christmas

The Gift

There’s only one season, other than Fall, that makes it on my “Top Ten” favorite things, and that is the Christmas season. I love the smells, the food, the music, and since I am Puerto Rican, I get a double heaping and get to enjoy all of those things in two languages/cultures. Bonus reel: my husband and I began to date during this season 22 years ago. We were the stars of our very own Hallmark movie! Christmas is special for many reasons for different people. And yet, it can also be a sad and/or frustrating time of the year that some can’t wait to be done with it.

the gift

Let me set the record straight, I am not a Grinch. This post isn’t intending to make you feel guilty about having either 100 presents or just one under your tree. Whether you’re having 50 of your closest friends over, or if you’re spending Christmas in your jammies by yourself. I’ve had each of those experiences and I can tell you some have been great, and some sad. I just want to share my heart and what I’ve been able to observe and reflect on the past twenty-plus years as it pertains to this special holiday.

 

As Christians, we are told over and over, “Christ is the Reason for the Season,” and all the clichés and guilt trips that go along with that statement; but, do we really understand, or do we just have these sentiments playing on a memory loop as we continue to strive to be all things Christmas, as seen on TV?

 

Not only have I been a witness to other’s sadness and frustration, I too have experienced it. I recall one Christmas where I had become resolute in my Christianese to be “all about Jesus.” As Christmas drew nearer, I looked under the “empty tree” and panicked. I had just seen posts on Facebook of friends whose children had gone from relative to relative opening their hoard of gifts and they still had a massive stash at home to open from Santa. GASP!! Our girls only had about five presents each, and one of them was pajamas. The pangs of guilt (and jealousy, let’s just keep it real) filled my heart and I, the woman who does not like to shop, found myself at the mall panicking and buying anything I could find to place under that tree. I’m pretty sure I emptied the dollar bin at Target that year. I felt like such a loser. Because “nothing was good enough” and how exactly do I put Jesus under that tree and give my children the WOW factor that comes with the Greatest Gift of all. Never mind the “shopping hangover” that I had Christmas morning, between my checkbook laughing at me for emptying the account on worthless items and realizing that my children only enjoyed the original four to five gifts under the tree, I learned a valuable lesson that year.

 

I have even tried coming up with a tradition that would meet all the Christmas movie requirements, so our house would feel “Christmassy,” only to realize that I just want to be available to Jesus for however He wants to use each of us or our family. The best we can ever do is BE the hands and feet of Jesus, and to do that we need to be available.

 

It is so hard for the human ego to understand that you cannot be the greatest gift giver, you never will be – even if you have unlimited spending ability. The greatest gift will never come from you. It doesn’t matter how many presents you place under the tree, in the stockings, etc. The Greatest Gift came from God just a little more than 2,000 years ago. When you know Jesus and understand the cost of His present, it is salve for your soul.

 

The best thing we can do is bless one another and that’s what Christmas has become at our house – a time of blessing. Sometimes those blessings arrive in pretty packages wrapped with love and a bow on top; sometimes those blessings come wrapped in a hug and a kind word. We keep our lists small and our hearts ready to receive and be the blessings of the season.

 

It’s Christmas at our house and carols are playing in the background, Hallmark movies are on the TV, and we are preparing our hearts to be renewed as we celebrate the Greatest Gift ever given to mankind. This Christmas, may you find not just presents under your tree, but the presence of Jesus in your heart. O’ Come Emmanuel!

 

Contentment that Amazon Can’t Buy

This time of year requires a fair amount of shopping.  The holidays bring me into far more stores than I would normally be in, and Amazon and I know each other pretty well right now. It’s so easy to feel far from the contentment my heart longs for. 

There are SO many amazing products and services out there that I never knew I “needed”.  Sometimes I find myself longing for more than I have, yet I’m reminded of 1 Timothy 6:6,7:

“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.”

contentment

That doesn’t really look like any of my trips to the mall, but there is such a peace that comes with true contentment.  

What is true contentment?

The kind of contentment that Paul is talking about isn’t just a philosophical outlook, but rather a real dependence on the sufficiency of Christ.  This doesn’t mean we detach ourselves emotionally.  What it does mean is that we understand the truth of Isaiah 26:3 – “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”

There is a peace that passes all understanding that is ours as Believers when we place our hope and trust in Christ to provide all that HE says we need.

Does this verse sound familiar?

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

This sentence has been used countless times to bring inspiration and strength to many, but have you ever read exactly where it lands within the context of the passage?

”How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me.  Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

Contentment in any and ALL circumstances?  How is that even possible?  Only through Him.

The greatest gift

Hebrews 13:5 says:  “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ “

The greatest gift we have as Believers is God’s very presence…always.  Jesus, Emmanuel, “God WITH us.” 

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20,21)

Don’t Settle For An Elf On A Shelf – Part 1

Don't Settle For An Elf on a Shelf Part 1

Don’t Settle For An Elf On A Shelf

Part 1

You better not cry,

You better not pout,

You better not cry I’m telling you why,

Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you’re sleeping,

He knows when you’re awake,

He knows if you’ve been bad or good,

So be good for goodness sake.

Oh, you better watch out,

You better not cry,

You better not…

Motive matters. Throughout the Bible, the issues of our heart matter most. The word heart is used over 500 times in scripture. It might surprise you to know that the vast majority of them are found in the Old Testament. Examples of people who tried to manipulate God by their outward actions fill page after page. Doing the right thing, acting, and “fooling” others can only mask a cold, hard heart for a period of time. A point comes when one’s true nature is revealed.

In the Old Testament King Saul tried to manipulate God. The people loved him. He was tall and handsome, a king his countrymen were proud of. He looked the part and had it going on.

In many homes an elf is part of the Christmas decorations. He’s used to keep the kids on the straight and narrow according to the old song Santa Claus is Coming to Town. You remember the lyrics:

He sees you when you’re sleeping,

He knows when you’re awake,

He knows if you’ve been bad or good,

So be good for goodness sake.

At this time of year, kids begin the count down to the big day. They dream about what they will get. They give hints and make lists. They anticipate, count packages, try to sneak a peak, and shake boxes. Parents try to do their best to make those dreams come true, to meet the expectations. They make lists, too. They spend more than they intend in the emotional rush and pressure of it all. Often, everyone’s stress levels run higher than normal.

Parents want to bless their kids. They love them and enjoy giving them gifts. It brings them joy to see a smile as the little ones open packages. Kids wants to get the latest cool stuff. And they know how to work the system. They know that if they behave they can increase their odds of receiving a bounty of goodies.

As kids beg and parents give in, it can get crazy. There are plenty of problems with the way this is all handled—more than I can list. But here are ten that top my list:

1.  Removes worship from God to gods. No sense in trying to soften this point. Our behavior should be an outpouring of our love and honor to the One who made us. Our actions are our worship.

2.  Reduces presents to rewards for behavior and links doing with getting. Doing the right things, the things that honor God don’t always result in getting good presents. Often a kind action goes unnoticed, sometimes even taken for granted. When we communicate that good behavior results in getting stuff, we reinforce incorrect understanding of God’s ways.

3.  Sets both parents and children up for failure and raises expectations that cannot be met. If the kids decide to participate in this short-term proposition by behaving, then they expect it to pay off. When the parents set up the proposition they expect to be appreciated.

4.  Puts pressure on parents and kids—kids to perform and parents to overspend. Everyone loses. The kids can pull off their part, it’s only twenty-five days. The parents can just charge it all and pay if off later. That’s what everyone else does.

5.  Extracts the heart, external actions are elevated. This rewards shallow behaviors.

6.  Breeds manipulation. Kids manipulate parents with acting and emotions. Parents manipulate kids with threats and black mail.

7.  Encourages laziness. There is no actual sacrifice made by the kids. They only have to behave for a few weeks, pretending to be nice and kind and thoughtful. Parents just give in to a purchase. There is no need to set a budget or practice self-control. Just worry about the real issues and bills later. Unfortunately, both just continue to pile up.

8.  Pressurizes Christmas and stress levels soar. As the 25th approaches, the tension mounts. Kids and parents become increasingly exhausted and anxious.

9.  Hijacks the holiday and casts a shadow over the manger. This whole rush to behave and acquire is the ultimate commercialization of the holiday.

10.  Leads to post-Christmas let down. On the afternoon of Christmas day while there is still paper on the floor and before dinner is served, there’s a vacuum. Emptiness. Everyone feels it. Even if every item on the list was realized.

We want our kids to behave, but are we willing to get the behavior and the actions without a heart change? Let’s not think for a moment that this doesn’t have long-term effects. Let’s not fool ourselves for the sake of the season.

We have an opportunity here to give our children a real reason to mature, to grow up, to be nice and not pout. It’s not because an elf is reporting back to Santa while they sleep. It’s because the God of the universe, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the One Who spoke light into existence, the One Who knitted them together in their mother’s womb—He loves them.

He desires a relationship with them. He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to pay their sin debt. Jesus not only died on the cross, but He rose again and is sitting at the right hand of God.

He is preparing a place for them to come and live with Him forever and one day He will return to take them home. In the meantime He gives them opportunities every day to worship Him through thoughts, words, and actions.

Everyday as they anticipate His return, they can choose to respond to life’s circumstances and challenges with kindness and compassion and patience and generosity. Not because they have to, but because they want to; not because He might strike them with lightning if they don’t, but because they want to glorify Him; not because they are afraid of Him, but because He is Worthy.

Read part 2 of this series for 10 Alternatives to the Elf on the Shelf

Rachael Carman

Merry Christmas From The Carmans

Sunflower_MerryXmas

Merry Christmas From The Carmans!

Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas!  We pray that you have a wonderful day with your friends and family celebrating our Lord and Kings birth!  

Isaiah 9:6

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.
Rachael Carman

What About Mary And Elizabeth – Part 2

What About Mary And Elizabeth – Part 2

Did you miss Part 1 of our intimate look at Mary and Elizabeth?  You can find it here!

It must have served as a great source of strength to her when, upon her return to Galilee, the scripture states that “she was found to be with child.” What must that have been like? Who found out? How did they find out? When did Joseph first hear of the news? Was it from Mary?  Or was it from another source? Can you imagine the hushed conversation and even the not so hushed ones? It would seem that upon her return home from the mountain’s peak and her visit with Elizabeth, Mary was very alone.

mary and elizabeth

Some of the comments were probably like this: “Yeah. And she says she was visited by an angel.” Or “Well I’m just wondering who she met while she was away.” Or “You know, Joseph is just as surprised as every body else.” Or “I was suppose to be in her wedding party, but not now.” It all must have really hurt.

Most of us have endured ridicule at one time in our lives or another. There is nothing like being misunderstood or misrepresented. And yet there is nothing like being confident of God’s call on our lives and the comfort he provides when we submit to Him in spite of the opposition. I do not believe that Mary hung her head in shame for a moment. I believe that she glowed and walked confidently in the city streets. It must have even further confused her accusers to see her at such peace as she grew rounder and rounder. It might have even been tragically interpreted by some as stubborn disobedience or willful defiance. But they couldn’t deny her peace.

Then as angel visited Joseph and there was probably a second round of whispers. “Can you believe it? Now she has Joseph convinced.”  Or “He actually married her and it’s not even his child.” Or “They might have each other fooled, but not me.” Now the two of them were alone together, experiencing a pregnancy that had caught them both by surprise and yet bonded them together because of their mutual trust in God.

Next came the births. Elizabeth was surrounded by friends and family upon the birth of her first child. It seems from scripture that there was a great spirit of joyful anticipation in the house. But when it came time to name the child, Elizabeth and Zechariah named him John and a new controversy set in. There was no one in their family had that name and besides, this was probably going to be their only child, why weren’t they naming him after his father? But Zechariah insisted, and because of his obedience was finally able to talk again for the first time in nine months. Complete and selfless obedience is such a beautiful thing. Father and mother and child were able to rejoice together.

Mary and Elizabeth each had quite unique experiences. Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem for the census. And it was there, far away from her mother and any other remaining friends who had stood beside her, that she gave birth to the Savior of the world. I can imagine that the inn keeper, who had mercy on them and put them up in the unlikely birthing suite of a stable, may have contacted the local midwife. And however nice and gentle she may have been, she was still a stranger. After she had gone, Mary and Joseph were alone again with their new son, Jesus.

I can imagine that Joseph may have stepped out of the stable for some fresh air while Mary was nursing the baby when he noticed it. “Mary, you have got to come and see this.” And as she laid down the baby in the manger and stepped out into the cool of the evening, she was bathed in the bright light of a star, which was shining down over their humble accommodations. They were alone together with the affirmation of a star, only feet away from Emmanuel.

Then more strangers showed up. They were shepherds. They said that an angel had appeared to them and told them about the birth of the child and that they wanted to see for themselves. Neither Joseph or Mary doubted that these men had been visited by an angel, all of them had been at some time in their own journey to see the baby. The shepherds must have been hesitant to tell why they were there, but relieved at the new parents’ response. They parted as friends. Another group of men, we don’t know how many, showed up bearing extraordinary gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They said that they had followed the same star that had lit up the night and embraced them in its warmth.

God was sending the most unlikely of people to encourage and comfort them even in this unfamiliar town. It seems like to me that God was reaching down to them in a personal way with people who cared. Angels, a star, and a baby brought them together as strangers, and united them for eternity. All of them had seen a sign, chosen to believe it, sought it out for themselves. As a result, all of them were changed.

The stories continue form there and I think that I might explore at another time what it might have been like to raise John the Baptist and Jesus. There is so much to be learned from mothers in the Bible as we seek out the Scriptures. But with just what I covered here, prayerfully consider the questions below. This is the season in which we get so caught up in getting that we miss it all. Don’t miss it this year. Don’t miss Him.

  • How has the Savior manifested His life in your life?
  • Is the truth of His life evident in your life?
  • Has His Spirit been prompting you to act on something and your response been less that submissive?
  • Do you consider the cost to you personally when it comes to serving Him or do you weigh it all out and base your obedience on your human wisdom?
  • How important is it to you to make sure that others understand you and all of your decisions?
  • Do you walk confidently and courageously in your obedience or are you ashamed of your Lord?
  • As God seeks to comfort and encourage you in your own personal spiritual journey, are you willing to accept and acknowledge the “strangers” he had sent you or are you rejecting them because they are not who you want them to be?
  • Have you praised God lately for all that He is doing in your life even if not especially when its not going according to your plan?
  • Are you preparing yourself and your children for, as C.S. Lewis puts it, “reckless abandon” to the will of God?

It is my prayer that as we women, mothers, wives, daughters, look at the lives of Mary and Elizabeth, we will find ourselves. I think we are all represented in some way whether we are single, married, young, old, fertile, barren, alone, joyful, seeking, misunderstood, or hopeful. These two women put it all aside their reputations, their bodies, their friendships, their plans all for the birth of the Christ child.

Mary and Elizabeth embraced their opportunity to change change plans. They boldly went against the cultural norms and acceptable appearances. They welcomed the impossible. They had their eyes set on things above such that they were not distracted by the things below. May we seek to follow in their footsteps as women of faith. May we seek Him, obey Him, and praise Him. And ultimately, may we become all that He has planned for us to be as His daughters.

Feel free to share this with a friend who might be encouraged by the story of Mary and Elizabeth. I would love to hear from any of you and your own insights into the lives of these two women. May God bless you as you seek His face.

In His Grace,

Rachael Carman

 

Mary Remembers

Have you ever considered the birth of Christ from Mary’s perspective? What must it have been like? I would suggest to you that if anyone in the Bible should have been cut a break, if it should have been easy for anyone, it should have been for Mary. But it wasn’t.

 

Mary’s role as mother of Messiah underscores the faithfulness of God the Father, but it also emphasizes the reality of challenges and trials. Studying her life and considering the reactions of others made her come alive to me. She gave life to God’s Son. Even before He was sacrificed on the cross she submitted to the Father’s will.

 

This is the season when everyone is talking about Christ. We should take advantage of the opportunity and engage in conversation with them.  We have taken the story of Mary an evangelical tool which is easily shared this holiday season. It is perfect to just hand off in the spirit of the season.

 

Please enjoy this dramatic reading of ‘Mary Remembers’ – I pray it freshens your perspectives and deepens your holiday.  

 

I am looking forward to sharing this season with you here on the blog and over on Facebook. Let’s celebrate it together. This is the season to point others to Christ. May we be gracious and bold and joyous!

 

Christ the Savior is born!

 

 

Many blessings my friends,

Rachael Carman