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Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

I received a Christmas letter from some friends serving in a country in Asia where nongovernment controlled churches are illegal as well as most forms of public or private expression of the Christian faith. This is a country where pastors are regularly jailed, home churches crushed, and movements squashed. Churches have to switch up meeting times and places in order to keep fellowship alive. People giving out the Jesus Film have been executed. My friends have been living there for a number of years, now as a family of 4, seeking to see the gospel furthered. I had to quote some of the letter as the wife quotes one of the nationals she is helping grow in Christ:

Someone asked me to look back on this year and give them a summary of what we have seen and I thought you might be interested in a short story or two of how the girls we disciple have grown recently.

Someone who chooses to be a disciple here must choose to go against their culture and face pressure from all sides, including parents, friends, and employers.  For many, once they grab a hold of the Truth and make His Word a part of their lives, they just can’t live the same way anymore.  I’ve seen this lived out on a daily basis from a friend I’ll call Sarah.  She has been studying regularly with me for some time and is growing in her faith, and I see a change in her week to week.  Just last week, she told me that she felt she could compare her life to that of the Israelites when they were leaving Egypt because they just complained about everything that God gave them, even though most things were meant to be blessings and provisions for them.  Because of their complaints, many lost their lives and they had to wander another 40 years.  Sarah said that as she keeps her eyes on Jesus and the road He is directing her to take, it is hard not to complain and wonder if it is fair. To paraphrase our last conversation, she said:  Due to my education and work experience, I have been working as a cashier/accountant for the last few years, but I can’t do that any longer because in that occupation, I am forced to cheat people and lie everyday. So now I’m having a hard time finding a job since I can no longer work in that way.  Also, most people must work seven days a week and it’s very difficult to have Sundays off and that is a must for me now so that I can attend fellowship.  I’d also like to have one other day during the week off to help serve and volunteer my time, but that dream seems impossible.  In addition, I’m getting pressure from my parents and friends to get married, but I tell them that I can only date and marry men who are Christians.  They all criticize me and tell me I’m stupid, foolish, and lazy.  They say that I’ve given up many good opportunities for work and marriage because of my new faith and that what I do each day is useless.  Since I’m not working, I’ve been taking advantage of my free time by studying the Bible everyday, listening to sermons online, and reading devotional books that my teacher has given me.  But they just say I’m wasting my time.  Now that I’m a Christian, I can’t be angry at my dad or those who say these hurtful things to me and I have to just hold my tongue when they yell at me.  I have to just keep silent.  But I’ve seen a change in my father.  Now that I don’t yell back, he runs out of things to say and just lets the subject drop.  When my aunt was going to come over for a visit, my mom and dad both asked me if I was going to share the gospel with her while she was there.  They were being somewhat sarcastic in their question, but it was a great idea!  I love to serve, to spread the gospel, and to spend time with the Lord.

Sarah went on to explain that many people around her are in the same condition and that in some ways we are all like the Israelites.  But now, she can see that even the difficulties that she faces is just training from the Lord and that it’s not an easy road, but it’s worth it because the end will be so good.

Is all that worth it? This sweet gal has given up marriage and jobs for the sake of Jesus. She’s been drilled by her family and friends for it. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then we who believe in Jesus are most to pitied, especially Sarah. But Jesus did rise from the dead and He tells us this:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. (Hebrews 10:32-35 ESV)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

You bet it’s worth it. In this life we get plenty of fresh starts to remind us of this: a new year, a new day, a new month, a new birth, or a new decade even. One day, Christ will give us one final fresh start that will be like none other we’ve ever seen. Father God, in 2011, let me more fervently anticipate that day when everything will be made new.

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Bible reading has become the religious equivalent of sound-bite journalism. When people read from the Bible they typically open it, read a brief passage without much regard for the context, and consider the primary thought or feeling that the passage provided. If they are comfortable with it, they accept it; otherwise, they deem it interesting but irrelevant to their life, and move on. There is shockingly little growth evident in people’s understanding of the fundamental themes of the scriptures and amazingly little interest in deepening their knowledge and application of biblical principles. – George Barna

Merry Christmas! Besides celebrating the incarnation of the One who came to serve and be a ransom for us, it also means the end of another year and the start of a new one. I love how Christmas is linked with the fresh start of a new year! Two key things in my walk I will constantly and never stop advocating for are the use of a Bible reading schedule and the value of consistently reading the whole of the Bible. Bible reading schedules have significant value as they lay a nice framework to tackle the Bible each year.

Overview of the Bible is underrated

As the two younger generations (Busters and Mosaics) ascend to numerical and positional supremacy in churches across the nation, the data suggest that biblical literacy is likely to decline significantly. The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency. – George Barna

When the bell drops on 2010, I will have read through the entire Bible for the 14th time and I feel like I am just beginning to get it. I am starting to see the fruit of gaining familiarity with the whole of the Word. I see connections between the Old Testament and New Testament much easier than 5 or 10 years ago. The Bible is starting to feel like a unified text revealing God’s glory in His plan to redeem us from sin through Christ. Leviticus flows right into reading Hebrews. Malachi connects with how Jesus attacks religious legalism in the Gospels. When you start to see God’s grace revealed in Kings or Malachi, approaching the Word suddenly becomes more of a love than a habit or duty. But it’s just starting to feel that way, only recently have I begun this romance with God’s word.

Reading the Old Testament (OT) can be frustrating, but we’re so unfamiliar with it. Many avoid the OT, at least all the books after Joshua. It is tougher and can seem like a drudgery or a discouragement to a lot of us. How do I deal with the slaughter of the Canaanites? What relevance is 1 Chronicles to me? Why is all that harsh brutality of the book of Judges even in the Bible? Why does God seem so condemning in the minor and major prophets? Legitimate questions, only answered by an understanding of the Bible as a whole.

Any part of the human body can only be properly explained in reference to the whole body. And any part of the Bible can only be properly explained in reference to the whole Bible. – F.F. Bruce

We’re quick to zoom in without connecting with the big picture. We often find one verse that stands out instead of trusting God to understand what He is communicating through a book as a whole or section. 1 and 2 Kings demonstrate how hard it is to finish the race strong. Judges shows what happens to us over and over again when we reject God and yield to sinful, violent, brutal ways. It’s easy to get stuck on a challenging verse or section of scripture and give up, especially in the OT. Understanding the larger framework and literature types, seeing everything in light of the cross, and utilizing a reading schedule helps us both grasp those challenging passages and press on to learn more. A schedule helps you consistently read it all and not avoid the hard sections. It helps you read larger chunks in one sitting so as to see more of the big picture. God will give you progress in understanding the Bible as you patiently and diligently trust Him to do it over time, not after just one year. Seek to know the Bible significantly better than any book you’ve ever read, not just for knowledge but to know Him.

“Take time. Give God time to reveal Himself to you. Give yourself time to be silent and quiet before Him, waiting to receive, through the Spirit, the assurance of His presence with you, His power working in you. Take time to read His Word as in His presence, that from it you may know what He asks of you and what He promises you. Let the Word create around you, create within you a holy atmosphere, a holy heavenly light, in which your soul will be refreshed and strengthened for the work of daily life.” (Hudson Taylor)

It was just because he did this that Hudson Taylor’s life was full of joy and power, by the grace of God. When over seventy years of age he paused, Bible in hand, as he crossed the sitting-room in Lausanne, and said to one of his children: “I have just finished reading the Bible through, today, for the fortieth time in forty years.” And he not only read it, he lived it. – Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret)

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3 hours of driving in Fort Collins to see Christmas lights that is! A fun evening it was. We piled into the Alvarado-mobile and took off around Fort Collins to see a multitude of amazingly decorated homes, including our favorite shown above, the Habitat for Humanity “Lights for Habitat” house.

We also made it to the live nativity at Peak Community Church. It was cold and my kids were tanked, but they were enthralled and I thought Peak did an excellent job, it made me very thankful for my brothers and sisters of that church.

Overall, it was fun night that made me thankful for my family and for how much Jesus has blessed us. It also made me very thankful that we live in a country that still goes a little crazy to celebrate Christmas. Maybe not every house had the same motivation but it stirred me as I prayed with the kids putting them to bed: Jesus coming to us a child in a manger really happened. He came to serve and give His life a ransom for us. He did it willingly. Celebrating this is worth 10 million times the beauty and number of lighting displays that my family witnessed tonight!

Here is the map set (moves from South to North) that I used tonight (big thanks to the Holiday Guide at the Coloradoan!): Christmas Lights Map and Plan

 

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It’s that time of the year, Christmas, our cultural season of giving. Yes, it can be extremely consumer driven from Black Friday to Cyber Monday to new TVs and an excuse to overspend. However, it is an opportunity to bless others and our families, especially our kids. Awhile back, in a parenting class at our church, the speakers talked of how they have invested in an extensive media library of godly resources that edify and encourage. They weren’t simply condoning buying Veggie Tales videos to babysit your kids but utilizing the solid resources that are out there to bless your family and to help stir your kids up in good things. It triggered a desire in us to do the same. Now, 5 years later, there is even more of a multitude of good stuff out there! I just wanted to highlight a few of our favorites, what we have found fun and especially encouraging.

Seeds Family Worship (Music)

Seeds Family Worship is core Bible verses set to music. I was skeptical at first because it seems like most verses set to music aren’t exactly quality tunes but can be quite cheesy. This is not the case with Seeds. It took a little bit for their music to grow on me but now our whole family is hooked and our kids especially love listening to this in the car. My 4yr old daughters have memorized most of the 4 CDs that we have. There are 5 CDs that Seeds has released altogether with another one on the way by Easter. I think my favorite is Seeds of Purpose but my kids love Seeds of Faith and Seeds of Praise a lot. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

Colin Buchanan (DVD & Music)

“Colin,” as we call him, has put together some fun excellent tunes of a mix of verses and original songs. Colin, from Australia, just has a way of emulating a certain style (like Johnny Cash or rap or country!) and utilizing that style and his enthusiasm to make it easy for our kids to engage with the music and remember the lyrics. We have all of his DVDs and they’re a blast and very edifying. They’ve just extended their free shipping November to December 10 so act quickly! Our kids (and I) especially love the Christmas DVD and the “Jesus Rocks the World” DVD. “Baa Baa Doo Baa Baa” is still our favorite of his CDs.

NIV Kids Club (DVD & Music)

My final recommendation is the NIV Kids Club set. I recommend getting the set of all 4 cds, they’re so good. The Colossians 3 DVD and CD set is just awesome. Yeah, it’s a bit cheesy but your kids will love it and you’ll find the Word sticking in your head.

These resources are also excellent tools for use in Children’s Ministry at your church. It’s very easy to incorporate a few songs for a month or two at a time and you’ll find even the younger kids (2-3 yrs old) have them quickly memorized. Colin Buchanan’s DVD/CDs and the NIV Kids Club lend themselves even better towards this because you can incorporate the hand motions from the videos to make it even more fun for the kids.

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