December 22nd, 2019

Something to Ponder (Thriving in Hard Times Week 3)

There was no room in the inn, but God provided the shelter of a manger. The angels chose to share the good news with lowly shepherds. Mary and Joseph bring Jesus into the world without a home but with love. God usedIt’s bound to be a stellar day when a teenage store clerk accuses you of stealing. Her exact words?

“I can’t remove the security tag from the item unless you have a receipt. You could’ve come in and stolen it.”

These were the incorrect words to say to me four days before Christmas when the item was purchased on Black Friday. The confrontation continued, however, I did eventually get the tag removed and received an apology from the store manager. Then I went on a 3-hour hunt for an item I never found. Upon returning home, my college son confessed that my gift might not make it in time for Christmas because he had just bought it on Amazon. He hadn’t spent hours fighting traffic, looking for parking spots at seven different stores to find the perfect gift for me. He had logged on Amazon a couple of days too late.

This is what Christmas is all about, I grumbled to myself the rest of the night. Traffic, inconvenience, grumpy people, and spending time trying to honor others with the gifts you give when you’re just an afterthought to them.

But then a scene from my next book, The Beloved, came to me. The main character, Danny, has left home. His sister Lydia is at church with the family on Christmas Eve though her heart is breaking. She talks to the youth pastor about what a mess her family is. Pastor Mark’s advice is simple. “The good news is God is a God of miracles. Christmas is proof of that. How about we focus on the miracle of Jesus tonight? Rather than pretending you have it together, rely on Him to hold you together.” (The Beloved)

 Lydia quiets her heart and mind to the point of being able to receive God’s Word.

“New realizations come to me as the pastor reads the Christmas story. There was no room in the inn, but God provided the shelter of a manger. The angels chose to share the good news with lowly shepherds. Mary and Joseph bring Jesus into the world without a home but with love. God used the less-than-desired circumstances for His glory.

God, can You use this mess for Your glory?” (The Beloved)

Even if you aren’t facing major trials this holiday season, rude people and the search for parking spaces can be enough to push you over-the-edge.

Mary and Joseph traveled ninety miles to Bethlehem. After almost a week of traveling, I’m sure going into labor in a foreign city was overwhelming to Mary. But then to not have a room? To be ushered to the stables by your husband-to-be? Yeah, I’d say that makes for a very bad day. Did she feel the sting of disappointment? Maybe a twinge of regret? Possibly that overwhelming feeling that steals your breath came over her. As she stared into the baby face of God, did she wonder if they were doomed to a life of trials?

As Mary and Joseph sat exhausted, shepherds were receiving a visit they’d never forget.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:8-14 NLT)

Mary and Joseph didn’t see the angels. They had already heard from the heavenly beings. God didn’t send the chorus to encourage the couple. On the contrary, He sent the couple to encourage the people. The shepherds couldn’t have made the ninety-mile trip to see God’s Son, so He brought His Son to them.

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15 NLT)

Sometimes our discomfort is for the sake of bringing others closer to God.

The shepherds came. Not only did they believe, they went out to tell anyone who would listen what they saw. Luke 2:18-19 says, “All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.

It doesn’t say Mary was rewarded with a shower and hot meal, or even a comfy bed and a warm blanket. She kept all the stories in her heart. Maybe the stories of Jesus, most likely the stories of others’ salvation. That was her reward.

All it took was one bad day for me to forget what Christmas is all about. The salvation of God made flesh for all mankind. In light of that, is anything impossible for God?

What if we did as Mary modeled and pondered the stories in our heart? What if instead of carrying the hurt, injustices, and sorrow into 2020 we take with us God’s miracles and glory? What would that look like?

For me, it would be voice texting sixty percent of the third book of the Once Lost series because I couldn’t type at the beginning of the year. I would remember the feeling of being loved and cared for by my family when I had to ask them to do everything for me. I would hold tight to the dozens of conversations I had with my father in the hospital about his life, my family, and God. It would be the feeling of glory and overwhelming peace the moment my dad past from this life into heaven. I’d also remember that moment God answered the prayer I’d prayed for three decades.

“Lord, let my entire family know about You and Your salvation.”

That prayer was answered as I shared the gospel to them at Dad’s memorial. And instead of remembering the complications and hassles of biopsies, I’d cling to the support and encouragement of friends and my family knowing that regardless of what comes my way I’m covered with prayer and love. If I carry all that into 2020, well, my heart will be full.

As you spend time reading the Christmas story (Luke 2, Matthew 1-2), ponder what of God’s glory He wants you to hold on to. Consider how your attitude in what you are going through can be a witness to others. Then lift it all up to Him in prayer.

Dear Lord,

You know what I’ve been through. You know the hurt, the hardships, the disappointments. God, right now I lift that up to You. Take my focus from that to Your glory. Show me how You are using my circumstances to farther Your kingdom. Open my eyes to who You want me to witness to. As I consider the gift and miracle of Jesus this week, encourage my faith by showing me the miracles You want to perform in my life. May this be a new season of standing on Your promises and seeking Your glory.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

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