Friday, December 23, 2011

The Christmas Gift Part Six - Wise Men: Giving to the Gift

It’s funny that on Christmas we give presents to everyone except Jesus. The Wise Men (Magi) were the first ones to get it right. They arrived fashionably late (approximately two years after Jesus’ birth), yet their excitement to see Him remained vibrant. And they came prepared with gifts:

“The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Matthew 2:9-11).

The word Epiphany means “manifestation,” when God came to us in human form. Epiphany has been linked with these men from the east since the fourth century. Whether there were three or three hundred we don’t know. However, we do know they were the first Gentiles to recognize Jesus as the Son of God.

Magi were astrologers and sorcerers – not the sort of person you would expect to find worshiping Jesus. God had spoken against these practices hundreds of years earlier as idol worship. So how did these guys get into the Christmas story?

A lot is revealed about the Magi in the twelve verses in which Matthew tells their story. We learn:
  • They were truth seekers
  • That God rewarded their efforts     
  • They left the comforts of home and family in order to find Jesus
  • When they saw Him, they worshiped
They cashed in on God’s promise that anyone who wants to find Him, will. “‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you’” (Jeremiah 29:13-14).

These guys impress me with their tenacity. We don’t know how long they searched the sky before they found the Christ star. And they traveled for months before arriving in Bethlehem. No wonder they were so happy when they finally saw Jesus!

In faith, they came prepared with presents - to honor His position as King and to show their desire to be at peace with Him. Gold was appropriate for royalty and the incense and myrrh symbolic of Jesus’ mission as a priest and sacrifice.

Once they saw Jesus, the Magi were probably anxious to get back to their families. Imagine how excited they were to tell everything that had happened! As the first Gentile missionaries, they took the Good News about Jesus to the east: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, emphasis mine).

The Magi leave us an example to follow at Christmas. My family has a tradition of giving a present to Jesus on Christmas Eve. Each of us writes what we will give Jesus in the coming year on a 3x5 card and we put it on the tree. Then on Christmas morning, we share with each other what we have written. Last year, I rededicated my mouth to Jesus, to use for His glory. This year, I am claiming Him as my ultimate security – not my husband, or money, success, or the approval of others.

What will you bring to the Gift of Christmas?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Christmas Gift - Part Five - Herod: Jealous of the Gift

Jealousy is often referred to as a Green Monster. That’s what it turns us into if we let it take control. In the movie Spiderman, a wealthy scientist became intent on murder, when his jealousy of Spiderman’s power took over.

Despite the wonder of this time of year, jealousy threatens to take away our joy as well.  Every commercial is aimed at our greedy hearts and desire to have as much (if not more) than the next guy. The joy of Christmas morning is spoiled by brothers and sisters arguing over presents, or complaining about what they received in comparison to their friends.’
Jealousy has left a trail of blood in monarchies throughout history, as kings and queens murdered their own family members in order to secure the throne. Here are some details of what happened to King Herod because of his jealousy:

“Many historians think that Herod's downfall began with his possessive love for his wife Mariamme...He demanded that Mariamme be killed if he [didn't] return [from an expedition] alive, unable to bear the thought of another man with her.

Later, Herod became convinced by his sister that Mariamme was scheming against him. He had her put on trial and executed. Despite being responsible for her death, Herod's torment was intolerable. He saw visions of Mariamme. Perhaps in a futile attempt to replace his love for Mariamme, Herod became polygamous. The story of Herod became more tragic still when, for fear of being usurped, he executed three of his sons.

Herod's life was one of ruthless political expediency...”   (

Interestingly enough, King Herod wasn’t even Jewish. He was an Edomite – a brother tribe that had warred against the Jews ever since Jacob and Esau fought in their mother’s womb. Herod was appointed to the throne by Mark Antony as a favor, and his allegiance was to Rome, not the Jewish people. From his actions, we can see even Rome’s concerns took second place to his own.

Then enter the Magi, carrying the wonderful news that a new King has been born and they’re on their way to welcome Him. Herod went into a panic. He was already insecure and grasping. He was also ignorant of scripture:

“He had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:

“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel”’ (Matthew 2:4-6).

Pretending enthusiasm, Herod said, “Let me know when you find this King so I can worship Him too.” But when God warned them in a dream to go home another way Herod’s jealousy grew into murderous rage. To ensure the death of his rival, Herod sent soldiers to kill every child in Bethlehem two years old and younger.

I must confess I sometimes struggle with Jesus' right to rule in my own life. Not only in the daily decisions of life when I want to do things my way instead of His, but even on His birthday. When Christmas falls on a Sunday, as it does this year, I war with a selfish desire to skip church so we can relax and enjoy the day with family.

How sad is that? It’s His birthday and I want to celebrate it by staying home to have my own party. I am jealous of the one hour it takes to go worship, because it interrupts my agenda for the day. I am fighting over the throne that is rightfully His.

I have had to ask for forgiveness to get a grip on what the Day is really all about. He understands our human frailties and graciously forgave me. And now that I’ve worked through it, Sunday can be a day of joy and praise for the Birthday Boy, the true Gift of Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Gift Part Four - Simeon and Anna: Anticipating the Gift

photo by Selaphotography
In case you haven’t noticed, men and women are different. You can spring an impromptu trip on most guys and they can be packed and ready to go in fifteen minutes. Not most women. Half the fun for us is the anticipation.
We want to plan out what clothes, shoes and jewelry we will take. And we like to look forward to what we’re going to do there, and maybe do some research online. We love  anticipating the gift, the gift itself, and reminiscing after we get home.

Yet when it comes to promises, both men and women look forward to their fulfillment with equal expectation. And we can all get discouraged. Moses and the prophets said the Messiah who would come to rescue His people, but hundreds of year went by and He didn’t come.

The nation of Israel went into captivity, and He didn’t come. The Romans gained power and conquered the entire known world, and the Messiah didn’t come. Many Jews gave up hope that He ever would. However, there were still a few who continued to watch and pray.

Two of these faithful ones were in the temple the day Mary and Joseph took Jesus for His dedication:

"There was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God...Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too’” (Luke 2:22-35)

Nothing about Jesus’ arrival had been ordinary so far; why should His Dedication Day be any different?  Simeon, came to the temple by invitation of the Holy Spirit, and saw the answer to his prayers. Jesus hadn’t even begun His years of ministry, yet Simeon had faith He would fulfill His mission.

Simeon’s prophecies were right on the mark too. God revealed to him that Jesus would not be a military hero, as many expected, but a Savior from our worst enemy – sin. What an incredible man of God he must have been!

The second person Joseph and Mary met in the temple was an old woman:

There was also a prophetess, Anna…She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38).

Anna stayed at the temple all the time. It’s true that a widow had fewer options for survival then, but she could have chosen differently . Instead, she devoted her entire life to God, in anticipation. She worshiped and prayed expecting results. Her devotion was rewarded. And she spread the news to everyone else anticipating His arrival.

I wonder if I had lived back then, if I would have been as faithful as Simeon and Anna. On this side of the cross, we have the advantage of knowing how God’s plan all fit together.These two prayer warriors encourage me to keep on praying for God’s promises still to come. I have to admit I spend more time anticipating Christmas and fun times with friends and family than Jesus’ promised return. I do pray earnestly for others to be saved, but find myself caught up in the stuff of this world.

If I had been Simeon, would I have followed the Spirit’s leading to the temple? Or would I have dismissed the voice as too many matzo balls the night before? If I had been Anna, would I have boldly told other believers that I met the Messiah in the temple? Or would I have kept it to myself, afraid they would think I was a foolish old woman?

God has given us the greatest Gift of all time in His Son. And He’s not finished yet! The world holds its breath in anticipation of the final chapter:

“The created world itself can hardly wait for what's coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens” (Romans 8:18, Message).

Are you eager and ready for Jesus' return?

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Christmas Gift Part Three - The Shepherds: Amazed by the Gift

What gift have talked about the most over the years? If you’re like me, you told all your friends how excited you were about it. Maybe even showed it off to anyone who was interested? Have you reminisced about the day you received the gift and how it was presented?

We women tend to get a little excited about the day our beloved proposes. Even if he doesn’t have the ring then, the way he “presents” his gift of love is a special story we like to tell. We talk about this amazing gift for the rest of our days. It made us feel special, wanted, valued, and unique.

That’s what God did for the shepherds when He sent an angel their way the night of Christ’s birth. Unlike a wedding proposal from someone you’ve dated a while, this was totally unexpected. I’m sure the shepherds felt pretty special and valued – once they got over the shock. No one else would have made sure a bunch of shepherds got the news of the King’s arrival.

What was it that prompted God to send this invitation to the outcasts of society? Shepherds weren’t in town much since they had to constantly care for their flocks, . When they did come, they weren’t allowed to mingle with others or enter the temple for worship, because their work made them unclean (unacceptable according to Jewish law). Not to mention that they didn’t smell very good.

It’s so like God to invite them to the party. Not only did they hear about it, they were the only ones there that night!  Imagine their surprise when they found out no one else knew about this wondrous event. So, after worshiping the Christ child, they told everybody they met about the angels' message and what they had just seen.

They didn’t worry then about being accepted. They didn’t agonize about what people would think of them. They didn’t care whether everyone believed them. They were so excited they had seen angels and bowed at the cradle of the King that they couldn’t hold it in. I bet they talked about it for the rest of their lives.

Can’t you just see these shepherds retelling the story around the campfire at night? I’m sure their children and grandchildren heard about it until they knew it by heart. Every traveler who stopped to rest probably got an earful from these shepherds too.

And of course, when Jesus began His public ministry, they probably tried to go hear Him teach. Most likely they nudged the person next to them and said, “Hey, an angel told us about this guy the day He was born. I got to go see Him. It was amazing! I’ll never forget that night…”  

I’ve had some pretty humbling experiences in my life, but unlike the shepherds, I’ve never been looked down on by society. I feel welcome at church and get to participate in all aspects of worship. Maybe I take that too much for granted.

It's amazing that God himself has invited us to welcome His Son to the world. We have the freedom to come into His presence daily and get to know Him personally. And even though we are sinful and unclean compared to Him. Jesus has opened the door for us to come directly into the presence of God!

“Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!” (2 Corinthians 9:15, Living)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Christmas Gift Part Two - Joseph: Protector of the Gift

There’s something precious about the way husbands look after their wives when they’re pregnant. Even the most capable, athletic, and independent woman is suddenly treated as special and fragile. And we love it! After all, there’s a new life growing inside our own body.

We are constantly aware our baby is completely dependent on us for survival. (How often do you see a pregnant woman with her hand resting on her tummy?) Pregnancy also brings out a tender protectiveness in her man.

Suddenly he’s opening doors for her, watching what she eats (not always a plus!), making sure she gets enough rest, and rubbing her aching back and feet. After all, this child came from his own body. It is evidence of the love they share; a gift from the hand of God.

Have you ever wondered how Joseph must have felt about Mary's pregnancy? At first, he thought she had broken their engagement vows. He began planning a quiet divorce, until God revealed the truth to him. Joseph had to endure all the same assumptions and ridicule heaped on Mary. Yet he accepted it as part of the plan. But what exactly was his role?

Jesus wasn’t his child, and yet Joseph fulfilled his fatherly responsibility as protector and provider. Scripture doesn't tell us how this couple felt about each other, but I like the possibilities presented in the movie Nativity. They show how Joseph wins Mary’s admiration through his tender sacrifice and concern.

The book of Matthew supports this portrayal of Joseph’s character:  
  • Joseph was devoted to God and keeping His law, yet full of mercy (Matthew 1:18-24)
  • When God spoke, Joseph listened and obeyed, every time – even in the middle of the night (Matthew 2:13-15)
  • His first priority in life became the protection of his wife and the Christ child (Matthew 2:19-23)
Imagine how this must have played out over the years. Joseph and Mary had other children and all the normal parental responsibilities. Add to that the training and education of the Savior. No pressure there! But Joseph quietly did his job. So quietly, in fact, that there are no direct quotes from him in the Bible. And there is no mention of him after Jesus reaches the age of twelve. What happened to Joseph? The Bible doesn’t say. All we know is that he did his part as Jesus’ earthly father.

We are a little like Joseph. Believers are entrusted with the treasure of Jesus Christ. And our job is to protect that gift. As Paul said to young Timothy: “Guard what has been entrusted to your care” (1Timothy 6:20). “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us" (2 Timothy 1:14).

Jesus is no longer a helpless baby; He is the risen, reigning King. Yet, there are still ways we can protect Him. Joseph protected Him from gossip; we can protect Jesus’ reputation by standing up for Him and being worthy of His name. Joseph protected Jesus by doing whatever the Father told him to do. Our obedience (even when we don’t understand why), keeps Jesus alive in our hearts. Joseph made sure that Jesus grew in strength and maturity. When we nurture our relationship with Jesus, we strengthen His power to work in and through us.

Even if I am never quoted; even if I disappear into history without a trace - I want to spend my life making sure Jesus lives in me. If His purpose is fulfilled through me, that will be enough. How about you? Are you willing to protect the Gift of Christmas no matter what it takes?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Christmas Gift Series - Surprised by the Gift

Here we are, already heading for Christmas at the speed of light. This year, I’ve been thinking about Jesus and how He is the ultimate gift. I hope you will join me as we look at the following people in the Christmas story and how they responded to God’s magnificent package of joy and salvation. And how we experience many of the same feelings they did. Today’s reading is about how Mary was "Surprised by the Gift," then:

  • Joseph: Protector of the Gift
  • The Shepherds: Amazed by the Gift
  • Simeon and Anna: Anticipating the Gift
  • Herod: Jealous of the Gift
  • Wise Men: Giving to the Gift
Mary: Surprised by the Gift

Have you ever received a surprise gift? Sometimes it comes from an unexpected source, or at a time we least expect it. Sometimes, the gift itself is so lavish words can’t express how we feel.

I have been blessed many times by unexpected gifts. My husband likes to surprise me with generous and sweet little reminders of his love. I usually know what I’m getting ahead of time for my birthday, anniversary, or Christmas. But often there are surprises tucked into my card or stocking that take my breath away – gift cards, candies, a surprise getaway for two. I often feel a mixture of excitement and guilt; always feeling I should have done more for him.

Unexpected gifts of service are also wonderful, but can be hard to accept. Years ago, my sister came to visit me during my last stages of pregnancy. She offered to give me a leg and foot massage. I had never had one before and it sounded heavenly. I exulted in her pampering touch, but was embarrassed by my hairy legs. I had stopped shaving when my belly grew too big to bend over that far.

Gifts are such wonderful things and we love to get them. Yet we often feel uncomfortable or self-conscious in receiving them. Sometimes we worry what others might think. They might think we’re spoiled or unworthy of such lavish attention.  Mary must have had her doubts when the angel told her she would soon receive a little package named Jesus.

This was definitely an unexpected gift. She wasn’t even married yet! What would Joseph think when she told him she was pregnant with the Messiah? Would her friends and family believe her? Would they think her undeserving? Would they assume she made the whole thing up?

Yet, Mary didn’t refuse the gift or argue with God about His extravagance. She graciously accepted her role and praised God for His gift. Her prayer reveals an amazing understanding of scripture for such a young woman:

 “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name” (Luke 1:46-49).

I want to respond to God’s gifts like that. Even if they look suspect at first. The key seems to be an understanding of His character and plan. If God is good and, “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17, emphasis mine), then how can I doubt? And yet I so often do.

Mary was able to look beyond the humiliation of public censure, Joseph’s suspicions, and a long trip in her third trimester. She gave birth in a stable (attended by a man she hadn’t even been intimate with yet), and several moves when God spoke to Joseph in the night. She accepted all this as a gift, because she knew it was an honor to bring the Savior to the world.         

The way we respond to our discomforts and trials, as well as our blessings and victories, reveal Emmanuel – “God With Us” – to the world. If we trust Him and graciously accept whatever He gives, knowing there’s a bigger plan, even unexpected gifts will delight us and motivate us to praise.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Still Thankful

Dear Readers,My plans for the Thanksgiving series "Attitude of Gratitude" were interrupted by a very persistent cold, which has held on for almost four weeks. It developed into a sinus infection that dropped to my chest, threatening to stay on as pneumonia. I've been bedridden since Sunday. And even though this has thwarted my blogging plans, I want you to know I'm still thankful.

In parts three and four I was going to tell you how thankful I am for nature and for God himself. In all the things I've mentioned: laughter, people, nature, and God - none are limited by circumstances. It doesn't matter whether we are financially secure, happily married, appreciated, or even healthy. These things can be enjoyed by all, with gratitude to our Father who gives them.

That's all I want to say...for now. Barring any further illness, I hope to be back after Thanksgiving with a look at some of the characters in the Christmas story, and how we re-live their roles in the twenty-first century. I hope you will join me.

And now I will get back to being good, which I promised my husband I would, so I can get well. Wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving full of laughter, safe people, the beauty of nature, and most of all, God.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Attitude of Gratitude Part Two:

 I am Thankful for People

What would life be like without people? I am so thankful for the ones whose eyes sparkle when they see me. For those who are fully present, whoever they’re with, setting aside cell phones and other distractions. I am thankful for people with genuine smiles; who listen fully, love sincerely, and remain cheerful despite interruptions, disappointments, and conflict.

I love people who make me laugh – at the quirks of life, with quick wit, and good natured teasing. I’m thankful for people who have a positive outlook and reveal a fresh perspective when I am discouraged. For people who can enjoy the simple pleasures of life – a beautiful sunset, a great cup of coffee, candlelight, a new book, freshly washed clothes, a walk in the park.

I am thankful for people who give hugs and compliments. Thank you Lord, for those who comment when others lose weight, make wise decisions, win a small victory, or have a great idea. They are the noticers.

True friends offer wisdom, remind me of the truth, let me cry when I am sad, listen when I am distraught or overjoyed. I’m grateful for those who help me process ideas, let me dream, push me to try, and help me accept what is. I am thankful for those who not only bless me, but let me love and serve them as well.

One of my favorite verses about friendship says, “The pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel” (Proverbs 27:9).  I’m thankful for those who encourage me in God’s ways. Their thoughtful questions help me examine where I’m headed and steer me back to the path. These true friends keep me from getting bogged down or self-destructing.

Safe people, we are told by Drs. Cloud and Townsend possess three qualities:

·         They are present

·         They practice grace

·         They are truthful

Safe people are attentive to others. They are loving and forgiving, but they also speak truth.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am thankful for the special people God has placed in my life and for ones I don’t even know yet. My husband, children, parents, sisters, friends, neighbors, and many people around the world are dear to me. They are beautiful examples of God’s Spirit in action. I look forward to gathering with many of them around the table this month. And though I will miss the ones who are celebrating elsewhere, they will be in my heart.

Thank you God for creating such a delightful variety of people in this world – the bold adventurers, the thinkers, the dreamers, the artists and musicians, the clowns, the planners, the caregivers, and the movers and shakers. You have created each one to do your work. Help us continue to appreciate each other, even after the feast is over and we are once again involved in the business of life.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Part one: I am Thankful for Laughter

laughter with friends
I was walking “the loop” in our neighborhood one day, when all of a sudden a girl in a striped top popped out of the grass-filled ditch to my right. She disappeared with a gasp, followed by giggles. Then I heard a deep voice say, “Pay no attention to the girls in the grass!” More giggles.
I laughed all the way home, every time I remembered the look of surprise on her face and her imaginative response to my presence. In fact, even more than a year later, I still laugh when I pass that spot sometimes.

When I asked my friend Lawrence where they kept the candy corn at Safeway, he told me a story. He said a friend’s four year old kept asking her for caution cone candy and she couldn’t figure out what he wanted. Finally, he pointed to a caution cone on their street and explained, “See, it looks like that and it’s orange and yellow and white.” 

 Just recently, I’ve remembered a funny story about my now twenty-four year old daughter. When she was about five, she loved to play doggie. One evening we were having dinner with my parents and Tara was crawling around the table. We were enjoying some adult conversation, but she kept yipping and scratching at our legs for attention. Finally, my dad said, “Heel doggie, heel!”

There was a momentary pause (or paws, as the case may be) while she tried to figure out what she was supposed to do. The only kind of healing she knew about was from the Bible stories we read every night at bedtime. Suddenly, she raised her hands in the air and exclaimed, “I’m healed! I’m healed!” She definitely got the attention she wanted when we all burst into laughter.

Just recently, Kelly and I went on a weekend vacation with another couple. We were desperate for a break from our busy schedules. For three days we ate, shopped, explored, played games, and laughed. A highlight of our trip was when we discovered crab hats in a late night foray and the shop proprietor took our picture together. We agreed that true friendship is when you can be crabby together.

Laughter is a great way to relieve stress. How many times has a surprise event sent you into fits of laughter and your tension melted away? People can say the funniest things and breathe new life into our day. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

My Grandma Leona lived well into her nineties, outliving three husbands, a beloved sister, and most of her friends. She experienced much sorrow, yet she had a zest for life that was contagious. She laughed a lot. She used to claim that “internal jogging” was part of her secret to longevity. I think she might have been right.

Thank you, God, for laughter. You obviously have a sense of humor - evident in the Bible, as well as some of the quirky animals and plants you have created (not to mention people). You help us laugh at ourselves. You delight us with the antics of children and pets. You give us smiles even on dark days. Laughter keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. It energizes us; makes us sparkle. Laughter is good medicine.

Friday, November 4, 2011

An Attitude of Gratitude Series

During the month of October, my focus was on the saints and how grateful I am for the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. They passed their faith down to us by living bold, faithful, and sometimes quiet, lives. This year I read about Brother Andrew, President Lincoln, Mary Slessor, Lottie Moon and others. Their tenacious faith to overcome all obstacles in their way inspires me to set aside the petty concerns that tend to get me down and focus more on what is truly important.

Now that November is here, I will be posting blogs leading up to Thanksgiving. I hope you will join me and add your comments on what you are thankful for this month. The Message Bible says it well:

On your feet now—applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter,
sing yourselves into his presence.

Know this: God is God, and God, God.
He made us; we didn't make him.
We're his people, his well-tended sheep.
Enter with the password: "Thank you!"
Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
Thank him. Worship him.
For God is sheer beauty,
all-generous in love,
loyal always and ever.

Psalm 100, Message

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Relevant Magazine's Article on All Saints Day

Thank you all for your comments, emails, and texts I have received regarding All Saints Day. Jenny is watching movies with her kids and eating dumplings; Linda and Rob are feasting on tri-tip; Ron is busy sharing his research findings with others; Brian and Britney are choosing to raise their soon to be born baby celebrating God's holiday; and Kayla and Skyler are looking for some fun ideas on how to celebrate All Saints.

I am excited that so many Christians are willing to step away from Halloween and look long and hard at what we have been doing with our fall enthusiasm. I applaud those who have done research on their own in order to make an informed decision about Halloween and All Saints. And I praise God for the many who have told me (and those who haven't) that they are praying about what God would have them do.

Today I had another delightful surprise. Relevant Magazine sent out a teaser blurb and a link to an article entitled: "Why All Saints Day Matters" by Ryan Hamm. I have included the blurb below and a link to his well-done article.

Keep spreading the word to other Christians who are sold out for the Lord. Let's celebrate the faith and victorious lives of our fabulous brothers and sisters in Christ!
Beth Vice

It's not just the day after Halloween
For most, Nov. 1 means putting away costumes, counting up candy and prepping for the rest of the holiday season (perhaps with some premature Christmas carols). But for Christians, the day after Halloween is so much more. All Saints’ Day is a time to remember and celebrate the saints of both past and present. From St. Paul and N.T. Wright to Mother Teresa and John Piper, there is a “great cloud” of faith heroes to be honored. Beyond these famous names, All Saints’ Day is also a time to cherish the universal Church—the rich and poor, old and young, male and female. Today, RELEVANT looks closely at this overlooked tradition and the importance of remembering the rich and expansive legacy of the Christian faith.

Here's the link to Ryan Hamm's article: "Why All Saints' Day Matters"

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Halloween and Christianity, Part Five: Let's Have Some More Fun!

Since reading part four, you have had a chance to consider how you can make those ideas your own. Today, I will end the series with thoughts on heroes, music, party planning, and family unity.
One of the best things you can do as you anticipate All Saints Day is: Get to know your heroes. The days are shorter and the weather cooler – it's a perfect time to read and watch movies that build and inspire faith.
My children loved reading together as a family every October. We chose a new biography each year and watched movies highlighting faith and courage. There are even more books available now and movies galore. Some of my favorite movies are: Luther, Amazing Grace, The Hiding Place, Gifted Hands, Something the Lord Made, Chariots of Fire, Shadowlands, Soul Surfer, Home Run, and China Cry.

A few people whose stories have deeply affected me are: Amy Carmichael, George Washington Carver, Joni Erickson Tada, Corrie ten Boom, Granny Brand, Dr. Paul Brand, C.S. Lewis, John Wycliffe, Jim Elliott, Joanne Shetler, Florence Nightingale, and Peter Marshall.

They overcame doubt, poverty, prejudice, disability, lack of education, fear, and financial ruin. Each story is an inspiring piece of our heritage and encourage us to keep fighting the good fight. This year I'm reading about Brother Andrew and vignettes of other tenacious believers.
Music is another important tool for good in this season. There are some terrific contemporary songs about faith and courage as well as in the hymnbook under the heading of All Saints Day. And listen to your local Christian radio station, it’s inspiring stuff! Play a game with your family this month as you travel to and fro. See who can identify lyrics that challenge us to carry our faith to the next generation. Keep score and award the winner!
And speaking of games. Throw an All Saints Day party on November 1 and have some fun. This can be an exciting climax to the season. Our family played a game called: “Who’s Who in Christian History.” We told our guests to come prepared to share a sentence or two describing a Christian from the Bible or more recent history.
Here's how to play: Each player gives a short description of the person's life; write the name of their person on a strip of masking tape. Stick a name on the back of each player and let them try to discover who they are by asking other players yes or no questions about the name on their back. (For example: Am I in the Bible? Am I a woman? Did I invent a lot of stuff made from peanuts? Did I get put in jail because I was translating the Bible into the people’s own language?) Then you can award prizes for the first ones to discover their identity!
There are lots of other games to play that spotlight faith and courage. And of course, no party is complete without food. Your feast can be as fancy or casual as you like. We always offered to make the main dish, drinks, and dessert, and had our guests bring side dishes. You might even choose a dish you only have at All Saints, like turkey for Thanksgiving or ham for Easter.
Finally, if you are married, I encourage you to make sure your husband or wife is on board with your decision about All Saints Day. If you want to celebrate All Saints Day, but they are not ready yet, it can sabotage your kids' enthusiasm and divide your home. The best way to win him or her over is to respect their feelings and not push your ideas on them.
Pray for God’s Spirit to speak to them, and do what you can to celebrate our fabulous Christian heritage:
  • learn about those who have gone before us
  • talk it up with your kids
  • be an example of courage and faith

Celebrate All Saints with friends at a time that doesn’t conflict with your mate’s plans. Hopefully, as they see your excitement, you will convince your partner into rejoicing in the holiday with you.
Many blessings on you and your household as you lift up the name of Christ this exciting fall season.  Whatever you decide to do, stand boldly for Christ and, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

#allsaintsforgottenholiday #betterthanhalloween #allsaintsdaytoday #christianfamilyfun #halloweenandchristianity 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Halloween and Christianity, Part Four: Let's Have Fun!

Here is the part many of you have been waiting for. I hope you have been challenged by these blogs to rethink Halloween. Or, maybe you have already chosen not to celebrate Halloween and want ideas on how to make the season FUN for you and your family.
In our country, there seem to be no viable options. Some churches have Harvest or Bible themed parties, where everyone shows up wearing their bathrobe and a towel tied to their head. But what do you do the rest of the month while everyone gears up for Halloween? When my husband and I decided to celebrate All Saints Day, there was no pattern to follow, so we made up our own.

I hope some  of these ideas work for your family. Let’s reclaim the season for Holy Partying!

First of all, decorate for fall with accents of red and white. These are the official colors of All Saints Day and they stand for courage and faith. Whoever comes into your home will find the happy, peaceful décor a refreshing change from garish black and orange decorations, cobwebs, and skeletons. I also hang red and white All Saints banners during the month of October that have scripture painted in gold puff paint. They add a beautiful touch and are a great discussion starter.

my girls and their friends did a play in full costume
Don’t forget to talk UP your chosen holiday. If we focus on the positive, our children are more likely to see the delight of God's ways. One year in early October, a cashier asked my daughter if she was ready for Halloween. Tara answered with six-year-old exuberance, “Oh, we don’t celebrate Halloween; we celebrate All Saints Day. We decorate the house and have a party. We play games and have a feast. And we read stories about brave people all month long!”
We immediately had the attention of the cashier, the bagger, and the lady in the next checkout line. For a few minutes, they pummeled us with questions, which we gladly answered.

one of many characters 
Another opportunity to share appeared when I asked Tara’s first grade teacher if she was planning a Halloween party at school. I explained that we celebrated All Saints Day instead. She asked me a little about it and not only listened, but asked if I could write up a short description for the kids. I did, and she read it in class and put up a “Be a Saint” poster. All month long, the children could earn stickers by their name when they got caught doing nice things for others.
Egyptian princess

Johnny Appleseed
Finally, don’t scrap dress up fun. Create dress up occasions NOT connected with Halloween. Tara, Launa, and their friends loved dress up parties. My girls became Skittles for the Candy Party we had for Tara's birthday. Their friends came as everything from a pack of gum to the candy fairy. We had awards, played games, and of course, ate candy. We also had a Princess Party, a Circus Party, as well as putting on plays complete with costumes.

My girls and their cousins also started a yearly tradition during family vacation. They dressed Launa as a different character every night using whatever was already in the house. Some of our favorite times were awaiting the "unveiling" and the many laughs and pictures.

When we studied mime in homeschool, Launa and I both dressed in full makeup and performed for her grandparents.

Only One?

Granddaughter Jolieanna and Kelly
Now that my children are grown, I still love dress up fun. For his birthday party one year, the theme was, “There’s Only One Kelly Vice.” I gave everyone in the family a picture of him to make into a mask or mount on a stick. They all arrived in "disguise." When he turned 50, we threw a surprise Hawaii 5-0 party for Kelly, complete with Hawaiian music, décor, and luau attire.

And for you married women, you can have fun putting together costumes for your husband’s eyes only. He will enjoy being your secret audience.

me and Tara

#dressupfun #allsaintsforgottenholiday #betterthanhalloween #allsaintsdaytoday #christianfamilyfun 
Tune in for one more entry of ideas in Part Five. The final blog in this series, will be about heroes, music, party planning, and family unity. I hope you will join me.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Halloween & Christianity, Part Three: The Writing on the Wall

Mixed messages can be confusing, exasperating, and very dangerous. My husband has been bit more than once by dogs who greeted him with enthusiasm, tails wagging, just before they lunged to take a bite out of his behind. I've been invited to people’s homes who were more interested in interacting with their television than their company. And I've had people smile pleasantly, look me in the eye, and lie to my face. Sending a mixed message is not something I want to do.

We have a plaque above our door that says, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Many of you have one too. Years ago, our neighbor paraphrased it in his own words. “I get it," he said. "That means God's boss here, doesn’t it?”

Exactly. That's what it's supposed to mean anyway.

This famous phrase is from Joshua’s speech to the Israelites when they reached the Promised Land. For forty years they'd been wavering between the true God and the gods they had worshiped in Egypt. But Joshua said it was time to make a choice:

Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve….But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:14-15). You can’t have it both ways. You either worship the true God or the gods of this world.

It seems like Halloween poses the question to us once again. Jesus said, “I have come that [my sheep] may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, NIV). Why then, would I celebrate a holiday that glorifies death?

Halloween tells us it's fun to be scared. As a Christian, I don’t have to fear anything or anyone except God himself. He tells us, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:10 &13). So why would I celebrate a holiday that makes fear attractive?

Thirdly, Halloween revels in darkness. As a tweenager, I was fascinated by dark, scary stories. But when I became a Christian, I realized they were not compatible with my walk of faith. God’s Word makes it pretty plain. “What fellowship can light have with darkness” (2 Corinthians 6:14). “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).

When Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cover of night, because he was afraid what his peers might think, Jesus told him, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:19-21).

Last of all, Halloween glorifies witchcraft and demonic power. Its imagery comes from the occult:
  • witches practice magic and call on demonic spirits to gain personal power
  • broomsticks are a phallic symbol (representing the male organ) believed to transfer orgasmic energy into spiritual power
  • black cats are familiar spirits or magic helpers; evil souls with supposed powers
  • carved pumpkins represent damned souls; the candle inside, the fire of Hell
I know demons have no power over God or His children, but as a Christian, I want nothing to do with them. Paul told the believers at the Corinthian church, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons...‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:21-23).
So, even though I have the freedom to participate in this holiday, I choose not to because:
  • It opposes the message of the gospel
  • I do not want to glorify the enemy or provide a cover for his activities
  • It is not beneficial or constructive

I encourage you to do some research for yourself. Read the Bible and pray about what God would have you do. Then do it with all your heart!

In part four, I will share some stories and ideas on how you and your family can celebrate the season with good, clean fun.

Casting Crowns has written a fabulous song for the movie Courageous, entitled, “We Were Made to be Courageous.” I have included the link to the video below, because I think this song so powerfully describes what God has called us each to as Christians.

#mixedmessages #christianityandhalloween #leavinghalloweenbehind #iloveGodmorethancandy 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Halloween and Christianity Part Two: How Halloween Began

I bought some leopard jammies at Target the other day for the upcoming women’s retreat (with which I hope to win a prize). The cashier assumed I was buying them for Halloween. When I told her no, they were for a Chocolate Retreat at church, she said it sounded like much more fun. We agreed it was too bad she lived so far away, otherwise she could have come too.
The next day, I walked into our bank and it was like entering an ancient crypt. Thick cobwebs swathed the fireplace, spiders hung from the ceiling,  fiends lurked in dark corners. The counter was festooned with skull and cross bone caution tape at a child’s eye level. A lot of effort had gone into the décor. We all want to have fun and get silly from time to time. But it makes a difference what we celebrate.

I grew up considering Halloween harmless fun. But in 1992 my church showed the movie Halloween: Trick or Treat? and I began to wonder what I had been celebrating all those years. Jeremiah Films interviewed a number of church leaders, law officials, former occult members, and practicing witches. They also showed actual footage of cult worship that chilled me to the bone.

Those saved from the occult, feel pretty strongly when asked what they think about believers celebrating Halloween. Former Satanist Glenn Hobbs said:

“It makes me sick...Christians should be the ones who are standing up against this. There are people out there who don't just celebrate Halloween with Trick or Treat candy. This is a religious holiday to them. This is something holy and sacred, and they are taking innocent human life. I can't say, ‘go ahead and have Halloween fun’...because Satanists are using this as a smokescreen.”

After seeing the movie, I did some research of my own. Among many other things, I found out that Halloween is the High Holy Day for Satan worshipers. I didn’t want to participate in a cover up for evil, but I knew it would be hard to give up the fun associated with Halloween.

That’s exactly why, centuries ago, Church leaders started filling the calendar with Christian holidays – so people could put energy into festivals that glorified God. One of these holidays has been completely forgotten by Christendom. 

 In the seventh century, Pop Boniface IV declared an All Saints celebration in May - to remember Christian martyrs. Less than two centuries later - orgies, animal and human sacrifices, and nature worship were still practiced every fall. So Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day from May to November first. Instead of worshiping demons, he hoped people would choose to celebrate life and light and faith. 

However, new superstitions sprang up. People surmised if Saints were honored on All Saints Day, then evil spirits must roam the earth in All Hallows’ Eve. So if they had to go out on October 31, they would dress like demons. If the spirits thought they were one of them perhaps they would leave them alone. Others put out food to appease them and ward off bad luck.

Soon dressing in costume, fortune telling, collecting treats, and Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) parties gained popularity. When people from the British Isles immigrated to the United States, they brought Halloween with them.

Today, the church has virtually forgotten All Saints Day. I had never even heard of it until I began researching Halloween. But I love the idea of focusing on a Christian holiday. I’m not advocating somber marches to the cemetery and death masks. No, I think it should be a day to party and give thanks for all saints (which the Bible tells us is just another word for a believers), whether they were martyred or not. Christians throughout history have made it possible for us to have a personal relationship with Christ, because they kept the faith. That’s worth celebrating!

When I tell people I observe All Saints Day, not Halloween, they often say, “Well ,that’s different.” Yes indeed, I think that’s the point. God tells us to, “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). Refusing to conform is different and delightfully full of freedom.

I hope you will join me for part three of this series: “The Writing on the Wall.” It will cover the themes of Halloween and how they compare to the life of faith.

#historyofhalloween #allsaintsreplaceshalloween #allsaintsfortoday #reclaimOctoberforGod