The story of Christ’s birth told each year proclaims the “good news of great joy” that the shepherds first heard from the angels. It recounts the wise men, who “rejoiced with great joy” upon seeing the star. We also hear how Mary’s soul rejoiced in God her Savior when she learned she would bear the Christ. One of the best things about the Christmas season is the way anticipation builds for the big day. From the moment Thanksgiving ends, the countdown to Christmas officially begins. As the anticipation builds, so does the joy we look forward to feeling. However if look for joy in other place than connecting with Christ we are always disappointed.
The joy of Christmas is no ordinary joy, but the “mega joy” of redemptive history. It discerns, by faith, the unsurpassable gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and it trusts, often in defiance of painful circumstances, that nothing can prevent every last promise in Christ from coming to complete fulfillment. The people of God had long been waiting for a Savior to come. When they knew that Jesus, the One whose arrival they’d anticipated for hundreds of years, was born that Christmas morning, their joy was endless. While we can’t imagine what it must have felt like for the people back then to know that the King they’d been promised had finally come, we can share in their joy this Christmastide season. For just as God filled their hearts with His joy, He can fill ours with the same. And His joy—a deep, unmatchable, life-changing joy—is better than any good feelings or temporary happiness. As we move into this new year, ask God to fill your hearts with joy. Pray to Christ to make your life a living testament of His joy this year.
In the book of Numbers, we read about the Israelites’ experience in the wilderness. The people were constantly grumbling against God instead of trusting Him. They had seen His awesome wonders and grace. He sent manna from heaven and provided water from a rock. God had miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt, but their hearts were turning back. Here they were experiencing God’s miraculous provision, but they seem to have taken it for granted. As soon as God had done one thing for them, they were wanting something else and finding another reason to grumble. Their faith and focus were not where they should have been.
It’s easy to judge the Israelites as unthankful complainers, but we realize that we are just as prone to complain. How many times do we experience God’s great blessings in our lives, but then look at another situation and start complaining about that instead of praising and thanking God for His goodness? How many times do we focus our attention on personal problems and needs instead of on Jesus and His love? In the United States, we set aside one day each year in November as a day to give thanks. We often gather with loved ones and enjoy a large feast. We list all our blessings for which we are thankful. But for too many of us, it ends there. We get up from that table and go back to our normal routine. Instead of remaining in that attitude of thankfulness, we start grumbling about bad weather, hectic schedule, or long lines at the store. I pray that our hearts will remain in an attitude of thanksgiving all year round. God is good every day, not just on the fourth Thursday in November. Let’s thank Him each day.
Auntie Anne Beiler is a speaker, author, and entrepreneur that inspires audiences with her authentic stories about nearly losing everything, finding purpose in the pain, and rising to a new level of success. It’s hard to walk though a major US airport or shopping mall without seeing Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. She and her husband parlayed her successful business into funding for their hometown Family Center to promote mental, physical and spiritual health. But life was not always pretty.
Jonas and Anne Beiler collapsed when a farm tractor struck and killed their young daughter, Angie. Anne’s pastor, whom she approached for assistance, sexually abused her during her first counseling session. The abuse continued for years as her marriage deteriorated. Eventually, the pastor was dismissed from the church and the Beilers began repairing their relationship. As he saw wise counsel benefited his own marriage, Jonas wanted to help others by offering free counseling services. To support Jonas’ vision to help others, Anne bought a concession stand in 1988 at a busy farmers’ market in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Their soft pretzels were a hit and Auntie Anne’s Hand Rolled Soft Pretzels was born.
Anne’s work to support Jonas’ dream morphed into what became the world’s largest hand-rolled soft pretzel franchise. Accolades for her entrepreneurship recognized her efforts to inspire, serve and give. Today the Beiler’s Family Center partners with community organizations to offer counseling, healthcare options, education, and more. Anne credits God with sustaining her, quoting King David in the Psalms, “For you God are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory.”
“We all need that hiding place,” she affirms. “The reason I never wanted to tell anyone about the secrets in my life was that I was ashamed, and afraid, and scared that people would no longer love me. So I tried to hide my ‘stuff’ from everyone. But this kind of hiding only made it worse. … Confession allows us to hide in God and be surrounded with songs of victory and not floodwaters of judgment.” Anne now lives in Texas with her husband, Jonas, and she travels, internationally, sharing her story with women and entrepreneurs at conferences and events.
A peddler stood in the city square and shouted, “My merchandise can change your life!” A crowd quickly gathered and the peddler displayed a cart full of mirrors “Preposterous!” cried the crowd. “How can mirrors change our lives?” Most of the people scoffed and walked away. But three women stayed to take a closer look and to hear more. Each finally decided to buy a mirror.
The first woman bought a small, fancy mirror. “I don’t want to look at myself,” she thought as she walked home. ‘This mirror will have to change my life from another room,” she thought as she mounted it in an unused room where it was soon covered by dust and cobwebs. “I’ll not waste my time looking at that mirror. It will have to change my life as I go through with my daily activities,” said the second woman as she mounted her mirror in the hallway where she occasionally glanced at it on her way in and out.
“If this mirror is to change my life,” thought the third woman, “I must see it as much as possible.” She mounted her mirror in her bedroom and stared deeply into it each morning. Soon, she began to notice when her hair was out of place and would brush it. She saw old make-up on her face and washed it away. She noticed when her clothing was torn and mended them.
Soon others noticed the woman who was using her mirror. She was invited to teas, visited by her friends and courted by the most eligible bachelor in town. She would eventually marry him. By and by, she met the other two women who had bought mirrors. They were still unchanged. “We all bought the life changing mirrors,” the two said, “but our lives haven’t been changed like yours has. Why?” The changed woman smiled, “It’s all in how you use the mirror,” she said. “The more often you see yourself the way you are, the more you are able to change into who you want to be.”
THE LESSON! Think of one of the mirrors as the Bible. The first woman represents the kind of person who buys a Bible just to say they have one. The second woman symbolizes the person who has a huge family Bible on the coffee table so that those who see will think she is a religious person. But, the third woman stands for the Christian who reads and studies God’s Word to learn what is wrong with her life and sees how to change it. I believe that is what James 1:23 is saying. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
A very wealthy man once bought a huge ranch out in Arizona, and he invited some of his closest associates out to see it. In an effort to show off his spread he took his group on an all day tour of the ranch. He explained how, on his 15,000 acres, he had cattle, horses and various other livestock grazing as far as the eye could see. He talked about the mountains and rivers and grasslands that he was now the proud owner of. At the end of the day he took the group back to his house. The house was just as spectacular as the scenery. Behind the house was the largest swimming pool you have ever seen. However, this gigantic swimming pool was filled with alligators.
The rich owner explained, “I value courage more than anything else. Courage is what made me a billionaire. In fact, I think that courage is such a powerful virtue that if anybody is courageous enough to jump in that pool, swim through those alligators and make it to the other side, I’ll give them anything they want, anything — my house, my land, my money.”
Of course, everybody laughed at the absurd challenge and proceeded to follow the owner into the house for dinner when they suddenly heard a loud splash. Turning around they saw this guy swimming for his life across the pool, thrashing at the water, as the alligators swarmed after him. After several death defying seconds, the man made it, unharmed to the other side.
The rich host was absolutely amazed at what he had just seen, but stuck to his promise. He said, “You are indeed a man of courage and I will stick to my word. What do you want? You can have anything — my house, my land, my money — just tell me what you want and it is yours.” The swimmer, breathing heavily, looked up at the host and said, “I just want to know one thing — who pushed me into that pool?”
Do you need someone to give you a little push to live the Christian life? It seems, at times, that life is like trying to swim the length of a swimming pool filled with alligators. When we try to live our lives in a way that completely leaves God out of the picture we’re just asking for trouble. Why not exert a little courage and stand up for those things that are right and get more involved? Need a little push?