As I was frantically addressing and preparing to mail our Christmas cards earlier this week, I received some horrific news that one of our church members had died unexpectedly, leaving behind a wife and four boys. Less than two weeks earlier, similar news was delivered, involving a family we knew from our previous church. Again, a father tragically leaving behind a wife and three children.
There are many other families that have experienced loss here at Christmastime, through death, illness, and broken relationships.
In between tears, stuffing our “A Time to be Merry” cards in envelopes suddenly seemed wrong. For some, it is anything but a time to be merry.
We experienced much joy in 2018. A graduation and an engagement were among our celebrations and there is much anticipation and excitement as we look forward to 2019.
However, there were some Christmas pasts that weren’t so joyful, and downright mournful. I wrote a piece several years back during one of those Christmas seasons called Where is the Joy? and after digging it out of the files last year around this time, it happened to be lying right on top of my Christmas card address list. It was as if I needed another reminder this year.
I shared in that post about some of my saddest Christmases. The one where we buried my grandma on Christmas Eve, my first Christmas as a single mom with a baby and a toddler, and the most recent one in 2011 where my children had lost their aunt to cancer in November. She left behind a son in college and a daughter who was a freshman in high school and still needed her mom.
Even having experienced grief at Christmastime, the events that have happened recently are incredibly hard to make sense of. The grief their families must be feeling is unimaginable.
Be aware of the enemy’s schemes.
It has occurred to me that Satan attacks with a vengeance the closer we get to Jesus’ birthday.
While we can’t blame everything on the enemy, we know “…the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
And “he is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short.” (Rev 12:12)
In my personal reading for the month of December, I have been going through the book of Luke and then reading The Wiersbe Bible Commentary on each chapter. After the events of this week, I was reminded of something I had read earlier this month about how Satan can use his demons to attack believers in Christ.
Knowing that once Christians accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and we are then sealed by the Holy Spirit (belonging to God), it would therefore not be possible to become demon possessed. (See Ephesians 1:13) For this reason, I have struggled to understand how our brothers and sisters in Christ can commit certain acts and devastate those they love so much.
Wiersbe refers to “demonic work in believers as ‘demon oppression’ rather than ‘demon possession,’” and that, “Certainly Satan can and does attack the bodies and minds of God’s people.”1
It gives me comfort to know that a child of God is still a child of God. When life ends here on earth for a Christ-following believer, they become present with the Lord. (See 2 Corinthians 5:8)
Tragedy may occur. The enemy may win the battle, but we know who wins the war. One day the devil will be thrown into the lake of fire. (See Revelation 20:10)
Jesus is worthy of our worship, even more in times of suffering.
Jesus tells us “the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
Jesus came to fulfill the prophecy from Isaiah. He announced in the synagogue, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, Emphasis mine)
We celebrate the birthday of the One Who came to give us life to the full and release us from that oppression - our own sin oppression, or demonic oppression. Jesus is the reason for our hope.
In our sorrow, let us not be tempted to skip Christmas or let stress and sadness stifle our joy. As I heard a friend say this week, “Jesus was still born!” Amen!
In this world of sin and darkness, He is our bright, Morning Star! (See Revelation 22:16)
He deserves our worship and our adoration no matter what.
Some things we will not understand this side of heaven. Trust Him anyway.
Perhaps my favorite verse in all the Bible is Romans 8:28, “And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” While some may not want to hear this verse when terrible things happen, all I can say is, have faith.
His words are true and His promises He keeps. I have seen Him work miracles in my own life. We must trust that whatever means Satan uses to harm us, our God can use it for our good and His glory.
I can’t imagine the pain Mary must have endured watching her son, Jesus, suffering on the cross. Yet it was necessary for God to accomplish His plan and bring salvation to a world of sinners like us.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)
There are some things that are not meant for our understanding. We must simply trust Him and pray.
Pray for those who are hurting to have a peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and that the God of all comfort will hold them close and give them strength as only He can.
Because Jesus was born, we have hope.
Because Jesus was born, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. (Isaiah 9:1) …And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Keep focusing on Him and the reason for His birth. And understand that it is okay to be merry in the mourning.
Jesus was still born.
Merry Christmas to all!!!
© Christy Long 2018. All rights reserved.
1) The Wiersbe Bible Commentary New Testament, Warren W. Wiersbe, David C. Cook, Page 182.
Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! Hebrews 12:2-3 The Message
For most of my life, I have NOT been an athlete. Memories of being the last kid picked when choosing teams back in elementary school, getting hit in the face while trying to catch a softball in the backyard, being startled and confused by that alarming whistle blown almost the instant I attempted to dribble the basketball in a high school intramural game (I was forced to participate) are still etched in my forty-something adult brain.
Oh, and I will never forget my glorious moment in sixth grade when I finally scored a point in hockey. Jumping for joy and lifting my hockey stick in the air felt like such a victory until I realized my teammates were shaking their heads, “No!” My horrific error was publicly pointed out in front of everyone in P.E. class - I had scored a point for the other team!
My spiritual life has been a lot like my athletic ability. There have been times where I was completely taken off guard, felt as though I was not good enough, struggled with self-comparisons, insecurities, doubts, guilt over past sins and failures.
And oftentimes preceded by those struggles were excitement, passion and motivation in serving the Lord in some area of ministry, or a commitment to spending more time in prayer and Bible study. What usually begins with much energy and ease, soon grows weak and weary, or admittedly, sometimes lazy.
Sometimes I have wanted to just quit. There have been times I became too comfortable sitting on the couch watching TV, content to let others use their spiritual gifts in areas that I knew deep down I should still be doing too.
Running is something you must train your body to do. In fact, I’ve said many times in my life that I couldn’t run. I truly thought God did not make me to be a runner, but the truth is I had not learned endurance yet. I would start off running hard and quickly get out of breath, resulting in my either having to stop, or walk. Just as with the Couch to 5K, or similar programs, running eventually happens by walking and then running for various intervals of time until your body becomes used to running for the entire time. And if you are inconsistent in the training process and miss several days, chances are you will have to start all over again.
Endurance happens when you keep going.
You can’t cave to exhaustion and you can’t quit.
Recently, I have been training for a 10K (my first one). Therefore, I have been running further distances. Somewhere around mile 4 or 5, I get tired and begin to converse with myself as to whether-or not I think I can go on. One thing that gives me confidence is knowing that I have hydrated myself.
I read this in an article not long ago about the importance of hydration in running: “Dehydration causes your body’s blood volume to drop, which lowers your body’s ability to transfer heat and forces your heart to beat faster, making it difficult for your body to meet aerobic demands.” (from Sipping Points by Karen Asp, Runners World, June 10, 2010)
Simply said, without proper hydration, we get tired and wear out.
Last weekend, I used a product called Liquid I.V. – a hydration multiplier that I purchased from my local GNC store. It states on the bag that it can provide the same hydration as the equivalent of drinking 2-3 bottles of water. It’s a powder that you add to your water bottle and it works in your system by delivering hydration directly to your bloodstream, which is much faster than drinking water. I experienced a much better run as a result, without the usual tiredness in the middle.
So, when I was reading Hebrews 12 on Monday morning, I was struck by Paul’s description of how keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and going over His story and all that He endured, “that will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”
Jesus! My Liquid I.V.
The Living Water. Our Ultimate Hydration!
Running hard for Jesus means we must stay hydrated in Him. Just as water is vital for human life, Jesus is our Liquid I.V. – the Living Water running through us. He is our burst of energy when we feel like we can’t go on.
What about you? Could you use some spiritual endurance, too?
Keep thinking of Him in all things. Don’t look back at past failures or dwell on our weaknesses. Focus instead on His strength and what He endured for us. Through His power we can go the distance He is calling us to. And we can finish the race! Let’s continue training daily and not give up!
© 2018 by Christy Long. All rights reserved.
It’s becoming more and more common for people to think of a word to set the stage for their new year rather than resolutions that get broken, often within the first week.
As my 2017 wrapped up, and for the last couple of weeks of the Christmas season, I had determined that my word for the year would be SERVICE. I had come across the passage in Matthew 20:26-28, when Jesus told His disciples, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Without going into details, Christmas is so much work on us mamas, and it had me worn out at one point, wishing it would just be over already. But Jesus reminded me that I needed to change my attitude to one of service to my family and others. And not only to serve, but to serve with joy.
There are also some areas within my church that I am planning to serve this year. Our Divorce Care for Kids ministry kicks off January 18th and I signed up to help with the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine in February that our church is hosting. Really excited about both!
Again “service” just seemed like an appropriate word.
Then, while scrolling Facebook, I happened upon a little online test by Dayspring that you can take to determine your word for the year. I thought it would be fun to see what it came up with. Surprisingly, and yet not so surprisingly, my word was LOVE.
Expecting a word with a little more action or specific meaning, I first thought it to be vague.
I began to ponder all the areas I need to improve in my life, especially my spiritual life, and LOVE (the verb) is perfect.
Overlooks offenses. (Proverbs 17:9)
Chooses its words carefully. (Proverbs 12:25) (Proverbs 25:11) (James 1:26)
Is not judgmental. (Romans 14:13)
Makes time for others because it values relationships. (Romans 12:10; 13)
Prays and intercedes for others. (Romans 12:12)
Keeps its motives pure. (Proverbs 16:2)
Obeys God. (1 John 5:3) (2 John 5-6)
Reaches out to those who need comfort and encouraging. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
Is kind to myself - takes care of my physical and spiritual body, focuses on my strengths instead of beating myself up over my past failures, puts an end to self-hate talk and comparisons. (1 Timothy 4:7-8) (2 Corinthians 10:5) (Galatians 5:25-26; 6:4)
Celebrates the success and talents of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Is concerned for orphans, widows, and the lost. (James 1:27) (Matthew 18:10-14)
Is able because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19-21)
Is the greatest! (1 Corinthians 13:13)
And perhaps the icing on the cake for my word of the year is this – I decided to start the year backwards in my Bible reading and begin with Revelation. Chapter 2 – a letter to the church in Ephesus, really spoke to my heart and reinforced my word for the year.
The people of the church there were working hard for the Lord, they were intolerant of the sinfulness in their culture, they showed discernment in recognizing false teachings, they were standing firm in the faith and not growing weary in their work. However, they had forgotten their FIRST LOVE!
Repent and do the things you did at first. Revelation 2:4
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ~ Jesus (Matthew 22:37-40)
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
The forgiving kind. (Ephesians 4:32)
The unfailing kind. (Psalm 130:7)
The God that sent His Son, Jesus to die on a cross for my sins kind. (John 3:16) (1 John 4:16)
Thank You, Jesus, that we can know love because You first loved us. Help me to love You with my whole heart– keeping You in Your right place as my First Love. May my love for You spill over into every other area of my life so that I may love and serve others in a way that fulfills Your purpose for my life and glorifies You! Give me eyes to see and ears to hear how I may “love” better this year. Amen.
Do you have a word yet for 2018? If this spoke to you, feel free to use mine. The world could certainly use more #love! :)
(c) Christy Long 2018