Saturday, December 5, 2015

Finding Christmas: Tradition, Truth, and Choice

(This is the second in a two-part series on choice)

A man I know is dying, mostly because of the consequences of a lifetime of bad choices. He hates his symptoms. He hates the compilation of diseases that are killing him. Those who love him are heartbroken. It's a tragedy, but it's too late to undo a lifetime of poor decisions now.

He had a choice, every single day of the last fifty years, and he chose poorly. Repeatedly.

Having a choice is a greater luxury than we realize, for many people around the world are trapped in a situation with virtually no choice at all.

I recently asked the question, "If we understood what our choices would cost us, would we choose differently?" The answer I received was, "Probably not."

Perhaps we've grown so accustomed to the luxury of choice that we have forgotten the implications of choice, for every choice has a consequence. 

If I choose eggs and sausage for breakfast, it may not have a major consequence today, but, chosen daily over the course of a lifetime, it can impact my cholesterol, which may clog my arteries, damage my heart, and shorten my life.

Choices matter, both in our health and in our faith.

When visitors from the king of Babylon (Isaiah 39) came to Hezekiah, he showed them everything. All "his" treasures. All "his" riches. Isaiah told him, "That was a bad choice, Hezekiah. One day, all those treasures will be carried off to Babylon, and your descendants, too." (Leanna Paraphrase) I've read this passage dozens of times, and I'm still shocked by the king's response. 

Hezekiah didn't care. 

As long as he had peace in his day, complete with all the treasures he believed were his, Hezekiah didn't care what the consequences of his choices were.

My grandmother was kind to strangers, generous to the poor, and patient with those whose lifestyle was not the same as hers. She saved for the Christmas mission offering all year long because she was committed to taking the good news of Jesus around the world. She prayed for those around her until she saw the results God had promised. 

Her decisions, made fifty years ago, still impact me and my son today.

I'm so grateful for her good decisions and the positive impact those decisions have in my life. But what if she'd made poor decisions? Those poor decisions would still have an impact, too.

It's a scary thought. My decisions over the last twenty-three years have borne fruit (both good and bad) in my son's life. Some of those decisions will have a lasting impact for generations. 

It's a sobering thought. Both the expression of our faith and the way we celebrate the holidays of our faith have an impact that lasts for generations. There are many fun traditions associated with this time of year and it's easy to let tradition overshadow truth. 

The Son of God left heaven and nestled briefly in a stone manger filled with hay. It was the first stop on a journey that led Him to the Cross. For me. For you.

The beginning of Christ's journey is the truth of Christmas. 

This year, let's choose to keep our eyes on the truth of Jesus and allow it to overshadow everything the world has to offer. There is no glitter more beautiful than the sacrifice of a loving Lord who gave His most important treasure to save even the least of us. 

The choices we make now will impact our families for generations. Let's be sure those choices are not just good but the best we can make. 
#Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #choice

photo courtesy of

Friday, December 4, 2015

Finding Christmas: Making Choices that Count

I've been thinking a lot about choices and decisions lately. 

Over the course of a day, we make an astounding number of choices. I started the day by choosing to get out of bed rather than roll over and go back to sleep. In the few minutes since I rolled out of bed, I've already chosen between black coffee or coffee with cream, eggs for breakfast or a fruit and nut bar with peanut butter, which section of Scripture to read today, potential topics for a blog post, and which pair of shoes to wear outside. Before the day is done, I'll make many more choices.

Some of the choices will have limited consequences. Which pair of shoes I wear outside won't matter much. My food choices today may have a significant long-term effect on my health and weight. My choice of Scripture and devotional materials may have a lasting effect on my spiritual health, as well as on that of my family.

The potential for consequences should be a driving force in our decision making, pushing us toward right choices.

When the angel appeared to young Mary, he told her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God." (Luke 1:30 nasb) She didn't find favor with God because she had a beautiful face or a lovely figure. She didn't find favor with God because she was a good housekeeper or sang well or danced well or told a story well. 

Mary found favor with God because she made right choices and obeyed Him. 

Tomorrow, I'll cut greenery and decorate my mantel. I'll haul out the tree and ornaments and decorations and set them in place. I'll wrap a few presents to go under the tree. I'll prepare Donna Krason's sugar cookie dough and freeze a roll or two. None of that will be about Christmas. It will all be about December. 

Tomorrow I'll also pull out the Nativity set my friends Yvonne and Marilyn gave me years ago. I'll set it up and search for the baby's broken hand (because I always hope I'll find it). I'll remember the phrase "Christ has no hands but mine". Once again, I'll sit before that baby in the manger and offer Him my hands to use as He will, and it will all be about Christmas.

This Christmas season, we have the opportunity to choose how we will honor God. Will we embrace only the glitter and glitz of December and call it Christmas or will we choose the Child who rested in the Manger on His way to the Cross? 

The choice has greater consequences than we know, so choose well.

Choose Christ. 
#Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #choice
photo courtesy of

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Finding Christmas: Clear Vision

My neighbor complained every day for months about his vision. "I need some new eyeglasses." 

At last, he went to see his eye doctor and came home with discouraging news. "She said new glasses won't make any difference at all. It would be a waste of money." 

The next morning, though, he came back with a surprise. "I didn't need new glasses at all. I got me some alcohol and wiped my glasses down. It cleaned them right up and now I can see again."

We laughed over the months spent complaining about bad eyeglasses when the problem was dirty eyeglasses, but it's not an uncommon problem. 

The clarity of the lens through which we look makes a bigger difference than we realize, doesn't it? 

When the lens of our heart is clouded, it changes our perspective on everything. 

Viewing Christmas through a cloud of entitlement and aesthetics radically changes our focus. 

Instead of focusing on the Son of God wrapped in flesh and sent to save us from our sin, we (all too often) focus on perfecting the traditions of the season. 

If our decorations are prepared in order to make our homes look festive instead of point people to Christ, are they about Christmas, the birth of Christ, or about December? 

There's nothing wrong with greenery, sparkling lights, or festive displays. There's nothing wrong with celebrating memories of friends and family, but let's look at the hoopla that surrounds this season with clarity. Some of what we do is about aesthetics, making a beautiful display. Some of what we do is about entitlement, buying gifts because they are "deserved" or because we always buy gifts in December. 

Is it wrong to decorate for aesthetics? Is it wrong to give gifts? No, I don't think so. What's wrong is decorating for aesthetics but telling ourselves we are doing it because of Jesus. 

Let's clear our vision a bit and look at the why behind what we do this holiday season.

I've decided to put up a December tree. My tree is not an act of worship for Jesus, but it's loaded with happy memories and sparkle and glitter. I'm putting greenery on my mantel. It's not an act of worship for Jesus, either, but I like the smell of cedar as it mingles with the fragrance of oak burning in the fireplace. Neither are truly about the birth of Christ, but I like them and there's nothing wrong with them. I like my reindeer and candy cane flannel sleep pants, too, but they aren't about Jesus, even though I wear them in December.

Over the next few weeks, I will listen to Christmas music that is focused on Jesus and holiday music that is focused on snow and sleigh rides and silver bells. It's important to recognize that the first music is about Christmas and the second music is about something else entirely.

My nativity set is truly about the birth of Christ. My advent wreath, despite the mismatched and crooked candles, is also about Jesus. 

I will give gifts this season, just like I always do. They will, for the most part, be because of the love in my heart for the person to whom they are given and not because I am giving to Jesus. 

Let's clear our vision a bit and look at our holiday celebrations and traditions. Some are about tradition and holidays and some are about Christmas. Traditions have their place and holidays are great fun, and it's not wrong to enjoy them, but let's recognize them for what they are. 

Believe it or not, a clearer look will make it much easier to focus on Christ this Christmas. After all, He's what Christmas is all about.
#Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Finding Christmas: When Life is Less than Perfect

The photo I used yesterday was from last year. In that photo, there are three purple candles to represent prophecy/hope, Bethlehem/preparation, and angels/love. There's a pink candle to represent shepherds/joy, and a central white candle to represent Christ.

I bought a supply of advent candles several years ago. It seemed never-ending. It wasn't. Yesterday, I scurried around, trying to find advent candles, but there were none to find. It was raining far too hard to make a trip to town for three candles, so I decided to make do with what I had on hand.

It's the meaning behind the candles that's important, not their color, right?

After scouring the house, my search yielded two green candles, one slightly crooked maroon one, an overly tall pink candle, and a shorter white candle. It was a motley assortment, and a little jarring. 

Those three wrong-colored candles were not part of my plan. I wanted a perfect advent wreath with perfect advent candles. Perfectly-colored candles. There was no room for green or maroon in my advent wreath.

No room for imperfection in my Christmas plan.

Therein lies a significant problem. The quest for perfection. We want to create the perfect holiday. Be the perfect man or woman. The perfect hostess. The perfect gift-giver. The perfect... you fill in the blank.

There is only One who is perfect, and He is God, Himself.

The rest of us are to strive for perfection, but guess what? We are not going to make it. Not until we reach our heavenly home.

This side of heaven, we accept imperfection in ourselves and the world around us because The God who loves us accepts imperfection in us first. He takes our imperfection, covers it with the blood of Jesus, and makes us perfect in His sight.

That blood-of-Jesus perfection is the only perfection we're going to have, so we might as well stop this foolishness and thank God for the grace and mercy He's given us. 

For years, I was obsessed with Matthew 5:48: "Therefore, you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." I read "perfect" and thought flawless. Do you know how hard it is to be flawless? It's impossible. It leaves you constantly discouraged, constantly feeling like a failure, no matter the success you find. 

The word translated as "perfect" is teleios and it means "complete, mature", not flawless. I have a note in my Bible by this verse that says, "Grow up, Leanna, and act like Jesus." It's not a very churchy interpretation, but there's truth in those words.

When we mature in Christ, we strive to emulate Him in everything we do. We cherish what matters and let go of what doesn't. 

Does God care about the color of the candles in my advent wreath? Certainly not. He cares about the hope, love, and joy in my heart those candles represent. He cares about the preparation to receive all of Christ He longs for me to have. He cares about Christ in me, my hope of eternity. 

As you've already guessed, I laid aside my need for "perfection" and embraced my need for maturity, instead. I used the mismatched candles. It looked ridiculous to me, but I lit the first green candle last night and thanked God for the hope Christ bought on the cross. I read an advent devotional and the words were exactly what I needed. I had church at my table, and the green candle didn't hamper that at all.

This year, let's embrace maturity, rather than a perfection we will never achieve. 

Forget the world's definition of a perfect holiday and remember that God sent an angelic choir to announce His grand holiday to dirty, smelly shepherds in a pasture. He demonstrated the first perfect Christmas celebration in a barn with a baby wrapped in rags, lying in a stone manger filled with hay. The only Christmas light was one bright, shining star.

This year, let's grow up and celebrate like Jesus, who gathered sinners around Him and loved them all the way to the cross. Sinners just like us.
In case you missed any of the past week's posts, here are the links: Grateful Heart: Blessing of PositionGrateful Heart: Wonder PickleGrateful Heart: FamilyBeginning the Advent JourneyFinding Christmas: The Best Advent of AllFinding Christmas: Something Better than Stuff, and Finding Christmas: Setting a Goal.

The most read post of the last week: Grateful Heart: Family.

If you're looking for an Advent devotional, you can find The Road to Bethlehem on Amazon here.
#Advent #Iamnotperfect #perfectholiday #mature #maturity #actlikeJesus #disciple #JesusChrist

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Finding Christmas: Setting a Goal

I've been in a writing accountability group for most of this year. At the first of every month, we set a word-count goal. My goal has ranged from 10,000 words when I was editing a manuscript to 50,000 when I was writing a new story. Once the goal is set, we report in daily with the number of words we've written that day. Every day.

I can't begin to describe how much I hate reporting a zero, especially when my fellow writers are reporting thousands of words written. I hate reporting zeros so much that, even on a day when I have other responsibilities, I write a little while to avoid the zero.

In November, the word count wasn't an essential part of my efforts because I was doing rewrites. My main goal was to get through the entire manuscript, and I accomplished that, but I didn't do as well with keeping a tally of my new words written. Before I knew it, I was so behind in my tally, I had no idea where I was in my goal. I don't know if I made goal or not, because I stopped counting. 

It's easy to treat goals as optional, isn't it? Last month, I accomplished the goal that mattered to me, but not the goal for which I was also accountable. 

I'll do better this month.

Today, I'll set a new word count goal and begin my efforts again.

There's a kind of grace in my writing group. Unmerited favor. We start again and make a better effort every month.

There's the same kind of grace in finding Christmas. We may have done a terrible job of focusing on Christ in the past, but we can make a new goal this year. We can begin again. 

This year, I'm setting a goal of lighting my Advent candles during my dinner meal and reading an Advent devotional every day. 

I'm setting a goal of focusing more on Christ and His ways than on the commercialization of Christmas. 

Of giving more love and less stuff, because who cares about stuff if there's no love? 

Of spending more time and less money, because money is never a good substitute for time.

Of living like Mary, who said, "My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior."  (Luke 1:46 nasb)

Why not join me in setting a Christmas goal for the month of December? Don't set a goal of presents bought and packages wrapped. Instead, set of goal of finding Christ in Christmas, honoring Him, every day this month. In ways large and small, seek Him. 

"And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:13 nasb
In case you missed any of the past week's posts, here are the links: Grateful Heart: The Beginning of StoriesGrateful Heart: Blessing of PositionGrateful Heart: Wonder PickleGrateful Heart: FamilyBeginning the Advent JourneyFinding Christmas: The Best Advent of All, and Finding Christmas: Something Better than Stuff.

The most read post of the last week: Grateful Heart: Family.

If you're looking for an Advent devotional, you can find The Road to Bethlehem on Amazon here.
#Advent #FindingChristinChristmas #JesusChrist #Christmas #goals

Monday, November 30, 2015

Finding Christmas: Something Better than "Stuff"

I stayed home on Black Friday. I've attended the After-Thanksgiving sales with my sister and my mother before, and, for the most part, I didn't like it. The crowds. The rush. The pushing. It's not for me.

I'm not sure it should be for anyone. has begun tabulating the death and destruction that results on that day. Since 2006, there have been 7 deaths and 98 injuries. Over stuff. People dying for a bargain. What about that makes sense?

In recent years, I've questioned the rush to purchase gifts for each other. It's Jesus' birthday. Why do we buy gifts for each other? That makes no sense to me. Don't get me wrong. I haven't given up gift-giving entirely, but I've made changes in my holiday routine. The emphasis is less on stuff and more on our Savior.

If our focus is supposed to be on Jesus, why do we spend so much time and money on ourselves?

All this shopping results in one thing. More stuff. 

This morning, I read a passage in Isaiah 33:14-24 that I first studied in December of 2003. It's as pertinent now as it was then. It asks the question, "Who among us can live with the consuming fire (of God)?" 

The answer is clear and simple. Only the one who actively pursues righteousness. He walks righteously, speaks with sincerity, rejects unjust gain, shakes his hands so they hold no bribe, stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed, shuts his eyes from looking upon evil.

The man (or woman) who actively seeks righteousness will find something much better than more stuff.  

See the King
No fear
No want

If Christmas is about honoring the birth of our Savior, then the best gift we can offer Him is that of striving for holiness. 

Holiness (or righteousness) is what God most desires from us, but what will benefit us the most, as well. During this Advent season, let's do more than seek after stuff. Let's seek after righteousness and pursue it with all our hearts. When we do, we will find Christmas in an entirely new way.

"Your eyes will see the King in His beauty..." 

In our seeking, we will find our King and see His hand all around us. So let's look for the Savior at every turn and let His righteousness guide every decision (including every purchase) we make this season.

In case you missed any of the past week's posts, here are the links:  Red Hot Christmas Pickles and the Broken JarGrateful Heart: The Beginning of StoriesGrateful Heart: Blessing of PositionGrateful Heart: Wonder PickleGrateful Heart: FamilyBeginning the Advent Journey, and Finding Christmas: The Best Advent of All.

The most read post of the last week: Grateful Heart: Family.

If you're looking for an Advent devotional, you can find The Road to Bethlehem on Amazon here.
photo courtesy of

#Advent, #JesusChrist #disciple #righteousness

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Finding Christmas: The Best Advent of all

We prepare for the Christmas season in a variety of ways.  Shopping. Decorating. Gift wrapping. Christmas movies. Christmas music. Advent candles. I do some of those "preparations", too, but my favorite Christmas preparation is to re-read the book of Isaiah between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

I've been reading it for so many years that I've lost count, but it never fails to speak to me. Today, I'm in Isaiah 25. 

And the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;
A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow,
And refined aged wine...

He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces,
And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth...
Isaiah 25:6, 8 nasb

The Thanksgiving feast we've just enjoyed will be nothing in comparison to the lavish banquet God will provide. The crowd so recently gathered around our tables will be minuscule in comparison to all the people gathered at God's banquet. It will be a celebration and all God's people will be there. 

Our Lord will provide generously, and not only what we need to survive. He will provide the best of everything. It will be a joyous party. 

Even better than food, though, God will bring death and sorrow and tears to an end. He'll remove our reproach. 

When that glorious day arrives, we will say, "This is the God for whom we've been waiting." 

All the longing, all the anticipation, all the uncertainty will be washed away in the reality of the now, in the evidence of the promise fulfilled.

As we celebrate the Advent (or coming) of Christ, let us keep our eye on the other Advent (coming) for which we wait with eagerness. 

He is coming again, and when He does every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. No more sorrow. No more tears. Only joy and celebration that will last for eternity.

Celebrating Christmas is about more than a baby in a manger. It's about a living, reigning Lord.

Christ has come. Christ has risen. Christ is coming again, and that's the best Advent of all.


In case you missed any of the past week's posts, here are the links:  Grateful Heart: Hard TimesRed Hot Christmas Pickles and the Broken JarGrateful Heart: The Beginning of StoriesGrateful Heart: Blessing of PositionGrateful Heart: Wonder PickleGrateful Heart: Family, and Beginning the Advent Journey.

The most read post of the last week: Grateful Heart: Family.

If you're looking for an Advent devotional, you can find The Road to Bethlehem on Amazon here.
#advent #disciple #JesusChrist #comingagain