Trip to the Holy Land

Precept Camden at Masada

Precept Camden at Masada

Have you ever been to Israel? I have always wanted to go and must admit that I was pretty jealous of everyone I knew that was able to go. Every person I’ve ever known who has made a trip to the Holy Land has come back saying it is life changing. They say that you will never read the Bible in the same way again. I thought this trip-of-a-lifetime would always be just out of my financial reach and probably would never happen. However, 4 years ago it happened! I went to Israel! And I must tell you, that everyone was right. It is, indeed, life changing and you will not view the Scriptures – or really the world – in the same way again.

David and BJ Lawson of Hope and Help International are leading a tour to Israel this year and you are invited! The Lawsons are seasoned teachers of the Word and have led tours to the Holy Land with Precept Ministries International for 15 years. The Scriptures will literally come to life as you sit among the backdrop of history while receiving biblical teaching on site.

For a pdf of the brochure, click here and print. (You can view the brochure below.)

Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Don’t say, “I can’t afford it!” Start saving (and praying) now! Forget Disney World and all those other vacations that will have no lasting impact on your life. Take the vacation of a lifetime and go to Israel with the Lawsons!

Israel Brochure Page 1

Israel Brochure Page 2

What is my spiritual gift?

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Have you ever wondered what your spiritual gift  is? Or maybe you didn’t know that you have a spiritual gift. God’s Word teaches that each believer is given at least one charisma (gift of grace, divine gratuity, spiritual gift) by the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation. Knowing your gift helps you accept your place in the body of Christ and helps you function properly within the body and, therefore, causes the whole body to function properly. Best of all, God is glorified most when we are fulfilling His purpose in our lives.

How can you find out what your spiritual gift is? There are several ways. First, study God’s Word and pray. The primary passages dealing with this subject are Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. Precept Ministries has a wonderful study on Spiritual Gifts that goes into these passages in depth. (Order a workbook here.) Second, ask a godly Christian who knows you pretty well what he or she thinks your gift might be.

Another way is to take a spiritual gifts test. Be careful with this and remember 2 things: (1) Any test, no matter how good, is still written by man and is, therefore, fallible and (2) You need to understand the scriptural definition of each gift before you can properly understand how to use your gift.

Here is an online spiritual gifts test that is pretty good. After answering all the questions, your results are sent to your email address. I took it myself, and the results seemed right on target for me. Do your studying first, then take the test. Let me know what you thought of your results. I’d  love to hear.

*You can also listen to this class discussion (Romans Part 4 Lesson 3). It will help guide you through the Scriptures mentioned above.

2015 World Watch List

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The 2015 World Watch List has been released by Open Doors. Each year the World Watch List gives detailed analysis of Christian persecution worldwide. Countries are evaluated and ranked according to the severity of persecution that occurred in the past year. The World Watch List is a ranking of 50 countries where persecution of Christians for religious reasons is worst. The list covers persecution of Christians of all denominations in the entire country. The focus is on persecution for their faith, not persecution for political, economic, social, ethnic or accidental reasons. The World Watch List is part of the mission at Open Doors to inform and inspire others with the message of the persecuted. Join the cause of the persecuted and share the World Watch List with your friends and family. (This information was taken from various materials supplied by Open Doors.)

The 12th chapter of the book 1 Corinthians tells us that individual Christians are like the individual members of a body. We make up the body of Christ. And when one member of that body suffers, we should all suffer with it. We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering acutely all over the world simply because they are Christians. We have not just the responsibility but also the deep privilege of upholding them in prayer, giving them encouragement, and bringing their situation to light through whatever means we can.

Use the 2015 World Watch List to make yourself and others aware of what is happening around the globe as well as to take action on behalf of those who are suffering. And don’t forget to PRAY for the persecuted. Open Doors provides a monthly prayer guide to help you pray in specific ways. You can sign up here to receive a newsletter and prayer guide. Learn other ways you can take action on behalf of persecuted Christians here.

Read through the Bible in 2015!

Wordle Books & Months

It’s a brand new year and a perfect opportunity to begin a daily Bible reading plan! Here are some plans and Bibles that I suggested last year. It doesn’t matter which one you choose. Just start reading today and keep reading each day. When you miss a day, don’t worry about it. The important thing is to keep going!

Happy New Year!

The Elf on the Shelf

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(Originally posted 11/29/13.)

Surely you’ve heard of The Elf on the Shelf. It’s a book by mother-daughter team Carol V. Aebersold and Chanda A. Bell about an elf who is the eyes and ears of Santa and fills in the Jolly One on who is good and who is bad, who is sleeping and who’s not, etc., so that he can distribute (or not distribute) gifts at Christmas time. One only has to be on Facebook during the holiday season to see how big this “new” Christmas tradition has become. But The Elf on the Shelf is not just a book that you read to your children – it’s an experience.

Besides reading the book, you are supposed to have your very own elf doll which you name. The premise is that this elf returns to the North Pole and reports to Santa each night while the children are sleeping. The next morning the children look for the elf to see where he is and sometimes what mischief he has gotten into. Parents help perpetuate the fantasy by setting up little vignettes of naughtiness. Perhaps a flour-dusted elf sits on the kitchen counter with a plate of cookies he made during the night. Or maybe he’s in the bathroom where he’s written Christmas-themed graffiti all over the bathroom mirror. Or he could be wrapped in ribbons of toilet paper after having “rolled” the living room. You get the picture. If you don’t quite get it yet, just Google it or do a Pinterest search and you’ll understand in no time.

In this post I explained why my family doesn’t do Santa. So it should come as no surprise to you that when it comes to The Elf on the Shelf, I’m not a fan. I encourage you to read my post on Santa, but there are two main reasons why we don’t participate in this holiday tradition: (1) It isn’t true and (2) Santa Claus is given attributes that belong to God and God alone. These 2 reasons also apply to The Elf on the Shelf.

As in the Santa scenario, if a child is perfectly aware that this is a game of pretend, then I have no problem with it. However, for most parents the truth sucks all the fun out it. The deception is the entertaining part of it to adults. But children have just as much fun when they know the truth, and then they don’t have to suffer the disappointment when they learn they’ve been duped. As a Christian, I want my children to know that I am an upholder of TRUTH.

Since the elf reports to Santa, reason #2 also remains valid in this case. Only God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. God’s not big on sharing His glory (Isaiah 48:11). I sure don’t want to be responsible for falsely teaching little ones that there is someone else who is all-knowing and all-powerful, do you?

On the flap of the book jacket the mother part of the author duo, Carol Aebersold, says, “Unwittingly, the tradition provided an added benefit: it helped the children to better control themselves. All it took was a gentle reminder that the ‘elf is watching,’ for errant behavior to be modified.” To that I say, “Bwahahahahahaha!!!! Har dee har har har har!!! Ha ha ha ha ha!!!” Excuse me while I wipe the tears of laughter running down my cheeks… Is she serious? Modified behavior? For how long? Two months? Two weeks? Two days??? More like two minutes!

I’ll give you an example. Last Christmas my husband and I were in the grocery store. We ran into someone we knew who was doing the grocery shopping with his two young children. They were behaving – how do I say this? – HORRENDOUSLY. Terrible. Horrible. Out of control. He needed to park his shopping cart, take them home, and take care of business. But what did he do? Every few minutes he’d say something like, “Come back… Don’t put that in the cart… Stop running… Don’t forget the elf is watching!” He actually told us how effective the Elf was in controlling his children’s behavior. I don’t know how he said it with a straight face.

Besides, shouldn’t HE be controlling his children’s behavior? Shouldn’t PARENTS be modifying conduct? Especially since that little elf is only around for about one month a year! And have you ever known anyone who truly made good on any of their threats to their children about not getting presents for Christmas because they were naughty? I certainly don’t.

I can’t help but wonder what else we’ll come up with to shift our focus from the holy and sacred to the irreverent and silly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jesus is enough! He truly is. He is not just enough – He’s EVERYTHING. Here are some wonderful ideas for holiday family activities that center around Christ:

Advent Taper Candle from HomeMakers

Christmas Advent Candle from Vermont Christmas Company

Advent Calendars from christianbook.com

Free Printable Advent Calendars from Google search

Free Advent Devotional shared by Women Living Well Ministries

I encourage you to put away The Elf on the Shelf, get out the manger scene and teach your children about the TRUE meaning of Christmas and how Jesus is better than any elf!

Why we don’t do Santa.

Today is St. Nicholas Day. Last night people in many countries spent time cleaning and polishing their boots before sitting them outside their doors in expectation of the little gifts that St. Nicholas will leave inside their shiny boots. Click here to read how St. Nicholas Day is celebrated around the world. 

In light of today’s holiday, I thought it would be a good day to re-post an article I wrote explaining why our family does not make Santa Claus a prominent part of our Christmas celebrations. I’m not trying to convert anyone to accept our convictions, but the subject comes up frequently during this time of year. Since people seem genuinely interested (some, horrified, confused and/or angry!), I’m always willing to answer people’s questions concerning our beliefs. So here you go.

(Originally posted 12/22/10.)

First, I want to say that I know what a hot button issue this is for many people. I know that many people hold very dear their traditions concerning Christmas, and Santa Claus is sometimes a big part of that celebration. I understand that. So the second thing I want to make clear is that I am not trying to convince anyone to cross over to the Santa-free zone. I am simply attempting to give some insight into my family’s personal beliefs on this subject. We do not proselytize this point of view and are not trying to make converts. To many our take on this Christmas tradition is curious, weird, and just plain stupid. We have even had people take offense at our personal conviction concerning Santa Claus – although I’m not sure why since it only comes up if people ask us why we don’t participate in this tradition.

When people ask us why we don’t do the Santa thing, for us it is really simple. It comes down to two things. Number one: it isn’t true. I have tried to teach my children to always be honest. Lying is wrong. The simple fact is that Santa Claus does not bring them presents. We buy their presents, and it is to us that they should express their gratitude – not to someone that has an endless supply of money and grants their every material wish. We believe that this does not create an atmosphere of gratitude. I can honestly say that my children are very grateful people and do not have the sense of entitlement that I see in our culture. Also, I can ask my children, “Have I ever lied to you?” and they can always respond, “No.”

Some people say it is merely a harmless game of make believe. It is pretending and no different from a little girl pretending to be a princess or a little boy pretending to be a pirate. Perhaps that argument would hold water if everyone playing the game knew that it was, in fact, a game. However, in the Santa scenario, children are not in on the secret. To them it is presented as true and factual and not as a game of make believe.

Number two: Santa Claus is given attributes that belong to God and God alone. He can be all over the world at one time – omnipresence. He knows who is good or bad – omniscience. He can give everyone what they want in spite of the cost or the situation – omnipotence. God is the only one who is all of those things. And He is so much more. In Isaiah 42:8, He says, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor my praise to graven images.” He says it again in Isaiah 48:11: “My glory I will not give to another.”

Christmas is all about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. For our family, that has always been enough.

Countdown to Christmas!

Free Advent Calendar Project from limegreenbogiegirl.blogspot.com

Free Advent Calendar Project from limegreenbogiegirl.blogspot.com

There are 25 days until Christmas! Can you believe it? If we aren’t careful, the busyness of this season can overtake us and we completely miss the wonder and miracle that we are supposed to be celebrating. A good way to get into the spirit of Christmas and to celebrate the birth of the Savior is by counting the days with an advent calendar. And there are so many ideas online that are very easy to make yourself! There are also lots of free printable advent calendars as well. Click the links below and begin the countdown to Christmas with joy and anticipation instead of stress and worry!

Click here for 30+ free printable Christmas Advent Calendars rounded up by the Mein Lila Park blog.

Click here for free advent calendar projects and templates from AllCrafts.

 

Why we don’t do Halloween.

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First, let me say that I am not going to give you any deep theological arguments here. I’m also not going to give you any kind of history lesson. This is simply my opinion and the way our family felt we were to handle this holiday that has become so popular in American culture. Second, even though it is my opinion, it is based upon Scripture which, as a Christian, is the plumbline by which all things are measured in my life. In other words, if you have a differing opinion, that is perfectly fine. But please don’t just say I’m wrong; at least give a reasonable defense for your own opinion. I’m not trying to change your opinion but am simply offering an explanation for mine.

In this post I explained why our family doesn’t do Santa. In this post I explained why I have a problem with the Elf on the Shelf. Wow. I have taken tremendous heat for those even though, once again, I have simply stated my opinion and have made it clear that I’m not trying to bring anyone over to my side. But, hey, whatevs. I suspect this post will bring the same type of response. So here goes…

The fifth chapter of Ephesians talks about how Christians are of the light and non-Christians are of darkness. In Scripture darkness is frequently used to characterize Satan and anything that is in opposition to God. Ephesians 5:11a tells Christians not to “participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness.” This is the verse that always came to my mind when thinking of Halloween. No one can deny that the roots of this holiday as well as many modern-day practices of it are, indeed, characterized by darkness – ghosts, ghouls, demons, witches, blood and guts, etc. It never seemed like something that a child of the Light should participate in. One has only to do a Bible word search on witchcraft or sorcery to see what God thinks of that.

Since Halloween is geared so much towards children, we felt it was very important to handle this in a way that clearly taught our beliefs to our children from a very young age. Above all, we wanted to live out our faith in a way that was consistent with what we said we believed and, as best we could tell, lined up with the Word of God. However, we also did not want to give the impression that we thought anyone who took their children trick-or-treating was in essence worshiping the devil. A delicate balance, for sure.

So this is how we lived out our beliefs about Halloween:

♦ When our children were about 3-4 years of age and old enough to sorta kinda know something was afoot, on the night of Halloween we would go to Chuck E. Cheese (or somewhere similar). Since we did not eat out frequently, this was a special treat and, believe me, we had the place all to ourselves! Once they got a little older, we would let them choose where we would go the night of Halloween.

♦ If there was a fall festival either at our church or an area church, we would take our children to it. We believe that honoring God and thanking Him for the bountiful harvest of the season is a worthy tradition that is not unbiblical.

♦ If costumes were involved, then we encouraged our children to choose either a Bible character (much better heroes than Ninja turtles or Batman!) or one of God’s creatures.

♦ Once our children got to about age 10, we began passing out candy to trick-or-treaters and we would let our children choose what kind of Halloween candy they wanted to pass out. (Guess who got all the leftovers?!) We would stay home and have a party while they passed out candy. We would include with the candy Christian stickers or cartoon books. One year a favorite with the trick-or-treaters were the smashed pennies with the 10 Commandments on them that we passed out. Many times we would set up a fire pit in the front yard or driveway and cook hot dogs while the kids took turns at the candy station at the end of the driveway. They would alternate passing out candy with playing flashlight tag, jumping on the trampoline, and just running around the yard as kids like to do.

♦ Now that my children are grown, I continue to pass out candy with some type of inspirational treat.

I guess the title of this post isn’t really true. Our family does do Halloween. We just do it differently from most. I believe my children have many great “Halloween” memories. Hopefully, those memories are God-honoring and biblical. I know we did the best we could to live out our faith without compromise but also in a way that shared our faith with others in a loving way. And I can honestly say that I have no regrets!

Happy New Year! In September?…

Tonight we'll Rosh Hashanah like it's 5759

Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the New Year on the Jewish Calender. The above artwork is both amusing and informative. (I found it here.) Another great source of information about this and other Jewish holidays (all things Jewish, really) can be found here.

Rosh Hashanah 2014 begins at sundown on September 24 and ends at sundown on September 26. So, yes, Happy New Year! In September!