Showing items filed under “Andrew Stevens”

#MyStory :: My Struggle and Jesus' Grace

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It’s easy to think that some people are “immune” to sin, or at least more resistant to it, based on outward appearances. Some people just seem to have it all together, and it feels like they couldn’t ever do anything wrong. The truth is that this is as far from the truth as it possibly could be. We all sin, even the people who don’t appear to on the outside. To show you what I mean, here’s my story…

I grew up in church. I was a Pastor’s Kid, and I spent a large portion of my childhood entrenched in everything Christian. I had loving parents who were devoted followers of Christ, and as I said, my dad was a pastor for many years. I remember playing in the church all the time as a kid. I went to Sunday school every week. I went to summer camps and VBS every year. I went to youth group at church. I did all the things that a “good Christian” should do. Life was perfect, right?

Wrong!

In many ways, I’m very thankful that I grew up the way I grew up. It definitely planted some seeds in my life that are integral to where I am right now, but the thing is, in my teenage years and early adulthood these seeds were dormant and never really grew into much of anything. In many ways, the seeds planted felt foreign to me. I knew everything I needed to know. I knew what the seeds were supposed to grow into, but I never cared to feed or water them of my own accord. Jesus was someone I knew of, but not someone that I walked with personally. I easily fell back into my old ways.

In 2006 I joined the military, got married, and moved to Germany. This is when my life really started to take a dark turn. Now that I was far away from almost everything I knew, I really had zero connection to a life that resembled anything touched by Jesus. I still knew what I knew, but it was distant and it barely had any effect on my thoughts and actions. The only thing that stuck with me through all the years was my conscious. There were many times where I did things that I knew were wrong; things that I knew I shouldn’t be doing, but I oftentimes did them anyways.

My wife and I had our first child in 2008. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend together before Ava arrived, so it was a bit of a shock to me once she was in our lives. We were happy, but things were very different. My wife, Rachel, changed. She used to be very lovey and attached to me. She used to be very physical, which I loved because one of my love languages is physical touch. But after our child, things were very much different. She didn’t like to be touched as much, and we certainly lost a lot of our intimacy. While I loved her and our daughter very much, this change was hard on me. And being that I was still growing as a man, I didn’t really know how to handle this change productively. I turned to pornography to fill the void in my heart. Of course, it never filled the emptiness in my heart, but it continued to be a problem for me for many years.

I also engaged in some very inappropriate behaviors at work. I would swear all the time, and I would not act in any way that a Christian should. I poured a lot of junk into my mind, and all these things just made it worse. It got so bad that at one point when my wife was gone on a trip back home, I spent some personal time with a friend’s wife and her friend, and I essentially cheated on my wife with my neighbor’s friend. Fortunately, I did not make the worst mistake I could have made, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wanted to. Needless to say, it was a close call, but ultimately I had committed adultery no matter how far it had gone. And this wasn’t the last time either.

In 2010 we moved to Guam. We got pregnant with our second child, which wasn’t planned, so this one was really strenuous on our marriage. Neither of us were in good places, and the tension almost ruined us. I was working nights for a long time, and was using pornography as an outlet even more. I also had someone I worked with there who I started chatting online with and developed a relationship. I eventually got to the point where I went on a date with this girl, and intended to be intimate with her. I remember being at home after I had gone out with her, and I was chatting with her. She gave me the option to come over to her place. Again, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wanted to, but something inside me wouldn’t let me go. I knew that it was wrong. As much tension as there was in our marriage, I knew that I couldn’t do this to my wife. I’m pretty sure that God was watching over me that night, even though I had completely turned my back on him. I thank him to this day that I did not go over to that girl’s apartment.

However, I was still in a really bad place. Luckily, I cut off relations with that girl, but my heart was still very hard. There were a few other occasions where I almost made some really bad decisions, but each time my conscious (aka, God) kept me from doing it. I attribute that to the seeds that had been planted in my life so long ago, even though I was still neglecting them.

In 2013, I changed jobs in the military, and had to go to school in Monterey, California. This was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. We found a church there that reminded me who Jesus was, and it brought me back from the depths and breathed new life into my soul. I probably would not be where I am today if we had not gone there.

It took some time, but slowly my heart softened as I found forgiveness for my illicit convictions and stopped pouring darkness into my heart. I even ended up telling my wife all the things I had done, which was an incredibly hard thing to do. I knew it needed to be done, but I struggled with actually doing it for several months. Finally, I did, and by the grace of God she forgave me. I certainly didn’t deserve it, but I suppose that’s how grace works isn’t it?

I’m still not perfect. I still struggle with keeping my eyes focused on God and not on beautiful women. Of course, I still struggle with temptations, but I’m very proud of the fact that it’s been many years since I’ve searched for pornography or given a woman other than my wife more attention than she deserves. Our marriage is better for it, and my relationship with Jesus is stronger than it’s ever been. I still have a lot to learn, and I still have many ways in which I can grow, but for once in my life my faith is real, and it really makes all the difference.

 


We’re supposed to pick one woman and that’s the one that God meant for us to be intimate with. When we play with the idea of intimacy with any other woman, even a virtual one, that’s when the devil can get a foothold in our lives that will easily tear us down if not removed. It’s very common for men to struggle with this temptation. If that’s you, know that you are not alone, and you can overcome it with help from the Father. Allow his healing in your life, and you will find that EVERYTHING will be all the better for it.

If you struggle with addiction to pornography, please use these resources to get the help you need.

 

#MyStory :: Vicki Delair on Why I Lead a Small Group

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I guess I first should say that before I was ever a part of a small group I used to think that these groups were for “weird” or “religious” people. Even being an outgoing person by nature, I didn’t think it would be something I was comfortable participating in because I had a fear of not fitting in. Then Sean (my husband) and I joined one because of a specific financial study they were doing. It is something that to this day I look back on and I am so grateful we decided to try it. It grew our faith and relationships in so many ways, and it was the furthest thing from being weird!

So, when the idea came up about starting or leading one myself, I thought, “Ugh, now people are going to think that I am weird too!” But, I also knew that if I was willing to be okay with that and put myself out there, God would use it to bless me and other people through authentic relationships. Of course, I also thought a lot of other negative thoughts as well, like most of us tend to do when the enemy wants his way. Things like;

  • “Am I qualified?”
  • “Who am I to want to start or lead a group?”
  • “Who in their right mind would want to hear what I have to say?”
  • Or, “Who in the world would want to hang out with me?”

Those were a lot of things I had to work through by remembering that it wasn’t about me, it was about Jesus, and that if he had a hand in it, people would get what they needed from it. So, I did it!

When I first felt a small tug from God to lead a group, I think I did want to do it, but I was hesitant because of fear. I’m sure I am like a lot of people when it comes to opening myself up to others because most people just don’t like being vulnerable. I had a fear of being unqualified, a fear of failing, a fear of not knowing enough Bible verses, a fear of not knowing how to lead a group, or what I was supposed to do. But, what I have learned is that you can’t let things like fear and hesitation stop you from doing what God has called you to do. That’s called disobedience, and that’s not something I wanted to be to God after what he asked Jesus to do for me. After all, it repeatedly says in the Bible that we are supposed to be in community, that we are supposed to be relational, and that we should look after the interests of others. So, who am I to tell God “no” when I see verses like Galatians 5:13, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” Or, in 1 Peter 4: 10-11, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen”

Of course, even once we decided to take the plunge, I would get all in my head with things like imagining opening my home and having no one show up. I also would play out scenarios about what I would do if this or that happened and even found myself worrying about seating, or if they’d be hungry or bored. So, as a result, I over planned, over bought, over prepared, and prayed a lot for God to help me figure it out. I also had this ridiculous fear of praying out loud, and I had to work through that as well, realizing it was the enemy, once again, trying to psych me out, getting me to play his games, and stop me from doing what I knew God was telling me to do.

But you know what? I was amazed that after the very first small group meeting, everything came easier! It was like I just had to get that initial hurdle over with and from there I was good to go.

Don’t get me wrong, I would still get nervous or worry about things too much (which I think is silly now), but I also got a taste of God’s joy and peace just from being obedient and connected to others for God’s glory, and that completely outweighed any of the other stuff.

In general, I think that we all hesitate at some point to put our “true” selves out there for fear of judgment or rejection. But, what I have found instead is that when I am at my most transparent, people are most willing to hear me. When I am the most vulnerable, people feel the most trusted by me. When I am willing to walk out my faith in real life ways and I am not content to stay the same, the more people want to be a part of that journey too. Even today, after years of leading small groups, there are studies that Sean and I do that are out of our comfort zone, or sometimes the size of the group gets big and I worry about all those “Martha”-type things (Luke 10:38-42) that make me think people are not going to enjoy themselves. But that’s when I remember that there is nothing “special” about me or Sean that make our group or our leadership something fantastic and wonderful, except for our relationship with Jesus Christ and our willingness to be his disciples. “It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.” (2nd Corinthians 3:5). The key is the Holy Spirit, just like we see in the book of Acts, where he goes before us and apart from him, or without his blessing, nothing we do will bear fruit.

We also must remember that spiritual warfare is a real thing. The enemy wants us to stay on the surface with relationships and keep us superficial and putting up a front like we’ve got it all together, because when we aren’t truly connected with other believers he can keep us isolated and alone and it is in those isolated places that he can do his best work. He uses things like guilt, shame, or embarrassment to prevent us from making bold moves in our lives for Christ, and if we aren’t careful we tend to believe those things and avoid stepping out because we feel we have to “protect” ourselves from the ridicule we believe we are going to receive instead. The craziest part is that the complete opposite is true- because when you do put yourself out there for Jesus, you get to truly experience the joy, comfort, and peace that comes along with it, and it is something not worth giving up on.

Despite things getting better, there still have been (and continue to be) some hurdles to get past. Like most people in our area, the biggest challenge for me is time. I’m a wife, a mom of three active kids, I work two jobs, I serve and volunteer when I can, my husband owns his own business, and we have very big extended families that are all close as well. If we aren’t careful, and praying, and working together to keep it prioritized as something that is important in our lives, it would be easy to push it to the wayside or not give it much thought. Add to that, we live in such a busy time, and such a busy area of the country, that it is difficult to find the time, energy, and sometimes even desire to keep it on the schedule. But the funny thing is that we have taken breaks in the past and I can honestly say that during those times life feels a little bit harder, and we really miss the connection with other people.

But despite all the difficulties we’ve had, nothing can compare to the eternal friendships, life change, and growth we’ve experienced. Not to mention, what a tremendous impact it has had on us personally with our own faith and family! To see friendships and bonds form, to see marriages restored, and families transformed is an amazing thing to witness. We have had people become believers by coming to our group and have watched so many people grow and mature in their faith. We have had the privilege of walking beside people who were down in the deepest valleys of life in a variety of different ways, and I can’t even put in to words what it feels like to see them persevere and stand firm and come out on the other side. And, to be able to witness to one another about all we are seeing happen in each other’s lives and how the blessings of God are visible in one way or another, it’s just an amazing experience. Just think… when we are really doing life together then we’ll have the opportunity to make friends right now in this broken place; friends that we’re going to also know in heaven where everything is perfect. Isn’t that cool?

Vicki wanted to offer two things to those people out there who might be considering becoming a small group leader. Here’s her advice:

First, pray! John 15:4-5 says “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Ask God to show you what you are supposed to be doing, and once you know what that it is, you need to act. Don’t ignore what he is telling you to do because you will miss the blessing in it.

Next, don’t do it alone, after all, life is better connected! Ask for guidance from people who have started them in the past or from the connect group leader. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel and other leaders can be a good resource for helping you narrow down your vision or purpose for your group.

Also, I can’t stress enough for you to be obedient in putting your armor on daily like it tells us in Ephesians 6: 10-18, because I can guarantee you that as soon as you step out and act boldly for Jesus, the enemy will attempt to push you back down.

Finally, C.S. Lewis once said, “Remember that He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted –i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep looking at it.” (C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3).

If you are letting God direct your path, there’s nothing to worry about. Be courageous and step out in faith! God has a plan and you are part of it, and what is he going to say if you refuse to do your part? If you really do believe you are going to meet God face to face one day, do you want him to ask you why you wouldn’t serve him? Or, do you want him to say “well done”?

 


If you want to get involved in a group, or lead a connect group, contact Amber Adams on our Connect Page.

 

#MyStory : Convicted and Blessed to Tithe

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All my life I’ve been told what to do.

I grew up as a PK (Pastor’s Kid), so I’ve known what tithing is and why we do it for as long as I can remember.

The problem is, the humanity in me has told me that I had a million logical reasons not to. I’m also not afraid to admit that for a good portion of my life, I just plain didn’t care. This took me down a dark path my first five to six years in the military, and not tithing is the least of the transgressions I’d rather soon forget. But, my life changed a few years back and I finally found that what I knew my whole life was not only realer than I could imagine, but that it finally mattered to me. However, even though my heart was in a better place, tithing still wasn’t on my ‘to do’ list. I think that I started tithing more, but it was intermittent at best, and depended on what I had left instead of giving up front.

Fast forward two years and here we are showing up in Maryland. We had had an awesome church back in California. I knew that it would be tough to replace, but we began looking for a church immediately. The very first church we tried was Severn Run. I instantly knew that I was home, and my wife felt the same way.

As time has gone by these past two years since we started attending services here, we’ve plugged in to various outlets and groups of the church. I went to Fight Club for a little while, and my wife has been a big part of the Mom’s connect group. I joined the writing team (and of course, I’m still here), and my wife helps watch the kids every other Sunday. Despite that, it wasn’t until the “On the Road” campaign that started last year that we actually started tithing a set amount on a consistent basis. At that point, I committed to give more than I ever had before in my life, but the thing is it still wasn’t 10%; it still wasn’t as much as I could have been giving.

I like to think that I’ve always been generous with my money, but the funny thing is I was never generous to God; the one place where my money was fully deserved and where it’s use would go beyond a full belly or short-lived smile. Not that those things don’t matter, but I know that God can do a thousand times more of those things than I ever could, if only I would give to him.

Recently Pastor Drew had talked about “The Given Life” and his series of messages spoke to my heart. I knew what I needed to do, but week after week I struggled to do it. I looked at how much 10% would be, and it felt like a LOT to me. I thought that it was doable, but that perhaps some things might have to give if I was going to make it work. I put it off for a few weeks, but finally I broke down and knew that I couldn’t wait any longer. I knew what I needed to do.

So…I did it.

We use online giving, which is great because I’m super forgetful and don’t ever carry around much cash. There’s no way I could be consistent if that feature wasn’t available. So, I went in there and updated my giving to ensure that I was in fact giving away 10% of my paychecks on a bi-weekly basis. I didn’t quite know how it was going to look those first two weeks that it started to come out, but I trusted God to take care of us.

I also felt compelled to share what I had done, so before writing this blog post I shared what I had done on Facebook, and added a little challenge to the friends I had who went to Severn Run. I felt like I should do this because of Pastor Drew’s words on how our church’s average was well below the national average. I don’t know how much all our friends give, but that’s not the point. I did not want it to seem like I was boasting, but I felt that people needed to see that step of faith and feel challenged to do the same. And if what I did might do that, even for one person, then it was worth it.

So, April 1st came and the first installment of my tithe came out. I was sitting on the computer downstairs playing videogames, because that’s what I sometimes do on a lazy Saturday morning, when my wife comes down and brings me a letter she just got in the mail. Inside the letter was a rather large check that neither of us were expecting, along with a letter. The check was from a stocks fund set up by my wife’s grandparents that was supposed to be distributed evenly to all the grandkids. Instantly I was blown away. I didn’t even think for a second that this was by accident. I knew that only God could do timing like that. For so long I had avoided doing what I should, and when I finally did it and put my trust in God, he was already ready to take care of us.

I don’t think that it always happens this way, or in this kind if perfect timing, but I do know that God rewards faith. I don’t know that everyone will see as ‘tangible’ a result of their faith as I did, but I do know that in God’s perfect timing and ways, he is always looking out for us. Because only God could set in motion events years before the day that I would finally say that I had the faith to step out of my circle of safety and into the waves of uncertainty. I don’t fully know what lies ahead, but I know that if I keep my eyes on him, I will never have to fear sinking below the surface.

My only hope is that through my giving, others may come to know the peace that has transformed my life and has given me the strength to do what’s unnatural to my humanity. I know that it will make all the difference.

The Little Christmas Tree: A Story for Christmas Eve

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It was a cold, dreary November evening when the shipment of Christmas trees arrived at the lot in the middle of town. Most of the people were getting ready to celebrate their Thanksgiving meals. All of the trees being unloaded off the trucks were handsome trees of all varieties. Some of them were spruces, other were firs, and others pines. Only the finest of trees had been selected and cut down to be brought to the lots for sale. One of the workers off-loading the trees picked up a large and magnificent spruce tree and put it on his shoulder. He took it over to the spruce section and set it next to the other proud trees already there. As he returned to the truck, where the spruce once lay, he saw an unsightly little tree that barely qualified as “merry”. It was, in fact, quite homely and just shy of 5 feet tall. It looked as if it had been a bit mangled under the other trees, because a few of its branches were broken. The man wasn’t quite sure what to do with the tree, but it wasn’t his place to decide, so he shrugged and carried it out to the lot and set it off to the side of the others. It was very cold that evening, and the little tree shivered all alone as the other trees huddled together for warmth.

The next day the lot was prepared for an early morning opening. The lot owner frowned when he saw the little tree off alone in a corner, for he knew that it paled in comparison to the others, and he likely would not be able to sell it.

Potential customers began emerging from their homes at the first signs of light, all bundled in their warmest winter clothes, which were perhaps a bit tighter after the previous night’s festivities. The little tree could see them coming, and wished that he could warm himself as they did, but he was hopeful that perhaps one of them would take him home, wrap his trunk in a tree skirt, and warm him by the fireplace. The little tree had heard the stories. It was a pine tree’s greatest triumph to be selected as a Christmas tree. And so he waited patiently, trying to spread his branches and look as tall as he possibly could.

One by one the customers came. Day after day they gave him little notice and grabbed the much taller and fuller trees off the lot and took them into their homes. Soon it was the day before Christmas Eve, and only a few trees were left on the mostly empty lot. All the trees left had some small defects, but none of them compared to scrawniness of the little tree. He had never even been considered by any of the people that had come. A few procrastinators came by and grabbed the last of their trees, and eventually only the little tree remained in the center of the lonely and empty lot.

That night was the coldest night that it had been so far, and the little tree wondered why such a terrible fate had befallen him. What was so wrong with him that no one wanted him to come into their home? Why did no one want to decorate and lay their presents under him? The little tree had hoped once, but now he only felt despair. The cold wind that blew bit to his very core, and the tree knew that he had nothing left to live for. He began to feel himself drifting off slowly into the darkness from which he knew he would not awaken, and at this point he didn’t even care anymore.

As the tree faded off into an eternal slumber, some sort of sound awoke him. It was a sound that he was not familiar with, and it went, “Tap, tap, tap.” The tree fully awoke and noticed a small, frail man who had hobbled onto the lot with the assistance of a walking cane. The man must have been nearly 80 years old, and he seemed nearly as weak and small as the little tree. The lot owner had been inside his booth counting all the money from the trees when the little man tapped on the glass. The tree could see the two exchange for a moment, but could not make out what they might be saying. The lot owner shook his head as the little man asked him a question. Then they both looked in the little tree’s direction and the old man pointed to the little tree. For a moment, his heart skipped a beat. Was there a chance? Could he really find a home after all?

The owner shrugged his shoulders, but nodded to the old man and went back inside his booth. The old man began walking towards the little tree. As he approached, there was not the usual look of distaste as the little tree had seen so many other times from previous customers. The little man smiled and said, “Look at you. You may seem small and incomplete, broken and frail, but I see what the others could not. All they saw was brokenness, but I can picture you whole, decorated with all of my ornaments and gleaming like the finest of Christmas trees. Besides, I could not carry any of those other bigger trees on my own. The others did not appreciate you, but I…well, I understand you. For you and me both are alone in this world. But now, no longer. Let’s get you home and celebrate Christmas.”

And with that, the little man grabbed the tree by his trunk and began slowly dragging him home. It was slow progress, for the man relied frequently on his cane to support him, and pulling the little tree was not an easy task for his tired muscles. The little tree could see the struggle that the man was going through, and he thought that he caught a hint of pain etched across the man’s brow. But no matter how hard it seemed, the old man keep walking, leaning on his cane, and dragging the little tree along. After a little while the man stopped in front of a quaint little cottage near the heart of the town. The house was quite small and plain, squished between two large department buildings, but it looked warm and friendly.

The man dragged the tree up to the front porch and dropped it. He walked up and opened the door and disappeared inside for a few minutes. The tree waited eagerly for his return. The old man dragged the tree inside, and the little tree could feel the warmth of the fire as they entered through the door. The old man had set up a corner in his living room next to the front door, opposite a small fireplace, which was where the little tree was to go. The old man set down his cane and picked up the tree, slightly leaning on it for support. The little tree tried to be as stiff as possible, so that the old man would not fall, but he was not very strong and buckled a little under the weight. However, they made it to the tree stand safely. The old man once again struggled with the tree, barely able to get it into the tree stand. The little tree saw him wince in pain as he finally got it in.

Once the tree was in the stand, the old man bent over and quickly tightened up the screws that held the little tree up straight. Finally, with a sigh of relief, he was finished and crawled over to his chair to rest for a few moments. He stared at the little tree for a long time without saying a word. The little tree stared back and wondered just what the old man might be thinking. Perhaps he had second thoughts about the little tree now that he saw him in his house?

Finally, the old man spoke. “I think we’ve had enough excitement for one day, don’t you think? Perhaps we’ll both rest now and I’ll get to decorating you tomorrow. Sleep tight little tree, and I’ll see you in the morning. Aha ha, but first…you must be thirsty!”

The man hurriedly went into the kitchen, filled a cup, and brought it back and poured it in the stand. The little tree hadn’t realized just how thirsty he’d gotten, and he started soaking up the water almost immediately. It felt good to finally be warm and have some water back in his branches. The old man smiled at him and went off to bed.

That night the little tree thought about everything that had happened to him so far. He didn’t feel hopeless anymore. He had a hard time resting, for he was terribly excited to get decorated tomorrow and finally celebrate Christmas as a true pine tree should. As the fire in the fireplace was burning its last few embers, the little tree finally dozed off.

He awoke to a start the next morning to sounds coming from the kitchen, and some sort of pleasant smell wafting about. The little tree was not quite sure what was transpiring, but it seemed wonderful. After a short while the old man emerged from the kitchen from the opposite side of the room and walked over to the fireplace. He put several logs in the fireplace and got a small fire started. He got up, turned to the little tree, and smiled, then returned to the kitchen. As the old man was away, the little tree watched the little fire slowly grow and crackle. The tree had never seen such a sight, and wondered what it was like to burn. He supposed that that might have been his fate if the old man had not brought him home. The old man emerged from the kitchen with a tray of food and sat down in his chair.

The tree watched him eat slowly, and the old man watched the tree as he ate. After the old man had finished, he got up and went down the hall. He came back all dressed up to go outside. He looked at the tree and said, “I’ve got to go buy some things from the store. I think you deserve an extra special Christmas, so I want to go buy some more decorations.” And with that he left.

After what seemed several hours, the old man finally returned carrying several bags. He set them down next to the tree and took off his coat, hat, and gloves. He threw another couple logs on the fire and got to work on the decorating.

It was the little tree’s proudest moment. He could not believe all the effort that the old man was going through to lavish on him all this attention and splendor. The little tree could not see himself completely, but he could see the decorations a bit and felt very proud of the way he looked. The old man finished and took a step back to judge his work. A large smile formed across his face, and the little tree’s heart melted. He had only known the old man less than a day, but still felt like he had known him his whole life.

The man spoke with a soft voice, “This is how I’ve always seen you. The others did not take the time to see what you could be, they only saw what you appeared to be. But I knew all along that you could shine just as bright as the rest of the trees.”

As soon as the man said that, the strength of his tried bones seemed to fail. He slumped down in his chair and sat for a while looking at the tree, his breathing slow and steady. The little tree wasn’t sure if he was ok, for he barely moved a muscle or made a sound other than his breathing. After what seemed an eternity, as the fire slowly faded, the man closed his eyes and all was silent in the house. The little tree could see outside the window that it had begun to snow, and he was excited that tomorrow was Christmas. He was very much looking forward to see what would happen, for none of the trees on the farms quite knew what happened on this glorious of days.

At the first light of dawn the little tree awoke. The old man still sat in his chair, eyes closed. As the light began to creep slowly in through the window, the man still did not stir. For 80 years Christmas had come and gone for the old man. He’d had had wonderful years with his family and kids, and they’d spent many Christmases just like this one next to the warm fire, which now sat cold. They’d spent many years decorating trees as he’d done the night before, but this time by himself. He’d had many Christmases alone with his wife as the kids moved on, though occasionally they’d return to celebrate for a day or two. None of the Christmases had been quite the same since his wife had died nearly 6 years ago. Except for this one. The little tree would never know just how happy the old man had been to share this Christmas with the little tree that he’d found a home for. The little tree would never know that he was the first tree the old man had had in the house since his wife had died. And the old man would never know how happy he had made a poor, lonely little tree feel, when on his darkest of nights, someone had cared enough to sacrifice all they had just to make him feel special.

Outside the world began to awake. Children rushed downstairs to see all the gifts that Santa had brought the night before. Parents rolled over in the beds as the light of the sun reached in their rooms, and the excited sounds of children hit their ears. People of all ages got out of their beds and warmed themselves with fresh cups of coffee next to the fire. The world was ready to celebrate another Christmas, just as it always had. Few would know or care, that on this morning the ultimate sacrifice had been given, all so that one, broken little tree could experience the greatest of Christmas gifts…love.

 

The Meaning of this Story:

Christmas time can be a joyous and wonderful experience for many people, but it can also be a stressful and lonely time for others. Perhaps you, like the little tree, feel alone and unwanted. Know this; that Jesus came into a world full of lonely little people, and like the old man, he would not ignore the ones that so many other people might. He does not see you as broken, he only sees you as you could be, as a child without fault. He doesn’t not see our flaws, and he does not want you to be alone. We may not always understand why these things happen to us, but there’s hope that there is always someone who will love and cherish us beyond anything we could ever imagine.

The holiday season can be crazy, and it’s easy to lose ourselves IN all the hustle and bustle that the world has created in celebration of Christmas. But just remember this: Jesus came into this world, in the humblest of ways, all so that he could die on a cross to keep us from being separated from our heavenly father who will never disown us or let us down. And the best part of it is, we’re not an only child. There are people out there, brothers and sisters of all races and colors, who are fellow children of our father in heaven. And let me tell you, it’s the best family that you could ever have.

So, if you’re feeling alone and lost this holiday season, try to find comfort in the presence of a Father who loves you unconditionally, and of an adopted family who’s always willing to welcome you with open arms.

 

When God Seems Gone - Weekly Life Lifter

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A Canaanite woman who lived in that region came to him. “Son of David!” she cried out. “Have mercy on me, sir! My daughter has a demon and is in a terrible condition.”  
But Jesus did not say a word to her. 
(Matthew 14:22-23)
 

Is this how you feel right now?

Are you crying out to God, only to feel lost in the silence surrounding your own echoes? Is your voice the only voice that you can hear? Perhaps you need only to listen better, or perhaps just never quit crying out.

And always remember, even Jesus felt as you do.

At noon the whole country was covered with darkness, which lasted for three hours. At about three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” (Matthew 27:45-46)


Jesus could have given up then. He could have turned away from God, just as he felt God had turned away from him. But he knew what he had to do. He knew he had to stay the path and fulfill his purpose.
 
Just as Jesus did, so should we also stay our paths. Don’t give up on God. He will never give up on you, even if at times you don’t know where he is. God gave us the Holy Spirit, and promised to always be with us. Even if you don’t know if you can hear him, stay strong and know that he will be near to you always.

May God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy and peace by means of your faith in him, so that your hope will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

 

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