Is it a wonderful life…?

As the title implies… a thought or two from my favorite Christmas movie…

Jimmy Stewart’s classic performance as “George Bailey” (from the iconic 1946 film “It’s a wonderful life”), always sets the tone for my annual exuberant gush of seasonal joy.

Yet… it begs the question…“IS it a WONDERFUL life?”

So many rushing by, so much of life hidden behind the busy… it takes a profound event to slow us down enough to consider the deeper things. For George Bailey… he faces the moment of his despair with desperation… while all of us watch and hope all over again that he’ll see beyond his profound grief into the true wealth that is his amazing life.

But when it’s no longer a story, and the grief is real… things shift and we’re left wondering. “Is it a wonderful life?” 

It's a wonderful life, 1946

It’s a wonderful life, 1946

Recently my family has experienced some very dark news, a loss of hope and the inexorable pull of mortality come too early. It’s a bitter moment that brings sadness and despair, but also clarity and renewed appreciation.

As we hurry through our days… let’s slow down enough to consider the ‘why’. I can’t answer the question for you… and neither can George Bailey, but it’s important to think about. It’s important to remember what truly matters in your life… for me, it’s all about relationships. 

The weight of our life is contained in our relationships, they are ‘the’ most precious gifts of all. The gift of being loved and loving,  the precious privilege of a genuine friendship, the gift of giving and receiving comfort… of shared grief… these are the truest things we can ever achieve.

It’s not in our IRA fund or the number of mortgages on our house… it’s not in our kids GPA’s or a starting spot on the team. It’s in the relationships we forge along the way that we define our lives.

This Christmas let’s all remember George Bailey and act accordingly…

Pastor B.

PS – as a pastor, I would be derelict if I didn’t point out the ultimate relationship being offered to us… and to George Bailey. It was and is with our creator. His interest in our well-being and desire to be a part of every detail of our life is well demonstrated in the Christmas story – as well as in my favorite movie.

What about Peace?

Candles glow, the Advent wreath is full of light, week 4 has arrived… time for us to focus on “PEACE”.

Ultimately that’s the idea behind our search for faith. To find ‘rest for our souls. To relax our clenched hearts… to wonder again. To be secure… to feel safe. 

Our lives often don’t feel balanced…tipping from one extreme to another. Too busy, too empty… too full. We search to find meaning in our wandering, to discover some secret key to unlock all the pain and mystery of our past mistakes, our current dilemmas… future fears! A key to help us make sense of things. It-s-A-Wonderful-Life-christmas-movies-2394010-1024-768

Christmas can be a wonderful time to reconsider our story. To re-imagine life as it was meant to be as we would want it to be. No illness, no shame… no worry and no pain. Full of Joy and promise, we long for things to change. We hoped for more than we can see…

Peace is that most elusive goal. A destination too far to discover. Yet we yearn.

PEACE... not a goal we can work to attain. 

PEACE... too far away for us to find. 

PEACE... uncertain, we’re too afraid to feel.

Christians… have a promise that transcends this life, this world.. even us. A promise of PEACE. Not a hope that we can grasp or learn, but a belief that our Prince of PEACE will come for us. That His PEACE can become our own. Literally infusing us with something ‘other’. Something we can’t understand or fully describe. PEACE in the middle of all our chaos.

PEACE in a world gone mad… PEACE in our marriages, PEACE in our families, PEACE at work. PEACE in our hearts and PEACE at home. candle-hand-blue

Christmas reminds us of the promise of PEACE. A promise that cannot be found anywhere else. It’s essential that we remember…CHRIST ALONE “IS” our PEACE!  A truth that changes everything if we let it soak in. 

Merry Christmas dear friend!

Micah 5:2-5 (ESV) – Source BibleGateway.com 

2 “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.”

Finding Joy… where is it?

Advent week three… light the JOY candle and let’s all be happy! 

Plastic smiles at the ready we can brave another day of rushing to get life done. Christmas is crazy! We loose our minds from time to time… recitals, parties, work, church, school… it’s exhausting and worse. Somewhere in there we have to shop, wrap gifts, decorate, trim a tree, and prepare for family. JOY

Sunday we sit for an hour and listen to the pastor tell us to put on “JOY” and we’re urged to remember the reason for the season in our hectic holiday. We smile and nod, seems like a good idea… but by Monday morning we’re so removed from that ideal we can’t even recall the passage it was preached from, let alone live with intent.

First of all… skip the guilt and shame. No one is here to bash you. We’re all parents, living in the same nutty world. It’s a struggle to balance life in the best of times… let alone at Christmas. No other holiday compresses so many facets of our lives into one three or four-week period. Personal, private, family, church, professional, etc… everyone area of living gets a dose of Christmas obligation and in the end we’re left on the short side of it all. 

So… couple of encouragements.

1 – Happiness is NOT the same as “JOY”.  The Christian ideal for Advent isn’t fake happy. It is a cool reminder that God is really the one in control. Gives us permission to relax. In letting go we can rest in the work we’re doing and in letting go we find Peace.

2- Perfection doesn’t exist. So you can stop killing yourself to have the perfect party, dinner, Christmas… etc. Smile at the gaps in your life, instead of critiquing yourself and everyone else for falling ‘short’. After all it’s those imperfections that give us ‘character’… and who doesn’t love “character’?

3 – Enjoy the season at a pace that you can reasonably tolerate. Say “NO” when you must. No Guilt. You cannot do everything for everyone. Include times to rest and recharge yourself in the weekly commitments.

4- Stay off social media for a bit. It can be overwhelming and a huge distraction. The pictures and posts are all awesome and enjoyable, but for parents in overload…. it’ maybe a hill too far. The contentment factor is a personal issues for some… if it affects your JOY… ditch it for a while.

5- Sleep. It’s way underrated. Seven to Eight hours a night. Stop what you’re doing in time to go to bed. Whatever it is… you can do it better with a clear mind, and rested body. The last thing you need is a cold or cough to add to your woes.

Merry Christmas Parents! Your awesome and so is your family! It-s-A-Wonderful-Life-christmas-movies-2394010-1024-768

Philippians 4: 4 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Joy in waiting… Christmas on pause

Waiting is so odd to us.

We’re instant society folks… living in a push button culture. We find what we want in minutes, not hours. Days of delay, a totally foreign concept. We linger little. Time is tight.

Schedules are crammed full, social Holiday parties, church Christmas specials, school choir events, rushed shopping, shipping, spending… the pace of life pushing… squeezing.

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Couple with Christmas shopping

Waiting is not even an option anymore. We have to sprint to stay ahead of the freight train that is our life…endlessly bearing down on us. Exhausted and numb, we scratch at the shimmering screens that surround us. Looking, hoping to find the spark of our old life to ignite some Christmas spirit.

Tired of too many things… we need something more. 

We’re longing to find the reason for rushing, the purpose behind the presents. Christmas shouldn’t be so thin and harsh. Whatever happened to the Joy of it all?

Where did the thrill of the anticipation, the waiting to discover… the wonder each gift reveals.

Slow the show mom and dad. 

Sit down.

Bake.

Watch TV with your kids.

Drive the neighborhoods for Christmas lights.

Go make something crafty for Aunt Bev 🙂

This season comes once each year. It’s not like the other weeks and days we ram through. This is important. Priceless. Take a deep breath… say “NO” to something. Maybe four or five ‘somethings’,  loose a few ‘ extra’ obligations this Christmas. 

Jesus-Mary-Joseph-1Lets remember the big picture? Christ came… Christ is coming… Christ will come again. Faith flickers in our fatigue… now could be a good time to rest and refresh our hearts. Christmas break is coming. An opportunity to slow down enough to enjoy the beautiful and fleeting moments. Resist the temptation to fill every moment of your holiday. Leave large spaces of unscheduled time available for family… oh and mute your smartphones.

The rewards of unplugging are enormous… including the ultimate Christmas gift for a family… your being ‘present’. 

Merry Christmas from RTP and Pastor B.

 

Christian Tradition… ADVENT

Advent is an ancient Christian tradition of intentionally ‘waiting‘ and ‘looking’ for God’s coming. As early as the 4th century, Christian converts were preparing for Christ’s return. Over a period of four weeks, starting in late November they would fast and pray in an earnest attempt to renew their hearts and minds for Christ’s coming.

This has evolved into a modern day tradition of lighting four candles (Hope / Love / Joy / Peace)  over four weeks, each candle representing a specific theme and truth about Christ. We anticipate the arrival of Christmas and by parallel the birth of Christ… or “Advent”. But we also should consider the original intent of our ancient Church fathers who sincerely believed that Christ was about to return to earth.

Advent Candles

Advent Candles

So as millions of Christian families light their advent candles or hang their Advent wreaths this Christmas season… consider the possibility that we are anticipating more than a baby’s birth, but a King’s return to earth!

For families looking to re-emphasize the deeper meaning of Christ-Mass, ADVENT is a wonderful way to keep the reason for the season fresh and real for our kids. Simple and easy to do… Advent candles allow for families of faith to ponder the virtues of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace… a time to reflect on our amazing heritage.

Merry Christmas from Road Trip Parenting! 

PS – To find out more about the history of Advent or to start your own family tradition – check out Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts” or the free onlineAWANA Advent Devotional!

For those feeling left behind this Christmas!

OBSCURE + INSIGNIFICANT

Read Luke 2:1–7.

In a world where pop culture demands fame for significance, Luke’s narrative of the Christ child seems out of place. Each Christmas, I feel a little odd as I think about this classic Advent passage in Chapter 2. How strange to our modern sensibilities it is. I can’t help but remember the royal baby watch in England. A worldwide media sensation with billions of obsessed fans watched as Prince William and Kate prepared for their son to be born. Every network, newspaper, and radio station around the globe waited desperately for news of his arrival.

flowers-kid.com

flowers-kid.com

Why not with Jesus?

How different God’s ways really are from our own. We naturally attach great significance to those born to nobility and wealth, admiring the popular and the famous while ignoring the everyday and common among us. If we had planned things, Jesus would have been born with front-page news coverage and exclusive birth pictures on the cover of People magazine. God’s plan was much less “noticeable.”

His purposes are not tied to outward fame or success and our eternal significance isn’t dependent on the number of social media followers we have. Instead, Luke 2 helps us all slow down and reevaluate our perspectives on what makes for true significance. The very obscurity of this story challenges us to weigh carefully how we measure the importance of others and how we see ourselves.

The backwater town of Bethlehem with its lowly manger scene urges me to marvel once again at the power of God at work in the lives of the seemingly ordinary and insignificant. In all the rush that is the Christmas holiday, I can feel lost, obscure, and insignificant next to the sensational world rushing by.

Mary and Joseph seemed to be apparently ordinary people in the midst of an ordinary and obscure place. Shunned and ignored, they welcomed the birth of THE royal Son without the world even noticing. To not dismiss the ordinary in our world as insignificant is a beautiful reminder each Christmas.

APPLICATION

Reading this passage can be a timely encouragement to remember how God really sees us. Sometimes we can feel overlooked, alone, and insignificant in our “ordinary” lives, questioning if God really knows who we are or what we’re doing as His servants. Like Mary and Joseph, God can seem distant and unconcerned with our lives, but the spiritual reality is much different than we can see or feel in the moment. Write down or journal a life situation that has you feeling “forgotten” by God, then ask Him for renewed understanding of how different His ways are than our own in that specific circumstance.

——————-

For RTP readers, this post was originally written for the 2014 Awana Advent Devotional – and has several distinct age specific applications available for families and couples to enjoy this Christmas.

Merry Christmas – Pastor B.

Doing Busy Well

Families at Christmas… CRAZY BUSY! 

Life is always full for families of faith…but add to that the extra Church services, recitals, and Christmas specials… and you’ve got a recipe for flambe’ (burnout) !

yourpowercentre.com.au

yourpowercentre.com.au

Parents, as Christmas crashes its way into your last free moment…take a quick deep breath and remember what or rather ‘who’ holds it all together!

Our anchor to something stable and true is unchanging and sure.

Our guiding North Star each Christmas isn’t the gleam of the traffic light closest to our home… it’s our reflection on the only unbending truth we can claim. The truth of a baby born in Bethlehem, our tether to sanity and hope in a time of chaos and confusion.

It’s when we lose sight of that bright glowing truth that we start to think we’re responsible to get everything done all on our own. But that’s NOT true is it?

What is true… God doesn’t change. He’s permanently good, always faithful, consistently loving and full of mercy. His gift of Christ to mankind is always being offered, always available. Our crazy – busy – insane schedules can obscure the reality of our Faith and sap us of Hope and Joy. magi11600

This Christmas let’s do busy well. 

Take some precious moments to pray. Remember the character and nature of God… anchor yourself to His goodness and faithful – unchanging nature. Let His promise of new life flood your soul and restore your mind.. breathe deep and plunge on.

Resting as you go in the reality of your true Christmas Joy!

Pastor B.

PS –  a little Crazy Christmas fun from iShine!