Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Be Reconciled: Learn to Listen

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  Now, all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.    Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.   –2 Corinthians 5:17-20 (NASB)

As you probably already know, the traditional tabernacle where the Jewish people worshipped God had an area known as the “Holy of Holies.”  Before the sacrifice made by Christ, this room was as close as any person could get to God.  Only the highest priests were allowed to enter, and before they could walk through the curtain that separated this place from the rest of the temple, they had to purify themselves.  This curtain is the same that tore in two at the moment that Christ died on the cross.

The torn curtain is a symbol of what Christ’s death and resurrection did for us.  It reconciled us to God, giving us direct access to the Holy of Holies through our acceptance of Christ Himself as the sacrificed Lamb who died for our sins once and for all.  Being thus reconciled to God, Paul explains in his second letter to the Corinthians that we are now a new creation, people who, being filled with the Holy Spirit, now long for that which is right and good rather than the desires and temptations of the flesh.

This new way of being is a daily choice, for the world in which we live is full of distractions.  Instead of allowing the Spirit in us to guide us, our brains are literally hard-wired to feel first and think later.

Feelings are inherently immature. God warns us not to lean on the guiding of the heart, “the great deceiver.” Acting on feelings is what leads David to sin against God with Bathsheba. Feelings make the Israelites call to Aaron for a golden God when Moses disappears up the mountain.

If you will let Him, the Holy Spirit will save you from those emotional responses that need to be tempered by a logical, God-fearing mind. The Holy Spirit fills you with empathy instead of rage when that car pulls right in front of you on the freeway or when you become the victim of somebody else’s bad day.  It guides you to choose the right path even when the wrong path looks ever-more inviting.

The Holy Spirit, the marking of a soul reconciled to its God, is what makes it possible for a feeling-driven human to become a true ambassador of Christ, a person who, through his or her actions, makes others understand that God really does love each and every one of us, wanting all to be saved.

Discerning the guiding of the Holy Spirit as opposed to our feelings is not easy. There is a reason that Jesus tells us the way is narrow instead of wide. If you need to know if what you are thinking is in line with God’s teaching, you have to know something about what those lessons are. You will discover this best by studying the Word, discussing His Word with others and staying in communication with God by speaking to Him often and also learning to be still and listen for His answers.

If you have never been reconciled to God, know that reconciliation is a gift, bought for you at the ultimate price, paid for by the blood of the totally innocent Christ. All you have to do to claim this gift is have faith, to believe that Christ died for you and accept Him as your Savior.

Do not live your life as if the curtain separating you from the mighty God still hangs between you and that love. Live the truth of the torn curtain by welcoming the Holy Spirit into your daily walk with Christ. Know His word, and you will recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit as surely as you hear your mother’s voice telling you those life lessons you know but are letting your feelings override. The Holy Spirit is the voice telling you:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Dwell on the glorious truth that you are reconciled to God and discover how much easier it is to be forgiving towards others and yourself.

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Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Love

Even as He Loved Me

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Do you ever read a verse you may have seen a hundred times before and suddenly see it in a different, clearer light?

Besides underscoring the importance of continual Bible study, these moments always take me one step closer to understanding the Spirit in me.  As I become more knowledgeable about my relationship with that Spirit, I find myself more comfortable in my own skin.  The “peace that surpasses understanding” is always there, these ah-ha moments remind me, we just have to push away the cares of this world that keep us from seeing and feeling our connectedness to the One and Only.

I grew up in the ’70s in the Bible belt.  My first Bibles were hard core King James Versions.  When I read the Bible through for the first time, it was with a King James version book.  It took me until well into my twenties to “trust” any other version of the Lord’s Word.  Besides, the poet in me loved the lyricism, the alliteration, the rhythm and the language of the King James Word, even when the phrasing that I loved sometimes made the meaning in a modern world more difficult to comprehend.

For example, even though, “When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17) has a rhythm and parallelism that any writer can truly appreciate, when I read the New Living Translation version of these words, I see an even fuller picture:

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

When Jesus came to sacrifice Himself for us, ALL of the people around Him needed it.  Always before, when I would read the KJV of this verse, I would think to myself that the verses meant Jesus came to call those who had not already been following the Word of God, those who weren’t going to believe what Jesus was saying at that time.  But the NLT version of these words makes it clear that this verse speaks to all of us.  Jesus came to heal those of us who are willing to admit that we are sinners and thus are in need of Him.

Knowing I am a sinner as opposed to thinking I am righteous is also a daily reminder of my need to be on my knees in humility before the God who made me.  In that position, I cannot judge others or think I am better than a task I have been called upon to do.  On my knees, I know my sin and have a chance to repent of it, be healed daily if necessary by the cleansing power of Jesus, and keep moving forward in my relationship with the Holy Spirit that became a part of me the moment I accepted Christ as my Savior.

Because of the power of the salvation of Christ, I am not only delivered from a damned eternity, I am delivered from the vise grip of a life filled with sin.  This is the freedom that Paul writes so frequently about.  This is the element of the salvation story that we tend to spend the least time on, but that we need the most on a day-to-day basis.  We need Jesus every day to help us not step into the darkness but rather to shine His light.

But, I still haven’t shared my verse in a new light for this week, and it is a doozy!  Turn to John 13:34 and read a verse I am sure you may already know by heart.  Jesus is speaking to His disciples as His coming crucifixion approaches.  One of the things He tells them is this:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (NASB).

In the past, I have read this verse and assumed it to be another way to say the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  But the footnotes in my Ryrie Study Bible helped me to see that this commandment takes the Golden Rule to a completely different level.

Think about the implications of the phrase, “even as I have loved you.”  How did Jesus love His disciples and all of us, for that matter?  He, being God, was willing to be abused, mocked, and even slain for sins He didn’t commit.  He loved us so much, He died for us!

How many times do we turn the other cheek, not in the way that Christ turned His cheek, but to keep ourselves from seeing another person in need?  I live in a big city where people make a living by holding a cardboard sign asking for money at every other corner.  I have gotten good at turning another cheek, justifying my action by deciding that a con artist doesn’t deserve a quarter.

Jesus, on the other hand, took the servants’ role and washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, the disciple Jesus knew was going to betray Him, even as the Lord knelt at Judas’ feet at the Last Supper.

From us humans, blanket statements are dangerous, so don’t think I am trying to interpret this one verse to mean that women who are in abusive relationships are just supposed to keep getting hit or anything like that.  We always have to take the Bible in its totality, not just in the one or two verses that seem to serve our purpose.  It is the veracity and consistency of the Word that is part of the reason that we KNOW that we worship the one, true God.

Besides reminding me just how much God loves me, my ah-ha moment in the Word this week also has me thinking about ways I can up my game in the loving others department.  I am a far cry from achieving Christ’s level of love, but He promised that the great Helper, the Holy Spirit, is in me to guide me on this narrow path that leads to the Light.  I may stumble; I may fall; but Christ will always pick me up.

Through true repentance, I can continue to grow in God.  Because of how He loved me, I may fall, but I will rise again.

Posted in Christian Living

This Debt I Owe

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I have a confession to make.  Despite knowing that vengeance belongs to God, I love a good movie where the hero systematically eradicates all the villians.  Even in a story like Eastwood’s Unforgiven, I’m glad to see him take out his enemies because, even though Eastwood has given them every chance to back off, they just won’t give up.  Eastwood may have ultimately lost a bit more of his soul in shooting it out with the bad guys, but as a movie-goer, I am really glad the bad guys bit the dust.

How different are the realities of a world where people live according to the belief that God has the only right to vengeance.  In our modern age, I’m not sure how many of those communities actually exist, but in the pages of my Bible, I find a history of God’s people asking for guidance in dealing with their enemies and giving full credit to God for any victories that they attain.  When the Israelites are on top of their faithfulness with God, no force in the world can beat them.  Vengeance is God’s.

I’ve been reading the Psalms this week.  In David’s Psalms, he repeatedly acknowledges his own sinful state and how little he deserves God’s help.  But, David also acknowledges how he can do nothing without God, how great God is all the time, how willing David is to accept God’s will, whatever that may be.  For David, whatever happens is the will of God, and God is good all the time–even when what God decides to do makes David hurt.

When you read that attitude coming from a man who lives under the weight of sin, you understand more and more just how much David had a heart like God’s.  What I mean is this: in David’s time, there was no such thing as grace.  In order to renew one’s relationship with God, you had to perpetually offer blood sacrifices to make right what you inevitably had done wrong in the sight of God.  Even as David pours his heart out to God in the Psalms, he knows that the only man on earth that can most closely speak to the Maker is the High Priest one day each year when the Holy of Holies is entered after much sacrifice and even more sacrifices are made in the very presence of God.  During that ceremony, tradition holds that the people would tie a rope to the High Priest in which to drag him back out of the Holy of Holies in case God did not find favor with him.

Because Christ died for our sins once and for all, we Christians in this modern world are living every day, truly, in a state of grace that it can be so easy to take for granted.  David, who was persecuted by Saul, lived a life of war, lost children, and had children rebel against him, could always remember that God is good and worthy of praise. David knew he himself had no right to be proud, even though he was a great king in the eyes of men, because he only ruled by the will of God.  David knew that at any minute he could die in a state of sin that separated him from the God he loved so much.

You and I have been given the gift of starting each day and ending it in relationship with God.  The Holy Spirit dwells in us at the point that we accept Christ as our Savior.  We owe such a debt to Christ for His sacrifice, and yet He presents it to us as a gift, lovingly given.  We do nothing to earn our salvation except to accept that gift and submit to Christ’s will.

If David, living under the threat of unforgiven sin, could devote so much of himself in praising his God for the love and protection and mercy God gave him, how much more should we who have been given the gift of relationship with our God be daily loving, praising, believing, and submitting to His will?  Even though we cannot earn our salvation, do we not owe so much more of a debt to our God that He was willing to die for us, once and for all?

Make no mistake, Christianity does not equal inaction.  As James puts it, “faith without works is a dead faith.”  Reading the Psalms of David reminds us of the debt we all owe to our loving God, who gave His whole self for us.

Thank You, Jesus, for the indwelling of the Spirit that allows me to know that when I cry out to You, You always hear me.  And so often, You are my one and only source of comfort.  My job is learning to lean into this awesome debt I lovingly owe.

Our God is truly an awesome God.

Posted in Faith

3 Ways to Fertilize Your Faith

Grow your mustard seeds of faith
Grow your mustard seeds of faith

That the communication of your faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.  (Philemon 1:6)

 1: Know WHAT You are Fertilizing

When it comes to plant products that have been bottled to be sold as food supplements in a health store, I can tell you more than you ever wanted to know.  But, when it comes to real plants in the real world?  Well, I’ve been known to kill bamboo!

Despite my brown thumb, my West Texas roots have taught me that knowing your crop is the beginning key to success.  When to plant, when to harvest, when to pray for rain–these are just some of the elements that go into the very hard job of being a farmer.

Just like knowing the plant you want to grow before you can expect to succeed in growing it, you should also begin your goals to grow your faith by understanding what faith means.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith:

is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Ralph Waldo Emerson states it this way:

All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.

The heroes of faith are further examples to help us define the concept.  From Noah who believed enough to build an Ark to Mary who had the courage to bring the Son of God into the world, the Bible is replete with people who understood faith in the most profound way possible, by believing and doing.

The most important step of faith in this modern world is the one you take to submit your life to Christ as your Savior.  When you admit to Him that you are a sinner who has no chance of redemption without Him, you climb the first rung of the ladder toward a closer relationship with God that is the ultimate goal of faith.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
― C.S. Lewis

Faith is believing in God when things are bleakest as well as when things are going well for you.  Faith is the beginning of hope, which is the most important quality for us to have if we expect to make it through the valleys of this life.  Faith is knowing that God IS and the He loves me.

2: Know HOW to Fertilize

 

With faith as small as this mustard seed, Christ says we can move mountains.
With faith as small as this mustard seed, Christ says we can move mountains.

 

“God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars.”  –Elbert Hubbard

As Elbert Hubbard explains, in order to grow a belief in God, we cannot expect to proceed easily.  Christ promises us a light yoke, but not a life without trouble.  In fact, it is through troubles that we learn perseverance, which builds character and ultimately leads to hope (Romans 5:4).

Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. It is the belief that God will do what is right.
― Max Lucado, He Still Moves Stones

In order to grow our faith, we have to exercise it, like a muscle.  As with all things concerning our relationship with God, we can begin that exercise by studying His word, spending time in prayer with Him and joining in fellowship with other believers to share our belief.

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”  ― Corrie ten Boom

Other ways to fertilize our faith is to learn to listen with intent to the voice of the Holy Spirit in us.  When we feel the pull to reach out to help a stranger or say something about our beliefs to our acquaintances, we should become more accustomed to following those feelings.  The more we know about what the Bible says, the more we will know it is God talking to us and not our own interests.

Fertilizing our faith will often be uncomfortable because it will mean stepping outside our normal comfort zones.  Sitting in my recliner writing a blog is not the easiest thing to do on a Sunday afternoon, since sitting here doing nothing at all would be easier, but writing has always at least been comfortable for me.  Making my way to church on Sunday is stepping outside my comfort zone.  As an introvert, I am highly challenged in group settings, and large groups can lead to sensory overload for me.

But, going to church improves my faith.  Besides learning things about the Bible I didn’t already know, my church attendance has also allowed me to meet a wide variety of people who share my same goals and struggles but who approach them in ways I would have never thought of but greatly admire.  I have learned better ways to approach life’s problems and even to pray by participating in church, fertilizing my faith.

3: Make Faith Personal

The beginnings of this blog post came when I was thinking about how helpful God has been to me in my life, despite my literally clinical problem with worry.

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which comes with unhealthy bouts of depression.  With the proper medication, nutritional support, and help from my family and friends, I lead a pretty productive life.  But the thought that I had earlier this week was thinking about how I spend so much time worrying about things that are going to happen, but when something really does happen, I am somehow able to be really strong and make it through the bad thing.

My power in times of crisis doesn’t come from medicine or me, but from God.  So, as I was thinking about this earlier this week, I was asking myself, how come I’m not doing a better job at remembering how often God comes through for me when I let worry win out over my faith? 

So, when I suggest making your faith personal, I mean just that.  However you do it–journaling, scrapbooking, or making time to remember on a regular basis–make your faith stronger by building on your personal experiences with faith.  We don’t have to be prophets to have real experiences with God.

In fact, when Christ sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, He made it more possible than ever for “regular” people like you and me to experience God every day.  Of all the people in history, we can have as close a relationship with God as any of the heroes of faith you’ll find in Hebrews 11.

I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”  –Psalm 91:2

In Nicole Nordeman’s song, What If?, the singer asks:

What if you jump, just close your eyes?  What if the arms that catch you, catch you by surprise?
What if He’s more than enough?  What if it’s LOVE?

Faith is personal, but it’s not something to be hoarded.  Sharing our experiences of faith with others is what helps us spread God’s love in a broken world.  Faith has the courage to admit that what good we do comes from God and not ourselves.  Faith has the courage to step out knowing we may stumble.  Faith knows that even if we wind up with egg on our face, God catches us and always loves us.

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” ― C.S. Lewis

Each time I hit post, I risk offending somebody, looking foolish, or making an actual mistake in a cyberspace where they say nothing ever actually goes away.  But faith without works, as James tells us, is a dead faith.  How can I not risk everything for the One who gave everything for me?

Grow your faith muscle this week.  If we truly believe, what other choice have we?

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

THIS Is Your Purpose

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My Ryrie NASB study Bible has this note for the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

Here begins the ethical section of the letter.  Paul’s appeal is simple: Become in experience what you already are by God’s grace. The Christian is risen with Christ; let him exhibit that new life. [emphasis added]

Whenever you are in your darkest hours, or even just the shadowy ones, I think it a great comfort to remember this truth, that we are here because God wants us to become through our experience what He freely gave us with His death on the cross.

Throughout Colossians 3, Paul lists qualities to have and not to have if you are truly going to become through experience what you already are as a Christian.

On the do NOT list: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed (idolatry), anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, lies, bigotry. On the DO list: compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, thankfulness, wisdom, praise.

Luckily for us, when Christ made His sacrifice, He also promised us a Helper to be sent so that we are not on this journey of experience alone. With a quick search on the web, I found this site about the Holy Spirit in the Bible: http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/ntintro/spirit7.htm. The page is titled “The Holy Spirit in Pauline Theology.” Here is a succinct excerpt:

The Holy Spirit is central to Paul’s theology. Expressing himself in various ways, he asserts that the promise of the giving of the Spirit has been fulfilled. Different from the prophecy in the Hebrew prophets, however, he holds that the promise is fulfilled for the church, the new community of God, consisting of Jews and gentiles, and not for the nation of Israel. In Paul’s view, to be a Christian is not simply to accept certain propositions as true, such as Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, but rather to be indwellt by the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s words make the most eloquent case for approaching life in its challenges and wonder as the experience of becoming what we already are:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

The action of becoming is complicated, messy, bitter, joyous, happy tears overflowing. God’s time is not the same way we think about time, but His is the timepiece that rules the rhythms of our experiences, of these lives to which we have died and risen again in Christ.

The next time you are feeling existential, dig your hands into the fertile dirt of God’s word and remember that your purpose in this life is to become the kind of person Christ’s sacrifice already made you in the eyes of God–a loving, patient, gentle, kind, growing child of Christ.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Random Acts of the Spirit

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There are three random things that stick in my mind from the preceding week.  I’ve decided to call them “random acts of the Spirit.”  In no particular order, here they are:

 

1.  God is patient.  In my Ryrie Study Bible NASB, there is a table that outlines some of the major events in the life of the great missionary, Paul.  Do you realize that from the time he was converted on the road to Damascus in 33 A.D. to his first missionary journey in 47-48 A.D., some 15 years had passed?  We know from his own writings that Paul spent at least three years in study after Damascus before he felt ready to approach the movement in Jerusalem.  Before that, Paul was already a great scholar in the Jewish tradition.  In other words, Paul certainly had the background to feel that he would be ready to preach Christ’s word right away once he was converted, but instead it took him more than a decade of study, prayer and fellowship to be ready to take the Word to places no one had ever dreamed of.  The key to Paul’s success has to be his hope in Christ.  Because he never gave up hope that God would use Paul in the way and in the time that God saw fit, Paul accomplished so much for the glory of Christ, a system of belief that guides the church to this day.  God works on a timetable that is completely different from the hustle and bustle push of this modern world.

2. Seeing the passion for God in others is inspiring. When you step out in faith daily, as Christians try to do, you can find yourself discussing God in all kinds of places, even as you are getting your hair styled!  My wonderful stylist is a young woman with a real passion for God.  As we were discussing how life was going this week, we dipped into a discussion of some of the things we have been learning in our own separate studies, including the subtle ways that Satan works to push us aside from God’s purpose for our lives.  As my hair stylist put it, “I literally have to stop my thoughts sometimes and tell the devil, no.  I have the creator of the Universe in me, and you have no place here.

What a wonderful way to look at the awesome gift that is the grace of God in us!  When we truly have the Holy Spirit in us, we have an obligation to uphold that presence.  I have been using the idea of the Creator of the Universe for the rest of this week.  Needless to say, I was inspired.

3. When we have God in us, it is enough.  I watched The Wizard of Oz for the first time since my childhood this week.  I had forgotten that the main focus of the movie is that all the characters need to realize that the one thing they long for most is the thing they already actually have.  The Scarecrow is the one to have the problem-solving ideas.  The Tin Man sheds the most tears.  The Lion stands up to the bad guys.  Dorothy realizes, “There is no place like home.”

When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we also accept the peace that is no place like home.  For those who rely on material things to feel better, the idea that faith in the unseen being all you need may seem impractical or impossible, but this peace is what helps those people you see stay steady in the roughest of waters.

Claiming God and living God should be one and the same.  And when you look for random acts of the Spirit in the week ahead, you’ll find that you will be more likely to shine His light and chase away the shadows.

Posted in Christian Living

Cozy Comforts

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We have finally, just, reached the time of year in our part of the country where we can get away with a fire. In the dozen years we have lived in our house, we have never done the work to get our fireplace “fire-ready.” This year, my husband insisted on finally getting it fixed so he could have some fires this winter. Since we live where it doesn’t often dip below freezing, our fires will be more for show than anything else. More important than that, they will be a source of comfort.

Fire is known for its destructive power and is equated with the punishment reserved for the damned. But, ice is also in competition for most damning element. In Dante’s seven layers of hell, ice is actually the worst level. The poet Robert Frost, also recognized the competitive potential between the extremes of these elements:

FIRE and ICE
BY ROBERT FROST
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

When you are in the heat of summer, ice water or a blast of cool air is a definite source of relief. We usually refer to these elements with adjectives like refreshing, invigorating, or reviving. But, when one is in the icy brace of a cold winter day, a flaming fire is far from bringing to mind such adjectives. Instead, we usually refer to such fires as cozy and comforting. They tend to make us think about wonderful Christmas mornings, times with family, and the value of love.

There is a fire that burns in each of us that we can access any time of the year as the energy source for us to both feel loved and be more loving toward the world around us. That fire, of course, is the Holy Spirit, which dwells in each of us when we ask Christ to come in and become our Savior. When we take the time to look inside through prayer and quiet moments contemplating the awesomeness of God, we have the potential to turn on an eternal flame that burns with such comfort and steadiness that we can’t help but feel safe. And, when we feel safe and comfortable, isn’t it so much easier to face the challenges that we all face every day?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the fire that burns inside us was so bright all the time that others couldn’t help but notice it in us? Isn’t that the Light Christ wants us to place on the lamp stand and not hide in a basket?

The holiday season is a much easier time to feel generous, but it is also a stressful time for many. Too much traffic, too many presents to buy, too much “baggage” with certain family members that never seems to get resolved but always rears its ugly head when we all try to come together for November and December’s big days.

Now is the time to embrace your inner fire, the Holy Spirit, so that you will feel the comfort that is God’s promise to all of us, and so you can glow with that fire towards all you encounter this holiday season–and throughout the year.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. –John 14:26-27