The season is rich with traditions we enjoy. If you do not have traditions, now is the time to plan for next Christmas. Have a happy holiday season. See you next year! 🎄🎁
December in review
A Season of Light
More than any other time of the year, Christmas heralds the good news that the Light of the world has come. We often forget, however, that the result of His being THE Light, is that we are children of Light.
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul admonishes Christians to recognize that they are children of light. As such, they have the advantages that light affords. To have the full benefit, however, of dwelling in the Light, the Christian has the responsibility of watching, being sober, and being girded with a breastplate of faith and love and a helmet of the hope of salvation. As the light cast its beam, the children in it had to open their eyes and see.
Light provides an atmosphere for wakefulness. Just as sunlight streaming through a window creates motivation for a person to rise and embrace the day, God’s light provides that nudge in the spirit for a person to open his spiritual eyes and behold. No wonder the word “behold” is used so often in the Bible. Perhaps it announces things that the children of Light should be seeing.
Like the teenager who rolls over, pulls the covers over his head, and falls back asleep, we can succumb to the temptation to sleep through the spiritual. Just as easily, we can use the benefit of dwelling in the Light to stop and really see. Because the Light is shining, we can see clearly and objectively to gain wisdom for life. Furthermore, we are not overtaken by the enemy’s attack since God has shined his revealing light on that which is planned against us. In addition, the Light uncovers the truth about us. We see our wrongdoing, and we see that we are both forgiven and restored. The Light shines into our hearts, and suddenly we see our blessings with great clarity, and we know true joy. We look in the mirror and see our true identity, a child of light, loved by God. The Light reveals it all. It simply shines; our job is to behold. If we allow the Light to do its work in our lives, then we can gain holy awareness that those who stumble in darkness do not know.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Light was shining brightly, but the religious were sleeping. They were completely unaware that the eternal God of glory was manifest in their midst. In like manner, we can put the sacred aside just as easily as people put the Savior in the stable that very first Christmas. Yet, equally so, we can be wise men who continue to look to the light, and as such, seek-and find-the Savior. We have an opportunity this Christmas season to become mindful of the Light, to awaken and really see what the Light reveals, and to follow the signs that point to His soon return.
The Light that came to earth that first Christmas is still shining; therefore, we can see, for the Light illuminates our world. Whether through traditions or finding places of stillness, we can allow Christmas Light to shine into our spirits more now than at any other time of the year.
****The following are some opportunities our family has used to incorporate awareness of the Light of the world and make Jesus the focus of the Christmas season.
-reenactment of the Christmas story as told in Luke 2. We’ve done this a variety of ways. One year, we had an adult dress up as the innkeeper’s wife and tell the story from her perspective while the children played the roles of the main characters. Another time, each person got part to read. A different year, we used carols interspersed between Bible verses to help tell the story. One of the funniest renditions, a year we incorporated the animals of the Christmas story into our reenactment, had my niece playing the part of the donkey for Mary. Amidst much galloping and prodding by Joseph, the holy family finally made it to Bethlehem.
-scavenger hunts. The wise men have followed the star in a variety of different methods, one of which was looking for clues written on star-shaped paper. Another required figuring out riddles as they searched for their present, and discovered the best present of all in a manger under the tree.
-the Jesus Box. The Jesus Box contains our gifts to Jesus. I usually try to either wrap it in a special paper, adorn it with a gold ribbon, or use a gold gift bag for it. In recent years, it sits under our special ornament tree, a tree that is apart from the one under which family presents gather. Our gifts to Jesus have ranged from items (like a watch, which someone used to tell Jesus they were vowing to give Him more time, and a toy soldier to indicate someone was willing to become a soldier in the Lord’s army) to coloring sheets, pictures, and poems. Always heartfelt, the gifts may be something that we would give a friend, or they may express an area of commitment to God, either a talent we plan to use for him or a weakness we plan to conquer.
-spiritual readings. From pop-up kids’ books telling the Christmas story, to Max Laccado’s No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, the season is sprinkled with spiritual readings and sharing.
-remembrances. This year, our Christmas Eve theme is Memory Lane, and as such, we will share with one another about the special things that God has done for us. These will not be simple statements of gratitude, but they will be a sharing of the poignant moments in which God was especially personal to us.
-happy birthday. Most Christmas mornings we sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. On one occasion, my daughter and niece made Him a birthday cake, complete with candles that they “helped” Him blow out.
-others. Our Christmas wouldn’t be complete if it were all about us. We enjoy connecting with others through giving and celebrations; it is one way that we remember the Greatest Blesser and Giver of all. Christmas is an opportunity to bond with family and friends, and we do, but it is also a time to involve others. Because of the planned celebrations, it’s easy to scoop up a few extra people and move beyond mere acquaintanceship. They feel less put on the spot, and you have that “reason” to get with them. We’ve developed several lasting relationships that were deepened around our Christmas gatherings, as well as our participation in church programs. This year, our Christmas lunch will include a family who is in transition and only temporarily in our city. Another guest will be an international single mom who is state-side on a work visa. A recently divorced friend will also be a part of our celebration. These people, like those who’ve visited in times past, will add richness to the day and flavor to our lives, even though they may not be a permanent part of our on-going traditions. The less fortunate are a part of our Christmas focus. Taking a child shopping, giving to a charity, or sponsoring a family are ways we have enjoyed adding God to our season. One year we gave a monetary donation to our church bus ministry and received an ornament with a child’s first name on it. Although we did not know the child personally, we still remember him each Christmas when we place that ornament on our tree. Aside from monetary donations, gifts of prayer are especially needed at Christmas. So many people are hurting and lonely this time of year. When we reach out to others, we are practicing the nature of Christ. It is perhaps why this holiday is enjoyed world-wide; it has in it the heart of Christ, love for mankind.
-stillness. Sitting by a lit tree in the quiet is a super way to put God in the season. In the quiet, listen for His love, thank Him for His peace, and enjoy the interaction with His presence.
When we become more mindful of Jesus’ nearness, we can experience the true spirit of Christmas, the Good Tidings that the Light of the world has come.
Thanksgiving Throughout the Year
November. It’s synonymous with Thanksgiving. However, thankfulness should be a part of our daily lives, not something we revive around a food-laden table. Recently, I had the opportunity to teach a Mind Over Matters class for a mental health facility. In the material I gathered for this series of lessons, the idea of having a thankful attitude was repeated. It’s not surprising that research validates what the Bible has said all along:
“IT IS A GOOD THING TO GIVE THANKS UNTO THE LORD, AND TO SING PRAISES UNTO THY NAME, O MOST HIGH:” Psalm 92:1.
“Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is….. Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;” Ephesians 5: 17 & 20.
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4: 6-7.
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
On the ABC News webpage, Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, head of the division of biologic psychology at Duke University Medical Center, states it this way, "If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world's best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system."
The benefits of thankfulness are plentiful. Thankfulness releases all the “happy” chemicals into our bodies. It counters negative thinking. It assists in shifting perspective from a variety of irrational thought patterns. It opposes society’s “give me- giveme” mentality. It encourages positive association with other people. And most importantly, it creates another avenue through which our spirits can connect to the One who is the Author of everything good, beautiful, and wonderful.
There are many negative things in the world today. In fact, we don’t have to look beyond our own homes to find something to become disgruntled about. But that’s the easy thing to do. Human nature gravitates to the negative. That’s why gossip is prevalent. It’s easier to repeat-and even believe-a negative comment someone makes about another person while a positive remark is often quickly forgotten. Our propensity to focus on the negative keeps us expecting problems, whether it’s speculating about health issues, anticipating financial trouble, worrying about our children, or any other number of things to cause anxiety.
Meanwhile, all around is cause for thankfulness. The positive lurks in the same location as the negative. We simply have to search it out. In truth, when we begin to look for things for which to be grateful, we find that the search isn’t as difficult as we might have imagined. The obvious things are always there. Things like food, clothing, and shelter, but once those are noted, we can become mindful of hundreds of other little things: the quiet when the neighbor’s dog is not barking, the giggle of a child riding his bike down the street, the devotion of a family pet, even the good that seeps out of a tragedy or a painful loss.
When we give heed to the good, we begin to connect with God in a fresh, new way. Thankfulness allows us to see that God is a part of our lives even though we live in the midst of a fallen world. It also gives us God’s perspective. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,” Hebrews 12:2. Jesus saw the future good that His sacrifice would bring, and it carried Him through the agony of Calvary, and in His sacrifice, he provided for the greatest blessing we could ever receive: an eternity of joy, peace, and love- His provision of everlasting, abundant life. Now this is something for which everyone can be thankful!
So what are some practical ways of beginning this journey?
-Start a thanksgiving journal. Take a few moments out of the week to reflect on the specific blessings you have encountered.
-Start a blessings notebook. Keep it in a prominent location in your home. You (and other family members as well) may jot a specific thing for which you are grateful each time you pass by the notebook.
-Share 3 things for which you are grateful each day with a friend or family member
-Begin each morning expressing thankfulness to God. After all “This is the day which the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24
-Count your blessings as you go to sleep at night.
-Create a thanksgiving tree. Take strips of cloth in seasonal colors and write a statement of gratitude on it. Tie it to a dried limb that is “planted” in a painted coffee can.
-Display a beautiful container in which you place slips of paper offering thanksgiving. Keep the slips of paper and a pen close to the container for frequent deposits.
-Make a cake for a neighbor, and tell them how grateful you are for them.
-Send a card to someone who has spoken into your life. Express this gratitude to them.
-Praise your family members for the things they do to contribute to the household and for the characteristics for which you are grateful. Do this in fun ways as well as verbally. I have taken dry erase markers and noted my appreciation on their bathroom mirrors.
-Stand beneath a star-studded sky. With lifted arms shout out your gratitude to the God who knows the number of hair on your head yet creates the vastness of the universe. Wow! I’m really grateful to have His devoted attention!
-Create a memory book of life situations for which you feel thankful. The thing I find amazing is that often, the very life events for which I am now thankful are situations that at the time, I did not understand nor did I feel very thankful about!
So I leave you with a resounding, “HAPPY THANKSGIVING!” wishing you the blessing of thankfulness not only for November, but throughout the year!
This is activity has been around for a long time, but it is still fun way to incorporate the fall festivities of pumpkin carving into your family devotional time. A trip to a local pumpkin patch makes a good place to start.
While choosing your pumpkin, note that there are all kinds and colors of pumpkins. Note how some are rotten, some dirty, some disfigured. Choose one and bring it home. On the way home, discuss the pumpkin patch of the world and how there are all kinds of people in it. Good, bad, pretty, ugly. But what they all have in common is that they were born sinners.
Read Psalm 51:5
"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (KJV).
Read Romans 3:23
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (KJV)
Note that even though you may have chosen this particular pumpkin based on a good characteristic, the pumpkin still has flaws. At this point, indicate how God chooses us and brings us into His family, washing off all the dirt that we got from being outside and around the other pumpkins. He washes us through baptism. Point out how God sees good in us even though we have flaws. God selects us out of the world. We are in the world, but no longer of the world.
Read 2 Corinthians 6:17-18.
“Therefore come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty.” (NKJV)
Cut off the top of the pumpkin and clean out all the seeds. Note that the insides are yucky, just like our hearts are before Jesus cleanses us. Set the seeds aside. Repentance is God's way of emptying our hearts of sin.
Read Romans 5:8
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (KJV)
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
When God reaches into our hearts and cleans out all of the “yuck” of sin- the seeds of doubt, hate, greed, and fear, we are changed. Suddenly, we feel joy, peace, hope, and love.
Carve a happy face on the pumpkin.
Read Proverbs 15:13.
“A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” (NIV)
1 Peter 1:8
“Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:”(KJV)
2 Corinthians 5:17
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”(KJV)
Now that all the sin is emptied from our hearts, Jesus can fill us with the light of His Spirit, the Holy Ghost.
Light a candle and put it inside the pumpkin.
Read John 8:12
“Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (KJV)
“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (KJV)
2 Corinthians 4:6
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (KJV)
This pumpkin now reflects the light from inside out. When Jesus, the Light, lives inside of us, He shines through our life for all to see. In this way, we share the light and love of Jesus to the world. They can see the wonderful change He has made in us.
Read Matthew 5:14-16
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (NKJV)
1 John 1:7
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”(KJV)
And remember all that yucky stuff?
Take the seeds, wash them and bake them following the recipe below. Jesus can take all the bad things in our lives-abuse, hurt, anger, loss, un-forgiveness- and turn it around so that is something good. Only Jesus can do such a transforming work!
Read Isaiah 61:3
“To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” (NKJV)
2 Corinthians 5:17
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (NKJV)
Toasted and salted, pumpkin seeds have a nutty flavor. They're even better flavored with sweet and savory spices.
How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds
1. Rinse pumpkin seeds under cold water and pick out the pulp and strings. (This is easiest just after you have removed the seeds from the pumpkin, before the pulp has dried.)
2. Place the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet, stirring to coat. If you prefer, omit the oil and coat with non-stick cooking spray.
3. Sprinkle with salt and bake at 325 degrees F until toasted, about 25 minutes, checking and stirring after 10 minutes. (You may also spice it up with Cajun seasoning and Worcestershire sauce.)
4. Let cool and store in an airtight container.
This season when so many people are focused on the horrors of Halloween, let Halloween become Hallowed by acknowledging the transforming power of God and work in our lives.
Happy Hallowed Halloween!
July--Enjoying My Freedom
Our family always enjoys a reason to celebrate.... Okay... I enjoy celebrating; my husband and kids play along. For the 4th, we had Red, White, Blue and You day at our house. This included a do-your-own-thing art project that demonstrated what Freedom meant to the "artist." Amazingly, everyone had something different. Mine was a Statue of Liberty on one side of a sheet of paper. My rendition of Jesus and the crown of thorns was on the other side. My husband's artwork illustrated the freedom to make choices. My daughter's was her impression of the things freedom allows her to enjoy, and my son's was a tribute to the soldiers who fight for freedom. All of our expressions represented things worthy of celebration...so we did. With good ole hamburgers and time spent in the hot outdoors, with decorations and red, white, and blue desserts, and with an explosion of fireworks, we certainly enjoyed the festive aspects of the day, but it was the moments that we took to honor the real meaning of living in a free country that we will most remember,,,and that will give us reason to celebrate again and again.
My life has been a blessed one, rich with the presence of God and the joy of family---these blessings are my passion.