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  1. As soon as the stores started decorating for Christmas I knew I was in trouble. Christmas used to fill me with such delight because of all the joyful festivities centered around celebrating the advent of Christ and family love. The colored lights, hope filled music, delicious meals, joyful giving and receiving of gifts, quiet times of reflection, congregational worship, reaching out to the needy, and special times gathering together with family and friends—I thrilled to every moment of it. But not anymore. Now the Christmas season is an unavoidable reminder of great pain, sorrow, and loss. From the statistics I’ve heard this is true for many people at this time of year. Maybe you are one of those who, like me, wonder how you are going to survive this agonizing season. As I was crying out to the Lord about this He gave me comfort by inviting me to enter into the first Christmas in a new way. To step into the lives of Mary and Joseph and try to truly understand how the birth of Christ may have affected them. As I did this, I began to realize how much pain and sorrow was actually a part of the Christmas story. I wonder if the following may have been true. . . Who were Mary and Joseph?—When I picture Mary I visualize a lovely young woman full of purity, virtue, and love. The ideal Jewish girl. Surely she was well known in her community for these attributes and respected and loved by many, if not all. Joseph also has been described in Scripture as a godly man who would have had a standing of respect in the community. I picture Mary to have been like any woman engaged to be married, full of dreams and joyful expectations. She must have expected to be married in a celebration involving the whole community with the love and well wishes of friends and family. She may have spent hours in her mind envisioning the house Joseph would make for the two of them and all the ways she would make it their own special home. As she thought about being pregnant with their first baby she probably expected the birth to take place in this wonderful little home and to be surrounded by the loving support of midwife, mother, sisters, and maybe female friends, each doing all they could to help her through the birth and welcome the new little one. Then, when the baby arrived, there would be joyful congratulations and blessings, and maybe gifts, with the whole community enfolding this new member in a loving way. Mary’s expectations were realistic. They were what probably almost every woman she knew had experienced. And then the angel came. . . News of the pregnancy--Who do you think believed Mary when she told them she was supernaturally pregnant? Only Elizabeth and Joseph, as far as we know. Not even Joseph believed at first. In fact, the news of her pregnancy was so scandalous that the community may have threatened to stone her for adultery because betrothal at that time was as serious as marriage. The angel’s visit to Joseph telling him to continue with the marriage plans may have saved Mary’s life but it probably destroyed his reputation, and his business. Now people assumed that the coming baby was his, maybe even a rape baby! Can you picture the village women gossiping over their fences with each other: “Have you heard the news? Not only is our little Mary pregnant out of wedlock, the little slut, but Joseph is still planning on marrying her! And we thought she was such a nice girl. There’s only one reason a man would want to marry her now—Joseph must be the father of the child. How could he do such a thing, the pervert! All this business about an angel appearing—posh! Just a desperate attempt to cover up their sin. They are a terrible example to the young people in this community. I’m not giving Joseph anymore of my business, I tell you what, and I wouldn’t be caught dead going to the well with a girl like Mary!” Does that conversation sound too far fetched? Maybe it is. But it seems to line up with what happened next in the Christmas narrative . . . Travelling to Bethlehem—Have you ever noticed that Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem alone? Why was that? The census required everyone to register and that would have included at least all the male representatives of Mary’s and Joseph’s families as well as the families in Nazareth. When Jesus was twelve we see Mary and Joseph travelling in a caravan of relatives to Jerusalem in order to celebrate a festival but now we see them travelling alone and, of all poorly planned things, to be making the trip during Mary’s due date! Certainly the registration for the census was conducted over a period of time, probably months, so that it was possible for everyone to actually travel to their home towns. So why did Joseph and Mary wait until the last moment? It also appears they were still in Bethlehem two years or so later when the Wise Men visited. Why didn’t they return to Nazareth after they registered like everyone else did? I could be wrong, but it looks to me like they left Nazareth packed to move, never intending to go back. What would cause a poor young couple at that time to do such a drastic thing? My guess is that they couldn’t bear the rejection and shunning of their “godly” community any longer. Perhaps their lives were even threatened, as is very possible in an orthodox community. Maybe there came a point of desperation when Joseph realized that he would never now get the business he needed to support a family and they had to relocate and start over. Obviously, they waited, as anyone does when faced with the shock of injustice and persecution, until there were no other options but to flee. They had to sneak out after the others had gone and make their own way to Bethlehem. How painful it is to realize that those who have known and loved, and with good cause, have respected you all your life have now, at one word of gossip and false accusation, turned on you and are doing all they can to destroy you! How shocking to see this side of people; you just refuse to believe it for a long time. People, in general, will always believe the worst and never understand what God has told you. Joseph and Mary learned this the hard way. For Mary and Joseph the birth of Christ was not about the family closeness that they had always had or hoped for it was about rejection and loneliness as they submitted to God’s plan in their lives. How many times did Mary think, “Life wasn’t supposed to be like this! Following God wasn’t supposed to cost so much! I was supposed to be blessed for living a righteous life, not experiencing so much suffering, and, from the ones I loved! Where is God???” The birth of Christ—My guess is that Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem hoping they had at least a few more days to get settled somewhere before the baby came, maybe even move in with Elizabeth and Zacharias. I picture her having the first strong contraction and thinking, “No! Not now! This can’t be happening now!” But it was, and it did. What did she think when Joseph came back, weary and discouraged, and told her that he had searched everywhere and there was only a stable available for them to stay. Did she wonder about God’s seeming lack of provision? Who helped her with the delivery? Was Joseph able to round up a midwife or was he the only one present? Oh, this was not how she had pictured her first birth experience to be! And yet, God was indeed there with her, with them, in the midst of the rejection, loss, questions, darkness, poor accommodations, and smell. And, Jesus’ birth still needed to be celebrated. But who could the angels tell? The angel’s announcement—Because of the census and the crowds of people, that first Christmas must have been an awful lot like the way Christmas is celebrated around the world today: streets crowded with people, merchants hawking their wares, terrible traffic, overspending, long lines, cranky children tired of waiting, over busy and cranky adults tired of, well, everything. The angels were bursting with wonderful news to tell but who would listen? Would the people of Bethlehem? No, they were too stressed, too tired, too preoccupied (like so many of us today!), to really embrace an angelic message. How about the royal family? Surely the angels had news fit for a king! Definitely NOT Herod’s family! That family was notorious for killing anyone who threatened their position. Surely the priests and religious leadership would welcome the news about the birth of the Messiah. Unfortunately, not them either. These people would later be the very ones who made sure Christ was crucified. Mary and Joseph’s families? No. They only thought of Jesus as an embarrassing bastard. Who then? Humanity must know! Ah, shepherds watching their flocks in the fields. Here were men who spent a lot of time reflecting on God’s creation and maybe even on God Himself. Historically we know that shepherds were not well regarded. These were men who were already so despised by their community they wouldn’t be afraid of what would happen to their reputations if they spread God’s message of good news. Here were men, too, who could probably care less that this baby came to unwed parents and would welcome and love Him/them anyway. Funny how in times of great loss God provides encouragement from people you would least expect. Strange who turns out to have real love and who should, but doesn’t. And so it was that the angels went to the shepherds. . . What is Christmas? Well, of course, it is many things to different people. In essence, it is remembering the mercy and love of God. I have noticed that the first Christmas was full of surprises—angelic visitations to several people, astonishing and wonderful news, family rejection instead of love, unplanned out of town trips/moves, unplanned births, miraculous provision, unexpected visitors, and even God using irritating directives of a wicked government (i.e. a census) to accomplish His purposes. Does God see and care about our pain at Christmas? Is what we are experiencing really that much different than what those involved in the first Christmas experienced? God has encouraged me through the stories of Mary and Joseph that He does indeed care about my pain. That’s why Jesus came. Not to judge me, but to save me. In spite of my pain can I dare to believe that God has a surprise of love for me this Christmas? Can you?
  2. Thank you everyone for all the important insights you shared on how the enemy attacks us. I learned a lot and have spent time thinking about what each of you shared. It's easy for me not to be alertto the enemy's attacks! God spoke to me through many of you. I brought up this topic because I have recently become aware of the primary way the devil attacks, and has always attacked, me. Perhaps you have experienced this as well. This mode of attack I will simply call "condemnation". Strange how all my Christian life I have heard the enemy called the "Accuser" but I never really thought about what that means. Recently the Lord has been taking me on an amazing and healing journey which focuses on removing the enemy's condemnation from my life. I've been a "good" Christian all my life and yet, I never felt I really pleased God. I always felt that in some way my sins separated me from God at all times, no matter how much I tried to stay on top of confessing them. This inability to walk in the forgiveness of Christ heaped so much condemnation on me that I could neither feel the love of God nor hardly read a Scripture without feeling like it too condemned me. If you don't feel like God really loves and accepts you, if you feel instead that He is actually pretty disgusted with you all the time, then how can you respond in love to Him (i.e. keep your first love), how can you resist sin when we so often sin in order to fill our God given need for love and acceptance, how can you be alert to the enemy's deception and stand against him? It seems to me that the enemy's expertise as the accuser, constantly bringing up our sin in our own minds, is at the root of all his other attacks. If he can get us to believe that we really aren't completely forgiven and accepted by our God through the death and resurrection of Jesus he really does incapacitate us. It's taken me a long time to get to this place but I'm finally truly weary of carrying this load, this lie from the enemy. I want to come to Jesus and know His peace and rest. I don't want to receive anymore the condemnation of others or of the enemy. I have felt a whole new freedom coming into my soul as I embrace God's full forgiveness for all my sins, past, present, and future. As I dare to believe that forgiveness was already completed 2,000 years ago and is not dependent on my ability to perform, live sinlessly, or constantly confess. I really can't describe how this simple truth has changed me! Has anyone else had this experience?
  3. I so understand! The only thing that is helping me right now is to really embrace the forgiveness of God. It's really true, because of Jesus' death and resurrection there is no sin that ever separates us from our God. Jesus never condemns us. Trite words, I know, when someone is suffering as you are. It can be so hard to crawl through each day. . . You are not alone. I am praying for you!
  4. In all ways negative is so very true. What exactly did you mean by "pushing you off the cliff"?
  5. Thanks for your honesty. That really hurts when that happens. How would you describe the "yeast of the Pharisees"?
  6. P.S.S. This might sound crude but it really is true that if you push down like you're having a hard bowel movement you will push correctly and won't tear. Don't worry about tearing if that happens. Your body heals very quickly from that and it isn't a problem (and you don't even feel it when it happens you are numb down there at the time). Tearing won't happen if you can get the labor nurse to heavily massage and stretch your perinium while you are in labor. Remember, you are actually the one in charge of your birth experience and can request what you need from the hospital staff. Don't let them put you on their time clock and try to force you to get an episiotomy or an epidural unless that's what you really want. Be assertive! Like I said, your body was made to do this, and being as young as you are is actually a great advantage. You may go very fast. I've watched babies born in the jungles of Africa and they literally shot out! You'll do great girl!
  7. P.S. Instead of fighting the pain in each contraction it really helps to force yourself to relax and work with it. Think, "Down and out!" as you push.
  8. Dear sweet mom to be, I have given birth to many children and can encourage you that it is a holy and beautiful and powerful experience. You can hold God's hand through every contraction and birth pain. Your birth experience will probably go pretty quickly because you are young. What helped me the most during labor was to have my favorite worship music playing, hot compresses (like was cloths) pressed against my vulva, using a birthing ball, and counting through each contraction. I told myself the truth that although it was getting more and more intense with each contraction that meant the baby was making progress in coming out. If you feel what I call the "ring of fire" when the head is presenting then you can rejoice that the end is near! I highly recommend not getting an epidural or using other drugs. Turns out that the doctors don't tell you that one in five women have chronic back pain after that. The time I used other drugs I was so groggy I couldn't enjoy the moment when the baby finally came. Doing it natural is intense but your body was made to do this and you will survive. Plus there are all kinds of wonderful hormones that God placed within you that kick in during birth to make sure everything works as it should. There is no way to describe the wonder and joy of holding your baby for the first time! A whole new world of love will open up to you and you will feel a comradery with all the other mothers on the earth. I remember my own fear before having my first child. I would talk to people about it and end with saying, "But after the baby is born THEN what do I do???" The answer turned out to be very simple: you just feed her, change her, and let her sleep. Newborn care, though exhausting initially, is very simple. There is nothing like holding your child in your arms and gazing with wonder and awe into their tiny face studying every line and curve, holding their precious little hand as their fingers curl around yours, snuggling them to your breast. I only had one or two days of post partum depresssion with the first one. You just push through it. Nursing was painful for me for a few weeks also. You just push through it and then the sweetness and comfort and joy is well worth the effort. There are usually lactation consultants at the hospital that have good advice to get you started. I know of an organization called MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers). I can't recommend them enough. Look them up on line and find the chapter that meets in your area. They will encourage and guide and bless you through your whole mothering journey. Resources like "Growing Kids God's Way" were also extremely helpful in all the practical steps to raising a child in every stage of their life. There is some very foolish information out there as well so don't believe everything you read. Find another mom with children that you respect and make a point of talking to her about all your questions. I am happy to encourage you as well and can give you practical advice. It's natural to be afraid of the unknown but be assured that God has brought you to this moment and will carry you through it! I am praying for you!
  9. What enabled me to embrace the truth of Christ's full forgiveness was to have the gospel really explained to me. Here I'd been a Christian for over forty years, and taught the Bible to many others, and yet I discovered that I only had a partial understanding of the gospel. The gospel is taught in many variations among the different denominations. I grew up being taught that the gospel went something like this: "Jesus died on the cross to forgive all of your sins so that you could be reconciled to God and go to heaven when you die. But after you become a Christian, if you continue to sin, you are separated from God by your sin until you confess and repent. If you continue to sin you may not really be a Christian at all, or, you may lose your salvation." Maybe you learned something like that? This view of the gospel has led to tremendous condemnation in my life because I worried about being separated from God by my sin. I often felt that my sin made God feel disgusted with me, even ashamed of me, and barely able to tolerate me at times. Now I've learned that a real understanding of the gospel brings one joyous liberty instead of condemnation. It all goes back to what happened in the Garden of Eden. What was the original sin? Was it just eating fruit from the wrong tree? Was it disobeying God? Was it believing the lie of the devil? I believe it was all of these plus something else very subtle and destructive. What was the devil really saying when he said they "could be like God" ? I believe what he was saying was that if they would just eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that is, if they just knew the difference between good and evil then they would naturally choose good and would therefore be able to be perfect like God. In other words, you can become perfectly righteous and holy in your own strength just by knowing what is good and striving to do it and striving not to do what is evil. But what does God say actually gives us righteousness? Doing what the devil said and trying to earn our salvation by living by the "knowledge of good and evil", or, by trusting in the mercy of God to give us His righteousness through the death of Jesus Christ? I think you know the answer to that! Romans 4:22-24 explains this quite well. Why then did God give Moses the Law? The apostle Paul explains in Romans 1-8 that the Law of Moses,and the fact that sins aren't just outward deeds but include those of the heart and mind as Jesus explained in the Sermon on the Mount, was intended to show humankind that no one is able to be righteous (and even when they think they are they sin by being full of spiritual pride!) Therefore, no one can be "perfect like God" (Satan's lie) and thus everyone is in need of God's redeeming mercy. What happened when Adam and Eve sinned? They died, just as God had forewarned. But what was this death? They did eventually die physically many years later but at the moment of sin they died instantly in their spirits. What does it mean to die spiritually? It means that the Holy Spirit that was breathed into Adam and Eve making them "living souls" (as opposed to the life given to the animals) was removed from them the moment they sinned. Now they were truly dead inside and they passed this "sin nature", or this lack of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to all of their descendants. The gospel starts with the need to solve two problems: sin and spiritual death. Sin always separates humans from their holy God and "the wages of sin is death". God would have to solve both of these problems permanently in order to be reconciled to His beloved humans, and, He did! Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection from the grave paid completely for every sin that every person who ever lived or will ever live has ever or will ever commit (I John 2:2). There was no way humans were ever going to be able to be good enough through their own efforts to make themselves righteous so God did the only thing that could be done for reconciliation to occur--He forgave everyone's sins. If just believing one lie of the devil, eating from one wrong tree, could send all of humanity plummenting into Hell then sin is much worse than we think it is. Even the sins we think are not too bad, such as gossip and slander, are so horrific that God Himself had to die to pay for them! Think about that! God Himself had to die to pay for that little bitty sin that everybody thinks is OK to do. The problem with misunderstanding the role of the confession of sin in a believer's life to something that now is the means by which we gain forgiveness makes sin of no real consequence, just something you have to say you're sorry for and try to do better about. Should we be honest about our sins with God and others? Absolutely! But that is not how we gain forgiveness. Jesus' death is the only thing that has effectively dealt with the hideousness of sin and when He died He said "It is finished!". Oh, what beautiful words! I used to think that statement by Him just meant that He was done suffering Now I understand that what He was really saying was, "The sin issue between God and man is now finished!" Is there any sin that can now separate you from your God? Only one, that of NOT believing in Jesus Christ as your savior. This is what Jesus describes in the gospels as "blashphemy against the Holy Spirit". Why would not believing in Jesus be blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? The answer to that lies in the second problem God had to solve when Adam sinned, the problem of spiritual death. Jesus' death and resurrection dealt forever with the first problem, that of sin and it's ability to separate us from God. Forgiveness, however, is not what saves us. Forgiveness is what makes salvation possible. When we believe that God has truly forgiven us through Jesus Christ, He gives us the free gift of the restoration of the Holy Spirit inside. Some describe this as "asking Jesus into your heart" (or "your throat" if you are from Melanesia : ) ). The restoration of the Holy Spirit is what Jesus was referring to when He told Nicodemus "you must be born again!". Since there is no sin that is not already forgiven through Jesus' death and resurrection then there is no reason for the Holy Spirit to ever leave a believer. Said another way, you cannot become spiritually dead again by the removal of the Holy Spirit from within (lose your salvation) because you cannot commit a sin that has not already been forgiven. THAT is the good news of the gospel! Therefore, your sin Naomi, and my sin, as great and as frequent as they are, never, never, never separate us from our God. God is never ashamed of us, never disgusted with us, never just "putting up" with us. He is well aware of our sin but as a loving father He says "I've already forgiven that! Come into my arms!" No matter how many times my children sin against me, in my mind, they are already forgiven and I will always love them. If I can do that as a sinful human parent how much more can our loving God who truly DID pay for all of our sins, relate to us on the basis of forgiveness? I am well aware of the verses that seem to say that you can lose your salvation through the sins you do. If you would like we can discuss those on another post. The Christian life is based on the forgiveness of God and you cannot know peace with God without embracing the truth that all your sins are already forgiven. Despair and hopelessness come to me when I don't believe God loves me and I don't believe God loves me when I let myself believe that He still holds my sin against me. Who tells me that God condemns me for my sin? You guessed it--the devil! That is why he is called the "accuser of the brethren". How does he communicate his accusations to us? Unfortunately, through two very realiable sources--other Christians, and ourselves. It has been life changing for me to start recognizing and standing against condemnation in my life from these two sources. I had no idea how much condemnation was destroying me until I really started to dare to believe that all my sins were forgiven 2,000 years ago. I still battle condemnation regularly but God has shown me some powerful ways to deal with it which we can talk about in another post if you are interested. It has really helped me to listen to the teachings of a jewish pastor named Aaron Budjen who discovered Jesus while training to be a rabbi. His website is titled "Living God Ministries" and I especially recommend his series on forgiveness, the Sermon on the Mount, and his verse by verse study through the books of Romans and Hebrews. Hope this helps : )
  10. My dear sweet sister, All my life I have tried to be the perfect Christian but never felt I measured up. On the outside I may have succeeded at times in giving the impression that I was doing a good job of "walking with God". But inside I have always knew I never measured up to God's standards,I felt that I never really pleased Him, and because of these feelings I could never feel His love. In my mind my sin always separated me from my God. It did no good for people to tell me how much God loved me, how much He was always with me, how much I just needed to try harder and fight the devil more. That was the problem--I had truly tried harder and fought the devil harder but I never got past this lonely empty place where there was a huge wall of guilt and condemnation separating me from the love of my God. Until now. Now there is a crack forming in the wall and I am finally, for the first time in my life, daring to believe a little that God might truly love me. God has recently shown me what the root of the problem has been: I haven't understood His forgiveness. I was told when I was first saved as a little girl many, many years ago that "Jesus forgives all your sins, past, present, and future!" That truth was in fact what brought me to give my heart to Him. But then a multitude of sermons, pastors, teachers, and Christian friends added to this truth saying that, actually, God only forgave your sins up to the point of salvation and after that you have to be continually forgiven by confessing and repenting from your sins. They assured me that, of course, when I did confess and repent God was ready and willing to forgive (I John 1:9) but until then "my sin separated me from God". This misunderstanding of I John 1:9 led to devastation in my life. How many times do you come to God confessing the same sin over and over again and never getting to a place where you truly conquer it before you feel so ashamed you can no longer come to Him? How long does it take before you feel so condemned, so unworthy, so hopeless that it is impossible for you to believe He loves you? Not long! I could never blame Him for not loving me because I blew it so often. Years of knowing better and still blowing it, over and over again. Crying out for His help and still no change. Memorizing whole books of the Bible, "standing on the promises", etc., etc. Was I truly even saved? Condemnation became a crushing and constant weight I bore. And then, one day, He gently and tenderly started to show me the truth. The first thing He showed me was that His love was very different than mine, very different than any human love can or ever will be. I only love the lovable but He loves the most dispicable sinner. My love is weak, shallow, fickle, and selfish. His love is deep, passionate, faithful, and sacrificial. My love wanes, dries up at times, and can even turn to hatred. His love "endures forever". Without realizing it I had internalized that God's love was just like my love, or human love in general. If His love is truly like ours then of course He can't completely forgive us. Or more correctly, He can't have already completely forgiven us. I had to chew on the truth that His love is different for a long time before I finally believed just that much. Still can't fully embrace the rest of the truths about His love but at least now I'm on the path towards that. And just believing this one truth made me ready for the true breakthrough to start happening. The real brekthrough has come from simply embracing the completeness of Jesus' forgiveness. This is the truth that brought me to Him in the first place--He has already forgiven my sins, past, present, and future. That means my sin, whether I am doing it right now or will do it tomorrow, never, never, never separates me from my God. There is absolutely nothing I need or can do to change that. Jesus' death on the cross was brutal and horrific and complete enough to truly forgive all sin for all time. Period. Now when I feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, even though I still fight the old feelings of condemnation, I eventually come to a place where I say "thank you God for already having forgiven this!" and then dare to bask in His complete acceptance of me. Getting to this place has been a long journey and there is more I would love to share with you if you are interested. I am just at the beginning, really, of a whole new experience with God, but it is so truly wonderful and powerful and freeing I can only describe it as being similar to being raised from the dead and starting to truly live. The peace I feel now is almost tangible. And all this is happening while I am walking through the most horrendous experience of my life. How can I feel God's love for me when He is allowing so much unspeakable suffering in my life? I don't yet know, but at least now I have some hope that I will one day soon. I had no idea that, though I've been a Christian for so very long, I really didn't understand the gospel. I understand it now and it has set me free. Do I still struggle with condemnation? Almost daily. But now I am starting to recognize it for what it is--a lie from the devil--and now I can stand against it (instead of beating up myself). I am praying for you to truly know the forgiveness of God so you can receive the great love He has for you!
  11. Hi I am new to using forums, but was hoping to find a place I could share thoughts and feelings with other Christians. I am a little nervous about making this first post because I see so much criticism and downright cruelty in the interactions between people on some of the other posts I read here. I have decided to go ahead and take the risk and ask a question. Though I have my own thoughts in this area, having been a Christian for a long time, I would like to get feedback from other people. What do you think is the primary way the devil attacks Christians?
  12. Paz


    something happened to this topic?
  13. This is one of my favorite verses
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