Thank God for Sisters

DSC_8132Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words:

Strongs: G79

Greek: adelphe

Sister:

(a) of natural relationship, e.g., Mat 19:29; (“and everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life”), of the “sisters” of Christ, the children of Joseph and Mary after the virgin birth of Christ, e.g., Mat 13:56;

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(b) of “spiritual kinship” with Christ, an affinity marked by the fulfillment of the will of the Father, Mat 12:50 (Jesus says: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother”); Mar 3:35 (Jesus says, “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother”); of spiritual relationship based upon faith in Christ, Rom 16:1 (“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae”); 1Cr 7:15 (“But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so.  In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved.  God has called you to peace.); 1 Cr 9:5 (“Do we not have the right to take along a believing (adelphe) wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”) …

IMG_1986Lord Jesus, thank You for the blessing of sisters.  Thank You for my sisters in the body of Christ.  Truly, they are sisters in blood – Your blood.  They are sisters in my family – the family of Christ.  Thank You for the kinship of believers.  Thank You for the fellowship that is only made possible by the grace and forgiveness that is ours in Christ.20131102-090349.jpg

I praise Your name for the gift it is to have my dearest sister not only a part of my earthly family, but of my heavenly one as well.  I praise You for the gift it is to have married into a family where I have sisters in the faith.  I praise You for the gift of sisters both close by and across the nation, sisters who lift me up before Your throne of grace, sisters who see all my faults and imperfections and issues and love me anyway.

Thank You, Jesus.

TWIG

Nichole Nordeman – “REAL”

Nichole Nordeman – REAL – lyrics video LINK

Frozen statues in the cold, washed in moonlight blue and gold.
Mary’s babe in plastic cape, quiet wonder on her face.
Mary, you look so serene, far too pretty, much too clean.
We might think we know you well, but what stories would you tell?
Of all the dirt and dust and shame, every burning labor pain,
And as I turn to walk away, I hear you say…

I am real.
Don’t turn me into memory or myth.
Let me be real. Real.
And I’ll show you what it means to love like this.
To be real.

Shepherds bending to the ground, Bethlehem is safe and sound.
Joseph, you look brave and true, but do we know what it was like to be you?
How many sleepless nights awake found you desperate and afraid?
And as I turn to walk away, I hear you say…

I am real.
Don’t turn me into memory or myth.
Let me be real.
And I’ll show you what it means to love like this.

To love like you don’t even care about the hurry and the hussle,
Like you are unaware December comes with so much trouble
Cause you believe a baby came not in paintings or in plains
But every minute, every hour, every day.

To be real,
Real

You are real, real
Show us what it means to love like this.
To be real To be real
More than a memory,
More than a story.

Real.

Keeping Christ in Christmas

Christmas in light of the cross
Christmas in light of the cross

Someone on an online forum I belong to recently asked this question: “How do we keep Jesus Christ and His birth at the center of our Christmas celebration?”  This really got me thinking and I pray that my response will bless you, too.

Growing up our family never went to church apart from going with my grandparents.  I wasn’t raised to pray or read the Bible and yet, my family celebrated Christmas.  We put up stockings and a Christmas tree and exchanged gifts and my parents played Santa just like everyone else.

By the time I was a teenager, I was an outspoken atheist that found pleasure in ridiculing and arguing with Christians.  So when I was in college, I questioned my parents about our Christmas festivities, asking them why we celebrated Christmas if we weren’t Christians.  I still wanted to exchange gifts (come on, who wouldn’t?), but I wished we would do it for New Years so that it wasn’t a religious event.  I don’t actually remember how this played out, but the point is that I knew that whatever we were doing wasn’t right.

Sadly, despite being a hard-hearted atheist, I really had no idea what Christianity was all about.  I did not understand that Christians believed that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh and that Christmas was celebrated to remember the day He was born on earth to live as a man.  I also did not realize that Easter was the celebration of His resurrection from the dead after He had shed His blood on the cross to pay the penalty for man’s sin.

It was not until many heated debates with a Christian young man (who later became my husband) that I heard the good news of the gospel – that I could be forgiven and set free from my slavery to sin by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on my behalf.

So, with that background, let me encourage everyone how IMPORTANT it is to keep CHRIST at the focus of your Christmas celebrations.  That is certainly a good question to ask, but, at the same time, I fear that the question that’s being asked is actually the wrong question.  I think the real question, the better question, is this: HOW DO WE KEEP CHRIST AT THE CENTER OF OUR EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE YEAR LIFE?  This is really the heart of the matter because I think that as we keep our heart focused on Him, when we live and move and have our being in Him, then He will be guiding us away from the crazy busy commercialization of this holiday that has actually become more of a deterrent to our devotion to Jesus than an asset.

In response to the question – “How do we keep Christ at the center of Christmas,” the answer is to walk by faith and not by sight, to set our minds on things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father.  Every advent activity needs to be evaluated by whether it is drawing your family closer to Jesus or pushing you farther away.

Yes, we festively decorate our home and Christmas tree.  Yes, we buy gifts for our children and other members of our family.  Yes, we drive around town and look at the pretty Christmas lights.

But, no, we don’t spend days and weeks putting up and taking down decorations.  We refuse to go into debt feeding our kids’ appetites for stuff and our own appetite to impress others with our earthly possessions. And, no, we do not attend a dozen holiday plays, cookie exchanges and Santa Claus festivals because truthfully they take our family’s eyes off the true GIFT of Jesus and just add busy-ness to our already full lives.

But, once again, these are not decisions that are made just for the Christmas advent season, these are decisions that we have to make each and every day.  Every day we have to choose for ourselves who we will serve and as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  This means walking daily deciding what God wants us to do that particular day and that particular week, rather than just saying, “Yes” to every fun opportunity that comes our way.

Truthfully, in my almost 20 years now of being a follower of Jesus Christ, I have learned that the Christian life is so much more than a list of do’s and don’ts, shoulds and shouldn’ts.  It really is a living relationship with the great Creator, the Ruler of the Universe and the Lord of my soul.  If the Lord is calling you to spend a month putting on a Christmas play for your neighbors, if the Lord is calling you to organize the cookie exchange to end all cookie exchanges, if the Lord is calling you to decorate your home in a thousand lights, then DO IT!  But, don’t do it to “keep up with the Joneses.”  Don’t do it because “everybody’s doing it.”

Truly, when you seek the Lord with all your heart, you will find Him.  Trust Him.  His Word is a light to Your feet.  Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

As for our family, here are some things we do that help us not lose Jesus in the midst of our Christmas celebration –

We limit ourselves to three gifts per child.  This limits not only the money, but also the time and energy, we spend on Christmas gifts.

Each of our four children choose a gift for each of their siblings and parents.  They use their own money that they have earned doing chores throughout the year to buy them.  This helps them focus on the giving, rather than just the receiving, of gifts.

My husband and I and our children give our gifts to the recipients, rather than taking our gifts.  This, too, helps to keep the focus on giving rather than receiving.

My husband and I try to have most of our gifts bought before December 1, so my mind is not being consumed by shopping.  The stress of finding “just the right gifts” was frequently enough to make me anxious and angry, not good for the Christmas spirit.

I have to commit myself to going to bed on time every night.  If it’s not done by 10:30, then it doesn’t need to be done.  Tomorrow is another day.  A tired mommy is a cranky mommy.

We enjoy sending Christmas letters – now via email – but try to keep the focus on the goodness of God and His sustaining grace.

We spread out opening gifts over several days or even weeks.  With two sets of out-of-town grandparents, plus aunts and uncles, plus our own family’s gifts, we wanted everyone’s gifts to receive the attention they deserved.  This means our kids might receive their gifts from us a week before Christmas, so that they can enjoy them and still appreciate the gifts from their grandparents they’ll receive on Christmas Eve.  Does this make sense?

We taught our kids from a young age that playing pretend is fun, but it’s just pretend.  God is real.  Santa is pretend.  We used to “play Santa” and do stockings and leave Santa cookies, but our kids knew the truth.  I know this is a big can of worms I’m opening here, but I believe God wants us to be truth bearers and I wanted my kids to know that Mommy always speaks the truth.  I want them to trust me, to know that I will not deceive them.  That does not mean that we can’t play pretend – but they know we are pretending.  Does this make sense?

Christmas morning we have family breakfast and worship before any gifts are opened.

And, yes, we do try to have daily prayer and scripture reading and discussion as a family.  But, this is not just for the advent season.  Why would we only read the Bible for the couple weeks before Christmas?  Jesus is not just the King of Christmas, He is the King every day of the year!

I love you guys and I pray that this is an encouragement to you.  I am in no way writing this to make you feel guilty about what you’re not doing.  No!  I am writing this because I’ve had to make it up as I go along for the last twenty years and I am grateful that the Lord has impressed this on me.

In His Service and In His Grip,

TWIG