Last November I was excited to tell you about an Advent calendar with Christmas Bible study that our family enjoyed. Well, it turns out that announcing it nine days before December 1 wasn’t such a great idea—the publishing company quickly sold out of the calendar and I’m sure many of you missed out on a chance to order. So this year I’m giving you (and our friends at The Good Book Company) plenty of time!
What I love about these Advent calendars is that each day’s “door to open” is connected to a Scripture and a lesson about Christmas and the message of the gospel. The accompanying Bible study booklet includes a short verse followed by a very brief lesson plan including great questions to engage the kids in fun and thoughtfulness about the deep truths of the gospel. They are the perfect length for children and very well done.
We have used Christmas Opened Up in the past and loved it, but I’m looking forward to trying a new one this year. I am really excited to use one of these calendars for Jude and Sophie’s first Christmas season in the Whitacre family.
We are off to a 4th of July picnic—the first gathering of our Louisville church planting team! Here are some wise thoughts about patriotism to ponder today. Happy 4th!
”...I am not ‘proud to be an American.’ To be precise, I am not proud because I am an American. I am not proud because pride is for those things that we accomplish, those achievements for which we deserve credit. How did I end up an American? I was born one, and I would be a fool to be proud of something for which I can take no credit. My Americanism was granted to me and is a gift, not a status. That does not make me unpatriotic. Patriotism ought not to be a prideful touting of our country’s greatness but rather a joyful exclamation of it. My parade going and grilled-meat eating are not hypocritical. They are expressions of thankfulness. I am thankful…In all, we ought to be humbled on this Independence Day. This American life we lead is an undeserved opportunity, and for most of us, one that we did not choose. We did not find it, neither did we claim the right to it—we were given it as a gift.” ~Barnabas Piper, “Thankful and humble to be an American”
Is the truth about Easter too violent for children? Russell Moore answers this question in a recent column:
Our children need to hear the Gospel. They need to see Jesus. That means they need to see both sides of skull place. That’s graphic, sure. It’s confusing, of course. And not just for kids. But it is the only message that saves. It’s the only message that prepares one for salvation. It is, as Paul says, that which is “of first importance,” the message he received from Jesus Himself (1 Cor 15:3-4).
The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the Gospel. That’s the first word. If we cannot speak of that, we would be better off not speaking of Jesus at all, rather than presenting another Christ, one who meditates but does not mediate, who counsels but is not crucified, who is accessible but not triumphant over sin and death.
The apostle Paul told us the word of the cross would be folly to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18). He didn’t warn us that it would sometimes also be folly to those who are publishing. No matter. It is still the power of God
This Easter, preach the Gospel… to the senior citizens, to the middle-aged, to the young adults, to the teenagers, to the seekers, to the hardened unbelievers, to the whole world. And, yes, preach the Gospel to the preschoolers.
Happy Spring y’all! This is always the time of year that I rush to the grocery store to stock up on those candy coated malted eggs. Kate wrote in last week because she remembered something about a tradition (not the tradition of me raiding the store for malted eggs) in our family to celebrate the first day of Spring. She was right. While we’re a little late in getting this up—the first day of Spring being today—it’s not too late to celebrate. We often held our Spring Celebration anytime during the first week of Spring.
The first day of spring was this past Monday—although it doesn’t feel like it here in Maryland. The yearly arrival of spring was greeted with much excitement in the Mahaney house during our growing up years. This was because of a unique Mahaney family tradition known as “Spring Celebration.”
Every March, on the Saturday following the first day of spring, my mom prepared a special breakfast. There were individual boxes of cereal, not just any cereal mind you, but “sweet cereal.” (For girls raised on Grape Nuts and Raisin Bran, Fruit Loops and Cocoa Krispies were a big deal!) There were also cinnamon roll bunny rabbits. Check out the picture below.
(A small disclaimer here—this sample bunny was made by Nicole and does not look exactly like the original. For example, Mom’s icing was light pink, not fuschia, her bunny face didn’t have icing, and she didn’t burn her cinnamon rolls.)
Mom created these delicacies by using those pre-made cinnamon rolls that come in the little tube. After cooking the rolls, she would decorate them. A few drops of food coloring made the icing pink. Two halves of one roll made the ears. Raisin eyes, a cherry nose, and little almond whiskers completed the project.
In addition to the special breakfast, each place at the table had a basket filled with candy.
We weren’t allowed in the kitchen until everything was ready, so we waited at the top of the stairs, yelling down every thirty seconds or so to find out if it was “time yet.” When Mom FINALLY gave the word, the party began!
First things first—we ate and ate some more. After the food was taken care of, it was on to the activities. There was an egg hunt with those little plastic eggs that you can fill with candy or some other treasure. We would dye hard-boiled eggs, and play games together.
My mom always worked hard to make it a day to remember, and her efforts were not in vain. As you can imagine, for three little girls, this day was one of the highlights of our year. Actually, writing about Spring Celebration makes me a little nostalgic. I just might throw myself my own little party to welcome spring this year!
It’s a girltalk tradition to recommend a sermon to listen to while taking down your Christmas tree and trappings (if you haven’t already!). I listened to an excellent series of sermons today as I was packing away our Christmas decorations. These messages on the life of Joseph (of the OT) were preached by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson over a few months this past year. I’m only part way through and already greatly encouraged. So while you’re putting away those ornaments and lights, listen and enjoy.
“So the truth of the Incarnation is not just good theology; it is practical comfort and assurance. Jesus identifies with us in our humanity, and now we know that God is for us in Christ. He can be trusted. He went through torture too. When we see Jesus on the cross we can come to trust God with an unutterable trust that never for a moment considers He will not stand by us in our sufferings.” ~Os Guinness
We are very mindful that there are many people who experience grief and sadness during the Christmas season. My sister-in-law Sharon is one of them. Today we want to reprint some thoughts she shared with us several years ago. Here is how I first introduced Sharon to the girltalk audience:
On July 8, 2003 Sharon lost Dave, her husband of 32 years, to a brain tumor. We all desperately miss Dave’s joy, his impeccable sense of humor, his servant’s heart, and his delicious cooking. However, the intense grief that Sharon and her five children have experienced these past two and a half years is a testimony to the love they had for Dave, and his love for them.
And yet, through this unimaginable hardship, Sharon’s faith in God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness has remained strong. She has truly grieved with hope. While not a day goes by that she does not desperately miss “Her Bud” (as she and Dave would call each other) she displays a selfless strength in serving others that only comes from knowing Jesus Christ.
For this reason, we asked Sharon to share about both the pain, but more importantly the comfort she experiences at Christmastime. We pray her thoughts will provide hope to those of you who have lost a loved one. And for the rest of us, may we extend discerning care to those we know who are grieving this Christmas.
I believe there is only one answer to the question of how I experience God’s comfort at Christmastime, and that is for me to be on my knees basking in and staying grounded in the Word of God. His words touch my heart and soul, as he is the ultimate comforter. And from him come all other forms of comfort, as well.
Of course, snags are everywhere this time of year. If you’ve ever driven through the mountains, you’ve probably seen signs that read, “Beware of falling rocks.” For me as a widow, the holidays can be full of “falling rocks” in the form of that invitation or Christmas card addressed to only one name, traditions that are no longer an option, having to pass by the men’s department no longer looking for that annual sweater or tie, or even getting a whiff of my husband’s favorite cologne in the crowds of shoppers. Like a thorn on a rose pricks the finger, these reminders of a love lost prick my fragile, already bleeding heart. The challenge becomes surfacing from the pain of the past and wanting to live joyfully in the present with a hope for the future.
Although I have yet to get through the season without heartache and tears, and this will be my third Christmas without my husband, my Lord is faithful to supply the needed comfort. I should add here that I must choose to be comforted, as the temptation can be to fall into the sin of self-pity. If you are a widow, you know you can feel the pain of loneliness even when you’re in a group—even a group of family and friends. Those who help me to surface from the pain are not afraid of my sudden tears that may spill over in an instant unexpectedly, as they realize that may be the only language I can speak at the moment. They respect my need to talk at length about my current grief, or my desire not to talk at all. They give me much-appreciated hugs and tell me they care. They sometimes share remembrances of my husband that make me smile through the tears, knowing the memories may cause pain but are certainly treasured. Comfort has also come in the form of e-mails and phone calls and cards, all with words of love and encouragement. This past Sunday, I was comforted by a word shared during worship from one of the pastors with an encouragement for widows and single parents.
I think it is important to note here that we should not assume someone is no longer grieving, or not grieving as much, because a number of years have passed. I am among those who, before I became a widow, mistakenly thought that the one-year anniversary marked the end of the grieving process, that somehow things became easier and got back to “normal.” Where did that idea come from? That’s not accurate. I believe grieving is actually a gift, a good and necessary gift, a process, and a journey that, because of the depth of our love, may last until I see my Bud again. And, yes, the severity of my grieving is increased during the holidays. But as I respond to the pain and embrace with gratefulness the comforts he sends, I learn endurance and perseverance; and I realize that everything is part of the process of sanctification. And I am overwhelmed—not by my grief—but by his love for me.
“The incarnation is the supreme example of fulfilled prophecy, the supreme example of God’s faithfulness to his promises….
What God did when he sent his Son into the world is an absolute guarantee that he will do everything he has ever promised to do.
Look at it in a personal sense: ‘All things work together for good to them that love God’—that is a promise—‘to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Rom. 8:28, KJV).
‘But how can I know that is true for me?’ asks someone.
The answer is the incarnation.
God has given the final proof that all his promises are sure, that he is faithful to everything he has ever said. So that promise is sure for you.
Whatever your state or condition may be, whatever may happen to you, he has said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’ (Heb. 13:5, KJV)—and he will not. He has said so, and we have absolute proof that he fulfills his promises.
He does not always do it immediately in the way that we think. No, no! But he does it!
And he will never fail to do it.”
D. Martyn Lloyd Jones
from Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, ed. by Nancy Guthrie
Just wanted to pass on this Christmas gift idea in case (like me!) you are nowhere close to finishing your Christmas shopping. The Gathering is the new Sovereign Grace album recorded live at WorshipGod11 and it contains 15 songs that progressively tell the story of the gospel and our apprpopriate response. Here’s a more complete description from the website:
The songs on The Gathering can be sung apart from each other, but together they form a progression that reflects the gospel and our response to it. A call to worship (There is One Reason) leads to proclaiming God’s greatness (Greater Than We Can Imagine, Come Praise and Glorify). In view of God’s glory, we more clearly see our sinfulness and need for mercy before his holiness (Shine Into Our Night, Have Mercy on Me). We then rejoice in the good news that God has forgiven us and reconciled us to himself through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Now Why This Fear and Unbelief, Isaiah 53). A fresh awareness of God’s mercy in Christ makes us grateful for his generosity and kindness in every way (Generous King), which leads to eagerly asking for more of his grace (When You Move). A desire to know God’s will through his Word (Your Words of Life, Show us Christ) is followed by expressions of commitment and communion (All I Have is Christ, We Hunger and Thirst). Having rehearsed and celebrated the gospel and its effect in our lives, we want to take this good news to the world (Lift High the Cross). A final song reminds us that we leave relying not on our own strength, but on the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the power of the Spirit (As You Go).
“We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near.” Psalm 75:1
“Never let us neglect thanksgiving…As the smiling flowers gratefully reflect in their lovely colours the various constituents of the solar ray, so should gratitude spring up in our hearts after the smiles of God’s providence….We should praise God again and again. Stinted gratitude is ingratitude. For infinite goodness there should be measureless thanks. Faith promises redoubled praise for greatly needed and signal deliverances. For that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare. God is at hand to answer and do wonders—adore we then the present Deity. We sing not of a hidden God, who sleeps and leaves the church to her fate, but of one who ever in our darkest days is most near, a very present help in trouble. “Near is his name.” Glory be unto the Lord, whose perpetual deeds of grace and majesty are the sure tokens of his being with us always, even unto the ends of the world.” Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David
We’ve got a lot going on here at girltalk this week. I’m sure you do too! Later today we’ll tell you more about our Black Friday/Cyber Monday specials at the new 52home@home store. And at your request, Dad will again provide us with the seventh annual edition of his book gift list.
But first, here’s a quick Thanksgiving roundup of some of our favorite recipes and ideas.
Oh, and I’ve been waiting a whole year to tell you about this advent calendar my family used last year. It is called Christmas Opened Up published by thegoodbook.com. The little book that accompanies the calendar provides a five-minute-per-day Bible study to do with your kids that tells the story of God’s rescue plan. It includes a brief opening activity or question, a Scripture verse, questions about the Scripture, and ideas for a brief prayer time. It was a fantastic way to spend the entire month focusing on the gospel over Cheerios with honey each morning. It encouraged the best kind of anticipation for Christmas Day and my kids can’t wait to do it again this year. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did!