Advent Calendar Ideas

Thanksgiving and Black Friday are now behind us. There are 29 days until Christmas is here. How do we decide what is important and what is not as this holy day approaches? What message will our children read between the lines as they watch us get ready for this special day – this is where they will get their clues about what is truly important to you.

If our total focus is on gift buying, festive parties, and extravagent decorations, our children will believe that is what is important about Christmas. But if we maintain a focus on the message of the Christ Child, day by day, this likewise will not escape our children’s notice.

Advent calendars can be a great tool for families to use to provide a daily focus on the true meaning of Christmas. There are a variety of advent calendars available, but choose carefully. Some are based on Scriptures about Jesus’ birth, while others will focus more on counting the days to Santa’s arrival.

Since I live in the “boonies” and don’t get to the city often, I’m not in a position to review what is available in stores. However, the Internet offers a variety of ways to look for suitable materials for advent. I have been saving ideas to my Pinterest bulletin board over the past couple of months. Here are a few of my finds:

Advent Calendar: Teach the True Story of Christmas (Tutorial)

Free downloadable Bible verse advent cards

Several Christmas traditions including a 25-day Scripture chain

Felt advent calendar with Nativity Scene – order or make your own

My Pinterest bulletin board: “The First Christmas” with many more ideas for keeping Christ in Christmas…

Perhaps you have other ideas you can share that help families keep their focus on Christ through the days of advent. If so please add them in the comments below…

Written by Janice D. Green, author of The First Christmas.The First Christmas RGB3

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Photo credit: © Welburnstuart | Stock Free Images &Dreamstime Stock Photos

 

 

Is LOVE an Action or a Feeling?

With the Thanksgiving holiday just behind us, it is only fitting that I write about one of my greatest blessings — my husband, Estith. It is also fitting because our sixth anniversary is tomorrow, November 25th, and his birthday was one week ago today. I guess you could easily say that this is my season for celebrating him!

In a culture and time that seems to have little respect for marriage, I am extremely grateful to have a loving husband who is worth celebrating! I can remember in the year or two after our marriage, people would always comment on the little kindnesses we showed one another or the goofy way we acted around each other and say, “They’re still newlyweds. Give it time. They’ll grow out of it.”

Well, I’m happy to report that six years later, we have not grown out of it, and we don’t have any intentions of growing out of it either. We still enjoy being with each other as much, if not more, than when we first married, and we still act pretty silly at times.

We dance around the kitchen. We laugh uncontrollably. He still calls me “princess” and also puts up with the wide array of goofy pet names I’ve come up with for him.

We also have some daily routines. I stand and wave at the window each morning as Estith pulls out of the driveway for work. We blow kisses at one another, and he flashes his lights at me. And at the end of the day, I race to the door to give Estith a kiss and a hug when he gets home. This has been our routine for six years.

And while six years may not qualify me as a seasoned expert in all things matrimonial, I do know one thing. When you “act” as though you are in love with your spouse, when you do special things for them and try to treat them with the same love and joy as when you first met, the feelings will often follow. This is a little something that I learned from C.S. Lewis’ book “Mere Christianity,” which changed my view of love from that of a feeling to a choice.

Lewis says:

Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.

The word ‘neighbor’ could easily be replaced with spouse, sister, brother, etc. But as it regards marriage, the more you behave lovingly toward your spouse, the more you will come to love him or her. That’s why I intend to keep waving my husband off to work each morning and giving him hugs every opportunity I get. If I do, maybe the next six years or even the next sixty will have us still making people marvel at our love for one another.

 What one thing could you do to behave lovingly toward someone today?

Getting Ready for Advent

Advent. The word means “coming” or “arrival.” Throughout the Old Testament, God promised to send his anointed one, the Messiah, to save his people. Throughout long years of oppression, the people waited.

But when Jesus arrived, most missed him. And we can easily miss him too as we hustle-bustle through the holiday season. Unless we’re willing to slow down a bit and focus. And that’s what Advent helps me do.

If you come from a tradition that observes the church year, you’re already familiar with Advent–the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, or the Sunday closest to November 30, and lasts through Christmas Eve on December 24. If Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent.

Here are the dates of Advent 2012:

December 2 – First Sunday of Advent
December 9 – Second Sunday of Advent
December 16 – Third Sunday of Advent
December 23 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

If you’d like to know more about Advent, I found this really helpful article that explains the significance of the candle colors and evergreens in an Advent wreath, plus much more.

If you have young children at home, I recommend an e-book, Truth in the Tinsel, by Amanda White, that sold 10,000 copies since being introduced last year. You’ll find directions for making tree ornaments with your children, one each day, that tell the biblical Christmas story. Best of all are the conversation starters to use in your time together.

The plan begins on December 1, so now’s a great time to get ready! (And Amanda has a special running today only, Friday, November 23, as well.)

DIANE

Visit Diane at www.dianestortz.com
© 2012, Diane Stortz

Happy Thanksgiving

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. Psalm 107:1

Today is Thanksgiving Day—a day to reflect on our many blessings and give thanks to the Lord for His faithfulness. Wouldn’t it be great if every day were Thanksgiving Day? For my cousin Marion it was.

Due to some mental and physical challenges, my cousin Marion spent all of her adult years in foster care homes. For over a decade, she lived in a home that was only a few miles from where my husband and I lived while we were raising our kids in Michigan. Whenever I had the chance, I’d take my kids with me to visit her—especially around the holidays. It wasn’t always convenient to bundle up three little ones in their snowsuits, boots, and mittens, but it was always worth the trip.

Marion may have had some special needs that limited her activities and engagement in society, but she was special in ways that made her like no one else I have ever known. Marion was thankful for everything—every day. She was thankful for the window in her small room so she could watch the clouds sweep through the sky. One of her favorite things was watching the birds find food to eat. She would get excited just talking about it. Marion was thankful for her radio so she could listen to Christian music and Christian programs. She often listened to the news so she would know what was happening in the world. Although she was unable to attend church, she was thankful that the church she had attended as a child sent her the weekly bulletin. Every day she would read through the bulletin and pray for the names and events that were listed from week to week. “I can’t go to church anymore, but I can still pray for the people,” she would say with a smile on her face.

One time when I was there, she told me about her new job. “I get to fold the towels when they come out of the dryer!” she said with enthusiasm. “They smell so fresh and clean, and I can honor God by folding them the best that I can. I am so thankful for my job!”

Visiting Marion always made me feel humbled and blessed beyond words. I envied her ability to live in a state of continual gratitude. If I spent time listing all the things I should be thankful for, I’d probably never finish the list because it would be endless.

May you have a blessed Thanksgiving and may your blessings be more numerous than the pumpkins in a pumpkin patch!

Crystal Bowman

Why is Saying “Thank-You” so Difficult?
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“Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?” Romans 8:32 (NLT)

Her petite frame bent low, worn from nearly a century of living. Small in stature but oh, her heart – full and generous and always giving – barely containable. One could never out-give her, never repay her. “Just say thank-you, that’s all,” she’d say.

Open hands to receive and a grateful heart is all she asked in return. She gave what we couldn’t earn. She gave more than we deserved. All because she loved – delighted in providing for others. And today, nearly eight years since her passing, my heart spills gratitude; not for the gifts but for the giver.

Sarah Young, in Jesus Calling reminds us, “Sometimes {God’s} children hesitate to receive {His} good gifts with open hands. Feelings of false guilt creep in, telling them they don’t deserve to be so richly blessed…When a child of {God} balks at accepting {His} gifts, {He} is deeply grieved. When you receive {His} abundant blessings with a grateful heart, {God} rejoices.”

Oh the love of the greatest Giver of this universe cannot be contained or out-given. We can do nothing to earn his love nor do we deserve it. But. He. Still. Loves. Us. He can’t help but love us because we are his children, made in his image. He gives generously – holds nothing back – not even his Son. All he asks is that we receive with open hands and a grateful heart. And when we do? He dances, sings, rejoices!

What gift is God holding out to you, today? Do you find it difficult to receive because you feel undeserving? Because you don’t believe it’s a “no strings attached” gift? Young makes a poigniant remark, “{God’s} kingdom is not about earning and deserving; it’s about believing and receiving.”

When we accept God’s gift with true gratitude our hearts overflow, spill out toward others. Receiving with gratitude and giving with heart-full love is stepping into God’s kingdom flow. This is the abundant life Jesus came to give – still gives. Will you receive it?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17 (NIV)

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10b (NIV)

Prayer: Oh Lord, we stand here today with open hands and grateful hearts. Thank-you heavenly father, for holding nothing back from us; for freely giving us your Son so that we may come into your presence, live with you forever. Teach us to believe with open hearts, to receive with open hands, to live gratefully and love generously.