“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery”—Galatians 5:1 (NIV).
To most Americans, the word freedom connotes images of the American flag. We associate July 4 with the freedoms we’ve been granted by the U.S. Constitution. We celebrate our country’s independence with fireworks and parades.
According to dictionary.com, freedom means “the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint.”
Physical freedom is denied those locked behind prison walls. But those who have discovered a relationship with Jesus while in prison will tell you they are, indeed, now free, in spite of the iron bars they peer through each day.
Only Christ can set us free.
Found throughout the Bible, the word, “freedom,” is familiar to those who’ve read God’s Holy Word. John 8:32 says, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
In an article by Roger Olson, he writes, “Unfortunately, two very different ideas of freedom get confused in many people’s minds. The biblical idea of freedom is different from, but easily confused with, the cultural value of the same name. And neither one is the same as “free will.” It can be confusing to the average Christian who wants to know what “real freedom” is. Is it having choices? Is it lack of coercion and constraint? Is it being able to do whatever you want? In what sense does Christ set us free, and how is that different from what Madison Avenue and Hollywood promise?
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” –Isaiah 9:6 (NIV).
Are you ready for Christmas? I’ve been asked this question by friends, as well as those I meet at the grocery check-out, in the post office line and other public places where I’m waiting.
Children are also waiting. Waiting to see what’s underneath the Christmas tree, wondering if they will receive the desires of their hearts. Time seems to stand still as they count down the days until Christmas.
Others I’ve observed while shopping reveal faces void of hope, a knowing that there won’t be much to unwrap. The desires of their hearts, as well as many of their needs, will go unmet.
Let Him fulfill your heart’s desire this Christmas.
In a devotion excerpt by author Ann Voskamp, she wrote, “What we’re really getting ready for is love. Preparing for the holidays is primarily a preparing of the heart. Because what comes down is love, and the way to receive love isn’t to wrap anything up –but to unwrap your heart.”
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”—John 1:12-13(NIV).
It’s a wonderful time of the year for some of us. Christmas lights and décor, yuletide songs and greetings and the smells associated with this holiday invite us to care, share and rejoice in the coming of the Christ child.
For others, this season can be difficult, a reminder of loved ones lost—both physically and spiritually. It’s a reminder of need and want, doing without and praying for help. Sometimes those prayers are answered through the benevolent hearts of those who have much.
Recently, I checked out our church’s Angel Tree. On its branches were paper angels representing children whose parents are in prison or who are in foster care. On each cut-out angel shape is information about a child in need: the gender, age and child’s request are included.
Before I wrapped the clothing for this unknown child,
I prayed over each outfit.
Browsing through the angels, my first thought was “What could I afford?” One child requested an electronic tablet. Not on my budget. Another wanted a pair of Nikes. Also, not on my budget. Yet another child wanted a bicycle. Not something I could afford.
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” – Acts 4:32 (NIV).
Three words at the top of a brightly colored advertising insert in my daily newspaper captured my attention. “Give better gifts.”
The insert was only one of 25 stuffed inside to lure customers into shopping Black Friday sales. Retrieving the heavier-than-usual newspaper off my driveway on Thanksgiving Day reminded me that Christmas isn’t far off and I’d better get busy shopping. However, I abhor crowds so I tossed the advertisements in the trash.
I’m not opposed to saving money when shopping. However, I have come to detest the commercialism now associated with a sacred Christian holiday. Recent TV commercials and a story in the business section of the newspaper several days before Thanksgiving made me want to cheer. Many businesses are refusing to open on Thanksgiving so that their employees can spend the day of gratitude with their families.
Gifts of our time and our presence are better than any store-bought gift.
One company has gone one step further by announcing for the second year in a row that they will be closed on Black Friday. In fact, according to the article, they are not offering any Black Friday deals online or otherwise. REI, a national outdoor retail co-op, is dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship. Passionate about the outdoors, the company is committed to promoting environmental stewardship and increasing access to outdoor recreation through volunteerism, gear donations and financial contributions.
“Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should” – Psalm 90:12 (TLB).
With each passing year, I become more aware of the brevity of life. Recently, I celebrated my 63rd birthday. When a friend phoned to wish me a happy birthday, we discussed how long we’d known each other. We were surprised when we realized it had been more than a decade. Our friendship has grown during that time, making me realize the necessity of having and nurturing those relationships that are important to making life worthwhile.
A recent post on Facebook made me think about the importance of relationships vs. things. Things don’t bring happiness. Both are fleeting. However, we were made for a relationship with each other. The post follows: “I believe as we grow older our Christmas list gets smaller and the things we really want for the holidays can’t be bought.”
Only then will our days really count.
What is more important than to be surrounded by family and friends who love us in spite of our faults and failures? Nothing in my book! No gift can replace the shared laughter, the tears, the disagreements, the heartache, the pain or the victories. Nothing! Money cannot buy the experiences we share.
Money also can’t purchase the kind of friend who won’t agree with you to make you happy. Instead, the best of friends will say what needs to be said, whether you want to hear it or not. I have several friends like that. Whether I complain or am feeling sorry for myself, none of these three let me stew in my pity very long. They love me enough to encourage me with kind but honest words.
How we spend our days is important in God’s kingdom. We can spend our days in pursuit of money to purchase material things for our own gratification, or we can spend our days pursuing what really matters.
“You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” – 2 Corinthians 9:11 (NIV).
Am I the only one who’s tired of seeing Christmas promotions before Halloween decorations have come down? Walk down the aisles at a local store and you’ll be hard pressed to find many reminders of a holiday that celebrates thankfulness in November.
How can we, as parents and grandparents, counter the commercialization of Christmas in an age of spend, spend, spend? Recently, I came across a young mother’s website. Because she wanted her children to experience the true meaning of Christmas, she created a “Random Acts of Kindness Christmas Calendar for Kids.”
“The pursuit of selflessness is truly a noble one.”
She discovered the idea on her Facebook feed last year and really liked the idea of doing something kind each day leading up to Christmas. She writes, “I also thought this was a wonderful way to help instill the spirit of the season in my family. I didn’t want them to think Christmas is all about getting toys.”
Because her children are young, she wanted to create activities that kids could do on their own to emphasize that each of us—no matter how small—can make a difference. Her calendar also includes family activities that include adult participation.
“Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, those who follow Jesus have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or silly. That kind of talk doesn’t fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect”—Ephesians 5:4 (MSG).
As I write this, election day is still four days away. I, for one, will be glad when it’s over. I pray that those who have spewed hatred across the airwaves, on social media and through other means of communication will be able to step back and give thanks, whether their candidate won or lost.
True followers of Christ know that we’ve won, no matter who is in the Oval Office. While our country isn’t perfect, I’d rather live here than anywhere else. I’ve visited foreign countries. I’ve seen the oppressed and the poor that make our poorest appear rich in comparison.
Give thanks to the Lord!
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the Apostle Paul writes, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s reminder is as relevant today as it was when he wrote his epistle to the Thessalonians.
What does it mean to live a life of giving thanks? It’s a life permeated by a grateful heart that overflows to others. It’s a life marked by contentment. Although we seem to have more, we enjoy life less. We work harder to accumulate more, but on the whole we’re not happier. We entertain the notion that we’re entitled to more, which leads to a life of discontent.