Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The reason for the season



Dear Friends,

Somehow, the pull is strong each year to rummage through boxes, silver paper, and tinsel trivialities, looking for Bethlehem. For the first 18 years of my life, all I knew of Christmas was the party in the middle of winter. It seemed a good idea; a family reunion in our beautiful English home.

Even now, I can smell the chestnuts roasting on a blazing fire in the fireplace and hear the soothing voice of Bing Crosby crooning my father’s favorite: “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” I see the games we played and remember the faces of loving family and friends and the guests who would come and go, bringing fruitcake and nuts, and adding to the music each night around my father’s electric organ.

That was as near as our family got to tipping a hat in God’s direction – a wonderful celebration, but not Christmas. How many lovely family parties, like ours, will be held in Christendom this year, I wonder. How many times will I need to remind myself, amid the trappings of tree decorating and gift buying, of my conversion?

It was in college that I discovered what Christmas was really about  how God became a baby – for me! How He came to earth at Christmas because He knew I needed eternal life. I reeled in horror at the realization of how our family’s benign neglect must have offended Jesus! We had been throwing a big bash for Him for years, but never invited Him along. I knelt, then lay flat, face down in my little college bedroom crying: “Jesus, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Help me make good those 18 years!”

At Christmas break I traveled by train back to home to Liverpool. This was to be my very first real Christmas. What would I do that I had never done? I didn’t know, so I went through a series of scenarios, practicing my lines: “Mother, let’s ask Jesus to His party this year.” No, that would be too much. “Father, let’s sing carols instead of ‘Rudolph.’” No, they wouldn’t want to do that.

I scanned the newspaper for a local church with a Christmas Eve midnight service. The one I found was miles away and I knew I would need to walk home. Public transport would be halted for the holiday by that hour. It didn’t matter. I decided I was going!

I slipped away Christmas Eve from happy notes, “…sleigh bells jingling…” sung lustily by our friends around the organ to find the little chapel crammed with people. Candle lit faces reflected eyes full of wonder, love, and praise. Jesus was here! We prayed and smiled knowingly at one another, total strangers bound by belief that brought us together to worship the Christ child. It was a bit of Heaven right here on earth.

The walk home took two hours down deserted streets, past homes lit with holiday glow, the waft of toasting chestnuts and the chiming laughter of family togetherness, like the scene awaiting for me at my parents’ home.

On the doorstep, I could hear the party inside revving up. I slipped into the pack as unobtrusively as I could, but my mother’s friend saw me.

“Why, here she is,” she said louder than I’d wished. “We didn’t know where you were!”

“She’s been to church,” my sister interjected.

“How do you know?” asked her friend.

My sister smiled softly, “Look at her face.”

Eyes turned to me. There was a sudden quietness. I went pink. What were they looking at? My cheeks were surely stinging from the cold, but there seemed to be something more catching this bunch’s attention.

Apparently they saw Him. I was content. Partying without praising was for the birds. They knew I was changed. Another day, I’d explain why. Now it was time to slip up to Mom, Dad, and my beloved sister, give them a kiss and wish them from the bottom of my heart a Christmas without winter.

May you keep focused on the reason for the season as you enter into the upcoming holiday season.

Christmas Blessings,

Jill

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Christmas Blessing

Dear Friends,

Like many these days, I’m finding it hard to make ends meet. Presently mine is the only income as my husband has been out of work for a while and so I’ve been doing all I can to keep up on our bills. However, this month of all months, I fell short. I had most of the rent due, but was short a couple hundred dollars. I was afraid, but I sought out the property manager to let her know where we were at. I expressed to her what an amazing holiday we had at Thanksgiving, and how we absolutely love living in such a lovely home. I then shared regrettably that I would be short this month, but would do what was necessary to get the rent all paid up in two weeks.

I waited and waited to find out her response. I wasn’t sure if I would be charged
huge late fees or even asked to leave the property. To my great surprise, I received a
call from the property manager expressing the desire of the owners to forgive us our rent for this month with the hopes that this will help us get back on track on all our bills. I asked her to repeat what she said with some clarity because I couldn’t believe with my heart what my ears were hearing. When she got through to me, I began to weep uncontrollably right there in the lingerie department in Target. Even as I wandered around the store, I couldn’t stop crying tears of joy. How could someone be so generous with someone they barely know?

Today, as I remember this great gift I know that “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Even at His birth Jesus was destined to die. If earthly men can give such gifts surely our Father in heaven has given us a gift for all time. Jesus was and is the ultimate gift. I know I will never forget this Christmas Blessing! I know He’s the reason I had the courage to be honest and faithful and trust that He would work it all out for His glory.

Christmas Blessings,

Maria McAllister

Monday, December 5, 2011

Where did you lose it...your effectiveness?

Dear Friends,

The story in 2 Kings 6 tells about a young and enthusiastic prophet-in-training under the tutelage of Elisha. It was a good day in Israel. After a repressive time under King Ahab and the notorious Queen Jezebel, the schools of the prophets were enjoying a time of expansion. Revival was happening in Israel mainly because of Elisha’s ministry.

In the middle of a planned expansion of the premises, one of the young prophets wielding a borrowed ax found himself in a dilemma. The ax head flew off the handle and landed in the River Jordan! He lost his cutting edge. One minute he had it, and the next he didn’t.

He knew immediately something was wrong. (Why wouldn’t he?) He was no longer effective. Being a sensible young man, he went at once to Elisha and told him about his trouble. In those days an ax head was a very valuable instrument (like a computer today), and the tool had been loaned to him. “Where did you lose it?” the leader asked the young man. “Show me the place.” The young man did. Then God moved in. Elisha took a stick and threw it in the place the ax head was lost. The heavy iron floated to the surface of the water and the teacher told the student to put out his hand and appropriate it.

So how do we lose our spiritual edge? It can happen anytime, anywhere, at any place. It can happen to the best of us and the worst of us. Have you lost it? Did you have the joy of the Lord? Were you serving Him in the community of believers?

May I ask you the question? Where did you lose it? Your effectiveness. In what river? The river of willfulness, worldliness, bitterness, or forgiveness? Would you show Him the place? Show God the specific place you stopped walking with the Spirit, and began to listen to that other voice. The same old, same old voice Adam and Eve heard in the garden. His devices haven’t changed, you know. The evil one wants us to stop walking in harmony with God in the garden of our lives and begin to walk with the old snake, instead. He wants us to be our own God and do our own thing. It all depends on which voice we decide to heed.

Only God can work the miracle, of course. When we get around to being miserable enough (and, make no mistake about it, we can only be happy listening to and obeying God), and say as the young man said, “Alas, Master, I’ve lost it!” at the point of confession, He will forgive and restore us. One of the reasons we get dull and lose our effectiveness in the service of the Lord is because we get bored with our spiritual disciplines.

Here are some practical ideas to sharpen your “spiritual edge”:

●Devotional study. Get a plan. Ask your pastor, group leader, or friend who is just a little bit ahead in the Christian faith to help you. The plan should include personal Bible reading and prayer. People learn differently. Look at three different Bible study methods and choose one. Stick with it daily for three months before you change and try another.

●Topical study. Get a concordance. Often there is one at the back of your Bible. Choose a topic of interest from the words listed: peace, fruitfulness, pain, perseverance, or purpose. Look the word up in the concordance. There will be a list of the word every time it is used in the Bible. Work your way through the list and write down what you learn about the topic from each verse. You don’t have to look up every one listed – unless you want to. Take as much time as you need to on each word. Get the context. Read around the verse. Think about what you’ve learned. Chew it over. Ask yourself: “What did I learn about peace, etc.?” Lastly, pray about what you learned and apply it to your life. Then go and practice it this week. This is a way you can involve the family, too. Take ten minutes, and do this exercise as a family. Share the verses around the table. Let all have a say.

●Prayer. Ask yourself, “Which part of prayer do you find hard? Intercession? Praise? Repentance? How to use silence and solitude in your prayer time? How do we hear God’s voice? Whenever you have a problem with prayer, pray about it! Ask God. He will help you!

Praying you will keep your spiritual edge.

Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine