Buddy the Elf Hits Walmart

This past week I was making my usual ‘it’s about to storm so I must stock up on bread, milk and eggs’ run…oh yes, and chocolate. (Don’t judge me.) As I perused through the shoe aisle (did I mention shoes?), I suddenly became aware of a burst of Christmas cheer coming from the aisle next to mine.

A group of female voices were singing “Deck the Halls” with giggling abandon. They weren’t quiet about it. Oh no. They were downright jubilant! They finished their concert and then burst into song again when “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” came over the loudspeaker. Their joy was infectious! I thought of Buddy the Elf’s favorite phrase, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear“. I smiled to myself and just stood quietly in place, soaking in the rare treat.

buddy the elf

I tried to go on my merry way but just couldn’t help myself. Their breathless laughter tugged my curiosity. I wheeled my cart around and peeked around the corner. Six lovely young teenage girls were dancing, laughing and singing as Brenda Lee belted out the classic tune. Not that anyone could hear old Brenda. These girls weren’t just singing…they were sangin‘!

I watched them for a few minutes, a big goofy grin plastered on my face. They finally noticed me and happily waved me in. “Come on and join us!”

I laughed and teased them. “Y’all are having way too much fun.”

A pretty brunette never broke her stride as she replied, “Of course…it’s Christmas! Time to celebrate!” Before I knew it, I was dancing and singing right along with them. And although I felt a bit conspicuous at first, my reserve melted away in the presence of such pure, childlike joy. Shoppers passed us smiling at the slightly insane performers making their debut. We parted minutes later, waving goodbye to each and smiling like children in a candy store.

buddy the elf dancing

Most of us have seen the ‘flash mob’ videos on Youtube. One or two people start singing and before long the entire mall is rattling the windows as they lift up their voices. As I stood motionless in front of the rows of shoes that day in Walmart, I realized that I hadn’t felt as free as they sounded in a long time.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m joyful and happy. Most days I have a pep in my step that Barney the dinosaur envies, but I don’t feel free. Free to express myself as if no one is watching. Free to live with no thought of what someone might think, what is considered acceptable. And, sadly, sometimes I don’t even feel free enough to rejoice. (Unless it’s in a well-monitored and structured environment, of course. Heaven forbid we break through stuffy traditions and actually just express our joy.)

Those sweet girls reminded me of the gift I have in Christ, a gift that I often allow to become dusty and dry, locking it into a people-approved box and shoving on a shelf. I am really and truly free! Squelching that joy is like a bird who refuses to fly out of the open cage door.

And those girls also reminded me that joy, pure and uninhibited joy, is one of the most attractive blessings God has given. I couldn’t help but respond to their enthusiasm. And they happily pulled me right into their party. If you wanted to celebrate, you were welcome. Your social station, age, appearance or abilities didn’t matter.

freedom buddy the elf blog

Freedom found in Christ is like that. Irresistible. It calls. It draws. It moves. It changes and transforms.

So during this Christmas season, in your scurrying to check off your to-do lists, preparing food, buying gifts, braving insane malls don’t forget to enjoy your gifts of freedom and joy. After all, Jesus was born (and died) to give us both. celebrate the savior ornament

 

Tell me…have you been unintentionally squelching your freedom in Christ? How do you ‘let loose’ to breathe in joy?

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The Obscure Thanksgiving List: Banana Pudding, Spanx and Tweezers…Oh my!

attitude of gratitude board

This is my girls’ attitude of gratitude board. Every month we have a new theme and each day they put a new sticky note on the board. November’s theme is, you guessed it, thankfulness.

Their first sticky notes were broad things, like their gratitude for God, family and friends. Lately though, they are starting to get a little more specific…hair, turkey, movies. My two-year old said, “Buzz.” (As in Buzz Lightyear.)

Several days ago, I polled my Facebook friends, asking them what they were thankful for. (If you aren’t part of our Facebook group, hop on over! www.facebook.com/tara.johnson.1401) Most gave the expected answers: family, children, grandchildren, their salvation through Jesus Christ and the like. Beautiful and blessed things for certain.

little thingsToday, I switched things up and asked them to list the most obscure, funny or seemingly small things they give thanks for. The list made me smile. Here’s a sample of their responses…

“My memory.”

“The camera on my phone.”

“My curly hair that requires no fixing.”

“Banana pudding.”

“Fried tators.”

One anonymous friend told me she was extremely grateful for the ‘end call’ button on her phone. We all have those days….

“My Dustbuster hand vac thingy…and Cinnabon coffee creamer!”

“Chocolate and toilet paper.” (This particular set was mentioned many times.) low fuel light

“The low fuel light in my car.”

“Good cat litter.”

“Running water.”

“Doughnuts and spanx…in that order!” (Preach it, sista.) Donuts

“The ability to bend my knee.”

“Mascara.”

“Advil.”

“The older I get—tweezers.”

“The ability to get up and work.”

I’m just scratching the surface with their responses. I love this list of seemingly ‘small’ things. Those little things really are BIG things—things that tell us our Father sees us, knows us and He doesn’t just give us sprinkles of grace. No, He lavishes us with it, letting His children wallow around in His goodness. Aren’t you glad?

If you’re having trouble feeling grateful today, grab a pen and a piece of paper and scribble down an obscure Thanksgiving list. It has a way of changing your perspective. (And, consequently, allows some giggles to bubble up in the process.) giggles

Today, I want to hear from you. What ‘small’ or obscure things are you thankful for? Count your blessings, name them one by one…

Find more content at www.TaraJohnsonMinistries.com

 

Fleas and…Thanksgiving?

I recently heard this funny little story at an event where I was singing:

There was a little old lady who woke up one morning to realize she only had three hairs left on her head. She looked in the mirror, smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you because I can braid my hair today.” So she did.

baby mirror

The next day she woke up and only two hairs remained. She looked in the mirror, smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you because today I can part my hair.'” And she did.

The third morning she awoke and looked in the mirror to see only one hair remaining. She smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you that I can put my hair in a ponytail today.” And she did.

The fourth morning, she woke up, looked in the mirror and, yes you guessed it, had no hair left. She smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you that I don’t have to fix my hair anymore!” 

praise 3

Praise is a choice. It’s all about perspective. So many times we get focused on what we can’t have, on our limitations, we fail to see the tremendous opportunities God has placed in front of us. Sometimes He redirects us in a new way, setting our feet on an unforged path that will ultimately bring more honor and glory to Him. Some of the greatest adventures and rewards come when we are willing to embrace that step, or leap, outside of our comfort zone.

Consider Corrie Ten Boom. corrie ten boom 2She and her sister Betsy were prisoners in a German death camp during World War II. They entered their new barracks and were horrified to discover the bunkhouse was overrun with fleas. Fleas everywhere! Corrie began to cry but Betsy responded, “We are going to stop right now and thank God for these fleas!” Corrie, of course, thought she was crazy. But at her sister’s urging, they both bowed their heads and thanked Him for…fleas.

Over time, Corrie wondered why the rules were so lax inside their bunkhouse. No guards came to check on them inside and because of that, they were able to conduct a Bible study every night. Many women were saved as a result. Later, Corrie was shocked to discover the reason no guards ever came into their bunk house…they were terrified of the fleas!

Sometimes it’s the bad stuff that refines us, grows us stronger, forces us to learn lessons we never would otherwise, allows Him to work things out for the greater good. And it reminds us of our dependence on God. thankful 2

I praise You, Lord, when I’m hungry or thirsty, for it reminds me to hunger and thirst after You.

I praise You, Lord, even when I’m in pain because it reminds that I have a Savior who knows exactly how I feel and has purchased victory over sickness and death.

I praise You, Lord, when I’m exhausted because it forces me to stop and rest in You.

I praise You, Lord, for the disappointments that pepper my walk. They remind me that pursuing goals and personal satisfaction is not my main goal in life. But seeking You is.

Try it. Praising Him for the hard stuff will open your heart and spirit up to His touch in ways you’ve never experienced before.

So what are you thankful for today?

The Little Girl from the Land of Gray

Once upon a time, a sad girl lived in a dark, dreary land. As far as the eye could see, the land was gray. No colorful flowers danced in the breeze. There were no trees or sunshine, just bleak gray clouds and barren fields of dirt. There were many people but no one was happy. land of gray

The mean ruler of the Land of Darkness kept all the people chained in irons, wrist to wrist and foot to foot. If anyone tried to escape, they would only fall, entangled in the shackles binding them.

The sad girl always wondered what was just beyond the boundary of the Land of Darkness but chained as she was, she feared she would never know. Still, each day she wondered if there wasn’t something more than the gray, miserable kingdom she lived in. Every day was the same. Empty. Hopeless. Gray. girl from land of gray

One morning, the girl lifted her head from the pile of dust she lay in, the distant thrum of pounding hooves shaking the earth beneath her. Standing to her feet, she squinted, seeing a rider drawing closer on horseback. He was unlike anyone she’d ever beheld.

This stranger sat tall and strong in the gleaming saddle of his white horse. Colorful sashes of crimson and purple adorned his steed. This man was not from the Land of Darkness. He was beautiful, full of brilliant light. A glittering crown sat upon his head. This was no mere man. Surely this must be a king.

His eyes roved over the field filled with hopeless, dirty people. The girl cowered in shame, embarrassed by her filth and ragged clothes. man and horse 2

Suddenly, the King’s eyes collided with hers. Smiling gently, he held out his hand. “Come, little one. I want you for my daughter.”

The sad girl was astounded. She couldn’t breathe, shocked that a King so majestic and powerful would choose her. Before she could utter a word, the evil ruler of the Land of Darkness heard the commotion and came running from his shadowed tower, snarling at the King from the unknown land.

“You can’t have her! She’s mine. See these chains? She’s a wicked girl and must pay for the wrong she’s done.”

The King studied the evil ruler before his gaze flickered back to the girl. “Let me pay for her crimes instead. I will pay whatever debt she owes if, in return, you let her go free.”

Her hopes dashed, the sad little girl cried. With all the wrong she’d done, the kind King would be unwilling to pay the debt. Her crimes were too great, too terrible for such a gesture.

To her horror and dismay, the mean ruler began to tell the majestic King all of her crimes. She dropped her head in disgrace as the mean ruler took sick delight in proclaiming her failures. Shame burned her from the inside out.

The evil ruler grinned, his eyes glinting like shards of glass. “If you still want such a wicked wretch for a daughter, the price is life for life. That is my demand.”

The King nodded. “It will be done.”

Before the girl could protest, He dismounted from his horse and knelt in the gray piles of dirt at his feet. “Life for life.”

bloody handsThe evil ruler was delighted, cruel as he was, and called his soldiers to beat the King with whips. The lashes cut deep. As the King cried out in pain, blood soaked his shredded back. The girl was helpless to do anything but weep into her hands. She knew the evil ruler of the Land of Darkness. He would not stop until he had killed the beautiful King.

The beating seemed to go on for hours, each scream of agony more terrible than the last. Then the world grew silent. The King lay still in the crimson-pooled dust. The girl knew he was dead and she sobbed, her heart broken for all he’d suffered for she knew wasn’t worth the price the evil ruler had demanded.

The horrid man loomed over her, his eyes narrow, hissing through his teeth. “See what your wickedness has done, you worthless girl? Your sin was too great. It killed this King and you’ll forever be my prisoner.”

But then, something amazing happened. The King slowly opened his eyes. Pushing up from the dust, he slowly stood to his feet. The sad girl’s heart leaped for joy. He wasn’t dead any longer! She trembled to see that where the deep lashes of the whip had cut his back, there were now only scars.

The King faced the evil ruler. “It is done, as you have demanded. Life for life. She is now mine if she chooses to come with me.”

Turning towards the astounded girl, the King held out his hand and smiled gently.

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“Do you trust me?”

 The little girl nodded, her heart bursting, overwhelmed that this King would pay so great a debt to free her.

She reached out and placed her small hand in his, noting how the bumpy scars that marred his once perfect skin felt so strong and tight as He grasped her fingers.

 The King placed a royal robe around her shoulders. With his own hands, he wiped the grime from her face and placed a glittering crown atop her head. Pulling her onto his horse, the great King carried her away from the Land of Darkness and declared the girl to be his daughter, the princess of the Kingdom of Light and his heir. callie-crown

Likewise, the once sad girl found true joy with the great King. He became the daddy she had always longed for. His unconditional love gave her joy and freedom that she’d never known.

They lived happily ever after.

One thing I forgot to mention—this story isn’t really a fairy tale at all. It’s truth. I know because it happened to me. If you’ve been redeemed, this your story as well.

Embrace this jaw-dropping truth tightly around your mind, Little Girl from the Land of Gray. Wrap it around your mind like a tiara. You are loved. You are redeemed. You are the adopted daughter of the King. You are wanted. You are His.

Let Him transform your life. Live. You are free, ransomed from the Land of Gray and carried into the Kingdom of Light.

castle

“He has delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…” ~Colossians 1:13

The BIG question

Today I’m going to ask the BIG question…the question that plagues every single human the world over. What do you think happens when you die? question-paper

Some confess they have no idea. Some might say, “Well, I’m basically a good person, so I guess I’ll go to heaven.”

Let’s look at that for a moment.

Let’s go through the Ten Commandments and see how good you are. (Exodus 20) Have you ever told a lie? If the answer is yes, that means you are a liar. I know, I know…putting it so bluntly hurts. But we are trying to be honest here. How many lies do you think you have told during your entire life?

Have you ever wanted something that wasn’t yours? That’s called coveting…and it’s a sin. Have you ever been disrespectful to your parents? Have you ever thought about being with someone who wasn’t your spouse? Have you ever cursed using God’s name?

See, the problem is that if you have done any of these things, that means you’re a sinner. (And I haven’t even gone through half of the commandments.) Sin means to ‘fall short of the mark’. To make a mistake. And guess what? We’ve all done it! “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” ~Romans 3:23 

Compared to God’s holiness, His absolute perfection, we all have messed up. It’s easy to compare ourself to others and say “well, at least I’m not like so-and-so”. But comparing ourselves to another person really isn’t the best standard is it? 

I’ll put it this way. My little dog is adorable with big black eyes and fluffy white fur. Inside of our house, she looks pristinely white. Perfect. But the last time it snowed, she ran outside and I was startled to watch her playing in the snow because she looked dirty. Dingy and yellow.

white dog in snow

That’s how we are compared to God. Dirty, dingy…unclean.

Now, you may stop here and say, “Well, okay, I’m not perfect but I’ve done some good things in my life.” Consider what would happen if a murderer stood before a judge. He is waiting for sentencing after admitting that he has killed. Yet, he stands before the judge and says, ‘I admit I’ve murdered, but you’re not taking the balance into account. I’ve been nice to people in the past and I’ve given to charity.” What would the judge say?

A good judge would never let a criminal go just because he had done some good things in the past. He would judge according to the crime committed, because a good judge must uphold justice. And God is a good judge. “For the wages of sin is death…” ~Romans 6:23

So knowing that we all sin, where do we deserve to go? To heaven or hell?

There’s a big misconception out there about hell. People often wonder why God would have ever created such a dreadful place. But as my pastor often reminds us, why do we have garbage dumps? Filth has to go somewhere or it corrupts everything it touches.

I deserve to go there but God loved me so much…He loved YOU so much, that He provided a way to escape our punishment.

He sent His only Son Jesus to earth. Jesus compressed himself into the womb of a virgin, was born in Bethlehem and grew into a young man. He was God wrapped in human flesh. And being God, He showed His power by healing the sick, raising the dead and teaching us about God’s love.

Jesus never sinned. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” ~Hebrews 4:15 

scourging

Jesus loved us and cared so deeply for us that He refused to leave us in the dark. At the age of 33, He allowed an angry mob that feared losing their political power to beat him, spit on him, be whipped with a cat-of-nine-tails and be crucified to a Roman cross. At that moment, He took all of our sin, our mistakes on Him and nailed them to His cross. Simply put, He took the whipping for every bad thing you and I have ever done and ever will do.

Now, if Jesus is dead, what good does it do? But praise God, He’s not dead! Three days after dying, He was raised from the dead and appeared to hundreds of witnesses. (Study the book of John to learn more or check out “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel.) When He rose from the dead, it means He conquered death and sin….forever.

Now, is it enough to believe that there is a God? No. James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and tremble.” If you want to be clean, to stand before God the judge blameless and perfect, you need to ask Jesus to forgive you and to save you from an eternal hell. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10

Since the moment that I asked God to forgive me and claimed Jesus as my King, my life has never been the same. He gives peace when everything is crashing around me. He loves me when I’m unlovable. And He is building a home for me in Heaven as we speak. He has transformed me from a person who was dead inside to a new creation in Him. I was blind, but now I see. I was dead but now I’m alive.

There is a 100% guarantee that you will die, just like every human before you. Your life is far too valuable to throw away. Don’t gamble it on what you think happens. You did not bring yourself into the world and you have no power or authority to make the rules fit your own wishes. Seek the One Who existed before the world began. Seek. Ask. Jesus is calling you to Him. His arms are open wide.cross

Do you have an answer for the BIG question?

Sippy Cups: When It Seems God Doesn’t Care

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Have you ever felt that God isn’t listening to you?

Perhaps He showed you something phenomenal He’s about do in and through your life. A child, a gift or talent maybe. Perhaps it was a vocational change or ministry calling of some sort. Perhaps it’s a long-held dream right on the cusp of fruition. God revealed that glimpse to you, confirmed it and reminded you again for good measure. Your excitement mounted and it seemed like a million dreams were about to be fulfilled. You lived each day in breathless anticipation. When would it happen? When would He move? You’re there. You’re ready, and then…

Nothing happens.

Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Months turn into years. In the waiting, the rosy bloom of promise seems to fade. Excitement turns into confusion. Restlessness. Fear. Perhaps, even anger.

You begin to wonder if you heard Him correctly. Maybe He hadn’t revealed what you thought He had. Did you misunderstand? Did you do something wrong? Was He even listening to you anymore? He seems so silent. In your weakest moments, you might even wonder if He loves you at all.

hope deferred

Yes, God’s ways can sometimes feel confusing. Agonizingly slow. Even counter-productive or cruel.

Notice I said they sometimes feel that way. But they really aren’t. This concept never became more clear to me than during a recent incident with a sippy cup. sippy-cup

I was working to prepare dinner one evening, when my two-year old boy toddled into the kitchen, his lips puckered into a pout. Pointing his chubby finger at the refrigerator, his wish became clear.

“Juice.”

I smiled. “You want some juice?”

He grinned and reached up his dimpled arms for me. I scooped him up, knowing he was thinking our juice-fetching routine would remain the same as every other day. Normally, I pick him up, open the frig, we peruse the already juice-filled sippy cup selections together and he picks the one he’s craving. However, this day, things were not the norm.

I had already washed his sippy cups and placed them in the cupboard…the cupboard on the other side of the kitchen. Propping him on my hip, I moved away from the refrigerator to pull a sippy cup from the cabinet. Nate didn’t understand what I was doing. In his little mind, he wanted juice and I had just shut the refrigerator door in his face and pulled him away from his prize.

screaming baby

He screamed. He wailed. He wanted his juice and he wanted it now! All he knew was that I had walked completely in the opposite direction. He panicked and flailed in abject terror that he would surely die of dehydration. Poor guy. The strung-out little dude truly thought I was heartless, abandoning him in the middle of his need. Didn’t I understand that he was thirsty? Possibly on the verge of death?

What he failed to realize is that there could be no juice without the cup. Though it seemed like I was pulling him farther away from what he craved, I was actually positioning him to enjoy the gift. I was making him ready. I was giving him what he needed. Though I stepped away from the refrigerator, I was actually moving him closer to his cup and ultimately, his goal.

It’s the same with God. Though at times His ways seem confusing, even counter-productive, He is positioning you, preparing you and making you ready for the good work He’s had in mind all along. Thrashing, wailing and screaming only slows down the process…and makes it much more painful.

Isaiah 55_8-9 - Iceberg

Consider Joseph. (Genesis 37-45) Even from a young age, God gave this fellow an inkling what purpose his life would serve in God’s plans. When Joseph dreamed his brothers bowed down to him, it must have made him a tad excited. After all, what you’re passionate about is what you talk about and Joseph was blabbing that choice piece of news all over the place…so much so, that his brothers hated him for it.

Was Joseph eventually in a position of power and authority over his brothers? Yes, but it didn’t happen right away. Actually, the journey looked nothing like what Joseph could have ever imagined. Kidnapped, sold into slavery, wrongfully accused and thrown into prison. This wasn’t a couple of days in the slammer either. No. For two long years, Joseph sat in prison, no doubt wondering if God had abandoned him. Had he only imagined the crazy dreams of yester year? Why didn’t God free him? Fight for him? What purpose could he possibly serve sitting day after day inside a lonely, filthy cell?

Joseph’s story is filled with breathless twists and shocking turns but what God promised is exactly what came to pass. It always does. When God speaks, it’s as good as done.

Abraham and Sarah had their own sippy cup experience. God promised them a son and so they waited and waited and waited. Sarah feared God was moving her farther and farther away from her dream and thus decided to help the process come about in a speedier manner. The results were disastrous. (And still are.)

She had her own moment of confused-cup-meltdown but in her hurry, all she did was make the situation harder to bear. And, just like always, God delivered that much anticipated son twenty-five years later on His own time table, in His own manner, for His glory.

Why do we ever doubt Him?

Child of God, don’t fret if His promise seems to be taking longer than you imagined, or via a manner you never dreamed possible. He’s working all things together for your good and His glory. He’s positioning you, getting you ready for amazing things. Hold out your hands, praise His Name and wait.

When He places that long-awaited cup in your hands, it won’t just be full. It will be overflowing with good things.

overflowing cup

“For I satisfy the weary ones and refresh everyone who languishes.” Jeremiah 31:25

Have you ever waited for something so long you feared God had left you? What have you learned during the process of waiting?