How Putting Up the Christmas Tree Turned into a Teachable Moment

I don’t know if it was the colder temperatures and the snow that we had in early October, or something else, but my kids have been waiting impatient to get past fall and on to Christmas.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with my in-laws, enjoyed every moment, and got home late. I took Precious #4 into town with me to pick up a co-op order, and we hit a few of the Black Friday Sales.  I survived.  I hate the crowds, the lines, and the hype.  I may win the award for the shopper who spent the least $. Maybe.

When I got home, I found the other “kids” had been deep cleaning, and organizing the living room, WITHOUT BEING ASKED!!!  Wow.  They know me too well.  They knew that if they asked to put up Christmas decor, I would tell them we have to clean first.  🙂

So we have a head start, and my hubby was so surprised when he came home and realized he didn’t have to haul all those boxes up the stairs or assemble the tree.  It’s all done.  He could enjoy helping with the ornaments, read us the story of Christ’s birth, and relax!

The little one was so cute.  She’d pick up an ornament, take a sibling by the hand, and then point out the branch she wanted to place it upon.  She was having so much fun!

Decorating the tree

I had just listened to an interview on the Christian radio, where Phil Vischer explained how our Christmas tree was originally a tradition that was adopted by the Germans in the 16th century when they abandoned their pagan beliefs and came to Christ.  The tree symbolized eternal life because evergreen needles stay, and don’t die.  The branches of the tree point heavenward, and a monk later taught them about the Trinity using the three corners of the tree.  Of course, I couldn’t wait to share all this with my kids!

On to decorating…I put the star on the tree, and my oldest daughter and I were stringing lights.  We used an old string of lights and a new one, and while we were working, the old set had half the lights dimming and another problem had half the lights turning off completely!  I had to figure out how to fix the settings and get all those lights working together.  The littles were watching, and asking me, “What’s wrong with this picture?” And the thought came to me…

What if we thought of this tree as the Body of Christ, while it’s sitting in our dark living-room which represents the world?

And what if we see all these bulbs as the individuals who make up the Body?  They are shining, as Paul commanded in Philippians, illuminating the dark with the light of Christ.  They bring light to the whole room.  These small lights are pointing to the Head of our Body, who is Christ, and is represented by the star which shines brighter than all.  And isn’t that perfect since Christ is called the Bright and Morning Star?

Our Christmas star is plugged into the Power source (the outlet), just as Christ is one with His Father.  The lights strands are plugged into the star so that electricity flows to the light bulbs and powers their light, just as Christ said for us to abide in Him, so that the Holy Spirit can make our lives fruitful.

What happens when one of the light bulbs is disconnected from the strand?  The light given off by the tree is diminished considerably since other lights are hand-capped by that absence.  This is such a perfect way to illustrate 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul introduces Spiritual Gifts and explains how the whole Body suffers when one member suffers…  If we are not cooperating with God’s plan by choosing to exercise our Spiritual Gifts, we do cripple the functioning of this Church Body.  It can’t work at full capacity without our participation, which can also illustrate what happens when Believers stop meeting together as talked about in Hebrews 10, and do not join in worship and service with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

And if we are not getting along with one another?

Or we make choices that grieve the Holy Spirit, our “electricity”, who supernaturally powers us to shine?

Or if we make choices that result in ill health, whether emotional OR physical, which cause an inability to serve?

~Then we also cripple the effectiveness of the Church, since God designed us to work together in unity.  Without us, the Church cannot shine as brightly.~

Brothers and sisters, we need God, and we are also designed to need one another.

How putting up the Christmas tree turned into a teachable moment

While unplugging and re-plugging light strands, removing and replacing bulbs, and playing with the dimmer switch on these newfangled lights… my kids grasped, for a few moments, how important they are to the Church Body, and to bringing Jesus’ light to the world…. and this teachable moment is one we can refer back to throughout the year, and relive again next Christmas.

I think we have a new tree-trimming tradition. 😉

 

Praying for our Children

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This gallery contains 6 photos.

Proxy~ the authority to represent someone else I was listening to the radio on the way home from town yesterday.  The program on the Christian station was asking us, the audience, to share a time when someone of importance in … Continue reading

The Danger in Comparing

 

Our girls have always sung: all over the house, at church, in the store… it shouldn’t have surprised me.  I was the child who clogged through every store my mother took me.

I remember our oldest 3 girls singing VBS songs in a grocery store and getting a bit loud, I thought, to serenade a woman standing nearby.  I tried to hush them a little, but as the woman passed me to leave she leaned in close and in a low tone she said, “Just think, they might be the next Point of Grace.”

It took my breath away, the way you know God just used someone to speak important truth to you.  The truth was that they were made to sing out loud, and it wasn’t my place to muffle them. I felt a little panicked, suddenly wondering if I was equipped to teach them what they would need to know.  I started praying right then and there that God would provide by enabling me or sending whatever teachers He will, and He has done both over the years.

My husband started them singing at the camp Annual Banquet each year, and I don’t remember how they began singing at church, but nowadays they sing at no less than 20 churches or events a year.  Their harmony is beautiful.  I don’t turn on the radio at home very often because who needs that when you have live music most of the day?

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It is a joy to watch and see how each one of the children develop in their gift each year, and even the older kids notice and appreciate as their younger siblings reach new levels. Lilly is 14 now, and has been coming into her own.  She is developing her own style and writing her own music.  I’ve seen our oldest listening, shake her head in wonderment, and I’ve known that she was comparing.

“My voice isn’t anything special,” she began to believe.

She forgot about the man who said that whichever sister is singing alto is “Amazing”.

She didn’t think about the woman at church who said she knew my Angel Girl would be able to pick out the elusive harmony.

She never considered how she has been becoming the teacher her sisters all go to when they need help understanding music theory.

I encourage her, but sometimes you need to hear it from someone who isn’t ‘just Mom’.

The comparing… it chokes dreams.  It kills confidence.  Instead of trail blazing, you fall to the rear because that is where you feel more comfortable. You might even talk yourself right out of the plans God has for you, but you and I, we’ve been chosen to be the bearer of the blessing others need.

In the Old Testament, God chose Esther.  He used Esther’s humility to save an entire nation.  He used her position: as the king’s favorite she had potential sway. He used her wisdom: a young woman who respected and listened to the uncle who told her that if she refused, God would use another way and she would forfeit the plan for her life.  He used her Jewish influence–the nation of Israel fasted and prayed with her in preparation for a risk that was greater than any you and I are likely to encounter: to go to the king without an invitation, and it could have cost her life.  She gave what she had to God as an offering.  She said, “If I perish, I perish.”  She didn’t say someone else was better equipped.  She risked everything and history documents how she blazed that trail.

While my Angel Girl was counseling at camp this summer, they put her on worship team. Every chapel, she had the opportunity to lead the singing with her peers while playing the keyboard and/or singing for worship.  I was glad.  I knew it would be a good experience, and I just kept praying God would use it as He weaves together his will for her life.

Angel on Worship Team

She said she played so often that the nervousness which normally paralyzes her concentration and her hands when she plays in public had disappeared by the end of summer camps. And then there was that voice she kept hearing over the monitor… the one she didn’t recognize as belonging to any of the other singers, and then one day she realized it was her own.  “In a good way,” she smiled.

Angel at bleachers

My daughter has been given a song to sing out loud.  So have you, whether literally or figuratively.

Your abilities? They don’t belong to you, as much as society will tell you that they do and that it’s your right to do with them as you please.  No, they were given to you by God and for God.  Don’t think about what other people think. Don’t belittle your gifts.  Don’t allow your song, whatever it is, to be muffled by comparing it to the abilities He has given to others.

Don’t fall back.

Don’t forfeit the plan.

Keep your gaze on the King.  He is your compass.  Orientate your thoughts, your feelings and your feet toward Him, and Keep. Moving. Forward.

You may never know all the lives you touch, but someday you’ll catch a glimpse of yourself the way God sees you.  You’ll hear your own voice in the so called monitor and be surprised {in a good way 🙂 } and you’ll be glad you chose to sing.

 

 

 

The Best Thing We Gained at the Fair

Have you ever noticed how kids have a very accurate internal clock, like, from the get go?

We took our oldest to the county fair when she was about three and the next summer, days before the fair was going to start, she started asking me about that place with lights and food and rides? We definitely went to the fair again that year,

and the next,

and every year.  🙂

Nowadays the fair falls the weekend after youth camps end so it’s easy for all of us to anticipate.  It’s a tradition.

When our oldest kids were little, and there were just a handful of them (instead of 2 hands-full) we would buy a sheet of tickets and let them ride a few kiddie rides.  As they got older, the more mature rides cost more.  With more children, one sheet didn’t provide enough tickets to go around.  We learned to be content walking through all the exhibits, petting the animals and having a treat.  My husband loves the malted milk shakes… it’s once a year. 😉

{Farm to Table Children’s Exhibit}

 

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{Miss our goats this year!}

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{Still wearing the camp swimming arm band… and look at that adorable face!}

This year, the big kids were hankering to do some rides and I promised them we’d save up for them to buy an arm band to do unlimited rides.  Tuesday of this week was that day.  However, rather than simply purchase the arm bands and send them off to get hot, dizzy and tired, we gave them the $20 we’d saved for each one of our flock.  We told them that they could pay for the arm bands themselves, or…  they could spend it (or save it) on whatever they pleased.

Somehow, with the $20 they gained in their hands, fair rides didn’t sound so appealing to them anymore. They suddenly appreciated the effort that it would take for them to earn that money back themselves.  Somebody mentioned having money for Christmas presents.

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No one went on rides.  When dad bought his malt, they bought their own ice cream (while mom *cringe* said nothing about all the sugar) and they enjoyed eating them together.  Dad got to taste every flavor because dads are good at sweet talking a taste.

We took in the exhibits.  We petted the animals.  C2 won a frisbee from The Pulse Radio. We won a $10 gift card for Cub Foods.

Yes, we brought home a lot of extra stuff, but the best thing we gained was the reminder that God is a Good Father when we lost. a. child!

Yes! Standing in a crowd with other people, holding tickets as the union for the grocery stores had a big drawing, Ella had a winning #.  She claimed her prize.  The giveaway ended, and as we started to walk away from the booth, I did what I always do:  I counted heads.

“5, 6, 7…” someone was missing.  I have had kids coming and going from camp all summer.  Every week we’ve had a different number at home, so the counting thing has been a little strange.  This is the first week we’ve had all the kids home since the beginning of June.

I re-counted with names and I panicked.  C2 is 4, and I didn’t see his little buzzed head or tye dye shirt.  We had been standing there, all together, the whole time!  How did he slip away?  Where could he have gone?

It’s amazing the clarity with which one can remember the details of a beloved in a moment of bereavement.  His big, tender eyes, full of wide wonderment filled my mind as I hollered his name and scanned the crowd.

I prayed.

While hubby turned the whole crew around, I spoke with the man at the grocery booth, and he said someone had taken a child to the fair office –{he pointed}– >>> that way.

We found him with an older couple, sitting in front of the information booth, and quietly crying as hard as he could.  He was hugging 2 stuffed animals from someone’s game booth.  When he saw us he flung himself into Dad’s arms and held on for dear life, and I silently praised God for keeping him safe.  As we walked away, the older couple who had cared for him said to him,

“Now, remember, your parents will always come for you.”

It was all I could do to restrain myself from snatching him up.  I let my husband hold on to him, but my arms ached to hold him, and I know that is how God feels about every son and daughter who wanders away from the safety of His will.  I can picture Him at the ready, even watching us as we consider stepping away; how he wants to snatch us from danger, but allows us to choose our own footing.

He’s the Good Father.

You’re never really a lost child when you belong to the King.  You can be rebellious, and you can suffer the consequences, but your Father knows where you are.  He has his eye on you and He’s listening for your repentant cry.  When you’re ready to find your way home, He will always come for you.

Always.

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them gets lost, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountain and go in search of the one that is lost?  And if it turns out that he finds it, I assure you and most solemnly say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that did not get lost.  So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones be lost.” Matthew 18:12-14 (emphasis mine)

Always.

 

Growing in Kindness

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Our ladies’ group has read the chapter on Kindness in Elizabeth George’s book, “A Woman’s Walk with God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit.”  We learned that Kindness:

  •  genuinely cares about others and pays attention to the circumstances of their lives.
  •  thinks–consider other peoples’circumstances, wonder what we can do to help them… what do they need?
  •  notices–sometimes we don’t need to wonder about people’s circumstances; if we’re observant we will notice people’s needs and know what we can do to help them.  She gives examples of the Shunammite woman’s kindness to Elisha (and then he showed kindness toward her when he asked God to give her a son), Dorcas in the New Testament, and of course, Jesus.
  • touches–she says it helps to cultivate kindness when we think of it as a touch of concern and kindness.  We instinctively touch those we care about.  She gives examples of how Jesus touched people all the time.

What else can we learn about Kindness?

Kindness Defined:

If we look in the Greek Lexicon at the meaning of the word Kindness (chrēstotēs), we see that it means:

  1. Moral goodness, integrity
  2.  Benignity (tolerance), kindness

There are times that the word is also translated as gentleness and goodness, which is interesting since these are also fruit of the Spirit; one fruit with characteristics that are interdependent.

Have you ever done a word study?  A word study takes a particular word or subject and looks up all the scriptures that reference that word.  Read everything you can find in the Bible about that word, and make observations to grow your understanding of it’s meaning.

In this case I was looking up all the verses I could find that used the word Kind or Kindness.  Don’t forget to ask God what He wants to teach you on the subject!  You will be amazed by the verses you will trip over, and how the relevance will stand out for you.

How We Learn Kindness

In Titus 2:3-5 we learn that while kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, it is also something that we learn by example.  The older women are to be:

“teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible (self controlled), pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” Emphasis is mine.

And in Proverbs 31:26, in the famous passage about the “Worthy Woman,” we learn that, “She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”

As Christian women, we have a responsibility to not only model kindness in our daily lives, but also to intentionally teach kindness with our words, and to grasp opportunities to give those we influence the opportunity to participate in kindness.  We see Jesus teaching in these ways when he lived among his disciples.  Many learning styles are engaged!

When my family was younger, I remember taking our little troop of 4 or 5 to and from town.  One occasion in particular I remember standing in the doorway of our home, with all these little girls trying to shuffle inside.  The youngest toddler was struggling to get up the step and inside, and my hands were full.  I watched one of the older girls standing behind her and she was just watching.  It was a trend I had been noticing a lot, and I told her, “Honey, don’t just stand there and watch your sister struggle.  Help her!”  It didn’t come naturally to her at that time, and she needed the suggestion to reach out and help.

Teach kindness.

Titus says that one of the reasons for us to walk in kindness is to protect the honor and integrity of the Word of God. The world will not believe in the kindness of God that the Bible teaches if they do not see us living what we proclaim.  Our lives are to be the proof of God’s love.

What Kindness Does

In order to live this out, we have to invite God to empty our hearts of what is not Godly in order to make room for the characteristics God wants us to have.  Paul, in Ephesians 4:32, tells us to Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave you.”  Amplified Version

Kindness is forgiving.  Laying aside personal hurts and instead desiring what is most beneficial for another person.

Kindness is compassionate, not selfish.  Philippians 2:4 says, “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

John Piper says, “The idea behind “tenderhearted” is that our insides are easily touched. When your skin is tender, it doesn’t take a very hard touch to make it feel pain. When your heart is tender, it is easily affected. It feels easily and quickly.

When you stop and think about it, it is remarkable that this is commanded by the apostle. You can’t just decide to be tenderhearted and turn it on like a faucet. It is a deep character quality.”

Kindness isn’t just something you do. It’s who you are: a woman after God’s own heart.

When I began teaching my daughter to help her younger siblings instead of watching them struggle, I also began to pray for her that God would give her a tender and compassionate heart, and that he would help her notice the opportunities to help others.

Today this is the child who teaches her younger siblings to ride bike.  She dresses them to brave the winter weather and takes them sledding, patiently helping them even when it slows her down.  She brushes their teeth when mom is helping someone else, reads them books, and she is enjoyed by her younger siblings.  By faith the Holy Spirit has softened her heart toward others, and she has learned to be gracious and kind.

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Helping Sister with Math

Kindness to Who?

We are to show kindness to other believers.  “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Galations 6:9, 10

The world is watching us, Beloved.  God is raising up a standard!

We are to care for those who cannot care for themselves.  In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel’s mother taught him to, “Open your mouth for the mute, For the rights of all the unfortunate.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” And the worthy woman “extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy.” (verse 20)

Isn’t this the crux of the gospel?  We were afflicted with sin, and helpless, unable to save ourselves!  God, in His mercy, took action in His loving kindness and did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Jesus took our burden of sin upon himself, suffering the consequences for us, and imparted his righteousness upon us so that we can stand blameless before a Holy Father.  We were the helpless and the needy.  Now we are the redeemed and reconciled.

We are to extend kindness to our enemies.  In Luke 6:35-36, Jesus said, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Do our enemies deserve our kindness?  No, but God is gracious toward me despite my undeservedness, and He expects me to love others as He loves me.  Sometimes all we can do for our enemies is to pray for them, and that is a lot.  We have assurance that the heartfelt and persistent prayer of the righteous accomplishes much. (James 5:16)

Kindness is Merciful.  However, it isn’t always nice.  Really.

Kindness isn’t always pleasant and agreeable.  Kindness proactively looks out for the best interests of others.  It meets needs, which isn’t necessarily always what a body wants.

Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s kindness leads us to repentance.  This change of heart involves humility and conviction, and all too often the road to recognizing our wrong and what our soul is hungering for involves discipline.  In this case kindness has to be tough.  It has to be tenacious.  Oh, yes, it must be self sacrificing.

When my nephew, Joshua,  was little he was infatuated with trains.  Our house was situated just off the highway.  The road laid between us and the train tracks.  On one occasion Joshua heard the train whistle, and captivated, he darted away from his father-my brother–and ran across our yard and straight into the highway.  I’ve never seen my brother run so fast in his life.  Hot in pursuit, he caught his son up into his arms in time to pull him out from in front of an oncoming car. He later told me that they were so close to the car that he had made eye contact with the driver.  It scared him to death, but his son was still blissfully pointing and straining for the train.  In kindness, his parents saw to it that he knew better than to ever leave the safety of the yard again, train or no train.

Isaiah 54:7,8 God said, “For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you.  In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you, says the Lord your Redeemer.”

In this passage, Israel’s disobedience had resulted in her captivity and dispersion.  God allowed her to experience pain to bring her back into relationship with Himself.  Better a “brief” time of suffering to lead them repentance so that they could enjoy an eternity of lovingkindess in paradise with God.

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As Christ followers we are commissioned to share the truth of the gospel with boldness, even if it causes others or ourselves discomfort.  We all know John 3:16   “For God so loved the world” that he gave his only Son to die in our place.  What Jesus endured for our sakes was severe, so that we would not have to experience the severity of God ourselves (Romans 11:22), but can continue in God’s kindness.

Scripture lays out guidelines for discipline in the church, to bring us to repentance and fruitfulness if we abide in Christ.  Parents are instructed in Proverbs 23 not to withhold correction from their children. God himself says that He disciplines those whom He loves.

Kindness isn’t always “nice,” but it is always loving, and It is God’s will for you.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone;  just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” Colossians 3:12-14

 

This devotional was written to use in conjunction with  A Woman’s Walk with God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit  by Elizabeth George.  The other devotionals in this series on the Fruit of the Spirit can be found on THIS PAGE.

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