Come along for the 31 days of December, as we look at the familiar Christmas story and season in a slightly different way.
The story of Jesus and the meaning behind the celebration of Christmas is woven throughout the entire Bible – from the beginning of mankind in Genesis to the resurrection of Jesus, as told by the apostle John some 4000 years later.
So while we’re all sitting indoors this winter, let’s make some hot cocoa, curl up by the fire, and read the greatest story told of all time… the story of God.
Receive your free download of all 31 days of the devotional here:
There’s no doubt it’s been a rough year. For some, even more than others, but all of us have been affected in some way. No other event in recent times has touched the entire world like this pandemic – all ages, demographics and races. Sadly, it seems to have divided us more than united us. And while much of the pandemic may be out of our control, there is something we can do; something that is in our control and will make us feel better.
Resolve to end the year well.
The situation around us may not be where we want to be, or what we’d hoped to be, but we can come out of this year feeling and doing better than the pre-March times. I remember sitting at my desk at work for the last time on March 12. The New Year’s optimism had worn off, and we had settled into a familiar routine, maybe even a little boring as we talked about the usual things – trips we’re going to take, concerns with family or friends, and the business. It seems mundane and trivial now. We were a little on edge too, starting to hear of grocery lines getting long and how we may have to stay home for a few weeks until this thing passes. I left an hour early that day so I could get to the grocery store before the lines started building. I never went back to work after that. Well, not in the same way, anyway. As our world began to navigate through the chaos that ensued over the next several months, some things became clear. We needed to do better.
Make it count.
Our world has forever changed since pre-March. With a slower pace and less external distracters, we have a unique chance to be more honest with ourselves, and take a look at those things we’ve wanted to change or improve, but never had the time. We have now been given the gift of time, and a blank slate to create anew. It’s a time to reset, rethink, and redo. Maybe we want to try to be kinder or more patient, or to spend more quality time with our family, or just to rest. Perhaps it’s a time to work on our health – starting that exercise routine and eating better, or a time to dig deeper into our faith to see what that really means to us. Or maybe to finish that project we’ve always wanted to do. Whatever it is for you, pick a goal or two, and let’s come out of this year feeling better and stronger about ourselves. Because let’s face it, much of our pre-March life was just getting by, when we knew we could do better, and that life could be better.
A year of change can bring a lot of good.
Changes are hard, but in all my observations over the years, I’ve always seen people emerge better from change – a new job, a new adventure, a better life – than before. It’s no fun going through it, of course, but it is far worse to be stuck in life because we’re afraid of change. And when we’ve made it through this (and we will), it will feel good to know that we emerged a better, stronger person, and that we passed the test of humanity. We will have something good to show for it.
Whatever this year has brought you, let’s finish strong. When we look back, we will know that not only did we make it, we finished well. And we’ll have a story to tell.
For the first time in months – five to be exact but who’s counting, it has started to feel “normal” again. I first noticed the change while at the store recently. The atmosphere just felt different. Maybe it was because strangers started talking to each other again instead of averting their eyes. I had a delightful conversation with a lovely woman in the bakery about how good the cream cheese crescent ring looked. Then I noticed all the store shelves were fully stocked again. Instead of looking at rows and rows of depressingly empty shelves in the home stores, they were filled again with autumn wreaths and pumpkin spice candles. Ah, the pumpkin spice returns!
We still have a long way to go, and it’s not yet time to let our guard down. But I was so excited to see the one-way aisle markers had suddenly disappeared from the grocery store floors, just like they had never been there. I have always lived my life with hope, so I confess I’ve had to look a little harder these last few months to find that hope. Grocery store aisles, the return of pumpkin spice, and the nicety of strangers have definitely helped!
I believe the tide is turning.
It may not be quick – it took us awhile to get where we are. But anything worthwhile in life takes time. Our biggest mistake perhaps has been that we expected an instant fix, in our instant world. We needed to slow down. We needed to reevaluate what was important. And, we needed to expose what was broken.
Now, with slowness of pace and humbled hearts, we can begin to fix it.
The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. Patience is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith.
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
“Who is strong like You, Lord? You rule the raging sea; when its waves surge, You still them.” Psalm 89:8-9
It’s hard to wrap my head around the events of the last four months. Just when I think I have it figured out, or the experts tell me they have it figured out, it all changes. Is it too much news, the wrong news, or do we refuse to look at our reality? I have friends that fall into all three categories, and depending on their viewing area, there can be many different answers to many different problems. Unlike Coronavirus, which we can largely hand over to the scientists and doctors to figure out, hatred and self-centeredness are much more complicated issues to solve. They are not scientific, yet their disease has been part of our human nature from the beginning. It is not isolated to an American problem or a 21st century problem. Every generation and every country has suffered from it. We just got a little comfortable, for a little while. So what are we to do?
~ Past History ~
Ask your grandparents about their generation and you’ll likely get a different perspective. Even more than that, read the historical accounts of the Old Testament Bible and you’ll discover just how relevant it is for what we are going through today. The main purpose and overall story of the Bible is to show us through real life and tragedy the example of God’s reconciliation, grace, forgiveness, and love. God knew what we needed more than anything else. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ builds on this foundation, and his teachings and example are more important today than ever before. Sometimes I think Jesus may have been thinking more about future events in the 20th and 21st centuries when he spoke rather than just the current period. Especially that “love your neighbor” thing. That is the genius of Jesus’ teaching. He did not come to preach against the oppressive government of Rome, though he would have been right to do so. That would have only made his teaching relevant for that time. Rather, Jesus spoke about the heart, the one thing that has not changed in all the years of our technological and educational advancements. Humanity cannot survive without a change in our hearts.
~ Starts with Grace ~
The above picture says it all, no words needed. It represents something intangible, something that speaks to our hearts. And it all starts with Grace. It’s the foundation that makes all else possible. The Bible is full of examples of Grace, and God offers it willingly and freely to all who accept it. When I think of Grace, the first picture that comes to my mind is that dirty, vile, and repulsive thief hanging next to Jesus on the cross. Whatever crimes he had committed, it was atrocious enough to give him the cruelest punishment possible. How dare this guy, in his last breath on earth, after all the injustice and pain he inflicted on others, recognizes his wrongs and calls out to God to save him. Yet Jesus offers him Grace and Salvation – without hesitation. We all need that type of Grace at some point in our lives. And the most amazing thing about Grace is that it’s rarely given to those that deserve it, because, well, they aren’t the ones that need it. That’s the whole point of Grace – it’s undeserved or unearned favor, and only God can truly grant that. When I see people on the news burning down buildings, yelling hateful comments, or taking justice in their own hands, I know that they need Grace too, and God is willing to give it to them. It’s hard for me to even say that without wincing. I want justice and fairness! But we will never completely settle the score, or right the wrongs of the past without a huge covering of God’s Grace. It is the only thing that can cancel out the wrongs in our world. The law alone can never accomplish that. God’s Grace is the great equalizer – all of us need it and all of us have access to it.
~ Forgiveness makes complete ~
Along with Grace, we must also learn to Forgive. I’ve heard a lot of apologies and “I’m sorry’s” recently, and while those can be a good start to mending relationships, words alone will not satisfy. What I haven’t heard as much about is Forgiveness and the “I forgive you’s”. Sorry is more passive but Forgiveness is an action word. We cannot completely heal without also forgiving those who have wronged us. Again, that makes me wince a little to hear that, but that is why God gave us the standard. The Hebrew word for Forgiveness means complete. When Jesus spoke of forgiving others “70 times 7”, he did not randomly pick numbers to mean a lot. The number 7 represents completeness, as in the 7 days of creation that end in rest. It means forever complete. Jesus came to Forgive us because of God’s Grace, and also to show us how to Forgive others. As TD Jakes says, “How valuable is it to you to know that you are forgiven?” To the thief on the cross, I would venture to say it was the most valuable. Forgiveness is a powerful tool, and it will set you free.
~ Mistaken Security, Mistaken Life ~
Up until now, with all of the comfortableness we have in life, we have been dangerously close to selling our souls to a false or mistaken sense of security. We’ve put our trust and security in our jobs, in our leaders or political party, the stock market, idols, our heritage, and even in our own identities. We’ve not had to think too much about what our faith really means. And that can leave us more vulnerable than the coronavirus pandemic. I believe God is giving us the opportunity for a much-needed and urgent wakeup call. Wouldn’t it truly be tragic to realize too late that your life was based on a mistaken security, one that cannot save you in the end? If the events of the last four months tell us anything, they should show us just how quickly our world can change and all that we’ve built up in it. Sadly, it also shows how quickly the condition of mankind’s heart can change too. We went from the feel-good slogan of “We’re all in this together” to rioting, looting and killing in the streets within a matter of days. Let’s face it – our world has been a ticking time-bomb for awhile, one filled with hate and self-centeredness growing under the covers of our comfortable lifestyles and false securities. It’s better we pull those covers off now and be a little uncomfortable. As a culture, we don’t fear dying or doing the wrong thing. We mock God. We don’t fear what we should, yet we’re filled with fear and anxieties over the things we shouldn’t. One day we will all give an account for our actions to God – alone. Not our friends, not our opinions, not our pride or our degrees or awards, not even with our church. No covers. No matter what happens in this crazy world, don’t let your life be based on a tragic mistaken security.
~ A better world ahead ~
So what do we do now? I don’t have the answers, but I know the way to start. With a little Grace for those we don’t always understand or agree with; a little Forgiveness to heal our world and each other; and a respect and recognition in knowing that our true security lies only in God – the giver of all good things and the One who has shown us the example of how to live – I believe we can do much better on this earth. It is the only way our world will ever make sense. So let’s start by showing the way.
“I will bring the blind by a way they did not know. I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16
We all have our breaking point. It might be different for you than me, but if we’re being honest, we all have a time when we just fall down. There’s a weight that overcomes us in that particular moment. It’s part of being human, and being humble. We are not completely invincible, and we were never meant to be. That is part of what makes life so precious, but the secret to it all is not to stay there too long.
I found my breaking point on Easter evening. Twenty-two tornados were swirling over the state of Georgia and around my home in the span of a couple of hours. I could handle Covid-19. I could handle the stock-market crash and the loss of my near-retirement savings. I could even handle the possibility of job losses. But now I was hunkered down in a corner of my home while a freight-train sounding wind just outside the walls threated my family and my home. At 2 AM. On the evening following Easter. I began to shake, and I began to cry. And I sure prayed too.
Gratefully and thankfully, there was no damage to our home and my family was all safe under one roof. It came close though, with one of the twenty-two tornados touching down about twenty miles north of us. Living in the South, we’ve had our share of tornado scares before, but this one was my breaking point. I was shaken, and there was a tiredness that stayed with me for days. I laid around the house without much motivation. And just a week later on the same Sunday evening, we had another threat for more storms and tornados. I froze. I had a PTSD-like feeling. I couldn’t sleep, and I was useless all day until the threat had passed. I finally understood how people with anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder must feel all the time. This feeling went on for a couple of weeks, until I realized this was no way to live. I had to get back up.
“This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
I began talking with God in my prayers and telling Him how I felt. “Lord, I’m tired”, I would say. God likes us to be honest in our prayers to Him. He can work with that. After a few days of me telling God how I felt, I noticed something when I went down to the kitchen in the morning for my usual cup of coffee. As I opened the pantry and reached for the coffee, I saw shelves stocked full of food. I had stocked up at the grocery store so I wouldn’t have to go out as often during this pandemic. My refrigerator and freezer were full too. Suddenly I was thankful we had enough food to eat during this crisis without worry. I looked around my house. I was thankful for my comfortable home that held so many precious lifetime memories, and for my family that was healthy and safe still sleeping upstairs. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, but today, right now, was good. And every morning since, I’ve begun my day with honest and thankful prayers to God. In the quiet of the evenings after everyone else has retired upstairs, I do one last check around the house and then step outside on the back deck to look up at the heavenly stars and give one more “thank you” for the day and for peace during the night.
These are certainly trying times for all. Everyone in the entire world is affected. But what may become our biggest tragedy of all, is if we as a community and as a world, waste this crisis and go back to our normal lives when all of this is over. Sure, we all want some normalcy back in our lives, and I do miss those nostalgic carefree days we had only a few months ago. But I also remember other things: I remember people complaining about how crazy-busy they were and stressed out over things that don’t really matter; cutting each other off in traffic just to save a few seconds; being glued to our phones instead of enjoying each other’s company; and complaining. Yes, I mentioned that last one twice. And for those of us who are people of faith, we prayed for revival at Christmas time and New Year’s. Did we mean it? Most revivals and great changes in society come from some sacrifice or tragedy. Rarely do we change our behavior when things are going great. When we are comfortable, we often forget gratitude. We forget how to be creative and innovative. We forget the simple joys, and what is truly important in life.
So when we hear of the “new normal”, I hope we will strive for a “better normal” instead. It will surely be different, but how? We have a new start and a new chance with the reopening. Let’s not go back to the way we were or we will not have learned anything from our mistakes. Those who died will have died for nothing, the sacrifices will mean nothing, and our faith that has been put to the test will show we failed when it counted the most. We have a chance to do better, be better, show our true faith in times of trial! There is a hurting world out there, far more than just the virus. Let’s come out of this tragedy more compassionate, more observant, more kind, and not take the good things for granted. Let’s create again, let’s collaborate and put our brightest minds together to invent a vaccine, and let’s show the people who will be reading our history books that we as a people rose above this and made a better world for them. And through it all, may they also read about how we turned to God during this time for our hope, and He delivered us.