Category: Devotional Reading

First Christmas Memory

(This is a devotional I shared at our church’s annual Ladies Christmas Brunch 2017)

 

Christmas is a time for looking back. It brings us back to our childhood, back to family memories of when we were children or raising our own children. It brings us back to all the Christmas memories we made together.

As we call to mind our Christmas memories, we are transported back to a different time and place. Most of these memories bring us back to a happy time—a time that we have treasured. And as parents we work hard to make Christmas a special time for our families that they will treasure—just like our parents made it special for us when we were growing up.

As we think back over our Christmas memories, each of us has something different in mind that we treasure and that makes Christmas so special. We all have a different version of what makes Christmas “Christmas.”

Just for fun I want you to take a moment and try to remember what you did last year for Christmas. Where were you? Who were you with? What do you remember?

Now I want you to think back to the year before that—and try to answer the same questions. Where were you? Who were you with? What do you remember about Christmas two years ago?

Okay, go back five years, ten years, twenty! And now go way back in your Christmas memory bank and find your first memory of Christmas. What is your first Christmas memory when you first became aware of Christmas? Most likely you are going back somewhere to your childhood.

Maybe as a child you remember the anticipation of opening up presents on Christmas day. Maybe you remember a special present you got or the decorations or the food you ate. Maybe it was special family members or friends showing up whom you hadn’t seen in such a long time. Don’t you find that whatever we remember from our childhood memories sneaks in and influences how we do Christmas today?

I was out shopping recently when a certain book caught my eye. It was a journal designed to record many Christmas years, and it was titled, “Our Christmas Memories Book.” I don’t know exactly how many pages it had, but it was a good-sized book. There were two pages dedicated for recording each Christmas year. On one page there was a place to attach a photo. On the opposite page there were three questions to answer: 1) Where were you? 2) Who were you with? 3) Moments to be remembered.

We all have a version of what makes Christmas so memorable for us. And there are certain significant moments in our lives that we all take the time to record. Christmas is one of those times.

But what makes Christmas memorable can change from year to year as we get older. We change, we reinvent, we make it better or different, and sometimes circumstances beyond our control change the way we will remember Christmas in the years to come. And so the next year we build on a new foundation of memories.

What do we do with special memories? We frame them. We share them on social media. We write them in our journals. We get a keepsake box and fill it with various mementos. I have a few such boxes. I have a wedding box and three other boxes, one for each of my sons. I hardly ever open these boxes anymore. The few times I have taken the lids off, I get a whiff of musty old smells. I look at my mementos, and I can’t even remember all of them. Perhaps I should have catalogued each item before placing it in my keepsake box.

The reasons why I kept certain things has faded. Our memories fade over time. They are important as long as we can recall them. But the importance of the memories we keep fades over time. Even when we post them on Facebook, they get pushed down to the bottom of the page and out of sight.

Let’s look at the very First Christmas Memory recorded for us in the Bible. “When they (the shepherds) had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:17-19)

Let me set the scene for you. It is night time. It is dark. There are no street lights. The shepherds are out in the fields watching over their sheep. Suddenly a great light shines all around them. An angel appears and tells them to go to the city of David to see the Savior, the Christ. He has just been born. And he is wrapped in cloths and lying in a manager. And if that was not enough to spook the shepherds, many, many more angels appear, and they are all rejoicing and praising God saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

And so the shepherds rush off with excitement. They find the baby Jesus lying in a manger just as the angel told them. And with great excitement they share with Mary what the angel said and about the other angels that appeared singing glory to God. Mary was probably very surprised that these shepherds came to see her wonderful, newborn son.

And then Mary watches as the shepherds take off running. They are probably shouting and yelling and waking everyone up in the town. “Hey everyone! Angels just appeared to us, and they told us about a Savior that has just been born. They told us we would find him in a manger. And we did!” And so there is great excitement, commotion and energy in the air.

Then immediately after all this the Bible says: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” This sequence of events has always stood out in my mind—from such an energetic, lively moment with the shepherds and the angels to this quiet, contemplative moment with Mary. Mary treasures up all these things and quietly ponders them in her heart.

These events with the shepherds and the angels and Mary are found in the book of Luke. Luke was not one of the twelve disciples. But Luke tells us how he carefully interviewed people before writing down the events that took place regarding Jesus. It’s very possible that the verses we just read about the angels and shepherds are actually Mary telling her story to Luke.

I have done a lot of pondering myself on these verses. And I want us to ponder on these verses together right now. I want us to ask ourselves—why did God record this moment with Mary for us? Why was it placed here for us to read? Why do we go from such a big and exciting moment to this tender, quiet, reflective moment? There are no mistakes in the Bible. The Holy Spirit guided the writers of God’s Word. This moment here with Mary draws our attention. So why is this quiet moment with Mary recorded for us in Scripture? I can think of two reasons.

The first reason is obvious. Theses verses are so tender. They make Mary so real. She is so human. She has just given birth. And she is treasuring up the moment. Just like we moms do after giving birth. And so we can relate to Mary. Before I became a mom myself, I read these verses, but I never really stopped to think about them. It was only after I gave birth that I found myself reflecting and thinking about the birth of each of my sons.

As moms we take in every circumstance surrounding the birth of our children. We recall carrying our child, picking the name for our child, the dreaded labor and then the joy when we first held our newborn. Do you remember that? It is a sweet time … the treasuring up of all these memories of our child’s birth. And for a time—we treasure, we record, we share on Facebook. We are proud and happy … and tired. But we are not really pondering—we are treasuring.

But there is another reason God tells us about Mary treasuring up and pondering these things in her heart. And that is to get us, the reader, to slow down. After we have read the impossible of what God has just done and all the events leading up to the moment of Jesus’ birth, God doesn’t want us to rush through this part of the passage without taking the time to pause and reflect. That is what pondering means: taking the time to quietly meditate, to carefully consider, to deeply reflect.

Something of great consequence has taken place. We need to stop and sit awhile with Mary and look back on all the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. We need to read through them carefully. We need to treasure up and ponder these things just as Mary did. Because even though Jesus was born through Mary, Jesus was also born for us who believe.

So what did Mary treasure up and ponder in her heart?

I believe if Mary had a keepsake box or journal, here are some of the things she would have included:

1. I was visited by the angel, Gabriel. Gabriel spoke to me and told me that I found favor with God. He told me that God chose me to be a part of His amazing plan for all men. I feel so humbled. I am overwhelmed that God chose me. I am his servant.

2. I am a virgin, and I just gave birth. The Son of God who was conceived by the Holy Spirit has taken on my flesh. God has gone against the laws of nature—again.

3. I gave birth to the Son of God—the Son of the Most High and the Savior that my people have been waiting for. Unbelievable! Truly it is just as the angel, Gabriel, told me, “With God all things are possible.”

4. And my cousin Elizabeth, wow! The angel told me about her. She is a very old woman, and she was barren, but I found her pregnant. Once again, truly with God nothing is impossible!

5. And then Elizabeth’s greeting to me. She didn’t even know I was coming. Her words were so prophetic, so encouraging. She spoke about the true identity of my son. I will never forget her words: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”

6. And then God gave me a song of praise. He led me to sing this amazing song. He put it in my heart. The song declared God’s favor on the humble and God’s mercy and redemption for his people. Oh, the heart of my God. He loves his people so much. He has kept his promises.

7. And then the journey to get to this place with all these animals to give birth to a King whose kingdom will have no end. Truly God’s ways are not man’s ways.

8. And how the shepherds surprised me. I was not expecting them. And what they told me about the angels that came to visit them. Think of it—angels from God proclaiming the birth of God’s only Son. How I wish I had seen them adorn the sky with their heavenly chorus of praise! Perhaps someday.

9. And I can still hear the shepherds out there shouting and telling everyone about the birth of my son, Jesus. There is such rejoicing. The Messiah has come through me.

Mary didn’t understand all of God’s plan regarding Jesus. No one at this time understood it all. It was not until Jesus had lived out his life completely—from his birth to his death to his resurrection—that they understood more clearly.

But you and I have the completed Word of God. God has revealed to us his plan of redemption—from Genesis to Revelation. And it is spelled out so clearly for us here in God’s Word. And so we would do well to reflect and ponder on this book.

Our Christmas memories are finite. They remain special so long as we can recall them. But these memories of ours eventually fade.

And though Mary would eventually die, her first Christmas memory was recorded in the Word of God forever for our benefit. We can review it over and over again so the memory of our Savior’s birth will always stay fresh. Because the very first Christmas memory is now our memory too, for it has been recorded for us in the Word of God.

Mary was physically present at the birth of our Savior. We can’t experience the physical indwelling of Jesus in our wombs as Mary did. But we can experience the spiritual indwelling of Jesus by the Holy Spirit when we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead.

Are you treasuring up the birth of Christ and pondering it in your heart? If the birth of Christ brings you no comfort or joy or hope, then you have not yet understood it in your heart.

Don’t rush through the Christmas season. Don’t let the activities of Christmas hide Christ. Take time to contemplate Jesus’ birth. Don’t let the familiarity become too familiar, such that it doesn’t bring you comfort, joy and peace in the Lord.

Make a conscious effort to slow down, to treasure up and ponder the sweetness of the birth of Christ. Pondering is not easy, because it’s hard to slow down during such a busy season. But it’s worth it. So take the time, make the time to ponder. And as a marker for you this season, every time you see a Nativity Scene this year, let that be a fresh reminder to pause, to reflect, to treasure up and ponder the birth of Jesus.

Our Finest Hours

Back in the spring my husband and I went to go see a movie about a rescue mission that took place back in 1951 off the coast of New England. The movie tells the true story of a small coast guard boat which went out in a very bad storm and successfully rescued 30 men off a sinking tanker.

Against powerful waves, strong winds and the darkness of the night, the captain of the coast guard boat and the brave men with him persisted and worked together until they found the tanker.  In the midst of uncertainty decisions were made on instinct, strength, persistence and commitment to the mission.

Likewise the men on the tanker had to do what they could to survive for as long as they could in hopes of a rescue that they did not even know for certain was coming.

Persisting, making good decisions, and hanging onto hope – these things defined the men and their hours in the movie appropriately titled The Finest Hours.

I can’t help but think about the Christian life and our own times of trials. I think of the verses from Paul when he says: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8).

Or from Habakkuk 3:17-19: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines … I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

In times of trials it is hard to persist. It is hard to hang onto hope. It is hard to be brave. It is hard to stay committed unto the Lord. Our trials become our darkest of nights.  But I believe if we do what we were called to do in the midst of our terrible storms, we will define these moments as The Finest Hours of our lives – Our Finest Hours.

 

Cloud-watchers!

Here is a journal entry from one of my mother and son devotional times with Tim when he was six years old. I thought it  was an appropriate one to share after celebrating Easter this week.

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.  Acts 1:9-11 (NIV)

Timmy: Mommy, when will Jesus come back?

Mommy: I don’t know, but He is coming back someday.

Timmy: Well, I’m going to keep looking in the clouds.

Mommy: Yes, and I will too.

Timmy’s commitment to watch the clouds is a reminder that we need to live our lives with a hope that says, “My Savior is coming.” It is a wonderful anticipation that can motivate us to pray more, to rejoice and to keep living godly lives. In spite of our circumstances we need to remember to go outside from time to time and watch those clouds. So join Timmy and me as we are now cloud-watchers waiting for the Savior to return.

How is your green thumb?

“But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:33)

My Dad
My Dad

My father is an immigrant from Mexico and a farmer. He had no formal education, but he had a green thumb.  He didn’t read books for instruction on farming.  He just experimented and learned.  He was always successful in whatever he decided to grow in the ground.  He would often give us seedlings so we could plant at our home.  But the seedlings always died no matter how carefully we followed his instructions.

It is not enough to hear and understand the word of God. We all have a responsibility to cultivate a green thumb for the kingdom of God. This is a natural outcome of the word firmly planted in our hearts. We need to produce a crop.  As Jesus said, “He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” This is a natural outcome from hearing the word and understanding it.

We have a responsibility to become fruitful unto Him. We need to commit ourselves to making disciples.  We have a new obligation once we have heard the word and understood.

This responsibility extends even until old age to continue to produce a crop unto the Lord. We must be good stewards of his gift of salvation.  We are all farmers.  How green is your thumb?

 

Extremely well-wrapped, Jesus

(This is a devotional I shared at our church’s annual Ladies Christmas Brunch.)

I used to go all out in gift wrapping.  I took my time with each and every gift – making my own fancy bows, picking out just the right paper, and making sure the wrapping paper had nice crisp edges.  But it got tiresome and nobody in my family really noticed my efforts.  They just ripped the paper open.

Have you ever been challenged with a gift that doesn’t wrap so easily? You know, the gifts that don’t come with a box, and they don’t fit into any box. I have three boys, and we had plenty of those gifts in my house: fish tanks, fire trucks, baseball bats and baseball gloves, skate boards and basketballs, light sabers and so on. Some gifts will never fit into a box.

My boys used to play the guessing game on what was wrapped for them under the tree.  They would picking up each gift and shake it.  As their mom I just wanted to keep the presents I bought for them a surprise until Christmas Day. I didn’t want them guessing. So I had to disguise the more elaborate gifts to keep it a mystery until they opened it.

What is interesting is that when my sons got old enough to buy their own gifts and wrap them … they really got creative.  I guess they knew what big snoops they were themselves.  And just like extreme sports, for them it was “extreme gift wrapping.”  They would use so much wrapping paper.  They would pad their gifts with socks, towels or toilet paper rolls – anything to throw you off.  And they would create shapes.  One of my sons created a dinosaur shape around his gift, even though the gift was not a dinosaur.  I don’t even remember what the gift actually was, but I remember the dinosaur!

One Christmas our son, Sam, bought three gifts for his Dad, and he shaped a letter around each of the three presents to spell out the word “DAD.”   It was so funny.  I don’t remember what those gifts were either, but I remember how they were wrapped.

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These extremely-wrapped gifts were a lot of fun to unwrap, because there were so many layers to get through just to get to the gift. But things are much simpler now, and I am grateful for e-cards and gift cards and, and I love gift bags for wrapping. So much easier!

Well, just as our family did extreme gift wrapping for each other, God also gave us a gift that was masterfully and cleverly and extremely well-wrapped.  (more…)

Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

ramon3When my sons were babies, my husband and I established a nightly routine. We would read to them, snuggle and sing. We would pray and kiss them goodnight and then lay them down without resistance. They were cute and snuggly, and we would lay their little bodies peacefully positioned in their cribs. We’d say goodnight and turn off the lights leaving only their nightlight on and the door opened just a crack.

Then my husband and I would retire to the living room for our time together. All would be quiet and peaceful. And then we would hear this restless shifting, back and forth on the crib mattress. We would hear them turning the knobs on the entertainment center attached to their crib. We would hear them chatter and sing. This would go on for quite sometime, and then it would be quiet. It was so cute. My husband and I would giggle listening from the living room.

But before going to bed we always peeked into their cribs. Sometimes we would find their fitted bed sheets pulled out from the corners. We’d find their clothing undone including their diapers; their hair all messed up; their tiny legs rested up against the sides of their cribs; their stuffed doll or blanket on the opposite side of the room. We even found one of our sons had fallen asleep in a sitting position up against the corner of the crib. My husband and I would laugh and wonder at how they struggled to get their little bodies to sleep.

Sometimes, I have a hard time settling down to my quiet times with the Lord. I can get into such a restless mode. Just as I sit down, I get back up again to get something or to check on the laundry real quick. I will sit down again, and then I remember something else and I begin to scribble on sticky notes one note after another. I feel like a fish flopping out of water. I am restless and fighting to sit still.

Why do I get so restless before sitting quietly with the Lord? It seems I suddenly remember all I have to do and worry that if I don’t tend to it right away, I might forget and that would be disastrous. I pull out my Bible and attempt to read, and it is like looking at alphabet soup. I can’t focus on the words. My mind is still busy racing from one thought to another.

But then I finally tire myself out from restlessness and realize I am wasting time. My morning will be gone soon, and then I will have to leave my quiet time slot and get going on errands. So I pull out my guitar and start singing worship songs. Sometimes I have to pace back and forth and sing until I feel quiet enough in body to come before the Lord. “The Spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

And when I finally get my body to be quiet and rest before the Lord, it is the best place. I start to pray and pray and pour out songs of praise. I enter into such a wonderful time of quietness before the Lord, and I don’t want to leave. Why did I take so long to get here? It really is the best place for my weary self to be. I find my rest when I am finally still, for then I know that He is God.

 

© Copyright 2015 by Rosi Fowler

 

Where’s My Song?

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My son has a girlfriend. He loves her. They have been dating for over two years. My son is a guitarist and loves writing songs. He especially loves to write songs for his girlfriend. I am amazed how many songs he writes about her. They are so sweet too. He writes about her blue eyes, her smile, and her friendship. He writes about how she makes him happy and fills his life with joy.

I often look at my husband and teasingly ask him, “So where’s my song?” I remember when my husband wrote me songs during our courtship and during the early years of our marriage. And though I am sure I still inspire my husband for a song, he hasn’t written one in quite sometime. And it is okay. He affirms his love for me in other ways too.

So as I ask my husband, “Where’s my song?” I felt convicted. I felt the Lord God Almighty was asking me, “So where’s my song, Rosi?” Gulp.

It is true in my early years of knowing the Lord, I had written a few songs for Him in worship. And I have bouts of inspiration here and there, but it has been sparse. My lips are not always willing to burst out into song. My devotional mornings turn more and more into getting quickly to my prayer requests.

“Where’s my song?” I hear that question now almost every morning, and I pause now and sing His praises. Now we don’t need to write a song of praise in order to worship, but it seems to me our hearts should be filled with worship and burst forth in song as if it were a brand new song.

After all, singing songs for our loved ones affirms our love and our joy in being in relationship. And singing a song to the Lord is a wonderful act of worship and affirmation that He is our God.

Where’s my song, Lord? Here is my song for today: “You are my God, and I will give you thanks. You are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good and his love endures forever.”

How about you? Is the Lord asking you, “Where’s my song?”

 

© Copyright 2015 by Rosi Fowler

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord… Psalm 116:7

This quote by John Calvin comes from Day 303 in the devotional Heart Aflame:

If the faithful regain their peace of mind only when God manifests himself as their deliverer, what room is there for the exercise of faith, and what power will the promises possess?  For, assuredly, to wait calmly and silently for those indications of God’s favour, which he conceals from us, is the undoubted evidence of faith.  And strong faith quiets the conscience, and composes the spirit; so that, according to Paul, “the peace of God, which passes all understanding,” reigns supremely there (Phil. 4:7).

Calvin, John. (1999). Heart Aflame Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company.

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you – Psalm 63:1

This quote by John Calvin comes from Day 149 in the devotional Heart Aflame:

It is apparent that David never allowed himself to be so far overcome by his trials, as to cease lifting up his prayer to heaven, and even resting, with a firm and constant faith, upon the divine promises. Apt as we are, when assaulted by the very slightest trials, to lose the comfort of any knowledge of God we may previously have possessed, it is necessary that we should notice this, and learn, by his example, to struggle to maintain our confidence under the worst troubles that can befall us. He does more than simply pray; he sets the Lord before him as his God, that he may throw all his cares unhesitatingly upon him, deserted as he was of man, and a poor outcast in the waste and howling wilderness. His faith, shown in this persuasion of the favour and help of God, had the effect of exciting him to constant and vehement prayer for the grace which he expected.

Calvin, John. (1999). Heart Aflame Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company.