Selasa, 30 Desember 2014

You Don’t Need To Take On The World All By Yourself

You Don’t Need To Take On The World All By Yourself

Composite image of thoughtful classy businessman looking awayBy Ted Cunningham
Recently I heard a pastor say, “I want to make a huge impact on the kingdom with the time I have left.” This pastor’s enthusiasm to reach his community and the world is contagious. It inspires me. And yet after a few days of meditating on his sermon, I started to wonder: “What exactly qualifies as huge impact?”
Sometimes our preaching takes on a tone of “do more, get bigger, reach more, expand and build.” While growing the church and kingdom is part of our church mission, I don’t think we should take on the Great Commission like a bunch of Lone Rangers.
Jesus gave the Great Commission to a group, not an individual. I take personal responsibility for sharing the Gospel with family, friends and strangers, but the weight of the world is not on my shoulders. It takes the entire church to make disciples, not just me:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20.
How do we take on such a monumental assignment? How do we make disciples, expand the kingdom and grow our ministries as a team? Here are four thoughts on reaching people without burning out.
  1. Serve one person today. Pastor Andy Stanley taught us years ago to “Do for one what you can’t do for all.” I love hearing leaders around our church say this to each other. This one thought completely changed the way we do missions, benevolence, evangelism, and a whole host of ministries around our community. It also freed me up personally. I love striking up conversations with strangers, but now I don’t feel the pressure to engage every stranger I meet. My goal is to talk to somebody new every day and engage them in deep conversation.
  2. Remind the congregation often that every member is a minister. It’s a teaching I received from Pastor Rick Warren that I have quoted hundreds of times. Years ago, a member of our church called the office to say they saw a homeless man on a street corner in town. The member said, “I just think we should do something as a church.” We encouraged that member to be the church and minister to this man on the spot instead of waiting for a meeting or a benevolence offering. The Body of Christ has the freedom to be the church 24/7.
  3. Celebrate how God is using the church down the street. Rather than competing with the churches in town, rejoice that you are not the only church or pastor reaching people. It takes all kinds to reach all kinds. Refuse to compare your ministries, budgets, and numbers with the church down the street. God uniquely placed you where you are and wants you to reach people with the personality, giftedness, and passion he gave you.
  4. Allow God to determine your growth. Pastor Joel Thomas recently said, “I am responsible for obedience. God will take care of the outcome.” When we focus on being the church, rather than growing the church, God takes care of the numbers. In Acts 2 we read about God’s response to the activity of the first church:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47.
The Lord added to their numbers. He determines our size. Rest your weary head on the pillow tonight knowing that God has the size of your ministry taken care of.
We are only a few short weeks away from 2015. I can’t believe it. What if we try something new next year? Instead of waking up each morning and asking, “What do I need to do to get bigger and better?” What if we ask, “How can I serve better today?” For me, that means less time on social media and more time enjoying my family. I want to have deeper fellowship with friends during the week rather than catching up on their latest post.
Reach people. Love people. Spend time with people. Work hard. Enjoy the ministry opportunities God places before you today. Here at Focus on the Family, we are cheering for you and your church!
Copyright © 2014 by Ted Cunningham. Used by permission.

Ted Cunningham
Ted Cunningham is the founding pastor of Woodland Hills Family Church. He married Amy in 1996 and now live in Branson, MO with their two children, Corynn and Carson. Ted is the author of Fun Loving You, Trophy Child and Young and In Love and coauthor of four books with Dr. Gary Smalley. He is a graduate of Liberty University and Dallas Theological Seminary.

St. Nicholas – The Real Story

St. Nicholas – The Real Story

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

CHARLOTTE, NC (ANS) -- Lachlan Creative announces its latest film project: St. Nicholas – The Real Story. This 60-minute film will take an in depth look at the story of St. Nicholas through historical fact, archaeological evidence, faith, artistic expression and contemporary celebration.
What is the real story?
Santa Claus is a legendary character for many people around the world. His appearance is celebrated at Christmas time as a symbol of compassion, gift giving and merriment. But is there any historical evidence on which this jolly old character is based? Was there a real Santa Claus?
To answer that question, we have to journey back in time to the fourth century. Christianity at that time was growing quickly throughout Asia Minor (now part of modern-day Turkey). It was into that setting around AD 275 that a child named Nicholas was born to wealthy Christian parents in the small coastal town of Patara.
The director of the film, Stuart Lachlan Bennett says, “There is plenty of evidence of Nicholas’s life and in recent years, ancient documents have been translated which support this fact. Even though people may be vaguely familiar with stories of good deeds attributed to Nicholas, most people are not aware that he played a significant role in Christian history. Nicholas was one of the senior bishops attending the Council of Nicea in AD 325 and was a signatory of the Nicene Creed.”
Stuart Lachlan Bennett
Facts such as this have never before been explored in a film. Dr. Adam English is the author of the book The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus. English says, “Documentaries have been made on Jesus, Mary, Peter and Paul, but not on Nicholas who is the most popular non-biblical saint of all of Christian history. We are not talking about a minor saint, but literally the most well loved saint throughout history. It is truly astonishing that a historically attested and solidly researched film has not been made about him at this point.”
The film will be hosted by Dr. Mark Wilson, a historian and director of the Asia Minor Research Center in Antalya, Turkey. The production will be filmed in Patara, Nicholas’s place of birth, Myra, the town where he was bishop, the site of the Council of Nicea and in Bari, Italy where Nicholas’s bones were finally laid to rest.
Bennett says, “We have just launched a fundraising campaign on the Indiegogo website. We’re hoping that people who recently celebrated Christmas will catch the vision to want to know more about the real man behind Santa Claus. This will be something they can share with their children to bring clarity to why his story became so popular. At the same time, it’s very interesting to me that one part of the story that is not so popular is that Nicholas lived through one of the greatest eras of persecution Christian have ever known. He was a real hero of the faith.”
Saint Nicholas – The Real Story is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non- profit 501(c)(3) registered arts service organization. All contributions to the project in the U.S. are TAX-DEDUCTIBLE. To make a pledge to the campaign please click on the link below to the
You can also learn more about the project on Facebook at:
Stuart Lachlan Bennett can be contacted by e-mail at:

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Minggu, 28 Desember 2014

Though for Today

"I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble."
- Psalm 59:16

Kamis, 25 Desember 2014

When Christ Is Formed in Us

The Ministries of Francis Frangipane
When Christ Is Formed in Us
(En Español)
The intercessory prayer of the Apostle Paul was not just a prayer for protection or for a few blessings to rest upon the saints. He said, "My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you" (Gal. 4:19). Paul was "in labor" to bring forth the actual spirit of Christ within the church. Let me say it again: his goal was Christ, not merely Christianity!
Any mother can relate to the focused intensity of labor pains. This was how the apostle prayed for the church, as though he were giving spiritual birth and would continue to be in labor until the person, power and nature of Christ Jesus Himself was functionally formed in the disciples.
We know "theologically" that Jesus is within us. But has He taken over our form? It is one thing to accept Him as our source of help in time of need; quite another dimension to have Him dwell in us as God in His earthly temple.
We must realize that Jesus wants more control over us than an occasional thank-you during life or merely the right to our souls at death. Our Lord desires to be FORMED in us -- take our form and be manifested through us. We are to literally, substantially and physically become Jesus' body upon the earth.
Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father" (John 14:12).
It is one thing to have faith in Jesus; it is quite another thing to have the faith of Jesus, where He expresses His assurance of the miraculous through us! It is marvelous when we share with Him isolated moments of loving fellowship, but it is something else when His love, after conquering us, conquers and liberates our world around us!
We must perceive the awesome connection, the flow of power, the oneness Jesus came to establish between Himself and His body. Though He is not on earth in His own earthly body, He is on earth in our bodies! There is no separation between Jesus and His believing church! (See Rom. 8:38-39)
A Body God Has Prepared
In the tenth chapter of Hebrews we see again, in principle, this reality: "Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, 'Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.' Then I said, 'Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of Me) to do Your will, O God'" (Heb. 10:5-7).
When the Spirit of Christ comes into the world, He comes not just to exchange an old religion for a new one. Rather, He comes to inhabit, actually take the form of man, and "to do [God's] will" within us!
We have been "set apart" by God not just to become good people, but to have Christ's love, His faith and His power revealed through us. Paul urged us to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2). Mark's gospel tells us that Jesus "appeared in a different form" to two disciples (Mark 16:12). It is not unlike Jesus to take a different form. Jesus took over Paul's form, Peter's form, John's form -- His disciples lost the limitations of who they were prior to Christ's indwelling them. Yes, each retained his unique personality, appearance and history, but even there the influence and fullness of Christ could be seen. They actually became His body, His temple, His bride, His branches -- the very extensions of Himself in the earth!
Jesus wants to take over our form as well. He wants to give us a new identity in Him. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God" (Gal. 2:20).
From the moment you were saved, another person, Christ Jesus Himself, entered your life! The objective of Christianity is not merely to get you to stop smoking and going to clubs, but to fill your life with Jesus! This is why Paul's concern was not simply a prayer for the Galatians' physical or financial well-being. He knew God's plans were for Christ to come forth in them. Paul was in labor, travail, to give birth to Christ in the church.
At the same time, it was not really Paul who was in labor; it was Christ within Paul who desired to come forth in the Galatians. For too long we have looked to men to guide us, but as Jesus is truly formed in His people, we will not look to mere men for constant care and guidance. For Jesus Himself wants to empower us and lead us on into His glory.
This must be the goal and prayer of every church leader: to see Christ take over the church. We must go beyond possessing doctrines about Jesus and become a dwelling place for Jesus. We must not cease our pursuit until Christ is formed in us.

Senin, 22 Desember 2014

Love Motivated Warfare

Love Motivated Warfare
(En Español)
Jesus knew this world was a realm under satanic siege. Planet Earth was not a place of peace but a realm at war. From the casting out of Lucifer and his angels from Heaven, to the temptation in the Garden of Eden, to Babylon and the multiplication of nations under satanic influence, planet Earth has been an embattled world. The idea that somehow our era is less threatened by evil is the height of deception. We must fight if we will follow Christ into victory.
No matter how beautiful the world around us seems, remember there was a serpent lurking in Paradise itself. If Adam and Eve had possessed a war mode mentality, they never would have casually accepted the lies of Lucifer. Likewise today, we need to be wise and walk carefully for "the days are evil" (Eph. 5:16). You see, Jesus was always aware that He lived in a war zone. No matter what He was doing -- whether He was laughing with sinners or driving out demons, whether He was healing the sick or training followers -- beneath the surface of His outer activities, the "war mode switch" in Jesus' mind was always on.
A word here to the women who find warfare a solely macho topic. I have heard a few women argue, "I'm just a housewife, a mom. I don't have a war mode." If your child was seriously sick, wouldn't you fight that illness with everything at your disposal? You would fast and pray, and you would do so from your war mode. If your marriage was under spiritual attack, wouldn't you get before God and war with fervency? The fact is, you know how to fight. Ask your husband if he thinks you have a war mode. You just need something to wake it up, because once you begin to shift into the war gear, in the Holy Spirit you are dangerous!
You see, the war mode is in us all. It may be attached to our instinct for survival, but it is more directly connected with our love for people. I love my nation, so I am warring in prayer on its behalf. Because of love for my family, I war in prayer on their behalf. I love my church, my city and, yes, even my own soul, so I war to protect what I love.
If there is a natural fight instinct, there is a spiritual fight mode as well. It just needs to be awakened, submitted to Christ, and then unleashed against the enemy. If you have a love mode, you also have a war mode. God has created the war mode so we can protect the people we love.
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The preceding excerpt is adapted from the book This Day We Fight, by Pastor Frangipane. This book with associated audio resources are currently on sale at

Minggu, 21 Desember 2014

Fast from Judging

  The Ministries of Francis Frangipane
Fast from Judging
(En Español)
If you have ever gone on an extended fast, you know it can be a life-changing experience. There are many types of fasts. The king of Nineveh along with the nobles and all the people of his nation fasted completely from food and water. The Lord heard the sincerity in their repentance and spared their nation, making them an example of how prayer, coupled with fasting, touched the heart of God (Jonah 3; Luke 11:32).

A fast can be a powerful tool to help stimulate revival or, conversely, it can degrade into a religious exercise that has almost no spiritual significance. The Pharisees fasted twice a week but did so to be seen of men. Their fast became a thing of religious pride. It was completely without spiritual value.
Examples of True Fasts
At its essence, the purpose of a fast is to help us reach our spiritual destination faster, hence the name fast. Jesus said "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). The goal of our hunger is for righteousness to prevail, either in us personally or in our family, church, city or nation. Fasting takes us there faster.

Yet we must not allow our fast to become a form of self-inflicted punishment. Fasting is not about "severe treatment of the body" (Col. 2:20-23). In truth, a fast is a gift of grace -- an opportunity to engage the Lord in an extended time of desire. During the time you would have nourished your body, nourish yourself spiritually instead. Draw closer to the Lord. Read the Word of God, memorize Scriptures, or pray for yourself and others.

Isaiah 58 tells us that a fast can also be a time to show God's love to others. The Lord says,
"Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him?"
--Isaiah 58:6-7
Therefore, when you are fasting from food, consider also ways to help the disadvantaged and hurting. You might even devote your food money to a relief agency who gives care to suffering people in destitute places.

The Intercessor's Fast
From our study, we see that a fast can be a genuine form of seeking God, or it can be a shallow display of self-righteousness. The fast itself can be a denial of food or a specific food group, such as meats or desserts. Or it can be a denial of self, where we give ourselves to helping others less fortunate than ourselves (Isa. 58).

One aspect of the Isaiah 58 fast is seen in verse 9, which reads, "Remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness." This aspect of life, "the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness," has become a normal part of our culture. Self-righteous judging, fault-finding, loveless criticisms and slander are all things that many Christians do without conscience or regret. If, however, we remove these things from our lives and give ourselves to a walk of love, the result is profound:
"Then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell." --Isaiah 58:10-12
I want to introduce a new concept: the fast from judging. When I have mentioned this type of fast to others, it is interesting to watch their reactions. "If we fast from judging, what will we think about?" they query. I am not saying we should fast from thinking. No, I am saying only this: After we have thought about some issue of life, fast from letting our concluding thoughts be those of judgment. Rather, let our thoughts end in prayer for mercy, redemption and forgiveness.
You see, the instinct to judge and criticize is a curse upon the church, and it brings death upon us as individuals. A curse? Death? Yes, every time we judge we are simultaneously judged by God, and each time we condemn another we ourselves are condemned (Matt. 7:1-2; Luke 6:37).
Many Christians will pray, engage in spiritual warfare, and rebuke the devil, yet often the enemy they are fighting is not the devil. It is the harvest of what they have sown with their own words and attitudes! What is happening to us is consequential, as Jesus said, "by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you" (Matt. 7:2).

When we judge and criticize, we position ourselves under judgment. You see, we are constantly sowing and harvesting life according to our own attitudes.

When I say "fast from judging," I do not mean we should abandon discernment. No. But judging people is not discernment. When we see something wrong, instead of only turning critical, we must learn to pray for mercy for that situation. We may still see what is wrong, but now we are harnessing our energies and seeking to redeem what is wrong by the power of Christ's love.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matt. 5:7). When we resist the impulse to judge or condemn and instead pray for mercy, an amazing thing happens: fresh mercy opens before us. You see, in every moment of every day there are two paths in front of us: one leads to increased mercy in our lives while the other leads to a life of obstacles and difficulties. How do we receive more mercy? The key to a life blessed by God's mercy is to give mercy to those around us (Matt. 18:21-35).
There are Christians I know who have not made spiritual progress for years. They attend church and they tithe, yet they maintain a self-righteous, judgmental attitude. They always have something negative to say about others. As such, they position themselves under God's judgment. Their capacity to receive divine mercy is closed because they do not show mercy toward others.

James wrote: "Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13). Let me repeat this sobering verse again: "Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy."
Are you pondering why your version of Christianity doesn't quite feel like the abundant life Jesus promised in John 10:10? Perhaps it is because you are too judgmental. It is a natural tendency in most people. Indeed, recall how even the Lord's disciples wanted to call fire down upon the Samaritans. Yet Jesus rebuked His disciples, saying that they did not know what spirit they were of (Luke 9:51-56). Let us, therefore, discern "what spirit" we are of. Let us remember that mercy triumphs over judgment; if we strive to be merciful, God promises He will respond to us as we have responded to others. Finally, let's ponder the next season of change. Perhaps it is time to embrace the mercy fast and see what changes occur in our lives when, for just ten days, we fast from judging.
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The preceding excerpt is adapted from the book Spiritual Discernment and the Mind of Christ, by Pastor Frangipane. This book with associated audio resources are currently on sale at
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The Upward Call

The Ministries of Francis Frangipane
The Upward Call
(En Español)
It is sad, but many Christians muddle along, hoping for nothing loftier than a short reprieve from sin, guilt and self-condemnation. Should the lowliness of our sinful state have veto power over the enormity of God's promises? May it never be! For Scripture assures us that our call, even as lowly as we feel sometimes, is an upward climb that relies upon faith in God's abilities and trust in our Lord's redemption. We aren't harnessed to our flaws and weaknesses. Rather in spirit-to-Spirit fusion we are united to the resurrection power of the Son of God! Our call is not merely to attend church but to walk with God, whose eternal goal has predestined us to be "conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29).
Yes, let us deeply repent for our sins and learn to walk humbly with our God, but let us not assume faith must depart so humility may arise. No, our adoption as sons and daughters has made us joint heirs with Christ. You see, everything concerning our salvation and the gifts of God in our lives comes to us not as something we attain but as an inheritance we receive.
"The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:16-17).
Let me repeat this thought: an inheritance is not something we earn; it is something we receive. It is wealth given based on the productivity and success of a parent, or in our case, the attainments of Jesus Christ.
Therefore let us set our hopes high upon the promises of God. Though we fall, the Lord will lift us (Prov. 24:16; Micah 7:7-8). God's grace will not wilt because we're weak. In ever-increasing degrees He will work in us conformity to Christ. Yes, let us bring our faith to the fountain of our Father's wondrous grace, but faith itself is a gift He has given us. Let us, therefore, fully believe God can help us attain the mind of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
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The preceding excerpt is adapted from the book Spiritual Discernment and the Mind of Christ, by Pastor Frangipane. This book with associated audio resources are currently on sale at
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Sabtu, 20 Desember 2014

The True Foundation

 The Ministries of Francis Frangipane
The True Foundation
(En Español)
Christ Himself is the eternal blueprint for our lives. Only in studying Him, in measuring ourselves by Him, do we grow securely upon the foundation of God.
Beloved, we were created to become like Christ. God's plan has not faded or become obsolete! Even as Christ has not changed, so neither has the plan of God for the church. Our transformation will burn in God's heart "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
You see, the focus of both leadership and congregations should be upon attaining Christlike transformation and His love for people. This has been the Father's purpose from the beginning of time and it remains His unchanging goal at the end of the age. (See Gen. 1:26-27 and Rom. 8:29.)
The problem is that, too often, as Christians we define ourselves by what we do for God rather than what we become to Him. What pleases the Father most is not what proceeds from our hands but what rises from our hearts. He is seeking the revelation of His Son in us. There is nothing on earth that so pleases the Father's heart as when Jesus Christ is revealed through us. As Paul wrote, we become a “fragrance of Christ to God” (2 Cor. 2:15).
This is why we focus on revealing Christ Himself. Other aspects of Christianity develop correctly only as they emerge out of our greater pursuit of Christlikeness. You see? No aspect of our spirituality functions properly apart from our living union with Christ. It is here, in pursuing Christlikeness, that we find true spiritual assurance that we are not being led astray.
Consider: Paul said that the result of seeking the measure of the stature that belongs to the fullness of Christ is that "we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4).
Paul warned that people can be "carried about by every wind of doctrine." Yes, false doctrines are dangerous, but Paul wasn’t limiting his warning only to false teachings. For even a true doctrine can have a false emphasis and lead us astray. The pursuit of Christlikeness aligns us with the Father's highest priority for our lives. It secures us upon the path to truth, for “truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21). He Himself is the way, the truth and the life.
As a result, Paul wrote that intimacy with Christ was the deepest cry of his heart. He said, "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Phil. 3:10).
He was not speaking of some esoteric knowledge of Christ but an intimacy that led to conformity. Do we see this? He wrote, "That I may know Him . . . being conformed." Knowing Christ and being conformed to Him is of the same essence. Christ Himself is the true foundation upon which we must build our lives.
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Our quest at ICIT is to see Christlike Christians planted in every nation of the world. Is your passion to reveal the Son of God? Do you have an inner desire to deepen your spirituality? Then consider registering for In Christ's Image Online Training. The first level lasts six months and provides intense, focused attention on conformity to Christ that will deepen your spiritual walk with God.

The Stocking Tradition

The Stocking Tradition

stockings hung on the fireplace
As I stitched an angel design on a Christmas stocking for our newborn daughter, she slept peacefully in the bassinet. I wondered, "Would this stocking, filled with toys and goodies, diminish the meaning of Christmas?"
I prayed for guidance. My husband and I wanted to instill faith in our five children. We did not want our children to get caught up in material things. I grabbed my Bible, flipped the pages and started reading about Elizabeth and Zechariah. I read where Elizabeth's unborn baby leapt in her womb as she greeted Mary, pregnant with Jesus, and my own heart leapt with an idea.
If I wanted God's Holy Spirit to fill us, why not compare the filled stockings to how God fills our lives with good gifts? Months later, as Christmas approached, we prepared for a new tradition.
During Advent, we read about Elizabeth's joy at the upcoming birth of Jesus. We shared with our children how we wanted them to be filled with joy and that we had a new surprise in store for that year.
On Christmas Day, holding our stockings filled with fruits and treasures, we gathered around the tree. We asked everyone to share how the surprises we had carefully chosen reminded them of God's love and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Becky held up a watch and said, "Look, my watch tells time. God loves me all the time!"
James pulled a toy car out of his stocking and said, "God goes with me in our car."
Sometimes we puzzled over how an item could help us think of God — especially when each child received the same gift. I remember laughing after the fourth banana was pulled from a stocking. Our creativity was definitely stretched on those! Yet the moments of laughter and sharing helped us keep God in our celebration.
Over the years, we kept the tradition, and as the children grew, the comments changed, adding more depth. Last Christmas we received a gift in return. Our daughter Darlene's fiancée joined in our Christmas stocking tradition. Darlene exclaimed, "I can hardly wait until we have children and celebrate this custom with our own family."
This article appeared in the December, 2004 edition of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2004 Karen H. Whiting. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

Meaningful Christmas Traditions for Couples

Meaningful Christmas Traditions for Couples

by various authors

Cookie exchange? Check. Teachers' presents? Check. Christmas cards? Check. Stuffing ingredients? Check. Shopping for the kids? Check. As the holidays draw near, the to-do list can grow exponentially. No wonder the holiday season depletes us of energy and often takes our focus off of our marriage.
In the midst of commitment overload, couples can stay connected by establishing traditions that celebrate and strengthen their love for one another. We've asked busy couples like you to share with us some of the traditions that have helped them stay connected. As you read their heartfelt stories, we hope you'll find inspiration for your own marriage this Christmas season.

A Gift of Memories
The gifts my husband and I exchange are not elaborate but serve as souvenirs of our life together. Last year, the first gift I opened was a sweatshirt from our vacation to Myrtle Beach. My husband and I chatted about how chilly it was, the kite-flying experience and the epic car ride. Then my husband opened a small package from me and found a sleeve of logo golf balls from the same vacation. Reminiscing together helps us remember the wonderful parts of our life that may have been forgotten by the end of the year. It also reminds us that the greatest gifts in life are the times we share with each other.
Amber Chandler
A Date-Night Stroll
The Christmas season can be filled with so many events that it's difficult to find time for each other. My husband and I don't want to give up our holiday traditions, but we desperately need time as a couple. So we make looking at Christmas lights a date-night event. Rather than driving around town, we bundle up and stroll through the neighborhood holding hands. When we get home, we warm up with eggnog by the fire. This date-night stroll has become one of my favorite Christmas traditions!
Sarah Blakeley
Snacks & Stories
About an hour before bedtime, I pull together a quick snack and wrangle our three boys into the living room. While they crowd around the coffee table and nibble on popcorn or apples with peanut butter, my husband and I curl up on the couch and read to the family. We have three special books that we share during December. Even if our day is packed with holiday preparations, our evening remains the same — a quiet moment of reading together while the tree glitters in the corner, where we propped it up after it was knocked over during a Nerf war. It's a time to relax as a couple before we face the storm of bedtime.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Book of Love
I'd been married only one year when I opened an empty journal and wrote my husband, Jeff, a love letter. I told him I was starting a new tradition so he would feel honored and appreciated. Each Christmas I committed to expressing my love, describing my favorite memories and recording Jeff's loving actions in the pages of this journal.
Twenty-seven years later, my husband's book of love is almost full. Each year, I've added to the journal, wrapped it neatly and placed it under the tree. As our kids have grown, they, too, have included loving messages in Jeff's book. This longstanding tradition helps me pause during the season's chaos and thank God for my husband and for a marriage that has thrived — with God's help — despite the challenges and sorrows of life.
Julie from Colorado
A Win-Win Tradition
Once our daughters were pre-teens and teens, my husband and I found it difficult to get time alone as a couple amid the holiday chaos because the girls' 8 p.m. bedtime was a distant memory. To make sure my husband, Ben, and I connected with each other between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, we made it a tradition to schedule a weekend away — a night when we could enjoy some quiet time together and a day to make a dent in the Christmas shopping list. The girls eagerly supported our Christmas weekend away because they knew we'd come home with bags of goodies to wrap. It's only now as young adults that they've figured out it was a win-win tradition for all of us — the kids were excited about the shopping and the parents were excited about a night in the city.
Pam Woody
Our Day in December
It was our first Christmas back after living 3,000 miles away from both of our families. We were used to having our space to enjoy the holidays, and now we felt overwhelmed. So we decided to create our own day to celebrate together and marked Dec. 23 on our calendar.
It became a tradition, and each year Dec. 23 is our day as a couple. Even if friends are in town or we've been invited to a huge holiday party to attend, you'll still find us in our own comfortable living room, surrounded by the decorations we've collected over the years. We exchange gifts, eat our favorite foods and enjoy the friendship that thrives because we take time to strengthen our bond with each other.
Patrice Marrero
Music of Christmas Past
Thanksgiving through New Year's Day, my wife and I play Christmas music after the kids go to bed. We even listen to the same Christmas CDs from when we were first married. We've found that this music helps us realize how much God has changed us throughout the years and how blessed we are. The Christmas music even gives us an opportunity to reminisce about childhood Christmases before we'd even met.
John from Colorado
Our Wonderful Life
On Christmas Eve, my husband and I make a fun, kid-friendly dinner for our children and either put them to bed early or settle them in another part of the house. Then my husband and I cook a fancy dinner for just the two of us. We eat in the living room while we watch It's a Wonderful Life. After the kids are asleep, we bring the gifts up from the basement and pause together to thank God for allowing us to bless our kids. This tradition has become a fun way for the two of us to give thanks and to cherish each other.
Amy Simon

This article appeared in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was titled "Meet Me Under the Mistletoe." Copyright © 2014 by respective authors. Used by permission.

Jumat, 19 Desember 2014

The One Group You Might Forget This Christmas

The One Group You Might Forget This Christmas

Family Building Snowman In GardenBy John McGee
The holiday season is upon us. As a pastor you have planned Christmas Eve services, prepared end-of-year reports, and been to more Christmas parties than you care to remember. With all of the activity involved in getting your church ready for Christmas, it can be easy to forget one group – your family.
During this season you tend to get busier just as the other members of your family are winding down at work and school. While you see endless tasks to accomplish, they see a window of opportunity to slow down, make memories, and enjoy each other. This season is an opportunity to serve your church, but don’t lose sight of the unique chance to serve and connect with your family.
Here are some things you can do to serve your family and connect with them this Christmas season.
Help get your home ready for Christmas. You have spent time and energy to get your church ready for Christmas, but have you helped get your own home ready? Make sure you have served your spouse by helping him or her set up the decorations and doing anything else you can to make your home special for the holidays.
Check local guides. Most cities will have an online collection point, usually through the local newspaper, for all types of activities you can do with your family that you might not otherwise know about.
Look at lights. Grab some hot chocolate, queue the Christmas music, and take in the sights and sounds of Christmas. We have made an annual pilgrimage to the same spot for the past ten years. At this point it’s only a little bit about the lights and a lot about the memories we have made.
Get creative. With a little planning and thought you can come up with some really fun activities. One of our family favorites is to go to the mall and split into guys and girls. Each group buys a gift, hides it in the mall, and texts the other group with clues. A few years ago the girls found a key pinned to the back of an ornament on the huge tree in the center of the mall. The key led them to a locker by the ice skating rink where they found necklaces inside.
Date your spouse. Your spouse has served you and accomplished a lot this year. This is a great time to look back over the year, celebrate your relationship, recognize the ways God has used you together, and say “thanks” for everything your spouse has done to help you.
Date your kids. Every kid has a different idea of what a fun date would be, but all of them long to connect with their parents and have their undivided attention. Think about how to connect with each one of them uniquely and get it on the calendar before it fills up.
Game or movie nights. Turn off all of the cell phones and put them in a drawer. Make an intentional effort to be present as you play games or snuggle up and simply be together as you watch movies. Have everyone write down the name of a movie they want to watch and then when you have a couple of hours pull out one and watch it together.
Help or serve someone else. Lead your family in praying for a way to serve and bless others. Opportunities abound with local city missions, but some of the best may be with people your family already knows.
Bring Advent home. As you lead your congregation through this season of anticipation of Christ’s coming, don’t forget to lead your family. There are several family guides that can be read after dinner at the table and will help focus everyone’s thoughts on why this season matters.
Shop early for gifts. Having worked retail during the holidays, I have seen that the closer to Christmas gifts are purchased the more expensive and less thoughtful they become. If it’s already too late this year, see if you can get a jump on next year. One easy way is by capturing ideas as you have them throughout the year and keeping a list for each member of the family. Apps like evernote will allow you to add to the list from your phone anytime you think of something.
Crowd source your ideas. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be a superhuman creative and relational genius. Ask others what they are doing this Christmas season to have fun, make memories, and connect with God and each other.
Leverage the last week of the year. Many pastors are very busy leading up to Christmas and may not be able to spend multiple nights a week drinking cider and making cookies with the kids. However things tend to slow down December 26th. Maybe some of your best activities and creative planning could go into the week after Christmas.
God’s church deserves a pastor’s creative leadership during the Christmas season. Your family desires and deserves the same.
Copyright © 2014 by John McGee. Used by permission.

John McGee (@JohnMcGee) is the Director of Marriage Ministry and re|engage at Watermark Community Church in Dallas Texas. He is passionate about helping churches prepare, establish, enrich, and restore marriages in their communities.

3 Ways to Keep the Peace in Your Marriage this Christmas

3 Ways to Keep the Peace in Your Marriage this Christmas

Christmas should be one of the happiest times of the year. After all, this is when we celebrate the birth of Christ. However, many times we find ourselves grumbling and arguing during this season more than any other.
So what should you do when your seasonal cheer decays into conflict and your Christmas tidings turn to marital tension?

1. Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude

Many people focus on the negative aspects of life for so long that they have difficulty seeing anything worth celebrating. Developing an attitude of gratitude is one of the most important things you can do to enhance the emotional climate of your marriage.
So how do we develop this attitude? Think back over a day and ask yourself a few questions: "What have I complained about and to whom did I complain? What is it like living with me?"
If you are really serious, ask your spouse, your children, and at least one work associate this question: "What have you recently heard me complain about?" Write their responses down as they share them with you. Often our self-perception is very different from how others see us. If we are going to move from grumbling to gratitude, we have to be honest about our attitude.

2. Appreciate the Little Things

Verbalize gratitude for the little things in your life. Look around you and verbally thank God for the things you see. It's a simple thing, but it brings to the front of your mind the many physical things for which you can be grateful.
Each week during the month of December, express gratitude to your spouse and family for something you appreciate about them. If gratitude is going to become a way of life, we must look for the positive things in all of our relationships.

3. Move Beyond Bah Humbug

Christmas cheer only lasts a few weeks, but the joy that comes from knowing Christ should last year-round. The next time you hear yourself grumbling about something, apologize to God for breaking His commandment:
"Do everything without grumbling and arguing" (Philippians 2:14).
Then apologize to the one you offended. Apologizing for our failures is one of the fastest ways to get rid of a negative attitude. If during the month of December you replace grumbling with gratitude, you will lay the foundation for a wonderful new year in 2015.
This article is courtesy of HomeLife magazine.
Gary Chapman, Ph.D., hosts two national radio programs: "A Love Language Minute" and "Building Relationships." Both are on the Moody Broadcasting network and can be downloaded at Gary is the author of The 5 Love Languages and marriage conference leader and serves on the staff of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.

How to Teach Children the Christmas Story

How to Teach Children the Christmas Story

by R. Scott Wiley and Timothy Pollard
Follow these age-appropriate suggestions when explaining Christ's birth to preschoolers and children.
During the buys holiday season, how can teachers and parents help their children truly embrace the reality and truth of Christmas? Sharing the Christmas story with preschoolers and children should be a wonderful experience. As you think about the age of your child or the children you teach at church, think about the facts you should share that are appropriate for that age child. Consider the following suggestions for each age group:

Babies, 1-Year-Olds, and 2-Year-Olds

Younger preschoolers are learning and growing at a fast rate. All of their experiences are new and exciting. These preschoolers are just beginning their discovery of everything! Say the name of Jesus often to babies, ones, and twos. Say simple, factual statements about Jesus' birth: "Jesus was born. Mary was Jesus' mother. Joseph took care of Mary and baby Jesus." Provide hands on experiences for younger preschoolers. They can touch a non-breakable manger scene as you talk about Jesus' birth. They can shake bells as you sing a simple Christmas song about Jesus. Simple Bible truths will build string biblical foundations in thee young lives.

3-Year-Olds and 4-Year-Olds

Help threes and fours discover more about the events of Jesus' birth. Preschoolers can hear that an angel told Mary that Jesus would be born. They can understand that God planned for Joseph to be part of Jesus' family. They can learn more about the shepherds who came to see baby Jesus and wise men who brought gifts to the child. They can also begin to understand that Jesus was sent by God. Simple Bible verses such as "Jesus was born in Bethlehem" (Matthew 2:1) will help threes and fours know that the story of Jesus' birth is in the Bible. Emphasize that Jesus' birth is the reason for Christmas.


Kindergartners' knowledge is expanding rapidly in all area. They will ask many questions - maybe questions you find difficult to answer. Answer questions simply and encourage a child to inquire further if needed. Kindergartners can learn more about Christmas and Jesus' birth. They can begin to understand that God planned for Jesus to be born. Introduce the word prophet to a kindergartner. Say "A prophet told God's message. Isaiah was a prophet. He told that Jesus would be born." Kindergartners are forming foundations about God and Jesus; they can begin to understand that Jesus is God's Son and that God sent Jesus to earth because He loves them. They cannot yet grasp the full meaning of Jesus' birth; however, you can develop foundations for later understanding.

First and Second Graders

Six and seven year olds are like sponges soaking up new information. As they begin to learn to read, give them opportunities to read the Christmas story from their own Bibles. Make sure that your first and second graders know that God sent Jesus to earth because He loves them. Help their young minds to know that Jesus' birth was part of God's plan from the beginning. Guide them to discover through Old Testament prophecy that hundreds of years before His birth, prophets told of this event.

Third and Fourth Graders

As children grow older, they become more aware of why God sent Jesus to earth. The true story of Christmas is more than the birth of a baby — it is the birth of God's only Son. Jesus came to earth in human form, born as a baby, and grew to know what it truly means to be a human. Help third and fourth graders know that Jesus can relate to their lives, struggles, temptations, hopes, and dreams.


Preteens are able to understand more complex concepts of Jesus' birth. Not only was Jesus born and able to understand what it was to be human, Jesus is God in human form. Preteens are also able to understand the miracle of Jesus being born of a virgin. God's plan for human redemption was placed in motion on that day in human history. Guide your preteens to understand that they, too, are part of God's holy plan.
No matter the age of your child, Christmas will always be an exciting time. Help your child focus on the truths of the Christmas story in ways that will be the most meaningful to him. Consider ways to incorporate the story of Christmas into your family devotions. If you are not currently doing a family devotion, consider Christmas as a time to begin a family worship time that will help bring your family into a close understanding of the truths that God daily reveals in His word.
This article is courtesy of ParentLife Magazine.

Baby Steps


Baby Steps

My child when you look too far ahead, it is easy to miss the baby steps that are right in front of you. It is good to see the goal and to aim for it. However, if you do not take time to see the step that is right in front of you, what was supposed to be easy would instead trip you up.
So do not be concerned with reaching the 10 steps that you have not reached yet, but instead just step out in faith for the stepping stone that is right in front of you now. I do not expect you to take giant leaps and get from the bottom of the stairs to the top in one short jump, for I will teach you and step by step, I will get you to your goal.
So do not be so hard on yourself. Instead, rest and be assured that I am alongside you through this journey. With every step you take, I will lead you to the next. Do not rush or hurry but know that I am responsible for taking you to the next level and not you. I will lift you up and I will show you how to get to your goal. Indeed, you are exactly where I expect you to be.

Sabtu, 13 Desember 2014

Half a Christmas Tree

Half a Christmas Tree


As we opened boxes of Christmas decorations, the excitement was building. This year would be different. Instead of pain, sickness and uncertainty, we would enjoy assurance, peace and joy. I expected a Christmas that resembled blissful holiday commercials. Due to several years of high-risk pregnancies and babies in the hospital, finances were strained. So we had been overjoyed the previous year to receive a large, artificial tree from my husband's parents, which replaced our "Charlie Brown" tree. I had been counting the days until we could decorate the new tree; this season symbolized a new beginning.

Not a beauty

As my husband, Kevin, sat on the floor and unpacked the Christmas boxes, a look of worry came over his face. I peeked into the living room after placing a sheet of cookies in the oven and asked, "Is everything OK, Hon?"
He rubbed his nose and replied, "Oh yes, everything is great, Pumpkin Duck."
My husband does two things when he's in trouble: He rubs his nose and starts calling me sappy names.
I walked over to where he was sitting and asked again, "Is everything OK here?"
He looked up and said, "Well, it seems we have half of two different trees." Somehow during spring-cleaning, he must have thrown away half of the new tree and half of the Charlie Brown tree, which was even more pitiful without its other part.
I looked around the living room as our three little boys tied themselves up in Christmas lights. I noticed a few broken bulbs at the bottom of the box. Then I smelled the cookies burning in the oven.How did other families manage to pull off the picture-perfect holiday? It seemed to be an elusive dream.

Tree in progress

My husband was determined to make things right, and since he is a gifted craftsman, he turned to his tools. In fact, he had visions of making a tree better than anything we could buy at the store — it would even rotate on a custom tree stand! In a matter of minutes, tools covered the living room floor. Kevin turned up the music and got to work.
Nighttime came, and our floor was still covered with branches, tools and sawdust. I kissed my husband and said, "Let's go to bed, Honey. You've worked so hard, but we can let it go. We don't need a tree this year."
I went to bed thinking he would soon follow. But when I rolled over in the middle of the night, he was not there. I walked into the living room to see him on the floor holding the control to the lights like a boy with a remote control car. He stared up at his creation with wonder. I crawled into his lap and shared his amazement. Standing proudly in front of us was a mediumsized, full, beautiful Christmas tree.

Reason for joy

My husband wrapped his arms around me, and we chuckled as we recalled the day's events. Then we recounted all that was going right in our life. We had three precious babes sleeping down the hall. We had a roof over our heads. Most of all, we had access to joy whenever we had the faith to lay hold of it.
Isn't it amazing how much stock we put into "the season"? In other words, if we have a year when work is too busy, finances too tight or health too frail, we say things like, "I don't have much Christmas spirit this year." Our focus shifts too easily to what is going on with us. How fragile we've become!
As a result, our emphasis on Jesus and the indescribable gift He provides for every season fades. Even if all our presents don't line up in a row, we have a reason for joy. Christ came to give us a glimpse of glory, to bring peace and to save our souls.
Next year will bring new circumstances that threaten to interrupt our hope and steal our joy. Whether we are in a season of comfort or one of struggle, we must remember: Peace came to earth and, as a result, joy came to reside in our hearts forever. That's much better than putting our hopes in half a Christmas tree.
This article first appeared in the December, 2006 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2006 Susie Larson. All rights reserved.