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“They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. . .Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders . . .And let us run with perseverance. . .fixing our eyes on Jesus. . .so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” –Hebrews 11:35-12:3

Jack-o-lanterns and costumes lay waiting. Candy reserves mount inside each doorway. We muddle through the workweek amid the season’s orange and black decor. The time nears, and we do our best to prepare against the horror of facing a princess with nothing sweet to offer.

Halloween stirs mixed responses of aversion, occult obsession, or ambivalence in the name of family fun. Although pagan rituals once took place during harvest season, early Christians promoted neither ambivalence nor aversion to the October 31st holiday. On All Hallow’s Eve, shortened to Hallowe’en, Christ followers entered a two-day festival honoring those who  paid the ultimate price for their faith.

This week offers an opportunity to celebrate those who persevere in faith by living their example. Join those Christians who observe All Saints Day by taking a moment to learn from the stories of martyrs. Support contemporary missionaries who risk their lives daily to share Jesus. Better still, take the step of becoming an ambassador to shine His hope wherever you go. Instead of joining the occult practices or condemning the lost, we can reach out in love and prayer.

Like the story of the jack-o-lantern, we carry the light of Christ so that it can shine into the darkness of the world. Carve a smile onto your face this Halloween, and let His hope and love gleam toward all the little princes and princesses who cross your path.

happy jackolantern

Pumpkin Parable (Original author unknown):

First, God picks a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch and brings it in from the field. He chooses you.

He then washes all the “dirt” off the outside. He cleans away the outside influences. Old things are passed away and all things are become new.

Then, God carefully removes all the tangled messes of lies and confusion, pain and fear, and the slime of sin. He cleans out all the icky stuff from the inside. 

He replaces the seeds of doubt with the light of faith, hope and love. The Light of His Spirit warms and transforms us.

Then He carves a new smiling face. His powerful presence changes our life. 

 He shines through our life for all to see.  “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)

Jesus, please cleanse me of fear, disdain, and sin. Fill me with Your brilliant presence and make my life shine powerfully for You. Amen.

Leprechaun impostors frolic along beer-scented streets. Shamrock patterned underwear hangs in the local department stores. Party favors honor the shamrock as a lucky charm, rather than a symbol explaining the Holy Trinity. Tavern patrons cheer St. Paddy without praising his evangelism. Most cities celebrate St. Patrick’s day with little regard for the saint or his legacy.

Despite its lighthearted intent, one holiday tradition reflects the influence of a saint. Authorities load small boats with special equipment. The sanctioned crafts launch a vibrant green dye into the water. Wherever they go, the river transforms into a beautiful new flow of color.

The Lord commissioned and equipped an escaped slave to transform the spiritual environment of a nation. Saint Patrick delivered the gospel to Ireland, leaving a glimmer of hope across the nation’s landscape. He blended new meaning into existing symbols. Wherever he went, vibrant news of eternal life sprang up alongside his path.

Scripture refers to all Christ-followers as saints. Equipped with the truth and anointed with the Spirit, we each have an opportunity to change the spiritual environment wherever we go. The culture around us starves for the truth, and a few small vessels can transform the world.

Will you celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with me by greening a bit of the river around us?

“This grace was given to me—the least of all the saints—to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of the Messiah” (Ephesians 3:8).

“I have become its servant, according to God’s administration that was given to me for you, to make God’s message fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints. God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:25-27).

Children’s sleighbell dreams dissolved from their slumber last night. Sugarplum visions faded before bedtime. A cacophony of wishes  from young lips and old circled the globe this season. The fortunate celebrated their satisfaction, while others clutched the pangs of unfulfillment on their way to bed. Seasonal anticipation shrivels with a turn of the calendar page. Other longings persist with little regard for date.

Wants and needs often construct dream content, the connection increasing during seasons insisting we expect happiness. Good dreams offer us the gifts and sustenance we desire or the restoration for which we thirst. Nightmares exchange hope for the peril we most fear.

The heart’s desire knits patterns for a common REM cycle, but wilder dreams exist. Not every notion grows from within. A dream beyond common notions strikes new vision into the sleeper. An unforeseen epiphany dawns upon the chosen one. Such a dream does not fade at a new calendar page. The refreshed dreamer rises with a passionate desire to obey the Lord’s call.

Before we tuck away the early chapters of Matthew and Luke with our Christmas decor, notice the divine messages offered in dreams. Scripture does not bother to mention ordinary notions entertained in slumber. Ancient folks longed for satisfaction, perhaps more than the average modern sleeper. Though we might relate to their dreams of want and need, the Bible omits the common content and cites the extraordinary dreams instead.

Beyond imagination, the Lord pressed His lips into minds and spoke through dreams. The Old Testament visions appeared centuries apart, but a heavy concentration of divine dreams occur as Jesus sets foot on the earth. God encouraged Joseph to wed Mary in a dream. The Magi received warning of Herod’s plot in a dream. The Lord spoke to Joseph again, urging him to rise from bed and flee to Egypt during the night. Unlike the visionaries of the Old Testament, the Lord inhabited the dreams of ordinary Gentiles and an impoverished tradesman. With the advent of Christ’s birth, the Lord established His plan to draw all of us near to His Word.

As Christmas Day settles behind us, the time of dreaming about a new year approaches. Common notions of resolution and wishes will fill the air until a strong wind gusts them away with the calendar pages. We can choose to dream of our own desires, as is customary, or listen for God’s voice. We can seek His purpose in waking hours, whether He visits our slumbering thoughts or not. Christ offers His presence within us at all times of day and night, every day of the year. He constructs a new way of thinking. Regardless of our material circumstances–whether fortunate or unfortunate by the world’s standards–He configures us with an identity of hope that revitalizes and exceeds life.

Will you choose to dream beyond common notions this year?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” — Romans 12:2

Balmy breezes tickle the green lawns across my Florida neighborhood. Doughy cumulus clouds yawn and stretch until their shapes break. Puffs drift west across the iris-blue sky to visit their reflections in the bay. We could drive to meet them at the shoreline and fashion sugary sand into boulders. Sandmen wear shell buttons and wave palm branches to welcome tourists to paradise.

I needn’t ask my sons about such an outing. I know the beach offers little to appease their wintry longings. While ice threatens to sling our northern kin into misery, my children complain about the unseasonable warmth outside. To hands which never fashioned snowballs and eyes unfamiliar with frosted landscapes, no holiday wish outshines the dream of a white Christmas. 

Sunshine cannot melt carols. No barrier prohibits scripture or kindness from dwelling in the tropics. With purpose and meaning intact, eighty degree weather still seems strange. Whether in Florida or other unfrosted areas, we long for those winter wonderlands. The comfortable weather seems at odds with Christmas somehow, as if we are missing out on a vital part of the season.

What does snow have to do with Christmas? Perhaps the connection never rose to consciousness, but it remains a niggle at the heart. When winter stings our flesh with its icy grip, we swaddle our children and gather indoors at fires to share cocoa. One must be uncomfortable to appreciate comfort at its fullest. Those chilled by despair can experience hope as a precious blessing.

Despite its cold surface, however, snow cleanses and nourishes the land upon which it falls. While freezing the spread of pestilence, the blanket also incubates life. Glorious white reminds us of Christ’s impact upon a world deadened by its depravity. The dark and withered earth transforms as a fresh covering falls from heaven to cover its barrenness. 

That might be why I wish for snow at Christmas. My dream heralds the descent of the Lord’s radiant covering over our world. He makes all things new.

“The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned…

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

— Isaiah 2:2,6

LED strands wind through plastic branches, grabbing the hooks of metallic globes. Cinnamon sticks plunk into tidy rows of cider mugs. Cookies huddle onto platters and store shelves brim over with packages. Christhannukwanzolidays strode into our community, complete with all the fixings.

The trimmings themselves have not cut Christ from Christmas. For millenia, celebrations kept His love burning in faithful hearts. Mine still leaps to the season’s pa-rum-pa-pum-pum and each whiff of balsam scents lifts my spirits a few inches off the floor. As I welcome this advent season, the joy remains bittersweet. Many who see the glimmer of Christmas stars will miss the light source. The ever-multiplying tragedy of lost souls intensifies the Christian’s need to shine the message of salvation. Dimming the tree lights seems unproductive, but how would Christ define a birthday celebration with all the fixings?

I wonder if the term “fixings” originated with a poor family’s need to supplement inadequate meat. The raw, unsavory, and broken face disposal if left in their hopeless state. Should the Lord’s choice to birth Himself among despised shepherds and homeless travelers surprise us? Jesus elevates our concept of holiday “fixings” to a new level. His love refines the raw, cleanses and redeems the unsavory, and heals the broken.

Some impoverished hearts glare among us, while others appear self-sufficient on the outside. Obvious and not, the numbers swell each year. We feel the chill, but wonder how to warm it away. The original story teaches the non-monetary cost of illuminating the darkness–lay yourself in a feeding trough. We can’t spend the need away, but Christ offered Himself as the first gift to model how we share Him by loving the emptiness away. The loneliness and suffering in our world cannot destroy those in eternal relationship with Jesus, and we can honor Him by demonstrating this through simple offerings such as daily gifts of friendliness and caring.

He’s invited us to an extravagant birthday celebration–eternal light, living water, sweet bread, and heart-crafted gifts. This Christmas, will you join me in sharing “fixings” with those who need hope?

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).

Over a century ago, a man from a carpentry guild encouraged Americans to honor labor with a holiday. Since the late 1800’s, our nation has celebrated its work by laying it aside for a single day. Beach visits, barbecues, and bargains rally the hordes to seize their day off.

I don’t need a profound reason to embrace a holiday, do you? In fact, I scan my calendar to mark each one, counting the weeks I’ll have to wait between them. If I can just make it through the next two weeks, I get to enjoy that weekend away… then there’s only six weeks until the next event…then how much longer until Thanksgiving and Black Friday will I have to wait?

If I subtracted moments of anticipation from my life, I’d have little left. Mid-stride, I’m planning how many steps it’ll take to get to a resting place, or even the journey’s end. While a penchant for holidays causes no harm, suspending my joy until they arrive robs me of life.

Living everyday moments as anointed by God’s presence will give my life back. Another Carpenter establishes the work of my hands, a greater thing to celebrate than a day without duties. His favor pours vitality into my spirit, mind, and heart with greater power than the extra hours of rest I look forward to enjoying.

When I stand before the Lord to account for the time He entrusted to me, I wonder if He might ask, “About your life, Tina…were you there?”

How would  you respond if He asked you such a question?

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