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Archive | Christmas

May Your Christmas Be Merry and Light!

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. The coming of God to mankind. We needed a Savior. We were stumbling around in the dark and could not save ourselves. We needed a Light.

Then two thousand years ago, the Creator set His rescue plan in motion. The King left His throne in heaven and entered the world as a humble babe in a stable in Bethlehem.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:1-5

Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). Anyone who believes in Jesus will cross from death to life. From darkness to light.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. John 3:16-18

May the Light of the world fill your heart with His joy this Christmas.

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:2,6

From my family to yours, Have yourself a Merry and Light Christmas!

family

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Broken Christmas

Broken ChristmasEver wonder if this year will be the year of your perfect Christmas? You’ll find that impossible-to-find toy. There won’t be any arguing around the dinner table. And the turkey will not be dry.

But no matter how hard we work, how hard we hope, something always goes wrong. Not everything is the way we want it to be. In fact, some years things are worse than merely imperfect. Sometimes they are truly broken beyond repair.

Our world is full of brokenness. Broken families. Broken bodies. Broken futures.

Sin’s devastating effects are all around us, constantly impacting us. Illness and disease. Evil and violence. Lust and greed. Pain and loss.

Scripture says that all creation groans under sin’s weight (Romans 8:20-21). Even God’s children feel the burden and long for the day that Christ’s redemption will be fully realized:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:22-23

Yes, Jesus came to bring salvation. His death and resurrection brought victory over sin and death. But the last effects will not be wiped away until Jesus comes again.In the meantime, we groan.

Sometimes Christmas only magnifies our groaning. We are expected to be joyful and hopeful. Yet it is easy to allow our circumstances to overshadow joy and hope.

But here’s the Good News. This Christmas may not be perfect. Indeed, it may be shattered. But believers have an unshakeable joy and a sure hope in our Christmas yet-to-come. When Immanuel comes again, He will make everything right. Everything broken will be whole again.

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

A broken Christmas does not have to be joyless and hopeless. While we wait for the Christmas yet-to-come, we cling to Christ’s love (Romans 8:38-39), we depend on God’s strength (Philippians 4:13), and we rest in the Father’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

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3 Activities for a Meaningful Christmas

Meaningful ChristmasChristmas is just a little over a week away. If you’re like most people, you’ve been working to prepare for the big day since you stored the leftover Thanksgiving turkey in the fridge. So how’s that been working out for you? Do you feel more joyous or frantic?

It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness and expectations of the season. Shopping, decorating, baking, cleaning. There seems to be no end. But much of that activity flows from a commercialized version of Christmas. And we don’t have to buy into it.

What should Christmas look like for us? How should we recognize and celebrate the birth of our Savior? A good place to begin is at the beginning. The biblical account of the very first Christmas shows us how those close to Jesus responded to His arrival.

3 Activities for a Meaningful Christmas

  1. Share Jesus – Remember the shepherds? The ones out in the field watching over their flocks by night? (See Luke 2:8-20). After they found baby Jesus in the manger – just like the angel of the Lord had told them – they couldn’t keep the news to themselves. They “spread the word” everywhere that the Savior had been born! Can’t you just hear them? The Messiah has come! The long-awaited One is here! We’ve seen Him for ourselves! The shepherds were the first in a long line of witnesses to the Savior. Who can you tell today?
  2. Ponder Jesus – If anyone in the first Christmas story had cause to “ponder” it was Mary. An angel’s visit. A miraculous pregnancy. And a bunch of shepherds with a wild story about an angelic choir. No wonder the Gospel writer penned “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She had a lot to think about. A lot to hold close to her heart for God to apply in His time. We can “ponder” Jesus too. Take time before Christmas to sit quietly and consider what the birth of Jesus means for you.
  3. Worship Jesus – The magi traveled a long way to worship the baby King (Matthew 2:1-2, 11). Yet sometimes we simply forget. Or get too busy. Let’s not simply observe a holiday. Let us bow our knee before Jesus and worship our Savior, Lord and King.

What are some ways we can we share, ponder, and worship Jesus today?

 

 

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8 Tips for the Perfect Regift

RegiftHave you ever received a regift? Have you ever given a regift? The term “regift,” first coined by Jerry Seinfeld on his hit TV show, means to give as a gift something one previously received as a gift.

For instance, on my 40th birthday a teacher friend of mine gave me a nice bath salts ball neatly wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbon. The gift label firmly stuck on the cellophane read, “To Mrs. Smith, from your student Susie.” Whoops! (By the way, names were changed to protect a not-so-savvy regifter.)

My regifting friend could have benefited from the regifting rules below. Please keep these in mind as you finish up your Christmas shopping – whether at the mall or in your closet. Then keep reading to the end of the post to find out about the perfect re-gift!

8 Tips for Giving a Regift People Will Want to Keep

  1. Check your motivation – Do you have good intentions? Don’t re-gift simply because you ran out of time. Make sure the item will be desirable to the recipient.
  2. Update the wrapping – Do not re-give a gift in its original gift bag if crinkled or torn, or even worse, in the wrapping paper it was in when given to you. Most importantly check for original gift tags and cards. These are a dead giveaway, as I well know.
  3. Don’t regift something you’ve used – This includes partially used gift cards; one gift receiver found a few grains of rice in a “new” rice cooker she was given.
  4. Don’t regift to the original giver – That means you’ll need to keep track of who gives you what.
  5. Certain things should never be regifted – Obscure books and CDs, fancy soaps, fruitcake, promotional items like pens and ball caps, or anything you hated when you received it.
  6. Don’t give something you’ve had for awhile – If it has a thick layer of dust on it or has a tag from a company that no longer exists, then it should probably not be re-gifted.
  7. Don’t give anything that tells on you – If it’s monogrammed or personalized in any way you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Check also for books signed to you.
  8. Never regift anything you’ve bought at a garage sale – I mean, that’s just tacky.

A Few Exceptions to the Regifting Rules

Most rules have exceptions. Here are a few for the rules above.

  • The receiver knows it’s a regift
  • You have another new gift to give them as well
  • The recipient was with you when you received the gift and expressed admiration
  • You know without a doubt they will absolutely love it!

Jerry Seinfeld may have coined the phrase, but he didn’t invent the regift. In fact, the first Christmas regift was given on the very first Christmas.

As soon as the shepherds left the stable they ran into Bethlehem to share the gift of the Christ-child with everyone on their Christmas list. (See Luke 2:17.) Anna, the old prophetess that Mary and Joseph encountered at the temple soon after Jesus’ birth, shared Jesus with “all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

There is no better Gift to regive at Christmas – or anytime for that matter – than Jesus Christ. When we share Jesus, we point people to the hope, peace, love, and life that only Jesus can give. He is the Gift that keeps on giving.

What are some ways you can give Jesus this Christmas?

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6 Ways to Impact Your Children with the Truth of Christmas

A couple of years ago, while speaking at a ladies’ Christmas event, something significant happened. I had planned to read portions of the Christmas story from Matthew 2 and Luke 2. But as I began to read from my open Bible, I discovered I did not need it.

The words flowed from memory – KJV style. “Being great with child.” “They were sore afraid.”

Christmas truthHere’s the truly amazing part: I’ve never worked to memorize those sections of Scripture. The passages were embedded in my heart simply because my father read them to our family every Christmas Eve. My dad desired to keep our hearts and minds on the real meaning of Christmas. And God honored his commitment to impress God’s truth on his children (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).

We can all have the same kind of positive spiritual influence on the children in our lives. Whether a parent, grandparent, aunt, babysitter, or Sunday School teacher, we can point them to Christ in Christmas with purposeful intent. Even in the midst of the commercialization of the season, we can help them see the important.

People over things. Spiritual over physical. Lasting over temporary.

6 Ways to Help Your Kids Focus on the True Meaning of Christmas

Although you can probably come up with a longer list, here are 6 ways you can help impact the children in your life with the truth of Christmas. We used them all with our own children!

  1. Tell the story of the 1st Christmas – And not just once! Let’s use various ways to share it with them again and again. For instance, do daily Advent devotionals with your family. For younger children, use a childproof nativity to tell the story and then leave it out for them to play with. And don’t forget the most basic way – read the biblical account to your family.
  2. Give to someone in need – It is so easy to get caught up in the “getting” of Christmas. But the season is the perfect opportunity to teach our children the joy of helping others. When our children were young we involved them in filling shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Since they’ve been grown, my husband and I have given in multiple ways including World Vision gifts, Angel Tree, and more.
  3. Sing the faith songs of Christmas – Most of our kids know Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman, but do they know Silent Night and Away in a Manger? The “religious” Christmas songs tell the real story! Play these great songs of faith while baking cookies, driving to school, or making the trip to Grandma’s house. Carol on your street or in a local nursing home.
  4. Tell someone about baby Jesus – I used to have one of those “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” pins. And I wore it too. But I don’t remember anyone ever asking me about it. We must look for opportunities to tell others about the reason for the season!
  5. Christmas Eve Service – Taking the time to attend church on Christmas Eve sends an important message to our children. “Jesus takes priority.” “Christmas is about Him.” Plus, the time in worship and fellowship helps put our focus where it belongs.
  6. Birthday Cake for Jesus – We began this tradition when our children were little. They always looked forward to helping make the cake, singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, and of course, eating it!

I would love to hear how you help your children focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Please share your ideas and traditions with us in the comments!

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A Glimpse of Heaven

heavenI feel like I got a little taste of heaven yesterday. It was “International Day” at our church – a special day set aside to celebrate the diverse cultures, nations, and peoples represented in our church and community. Displays with traditional clothing, special items, and food filled the Great Hall. We freely sampled yummy dishes from India, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa, and more.

The food made my belly happy, but the service touched my spirit. Dozens of people holding the flag of their home country lined the front. Then as individuals from 15 different countries each shared John 3:16 in their heart language, my eyes filled with tears. At first I was surprised my reaction, then the Holy Spirit brought a passage from God’s Word to mind:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice:  “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9-10

International DayPastor Bruce’s message yesterday focused on the glorious truth that Jesus came for all people. He reminded us of the angel’s words to the shepherds the night Jesus was born:

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 that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  Luke 2:9-11

Yes, at Christmas let’s remember that Jesus came for all people. But let’s also remember that Jesus came to die for all people:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. John 3:16-18

Heaven will be a bit like “International Day.” People of all shapes, sizes, colors, languages, and cultures will fill the throne room to worship the King of Kings.

I don’t know what language we will speak in heaven, but there will be no language barrier. We will be one people. All brothers and sisters with the same God and Father. Praise Him!

Will you be part of the heavenly throng? If you’ve never made a decision to receive the gift of life Jesus offers, why not do it today? (Find out more)

 

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6 Christmas Bible Reading Plans

Christmas Bible ReadingThe Christmas season has officially begun. More than likely, activities like shopping, baking, and gift wrapping fill your December to-do list. If we aren’t purposeful, all the holiday activity can easily overshadow the reason we celebrate.

I have a challenge for us – for you and for me. Let’s commit to putting Jesus at the top of our list every day between now and Christmas. Let’s make time with Him each morning a priority. (Check out these practical tips for having a Quiet Time.)

What would that look like? For me, it means sitting with a mug of hot coffee, my Bible, and my journal before I start my daily activities. I read and meditate on God’s Word to renew my mind with His truth. I talk with God in prayer, sharing my heart and listening for His direction.

Over the years, I have discovered that I need the discipline of a Bible reading plan. This great discipleship tool helps me be intentional and regular with my Bible reading. For a brief few moments I contemplated developing a plan to use and to share with you. But then I realized there is no need to reinvent the wheel and decided to find out what Christmas Bible Reading Plans are already available.

6 Christmas Bible Reading Plans for the Season

I’ve done a little internet searching and found 5 great Bible reading plans for the Christmas season.

  1. “Christmas Bible Reading Plan” on BibleStudyTools.com – “Designed for personal or family reading times, these 25 New Testament readings highlight the birth of Jesus and the purpose for His coming. Related Old Testament passages are also featured daily.”
  2. “Advent: Christ is Coming” – This 28-day devotional is designed for families and available on the YouVersion.com
  3. “Rediscovering the Christmas Season” – Another YouVersion.com reading plan, this 25-day plan combines Old Testament and New Testament readings.
  4. “All the Colors of Christmas” – This family advent devotional by Focus on the Family is brand new for 2016 and free to download!
  5. “Family Christmas Bible Reading Plan” – I found this 25-day plan on the website for a church in Ontario, Canada. It focuses on the purpose of Jesus’ coming.
  6. “Bite of Bread: Bible Reading Plan for Christmas Week” – This 7-day plan by Christians author and blogger Andy Lee at Daily Grace focuses on the significance of the name “Jesus.”

What are some things you plan to do to keep Jesus at the top of your Christmas to-do list? Let’s talk!

Other helpful resources:

 

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Refocusing Christmas

ChristmasMy big, beautiful 7 foot tall Christmas tree is sitting at the end of the driveway this morning waiting for the garbage truck. Every December, for almost a decade, it graced a prominent spot in our living room all decked out with glittery gold and brilliant red ornaments. But not this year.

Yesterday afternoon I drug it out of the storage closet in the garage. I cleared the spot in front of the window and set up the stand. I stumbled in with the heavy bottom section, wrangled it into the slot in the stand and fanned out the branches. One fell off onto the floor. Oh well, just one. I could fluff to fill that spot.

Then I plugged it in to test the lights. Only about a fourth of them worked. After trying in vain to get the rest working I made a difficult decision. It was time to retire the tree. We had hoped to get one more season out of our old friend, but alas, it was not to be.

With a sigh I carried the prickly base back out to the garage then out the open door and down the driveway to the edge of the street. Soon I had the tree bag and all the other sections out there too.

I had been vacillating on whether or not to even put up the big tree this year. This is our “off” year with our grown children. They were all here for Thanksgiving. They will be with the in-laws for Christmas. But I love the festive red and gold ornaments. I couldn’t imagine the season without them twinkling at me every time I pass through the room.

Yes, I could run out and buy another big tree. But since we will be moving some time in 2017 it doesn’t make sense to buy a new tree before we know where we will be living.

Briefly I contemplated going the “no tree” route. In the end I decided to put the 4-foot tree that usually goes in my office in the living room. We call it the “outdoor tree” because we decorate it with woodsy ornaments and top it with feathers. It’s a tribute to my husband’s hobbies.

I put the wreaths on the front doors and hung the stockings on the fireplace. Done. Anyone who knows me knows that this is a fraction of the decorating I usually do. Normally “Christmas” shines in every corner.

Last night as I sat and looked at the outdoor tree, I really missed my big, beautiful red and gold creation. But this morning I have decided to take a step back and refocus.

I could make this year’s “scaled back” version of Christmas an opportunity to focus on the more important things of the season. Less decorating and more sharing. Less cleaning and more loving. Less me and lots more Jesus.

Ah, that’s what it should be all about anyway. Christmas. More Jesus.

In what ways have you lost focus on Jesus in Christmases past? How can you refocus on Jesus this year?

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4 Christmas Gifts from Jesus

4 Christmas GiftsOne of our family’s Christmas traditions has been to read the biblical Christmas story together on Christmas Eve. We read those chapters from Matthew and Luke about the angels, the shepherds, the star, the magi, and the infant Christ born in a stable in Bethlehem. These beloved passages are so dear and familiar I can recite huge chunks of them from memory.

But did you know there is also a Christmas account in John’s Gospel?

John gives us a different perspective. He didn’t write about the earthly circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus. Instead, John’s account is more of a heavenly view. He wrote about the eternal, divine nature of Jesus the Word and His purpose in coming to earth.

I encourage you to take the time to read John 1:1-14. Read it now. Or read it tonight with your family. As you read, look for the 4 things Jesus brought to the earth with His first coming. They are His Christmas gifts to us.

  1. Life – In his Gospel, John uses the Greek word zoe, translated as “life,” 36 times! True life – eternal, spiritual life – is in Jesus. He embodies life (John 1:4). He alone can give life (John 5:24-26; John 11:25-26). And He came to earth to bring it to us (John 3:16).
  2. Light – This world and everyone in it is dead and dying without Jesus. We stumble around in the darkness and can’t find our way to God. Jesus came to light the way to God (John 1:4-5). Many claim to know the way, but Jesus is the “true light” that gives light to everyone (John 1:9).
  3. Grace – Jesus came from the Father to bring us grace (John 1:14). Jesus’s death on the cross is the ultimate act of grace. Our sin separates us from God and we cannot save ourselves. But Jesus’ death paid the penalty our sins deserve. When we put our faith and trust in Jesus and His death and resurrection we receive God’s gracious gift of salvation (John 3:16-17).
  4. Truth – Jesus came to bring us God’s truth (John 1:14). During His time on earth He testified to the truth of God (John 18:37). Many reject it. Many cling to the world’s “truth.” But only Jesus gives us God’s truth (John 3:31-36).

You may receive gifts this Christmas that cost a lot of money. But none compare to the 4 gifts Jesus longs to give. Open them up. Embrace them. Share them.

May God abundantly bless you with His life, light, grace, and truth this Christmas.

 

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My Oldest Christmas Memory

My earliest Christmas memory is from the mid 1960’s. I was only three or four. My parents and I went next door to visit the neighbors during Christmas week. We admired their Christmas tree and my dad picked me up to get a good look. A beautiful red bird caught my attention and I reached out for it. Neighbor Lady took it off her tree and let me hold it. I was in love with a Christmas ornament.

The very next day, Neighbor Lady knocked on our front door. She had bought another red bird just like hers and now she held it out to me! Little girl wonder and Christmas joy all wrapped up in one small bird.

Red bird

Mom helped me hang it on our small tree. And that red bird has been front and center on my tree every year since. When Wayne and I got married, I brought the bird to our home and placed it on our first tree together. Wings have fallen off and been glued back on, but now, 50 years later, it still claims a place of honor.

My red bird reminds me of Christmases past, family, and dear friends. And I know this may sound strange, but it’s also reminds me of a comforting “constant.” No matter what life may hold at Christmas, the red bird will be on the tree and Jesus will be on His throne.

I don’t know what life holds for you this Christmas, but no matter your circumstances, Jesus is still on His throne. Grief, loss, and pain does not diminish that glorious truth. Keep your eyes on Him.

May the Light of Christ shine in your hearts this Christmas.

 

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