2016 World Watch List

2016 World Watch List Pic

The 2016 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 2016 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.

Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend

Saint Nicholas book

Every year during this season I re-post two blog posts here. One is Why We Don’t Do Santa and the other is The Elf on the Shelf. Our Christmas traditions and celebrations have always been centered around the birth of Christ which we have always found sufficient reason to celebrate.  Saint Nicholas: the Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer is a wonderful book to read to young children about the real St. Nicholas. Granted, it is a fictionalized account, but in general it sticks to the most accepted and well-known facts about the kindhearted pastor from modern-day Turkey.

I encourage you to tell your children not only the story of Jesus – the real reason we celebrate – but also about the real man St. Nicholas who gave to others out of a heart dedicated to the Christ of Christmas.

Click here to order Saint Nicholas: the Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer.

The Elf on the Shelf

elfontheshelf2

(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 of 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.

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.

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

Pray For Me #IDOP

Sunday, November 1, 2015, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). It is a day where Christians all over the world make a special effort to pray for those believers who are suffering for their faith. I encourage you to join us as we pray for those who share our faith but not our freedom.

For more information on IDOP and other ways you can support suffering Christians click here.

To see the current World Watch list – a list of the top 50 countries in the world where faith in Jesus Christ costs the most – click here.

Refugee Beads

Refugee Beads

There’s an ongoing debate in our country about immigration, and it can get pretty heated at times. With so many sides to this complicated issue, sometimes it is hard to separate fact from misinformation. As Christians are we supposed to welcome one and all with open arms? Should we build a wall? Do we provide education and healthcare for those here illegally?

Well, there is a woman in Atlanta, Georgia, who decided to leave politics to the politicians and actually DO something for the large and diverse immigrant population in her community. She started an organization called Refugee Beads that utilizes the talents of individuals to make gorgeous handmade jewelry. Not only is Refugee Beads providing jobs for people, it is also using the profits from the sale of the jewelry to fund after-school and mentoring programs for children. You can read about this wonderful organization here. Visit their online shop here.

As a believer, I have wrestled with those questions asked above. I can see valid points on both sides. However, I have decided that when it comes to this issue I am going to be ruled by these 2 principles: (1) I am going to declare and live like this world is not my home and I’m just a passin’ through, as the old hymn says. That means that even though I am extremely grateful to have been born in the United States of America, I recognize that my true citizenship is in heaven and my home here is temporary. With the privilege of being born in a free country comes tremendous responsibility to advocate for those who were not. (2) When I am unsure about how to respond to the immigration crisis or to immigrants (whether legal or not), I am going to determine to have the heart of God. What exactly does that mean? I am going to search the Word of God and see how He instructs His people to treat aliens in a foreign land. The way God asks His followers to behave reveals His attitude. Believe it or not, the Bible has a lot to say on the subject.

Jesus said that everything we need to do and be as a follower of Him is wrapped up in two statements: love God and love people (Matthew 22:36-40). We MUST stop living our own agendas and start living a life of self-sacrifice. I am trying. I hope you are, too.

Why we don’t do Halloween.

Christian-Cross-Carved-Pumpkin

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!

Revelation Illustrated Book

Through the Gate of the Eternal City by Pat Marvenko Smith

Through the Gate of the Eternal City by Pat Marvenko Smith

I have been a fan of Pat Marvenko Smith’s artwork for several years. I have used them when teaching Bible study  – not just in Revelation but also Daniel and Ezekiel. She is a very talented artist. She also has a unique ability to illustrate scenes from Scripture. There are some very vivid descriptions of heavenly scenes in the books of Revelation, Daniel, and Ezekiel. Because the things described are other-worldly, it is difficult to form a mental picture of the scene, event, or creature. Pat has no such difficulty. She truly brings passages of Scripture to life through her art. They are not only beautiful but also biblically accurate.

She has a book that includes all of her paintings. It can be purchased here. She also has individual prints, cd’s, note cards, and digital downloads available for purchase here. These are great to use for teaching purposes.

You can watch a short video about her book here.

Updated A-Z Key Word Symbol Sheets are finally here!

A-B KWS Sheet Marked

Just in time for all of you who will be starting back to Bible study soon after the summer hiatus, here are the new and expanded A-Z Key Word Symbol Sheets! These have almost 100 extra words than the previous ones. I hope they will help you dig deeper into God’s Word through inductive Bible study (IBS). To access these brand new A-Z Key Word Symbol Sheets click here.

Don’t forget that marking the text is a tool of IBS; it isn’t the point of IBS. Marking key repeated words while you are reading helps you slow down and interact with Scripture. It helps you focus as you read. When you are finished, then you have a visual picture of what the text is saying.

Another tool of IBS is making lists. After you mark key words, a good practice is to go back and make a list on every key word. Note what the text says about the key word, how it is used, if it answers any questions such as Who? What? Where? When? Why? or How? You will be amazed at how much more you will draw from the Word with these 2 simple tools than by reading alone.

If you’re interested in using a workbook to guide you through a book of the Bible, Precept Ministries offers the best IBS materials out there. They have different study series that require different skill levels and time commitments. For an overview of each of their series click here.