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Making Christmas a Little Bit More

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When I was nine or ten years old, the most desired item on my Christmas list was a Dr. Dreadful Food Lab. It was a lab kit that you could make all kinds of jello molds shaped like spiders, worms and all kinds of unappetizing things that kids can't get enough of. Now being, by far, the most mischievous child my parents produced, I spent much of my time searching out the place my mom hid our Christmas presents. This particular year, she went with hiding them under her bed (c’mon mom, you gotta try a little harder than that). After I spent a few minutes sifting through what was surely gifts for my older brother and sister, I saw it.

My Dr. Dreadful Food Lab. And I couldn’t believe it!

My parents are generous givers but by nine years old, I had learned that there was no guarantee of receiving what you had on your Christmas List. But this year I had, and of course I was too excited not to share. I ran to my older bother and told him what I had done and what I had seen. Once I had gone, he went to my mother and told HER what I had done and seen. My mother took this as an opportunity to teach her young daughter a lesson and without saying a word, returned the food lab and let me discover this on my own when come Christmas morning I had nothing to make jello in the shapes of spiders and worms.

I am sure many people can say the same but, growing up there were some years of plenty and some years of less when it came to the number of gifts under the tree. And you know what? To this day, there are only a handful of presents that I remember.

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!” -Dr. Seuss, How The Grinch Stole Christmas!

Keeping Christmas special in a culture that teaches us it is better to receive than to give and that more is never enough, is a challenge. So how do we keep Christmas special in an over-commercialized society?

Give Christmas back to Jesus

There are so many things vying for attention during the Christmas season. Between mom stressing over out of town guest, parents stressing over how to pay for gifts, Santa and those reindeer and Elves on shelves, there are no shortage of distractions. Give all of Christmas back to Jesus. Not part of it. All of it. Make time to celebrate with your children and family the birth of Jesus. Make a point to talk about and obsess over the fact that Christ came to the earth in the form of an infant to save us all. Be passionate about this and stop to think about two scared teenagers who traveled a considerable distance on a donkey to give birth in a smelly, dirty stable to a baby who would grow up to redeem us from our sins.

Turn off the TV and stick to family favorite Christmas movies

We generally only allow our kids to watch approved movies. When they watch cartoons on regular TV, they are bombarded with an endless barrage of crazy toys on commercials that they are convinced they need. Literally year round I was hearing, “I want this! I need this! Can I get this for Christmas?!” Once we cut out TV with the commercials, the constant comments of “I want! I want!” were significantly reduced. It is a difficult task of raising children who are grateful for what they have, it is even more difficult when we put things in front of them they don’t need. We have a long list of Christmas movies that we regularly watch in our family. Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Pluto’s Christmas Tree, The Small One (a story about the donkey Mary rode to Bethlehem), the old claymation Rudolf, Lord of The Rings (For adults only at this point. I have no idea how or why we started watching this at Christmas but we snuggle up with the lights off, a fire in the fire place and enjoy watching goblins, orcs, hobbits and all of the amazing Christian symbolism that J.R. R. Tolkien’s beautiful mind gave us) and last but not least, my personal favorite, The Muppets Christmas Carol. It doesn’t get much better than a bunch of sarcastic puppets telling a great story.

Or better yet, turn off TV and read books together

My Mother is a Reading Specialist and she has a knack for finding the most amazing books. There are several that I read as a kid that are still popular today:

  • The Wild Christmas Reindeer, by Jan Brett
  • The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Bear Stays Up For Christmas, by Karma Wilson
  • Letters From Father Christmas, by J.R.R Tolkien

And of course, by far the best Christmas story happens in the book of Matthew and Luke.

Celebrate Advent as a family

Growing up in the church, I remember the Advent wreath at the front of the sanctuary with four candles that someone would light every Sunday while reading a scripture verse. At the end of the service my sister and I would get to blow out the candles (blowing out candles and drinking the left over grape juice after communion were perks of being the Pastor’s kids). We get Advent from the Latin word “adventus” meaning “coming," it is the time for preparing for the coming of Christ and I can’t think of a better way to teach children and family about the birth of Jesus than inviting Advent into our homes. The advent calendars counting down to Christmas filled with chocolates are great but if you are looking for something more substantial, LifeWay.com has an article- 6 Ideas for Celebrating Advent as a Family, you can download a free Advent Family Guide that includes family activities, weekly devotionals and daily readings.

Create your own family traditions

Today with free WiFi, tablets and smartphones, it has never been easier to jump online and peruse the hundreds of websites and blogs filled with family friendly Holiday ideas. Do some good old fashioned research and find some ideas that fit your family. Some of my favorite traditions with my family are making Christmas cookies for our neighbors (that the kids decorate themselves...which make for some interesting looking cookies, who knew Christmas trees could be orange and purple?), my oldest daughters and I make a large batch of homemade cinnamon rolls to enjoy on Christmas morning, Maryland has several great places to see Christmas lights from the comfort of your car (adding some hot apple cider sounds even better). This year I want to try a hot cocoa party, where we get all bundled up, stay up late and drink hot cocoa, look at the stars and just spend time together.

In the end, the key to making Christmas special instead of commercial is time and a little preparation- take extra time to slow down this Christmas to really connect and make memories with family, friends and the community around you.

Fun Holiday Ideas For the Family

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During the Christmas holidays it is custom that we listen to Christmas and winter themed music. Many of us go out and decorate, purchase greeting cards, and look for ways to see close but distant family members. What we also try to do is make lasting memories with our children and spouse.

Many of the memories we make with our families are not planned and can be things that just happen. But as you know, even God had a plan. Setting things up for a nice craft or evening in couldn’t hurt. Planning an outing is even a plus. But even those can become tedious, everyday things for some people.

Matthew 2:10 says, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Who doesn’t want that reaction from their family while creating a lasting memory?

If you are looking for something a bit different for this season of giving, gifts, and love, here are some ideas for memory making and family time.

  1. Indoor Campfire – Light a fire and complete the experience with hot chocolate, marshmallows, and s’mores. This can also be a time to read stories to each other, make ornaments, share a favorite Bible verse/story or watch the Nativity Story.
  2. Kindness Elves - The Kindness Elves leave an idea for an act of kindness or service they hope the kids will do that day. It can be anything from smiling to everyone at school, making their siblings bed, or taking cookies to a neighbor.
  3. 12 Books of Christmas – Wrap a book for each of the 12 nights before Christmas. Each night unwrap a book and read it as a family. It will bring the family closer and create a love of family reading.
  4. Christmas Eve Game – Unwrap a new game and play it on Christmas Eve. Learning the rules and playing something new will be exciting and thrilling for the family. It could become an amazing tradition.
  5. Jesus’ Stocking – Everyone has a stocking, right? Why not leave one up for Jesus? Every day or so, family members can drop in slips of paper saying what they are thankful for or what their gift to Christ is this year. Each one is anonymous but they can be read aloud on Christmas Eve.

However you look at it, it is important to keep the Christ in Christmas! Spending time with family and sharing the love of God with them is one of the best ways to do that. Spend time in prayer with family and remember to have fun! 

Merry Christmas!

Joy of the Season?

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You see the message everywhere…billboards, television, shops, malls, front yards, newspapers, magazines…it’s the most wonderful time of the year!!

Feel the joy!

Joy to the World rings out from the radio, church choirs, elevators, carolers, and the speakers of every store you enter. 

Is that real joy?

Start your list of shopping, baking, decorating, letter writing, card signing, party prep, volunteering, donating, caroling, gift wrapping and spreading of good cheer.

Where’s the joy?

Prepare for the relatives, for Santa’s visit, stuff the stocking, calm the children, fix the meals, settle the arguments,  diffuse the tension, set the perfect table, be seen at the right gatherings, and deal with the dissatisfaction.

There is no joy.

Swept up in the chaos of Christmas. Missing the joy of the season. The world eagerly steals our joy as we stretch and strive to meet and exceed all the expectations around us.

Can we find joy?

The Psalmist had some insight throughout the Psalms. When he spoke to God in Psalm 5:11 we read, “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name rejoice in you.”

In the rush of December and throughout the year, our God will protect us.  Loving God leads to rejoicing as he protects us from all that’s drawing us into the world.

Yet we want to meet the Christmas challenge head on, taking charge of all that is around us. We sleep less, we read our Bible less, we eat more, spend more and do so in the name of “holiday cheer”. 

We have a choice. Push ahead and force our way through, determined that we’ll get things right again in January. It’s Jesus’ birthday after all. It’s the key event to our Christian faith. It’s the least we can do is to be of service to him and others, right?

Or we can slow down and seek the presence of Jesus, knowing we will be right with Jesus now.

Let's change our mindset to celebrating the birth of Christ with Christ at the center. Drop the desire to meet all the world’s expectations. This is the service he wants from us. He just wants us.

Maybe it is a radical change in thought process. It may be uncomfortable at first. But as we spend time focusing on his presence we will find more than joy. We will find peace, be filled with love, and know Jesus more fully.

When we find Jesus is all we have, we will find Jesus is all we need knowing the best is yet to come! 

And that is the Joy of Christmas

Take Jesus to the World

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The last two months have been tough for America; we were horrified by the Orlando massacre and the Dallas assassinations. We sense evil amongst us and we can easily fall into despair.
 
What will happen next? How do we stop the carnage?
 
When senseless horrors like these occur, we are confronted with the reality that we live in a very imperfect world.

 
“These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

(John 16:33)

We are all broken people living in a broken world where every community, every profession, and every human system is broken.
 
But there is a solution to all of the chaos and healing for the brokenness.
 
That solution does not rely upon fallible human beings. It relies on our infallible Creator.

How do we mend a human heart? (We don’t. God does.)
 
No man-made laws (however well-intentioned) can change the human heart. Only Jesus Christ can change our hearts.
 
Jesus proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
 
Jesus has overcome the world and he is, moment by moment, person by person, changing hearts and transforming lives.
 
Even now, Jesus is fixing our broken world by fixing broken hearts one by one. As people are adopted into his kingdom, healing will spring forth into changed hearts, which in turn, will change the world.

Senseless violence will cease to exist when the whole world realizes the truth of who Jesus is and what he can accomplish.
 
Let us take Jesus to the world for healing and restoration. We can rely on him. He is, after all, the Savior of the world

Responding to the Orlando Attack: What's a Jesus Follower To Do?

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It’s happened again.

A massive attack on an unsuspecting group of people.

This time it’s on US soil.

This time it’s directed towards a group of people that has continued to be at odds with the “church” for quite some time.

And it is a tragedy…

How do we respond? We’re Jesus followers and, of course, our hearts are broken. People, made in God’s image, had their lives taken from them at a moments notice. And here we are distant, but affected.

So how do we best respond in a way that glorifies Jesus?

1. Pause and grieve.

When Jesus lost a close friend in John 11, he could have done a lot of things. He could have said, “Well now he’s in a better place with my father!” He could have snapped his fingers and caused a crazy miracle before Lazarus even died. He could have ignored the grief and moved on with his life. But he didn’t. It says right there in John 11:35, “Jesus wept.”

Jesus paused and cried with those who were crying. He did not make the moment anything more or anything less. He acknowledged the pain of brokenness in our world, and cried.

Body of Christ, take a moment to pause and grieve with those who are hurting this week. Do nothing more for a time, just pause and grieve. This moment of solidarity with the hurting is more meaningful than you could even imagine.

2. Keep the focus on Jesus.

Jesus followers, this is not a time for politics and opinions. This is a time for healing through Jesus. Maybe you have strong feelings on gun laws or immigration. Hear this. Now is not the time for these soapboxes. Tragedies are not strategies to show how right you are and how wrong the “other” side is. A tragedy is just that, a tragedy. Jesus did not use situations to glorify an agenda. He built relationships so that he could walk through situations with others to glorify his Father.

Instead of expressing your opinions on Facebook today, find a hurting person and listen to them. Walk with them. Cry with them. Take some time to read Romans 12:9-16, then ask God to show you how you can practice real love with someone today.

3. Earn a seat at the table.

The “church” as a whole has not always lived Jesus towards those identifying as LGBTQ. Our “agendas” have often been at odds, and we get swept up in emotion and forget that we are all made in God’s image. We’re all broken. Jesus died for each of us. Now, suddenly, there’s an immense tragedy affecting the people that many have neglected. We’re genuinely upset. We mean it when we say “We’re praying for you Orlando.” But somehow our words come across hollow and meaningless to those who need to hear it. Why? Because the phrase “sending thoughts and prayers” has been a hollow statement, used as PR and not real sentiment by many leaders both within the "church" and outside of it. So how do we go beyond “thoughts and prayers”? How do we really show the love of Jesus to people who are mourning now?

Well, Jesus followers, it’s not something that will happen overnight because of this tragedy. But it is something that you can start changing now. We must recognize that we don’t earn a seat of respect with people previously neglected just by offering a heartfelt Facebook post (or blog post for that matter). Words are nice, but they can be empty. Friends, it’s time to start meaningfully diving into relationships with other broken people.

Make this the time that you start to exit your comfort zone. Jesus was always living outside of the “religious comfort zone,” and it’s time that we start to follow his example again. Who do you know that doesn’t know Jesus yet? It’s time to invite them to join you and your family for dinner. It’s time to stop at their desk each day to just see how they’re doing. It’s time to remember their first name, last name, and hey, maybe even their birthday! Jesus is calling us to just be in relationships with other people. Isolation and cliques are Satan’s game. Connection is Kingdom work. Create relationships. Make an impact. Live Jesus. This is how you earn a seat at the table. This is how your words become full of life and meaning. This is how you reveal the love of the Father!

4. Finally, pray.

Pray hard. Pray for a long time. Pray honestly. Prayer is how you, Jesus follower, can gain the God-Wisdom and God-Power to continue to reveal his love in times of intense tragedy. Ask God to comfort you. Ask him to show you his love. Ask him to use your story so that others can know him personally the way that you know him. Pray that Jesus’ name is spread far and wide. Pray that every man, woman, boy, and girl would come to know him as their Father, Savior, Redeemer.

These are four things each of us can and should do in this time following a national tragedy. What are some things you think Jesus would do if he were physically here with us this week?

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