I love the word JOY. During the Christmas season we hear the word JOY quite a bit. We even have the word JOY right next to the entrance to our house. JOY is a good solid word. It is easy to spell and easy to remember and I love the meaning of the word JOY. When I looked the word joy up in the Merriam Webster dictionary it defined JOY as "a feeling of great happiness; a source or cause of great happiness".
This Christmas season we had the pleasure of putting together blessing bags to hand out to the homeless. We decided to do something special since it was Christmas and so we used bright red Christmas stockings as the blessing bags. We filled the stockings with hats, gloves, scarves, socks, toiletries, snacks, candy, and a Christmas devotional. We carried these stockings around with us wherever we went in case we ran into a homeless person needing or asking for help. Sometimes a man or woman would be standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign and we would hand them a Christmas stocking from our car window as we drove by. Another time we went to the homeless park and handed out the Christmas stockings to people who were there. The look on the peoples' faces every time we gave them a Christmas stocking was quite interesting. They were always surprised, always grateful and always said thank-you and it gave us pleasure to share Christmas in a small way with these individuals. There were, however, three interactions with people that went beyond giving us pleasure and instead filled out hearts with JOY. These individuals reminded us of how such a simple thing of giving someone a Christmas stocking was really not a simple thing but rather a very big thing.
The first individual was a gentleman standing with a sign outside of King Scooper. For those of you who don't know what King Scooper is, it is the grocery store in this area, similar to Market Basket or Shaws back east. It was a cold night and we had just finished up an afternoon of shopping and we were on our way home. We saw this man standing on the corner of the parking lot outside of King Scooper. He was holding a cardboard sign. I don't remember what the sign said, all I remember is that we knew he needed some help and so we reached around to the back seat of our car to get him a Christmas stocking. When I handed him the stocking he didn't know what to say to me. He was quite surprised and almost speechless. His only words to me were "I haven't had a Christmas stocking in 20 years. Thank you so very much". How does a person go 20 years without getting a Christmas stocking? I thought most people have a Christmas stocking every year. My eyes were opened and I could only begin to imagine and didn't really want to imagine why this man had not had a Christmas stocking in 20 years. As we pulled away from King Scooper my heart was filled with JOY that this man now had the simple pleasure of opening a Christmas stocking two days before Christmas.
The second time Ed and I were at the homeless park in downtown Fort Collins giving out the Christmas stockings. There were several men in the park that bitter cold day. They were clearly chronically homeless as they had their belongings in a shopping cart next to them. One man sitting on a cement wall. We walked over to him and handed him a Christmas stocking and told him "Merry Christmas". All he could say was "Oh my goodness....a Christmas stocking". When he took the stocking from me I noticed that he had no gloves on and his hands were dirty and purplish colored from the cold. I felt so bad for him and told him that he would find a pair of gloves in the stocking to keep his hands warm. He thanked us several times and as we walked away we saw that he was smiling as he was looking through his Christmas stocking. Once again our hearts were filled with not only pleasure, but with JOY.
We were approaching Christmas and we only had two stockings left. One stocking was for a man and the other was filled with items more suited for a woman. Ed and I were walking around downtown Fort Collins. It was late in the afternoon and the streets looked so beautiful as all the Christmas lights were lit. It was also busy downtown as all the stores were open and there were many shoppers finishing up their Christmas shopping. As always, we carried our bag with the Christmas stockings. It was then, as we were walking down the streets Fort Collins, that we ran into the third individual who filled my heart with JOY. We saw a man and a woman standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign asking for help. We walked over to them and I first handed the man the Christmas stocking and then I handed the woman her Christmas stocking. She just stood there looking at me and did not take the stocking from me. Her friend said to her "Take the stocking". Rather than reaching out to take the stocking from me her hands went up to cover her face and she broke down crying. I just stood there with the Christmas stocking in my hand. I told her it was ok and her friend told her again, "just take the stocking". She pulled her hands away from her face, still crying and said, "A Christmas stocking!". She still didn't take it, she was still crying but her face was filled with JOY. Her friend once again told her to take the stocking and she did. I stood there with her for a few minutes, my hand on her shoulder, wishing her a Merry Christmas. She thanked us so many times with tears streaming down her face and as we said good-bye I realized that indeed my heart was full of JOY and I knew that in giving JOY to another person I had also received JOY.
JOY is a two way street. You give JOY to another person when you take the time to help them and in the giving you also receive JOY. I am convinced that to truly find JOY you need to give of yourself to help others. I believe that Jesus knew that we would find JOY in helping others. In this new year Soaring Wings Ministries will continue to reach out to others in need in the name of Jesus and in the process we will be filled with JOY. It truly is our JOY to serve others and there is nothing else we would rather be doing at this time in our lives. During the new year I encourage you to keep your eyes open to the need of others around you. Look for the opportunities that are there and take the time to give JOY to another person. You will indeed find JOY, a special kind of JOY, the feeling of great happiness that comes when you take the time to help someone in need.
Praying that God will bless and guide you in the new year,
Soaring Wings Ministries
Shepherds. Have you ever thought about shepherds? Have you ever thought about the shepherds out in the fields watching over their flocks at night on that first Christmas morning? Living out here on the plains of Colorado at Soaring Wings Ministries I have thought about shepherds quite a bit. I think of shepherds often because we live in an area where it is very common to see sheep grazing on the plains. I also think of shepherds because at night it is very, very dark out here in northern Wellington. There are no street or city lights to illuminate the sky. The only thing to light the sky at night are the stars and the moon. I think about the shepherds because we have animals to take care of and I often find myself outside at night with them. This time of year, when I found myself outside at night caring for our animals, my thoughts turn towards the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night on that first Christmas morning.
I love reading about that first Christmas morning in Luke chapter 2 verses 8-17. From the New International Version it reads "and there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see thing thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they 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."
Living out here on the dark plains with sheep nearby, I can clearly imagine the shepherds in the fields at night watching over their flocks. It must have been very dark, quiet, and very, very peaceful for the shepherds living out in the fields. Out here on the plains where Soaring Wings Ministries is located we are not near any cities or highways so we hear no street noises nor do we have any city or street lights. It is very quiet, still and peaceful here just like it was for the shepherds caring for their sheep out in the fields at night........and then "an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified". I love that the word "terrified" is used to describe the shepherds...not scared or not afraid, but terrified. I can tell you without a doubt that if I was outside here at Soaring Wings Ministries at night and the angel of the Lord appeared and the glory of the Lord shined around the angel, I would be terrified to the point of near death! But the angel was there to tell the shepherds good news, not to scare them to death and so the angel quickly told the shepherds "don't be afraid". The angel had good news for the shepherds and the good news was of great joy for all the people.
Do you ever wonder why the angel appeared to the shepherds with this good news of great joy for all people? After all this was the greatest event in history! The Messiah had been born! For years and years and years the Jewish people had been waiting for their Messiah and when it finally happens the first people the angel tells are shepherds. It just doesn't make sense. Why didn't the angel make this grand announcement to a large crowd of people during the daytime in a public place? Why shepherds? The shepherds were alone by themselves with their flocks. The shepherds probably didn't smell very good from hanging out with sheep all the time. The shepherds were just plain, ordinary people doing their job of caring for their flocks and God chose them to reveal the good news of Jesus' birth. Plain, ordinary, smelly, alone.....I am beginning to see a picture.....a picture that God perhaps does not care how people smell, or how they look or how much money they earn. What God really cares about is their hearts and I believe that God chose the shepherds to reveal the good news of Jesus' birth because He knew their hearts. God loves ordinary, plain and even smelly people and will pour out His love and shine His Glory on them and He will also use plain, ordinary people, like shepherds, to spread the good news of Jesus.
This good news of Jesus' birth was so great, so amazing and so fantastic that a "great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, to men on whom his favor rests." Honestly, my mind cannot picture or or even remotely imagine the greatness, the majesty and the magnitude of this moment. It is something that is beyond my worldly experiences of what "a great company of the heavenly host" would sound or look like, but, I do know one thing...some day I will know and the older I get the more I look forward to that day.
The angels proclamation of the good news of Jesus' birth that first Christmas morning had a profound affect on the shepherds. It was so profound that they could not carry on as usual. The shepherds had just seen an angel and a great company of angels proclaiming the good news that a Savior had been born to them in the city of David and they knew they had to "go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened". The shepherds "hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they 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". I love this part of the Christmas story. The shepherds left everything and hurried off to see the Savior who had been born to them. They had to go see Jesus for themselves. They had to go have a personal experience with Jesus, the savior who had been born to them. I can remember having such an experience, that first experience with the Savior who had been born to me. It was way back in 1972. I was attending Barrington College in Barrington, Rhode Island and I was in my dorm room by myself. I was on my bed and I was thinking about whether or not I really believed in Jesus or did I just believe in Jesus because my parents believed in Him. I was not satisfied with only hearing about Jesus from my parents and other people. I knew that I had to go and find Jesus and see Jesus for myself. I remember reading my Bible on my bed, in my dorm room all by myself and that was the night that I gave my life completely to Jesus. I gave it to him not because my parents believed in Him but because I wanted to experience the good news of Jesus by having a personal relationship with Him myself.
Giving your life to Jesus changes everything. The shepherds "when they 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". After that personal encounter with Jesus, the shepherds could not keep this good news of their Savior's birth to themselves. This Savior, this good news of great joy was meant for all people. The shepherds immediately began "spreading the word concerning what had been told them about this child". The shepherds had gone from caring for sheep to an encounter with angels which led them to a personal experience with Jesus which changed their lives forever. This was such good news that the shepherds had to share it with others and "all who heard it were amazed".
There is no doubt, from reading about the shepherds on this first Christmas morning, that what is required of people, after hearing about the good news of a Savior, is to go and see Jesus for themselves. The shepherds did, I did and you can too. It isn't hard. You don't have to be special or beautiful or wealthy. You can be ordinary. You can be plain. You can be yourself. The shepherds were themselves when they went to see Jesus on that first Christmas Day in Bethlehem and I was myself when I gave my life to Jesus in my dorm room back in 1972.
My prayer is that you will take some time during Christmas and go to the manger and to see the Savior of the world who has been born for you. He loves you and he longs to have a personal relationship with you. Christmas is about "a Savior who has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord". Don't miss out on this very special gift. Like the shepherds did on that first Christmas morning, take the time from your normal routines to hurry off to see Jesus for yourself. You will be amazed.
Merry Christmas to each and everyone of you!!!!
Soaring Wings Ministries
Be ready. Be ready for what? I can think of so many things that require us to be ready. Be ready for Thanksgiving, be ready for Christmas, be ready to take a final exam, be ready for the approaching snowstorm, be ready for the arrival of a new baby, be ready for arriving guests, be ready for dinner, be ready for a date........be ready, be ready, be ready.
It takes a lot of time, energy, effort and work to be ready. To be ready for a home cooked Thanksgiving meal takes about 2-3 days of preparation and then we turn around and do the same thing one month later as we work to be ready for Christmas Dinner. What about all the time, energy and effort we put into getting ready for Christmas Day never mind Christmas Dinner?! There is so much shopping, cleaning, wrapping, visiting, baking and...and...and....!! Let's move on from Christmas and think about all the college students who are putting in hours of studying this time of year to get ready for final exams. This time of year it isn't only about trying to be ready for final exams but we also want to be ready for any snowstorms. I can remember when we lived in New Hampshire and we took it very seriously when the weatherman forecasted a big Nor'Easter. We would fill the bathtub with water, fill up the gas tank on the snowblower, go to the store for groceries, stack up the firewood next to the wood stove and most importantly, we'd make sure that we had a good book to read to get us through the snowstorm. I knew of some families who even had the added excitement of trying to be ready for the arrival of a new baby during snowstorms! Now that is a double whammy but babies come whenever they are ready. Even without a snowstorm to add to the excitement of a new baby, Mom's and Dad's put in many hours to get ready for the arrival of their precious little ones. We do so many things this time of year to "be ready". This time of year many of us have guests arriving to our homes and most of us get ready for them by cleaning our homes and getting something ready for them to eat. One thing that doesn't happen just this time of year but all through the year is eating dinner. Every night in our house we all sit down together at the table to have dinner. We have done this all of our lives and I love dinner time. Dinner time give us a chance to sit together and catch up on the news of the day...... but....it takes some effort to get ready for dinner....it just doesn't happen automatically. A lot of planning, shopping and cooking happens before everyone gathers around the table for dinner. Getting ready for a date is something that also doesn't just happen automatically. To be ready for a date is also takes some planning and preparation. It doesn't matter whether we are married and getting ready for a date with our spouse or single and getting ready for a date with someone special, most of us will put in some effort to look better than usual. Thanksgiving, Christmas, final exams, snowstorms, new babies, guests, dinner and dates....it is a lot that we need to be ready for, but isn't it worth the effort? Isn't it worth our time and energy to be ready for Thanksgiving, Christmas, a final exam, an approaching snowstorm, the arrival of a new baby, guests, dinner or a date? Of course it is!!!!! I can't even imagine what it would be like to be unprepared for any of these events.
Sometimes the effort to be ready can be stressful, especially when we feel like we have too much to do; however, I don't think that the "being ready"always has to be stressful. Personally, I enjoy the "getting ready". I love to prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas and I love to get the house ready for guests and I love preparing dinner for my family. I loved getting ready for the arrival of our three children. All those hours of "nesting" gave me great joy as I anticipated their arrivals and wondered what they would look like. I also loved my college days and even though preparing for a final exam was hard work, I loved learning and therefore did not mind studying for finals. The snowstorms in New Hampshire, although fierce at sometimes, were almost always very beautiful and it was a chance to slow down and stay at home in front of the wood stove with a good book. It is also fun to have guests spend time at our house and I think most of us enjoy getting ready for a special night out with a date. Personally, I don't consider the effort, work and energy required in the "getting ready" as something that I dread, but rather, I enjoy the time I put in to "be ready". I take pleasure and joy in getting ready because I look at "the getting ready" more as of a gift or a service that I am doing for people that I love rather than a chore that I want to hurry through just to get it done.
No doubt about it....getting ready takes time and effort but it is so worth it! Life requires us to "be ready". If we don't take the time and effort to "be ready" we miss out on a whole lot of joy and isn't it the joy that we are all seeking when we put in the time and effort to be ready? The joy of spending time on Thanksgiving Day with a good meal and family, the joy of seeing a loved one open up that perfect gift on Christmas morning, the joy of getting an "A" on a final exam, the joy of being able to snuggle down inside a warm house with a good book during a huge snowstorm, the indescribable joy of holding your new baby, the joy of spending time with guests, the joy of sitting down to a hot meal with your family at the end of a busy day or the joy of time spent with someone you love or at least like on a date. To "be ready" requires work, effort and energy but in the end it is so very worth it because it brings us joy and in most cases it also gives joy to other people.
To "be ready" here at Soaring Wings Ministries takes time, effort and work but just like all the other things that take time, effort and work to "be ready", it is so worth it!!!! We do the hard work, we put in the effort and we give of our time because it brings us joy and ultimately it will bring joy a homeless families or young adults who will be living here. Even though we find joy in our work here, our ultimate joy in all that we do here at Soaring Wings Ministries is because each one of us has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This personal relationship Jesus is the reason why we are here in Colorado and why we are working to be ready for a homeless family to live here. God has given us work to do and as we go about our work we hear the still, small voice of Jesus telling us to "be ready". I have to make it perfectly clear that when I say we hear the still, small voice of Jesus, I don't mean that we actually hear an audible voice, but rather it is a nudging, a sense, a thought that won't leave us or coincidences that are not really coincidences at all but rather God in heaven reaching down to guide us in our work here. God wants us to "be ready" for the people that will live here at Soaring Wings Ministries and we anticipate that this will be happening very soon; but, and this is a very big but, more than anything else God wants us to "be ready" for a deeper and closer relationship with Him. There is nothing that He desires more than to have a deep, personal and everlasting relationship with each one of us. Like any other relationship in life, having a deeper and closer relationship with God means that we have to put some time and effort into the relationship, but...... it is so worth it! Personally, for me to have a deeper relationship with God, means that I have to get up early in the morning, about 4:30 am., to find some quiet time, some time alone with God. During that quiet time early in the morning I read my Bible and pray. That time with Him so early in the morning when the house is quiet and it is just me and God is so very precious and fulfilling. The closer relationship that I gain with Him because of time spent with Him brings me pure joy!
I can personally testify to the fact that this call to "be ready", especially in our walk with God, is a good thing because of the joy. I can't think of a better time of year to focus on what it means to "be ready" and all the joy that comes with it. In the weeks ahead we will spend a lot of time and effort to "be ready" for Christmas. We want to have a joyful Christmas Day with our family and friends and so we work hard to "be ready". As we work to "be ready" for Christmas, our greatest effort to "be ready" for Christmas Day should focus on spending time with our Lord and Savior. It is His birth that we celebrate on Christmas Day and it is a personal relationship with Him that brings us ultimate joy. The very Good News of Christmas is Jesus and that the joy of having a personal relationship with God through Jesus is meant FOR EVERYONE! On that first Christmas morning many, many years ago, the shepherds were busy doing their job of keeping watch over their flocks at night. While they were doing their job "An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10 & 11. Please don't skim over those very important words from Luke 2:10 "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people". All people.....that means me and it means you.
"Be ready". "Be ready" for Christmas, final exams, snowstorms, new babies, guests, family dinners and dates and for whatever else in your life requires you to "be ready"; but, most importantly "be ready" for a closer relationship with Jesus that will come when you spend time with Him through prayer and reading your Bible. Focus on the good news of that first joyous Christmas morning and "be ready" for the joy that will come to you...the joy from having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that was meant for all people!
Soaring Wings Ministries
Anita Rennells is the author of this blog. She and her husband have moved to Colorado when Ed retired and are in the process of opening a ranch to help homeless young adults.
Soaring Wings Ministries