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It is Christmas Eve. So many memories – childhood… to my own children’s childhood – pleasantly flood my mind. This year, we have two college daughters presently home, and late tonight we expectantly await our married daughter and her husband who live in North Carolina. I actually welcome this feeling of preparing the house for their arrival. I desire to not only enjoy the days leading up to Christmas with Skylar and Landrey as we shop and bake, but also the putting of the final touches of Christmas traditions, so that when Braelyn and Ryan come home, they find a home filled with the glory for why we celebrate. As we remember what Christmas means to each one of us, let us not be carried away by going through the motions of holiday traditions, as I have been tempted to do. You know, the way we get caught up in having equal amounts of presents for the children, what is on the menu, on the Television, and on our tree. These are all a unique aspect to our holiday cheer, but let us not allow them to preoccupy our thoughts, time, and tenue. Maybe today you feel unworthy of even turning your thoughts toward God. Maybe you feel numb towards the baby Jesus. Maybe your heart has lied to you and betrayed you by citing that “He, God, won’t listen.” Maybe you have rationalized why your absence from God has been long enough to keep Him away. Maybe you complain about God without seeking Him directly. Or, maybe you believe you have wandered far too long and far that He wouldn’t even want you anymore.

Not so! Are you able to see beyond your self-pity and self-loathing to recognize the purpose – the higher purpose – the eternal purpose – of the baby Jesus in the manger. It is God’s ultimate plan and desire to make a way for those so far removed from Him in their thoughts, words, actions, and in their contemplations to actually be so near Him that they feel His sweet, intimate embrace, hear His comforting voice, and to feel in their very depths of their soul that He, God, loves them. As prophesied in Isaiah 49: 6 hundreds of years before the birth of our Messiah, God’s plan and purpose was to have the lost found. God prophesies over His servant and declares, “Is it too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept? I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Then in the New Testament, just eight days after the birth of Jesus, his parents took baby Jesus to the temple, as according to Jewish custom, to be consecrated to the Lord. When they arrived, the Spirit of God came upon a man by the name of Simeon. He then proclaimed over baby Jesus, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32). Simeon referenced Isaiah 49:6! Jesus has been born to save! Not just the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. This is us – we are not excluded!! He desires for my salvation, for your salvation. His arms extend wide for you.

Maybe, like the prodigal son, you have been rehearsing things in your mind of what you which you could say to God but haven’t quite mustered the courage to say to Him. The prodigal rehearsed his words of feeling unworthy and inadequate before he came in the presence of his father, who is a representation of our Heavenly Father. He rehearsed his words: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men” (Luke 15:18-19). I am sure each step homeward he wrestled with whether or not he could really face his dad. Talk about humbling oneself. How long he must have thought of himself so degrading and pitiful to even consider being in the same place as his dad. The lowest of the lows. Who did he think he was going back to his Father’s house? He was covered in shame – not even able to hold his head up. And yet, he did muster the courage to take the steps back home. What he could have never imagined was his treatment when the Father reached him: “But, while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). In fact, you know as the prodigal rehearsed what he would speak to his father, he would anticipate and even presume to know what his father would say in return. He knew what he deserved. What had the father been rehearsing while the son was gone? Maybe the son imagined how mad his father would be. How he has shamed the family. He probably believed the father wants to curse him – his own son. How he wants to treat him like he was never born – that he will only be ignored and not allowed in his father’s presence. Or, maybe he thinks his dad will give him the lecture of a lifetime entitled: “I Told You So!”

None of that happened – not even a tiny smidgen of it. One of my very favorite words the father says to the son is the very first word (which really wasn’t even said to him, but to his servant): “Quick!” The Bible puts the exclamation point at the end! The father didn’t have a rehearsed speech of condemnation. No, immediately he had gifts for his son – even when the son thought he had “spent everything” – the Father had so much more prepared for his heir/son. Before the son could finish his rehearsed speech of shame and guilt, the father lavished him with presents by covering him in grace.

A celebration began in honor of the prodigal son: “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).

It is time for all of us to be found by God. Praying we will make our way back to our relationship with the One who came to find us and save us.

Merry Christmas

Hey! I just want to update you on what is happening currently in my life. Not that a lot is going on, I just thought instead of writing a devotional of sorts, I would let you in on where I am on this journey of life. In fact, as I think about it, I’m not sure that I have ever written something about me. Yes, I’ve written my thoughts and a few achievements, but I don’t think much else. Maybe I should write more than what is happening as of Feb.’11.  Nah…I think I will stick to the current.

The Lord has opened the door for me to be a substitute teacher for Broken Arrow Public Schools as well as Summit Christian Academy. I began the school year subbing and have subbed everyday since. I never really saw myself back in the classroom or gym (as I have my P.E. certification), but amazingly I like it. I had envisioned the classroom full of students completely draining me and me not having the skills to maintain an orderly classroom. As both of those are still true, what I hadn’t imagined was the energy and confidence I have gained from the students. They inspire me, make me laugh, make me appreciate my own children, teach me, and give me hope. Since I have enjoyed the classroom so much more than I anticipated, I am currently studying to pass the English certification test coming up in April. This will give me the opportunity to be qualified for more than just a P.E. position in the public or private schools.

Randall House Publishers will be releasing my second Bible study, Back From Captivity, early next month. This study is for men & women college age and older. It is about rebuilding your identity in Christ. I look forward to its release and believe the Lord has ordained it for prodigals who have recently made the journey back to their Heavenly Father. My hopes is that it will be a tool for counselors to use in their counseling sessions.

I would love to write a third book as the Lord leads. My subject I would love to write on is beauty. But, for whatever reason, I am not moved to sit and write the book just yet. Actually, I haven’t moved on from my research from Back From Captivity which concentrated on the book of Jeremiah. I am going back through Jeremiah and reading/studying it in its chronological order and not in the order it is as we see it in the Bible.  The history of the book is truly fascinating. Then, the fact that it relates to God’s people even now, is even more fascinating. Just this morning, I read Jer.6:15, “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.” I always hate it when speakers/preachers tell us statistics and realities of the church as it relates to how the church looks like the world. I pray I be one to shine God’s light amidst the darkness and not conform to it.

My girls are doing fabulous. Growing so pretty everyday. We are about to begin a new soccer season where I will be spending my evenings as their chauffeur and juggling to get a nutritious meal on the table. As I write this, it is hard to imagine anyone playing soccer in Broken Arrow. Two days ago we got a record breaking 15 inches of snow! And it is all still on the ground as the high for the past 2 days has been 18 degrees. We have had a lot of family time since the snow and don’t really see an end to it as of yet. 

I do, however, see an end to this post! I will leave you with the truth of God’s Word as it has come alive to me as I gaze out my window onto the massive amounts of snow everywhere. “‘Come now, let us reason together’, says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'” Isaiah 1:18.

In my research for my Bible study I am currently writing, I am reading The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen.  It has now become one of my all- time favorite books!  The book is deep to say the least.  It is absolutely fascinating that for years the author concentrated on the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15) that was inspired by a painting of the father and the son painted by Rembrandt.  I have never heard or seen of an inspiration like his!  I want to share some thoughts of Nouwen’s.  Please read slowly and embrace the revelation God, the Father, has to say to you. 

“It might sound strange, but God wants to find me as much as, if not more than, I want to find God.  Yes, God needs me as much as I need God.  God is not the patriarch who stays home, doesn’t move, and expects his children to come to him, apologize for their aberrant behavior, beg for forgiveness, and promise to do better.  To the contrary, he leaves the house, ignoring his dignity by running toward them, pays no heed to apologies and promises of change, and brings them to the table richly prepared for them.”

Nouwen raises a poignant question that I, in turn, ask you (as well as myself) – “Wouldn’t it be good to increase God’s joy by letting God find me and carry me home and celebrate my return with the angels?”

I don’t want to be like the older brother who didn’t want to join the celebration.  I join you in your celebration!  Will you join me in my celebration?

Jennifer Johnson

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"To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen." -Revelations 1:5b-6

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