Cozy Up With a Good Read

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The Christmas season is a time for peace on Earth, goodwill to men, and a whole lot of craziness. Between the hustle and bustle of getting to the stores, planning and going to Christmas parties, and making sure that you’ve gotten presents for everyone and their mother, it’s no wonder that sometimes we can feel a little overwhelmed. I don’t know about you, but to me, nothing cuts through the craziness of Christmas like curling up with a good book. So, if you’re looking for a good read, check out the following suggestions.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

The Herdmans are absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world, according to the first line of the book. They lie and steal and cheat and they’ve certainly never set foot in the church. So, how on Earth do those kids end up with in the main roles of a small town church’s Christmas pageant, and, more importantly, what is going to happen next?

Other than the Christmas story in the Bible, this is the only other book that my family absolutely has to read during the Christmas season. On Christmas Eve, we all get dressed in our best clothes, clamber into the family van, and read the book out loud on our way to the Christmas Eve service. The book is technically meant for children, but even my brothers, who are 17 and 19, get a kick out of hearing this story. As someone who has met more than a few Herdmans in life, I can assure you that this book is a great reminder that God looks at people’s hearts, rather than the outside, and that even the worst behaved people in our lives can be changed by God’s love. 

The Door Within, by Wayne Thomas Batson

Aidan Thomas has never really been strong or smart or popular. His only claim to fame has been his best friend, Robby, and even that’s over, now that he’s had to move halfway across the country to take care of his sick grandfather. But, when he discovers a mysterious set of scrolls in his grandfather’s basement, he’s transported to a strange new land and sent on a quest to continue the mission of the one true King.

This is the first book in an allegorical Christian trilogy, telling the timeless tale of good and evil, light and dark, life and death; it’s vaguely reminiscent of the classic Chronicles of Narnia books, if Narnia had been written by a middle aged English teacher in central Maryland. One of the main things I liked about it was how relatable the characters were. I’ve been in a similar place to where Aidan is, both at the beginning and the end of the book, and I think it’s really cool how the character grows in that place. The book is supposedly meant for ages 8-12, but it’s really for anyone who has felt lost and alone, as it teaches the message of God’s love and sacrifice, with a little bit of fantasy and magic thrown in. 

Cookie Dough or Die (A Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery) by Virginia Lowell

Olivia Greyson has had it kind of rough. She’s been though a messy divorce, she’s had to move back to her hometown, and now her entrepreneurial mentor, Clarisse Chamberlain has died. But, when Clarisse’s death seems suspicious to Olivia, she and her business partner Maddy take it upon themselves to solve her murder.

This book is a light and entertaining read. Though it’s not a Christian book, it is a clean read. There’s no bad language and no sex. The characters are a lot of fun, from Olivia, who is sarcastic and down to Earth, down to Maddy, her quirky, energetic business partner. Overall, if you’re into cozy mysteries, this might be the book for you.


Putting Jesus First

Then he said to the crowd, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 NLT)

Putting Jesus First...What does it mean? What does it look like?

Jesus said that in order to be his follower, we must deny ourselves (turn from our selfish ways), and take up our cross daily.

Deny yourself—everything in your life has to be less important than Jesus. This includes what you want: for Christmas, to happen next year, in your job, and for your family.

Take up your cross daily—that means you must make a daily decision to deny yourself. Not just once on the day you receive him, but every day. Make your wants, your goals, your rights, your thoughts, and your actions secondary to what Jesus wants for you to do and to be.

Putting Jesus first.

It’s the easiest thing to understand and the hardest thing to do.

Putting Jesus first means wanting him so much that everything else is secondary. It means actively seeking him every day. It’s not living in a passive way. It’s not making “good Christian decisions” and calling it a day. It’s not even about “What Would Jesus Do.”

It’s about “What Will You Do” to submit to Jesus.

Are you intentional about seeking him? About reading the Word? About prayer?

Are you willing to give him the reins to your life—to let him decide where you will go and what you should do? Do you bring him into every action and every thought? Do you ask him how he wants you to spend your days? Who to befriend? Whom to help?

When you seek Jesus’ input through prayer and Scripture, you put him first. Your life becomes a daily conversation with him—a journey that flows out of relationship, which is so much more fulfilling than anything you could come up with.

Put. Jesus. First. Every day.

If You Want Christ's Life, You Get Christ's Death

jim elliot

1 Corinthians 1:18 says, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." 

It's like Jim Elliot said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

To us who believe in Jesus, this message is life -it is the power of God! It's the way we live forward and the truth is that the centerpiece, the whole meaning of Jesus' life, is in a cross and a resurrection --a dying and a living!   

The centerpiece to Jesus' whole message is the invitation to a cross so that you may experience your invitation to a resurrection. A whole new life that is impossible apart from the power of God --the dead don't come to life apart from the power God!

"For even the son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." -Mark 10:45

If you want Christ's life, you get Christ's death -you can't have one without the other! The death of Christ has got to be not just something that you and I admire merely from a distance, but that we enter into in a very real and personal way on another level! 

Part of what we suffer is the loss of living self centered and self serving and of looking out for our own interests. We trust that Jesus has our back and that He will serve our interests. Jesus has served your interest in the cross and in the resurrection that he's offering you.

You will be blessed forever and your life on earth will be radically different and better than you imagined! The difference is all in the dying! 

Some of it can be seen, much of it can't, but in the end Jesus will reveal what was true and what was not. What was a fraud and what was authentic. What was a genuine struggle and what was an illusion. And so we die to a dying world that we might live to a new Kingdom that has come!

In Matthew 16:26 Jesus said, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the son of man is going to come in His Father's glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done."

This life is not all there is --it is quickly passing. The Jesus who came as the bookend of one part of human history is going to come again as the second bookend in human history...and to gain an eternal life, we have to give up a world! 

What part of your world are you struggling to give up? What part of your world is fighting to stay alive and be in charge? I think we would all agree that Jesus' willingness to die made all the difference in the world, but do you understand --so will yours? -Dr. Drew Shofner

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

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