This is a good New Years article from my files by Joe Wrape. Joe was the preacher where my brother and his family attended in Bay City, Texas for many years. He had a fiery but loving presence that reached many people for Christ. After retiring he returned to Bay City to preach in a revival, during which he had a heart attack and passed away. He lived and died preaching the gospel. At the bottom of every one of his church bulletins was this attention-getting sentence: Our Only Limitation is the Size of our Faith! I’m glad I saved this article and the memory of brother Joe. – JED
I will not harbor unclean thoughts.
I will not speak harshly or unkindly of anyone.
I will not hold malice in my heart toward anyone.
I will withhold my words when there is a doubt as to my motive in speaking.
I will no criticize anyone to his back but will go directly to him or hold my tongue altogether.
I will not receive an unfavorable report concerning the life of anyone, unless it is supported by the testimony of two or more witnesses.
I will refrain from all gossip and will not tell or repeat anything that might cause ill feelings between people I will not sow discord among my brethren.
If my brother is overtaken in any trespass, I will go at once and endeavor to restore him in the spirit of meekness, looking to myself lest I also be tempted.
I will have faith and confidence in my fellowman, and will cultivate the habit of putting a charitable construction upon his words and actions. I will believe the best, not the worst, about him.
I will do all in my power to help the weak, lift the fallen, encourage the fainthearted, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and comfort all who mourn.
With the strong that God gives, I will do all the good that I can in every way I can to as many people as I can. I will endeavor to make this world a better place in which to live and move upward to the higher realm.
I will love you, even if you don’t love me. After all, that’s what my Father would do.
I hope your Christmas Day 2020 was one that gave you some reason to smile, some blessing to count, or some love to give to someone else. We usually go out of town during Christmas but not this year. The family we usually travel to see are here with us. And aside from the hazards of COVID-19, our home just last week received the final repairs from damage from Hurricane Laura (now the yard is another story, but the house has finally been repaired). As you can guess, home repairs are costly, so we stayed home, which was fine.
Christmas songs have a way of touching our hearts in special ways. While there are lots of funny lists of the worst Christmas songs (I know what my vote is!), there are so many more that express our hearts desire in the most anticipated holiday of the year. Many artists have recorded the song Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. My personal opinion is that no one can touch Judy Garland’s performance in the movie Meet Me In St. Louis (link). It’s a wistful song that attempts to choose to have a merry Christmas when things aren’t so merry. This year I noticed some phrases in that song that particularly resonated with this Christmas.
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
With the advent of vaccines for coronavirus, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. We are looking at months before it has been distributed to a wide population. There seem to be many unknowns. Do we have hope that next Christmas all of this that we have been dealing with will be out of sight? Later in the song the writers suggest that, “Next year all our troubles will be miles away.” Our children and grandchildren will be hearing about this experience for the rest of their lives. We will re-live the moments when we couldn’t be together, when sick family members were in hospitals alone, and when the empty chairs at the table would remind us that we are now missing loved ones. It is easy to settle into a maudlin perspective that sees no hope. Christ, however, is our greatest hope. Whether it is next year when our troubles will be miles away or some other point in time, we know that Jesus will make all things right in His time. The Christian perspective is never without hope.
Faithful friends who were near to us
“Someday soon we all will be together” – at least that is our hope. Friends and family together during the holidays is what our hearts long for. That togetherness is the substance of the memories of Christmas past. Many families did gather today, in spite of warnings about the danger of households mixing. Everyone has to find their own path through this pandemic, so I do not judge you. But I do know that a lot of people chose not to gather in larger crowds. What many of us missed for most of this year is the freedom to spend time with friends without considering the presence of an invisible contagious virus. Maybe that day will some again. For Christians, there is hope of a grand reunion where no more tears or sickness will be a part of our experience. I know there are loved ones I long to see. As the death rates have climbed in our country (and in our world), many are missing their loved ones. I hope the message of eternal life promised by the blood of Christ will call to many people to follow Jesus.
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
This line doesn’t make into all versions of the song, but it is in Garland’s version. And it connects with me. We are going to have to muddle through somehow. To me that means that we will do our best. It may not be the perfect holiday celebration, but we will express love to one another, gather as safely as we can, call and talk to our loved ones, and remember the reason why we are having a holiday. As we move into 2021, I’m sure we will be muddling through in many ways but we will be moving forward. We never give up. Not when it hurts, not when we are tempted, not when we are confused, not when we are lonely – our Christian commitment will not let us give up. Jesus experienced the struggles we face. He was without sin, but He has understanding of the effects of these challenges on our hearts.
As we have made our way through Luke’s account of the birth of Christ at our church, I am struck by the nobodies. Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, the Shepherds, Anna, Simeon … none of them are worthy to have something to do with the birth of the King of Kings, but God chose them. All of them were in some way or another experiencing isolation, troubles, uncertainty. The Hope of the World came to the nobodies – and that gives me such gratitude. As a nobody, I know now that God notices.
Hey friend, whatever you’re going through … however long the journey … when the tears fall and you’re just trying to have a merry little Christmas, remember that Out Here Hope Remains. In case you’re wondering, the only thing that really matters about Christmas is that you know that God thinks you are worth it. That’s the main message of the manger. You are deeply loved. Yes you.
Christmas is such a mixed bag for so many people most any year. Everyone deals with the varying religious traditions, family rituals, and the overblown commercialization of gift giving. Add to that the loneliness many feel during the holidays as well as the emotional connections to past experiences that can be difficult. But we are used to all of that, aren’t we? We deal with this every year. This Christmas feels different, just like this year has felt different.
How many people are celebrating Christmas alone this year, due to fears of spreading coronavirus? Those who made the transition this year from independent living to nursing home or assisted living structures are unable to have family or friends visit with them. Even if you live at home, to have multiple families join you for extended periods of time in closed-in places is risky at best. Some people who are struggling with health issues already cannot add COVID-19 to the list and survive.
How many people are facing a Christmas season for the first time without a loved one?
How many people are facing a Christmas season for the first time without a loved one? In our country we are over 300,000 deaths from the virus. That’s a lot of empty chairs at the Christmas tables across America. We can’t forget the many who lost their jobs or businesses during this time of restriction and recovery. Through no fault of their own, the financial damage is done.
In Louisiana, there are many people who are still recovering from two profound hurricanes that did a tremendous amount of damage. Some are still displaced and uncertain.
Mental Health Impact
This reminds me of what my friends Nick and Amber White at Firm Foundations Family Counseling (and many other therapists) say often: the mental health impact of this year may be greater than all of the other impacts. So, how’s that Christmas looking?
I think one of the things we need to avoid is glossing over the Christmas season, especially this year. This post is not meant to be depressing, it’s meant to acknowledge that Christmas is different this year. We can pretend it’s not, but ultimately that will work against our spirits. There are enough Christmas movies, gifts, foods, and decorations to distract us for a bit. Maybe that’s ok for a while, but I’d recommend that we not ignore the struggles.
But that’s not to say that there’s no joy to be found in Christmas.
There is joy – that is a constant in our lives. I think it’s just that this year the joy will coexist with the sting of 2020. When some of those discordant emotions and feelings come your way during this season of lights and gifts, I will simply encourage you to think about the first Christmas. That is what all of this activity is about, after all. I think we can find some solidarity with the uncertainty of Joseph, the discomfort of Mary, the disconnectedness of having to travel for a census, the despair of finding no place to lie down when a baby is coming, the humility of being in the barn, and yet…
The joy of the angels, the determination of the magi, the curiosity of the shepherds, and the mother who kept all these things in her heart. It wasn’t as idyllic as our imaginings of the nativity scene may be, but it was as amazing an account as one could experience.
The news that set the world free arrived in a setting of uncertainty, discomfort, questions, pain, detachment, isolation … and joy.
How’s that Christmas looking? Well, Mary and Joseph and Jesus and Me and You are in this together. We recognize the difficulty and we know that joy exists beyond the hurt. In the mean time we will smile when we see God planting unexpected blessings throughout our experience. He is near. He is with us. Immanuel. Amen.
Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”
This article From My Files is from The Keynoter church bulletin from Little Rock, October 12, 1995. The prolific John Gipson is the author. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. – JED
Bethlehem, a town located on the edge of the desert of Judah, just five miles south of the city of Jerusalem. It is situated on a rocky spur of the mountains of Judah just off the main road to Hebron and Egypt.
Here Rachel was buried; here Ruth and Boaz came to love one another and were married; here David went about feeding his father’s sheep, and was anointed by Samuel to be king.
The prophet of old, Micah, indicates future fame for this town when he says, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).
And Micah was right! Matthew tells us that Jesus was born “in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king” (Matthew 2:1). When wise men from the East came to worship the Christ, Herod was troubled. He assembled all the chief priests and scribes and inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet” (Matthew 2:5).
Phillips Brooks, who died over 100 years ago, attended Harvard and felt the influence of such great teachers as James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In 1867, he wrote one of his famous songs, “O Little Town of Bethlehem:
O little town of Bethlehem! How still we see thee lie; Above thy deep and dreamless sleep The silent stars go by; Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light; The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight.
This post ‘From My Files’ is by Charles Box, who was the longtime minister for the Walnut Street Church of Christ in Greenville, Alabama. Many of his articles can still be found there. In his usual style, his articles are filled with Scriptures. This one was in my ‘Thanksgiving’ file, appropriately enough, and is entitled ‘I Am Thankful’.
Every day brings us more blessings and more reasons to give thanks. “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud” (Psalm 55:17). Out of God’s bountiful storehouse comes the daily blessings without number. Let us thank God “fro whom all blessings flow.” “Pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).
I AM THANKFUL THAT GOD GAVE ME LIFE. “For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring'” (Acts 17:28).
I AM THANKFUL THAT JESUS DIED FOR MY SINS. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
I AM THANKFUL FOR THE BIBLE. “An you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
I AM THANKFUL FOR THE CHURCH. “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body” (Ephesians 5:23).
I AM THANKFUL FOR MY FAMILY. Our mate and children are truly a gift from God. Much of the happiness of life comes from our family. (Psalm 127:3; Ephesians 6:1-4; Proverbs 18:22)
I AM THANKFUL THAT I HAVE A MEDIATOR. “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
I AM THANKFUL THAT JESUS UNDERSTANDS WHAT IT IS TO BE TEMPTED. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
There is no sin uglier than that of ingratitude. The story of the ten lepers illustrates how ungrateful people can be (Luke 17:11-19). The Lord gave them what they most needed and only one was thankful. The bible says, “Be ye thankful” and all of us have so many reasons to obey these words!