Christmas Traditions That Point to Jesus

Many Christian moms strive to make sure the Christmas season doesn’t get swept away in commercialism, but is truly a time of joy. What an opportunity we have to celebrate with our family the greatest miracle the world has even known!  God coming to earth as a baby named Jesus to rescue us from the curse of this world is worthy of jubilant celebration. Christian moms know this and desire this for our families, but cutting through the expectations of the season and getting to the heart of Christmas can be difficult. What’s the solution?

There is no formula. What works best for one family doesn’t create a mandate for others to do the same. Some mothers excel at and relish in Pinterest-worthy advent projects.  Others find doing simple things like reading stories that point to Jesus’ coming in the Old Testament best for their family. I humbly share a few things our family does with our young children to celebrate Christmas. Perhaps one of these strikes a chord with you or gives you an idea all your own.

  1. Our girls love playing the “Star from Afar” game. My husband and I move the star every night, and the girls wake up each morning to search for the star. Upon locating it, they move the wise men under the star as they follow it on their path to meet the new King! When my girls wake up Christmas morning the star is over the manger and they along with the wise men find the Savior!
  2. We host an annual Happy Birthday Jesus party, normally on Christmas Eve. It’s small and simple. We have a cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. We sing a few Christmas songs and read the Christmas story from Luke 2. The children put on a play of the Christmas story using things we have around the house like sheets, sticks, and blankets as costumes.
  3. We snuggle on the couch and watch a YouTube video of Joy Williams song “Here with Us” set to scenes from The Nativity Story.

Children thrive on rhythms and routine. Having a few traditions in your family that clearly point to the wonder and awe of Jesus’ birth will seal in the lives of your children the miracle of Christmas. Celebrate and rejoice!

About the Writer:
Caroline is a wife and mom who loves Jesus. She also has a career in commercial real estate investing. God has given her a heart for encouraging other women. She and her husband, Eric, are the directors of the Fellowship Class, a young married Sunday School class, at First Baptist Dallas.

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The Calling of Gentleness

Look in the news, or on popular Christian social media accounts and blogs, or even just just down the pew.  You will find Christians who disagree on everything from politics to social issues, to the interpretation of the book of Revelation.  Sincere Christians don’t agree on everything.  What governs how we respond to other Christians when we don’t agree?  What is our primary purpose?

Ephesians 4:1-3  implores us to:

 . . . walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

We are to remember that all Christians are part of one body.  Despite our differences we have one Lord.  What a precious gift!

We can’t endorse a false peace that tells the oppressed to be quiet in the name of unity, but we can work to preserve the unity of the Spirit by being gentle – gentle with the hurts of others; gentle to the friend at church that tells you they were crushed by the way someone you respect treated them; gentle to the single mom who feels condemned by the sermon on marriage; gentle to the friend who feels like their views on social issues are scorned by their fellow Christians; gentle to the spouse who disagrees with you on what living out faith looks like in your household.  Gentle looks like saying, “I see you and your hurts, and I’m going to come along side you and bear your burden with you.”  We can encourage and edify, but it’s probably most important first to empathize.  Weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).  Make no mistake.  We can disagree sharply on important issues, but we should never let that disagreement distract us from the fact that we agree on the most important issue:  that we need Jesus and He is our savior. When we are gentle, we communicate our relationship with Jesus Christ and that His mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13).

Gentleness does the work of the Lord in relationships in a way our own bravado cannot.  Ask the Lord how you can walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness.

About the Writer:
Caroline is a wife and mom who loves Jesus. She also has a career in commercial real estate investing. God has given her a heart for encouraging other women. She and her husband, Eric, are the directors of the Fellowship Class, a young married Sunday School class, at First Baptist Dallas.

 

Strong Hand With a Soft Touch

I use to dream of being gentle. Then I was hurt. Again. Again. Again. I wanted to be mean. I wanted to be heard. If not for the grace of God, I would be that person still. Then entered the gentleness of God (1 Kings 19:12) like a soft breeze speaking words of truth and direction.
God, among other things, is gentle. He was described as gentle by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40:11). Jesus even called Himself “gentle” (Matthew 11:29) and said those who are gentle are blessed (Matthew 5:5). He called us to be gentle (Ephesians 4:2). He said gentleness is an expression of the fruit of God’s Spirit in the life of a believer (Galatians 5:23).
What then makes the gentleness of God possible for Him and difficult for us? For me, it is desiring my gentleness to be rewarded—naively holding onto something like a chimera, the idea that, if I am thoughtful and kind enough to someone else, he will be happy and never do me harm—quite different from God’s calling to walk in gentleness.
When Christ showed gentleness, most people were mocking Him, spitting on Him, saying false things about Him, even crucifying Him. Yet, He was gentle. When Apostle Paul said, in Philippians 4:5, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near,” he was in prison. In 1 Peter chapter 3, where Peter was urging wives to be gentle in their attitudes and behaviors to their husbands, it was amidst an exhortation to women with unbelieving husbands. None of those situations promise a change of heart or a good response from the ones we are called to show gentleness to. 
Someone once said that “gentleness is a strong hand with a soft touch.” It is the ability to speak the truth in love, guarding overtones and expressions so that the truth might be more easily received. It is a tender, compassionate approach toward others’ weaknesses and limitations. 
So why do it? Why not speak the truth without love? Why not close one’s heart when it hurts so deeply? Why put up with someone else’s weaknesses when you could even more easily abandon ship? Why not write off others’ faults as “their” problem? The answer is clear! Do not think for a moment that you can experience the abundance of the kingdom of God while walking in opposition to Him (Galatians 5). 
The promise in the Beatitudes for the gentle is that they will inherit the earth. And, in Psalm 37, this promise is again repeated: 
Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.
For evildoers will be cut off,
But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.
Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more;
And you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there.
But the humble will inherit the land
And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity…
Wait for the Lord and keep His way,
And He will exalt you to inherit the land;
When the wicked are cut off, you will see it. (Psalm 37:7-11, 34)
If the hope of God’s faithfulness to a courageous woman who trusts in the Lord is not enough, if rising up to the example set by Christ Himself is not enough, if compassion towards the weaknesses of another sinful human being is not enough, ask God to whisper His Word in your heart…”A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:3).
About the Writer:
Lyndsay has been many things in her past, but no career, experience, or calling define her more than the desire to follow after Christ in response to His gracious work in her life. At present, she teaches movement classes and works as a wellness consultant in addition to loving her amazing husband and raising her daughter to know and love the Lord.

Great is Your Faithfulness

 

It doesn’t take long to realize that nothing we see stays the same.  A trip to the beach illustrates this as the coastline changes yearly.

Also obvious, is change in people.  Don’t babies change seemingly overnight?  Consider a high school reunion’s effect: “Tell me the truth, do I really look that old?”  No one remains physically unchanged. No human always behaves consistently.  Even the most dependable disappoint.

Some people experience change through betrayal or divorce.  The sweetest relationships endure unintentional mistakes, and, inevitably, loss through death.

The Bible described a life-change: “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job.  This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” (Job 1:1 NIV)  Job was enormously wealthy and had ten children.

Unknown to Job, God asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?  There is no one on earth like him.” (Job 1:8 NIV)  Satan stated the only reason Job feared God was that God had blessed him.  If you take away what he has, Satan suggested, he will surely curse you “to your face.” (Job 1:11b NIV)

God allowed Satan to destroy all of Job’s wealth, children, and health.  After devastating loss, Job responded as follows: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’  (Job 2:10 NIV)  In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

We wonder at Job’s faithfulness.  Many struggle to cling to faith under far fewer  difficulties.  However, Job’s response to three friends who came to explain why he was suffering revealed his secret. (Job 19:26 NIV) declares, “ . . . after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.”  Job’s faithfulness was based on his understanding of God’s faithfulness, not on his own performance or ability to explain what was happening.

Job declared finally, “My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You.” (Job 42:5 NIV)  This echoes the words of Jesus in (Matthew 5:8 NIV),  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  When change rips our faith away from things that won’t last anyway, our wandering hearts are purified by recognizing Who remains worthy of our faith.  Our hearts are finally able to find rest in the absolute faithfulness of God.

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.  Lamentations 3:22-23

About the Writer:
Nan Haines is so grateful to belong to God’s people. She loves getting to know all kinds of people and enjoys discovering new places, which is a good thing since she’s moved twenty five times. She has been married to Jim, a pastor, for 34 years, and together they have four grown kids, a son in love, and three grand puppies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Goody Goody

Margery Meanwell is thought to be the original (and fictitious) goody goody. According to the British Library, The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes is one of the most important children’s books of the 18th century. It tells the story of two orphans, Margery Meanwell and her brother Tommy, and their escape from poverty. Dressed in rags and having only one shoe, Margery is given two shoes by a charitable gentleman. Through hard work she becomes a schoolmistress before making a good impression on the local landowner and marrying him. She inherits his wealth when she is widowed and is granted a large dowry from her brother who has also acquired great wealth in his foreign pursuits. Margery’s wealth enables her to help the poor just as she herself had been helped. She remains adamant that money is to be used for the good of others less fortunate than oneself, not for personal benefit.

Unfortunately, as I know from personal playground experience, the expression goody two-shoes is not usually used as a compliment. The admirable pursuit of the good of another has come to mean something smug and self-righteous — more often than not, a way to heckle a playmate.

To many, good is grey — an ever-shifting concept fluctuating between black and white, depending on the circumstances. For a time I pursued the path of the “healing arts” and spiritualism. During that season of my life, I saw much as grey, but more than that, I saw black as white and white as black. However, there really is no “good” definition for goodness beyond being synonymous with the nature of Christ. Test your definition of goodness against God’s Word. If it’s NOT what God calls good, it will probably be more like what the spirit of the anti-Christ calls good and therefore:

  • it cannot be measured by how closely it resembles the person and actions of Christ
  • it is often in opposition to God’s blueprint for His children or His standard of righteousness
  • it sounds very appealing, because it “feels” good
  • it involves more conclusions that are “right in my own eyes,” rather than “right in God’s eyes”
  • it is based on the argument that an individual is innately “good” rather than innately “sinful”
  • it breeds rebellion against God rather than submission to Him
  • as right as it looks, it eventually leads to destruction

For those of us who search for remnants of Eden and God’s good creation here on earth, it’s easy to want to downplay the negative effects that sin has on each one of us and on the earth itself; however, let it be known: God alone is good (Mark 10:18).

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them. Ephesians 5:6-11

About the Writer:
Lyndsay has been many things in her past, but no career, experience, or calling define her more than the desire to follow after Christ in response to His gracious work in her life. At present, she teaches movement classes and works as a wellness consultant in addition to loving her amazing husband and raising her daughter to know and love the Lord.

I’m One of the Others

“Some people are naturally good, you know, and others are not. I’m one of the others. Mrs. Lynde says I’m full of original sin. No matter how hard I try to be good I can never make such a success of it as those who are naturally good. It’s a good deal like geometry, I expect.”
~ “Anne of Green Gables” ~ Lucy Maud Montgomery

Like my favorite red-headed literary heroine, “Anne with an ‘e,’” I’m “one of the others.” I struggle with mastering both goodness AND geometry! Anne would be relieved to hear what Jesus said about being “naturally” good. In Luke chapter 18:19, Jesus declared, “No one is good except God alone.” Only God is inherently, completely, and, by His very nature, good.

Jesus very clearly states his oneness with God in John 10:30: “I and my Father are one.” In John 14:9, Jesus says, “…Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Anything we know about Jesus is true of God, and anything we know about God is true of Jesus.

The whole of Scripture points to the goodness of God, and of His Son, Jesus Christ. Here are two of many descriptions of God’s goodness:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing . . . Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life  . . .  Psalm 23:1:6 (NIV)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11

In contrast, we read of our lack of goodness in Romans 3:12: “…there is no one who does good, not even one.” Thank goodness, (pun intended), we aren’t left to our own resources.

Because Jesus is God and has all the attributes of God, anything God has given to Jesus can be given to me, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, in John 16:15, “All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (NIV)

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

God’s goodness is mine through the gift of His Son, Jesus, the Only One who truly is “naturally” good.

About the Writer:
Nan is so grateful to belong to God’s people. She loves getting to know all kinds of people and enjoys discovering new places, which is a good thing since she’s moved twenty five times. She has been married to Jim, a pastor, for 34 years, and together they have four grown kids, a son in love, and three grand puppies.

 

 

 

 

 

A Lesson in Foot Washing

My husband was having a rough day, a really rough day.  And he wasn’t pleasant to be around.  I was considering whether I should tell him how difficult he was, go away, or tough it out when I clearly heard God’s voice say “wash his feet”.  As is customary, I proceeded to argue with the voice in my head.  After all, his feet aren’t my favorite thing about him, and they really weren’t dirty.  But the voice persisted.  “Wash his feet.”

I was standing in the kitchen looking for an answer, and I couldn’t just stand there without saying something I would regret, so I started washing the dishes,  It was his turn to do them, and both of us really dislike the chore.  I didn’t say a word, I just washed the dishes.

Something magical happened in that moment.  The corners of his eyes softened.  His shoulders relaxed a little bit.  He started to breathe more deeply.  When I was finished, he hugged me and thanked me.  Just like that, we were back to being “us”.  He felt better.  What he needed most in his grumpiness was kindness.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32

Don’t we all need kindness when we are at our worst?  I know when I’m having a rough day, the thing I need most is a hug.  It’s not easy to hug me when I’m grumpy, but my husband does that for me.  He hugs me even when I don’t want to be hugged because he knows I need it.

The Bible is full of examples of kindness, and many words about it.  One of my favorite stories recently is in the book of Micah, and chapter 6 verse 8 jumped out at me:

Do justice.  Love kindness.  Walk humbly with God.

It really is that simple, and yet it takes discipline to stop and ask how I can show kindness in this moment.  I don’t always manage to do that, but, when I do, it’s beautiful to see how God can use my kindness to show His presence to those around me.

About the Writer:
Wendy is a wife and mother who works full time in Risk Management.  Here at First Dallas she serves in Sunday school, helps coordinate Angel tree, and teaches at Discipleship University.  Her greatest joy comes from discovering how following Jesus can greatly impact her daily life and the lives of those she cares about in innumerable, practical ways.

His Grace is Sufficient

Do the “what ifs” sometimes overwhelm you? When you let your mind drift to any of the endless list of potential crises that could be a phone call away, do you feel unequipped to handle the grief? Do you look at someone else’s struggle and think, “I can’t even imagine” or “there is no way I can handle that”? That particular feeling struck me recently: I have two young mom friends, sisters in Christ, who have cancer. Both have two children under five. I can’t even imagine.

The possibilities of these scenarios seem crippling. And then, in steps the power of God.

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.                         2 Corinthians 12:9

The picture below is of my first baby girl, Elizabeth Alane. I never got to hold her. Eric and I saw her heartbeat at seven weeks, and by nine weeks her heartbeat was no more.

His Grace is Sufficient

After my miscarriage God held me up in so many ways. One way was through the Scripture that comforted and assured me. One of the verses that brought me so much comfort was 2 Corinthians 12:9.  His grace is sufficient. 

A week and a day before we found out that the baby no longer had a heartbeat, I broke down sobbing, and I told my husband, Eric, I was scared of losing the baby. I was mess. Eric held me and comforted me, and he prayed that we would put the baby in God’s hands. If you looked at what a mess I was then, you would have thought actually losing the baby would have rendered me a useless waste. But God gave me the grace I needed in the moment I need it. After my miscarriage, I had an undeniable hope despite my loss. I didn’t know how this would work together for good (Romans 8:28). I didn’t understand God’s thoughts and plans in this (Isaiah 55:8-9). But I believed that God’s word was true.  Even though I didn’t understand how He would fulfill the promise of Scripture, I knew that he would. God was extending me the grace I needed.

His grace is sufficient. It is sufficient to meet our every need, day by day as they happen. It is also sufficient to meet our greatest need – for salvation. Let the power of God be your refuge: no matter what lies ahead, He is able to see you through it.

About the Writer:
Caroline M. is a wife and mom who loves Jesus. She also has a career in commercial real estate investing. God has given her a heart for encouraging other women. She and her husband, Eric, are the directors of the Fellowship Class, a young married Sunday School class, at First Baptist Dallas.

The Only Self Help Book You Need

I can recall clearly my prayers as a new bride. I prayed for God to change me, mature me, and to make me sufficient in my new role. With the new responsibilities that I believed came with marriage, I had many personal qualities that I wanted to refine and new skills that I wanted to learn. My weaknesses would now weigh both of us down, I convinced myself. I would anxiously read how-to articles and frustrate myself, growing impatient with the slow progression of change.

I was so focused on seeing change from day-to-day, that I missed the bigger transformation that God was already producing in me. A familiar verse to many is found in Philippians.

Philippians 1:6: For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 

I had heard this verse many times and used it when encouraging friends of mine in their time of despair. But I didn’t believe it for myself.

What I see now is that my impatience and dissatisfaction with myself was a result of doubt and unbelief in God. In my continuing study of scripture, I’m learning that patience requires a surrender of earthly understanding, and above all else, a complete trust in God’s faithfulness and goodness.

Scripture teaches that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8) So, instead of trying to comprehend God’s timing, we must place our trust in HIS faithfulness instead of OUR understanding. That passage continues, saying that “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

When I forgo my acute time lens and open my heart to God’s perfect timing, I see a story of His grace and patience as he writes the testimony of my life. It’s a story that didn’t just start when I prayed as a fresh-faced wife, but had started long ago with an insecure young woman helplessly surrendering to the Lord. Upon the realization that no person, status, or thing could make me feel at peace, I’ve learned that the Bible is the only self-help book that I could ever need.

The Holy Spirit produces patience in us that is made deeper by faith.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:17

I can see a direct relationship between the amount of time that I spend in God’s Word and my patience. I am continually learning that God is fully faithful, fully trustworthy, and fully sovereign in my life. He proves Himself over and over again in my moments of doubt. The Lord is my strength and my salvation, and He is working on a masterpiece in my life.

About the Writer:
Audra has a passion for encouraging women in their roles at home in both marriage and motherhood. She enjoys sharing her journey of refinement and learning through these important transitions on her blog called The Homegrown Project.

 

The Best and Worst of Friends

I know Depression.  How well do you know him?  Maybe you have met him once or twice in your life, or maybe he is your worst “best friend.”  I admit, I have hung out way too much with him over the years.  We met when I was about 11 or 12 and have bumped into each other more than I would like.  I try to avoid him most of the time because he definitely is not one of those friends who lifts me up; but sometimes I call him up hoping that he will understand my woes. Why I don’t just ask God to come dine with me and tune His listening ear to me is beyond me.  Just knowing that God hears me lightens the load a little, but it is not usually enough to send me back on my humming way.  Believe me, I have been extremely perturbed on more than one occasion that doing all the “right things” did not provide me lasting relief.  Surely I am not the only one who has been happy while at church and despondent once back home!

Then, one sweet day, God opened my heart to the best news I have received since that of the Gospel, and His same resurrection power at work in my life.  Are you ready for it? God showed me that He is my bridegroom! Now, I have a fantastic husband already, but sometimes I still feel very alone.  In my humanness, my husband could be doing all the right things or even slaving over the stove entertaining our little girl and cleaning simultaneously while I lie sprawled out being unproductive to anyone, and I might still feel uncared for or unacceptable.  In Isaiah 54:4-6, God calls Himself our bridegroom. Here is the passage from “The Message” translation:

Don’t be afraid—you’re not going to be embarrassed.
    Don’t hold back—you’re not going to come up short.
You’ll forget all about the humiliations of your youth,
    and the indignities of being a widow will fade from memory.
For your Maker is your bridegroom,
    his name, God-of-the-Angel-Armies!
Your Redeemer is The Holy One of Israel,
    known as God of the whole earth.
You were like an abandoned wife, devastated with grief,
    and God welcomed you back,
Like a woman married young
    and then left,” says your God.

St. Augustine of Hippo wrote in his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” On days when I feel anything but joyful, and unloveable, one of the most powerful truths that frees me to walk in the Holy Spirit’s fruit of joy is this: my Maker, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies, is for me; and He will stand strong for me when I seek refuge from the pressure of this world. I know joy and can live in joy because my God has my back. He is the best, best friend, EVER.

About the Writer:
Lyndsay has been many things in her past, but no career, experience, or calling define her more than the desire to follow after Christ in response to His gracious work in her life. At present, she teaches movement classes and works as a wellness consultant.