December 30, 2013

Great Riches by Susan Barclay

I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure. Psalm 119:162, NLT

If you’re a true disciple of Jesus, you’ve probably discovered the importance of reading and memorizing Scripture. You’ve started to get it into your heart, meditated on it, and listened for what God has to say to you personally. Hopefully, this has had an impact on how you live, not because you are trying hard to improve, but because you are stepping aside to let Christ live through you. Others have noticed a change and are beginning to ask about it.

If this isn't the case, what’s holding you back from being in God's Word? Is it a question of time? Disinterest? Lack of support?

As we face the beginning of a new year, now is a good time to commit or recommit to spending time in the Bible. Even just a few minutes a day to start is better than nothing. Important appointments go on your calendar; identify your best time of day and schedule Scripture reading and prayer. Then don’t let anything interfere with it.

Don’t just make this another ‘New Year’s Resolution’. Be resolved. Be determined, steadfast, resolute, unwavering. Let nothing shake you from your purpose. Inside God’s Word are great treasures waiting to be discovered. Allow the light shining off these riches to guide your feet and illuminate your path (Psalm 119:105).

May God bless you as you follow Him in 2014.

_______________________


For more of my writing, please visit my website, www.susan-barclay.ca

December 29, 2013

5 Ways to Pay it Forward at Christmas with Your Children - Ruth L. Snyder

Many of us parents struggle with how to pass our faith on to our children in meaningful ways. We understand that if our children do not personalize their faith and make it their own, they will discard biblical beliefs as they grow older. My husband and I have discussed ways of making Christmas real to our children. We continue to try different approaches.

Here are a few of our favourite ideas:


  1. Have each child purchase items and pack a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan's Purse. We explain to our children that we are sending toys and other items to children who have no toys. This project has opened up discussions about helping less fortunate people and learning about other cultures.

  2. Help out at a local shelter or soup kitchen. We have made trips to the Mustard Seed several times to cook and serve an evening meal. It is enlightening to talk with people who access services. Some people are there due to poor personal choices, but others are victims of unfortunate events.

  3. Sponsor a child. Our family sponsors children through Compassion Canada and the Dalit Freedom Network. For a dollar a day, we can give hope and education to a child. Both organizations encourage correspondence between the sponsor and the child. This provides great opportunities for learning skills like letter writing and learning about other cultures. Compassion Canada also welcomes sponsors who want to travel overseas and meet the child they are sponsoring.

  4. Go caroling in your neighborhood. We've discovered this is a dying tradition, but people appreciate hearing carols at their doors. We have also baked cookies as a family and then distributed them to our neighbors after we sing. (Make sure you have a list of ingredients in case people have food allergies.)

  5. Write thank you notes to people who give gifts. This is almost a lost art today. Unfortunately, we have so much that often we are not thankful for what we receive. Writing thank you notes encourages us to stop and think about the person who took the time and spent money to buy us something. Hand written notes are few and far between and will mean a lot to the people you send them to. It is easier and faster to send an e-mail, but the extra time, attention, and cost you put into writing a note will demonstrate your gratitude.

This year we received an Adventures in Odyssey activity calendar from Focus on the Family. We didn't do all the activities, but we really enjoyed the ones we did. For example, before opening our gifts this year, we played the "ABC Advent game" where we came up with 25 things related to the Nativity. Our whole family (with children ranging in age from 5 to 16) participated and it was interesting to hear the different creative contributions each person came up with. For instance:
  • A is for angry - King Herod was angry when he heard about Christ's birth
  • E is for excited - the shepherds were excited to hear about the birth of Jesus
  • V is for the shepherds who came to visit Jesus
It is encouraging to see our children not only learning, but also sharing what they are learning with others. A couple weeks ago I wrote about how my one son made me cry in church - happy tears.

What have you done with your children or grandchildren to teach them about Christ and Christmas? Please share :)


Ruth L. Snyder
Ruth L. Snyder lives in north-eastern Alberta with her husband and five young children. She enjoys writing about her journey of faith, special needs, and adoption. Her novella, Cecile's Christmas Miracle was released on December 4th and is available from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

http://ruthlsnyder.com





December 25, 2013

Why Jesus?


"I'm a good person. If he’s a loving God, why would he send a good person to hell?"

God doesn’t send anyone to Hell. The truth is, that’s where we’re all going by default. What God did was make a way for us not to go to Hell.

If our society feels justified in keeping unreformed, unrepentant criminals off our streets, then we have to allow that God has that right too. Heaven is his home. Why would he bring people to live with him if they don’t want to be there and aren’t willing to live by his rules?

So, what are his rules? Who should I consult to find out how to qualify for heaven?
  • Buddha? Founder of Buddhism - dead
  • Mohammed? Prophet of Islam - dead
  • Abraham? Father of Judaism - dead
  • Mary Baker Eddy? Founder of Christian Science - dead
  • The gods of Hinduism? Over 1000 at last count, and more being created all the time.
  • Reincarnation to attain Nirvana? If each life allows us a chance to pay for the sins of our last life, what sin were we paying for in our first life?
  • The Universe? Certainly not growing and regenerating, which means it’s deteriorating and dying.
  • Jesus? He’s the one who is different.

There are over 300 prophecies documented in the Old Testament, written over  a period of 4000 years by numerous writers in different centuries, and every one came true in Jesus’s birth, life and death. The odds of that happening are astronomical.

Moreover, Jesus isn’t dead. Documentation from that period, both Biblical and non-Biblical, gives evidence that Jesus died by crucifixion and then came back to life three days later. This makes him a living God, the only religion whose founder overcame death.

Each of the major religions claim exclusivity, and Jesus does as well.

Listen to his own claims about himself.
‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ John 14:6

And they all said, “Are You the Son of God, then?” And He said to them, “Yes, I am.” Luke 22:70

Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’  ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. Luke 23:3

C.S. Lewis, who wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe summarized Jesus’ claims this way. To say the things he said about himself, either he’s a lunatic, a lying devil, or truly the Son of God.

Since God and all his ways are perfect, his law must be kept. God’s justice demands that we pay for our sin with the shedding of blood, with death. Those who die spend eternity separated from God, in hell.

But God’s love and mercy caused him to provide a solution. He sent his son, Jesus, to die in our place, to carry out our sentence, to pay the penalty for our sins.

As Ravi Zacharias once said, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live!”

Still, we balk. Our pride takes over.  We don’t want to give up control. Maybe we don't want anyone's rules restricting our fun. Maybe we want to prove we can do it on our own. Maybe we're tired of being told what to do. It all comes down to one thing.

Free will.

Free to accept the gift, or free to walk away. 

Through Jesus, God has given us the choice. My prayer this Christmas season is that the Lord will open the eyes of those we love, so they too can know the joy that comes with salvation. 

In 2011 Bobbi’s mother's progression into dementia could no longer be ignored. One day Mom demanded, "Someone needs to write about this!" In response, Bobbi began to explore her mother’s journey and her own struggles as a caregiver. Her learnings are documented on her blog at www.bobbijunior.com, and in a memoir, The Reluctant Caregiver


photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeanetteb1/3067182581/">Jeanette's Ozpix</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>


December 24, 2013

How Well Do You Know the Christmas Story? by Lynn Dove


This might be a great Christmas activity to do on Christmas Eve. Before putting the little ones to bed, gather them around and read the Christmas Story together, AFTER you have taken this fun quiz.

The complete quiz is posted on my Journey Thoughts blog, but here are a few questions to whet your appetite:

1.  How did Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem?
  • camel
  • donkey
  • walked
  • Volkswagen
  • Joseph walked, Mary rode a donkey
  • Who knows?
Answer:   Who knows?  The Bible does not say anything about a donkey.  Luke 2:4 simply tells us that Joseph and Mary went from Nazareth to Galilee.  Many biblical scholars think that because of their economic status they probably both walked but that is just speculation.

2.  What did the innkeeper tell Mary and Joseph?
  • There is no room at the inn
  • I have a stable you can use
  • Come back after the Christmas rush
  • None of the above
Answer:  None of the above.  The Bible does not say any words spoken by the inn keeper.  In fact, Luke does not even mention an inn keeper, merely an inn and the fact that there was no room.  (Luke 2:7).  To get really specific, there is also no mention of a stable.

3.   Jesus was delivered in a:
  • stable
  • manger
  • cave
  • barn
  • unknown
Answer:  Unknown.  Just like no words being recorded by the innkeeper, there is no mention where Mary delivered Jesus.  Matthew says Jesus was born in Bethlehem and Luke 2:7 says Mary gave birth to Him and laid him in a manger.

4.  A manger is a:
  • stable for domestic animals
  • wooden hay storage bin
  • feeding trough
  • barn
Answer:  A feeding trough for animals.  Perhaps it was this fact alone that has brought about the popular assumption that Jesus was born in a stable or barn because of a manger being close at hand to put the Baby in.  Using deductive reasoning, culture has also determined that if there is a feeding trough, there must also be animals nearby.  Countless Nativity or crèche scenes depict that as fact.  It is merely speculation and assumption.  Scripture doesn’t back up those theories in any way.

5.  According to the Bible, which animals were present at Jesus’ birth?
  • cows, sheep, goats
  • cows, donkeys, sheep
  • miscellaneous barnyard animals
  • lions, tigers and bears
  • we don’t know
Answer:  We don’t know.  There is no mention of animals of any kind around Jesus after His birth.  Refer to my explanation #4.

6.  Who saw the star in the east?
  • shepherds
  • Mary and Joseph
  • Magi (aka Wise Men)
  • both shepherds and Magi
  • none of the above
Answer:  The Magi.  The star is only mentioned in conjunction with the Magi.  They told Herod they had seen the star.  (Matthew 2:2)

7.  Where did the Magi find Jesus?
  • in the manger
  • in the stable
  • in an inn
  • in a house
Answer:  Sorry to wreck your Nativity scenes, but the Magi were not present the night Jesus was born.  Scriptural evidence shows Jesus could have been as old as two by the time they arrived.  If that is true then Jesus, Mary, and Joseph would have been staying in a house.  (Matthew 2:11)

The complete quiz can be found at this link: http://lynndove.com/2013/12/04/a-christmas-quiz/

Wishing you a Very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!



Lynn Dove calls herself a Christ-follower, a wife, a mom, a grandmother, a teacher and a writer (in that order). She is the author of award winning books: The Wounded Trilogy. Her blog, Journey Thoughts won a Canadian Christian Writing Award - 2011. She has also had essays published in "Mother of Pearl: Luminous Lessons and Iridescent Faith" and "Chicken Soup for the Soul - Parenthood" (March 2013),  Devotional Stories for Wives: 101 Daily Devotions to Comfort, Encourage, and Inspire You (Sept. 2013) O Canada The Wonders of Winter: 101 Stories about Bad Weather, Good Times, and Great Sports (Nov. 2013) and Miracles Happen: 101 Inspirational Stories about Hope, Answered Prayers, and Divine Intervention (Feb. 14).  She was most recently awarded Literary Classics International Book Awards - Seal of Approval and Silver Medal in Young Adult Faith-based fiction for her book Love the Wounded.  Readers may connect with Lynn on Facebook, Twitter and on her blogs: Journey Thoughts and Word Salt or on her website: www.shootthewounded.org

December 23, 2013

Receiving God's Love at Christmas by Terrie Lynne

As I sat quietly on the pew in the balcony, my eyes were captivated by the candlelit lanterns that were dimly glowing along the aisles of the sanctuary. My ears were tuned to the sound of the piano softly playing Christmas carols in the background, but my mind was still busy thinking about the preparations yet to complete for the Christmas gathering with my family the next morning. It was Christmas Eve and it was time to set everything aside and focus on the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet even though I knew in my heart that I should relax and enjoy this moment, my mind still could not join in with the rest of my senses.
My son as a child in his Christmas outfit

Then the moment came when a little boy walked in front of me dressed in black pants and red vest with a white shirt and a little black tie. I smiled at him as he proudly walked on by. Seeing that little boy brought back memories of a time when I dressed my own small son just like that for Christmas. My eyes suddenly filled with tears and the door to my heart swung wide open, receiving the love from my Heavenly Father, who was there waiting all along for me to open my heart to Him. He knew that it would take the simplicity of an innocent child to bring me back, not only into the present reality of that special evening, but into His presence.

Yes, it was Christmas and time to celebrate and remember that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that who ever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. The wonderful news of peace on earth, good will to men!

photos compliments of family photo album and photopin.com

December 21, 2013

Christmas-My Childhood Memories - Sulo Moorthy


“There is nothing sadder in the world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.” ~ Erma Bombeck


I grew up in a neighborhood where Christians were in the minority. Yet Christmas brought so much joy not only to us Christians but also to those who lived around us.
 
Christmas preparation started early in October at our home, when my mother along with my two older sisters and I went shopping for clothing and cake ingredients. Exchanging gifts at Christmas time was not a custom for us then. However, wearing pretty new clothes to church on Christmas morning, making the traditional Christmas fruit cake, and having a feast-like Christmas lunch with family and neighbors were part of the celebration.

The dark and moist fruit cake my mom made at Christmas was called Rich Cake, because almost all the ingredients that went into the cake were imported from either Britain or Australia and that surely cost a lot of money. At that time, we didn't have a cake mixer to beat the batter, or a food processor to chop the large amount of dried fruits or even an oven to bake the cake. Yet that didn't stop my mom from making the cake.

Along with my two older sisters, she spent long hours chopping the fruits and soaking them for days in brandy and golden syrup and beating the cake batter in a huge enamel basin with a wooden spoon. She then poured the batter into large baking trays and sent them to the bakery to be baked a month ahead. Once the cake was brought back from the bakery, no one was allowed to see, touch or taste the cake until the Christmas morning. It was stored securely in barrel-like steel containers away from ants and the family’s sight. As a child, I wasn’t fond of the fruit cake, and so it didn’t bother me much. My favorite was my mom's fluffy raisin and cashew nut cake.

We didn't have Christmas lights blinking on our rooftops or a decorated Christmas tree in our living room. Instead red, yellow and green ribbons of crepe paper hung across our front porch and living room with clusters of huge colorful balloons pinned at every corner. From the middle of December, Christmas carolers from our home church and nearby churches would start marching down our lane at night with lighted candle in one hand and tambourines in the other and making a joyful sound to wake up any dozing soul. Our Hindu neighbors neither complained nor showed any displeasure on hearing the carol singing even on late nights. Respect for each other's faith gave no ground to feud over such matters.

On Christmas morning, we would wake up to the sound of firecrackers blasting in our backyard and far across our streets. My ears, in the mean time would be perked up to hear another kind of sound-the jingling of keys on my father’s wardrobe in the next room. No sooner I heard my father calling out my name, I’d jump out of bed and run towards his room wondering what toy Dad would be holding in his hand this time. As always Dad would be waiting for me with a huge smile and a gift in his hand. A beautiful doll with blue eyes and golden locks, a winding toy-monkey beating a drum or a shaggy dog barking , a toy- train or tea set were some of the Christmas gifts I received at that age. My mom and older siblings got mostly clothing from my dad. Being the youngest, I was privileged to receive a toy as well as a frilly taffeta or an organdy dress.

Until we returned from church that morning, we were not allowed to eat anything. But when we returned, we would find all kinds of Christmas goodies and cakes laid out neatly on plates on the table with bunches of a variety of bananas.

Kaakka, an old Muslim man, who worked at my father’s office usually came in to help my mom prepare the Christmas lunch. Kaakka resembled the genie popped out of the Aladdin’s lamp. His broad toothless smile and gentle manners charmed anyone who came across him. In no time, he’d get ready to prepare his famous ghee rice and goat curry in two huge barrel like containers over open hearth in at our backyard The aroma of cloves, cinnamon, cardamoms and other spices in the curry and rice wafting in the air would soon bring the neighbors around to celebrate the Christmas meal with us. Invitation was not needed for anyone to drop in, and whoever came never left without eating on that day.

Apart from our neighbors, those who usually worked in our yard- fixing fences, plucking coconuts, sweeping the yard or chopping firewood would also come with their children to enjoy the Christmas meal and to take some food back home. As my parents presented new clothing and money to the workers after the meal, I enjoyed giving out candies, balloons and firecrackers to their children.

I may have born in a Buddhist country and grew up in a Hindu neighborhood, but the joy of Christmas experienced during my childhood was truly extraordinary. I didn't have the pleasure of sitting on Santa's lap to take a photo or have a pile of wrapped up gifts under the Christmas tree as my children did, but I had everything what Christmas is all about- love, laughter and sharing.


Posted last year in my personal blog-Precious Moments



December 19, 2013

My Peace I Give You - Linda Aleta Tame

My Peace I Give You


There's a big difference between peace and chaos, isn't there? At least we think there is.  But during the Christmas season, it seems we must skillfully balance between the two, and sometimes the boundary is blurred.

We sing Joy to the World, or Peace on Earth while we scurry through department stores in the shopping frenzy of the holidays.  We make lists, plan menus, coordinate schedules, organize concerts and attend Christmas parties.  We bake shortbread with cherries in the middle, make caramel corn, wrap gifts with colorful paper and shiny bows, stuff stockings and constantly hunt for the Scotch Tape or the pen we had in our hands just moments ago.  We purchase trees (or assemble them), hang lights, decorate with tinsel, and prepare beds for overnight guests.  Oh, and we eat...oh yes, we eat!  It's all so wonderful, isn't it?

"It doesn't have to be perfect," we say, but in some ways we believe it does have to be perfect.  It's Christmas.  Oh, we can handle it if the cat pulls the tree over, or if the kids guess what their gifts are.  It's okay if we forget the coleslaw in the fridge during Christmas dinner, if we forget to chill the cranberries, or even if we forget to turn the oven on to bake the turkey.  These things we can laugh about, if not now, then later.

Some things though, are just simply not okay.  It's not okay if we're offended, if we slam doors, if we have melt-downs or start ugly crying.  It's not okay if our words are hurtful, or if we pout in our bedrooms.  It's also not okay if we frantically throw on our coats and go walking while gritting our teeth in the cold, alone, especially if we forgot our mitts.  "These things must not happen," we say, but we know it's possible when twenty-nine family members get together, when the house is full of noise and activity.  That's when anxiety threatens to destroy whatever peace on earth we thought we had.

Maybe the walk in the cold, or a little time alone to process the chaos (pouting?) is not such a terrible thing.  Sometimes it's exactly what we need to remember the reason we're going about all this activity.  Maybe we need to remember that His peace is not the same as the peace we expect in the world.  In fact, His peace takes into consideration that we're human beings.  There will be occasions that are difficult, there will be hurt feelings, doors will slam.  We can do our best, but we can't control everything, nor should we want to.

Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, experienced birth and death in the midst of chaos, yet He left us with peace, and continues to give us peace.  It's the kind of peace that reigns in our hearts.  If our hearts are anxious, we need to take time to remember that He IS our peace.  We can't always change the circumstances, but we can walk through anything by receiving His gracious provision.  

May you be filled with joy and be comforted by His peace this season!


John 14:27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.


Photo Compliments of Sharon Webb.


December 17, 2013

THE LIGHT HAS COME, by Bryan Norford



I hate candles. Our home has hosted two small fires thanks to candles. If I had the authority, I’d ban them from the planet—at least until the next power outage. But a current TV advertisement shows the power of one candle: in pitch blackness its light is visible beyond the length of several football fields.

 
Isaiah 60:1–2 promises: “[Israel’s] light has come” to dispel the intense darkness that covers the earth.John identifies Jesus as the source of life, “and that life is the light of men.” But although that “light shines in the darkness,” the darkness “has not understood it,” John 1:4–5.

Also translated “Has not overcome it,” the last phrase still carries the idea of a concept that darkness cannot grasp. God’s thoughts are not only higher than ours; His ways are sufficiently different to be mostly opposite to ours.

Our fallen condition has reversed God’s vision of the world. The lie that holds the world in darkness is that power is the final authority; when, in reality, God created our world for love to be the ultimate ruler.

The reverence accorded to Nelson Mandela briefly reminds us, from somewhere beneath our distorted thinking, that forgiveness and reconciliation, established at the cross, is the bedrock of human existence. That light will flicker for a while, until buried anew under human reasoning that cannot understand it.

John expands the content of Jesus’ light, describing Him “full of grace and truth.” John adds further, it is “from the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another,” John 1:14 and 16.

The greatest characteristic of grace is humility. Jesus’ entry into the world was not in a blaze of supernatural power, but as a dependent child, born in a cattle shed and placed in a feeding trough. The darkness, hungry for power, cannot grasp this form of authority.

But humility is measured by the power it withholds. God measures his grace to us by Messiah’s humility. His humility is boundless because His omnipotence is ultimate. The wonder of Christmas is not just God’s amazing gift to us, but the humility of God it portrayed. 

[Jesus], being in very nature God, 
Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
But made Himself nothing, 
Taking the very nature of a servant, 
Being made in human likeness.'
And being found in appearance as a man, 
He humbled himself
And became obedient to death—even death on a cross! 
Phil 2:6-8

Darkness cannot understand this light; it is foolishness to it. I’m not sure I can fully absorb this light either; utterly aware of how short I fall from its example. But I will rejoice that this unfathomable and unexpected plan of God is already dispelling our darkness—towards its day of complete erasure.

December 16, 2013

Song Of The Bells ~ by Marcia Janson

Childhood memories tend to come to me in vignettes, often with very little context in which to interpret them.  They are like small ice chunks that have broken away from a glacier, bobbing along on the surface of a spring thaw river.


Sometimes when I catch sight of them, I pluck them out and have a look-see. The Christmas bits are particularly compelling. Nostalgia gives them a crystalline sparkle and I enjoy caressing the smooth, time-eroded surfaces. I catch a glimpse of my siblings and me decorating the tree with miniature carousel ornaments that twirl round at the slightest breath of air. Snow ball-shaped lights frame the picture window and crackling wood radiates warmth from the fireplace.

I remember the thrill of anticipation over the special gift “Santa” would bring and the soft, buttery taste of Mom’s shortbread. And there was the excitement of staying up very late to go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I loved being in the children’s chorus, singing carols from our perch up in the choir loft. We had a grandstand view of the magical, life-size manger scene at the front of the sanctuary.




 When I was ten years old, we moved to the other side of town. There was no midnight service in the church there, so we stayed home. How we spent the evening is not part of my memory flow, but one vignette from that Christmas Eve has stayed with me all my life. 

It was quite late and I was lying snugly in bed, my little sister sleeping peacefully nearby. All was quiet in the house and my mind, over-stimulated by holiday activity, was trying to process everything. All the anxieties and excitements of the day clamoured for attention and I was trying to tuck them away so I could settle down and fall sleep.

And then I heard the church bells.  A waterfall of notes cascaded through the darkness and settled into a tune I recognized.
Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright….
 I sang the words quietly to myself as carol after carol pealed out and something hidden way down inside me started to let go and relax.
Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth...

I don’t think that my ten-year old self had any astounding theological revelations that night. But I do believe that God rejoiced and sang over me in the music of the bells. And, as the carol proclaims, my “soul felt its worth”. 

Isn't that what we all need? May the Lord sing over you as you celebrate the advent of His Son into our world.

Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.



________________________________________________________________
Photo credits
Icy river: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicmcphee/916741349/
Nativity scene: http://www.flickr.com/photos/16502322@N03/6568703575/
Star: http://www.flickr.com/photos/the-maestros/352417169/