Monthly Archives: December 2020

Let’s Act like we Believe

In the beginning, God created man and woman and placed them in a beautiful garden that provided for their every need. The only rule was, “Do not eat from this tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for if you do, you will die.” Genesis 2:15.

This rule was given to Adam before Eve was created, but surely God or Adam communicated that information to Eve because when the serpent approached her, she said “we can eat from any tree except the one in the center of the garden”. Genesis 3. So she knew, but maybe not with first hand knowledge, maybe just through Adam. We know he got it straight from God. Maybe, like us, the Truth didn’t have the same impact on Eve as it had on Adam, but of course, he then ate the forbidden fruit too. He couldn’t allow Eve to have the knowledge without him, right?

What does this have to do with Christmas, the birth of our Savior and the upcoming year? Everything! If Adam and Eve had kept the only commandment they were given, God would not have needed to sacrifice His own son to save them or us. There would have been no separation from God in the first place.

But that’s not what happened. His human creation gained knowledge about good and evil, something that God specifically told them would bring death. God had to deal with them knowing everything including living forever with that knowledge. Angels, including the fallen angels, led by Satan, possessed this knowledge. Those evil ones clearly could manipulate humans, unless God did something. True to His Word, Our God set Adam, Eve and the rest of humanity out from Him and the safety of the Garden, to protect not only humanity but also all of His creation.

Fast-forward many thousands of years to the time of Jesus. He came after Abraham, Moses and the prophets. God spoke to all these people, giving them the message of loving God and others which God wanted them to pass on to the next generations. But our ability to choose God before ourselves did not work. The human race chose evil time and time again.

God reversed that trend by sending us His Son who chose God instead of himself, setting an example for all of us. Jesus also told us that in order for us to join Him, He must complete the process of dying in order for all of us to live with Him in paradise. His seed would germinate producing a great harvest. When He died He tore the veil between God and us, once again allowing us into relationship with God. It was the ultimate act of love. It is what we are supposed to model – Pure love for our Father, shown in His Son, passed onto us through the Holy Spirit.

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

“If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.

“Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’”

A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.”

The listening crowd said, “Thunder!”

Others said, “An angel spoke to him!”

Jesus said, “The voice didn’t come for me but for you. At this moment the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out. And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me.” He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death. John 12:24-33 MSG*

God’s solution to the original problem was a baby who grew into our Savior – God in human form who came to save us from certain destruction – our God who has prepared a place for us with Him in paradise.

That is the point of Christmas . . . that is the point of today . . . and that is the point of tomorrow! Jesus reunited us with God and made it possible for us to live forever with Him. Let’s start the New Year with this life saving knowledge and act like we believe it!

* Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Love came down at Christmas

Dear Lord:

It’s me, Mary. I am here at the manager kneeling by the Christ Child. Do you see me? Of course you do, you are here with me. You know it took me a long time to get here. I have been distracted by so many things – things that don’t really matter in the scope of eternity.

As I gaze into His innocent eyes, I want to understand but I don’t. When I look up from His Face, I only see the Cross. When I see the Cross, I see pain and hurt mixed with your love and hope. I can’t comprehend how you felt to give up your only son to that death so that He could save us.

You know what it is like to be without your son. So you know how I feel kneeling at this manager, in the shadow of the Cross, missing those who are not here with me. You understand these tears; you understand the pain; you understand the weariness in my soul. I miss your sons and daughters who you gave to me to love in this world and who have passed onto the next.

My heart knows you have heard my prayers for others who have not found the manager or the Cross, for those being tossed about by this world, for those who are sound asleep in themselves. Not only have you heard my prayers, but you have also acted on them even before they were spoken from my heart.

I want to be joyful. I want to have the Peace that He gave to me. And kneeling here, I realize I do have His Peace because I trust you, Lord. You are our God of miraculous movement and unimaginable blessings. You are the God of Angels who sing to the lowly and visit the faithful. You are the God that puts stars in the sky and leads those who seek your guidance. You are the God of today and forevermore . . .

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.  

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

By: Christina Georgina Rossetti

Between a Rock and a Hard Place-Week 3

People with their minds set on you,
    you keep completely whole,
Steady on their feet,
    because they keep at it and don’t quit.
Depend on God and keep at it
    because in the Lord God you have a sure thing. Isaiah 26:3-4 MSG

The race is coming to an end and I’m happy to report that Mary has made her way towards becoming a contender. Martha Stewart is still showing bursts with her Christmas cookies, but she’s lost most of her steam. Mrs. Claus looks content and consistent, not too much energy there, but it is Mary who looks like she’s gaining ground. Finally!

It is a week before Christmas and where do you find your players? I can honestly say that this is the first year in a long time that Mary has pulled ahead with Christmas eight days away. In the last few years, I’ve seen her in church on Sundays throughout the advent season and at the Christmas program practice, but not often during the weekdays. I wonder what has made the difference?

I’m going to give credit to a puzzle. The puzzle was given to our family in and among a box of puzzles from one of my dearest friends and last Christmas was our first year to complete it. We are not normally a puzzle activity family but this particular puzzle is very beautiful. It’s 1000 pieces revealing the nativity. It is not easy nor can it be completed in one sitting. When we started it last year, I had no idea we would be embarking on a new Hartley Christmas tradition!

Our puzzle tradition has evolved into a reminder of what we actually celebrate at Christmas. The gift God gives to us is the never-ending love of Christ. Our puzzle interactions share His love through visits with family and friends. Everyone is welcome to sit, rest and work on the puzzle! Putting together this puzzle has become a way to interact with my kids – they don’t stay long, but they help intermittently. I’ve even gone so far as to say, “no presents are opened until the puzzle is finished!” The puzzle helps my thoughts become calmer, slower and more focused. There is a tiny baby in a manger right at the center, just as Jesus should be at the center of my thoughts.

So my friends, I ask you, “What will help you bring your Mary to the front of the race?”

The path of right-living people is level.
    The Leveler evens the road for the right-living.
We’re in no hurry, God. We’re content to linger
    in the path sign-posted with your decisions.
Who you are and what you’ve done
    are all we’ll ever want. Isaiah 26:7-8 MSG

Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Week 2

But now, God’s Message,
the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,
the One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you. Isaiah 43:1-4 MSG*

 I’m checking in with you to see how you’ve progressed in this second week of December! I’m feeling a bit more cheerful since last week’s devotion and it is beginning to look like Christmas around here. I’d love to say Mary (or Martha) is winning the race, but she isn’t yet. Mrs. Claus is on track, but Martha Stewart has definitely taken the lead this week. This is exciting because in recent years, she has barely finished the race before the season was over.

We’ve been involved in a home renovation project for 3 years that has included moving in and out of our home twice. With all this moving, my decorations have been in storage and frankly, I’ve forgotten about most of them. Because of this, I was really looking forward to getting out all the décor of past years as well as the oohing, aahhing of memories flowing.

It is our family’s tradition to keep the same stocking throughout the years and it was with a swelling heart I pulled out our daughter’s furry pink stocking and our boys larger jester type stockings. It was after this when I hit my rock and my hard place. Our cat of 17 years passed from old age in June and our dog for 8 years passed away suddenly in October and when I came across their stockings, well, I just sat down and cried.

Gone was the excitement of the Christmas décor. It was replaced by sadness and confusion. Do I put up the stockings? Do I keep them packed away? How must people feel who have lost a person in this past year? How do they move into this season without their person?

Each of us must struggle with our own answer remembering that His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Isaiah 55:8. I think I will move through this season holding onto God’s loving Words: That’s how much you mean to me! That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you. Isaiah 43:4

We can feel sad and confused without feeling hopeless. God is our hope and He has a plan for our future. That future includes this season we are in, Christmas 2020. It will be harder in different ways for some of us more than others, but one thing is the same as every other Christmas we’ve experienced. Jesus, our Savior is born.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

When You’re Between a Rock and a Hard Place

But now, God’s Message,
the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,
the One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you. Isaiah 43:1-4 MSG*

This is an interesting scripture to start the month of our Savior’s birth. Aren’t we decking the halls and ringing in Christmas cheer? I hope you are, but I’m not there yet.

I’m caught here, between Thanksgiving and Christmas; the time of year when my family goes off in different directions. The kids go back to the routine of school, my hubby goes hunting and I’m in this weird limbo between Martha Stewart, Mrs. Claus and Mary (of Mary and Martha). I want all my Christmas décor to instantly appear and find a spot. I want all the gifts bought and wrapped and I want to sit down and savor the beautiful gift of Jesus.

Some may say that this quandary is not between a rock and hard place, but it is for me and that’s what I want to focus on. How do you feel? If excitement and anticipation are plentiful at your house, rejoice! If you are ho-hum and pressing through the mundane, keep pressing! If this is a devastating time of year for you, reach out!

This Scripture covers the emotions we can feel at this time of year. And then, God tells us that His love dwells everywhere even in the space between our rock and our hard places. There is no dead end in God’s Kingdom!

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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