All Alone On Christmas?

Day Four: The Twelve Days of Christmas

AN INTRODUCTION

All Alone?

In 1992, a relatively unknown singer named Darlene Love recorded a Christmas song that went on to be one of her all time greatest hits. It’s called,

“All Alone on Christmas”

It’s more popular today than it was 25 years ago, as is the artist. The song isn’t known as well as, “The First Noel” or as nostalgic as “White Christmas.” It lacks the Jesus centric  message of, “Away In A Manger.”

However, it is a song about love, family and the heartache of being alone on the biggest day of the year. It’s a rock and roll song and one of my holiday favorites.  

“All Alone on Christmas”

ESPECIALLY GRANDPARENTS

I’m told that the entire grandparent world revolves around their grandkids, and perhaps never more so than at Christmas. I remember one when grandma visited. I remember because she gave me my first skateboard, a present I treasured for years. Nope, no socks from grandma. 

Grandparents and grandaughter

AND JESUS?

Well, did Jesus have grandparents? It’s hard to say. But we know that he had a grandfather, his name was Jacob. From Matthew 1:16:

“Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus”

Jesus had a grandfather, and although I’m just speculating, it’s reasonable that he had a grandmother, and perhaps grandparents on his mother’s side as well. I like to think that Jesus grew up with grandparents who were connected with him and a big part of his life. 

AND CHRISTMAS DAY?

Well, his grandparents didn’t celebrate Christmas. There wasn’t a beautifully decorated tree, or candles, or a little wooden box with a little wooden baby. There weren’t any stockings hanging from the fire place and there wasn’t any eggnog. 

grandfather and grandson at Christmas

Obviously, the celebration of “Christmas” was way off in the future. His birth would be globally observed, but not then. On his birthday, Jesus’ parents weren’t celebrating with brightly wrapped gifts and the grandparents may not have been able to visit. Why? Because Mary and Joseph were not in their Nazareth home to be surrounded by adoring family. They were hiding in Egypt and striving mightily to keep him alive.

From Mathew 1:13

“Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him”

TO CLOSE

Is there anything better than a house full of family on Christmas? Anything more enriching than a house full of love and holiday warmth? But for the first few years our little messianic family were probably separated from their family.

Can you imagine them huddled together; loving, caring and alone. 

I think Darlene was right, nobody wants to be alone on Christmas.

Merry Christmas

There’s No Place Like Home!

Day Three: The Twelve Days of Christmas

INTRODUCTION

The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies. I’m guessing you’ve either seen or heard of it. The film has an iconic phrase that Dorothy, the main character, repeated three times so she could get back to her family in Kansas: 

“There’s No Place Like Home”

OFF TO SEE THE QUEEN

In 1958 my Air Force father received orders for England, so off we went. I was just a toddler and don’t remember much. But what I do remember is how excited we were when it was time to go back. Why? Because:

“There’s no place like home.”

AND FOR JESUS?

Nazareth was Mary and Joseph’s ancestral home and it would be home for Jesus too, but not in the beginning. It would take a couple of years to get there. We know that he wasn’t born there, but in the small village of Bethlehem. Not long after his birth they escaped to Egypt to flee from King Herod’s intent to murder their infant son, the new King of Kings. 

flight_egypt

BUT EGYPT?

The strategy was to get out of Palestine and away from Herod’s clutches. But Egypt? I wonder how Joseph made a living? Did he speak Egyptian? Did they live off the treasures presented by the Magi? Was there a Jewish community, or a Synagogue? Could the grandparents visit? Hiding in Egypt must have been scary, difficult and lonely. But when it was safe, they returned to their family home in Nazareth, and so Jesus would be known as, “The Nazarene.”

THE GREATER GOOD

The world needed him to die, to be sacrificed, but not as an infant and not in Egypt, Bethlehem, or Nazareth. At the right time it would happen in Jerusalem. But until then, Jesus was protected by two courageous people of faith who loved and cared for him.

Thank you Mary and Joseph.

TO CLOSE

At the right time Jesus died for us. He died because he came to die, he was born to die. In this holiday season we give thanks and praise for Emmanuel, our God who came near. For like Jesus in Egypt, this world is not our home.

Dorothy was right, “There’s no place like home.”

Merry Christmas

Life In Small Towns

Day Two: The Twelve Days of Christmas

INTRODUCTION

I like small towns; they tend to be charming, friendly, and peaceful.

Life in a small town can be a blessing, an answer to prayer and a place to escape urban  noise, city crime, and high pressure.  However, they have little to offer in terms of their significance to the world.

Our town got excited when a stop light was installed. It wasn’t a light with red, yellow and green, just a blinking red light purposed to blink for eternity. But it was a big deal, as if our town had risen in status. Does a blinking traffic light qualify for a rise in status?

But, once in a while a small-town kid grows up to be a world-class athlete, a superstar entertainer, or even President. Every now and then an unknown town produces a well known celebrity.

HERE’S AN EXAMPLE

Guess who came from a small town? It was Jesus! He grew up in the tiny village of  Nazareth in central Galilee. It was Mary and Joseph’s home town and a place that  never exceeded five hundred in population. It wasn’t prosperous, famous or exciting. Nobody gave Nazareth much thought. 

In fact, when Nathanael heard that Jesus was from Nazareth he asked,

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

JERUSALEM?

Wouldn’t Jerusalem have been a better choice? It hosted the Temple and the Sanhedrin. It was home for famous Rabbi’s and the city of prophets and kings. It makes sense to me that Jesus would be raised in Jerusalem. But he wasn’t.

No, our savior was a small-town boy who was destined for big-time things. 

slide_11
Not even close to what it was 2,000 years ago.

IN CLOSING

Nazareth wasn’t anything special, and yet, the world celebrates the Nazarene. Not because of where he was from, but because of who he became and for what he did. 

Jesus came for those in big important cities and for those in small unknown towns. He came for us all, he came for you.

I like small towns, they tend to be charming, friendly, and peaceful.

Thank you Prince of Peace

Merry Christmas

“Our Son Is Missing”

 INTRODUCTION

Have you ever misplaced one of your kids? Ever lose track of one or leave one behind? Have you ever had to go and search for one of your children?

WHEN THE KIDS WERE SMALL

On Sundays we took separate cars to church. I usually left early and the family came later. It was a good system and worked fine. But it wasn’t fine one Sunday when my wife drove home after church thinking our son was staying to ride with me. He didn’t. When I walked in without our twelve year old she looked at me, and said,

“Where is Derek, did you leave him behind?”

Fortunately, I knew where he was and wasn’t frantically searching for him. I drove back to the church and found him there in the Father’s house, eating lunch with a Life Group. He knew we would come back to get him.

AND JESUS?

Culturally, when a Jewish boy had learned the Torah, he was rewarded with his first trip to Jerusalem for Passover. That typically happened at age twelve. Jesus was twelve years old when he traveled south with his parents to the Temple.

Afterwards, while returning home, his parents realized at the end of the day that their son was missing, that he wasn’t with the caravan returning to Galilee. They left him behind. So, Mary and Joseph went to look for him, probably walking all night to reach Jerusalem by morning. Imagine the worry and fear they must have felt with every step. 

THEY FOUND HIM 

After searching for three days they found him in the temple courts, exchanging questions and answers with the Rabbis, who were amazed with the boy. But Mary and Joseph were less amazed and more exasperated. They were not happy with their first born child.

Picture1

Mary said,

“Why have you treated us like this? We have been anxiously searching for you.”

Jesus replied,

“Why were you searching, didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  

But they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand that for Jesus, to be in the temple was to be in his Father’s house, and to be about his Father’s business. 

HIS FATHER’S BUSINESS

Before Jesus ascended back to God, there was a resurrection, an empty tomb, a cross. There were Bethlehem, Egypt and Nazareth. There were shepherds, wise men from the East and a violent, ruthless King. There was a virgin birth. All of which were his Father’s business.

IN CLOSING

His being left behind was upsetting to his parents. But Jesus was never lost and didn’t need anyone to seek or save him. He was only moving towards the day when he would be the one to seek and save the lost.

TheNativity (600 x 300)

Day One of Twelve Days of Christmas

Happy Holidays

Overcoming Despair

(This blog is an encore to the six topic, “Overcoming Series” concluded earlier this week)

 

INTRODUCTION

Despair is hopelessness and hopelessnes is despair. To be in despair is to be without hope. To be without hope is to be in despair. 

DESPAIR SYNONYMS 

  • anguish
  • dejection
  • gloom
  • misery
  • sorrow

Despair encourages surrender, not like pride for humility, but of surrendering to the fatalism that all is lost.

DESPAIR WANTS YOU TO BELEIVE THAT:

  • You will never succeed. 
  • There will never be another chance.
  • No matter what you do, you will fail.
  • Giving up and quitting are the only things you know. 
  • Life has past you by and you’ll never catch up. 

 

THREE SUGGESTIONS

  1. Keep Fighting: failing, falling, and finishing last can be habit-forming. So, no matter what, don’t give in to hopelessness, refuse to believe in it. Some days you won’t have the strength or will to keep fighting, but keep going and keep trying. Persistence will ultimately win the day. 
  2. It’s How You Know: the struggle can be overwhelming, but we strive to overcome what’s overwhelming. If we quit struggling then we accept losing. Battling tough temptations, or the conflict in relationships, or the heartaches of life can threaten to defeat us. If we keep going then we know that we haven’t quit. 
  3. Divine Support: some burdens are too big for one set of shoulders and can lead to deep despair. I can’t carry a bucket of water forever. And what if there’s two buckets? Weighed down, back stooped, neck throbbing, and hands breaking, it’s too much! Prayer and faith can off-load some of the weight. “Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you.” I Peter 5:7.

TWO QUOTES

Mahatma Gandhi: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won.”   

Marion Bradley: “The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.” 

Despair is hopelessness. And hopelessness is an empty, gut wrenching way to live. Build your life in hope. Believe in the path of truth and love. Do all you can, with divine assistance, to fight against despair!

TO CLOSE

My son is a film maker and part owner of a production company called

Epoch Filmmakers ( epochfilmmakers.com)

He recently wrote, directed, and produced a short film called:

“Despair”

The story is about a dad who happens to be a minister. He begins to believe that is failing both his ministry and his family. The film portrays “Despair” as a character, an enemy who attacks him and plots to destroy him. Will Despair emerge victorious? 

You will be blessed and uplifted by watching the film.

To See the film, “DESPAIR” click here. 

Overcoming Depression, Part Two

INTRODUCTION

It’s a touchy subject and there are lots of opinions and misconceptions. For example, it’s not unusual to hear someone who has had a bad day say, “I feel depressed.” The word has become an umbrella for almost any emotional stress:

  • sadness
  • loneliness
  • disappointment 
  • grief
  • despair
basement_series_sadness-500x332
We get the blues and we get down, but it isn’t necessarily depression. 

In popular culture the word loses identity, so how do you know if you are clinically depressed? Well, there are medical and therapeutic professionals who specialize in the  treatment of depression. Please know that I am neither of those. But as it happens, my wife is a professional counselor and my daughter a practicing therapist. They have helped my understanding. And, I can read. 

NOTE: There was a time when church’s wanted ministers to counsel the members. Many of us had little or no training and were unqualified. We meant well but often waded in to waters over our heads. Today we refer to faith based mental health practitioners. 

CAUSES & SOURCES

Some of the causes of depression:

  • unrealized expectations
  • severe criticism 
  • memories
  • self-preoccupation 
  • cumulative effect from many causes

The encouraging news is that those with depression can get better, they can get help. My advice is to seek wellness with a holistic approach to body, mind, and spirit. But as a minister, I’ll limit my advice to the spiritual. Be sure to understand the following: 

If  you are suffering from depression, or think you are, please seek professional help.

men and women who have failed

THREE SPIRITUAL ENCOURAGEMENTS 

  1. Replace your self with your God. A healthy step is realizing that God loves you and wants to help. He isn’t a genie in a lamp, there are no wishes for making your life better. But you need to recognize that the Lord is on your side. He is larger than your suffering. You are not alone. Let God into your life and live in your heart.
  2. Replace your thoughts with God’s truth. Depression produces a negative state of mind, and is a destructive illness. You will want to tear yourself down, to denigrate yourself and constantly play in an endless loop a message of a guilt, failure, and blame. Those debilitating attitudes are not of God. His message for you is that you are loved, wanted, and have great value. Look to replace your destructive thoughts with his message of love. 
  3.  Replace your past with God’s future. When flat on your back in the pit of despair, there seems to be no way out and no way for life to be good again. You feel defeated and broken, with nothing to look forward to. But it isn’t true, it’s only true that you feel that way. You can’t relive or rewrite your past, but you don’t have let it define you. It’s what you choose to do each day that determines who you are. Your future is a reality that God has promised. You can trade your past with God’s future.

I’ll share with you that I’ve struggled with depression. It comes and goes. Sometimes my struggle is the crushing weight of life we all experience and sometimes it’s something for which I seek help. I’ve learned to recognize the triggers that push me towards depressive thoughts and have acquired techniques that help me avoid sinking into the pit. 

ManWalkingThroughDarkTunnel
We can get better, there is hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel!

THREE THOUGHTS

“You can look around and be distressed. You can look within and be depressed. Or you can look to him and be at rest.”

“Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 43

“In this world you will have many problems, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

TO CLOSE

In review, I realize how paltry these efforts, how insufficient my words, and what hubris to think a blog post could help overcome depression. I apologize for my inadequacy.

However, I encourage you to make good decisions. Remember, there is more to depression than the spiritual so seek healing of mind, body and spirit. Don’t suffer silently. Help is available. I got better and you can too. 

May God richly bless you as you seek his grace in your time of need. 

Shalom

Overcoming Depression, Part One

This Series Has Addressed The Following

Overcoming:

  1. insecurity
  2. mistakes
  3. failure
  4. inherited behavior
  5. betrayal
  6. loss

The final topic for this series is overcoming depression.

Depression is a wide topic with many trails. Generally, we think of depressed people as being sad, discouraged, or defeated. Clinically, the following symptoms are generally recognized as signs of true depression:

  1. little interest in doing anything
  2. feeling sad or hopeless
  3. trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  4. little energy, always tired
  5. not eating, eating too much, considerable weight changes
  6. feelings of failure and guilt
  7. trouble making decisions
  8. thoughts of harming yourself, even fatally 

THREE FLAWS

When dealing with depression, especially for Christians, there are three flaws we need to acknowledge:

“It’s all in your head, it’s just your imagination.”

“Christians who are depressed just have a lack of faith.”

“If believers are depressed it’s because they are worldly and unspiritual.”

RECENT HISTORY

In the past it was suggested that depression wasn’t real, but an invented “illness” to sell over the counter remedies. Maybe so, but not today, there’s just too much evidence. 

Today, ample research regarding brain chemical imbalances have eliminated such caveman thinking. Those ideas in the past were mistaken, antiquated, and dangerous.

People have lived with depression and not known what caused so much misery.  In the past, people shunned seeking medical or therapeutic assistance due to the stigma of  a mental disorder.

basement_series_sadness-500x332
Depression doesn’t seem real until you have it. 

CONSIDER THESE EXAMPLES

Job: he lost his children, home, all his wealth and his health, and then his wife turned against him. Imagine him sitting on the ash heap scraping himself with pieces of broken pottery. Does he look depressed to you?

King David: When his baby died that Bathsheba delivered, he spent a week on the floor, weeping and grieving. 

Apostle Paul: blinded by the brilliant light he went days without eating as he wrestled with the implications to his future. He faced a total life reboot.

In my opinion, each struggled with levels of depression. If you read the book of Job, or research the lives of David and Paul, you’ll realize they were men of deep faith. Would you tell them that they were weak, worldly or faithless? That it was all in their heads?

IN CLOSING

Look for Part Two of Overcoming Depression this Wednesday morning. I’ll seek to offer encouragement and suggestions for getting help and coping with debilitating depression. 

 

Overcoming Loss, Part Two

INTRODUCTION

In Monday’s blog,  Overcoming Loss, Part One I mentioned losing my teddy bear Charlie. He would he never be replaced, but there were new things to look forward to. Can we look forward to new things when the losses are more significant? 

Loss is when we give our best effort and still lose. It’s about relationships broken by death or conflicts. Another kind is when we lose ourselves. 

ManWalkingThroughDarkTunnel
There are many kinds of loss, some more difficult than others.

THREE KINDS OF LOSS

1. LOSS OF PEOPLE

The toughest loss is losing someone: a dearly loved spouse, one of our kids, a heartbreaking divorce. 

Recovering is about the stages of recovery. There are five of them and it’s helpful to know about them, take a look:. https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/

widow 2
The bride of three years or thirty, doesn’t matter, it all hurts.

Establishing a new normal will take time, even years, and the first will be the hardest. It’s hard because the person can never be replaced. But maybe there are other people to love and who love you. There may yet be something to look forward to.

2. LOSS OF SUBSTANCE

  1. Losing a job can feel like death. It’s not unusual for unemployed people to grieve as if someone has died. 
  2. Professionals say it takes one month of searching for every $10,000 earned. If you are tying to replace a $100,000 position then it could take a year to find it. That can be very discouraging and financially difficult. 
  3. The lost job will never be restored. But it wasn’t the only job, there may yet be a new position even better than the last one.

3. LOSS OF SELF

  1. Losing yourself is losing self-respect, dignity, even integrity and character. Those losses are hard to accept and challenging to repair. It’s because they come out of your soul and ripped from your heart. 
  2. Reclaiming yourself isn’t easy. You may want to consider professional assistance. But there is good news. Unlike the first two kinds of losses, the loss of self can be restored. You have heart, a soul and determination. You can get better! 

HOMEWORK 

Don’t give up on God. If you are angry with him then tell him about it and get work to get that relationship where it needs to be. He is a fine companion when we are hurting. 

god lending a hand
We all need a little help, especially when grieving. It’s better with God than without him.

 

Read/listen to good books. Find encouragement, helpful information and motivation. 

Establish a schedule and stick with it. Don’t binge Netflix eight hours a day. Determine  each day the time you will spend job searching. Maybe find some friends to have coffee with and socialize. Keep up the house and yard. Stay busy. Be productive. Pray. 

THINK ABOUT IT

After Jesus was resurrected the apostle Peter returned to Galilee to fish. Not for recreation but to resume his commercial fishing business. Fishing wasn’t his destiny, but until he figured that out he stayed busy and productive. 

A key difference between believers and unbelievers is this: believers hurt and grieve just like unbelievers, but people of faith have someone greater than themselves . I would rather grieve having the Holy Spirit in my life then grieve without him. 

TO CLOSE

Loss is a huge topic. I pray something I’ve written has been helpful. So, from a veteran of loss to those who may be starting:  

Don’t give up, keep looking for a better day, it will come.

Overcoming Loss, Part One

MY FIRST LOSS

My earliest memory of loss was Charlie. In moving back to the US after four years in England Charlie was mysteriously misplaced. That was the explanation, misplaced, I had doubts and to this day, I till do.  

Charlie was my teddybear and closest friend.

I was five years old, brokenhearted and crushed, and that’s not pulling on the knot too hard. But I soldiered on and let him go, mostly. 

teddy bear
Not me or my teddy bear, but close, really very close.

SOME LATER LOSSES 

Losses of greater proportion were in my future. I’ve known heart breaking, gut wrenching and mind numbing loss. I expect most of us have.

Some Of My Greater Losses:

  1. a stillborn child
  2. friends in fatal accidents
  3. death of family members 
  4. shattered relationships 

Losses That Were Not People

  1. a forced exit
  2. my self-respect 
  3. losing much when much was at stake 
  4. losing hope and accepting defeat 

THE HARDEST LOSSES

There is no greater loss than the one that rips your heart out, such as the sudden death of a loved spouse, the death of your child, or the gut wrenching pain of an unwanted divorce. 

men and women who have failed

Loss comes in all sizes, flavors, and stages of life. Loss comes to us all, there are no exemptions. It can so overwhelm us that we get lost in our losses. They defeat us, take away our joy, and hover over us like dark, low hanging clouds.

Will we defeat the debilitating effects of  loss or will they define us for life?

basement_series_sadness-500x332

In Part Two of, “Overcoming Loss,” I’ll address the above questions as best I can. I hope to  give encouragement and valuable suggestions laced with wisdom. 

But for now I’ll leave you with this quote from President Lyndon Johnson,

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”

Do you believe that? Does it work for you? Overcoming a lingering loss can seem a mountain to steep to climb. But there is hope. Don’t give up.

Look for Part Two on Wednesday morning. 

Overcoming Betrayal, Part Two

MOMENTS OF DEEP BETRAYAL

Her husband moved out to move in with someone else.

The long promised promotion was given to a lesser employee.

The investigator’s report revealed one affair after another. 

Discovering her best friend was the one who stabbed her in the back.

 

THE AFTERMATH OF BROKEN TRUST 

The pain of betrayal can be so damaging that the betrayed are unable to trust, or love, or move forward with their lives. 

broken-trust
Broken trust often results in broken lives.

THE BETRAYER 

  1. Blind sided you, you just didn’t see it coming.
  2. Was someone you believed would never hurt you. 
  3. Devastates marriages and destroys relationships.  
  4. Was intentionally reckless, leaving a trail of broken people. 

THE BETRAYED

  1. Can become obsessed with self-incrimination. 
  2. Are filled with bitterness and thoughts of revenge. 
  3. Are often unable to let go of the pain and embarrassment. 
  4. Sometimes retreats into a dark emotional place, and stays there.
Betrayal-4edde75f206fe
Is betrayal the worst cut of all? 

 

SOME THOUGHTS ON OVERCOMING BETRAYAL

THE LONG HAUL-the first step is to acknowledge that recovery will take time. Of course, it depends on the kind of betrayal, but for the worst kind, it may take a year, or two, or even longer. Deep betrayal is not unlike a death, causing grief and pain. Betrayal can also create deep anger and bitterness. It’s going to take some time to work through it so be patient. You are in for the long haul. 

CLARITY-recovery will include some introspection: “Why didn’t I see it coming?” or “How could I have trusted him?” and “Am I stupid, gullible, or blind?” Recovery wrestles with tough questions. You may discover that you’ve been naive or living in denial. If you have a history of relationships that end with you being ended, then gaining some emotional intelligence may be in order.

A HEART OF STONE-a stone heart isn’t healthy. Invulnerability only locks your pain inside. Never trusting again is a natural reaction, but it isn’t good. Be advised, you will likely experience a phase encouraging emotional withdrawal while seeking angry revenge, don’t let it consume you. Healthy forward progress isn’t found in closing your heart but in letting it open. It’s choosing a path that will lead to your best life. 

WISE SUPPORTnot walling yourself off means staying available for healthy support. Overcoming betrayal almost certainly requires assistance from others. Choose carefully. If you have family and friends that love and care for you then don’t let pride and embarrassment hold you back. We all need help now and then. Finding wise support is good and healthy. You may also need professional help. Find the support you need.

 

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

Jesus was betrayed. He knew it was coming but I’m guessing it still hurt. How did Esau feel when his mother and brother stole their father’s blessing? Did King David’s affair with Bathsheba violate trust within his household? How did Moses feel when he found his brother and fellow Israelites engaged in pagan worship? 

Many of us know betrayal in its various and toxic forms. Perhaps this blog is being read by some who have done the betraying? 

TO CLOSE

A blog can’t address all the needs, questions and issues created by betrayal. But I hope it’s offered some encouragement and comfort to those living with its wounds. 

So, to those who have been betrayed, know that I am one of you, and I pray that God will bless you and be with you on your journey to overcome betrayal’s pain. 

Shalom