day, giving them comfort and peace about the unknown future. I also like to think that Jesus Himself helped to guide Mary as He grew within her. What strange comfort that must have been!

 

Like Mary

 There are many people throughout the world who venerate Mary, giving her special honor among the saints / Christians. Although I wasn’t raised in that tradition, I can understand it. Mary was so privileged to be the one woman to carry the Christ child! Gabriel himself greeted her as the “favored one.” (Luke 1:28, NAS)

However, it dawned on me today that there is something else going on here that is much bigger than one person. I was thinking about Mary – how she carried the baby Jesus inside her; how He developed over 9 months; and how she delivered Him in a barn because there was no room for them. All of this so that Jesus might live and die for our sins so we can all have a relationship with God.

And then I thought about the rest of us Christians – how the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us when we accept Jesus as our Savior; how His Spirit helps to mature us, giving us guidance and comfort; and how we eventually bear the fruit of the Spirit into a world that does not know Him. And all of this so that we might have a relationship with God and introduce others to Him so they can find salvation in Him, too.

Mary’s miraculous conception of Jesus is an example, a type, a foreshadowing of what we Christians experience today. Just as she carried Jesus, we carry the Holy Spirit. Because of this, we should honor and love each other, as we are all temples of God. (1 Corinthians 6:19)

The miracle of Jesus’ birth over 2,000 years ago is only magnified by our ability to know and serve Him today. As you prepare your homes and hearts for Christmas this week, remember that the story has never ended – it continues even now as folks like you and I carry the message of Jesus throughout the world through His precious Holy Spirit.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Tree Traditions

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Christmas Tree Traditions

 

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Our 2015 Christmas Tree

When Robby and I got married, we had the usual makings of a household – towels, linen, baking dishes, etc. What we didn’t have was a Christmas tree, and I was hesitant to invest in a fake tree, lights, ornaments, and the necessary storage containers. Fortunately, the previous owners left us their old tree and decorations in the attic!

We spent all day pulling out the tree and bags and boxes full of lights and ornaments. Many of the decorations were lovingly homemade and – since the house was built in 1939 – were older than I was. Unfortunately, some of the bags had gotten buggy, but we were able to salvage most of it.

The tree was small, but we learned that it fits perfectly on top of its storage container, which actually looks pretty nice with a tree skirt around it. It also gives us plenty of room to put a few presents under it. There was even an old train car, which we put out every year. We liked the old school lights, but we eventually replaced them with similar ones that are newer and safer.

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Handmade ornament

We still love our old tree. More than anything, we appreciate the connection it gives us to the past and the family that carefully decorated it long before us.

 

New Traditions

 

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Our river otter

Although we’re just a few miles from the capital, our lot is surrounded by trees and is close to a low-lying swampy area, which makes it seem like we’re out in the country. The local wildlife agree, so we see more animals in our yard than we would expect in the city. We’ve even named our yard “Jones Park.”

A couple years ago, I had the idea of a Jones Park Christmas Tree. In addition to the usual lights and colored balls, it would feature ornaments of creatures that we’ve seen on our property. There’s the usual red and blue birds and a squirrel. Then there’s the deer we saw after the Fourth of July fireworks. My favorite is the otter – yes, an otter – that we saw running down our road one morning. I finally found a raccoon last month, and now I’m on the hunt for an armadillo and a possum. You should see the looks on the store clerks’ faces when I ask them if they have any armadillo ornaments! (I know I could just go online, but the year-long hunt is part of the fun.)

We also have some ornaments from the places we’ve visited, like St. Augustine and Boston. These are great reminders of fun trips throughout the years.

 

Hodge Podge

 

I’m not sure what Martha Stewart would say about our hodge podge Christmas tree, with a pine cone fox next to a ceramic figurine from Virginia, but we like it. It seems to represent who we are – a mix of old character with a bit of fun. And we love to show our tree to friends and family, telling them about the owl that stays in our live oak tree and about our trips to the St. Mark’s lighthouse. We also remember to appreciate the family that lovingly built our home and lived in it for so many years. It reminds us to appreciate our own family.

 

The Meaning of the Tree

 

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Reminder of the Cross

Throughout the Old Testament, the symbol of a tree is often used in reference to Jesus. Terms like the Branch, the Branch of the Lord, and the Branch of David are seen in Scriptures such as Isaiah 4:2, Jeremiah 23:5 and 33:15, and Zechariah 6:12. In the New Testament, we see that Jesus dies when He “hangs on a tree,” meaning He is crucified on a wooden cross (Galatians 3:13).

When we put up our Christmas tree each year, we remember these things. The star on top reminds us of the star the three wise men followed to reach the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:2). The tree itself reminds us that Jesus was born so that He might die on a wooden cross (Hebrews 10). The lights remind us that God is Light, and His light shines within us (1 John 1:5 and 2 Corinthians 4:6). Even the silly ornaments remind us that He is with us through every adventure, every day (Matthew 28:20).

If we never put up a Christmas tree, we would still be Christians. If we never had ornaments and presents and watched corny Christmas movies, we would still be His. But thank God for sweet reminders of His sacrifice, His blessings, and His presence that stays with us all year long. These are the real gifts of Christmas.

 

Your Traditions

 

Do you have any neat Christmas traditions (or hacks)? We’d love to hear them! Please share them below in the comments section.

 

 

The Meaning of Christmas

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Our first Christmas with Sue, 2011. She loves Christmas (but not the Santa hat).

 

I admit it: I’m hooked on Christmas movies. I like the sweet, funny, crazy ones, even the low budget ones. I appreciate that they’re wholesome and family-focused, with themes about forgiveness, love, and generosity.

Most Christmas TV shows and movies tell us Christmas is a time for:

  • Gifts
  • Children
  • Forgiveness and second chances
  • Rebirth and renewal
  • Telling the truth
  • Falling in love
  • Being generous with the needy
  • Hope and faith
  • Family traditions
  • Wishes and miracles
  • Christmas spirit.

 

All of this is nice, but it’s incomplete. The truth about Christmas is so much bigger and more meaningful.

 

Words of Meaning

The term “Christmas” comes from “Christ mass,” or a church service in honor of the birth of Jesus Christ.

The word “Christ” is a descriptive title that means “Anointed One” or “Messiah.” The Jews were looking for the promised Messiah, or Savior, for thousands of years because the Old Testament indicated He would come to save them. When Jesus’ followers referred to Him as the Christ, they meant that He was the promised Messiah; He was the Savior they had been looking for.

Even the name Jesus has special meaning. Mary didn’t thumb through baby name books before settling on Jesus. No, an angel of God told her specifically to call Him Jesus (Luke 1:31). Why? Because the name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.”

Paul said the following to the church in Philippi:

Philippians 2:9-11, NAS  Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

That’s why Jesus is the name above every name – it summarizes the one truth that we should all know and accept: Jesus is Lord, and He saves. Fortunately, He isn’t just the Savior of the Jews; He’s our Savior, too.

 

His Story

The Bible says that Jesus was and is God and that He took the form of a man when He was born of a virgin about 2,000 years ago. He taught people that He came to serve and to save the lost. Jesus then gave Himself up to die on a cross as a sacrifice for our sins – the only sacrifice that could put us right with God the Father. He then raised Himself from the dead three days later so that we might share in His resurrection. Jesus now sits at the right hand of God the Father where He intercedes (prays) on our behalf. (For more on Jesus’ life on earth, you can start with Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.)

You see, when the story doesn’t include Jesus, it’s not complete. When it’s not centered on Jesus, it’s out of focus. How can we talk about real hope, faith, and forgiveness without talking about the One Who gives us those things? How can we really bless our children if we don’t share with them the real Blessing? What value is there in gifts, if the real Gift isn’t shared?

 

The Line in the Sand

Have you ever wondered why characters in TV and movies talk about everything but Jesus? I’ve even seen movies where the characters actually pray to Santa for miracles. Why not just pray to Jesus, the real God? Why do movie producers go to such lengths to keep Him out of it?

I believe it’s because most people love the trappings of Christmas, but they’re uncomfortable with the real meaning of it. The gospel – the good news of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection – gives us no wiggle room. We either believe in Jesus and go to Heaven or we don’t. He’s the ultimate line in the sand, and we’re either on one side or the other.

John 14:6, NAS Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”

For those of us who have accepted Jesus as our Savior, our job is to love God and love our neighbors. Through that love, we can share the hope we have in Jesus with the rest of the world.

 

More than a Day

We can fill our holidays with gifts, Santa Clauses, and reindeer, but we can’t really celebrate Christmas without Jesus the Christ.

But this also means that we can’t limit the spirit of Christmas to one day out of the year. If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, then our hearts should be full of His presence and love throughout the whole year. Christmas should be a reminder to us to be thankful for the gift of our salvation and to be generous as we share the meaning of this gift with others.

Yes, I still love corny Christmas movies, but I keep them in perspective. I remember that Jesus isn’t just the “reason for the season,” He’s the reason for everything.