Countdown to Christmas: Focus on Jesus

As Christmas approaches it can be a challenge to focus on Jesus, the real reason for celebrating. God showed His love in such an amazing way. He became a human, lived, suffered and died in our place. Miraculously He rose again and wants to live in relationship with us!

I wrote Christmas is About Jesus: An Advent Devotional to help my family focus on Jesus in a busy season, a busy culture, that is often sending conflicting messages about what we are doing, or should be doing, and why. The links below are to posts I have done in the past that can enhance use of the devotions in the book or help you focus on Jesus even if you don’t have the book.

Blessings to you and your family this Christmas season!

 

Countdown to Christmas: Focus on Jesus Preparing to Prepare

Preparing for Christmas can take on a life of its own. Some where in my past I became convinced that Christmas had to be “prefect”. Trouble is I wasn’t even sure what prefect was, I just knew I wasn’t, my home wasn’t, my children weren’t. So here’s this hoped for “prefect” season that does nothing but magnify my failings and I’m trying to sell my children the idea that Christmas is about Jesus.

Christmas 2012 snowI am very grateful God walked me through this when my children were young. I didn’t want to model Christmas being about stress and unattainable perfection on any level. I wanted to live that Christmas was about Jesus, not just say so. I will not say I have arrived. I go through the process I am going to lay out for you every year. Some years I do better than others. Some days I do better than others.

Here’s my process for preparing to prepare for Christmas.

Evaluate expectations: Are my expectations from God?
I create a great amount of stress for myself if I do not take the time to sort through what I am really expecting of Christmas. For me it’s a whole season, not a day. I am naturally idealistic. So I recognize my dreams and expectations and take them to God. What is doable this year? What is most important? Thankfully I can let many things go when we have this conversation. Time with Him and time with family are really all I want. Everything else is fluff. Fluff is okay as long as there is no stress attached.

Evaluate traditions. Does this bring God glory?

When I began having children I looked at every Christmas tradition through this lens. Does this give God glory? If I could not see a way it brought God glory I modified it or threw it out.
CIAJ slideThis is actually where my first book, Christmas Is about Jesus, was born. I wanted to do the advent calendar where there is a window to open each day. I wanted it to be more than counting down days until presents. Everywhere we went we were bombarded with things that have nothing to do with Jesus coming to bring us salvation. So I wrote the daily devotions to point us to Jesus each day and made ornaments so my children would have something to “open” each day. The ornaments also helped us talk about the devotion throughout the day. We usually hung them where we could see them from the table.
I am not saying fun activities like gingerbread houses or games are out. God loves families. He loves families enjoying each other and making memories. For me activities like pretending Santa was real were out.

Ask kids what makes Christmas special to them.

A few years ago while I was stressing over all the baking, decorating, making gifts, and whatever else was in my ideal Christmas that year God inspired me to ask the kids what made Christmas special to them. Their list was short and totally doable. It made letting my list go much easier. They wanted to look at Christmas lights, go to Gramma’s, and make gingerbread houses. Gifts at Gramma's
Now every year I ask after Thanksgiving and we schedule what’s most important to each of us. Anything else that happens is extra. Way less stress. Way more time for peace, the Prince of Peace.
What do you do to prepare to prepare for Christmas?

5th Week – July 2014

This week I’d like to introduce you to four Alaskan authors. They have some other things in common as well.
They are all moms.
They love Jesus and families.
Their writing blesses me.
I know them all in real life.
They share a passion to encourage moms.
So here you go.
Check them out.
You will be blessed.
Copperlight Wood
Shannon shares her faith journey at Copperlight Wood. Homeschooling, parenting, international adoption, and attachment issues stretch her to trust God more and more.  Her writing makes me laugh and cry. It stirs deep.
When life allows she sends out a newsletter with content that doesn’t post on her blog. I encourage you to sign up.
 

 

Photo: Free Resource: Become the Mom You Truly Want to Be!

Sign up here: http://bit.ly/1tlJydL

Join me, Ashley Brendle (mother of 7 amazing kids) as we'll be tackling these 3 core areas of motherhood that have transformed my life:

1. Connecting with God's presence and power during the impossibilities of motherhood
2. Accepting and receiving the provision you already have to overcome the obstacles blocking you from the mom you want to be.
3. Accessing God's wisdom and revelation for the problems you're facing right now!

With this free course, you'll get tools to move from survival mode to empowered as a thriving mom in the difficult challenge of motherhood.

Click here to get started: http://bit.ly/1tlJydL

  

Ashley is a short time Alaskan. Since she moved here just over a year ago she has become very dear to me. Last summer I joined a study she led through her book Supernatural Mothering: Where God’s Presence and Power Invade Motherhood. It was transformational.

You can read her blog, listen to her podcast at Supernatural Mothering and even sign up for a free course (link above) on partnering with Jesus in your mothering, and the rest of life really, but when you are a mom sometimes that seems to cover it.

The Masterpiece Mom PodcastAmanda and I met years ago in MOPS, an amazing ministry to mothers of preschoolers. She continued to minister with MOPS long after I moved on. Amanda writes about homeschooling, life as a mom, adoption and of course resting in the masterpiece God has made each of us to be.

I also met Anne-Renee through MOPS. She shares Amanda’s passion for moms to see themselves through God’s eyes. She is a sweet joyful soul. She’s a working, non-homeschooling mom so she brings a different perspective than the rest.

Amanda and Anne-Renee have started a podcast. My summer’s been busy so I haven’t listened to as many as I would like. They offer encouragement and remind us not to take ourselves too seriously, we’re all only human.

I hope you enjoy these mom’s and their ministries.

I know I do.

Preparing for the Foundation

Breaking Ground
The first of the over-burden being moved.

Friday we began the removal of the overburden from the shop building site.

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Overburden is the dirt, plants and roots covering the subsoil or gravel.

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All the burden has to go to make way for the plan to come about. For our building, for our lives. After the overburden there was digging.

Digging out the clay
The clay ran far deeper than we were hoping. It’s gone now 🙂

There was a large pocket of clay right in the middle of one edge of the foundation. Clay is pliable, very influenced by circumstances of the environment – moisture, heat, cold. It had to go.

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A foundation must be unmoving throughout. A solid concrete foundation will not hold up to the conditions of Alaska, extreme temperatures, wind, and earthquakes, if it is not on completely solid ground.

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By God’s grace He is my firm foundation. The solid rock on which He is building the foundation of my life and destiny.

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A friend came to visit and see the work we were doing. She raved about the wonderful logs that build the upstairs of my home, the flowering trees at the edge of my yard, and my beautiful old piano.

Logs upstairsMorning sun on my trees IMG_1320

I recognized a pocket of clay susceptible to circumstances of the environment, a hesitancy to be fully grateful.

I am thankful. I have been working on being thankful for what I have instead of bemoaning what I do not have for nearly 20 years. I thought I had overcome.

In my heart to her every praise was the hesitancy, the complaining.

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“The logs are wonderful but they need so much work. I don’t get to live in that part of the house to enjoy them.”

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“The trees are wonderful but the rest of the yard needs so much work. There are so many more trees I want to have planted.”

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“The piano is beautiful but it needs work. I never make time to play it.”

A hole in my soul filled with clay. It has to go for the foundation to be strengthened.

Give Thanks in the Digging

May I endure the digging with grace to my Father’s glory.

Is there anywhere the Father wants to excavate so He can shore up your foundation?

Stand and Pray

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual [hosts] of wickedness in the heavenly [places]. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints– Ephesians 6:12-18 NKJV

Supplies:

Puppet or stuffed animal

Set up:

Do a simple puppet show. This could be stuffed animals on the table or through a doorway. The important thing being the child can see the “puppet” but not you.

Lesson:

Perform with the puppet. You could have the puppet tell a story, ask questions, or sing a song.

When the performance is over ask your child: “How was the puppet moving and talking?”

If they know it was you ask “How do you know?” “Could you see me?” Even if they could not see you they may understand that the puppet could not move without help from someone.

Explain:

We saw the puppet, but not what was moving it. We see people and things. We do not always see spirits. God is a spirit, the angels that serve God are spirits. Satan is a spirit, too. He has angels that serve him. Spirits are always working, serving their master, God or Satan, even if we cannot see them.

Do not be afraid! God tells us we are wrestling with the rulers of darkness that we cannot see. Then He tells us to put our armor on so we can stand, even against what we cannot see.

Read Ephesians 6:12-18

God promises to always be with us. He tells us to put on our armor, stand, and pray.

Fix the Leak

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

Isa 26:3 NIV

Supplies:

  • a container with a very slow leak, perhaps poke a small hole in a paper cup
  • large container to hold water
  • towel

Set up:

Fill the leaky container with water. Set it in the large container so it can leak without making a mess for you.

Lesson:

Have your children inspect the puddle. Once they have seen the puddle dry it up with the towel. Talk about how things are better now. Meanwhile the leaky container is still leaking, making another puddle in the large container. If they do not notice point it out to them. You can repeat this process as many times as they are interested.

Explain:

Read Isaiah 26:3

God promises to give us peace.  What does that mean?

Sometimes it helps to know what something is not to better understand what it is. If the leaky container were over your bed would you like that? What if it was your job to keep cleaning up the puddle? It would not be peaceful to know the leaky container is making your bed wet or always making messes for you to clean up. When the mess is cleaned up it is more peaceful.

Read Isaiah 26:3 again

What does our verse tells us about the peace God wants to give us? It is perfect peace. Perfect peace means to take care of the problem not just the mess. Perfect peace for this situation would be to fix the leaky container or replace it. Perfect peace in our lives comes because God has taken care of the problems. Jesus died so our sins can be forgiven. Jesus defeated Satan so we are overcomers. Jesus rose again so we can live forever as a friend of God.

Perspective on Truth

God sees things differently than we do.
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4 But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:4-6 NHEB

SUPPLIES:
a piece of paper or other objects to limit what your child can see.

SET UP:
Create a situation which limits your child’s perspective. This can be as simple as folding a piece of paper in half and standing it on a table like a tent. Write a different letter or shape on each side.

BEGIN:
Have the child and the paper remain stationary so the child can only see one side.
Ask your child: What do you see? Tell them what you see from your perspective, a different side than they can see.
Ask: Why do we have different answers? Am I wrong about what I see? Neither of you are wrong. You simply have a different perspective. Show your child how things looked for your perspective so they understand you were telling the truth, too.
Read Ephesians 2:4-6

EXPLAIN:
From our perspective it may not seem we are seated in heavenly places, but God says that we are. Much like a child can trust an adult’s perspective to see and know more than they do we must trust God’s perspective over our own. If He says we are seated in heavenly places than lets believe we are!

Blessed Holy Week

I am taking a break again this week. Easter is About Jesus: Family Devotions for the Easter Season is in it’s first season and I was not as prepared as I thought I was.

At church on Sunday we had an inspiring teaching about Holy Week. I’m sharing the link with you.

The Centrality of Our Holy Week – Sondra Markwardt

She has been studying Jewish history and culture, it brings such a richness to the Easter story. There is a bit of “family” business at the beginning, wonderful things God’s has done in our house, then the teaching. I hope it will bless you in your meditations of Jesus this Holy Week.

It’s all about Jesus! I hope to get notes up, too. If I do I’ll add a link here.

Check out Focus on Jesus for devotions and activity ideas I’ve posted this season.

Trading Disappointment for Identity

The goal of the process of dealing with disappointment, discouragement and disillusionment is to replace them -one of the great mysteries of the Kingdom. We trade disappointment for out identity in Christ Jesus. We trade discouragement for God’s courage. We trade disillusionment for God’s hope and purpose.
When our dream dies we are disappointed, in our emotions. It can also seem we’ve been dis-appointed, removed, from our actual appointment in life. The dream dies. Now what?
I struggle with remembering my identity and knowing my appointment when I revert to trying to figure everything out. I lose my identity when it was tied to my dream instead in Christ alone. I don’t always walk by faith very well. I like things very planned. I like to know what to expect. I have learned to walk by faith in many areas and in many seasons. When a dream dies it seems to shake me and cause me to question everything, or almost. Maybe that is good. A refocusing, realigning process.
The trouble comes when we confuse the disappointment in our emotions for actually being disappointed or removed. In the very real and powerful emotions of grieving we can think our identity has been lost, but it’s only the dream, and possibly only for a time. We have a God of resurrection.
I think we see this with King David in the Psalms. He expresses his deep disappointment and hurt even to despair. In the end he always comes back to the goodness of God in His promises. He goes through the grief and the pain of a dream dying. He expresses his disappointment but comes back to his divine appointment. He remembers who God is and what God has appointed him for and the promises made to him. We must grieve and go through that process when a dream dies. Even though my dream has died and I’m hurt I have not been disappointed. I still have purpose. I still have calling. I still have good works to accomplish.
God knows who he designed us to be and what he designed us to do. You have an unchanging identity in him. You may have specific verses that remind you of this, hopefully you have words of hope and encouragement others have spoken over you to remind you who you are. If you don’t know what you are appointed for ask God to reveal who he made you to be, find people who see more in you than you see in yourself. And here are some verses to get you started or to add to your list.
We have an identity in Christ and are appointed to do certain things. God appointed you and empowers you to bring Him pleasure.
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Philippians 2:13
He appointed you to everlasting life and salvation.
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:15-17
He has appointed you a minister of His new covenant, signed in Jesus blood.
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. 2 Corinthians 3:5-6
If you’re like me you want a written plan of specific steps, details of your appointment. Go to this class, follow this career, or get involved in this ministry. The verses I listed don’t give that kind of detail. They do give a greater perspective though. God has an appointment for each one in the work of His Kingdom. Knowing that in the general sense gives hope for seeking the specifics. Faith is required to please Him, knowing every step and detail would make faith impossible. 
To learn your specific appointment there are many helpful tools like personality and strength tests. God has placed passion in each heart for different things, those help, too. Other people can give you direction. Most importantly seek the Father. He speaks to you. He knows you. He knows your strengths, weakness, and passions. He alone must be the final authority on your appointment.

We are appointed to praise. We are appointed to encourage one another, build each other up.
I have a great God to glorify. I have a great commission to fulfill. I have a family to love.
I’m realizing as I reread this I did not include verses for my identity in Christ. I’ll try to come back and add some. What are your favorite?

What’s in My Heart?

I want my children to know and experience the God of heaven. God who cares about them enough to speak to them. One way He speaks is in our imagination, through words or pictures. Listening for His voice takes practice and discernment. This is an exercise we do from time to time. I’ve used it in classes of children as well as with my own. It can be a great opportunity to connect and minster to their needs.
We made a very simple book of folded paper (8.5 x 14) stapled at the edge, no cover, no binding. I love the creative options of making books, but today the focus was on our hearts. 

We looked at what was in our heart and entered it in our newly made journal.

I saw doubts, failure, and confusion raining down.
Then we asked God how he saw our hearts and entered that in our journal.

God sees through the lens of Jesus, not my sin
God saw he sent blessings as water for me to grow and all is for His glory.

I drew and wrote. One son writes, one draws. My daughter draws.

Heart of negative emotions, but God sees a strong man of God.

How they saw their heart.
How God saw their heart.