What Christmas Means To Me

What Christmas Means To Me

Editor’s Note: We hope these stories warm your heart this season. Maybe you pick up a new tradition, or maybe these stories will be a fresh breath of air to your soul as you reminisce your childhood, or MAYBE they will serve as a reminder of the reason for the season. Whichever way they speak to you, we pray your hearts would be turned towards Him. We pray that Jesus would be your comfort, refuge and HOPE! Merry Christmas!

When I was contacted to write a blog about what Christmas means to me, about what Jesus means to me, I hesitated. I thought, “You are definitely asking the wrong person.” As that was the case, why did I say yes to writing this blog? I felt God whisper to my heart, “You need to know what Christmas means to you. You need to know what My Son means to you.” Since then, I have prayed about what I should write. I have asked God if there is something someone needs to hear. I felt as though God was leading me to be honest and to dig deep. Maybe someone reading this can relate to my journey.

I have not only loved the Christmas season but also struggled with it. I have many treasured memories of Christmas events and celebrations from my past. Christmas was often a time to see my extended family, to decorate our home, to drive around town enchanted by the glittering lights, to sing Christmas carols, to join in merriment with others, and to give. On the other hand, I have been told I should not celebrate Christmas because of its roots in pagan traditions. I have spent the days leading up to Christmas stressed and in tears because I did not have enough money to buy gifts for all the different events that I felt obligated to attend. I have tried to give my best during the Christmas season, only to worry about how it was not good enough.  I have thought, “Why should I give to people who have so much and neglect the people who have so little?” I have lamented how the world has stripped Christ out of Christmas.

The truth is that I wrestled with whether or not I should even celebrate Christmas. I had convicting conversations with others, and I earnestly sought truth. Finally, I came to the conclusion that celebrating Christmas allows me to share the hope I have in Jesus. His birth was a turning point for the entire world. It had been prophesied for centuries. This birth was the ultimate gift from the Father. This birth brought Yeshua, the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace. This birth brought light to our dark world of sin and grief. This birth brought hope. My internal struggle helped me realize that Christmas is a time to celebrate the greatest gift to mankind – the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus means more than I can fathom. He has freed my soul from the shackles of my sin. Without Jesus, I was lost and hurting. I chose to believe in Jesus when I was eleven years old, and I chose to be buried with Him in baptism when I was twelve. However, it was not until recently that I fully understood what Jesus means to me. He is life to my death. He comforts me, guides me, and fills my soul. Without Him, I am empty and heartbroken. He is the One who gives me hope and a future. He sustains me through difficult seasons, and He never forsakes me. When I call out to Him in my agony, He answers with His peace. He paid the ultimate price for sin so that all those who believe in Him could have a home with Him in heaven. This means that I do not have to fear death. I do not have to fear what may happen to me in this world.

Because of Jesus, I have something to give during the Christmas season and throughout the year. I may look at what I have to offer and think, “How is this going to make a difference?” It doesn’t matter how large or small or what form my offering may take. What matters is that I was willing and joyful in my giving. I need to have faith that He will take what I have and multiply it.  Am I willing to give what He asks of me?

Let your heart be filled with joy this Christmas season. Rest in knowing that Jesus came to this world of sinners to bring hope and peace. This year has brought heartache, trials, fear and disappointment. As believers, we can navigate all of these things knowing that Jesus is there through it all. He loves us, and He was born to save us.

“Do not let your heart be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me” (John 14:1).

We would like to thank Julia Franklin for writing this blog!

Coals of Kindness

There’s a story that’s told about Abraham Lincoln. It was after the Civil War, and he was being criticized for his lenient treatment of the South. They had been defeated but Lincoln was trying to help them get back up on their feet. A woman approached him and in no uncertain terms let him know her opinion. “They are our enemies. They ought to be destroyed!” To which Lincoln responded, “How can I better destroy my enemies than by making them my friends?”

Mic. Drop.

The cultural atmosphere we find ourselves in today is no less divided. Masks or no masks….which lives matter….left or right….we all have convictions on these things, and it seems that just a quick surf through the social media world would tell you that you can pretty easily make some “enemies” just by voicing those opinions. But people are never the enemy. It says clearly in Ephesians 6 that “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the posers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (v. 12, NASB).

One of the things I really love to learn about is the cultural context of Biblical stories or sayings. I find myself sometimes just skimming over those parts I don’t understand; the ones my 21st century Western mind just doesn’t have a file folder for. One of those passages for me comes at the end of Romans 12. In verse 20, it says: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

I guess that I’ve always thought this alluded to some passive-aggressive way of getting back at people you don’t like. Kill ‘em with kindness. Heap those burning coals on their heads. That’ll teach ‘em. But the context of this verse paints a very different picture.

The people of the Bible times obviously lived a very different lifestyle. No microwaves, no convection ovens. If you were going to cook for your family, fire was a necessity. Many times a town would have a community fire that was constantly tended so that it would not go out. Residents could come and gather hot coals which they carried back to their homes in buckets on their heads. Now, if you didn’t live far from the fire, this was no problem. You could get home in plenty of time and use those coals to cook your family a meal. Folks who lived on the outskirts had a harder time. They had to rush to get back to their homes before the coals went out. Neighbors knew this, and would take some of the hot coals from their homes and put them on top of the buckets of those on their way so that they coals would stay hot for their journey. They would “heap coals of fire” on their heads. It wasn’t an act of revenge or spite but rather an act of kindness. It helped provide and sustain for their most basic needs. It was life-giving.

I don’t know how many of us would say today that we have people in our lives who are flat-out enemies. I do think we could all agree, however, that the culture in which we live is increasingly trying to divide. I’m not here to tell you which side to take.

I’m here to encourage you to bring a Kingdom perspective to your circle of influence.

The Kingdom says love your enemies. The Kingdom says pray for those who persecute you. Romans 12: 17-18 says, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceable with all men.”

Am I saying you shouldn’t speak up? No. Am I saying having convictions about cultural issues is wrong? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that we’re called to speak truth in love…to walk in kindness and humility…to heap burning coals on the heads of those who would oppose us…to speak life and blessing. Uggh. That’s hard. But that’s Kingdom, and that’s who we’re called to be.

We’d like to thank Becca Wilhite for writing this post!

The Words You’re Probably Avoiding

Finances. Budgets. Bills. These are words most couples dread, right?

This topic has been on my heart, so I wanted to share a few principals we follow that I believe bring peace to this area in our finances.

  1. Tithe/Give. If you’re on the fence about tithing, I can promise you it’s worth it to be obedient to the Lord. When we follow His word and do as He asks, abundant blessing follows. Our first couple years of marriage, our combined income was below the poverty level, and yet, we followed this principal of giving 10% of our income to the Lord—and we never went without. God has always provided everything we need.

We’ve always had the mindset that everything we own is God’s, and from the very beginning, we’d ask him, what do you want us to do with your money? My dad used to tell me, even as a young girl, “You can’t out-give God.” How incredibly true! From the beginning of our marriage, we not only tithed, but we prayerfully considered giving to specific ministries every month. At first, we couldn’t give much, but as we were diligent to give away the little that we had, God quickly and immeasurably provided a blessing in return. With every raise we’ve ever had, our question has always been—Okay, God? How much and where to?

  1. Save. We saved enough for a down payment to buy a house within one year of being married on an income that certainly felt teeny-tiny. Want to know how? We save 10% of our income each month. 10%–that’s all. Give 10, Save 10.

We’ve been supernaturally rewarded by being stewards of our money in this way. We’ve been married 9 years, and we’ve paid off roughly $90,000 in debt. Today our only debt is our house, which will be paid for in 13 years or less. I don’t say that to brag—in fact, I was humbled when I started totaling it all up in preparation for this post. But because I know it’s possible to tackle what might even feel impossible, I want to encourage you: it can be done!

  1. Mutually submit. We get paid twice a month, and we immediately tithe and save 10%. We do it on the gross income (though we don’t think there’s anything wrong doing it the other way), so we’re a little more stretched. What’s left after that is the money we live on and the money we give away.

So what do I mean by mutually submit? Every couple has a spender and saver—and sometimes to more or less varying degrees. Whether you’re one or the other, remember that every financial choice you make affects your spouse. You’re communicating love and respect by how you spend your money (or by what you withhold in spending).

If your spouse has asked you not to purchase something or to be conscious of the “leftover” money this month, then honoring that amount is the way you honor him or her.

And I believe the Lord blesses us, not only when we honor each other with our spending but when we honor Him with our money as well.

I know money isn’t everyone’s favorite subject, but I hope you’ll be encouraged this week. If your bills feel too high, if your savings feels too low—begin to ask the Lord how He wants you to steward your money (and then be obedient! 🙂 ).

His word is true. Psalm 23 begins,

The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not lack.

Believe that, my friends. He will always provide for you!

This post was written by Laura Brandenburg. To read more about her, click here

SaveSave

7 Must-Wins: Stewardship

7 must winsThis week, we continue our fall blog series, “7 Must-Wins.” With a uniquely personal twist toward us as women, we will address seven topics that must be understood and walked out in order for us to have success in this life. To start with Part 1 of this series, click here.

At some point, we’ve all asked and answered the question. If I had a million dollars, what would I do with it?  And usually it follows with some grand plan to give and help others…right after we go ahead and buy that new car, or boat, or vacation we’ve been dreaming about.  The reality is that most of us will probably never be millionaires. The real question is: what will you do with that with which you’ve been entrusted—no matter the number?

That’s what stewardship is all about. How will you allocate the gifts that God has given you?  It speaks to more than just finances, but since money is mentioned more than almost any other topic in the Bible, I’d say it’s probably a big deal. It’s a big deal because the way we steward our money says a lot about where our hearts are.

Many of us say things like, “Well, I’ll give when__________.” Fill in the blank. When the babies are out of diapers. When we get out of debt. When the kids are out of the house. But the Bible says in Proverbs 11:25, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” It seems our logic (myself included!!) can be a little backwards in the economy of God’s Kingdom. We think, “I’ll be generous after I prosper.”  He says be generous and THEN you’ll prosper!

Here’s the key: It’s all His anyway. He didn’t ask us to be good owners. He asked us to be good stewards. And if we truly see Him as our source, it’s not that hard. After all, spending other people’s money is easy! 😉

orangesLet me wrap this up with a picture God gave me a few years back. I was standing next to a solid white picket fence that seemed to stretch on for miles and miles. Right next to me a tree branch was hanging over the fence with several ripe, juicy oranges on it. I felt like I was supposed to give a couple of these oranges to someone else. But then anxiety set in. “But Lord,” I said, “if I give these two away I’ll only have a couple left, and that’s not going to last long!” At that moment he took me up to a higher perspective. I could see over the fence that this wasn’t just a single branch of an orange tree, but a massive orchard that stretched as far as the eye could see. I realized that all these oranges were available to me, and suddenly, giving away two didn’t seem like a big deal at all. It’s all about perspective.

I know financial hardships are real. And I know that as women, one of the things we crave is security. But we don’t have to live in the fear of lack. When we are faithful to answer the call to give, He is faithful to meet all of our needs.

“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 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 9:10-11 NIV)

This post was written by Becca Wilhite. To read more about her, click here

**To read Part 7, click here. 

The Heart of Giving

give love liveOver a year ago, God placed some specific financial goals on the hearts of both Derek and I, so that we could ultimately give to others. Since the very get-go of this journey, I hunkered down and decided to give my very best.

Recently, God revealed to me the true motivation of my heart in deciding to give my best. It came about when Derek decided that we needed to wait on purchasing something I’ve wanted for a while. We had the ability to walk out of the store with my “toy” in hand, but all I walked out with was a crummy attitude.

I knew the reaction in my heart wasn’t due to just being told “No.” There was a deeper reason for why I truly believed I needed that item. Not even just needed, but deserved it. God showed me that deep down the true reason of why I worked so hard in meeting our goals wasn’t the freedom to give to others, but the freedom to consume things on myself. Instantly my heart turned to repentance and an honest prayer came out: “God, I want to have the heart of a true giver.”

The next morning, God took me to 2 Corinthians 9:6-9, 11:
“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work…He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way.”

God showed me that the theme of this passage isn’t finances, but it’s the heart of giving. Realizing this, I read it again. This time, the words grace, sufficiency and righteousness stood out. Understanding that my righteousness in Christ means I’m complete, whole and lacking nothing, and that grace (God’s ability or power) reigns through righteousness, the passage came alive. God says that when we give from a heart that believes in its true state of righteousness, he will make all grace abound so we can ultimately give to others.

If I give from a heart of lack, then I will be reluctant to give. I will want to keep my resources for myself so as to meet my own needs. If in that attitude I choose to not give at all, I’m saying no to more than just the giving of my resources. I’m saying no to grace abounding in my life and an increase to the harvest of my righteousness.

Whether it’s giving time to a friend in need, genuine love to those in our family, or full surrender to God in our moments of pain, we all have something to give.

This post was written by Abbie Kellum. To read more about her, click here.