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This season is busy. There are Christmas cards to address and gifts to wrap. Cookies to bake and parties to attend. My house could use a good scrubbing before company arrives. But I’m not doing any of that right now. 

I’m pausing in the presence of Christ. 

(in)courage blogger Holley Gerth says that as a child, her family would reenact the Christmas story by candlelight. She played the role of Mary; her brother was Joseph. A baby doll in a toy crib was Jesus in the manger. They wore bathrobes made by their mother, and their father read Scripture. 

It was simple. But so many years later, Gerth remembers this time of peace and wonder. 

“...I think now, in the middle of the hustle and the busyness, the to-do lists and the calendar with its full boxes, that we got it right back then. That we knew so much more than I do now. Because what I remember from those times, more than anything else, is the feeling of being loved. The wonder of realizing Jesus came for me,” Gerth writes.

Pause and absorb that. 

Jesus was born for me. For you. For undeserving sinners. 

Gerth writes, “And all He wanted in return was for me to love Him back.”

The season’s glitz and glitter has dragged us away from this truth. 

“I’ve complicated things somehow. I’ve made the story of Christmas about what I do: about how well I can tie bows, and choose party outfits, and make small talk. About how the table is set and the ham is cooked. About how I sing in the service and take notes from the sermon with my neat purple pen,” Gerth says. 

Stop making Christmas about you. Stop making Christmas a competition to host the best Christmas party or give the best gift. Instead, accept Christmas for what it is: a celebration of the perfect gift given for you -- the love of Christ Jesus. 

The angels said, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.” (Luke 2:10-11)

Gerth interprets the good news like this: “Jesus came. We are loved. That is all.”

Crosswalk.com writer Julie Gillies says that now is the time to pause in the wonder of our perfect gift. 

“What if we allowed our hearts to marvel at His unfathomable journey from eternity into an unassuming, most unroyal manger? What if we pondered the miracle of His birth and the reason behind it? What if we asked Him to fill our hearts to overflowing with the reality of the priceless gift of His presence?

“What if, instead of pinched stress across our faces, our families saw eyes that reflect our wonder-struck hearts?

“And what if this became our daily goal this holiday season? A holy pause. An exquisite time in His presence. A life-changing, refreshing time with the One the season is all about.”

The world says “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” should go by in a rush of twinkling lights and sparkly wrapping paper. I say I’m going to spend this time in the wonder of my most holy Lord. 

 

Carrie Dedrick is an editor of Crosswalk.com. When she is not writing or editing, she can usually be found teaching dance classes, running marathons, or reading with at least one adopted dog on her lap. 

Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com

Publication date: December 9, 2016

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You’ve heard the parable of the prodigal son, and you’ve probably been asked the question: Who do you see yourself as, the younger brother or the older brother? But there are others who may identify with the father at this season in their life. Do you have a prodigal in your life? Maybe you see yourself as the father searching the horizon for his son to come home—waiting and hoping but not knowing. I cannot imagine anything more grievous for a parent. 

Denise Kohlmeyer, writer for desiringGod, knows exactly how parents of prodigals feel because she is experiencing it herself. She has written an encouraging article titled “Six Ways to Love a Wayward Child” on desiringGod.org. Reading the story of the prodigal son from this new perspective, though she wishes she didn’t have to, has helped her discover six principles she practices daily as she waits. Here are three of her tips for parents of prodigals and others who may have prodigals in their lives:

1. Release Them

You may think this is an odd first step, why would I release this person I love when I know they will make a mistake? Why would I knowing let them go out into harm’s way; it goes against a parent’s instinct and the instinct of all who want to protect those they love from danger. But Kohlmeyer reminds us that in the story, the father does exactly that. When his son asks for his inheritance, the father does not argue against him or try to stop him.

“And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.' And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.” –Luke 15:12-13

The father knew the integrity of his son; he knew his character…so he may have even thought that something like this would happen to his son…but yet he did it anyway.

Kohlmeyer explains,

“…in complying, I realized, he was really releasing this son. Releasing him to step into his own journey. Releasing him to face the uncertainty of his own future and the consequences of his choices and actions — good and bad. At some point, every parent faces this release.

From this father’s example, I have accepted that I too must let my daughter step into her own journey (while using wisdom and discernment within certain boundaries). I have had to release her, to allow her to make her own choices — good and bad — and to experience the highs and the lows, the sins and the joys.”

If you were not free to choose and free to discover for yourself what brings true joy, would you realize its beauty…would you discover that there is no life apart from it? Many times it is when we fall broken to the ground that we discover truth.

2. Uphold Them

As Kohlmeyer relays, we don’t know how long it took the son to come to his senses…to miss home. We don’t know how long the father waited. She writes,

While this son was living it up, wasting his life and his inheritance, the father, I imagine, was on his knees in prolonged prayer, upholding his son before his God.”

Crosswalk.com contributor Janet Thompson also reminds parents,

Never stop praying or give up hope on your prodigal. It may be weeks, months, or years, but your prayers are essential for your prodigal to feel the “pull” home.

Your prodigal may be in a situation that does not allow him/her to come home or make contact. Form large prayer groups to cover your prodigal in prayer. More prayers, more “pull.

“Pray without ceasing.” -1 Thessalonians 5:17

Pray for your prodigal daily, even when you feel like you don’t have the strength. Ask God to open their eyes, and to place other believers in their life. Pray with your church, your small group or Bible study. Pray for patience and hope; lean into the Lord with your suffering.

Dr. Ray Pritchard expresses,
Our prodigals may run from us, but they can’t run from our prayers. Perhaps we need to say less and pray more.”

3. Receive Them

Luke 15:20-24 says,
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate.”

Kohlmeyer points out,

There was no reprimand. No finger-wagging. No ‘I told you so!’ No ‘How could you!’

I pray that my response will be as compassionate, loving, gracious, and welcoming. I must put the pain aside in that moment. With God’s help, I will enfold her in an embrace that announces forgiveness, restoration, and unconditional love.”

You may have a lot of pain from what your prodigal did or put you through, but upon their return let love wash over you so you can show them the grace that the Father has shown you.

Kohlmeyer concludes,

And that, I believe, is one overarching message of this powerful story: There is celebration, not condemnation, when a lost soul has come to its senses through repentance — has appropriated the free gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9) and thus has found its way Home into the open arms of a loving and forgiving Father.

How could I do anything less if and when my own prodigal returns? I too will celebrate her return with an abandon and an abundance that only God and his angels can rival.”

To read Denise Kohlmeyer's article in full please visit desiringGod.org.

If God who is just and mighty and perfect can celebrate when his lost children come home, how can we not celebrate with complete forgiveness when our prodigals return home?

The Lord knows the pain of having prodigal children. He knows your pain. If your prodigal has not returned to the Lord, don’t give up. Keep praying and keep hoping in the Lord. Though it may be hard, Phil Waldrep remind us, “The toughest prayer is asking the Lord to do whatever it takes to get to the heart of your prodigal.”

Related articles:
How to Pray for Your Prodigal
A
 Prayer for When You are Waiting on the Lord

Image courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com

Publication date: December 8, 2016

Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com.

God’s judgment is not something most Christians want to think about. We don’t put verses with God’s judgment on sticky notes, we don’t try to commit these Scripture verses to memory, and most of us would not choose for our pastor to preach on this subject.

But, as The Gospel Coalition writer Erik Raymond notes in his article “Are You Allergic to God’s Judgment?” the Bible has a lot to say on this subject.

As a pastor, Raymond says he would rather not preach on God’s judgment. He says he, like many Christians, feels a kind of allergic reaction to judgment.

Many people have allergies to various things--nuts, gluten, lactose, bee stings--but many of us feel the same way about the judgment of God. We want to stay as far away from it as possible. And if we do consider it, we tend to quickly pass over it, focusing instead on Christ’s victory on the cross.

But, notes Raymond, in order to understand the depth of what Christ did on our behalf and the atonement he made, reflecting on God’s judgment is necessary.

“Declawing the Bible of its warnings against and judgments upon sin is not good for the church. In other words, being allergic to God’s judgment is unhealthy for both the preacher and the church,” writes Raymond, and then goes on to provide three particular reasons why reflecting on God’s judgement actually is good for us.

First, “Judgment teaches us who God is.”

Important facets of God’s character are revealed through his judgment. In the first chapters of Genesis, we learn that God keeps His word and punishes sin. He does so because he is holy, but he also desires to restore His people to a relationship with Him. We have the first promise of this in Genesis 3:15:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.”

As the Bible continues, we see God’s judgment for sin on display, but at the same time, we see God’s grace held up in contrast to His judgment: God saves Noah and his family from the flood, God makes a covenant with Abraham, God always preserves a remnant of true believers even while the majority of the world is going their own way and facing His judgement.

“Who is God? He is good, merciful, righteous, gracious, sovereign, immanent, and holy. The mural of God’s character are painted in the landscape of judgment. If we avoid preaching on judgment then we will hiding God from our people,” writes Raymond.

In a previous article for Crosswalk.com titled “Why God’s Judgment is Actually a Blessing,” I note, “God’s judgment can be viewed as being two-faceted. The first side is consequences for sin, but the second side shows us God’s mercy. By showing us our sin, God shows us our need for Him. God’s judgment, then, is a call to return to him in repentance.”

Without dwelling first on God’s judgment, we will not understand the depth of mercy we need--and which He has lavished upon us.

Second, writes Raymond, “Warning against judgement teach[es] us what we should do.”

God’s judgment points us in the right direction. God desires good for us, and He outlines in His Word how we are to walk in His ways and the consequences we will avoid when we follow Him.

Sometimes, notes Raymond, judgement can also be a form of discipline--God waking us up to the fact that we are going down a destructive path.

Third, writes Raymond, “Judgement is at the heart of the Gospel.”

The whole reason Jesus came to earth was to glorify God by taking on Himself the judgment we deserve and thus paying for our sins by the sacrifice of His own life.

This is the gospel.

“God desires that his churches reflect his character. In order to do this we must know who he is. Part of this involves preaching on God’s judgment. If we are allergic to his judgment then we will also be allergic to his glory, for God is glorified, not only through salvation but also judgment,” concludes Raymond.


How can you reflect on God’s judgement today in a way that will draw you closer to Jesus and what He has done for you?

 

Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com

Publication date: December 7, 2016

Veronica Neffinger is the editor of ChristianHeadlines.com

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