Laudable Linkage

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I don’t usually post these two weeks in a row, but I came across a number of good reads this week!

Answering Claims That the Bible Contains Errors, and Why It Matters That It Doesn’t, HT to Challies.

What Expository Preaching Is Not, HT to Challies.

God Has a Heart for the Vulnerable. Do you?

Feel the Love

Doing Church Away From Church Isn’t Church, HT to Challies.

Nine Questions to Ask Yourself to Prepare for 2018, HT to Challies.

100 Years. 100 Million Lives. Think Twice, HT to Challies. I’ve been quite alarmed in recent months to see young people lauding communism. “For many students, casually endorsing communism is a cool, edgy way to gripe about the world.” “Communism cannot be separated from oppression; in fact, it depends upon it. In the communist society, the collective is supreme. Personal autonomy is nonexistent. Human beings are simply cogs in a machine tasked with producing utopia; they have no value of their own.”

On Leaving Jerusalem. “While the media is great at capturing events, they are not so great (or so interested) at capturing context or proportion.”

Living Out Our Faith. Great ways to serve the Lord as a family.

Crying in Home Depot at Christmas.

Lastly, I don’t know anything about the speaker here or the film he talks about, so this is not an endorsement, but a friend shared this on Facebook and I found it interesting. I had never heard what he shared about the significance of Jesus being wrapped in swaddling clothes before.

Happy next to last Saturday before Christmas!

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“Managing” Christmas

Most of us are in a quandary to some degree during the Christmas season. There’s more to do, a lot of it enjoyable in itself, but it adds to an already packed schedule and can leave us feeling frantic rather than enjoying the season, much less pondering the meaning of it. Though I am not an organizational expert, here are a few tips I’ve found helpful:

Start early. Some people shop all year for Christmas. That doesn’t work for everyone – they might not have the storage space, or desires might change over the year. It’s been a big help to me to buy Christmas cards fairly soon after they first come out, usually in November before Thanksgiving. I can find a good selection at a discount store then, whereas later they’ll be picked-over. The last few years, we’ve asked for everyone’s “wish lists” by Thanksgiving week, and by taking advantage of online sales that week, we’ve gotten the bulk of our Christmas shopping done then.

Evaluate traditions. Composer Gustav Mahler said, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” Traditions are lovely ways to enhance a season and create family memories, but sometimes they become a burden rather than a blessing. I recently read of a family where the mom/grandmother had passed away, and the first Christmas afterward, someone made the special dish that she had always made for Christmas dinner. But then they realized that none of them were that crazy about it, and there were other, better ways to remember their loved ones.

Involve the whole family. We always decorate the house for Christmas together as a family, and, though some years we didn’t get Christmas cookies made, I did that with the kids. My husband and I divide up the shopping. The kids help clean the house.

You don’t have to go to everything. Every group or organization seems to have get-togethers at Christmas, there are school programs and recitals, special things going on in town. Choose the most meaningful things for your family and forget the rest – unless you’re one of those people who likes being out a lot.

Some activities can be scheduled outside of December. I’ve known some people to do their annual Christmas family newsletter around Thanksgiving or just after New Year’s rather than at Christmastime. We had one Sunday School class that scheduled its class party in January rather than December, both to relieve everyone’s December calendars and the church facility usage, and give us something to look forward to in January, when there was typically nothing special going on.

Put off what can be put off. In addition to what was mentioned in the last point, December is not usually the time for massive organizational or home projects. I also try not to schedule doctor’s or dentist’s appointments in December unless it can’t be helped. By the way, you might be thinking of getting appointment or procedures in before the end of the year if you’ve already met your deductible for the year so it will cost less: check with your insurance about when their year starts and ends. We just found out a few months ago that they count our year not from January to December, but from December through the following November, so December expenses count for the new year, not the current one.

Take shortcuts. It’s ok to buy pre-made cookie dough or even bakery or restaurant items rather than making everything from scratch for every activity or gathering. I store my mini Christmas trees (some maybe 10 inches tall, some about 2 feet) with the decorations on in their own containers, so when I put them up, all I have to do is fluff them out a little and put back on any decorations that fell off rather than decorating each from scratch each year (If you have extremely fragile ornaments, that might not work). It makes it easier to put them away as well.

Acknowledge changes in circumstances and seasons. A friend grieved one year because she was in the hospital with a kidney infection Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. She felt she was “ruining” Christmas for her family. While I can understand that, in a sense her lamenting made it worse. Since nothing could be done about the circumstances, it would have been a good time to teach her kids to adapt and to maybe try to turn it into something fun for the kids in some way (maybe Dad bringing doughnuts for Christmas breakfast in the hospital room, opening stockings there and saving the big presents for later, etc.). Another friend’s husband was in prison over several Christmases, another was homeless one Christmas. Some people get stranded in airports or can’t make planned trips due to bad weather. It is sad and frustrating, but since it can’t be helped, it’s best to make the best of it in some way. And it’s funny how those “different” Christmases are the ones that we sometimes remember the most. On the other hand, some Christmases are filled with grief, and it’s ok not to be into the ‘frothy” aspects of the season. Also, as the family grows, or decreases when kids move out, the different things you do as a family might change. We used to get Christmas presents for all the siblings, then their spouses, then as families grew, we just got gifts for all the kids and the grandparents, then as we were too far away to really know what anyone liked and it was getting too expensive, we eventually just got gifts for our own children and parents. Empty nesters might or might not do all the decorating they did when kids and grandkids are no longer coming to their house for the holidays.

Find ways to focus on the meaning of the season. There are Advent Bible reading plans online that incorporate OT passages prophesying the Messiah’s birth as well the familiar NT passages about Christ’s birth and other applicable NT passages. I’ve been blessed by focusing on one Christmas devotional book in December. Some I’ve read are (linked to my reviews):

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas compiled by Nancy Guthrie, containing sermon excerpts or essays from as far back as Augustine and as current as Tim Keller.

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Daily Family Devotions for Advent by Nancy Guthrie is geared for family usage, but I enjoyed reading it by myself as well.

The Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna by Liz Curtis Higgs.

From Heaven: A 28-Day Advent Devotional by A. W. Tozer

I’m currently reading a new one, Gospel Meditations for Christmas by Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, and Michael Barrett. I’m only a third of the way into it, but it’s good so far, and I have enjoyed others in the Gospel Meditations series that I’ve read.

Don’t expect perfection. I wrote about our idea of a “perfect Christmas” a few years ago and compared it to the first Christmas, which would be far from our idea of perfection: having to travel 9 months pregnant, not being able to find a place to stay other than a stable, giving birth in that setting, etc. But that’s the Christmas setting of our nostalgic carols, and, more importantly, the Christmas the resulted in the Savior of the world being born. The point of Christmas celebrations is to remember and celebrate that birth, so if every bow isn’t straight or every cookie isn’t baked and decorated just right, it’s not the end of the world.

How about you? What ways have you found to get the extras done at Christmas and still have time for reflection?

“Christmas is so much more than a holiday. So much more than buying and wrapping and cooking and eating and trimming with tinsel and mailing out cards. It’s a season for reflection, for preparation, for renewal.” ~Liz Curtis Higgs, The Women of Christmas 

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Book Review: From Heaven

from-heavenI like to read a Christmas devotional during December, so I got From Heaven: A 28-Day Advent Devotional by A. W. Tozer when I saw it on a recent Kindle sale for 99 cents since I have enjoyed what I have read of Tozer in the past.

Compiled by unnamed editors at Moody Publishing from Tozer’s various writings and sermons, it is probably different than a book like this that Tozer would have written himself. There is not really a logical progression from point A to point B or developing and building on truths throughout the book. It’s just a series of isolated bits somewhat on the theme of Christ’s coming to Earth in both His first advent, which we celebrate at Christmas, and His second advent, when He returns. That lack of progression or development plus the entries’ being taken out of context from their original sources are the book’s greatest weaknesses. Introductory remarks convey that profits from the book sales will go to help Moody students, so this may have even been assembled as something of a fund raiser.

But it is Tozer, after all, who is a deep thinker and often has something noteworthy to say, which is the book’s greatest strength.

Some of the chapter titles are What the Advent Established, The Meaning of Christmas, The Logic of the Incarnation, Three Truths Behind Christmas, Light and Life to All He Brings.

Some of the quotes that stood out to me:

Even though you may still be unconverted and going your own way, you have received much out of the ocean of His fullness. You have received the pulsing life that beats in your bosom. You have received the brilliant mind and brain within the protective covering of your skull. You have received a memory that strings the events you cherish and love as a jeweler strings pearls into a necklace and keeps them for you as long as you live and beyond. All that you have is out of His grace. Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us, is the open channel through which God moves to provide.

We must love someone very much to stay awake and long for his coming.

Another reason for the absence of real yearning for Christ’s return is that Christians are so comfortable in this world that they have little desire to leave it.

All of the mercy God is capable of showing, all of the redeeming grace that He could pour from His heart, all of the love and pity that God is capable of feeling–all of these are at least suggested in the message that He came!

All of our hopes and dreams of immortality, our fond visions of a life to come, are summed up in these simple words in the Bible record: He came!

The idea that the Old Testament is a book of law and the New Testament a book of grace is based on a completely false theory. There is certainly as much about grace and mercy and love in the Old Testament as there is in the New. There is more about hell, more about judgment and the fury of God burning with fire upon sinful men in the New Testament than in the Old

The only contrast here is between all that Moses could do and all that Jesus Christ can do. The Law was given by Moses—that was all that Moses could do. Moses was not the channel through which God dispensed His grace. God chose His only begotten Son as the channel for His grace and truth, for John witnesses that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. All that Moses could do was to command righteousness. In contrast, only Jesus Christ produces righteousness. All that Moses could do was to forbid us to sin. In contrast, Jesus Christ came to save us from sin. Moses could not save, but Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior.

The big thing is to be sure we are not lulled to sleep by a false hope, that we do not waste our time dreaming about days that are not to be ours. The main thing is to make today serve us by getting ready for any possible tomorrow. Then whether we live or die, whether we toil on in the shadow or rise to meet the returning Christ, all will be well.

[This one really helped me with the concept of “of His fullness have we all received” in John 1:16]: If you could ask the deer that goes quietly down to the edge of the lake for a refreshing drink, “Have you received of the fullness of the lake?” the answer would be: “Yes and no. I am full from the lake but I have not received from the fullness of the lake. I did not drink the lake. I only drank what I could hold of the lake.”

Christmas as it is celebrated today is badly in need of a radical reformation. What was at first a spontaneous expression of an innocent pleasure has been carried to inordinate excess.

In our mad materialism we have turned beauty into ashes, prostituted every normal emotion, and made merchandise of the holiest gift the world ever knew. Christ came to bring peace and we celebrate His coming by making peace impossible for six weeks of each year. Not peace but tension, fatigue, and irritation rule the Christmas season. He came to free us of debt and many respond by going deep into debt each year to buy enervating luxuries for people who do not appreciate them. He came to help the poor and we heap gifts upon those who do not need them. The simple token given out of love has been displaced by expensive presents given because we have been caught in a squeeze and don’t know how to back out of it.

So, we live between two mighty events—that of His incarnation, death, and resurrection, and that of His ultimate appearing and the glorification of those He died to save. This is the interim time for the saints—but it is not a vacuum. He has given us much to do and He asks for our faithfulness. In the meantime, we are zealous of good works, living soberly, righteously, godly in this present world, looking unto Him and His promise. In the midst of our lives, and between the two great mountain peaks of God’s acts in the world, we look back and remember, and we look forward and hope! As members of His own loving fellowship, we break the bread and drink the wine. We sing His praise and we pray in His Name, remembering and expecting!

Tozer is not one to leave you with warm fuzzy feelings, but he does make you think. And though the chapters seem a little disjointed, there is much good food for thought and conviction here.

Genre: Christian non-fiction
Objectionable elements: None.
My rating: 8 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

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Laudable Linkage

It’s a busy time of year, but I’ve discovered several thought-provoking reads online the last couple of weeks. Perhaps some of them will pique your interest as well.

Weep, Groan, Wail: The Need to Lament. “How is it possible to grieve, mourn, and wail but still know God is good?”

Even If He Doesn’t. “When the bad things come, when the kind of rescue we think we need just isn’t part of our story, will we be able to testify before a watching world that God can do it, that He will do it, but even if He doesn’t, we won’t turn away.”

Immanuel. From a friend’s whose 25 year old daughter is fighting yet another setback in her cancer battle. God is with us, even in the hard places, even in bad news.

5 Reasons to Read the Bible When You Feel Absolutely Nothing. I kept thinking Yes! all throughout reading this.

Jesus Isn’t Threatened by Your Christmas Gifts. Loved the practicality and balance in this. “The implicit messaging is that Christmas is a kind of either/or proposition in which we can either emphasize Jesus or emphasize gifts. But one always threatens to displace the other. I disagree with this.”

Miracles at Midnight.

5 Ways We Stunt Our Spiritual Growth.

Seekest Thou Great Things For Thyself? HT to Challies.

It’s Time to Take Your Medicine. “As we read the letters of Paul we find he always frames things this way: ‘God has done this for you in Christ, therefore you should respond in the following ways.’ ‘Thus the motivation, energy, and drive for holiness are all found in the reality and power of God’s grace in Christ.'”

Words That Shimmer. “For Christians, isn’t it amazing that our gracious God chose something as powerful as words to communicate to us His glorious truth? Everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). What a gift! What a treasure! Collectors of words take heart:”

Praying Biblical Prayers.

(Re)Remembering What We Mean. “Fairy tales employ the tool of the fantastic to jar us back to a truer vision that sees that all things are fantastic. Wonder is an appropriate response to all things because all things are wonderfully made.”

On parenting:

Should Parents Lay Down The Law Or Give Grace? “Grace is not rejecting authority. Grace is not walking away from the need of my children to have boundaries in their life—grace is about the way that I do that.”

My Changing Thoughts On Being a Mother. I wrestled with many of the same things mentioned here.

On writing:

Why Backstory Is Better Than Flashbacks.

And finally, I loved this video of a deer and rabbit playing. At least the deer is playing – it takes a while for the rabbit. Someone posted this on Facebook with the caption “Bambi and Thumper are real!”

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

This is my first chance in a couple of weeks to share noteworthy reads discovered around the web in that time. Enjoy!

A Case For Christian Magnanimity.

The Hero of the Story Is Always God.

Why Doesn’t Our Faith Move Mountains?

The Providence of God in History.

5 Christian Cliches That Need to Die.

When Does Old Age Arrive? I’m facing a milestone birthday next year, and I found this very encouraging.

Mothers in the Church.

Learning to Let Go. “Even though a parent’s spiritual influence is so important, I was never meant to fill the place that only God can in my daughter’s life. He is a better teacher, protector, and guide than I can ever be.”

Which Expired Foods Are Okay to Eat.

And a few concerning the holiday season:

Evangelism, the Holidays, and My Atheist Grandpa.

5 Ways to Make the Holidays More Peaceful.

Navigating Family Tensions at the Holidays.

The Problem With Our Holly Jolly Christmas Songs.

No wonder our pets get confused sometimes. 🙂

dog-under-tree

And finally, this brought a smile that I am sure my fellow Southerners will understand:

honey

Happy Saturday!

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Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

I saw this Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge over at My Reader’s Block and thought it looked like fun. I do usually like to read a couple of Christmas-themed books during the month of December.

The basic idea is just to read Christmas-related books between Nov. 21 – Jan. 6, and Michelle has listed the following levels:

Levels:
Candy Cane: read 1 book
Mistletoe: read 2-4 books
Christmas Tree: read 5 or 6 books (this is the fanatic level…LOL!)

Additional levels:
Fa La La La Films: watch a bunch or a few Christmas movies…it’s up to you!
Visions of Sugar Plums: read books with your children this season and share what you read

*the additional levels are optional, you still must complete one of the main reading levels above

I’m going to commit to the Mistletoe Level – after that we’ll see. The two books I want to read for sure are:

Finding Father Christmas/Engaging Father Christmas by Robin Jones Gunn. I got this after seeing Pam’s comparison of the book and movie. Sounds like the movie veered too far from the book, but the book sounded really good! This copy has two novellas in one (I wonder if that counts as two books? 🙂 )

From Heaven: A 28-Day Advent Devotional by A. W. Tozer. Just got that this afternoon when I saw it on a Kindle sale for 99 cents and I have enjoyed what I have read of Tozer in the past.

Other Christmas books I have on hand and may get to if I have a chance:

A Patchwork Christmas Collection by Judith Miller, Nancy Moser, and Stephanie Grace Whitson, seen at Monica‘s. I’ve read and enjoyed the first two authors before, so I expect to enjoy this collection.

The Christmas Violin by Buffy Andrews. I got this on a Kindle sale last year based on the story description without knowing anything about the author, so I hope I am not unpleasantly surprised.

A Sandy’s Seashell Shop Christmas by Lisa Wingate, related to the shop in The Prayer Box, reviewed earlier.

The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs is one I have read before but would like to read again.

As far as Christmas movies go, I usually just watch when and if the family does. We do usually see White Christmas at some point and maybe some of the Christmas specials (my new favorite; The Toy Story That Time Forgot).

I’d love to get to all these! But December is a busy month, so we’ll see how it goes.

Are you doing any Christmas reading?

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