An Unexpected Christmas: Celebrating Advent

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The question starts around the middle of summer in our house – “Dad, are we going to do that thing at Christmas this year where we talk about the Bible every night?” Now, around our house we talk about the Bible quite a bit. We have discussions around the dinner table about what our kids are learning in Sunday School, the songs in our home are often streamed from the top hits on Christian radio, and VeggieTales and What’s in the Bible play in regular rotation in our DVD players or in our queue on Netflix. But as the calendar turns to December every year, we become even more intentional. Before Susan and I had kids, we decided we would do all that we could to make sure that Christmas was more than an exercise in supply and demand – you know, the kids demand something and we supply it. Over the last few years, the best way we have been able to be intentional is through our Christmas devotions in December. What we have discovered is that our kids now look forward to these times together in December as much as anything else in the Christmas season. (Perhaps that also has something to do with the fact that alongside our devotions last year, we used the LEGO Advent Calendar that gave them a new LEGO everyday.)

I want to encourage you and your family to consider spending time this Christmas preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Whether you are a family with small children, a couple who is recently married, a family with teenagers, an empty nest couple, or a senior adult, taking some time this Christmas to focus on Jesus will impact the way you celebrate. Below you will find some online resources for you and your family to intentionally celebrate the Christmas season.

1. YouVersion Reading Plans (best for individuals, couples, and families with children of all ages)- YouVersion is a great place to start for individuals looking for a devotional to take them through the month of December. They have a variety of reading plans and devotionals on various topics.  We used a combination of  YouVersion plans last Christmas in our family. One of the great qualities of YouVersion is that you can have the reading plan with you almost anywhere you go through their mobile apps and webpage.

2. Thriving Family Advent Activity Calendar 2012 (best for families with younger children) – Focus on the Family publishes this calendar each year to help families center their holiday around Christ. Each day has a short Scripture passage to read and an activity that corresponds to a theme from that passage. Throughout the month, they have also included family service projects and discussion starters that you can participate in on their Facebook page. We have used this guide and found that it was easy to use and meaningful.

3. Advent Guide from Village Church (best for young adults, couples, and families with teenagers) – The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX has provided this resource for their families and  for other churches to be able to use. Their guide is theologically rich and centered around weekly Scripture passages and questions. They do provide some activities for families, but not on a daily basis. The guide will focus the Christmas story on the overall Gospel story of our need for a Savior.

4. Everyday Emmanuel (best for families with preschoolers and elementary age children – cost is $9.99) – This devotional is published by the group behind the great What’s in the Bible? videos. Last year, they released a video that answered the big questions about Christmas for kids. This year, they have developed an Advent guide that centers around some of those questions. The download includes instructions on how to make an Advent wreath and ornaments, activity pages, links to online videos, and devotionals. Our family is planning on using this guide for this year.

I hope these resources will be helpful as you try to focus this season on our Savior. Do you have guides or devotionals that you like to use? What are you using this year?

Life Apps: Application is Everything

There are hundreds of thousands of phone apps available for download. These apps can be used to wake you up, to show you where to shop, to help you count calories, or to log your exercise minutes. But they can’t actually make you get up, control your spending, manage your diet, or force you to exercise.
The App Store isn’t the only place you can find apps. Did you know that the Bible has also given us many “apps” to enhance and improve our lives? The real question is not whether you know what the Bible says, but are you doing what the Bible says. In the first sermon of this series, we look at the truth that application is everything when it comes to living our lives for Jesus.

Just Sayin . . .

Novelist Toni Morrison to the 2011 graduating class at the State university of New Jersey, Rutgers (as reported by the New York Times):

“I have often wished that Jefferson had not used that phrase ‘the pursuit of happiness’ as the third right … I would rather he had written, ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of meaningfulness’ or ‘integrity’ or ‘truth.’ I know that happiness has been the real, if covert, goal of your labors here. I know that it informs your choice of companions, the profession you will enter. But I urge you, please do not settle for happiness. It’s not good enough. Personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice — that’s more than a barren life; it’s a trivial one. It’s looking good instead of doing good.”

I Recommend . . . Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Over the weekend, I finished Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken. I was initially drawn to the book by the phrase under the title “A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” and my previous encounter with the author in her writing of Seabiscuit. As I read more and more positive reviews of the book, I put on my summer reading list. I was not disappointed.

The book traces the life of Louis Zamperini, a famous Olympic and WWII hero. Louis grew up in Torrance, California where he used running track to overcome a  life that was quickly becoming a life of crime. After achieving great success in track (including the Olympics in Berlin), Zamperini is called to war. He would end up as a bombardier on a B-24 bomber. After several successful missions, Louis’ plane went down in the Pacific. What follows is a story of survival that includes days in the open sea on a raft, years in Japenese POW camps, months of fighting the demons of war back home, a moment of redemption, and a lifetime of giving back.

Hillenbrand does a masterful job of telling the amazing story. I became enthralled at the life of the men in the Pacific theater of  WWII. I have heard some stories of my own grandfather that was stationed in the Pacific at the start of the war. Reading the book I grew an even greater appreciation for his time there. As the story turned to their survival, I rooted for the men as they floated on the open sea and winced for them as they suffered at the hands of their Japanese captors. And when Louis’ moment of redemption came, I rejoiced with him.

Laura Hillenbrand has done a great job of telling an amazing story. If you are looking for something to read this summer, let me recommend to you Unbroken. It will take you on an emotional tour of a time and men that seem to be fading too far into our collective memories.

Link to buy the book: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption""*

*Buying the book from this link will give a small portion of the price back to the Acts 1:8 Mission Fund of FBC Goodlettsville.

Groupon, Tibet, and Misunderstood Intentions

One lesson I have learned in ministry is that  people will assign intentions to whatever actions you make. Many times people have assumed an intention for my actions that were not even close to the actual intention. And while I would like to say that I am never guilty of doing the same, I often find myself assuming intentions for people or groups.

I was thinking about misunderstood intentions in light of the Super Bowl commercials from Groupon last night. Continue reading