Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Process of Renewal

A mother was working with her son on his spelling words.  She asked him if he knew the difference between the words conscious and conscience.

He replied, “Yes, conscious is when I am aware of something and conscience is when I wish I wasn’t.”

The year is coming to an end.  There may be some things that went badly or that we wish we had handled differently.  Our conscience reminds us of things that we need to change or people we have hurt.

Repentance is a process of tidying up our lives so that we don’t have a lot of loose ends at the end.  It is doing away with some things so that the final result is glorious.

“For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.” 2 Cor 3:11  I like the idea that repentance leaves us with the more glorious parts of our selves. 

We have two selves.  The outward self is mortal, sensual and prone to mischief.  The inward self is immortal, spiritual and sensitive to truth.  Which of your two selves is in control?  Sometimes the battle is internal. 

In repentance, “the outward man perish[es].”  And though this process hurts a little, it is “but for a moment [and] worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”  2 Cor 4:16-17

Let go of darkness and let the glory in.

Christ makes our purification possible.  “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature:  old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.”  2 Cor 5:17  He has the power to renew and resurrect the mortal body.  He also has the power to renew and perfect the spirit.  We can engage that power here and now.  Renewal is a powerful process made possible by the Prince of Peace.

I myself have had to do a lot of repenting this year.  After years of handling things in my family relationships badly, it is time to tidy up my life.  I have made some major changes in my marriage, and renewed my dedication to the success of my children.  I could just sit around and wish for things to get better, or resign myself to the status quo but I have the privilege of agency.    It is no surprise that things have fallen into disrepair.  Entropy is a natural law.  It is my choice to build, repair and repent.  I have set goals and kept track of my progress and I have seen some small signs of growth.  Renewal is possible with Christ’s help.  I might feel “perplexed” at times but “not in despair.”  2 Cor 4:8

I’m making room in my life for an eternal weight of glory.

If you liked this post you might also like Shame vs. Guilt

Image of peeling paint courtesy Steven Depolo
Image Into Darkness courtesy  Sario Reale

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Adoration of the Magi

Image courtesy Watingfortheword

The Magi were three wise men who came to visit the baby Jesus as recorded in Matthew, 

"Behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him.'...and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh."  (Matt 2:1-2, 9-11)

Jesus was a young child at the time and the star led the wise men to his home.  The gifts were valuable and easily converted to cash.  They may have furnished the means for Joseph and Mary to escape into Egypt when the king sent out the order that all the babies age two and under be killed.

This story teaches us that the wealthy, educated Magi did not need to see first to believe in Christ.  They believed enough to make a journey, ask questions, use their wit and eventually they found the Christ child.  Believe first and your faith will be rewarded abundantly.

Byzantine Depiction of the "Magi (1)" by Nina-no - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
Philippine depiction of the Magi - Image Courtesy Leo Cloma

Image by Leopold Kupelwieser Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 22, 2014

Nativity Scenes From Around the World

I am amazed at the beautiful nativity scenes designed by Christians in other countries.  In the United States, we have a simple nativity with maybe 10 pieces that we display on the mantle or a table. This is the one in my home. 

From what I have seen online, the scenes designed by others are much more elaborate with hundreds of pieces.  
I can't help but marvel at the unity of faith displayed by Christian people from all countries.  We may imagine the details differently but we share the beliefs.  I love seeing the commonalities in belief among people from all over the world.

Japanese Nativity courtesy Mary Harrsch

Philippine Nativity courtesy Mary Harrsch

Guatemala Nativity courtesy Roberto Urrea

A Nativity scene is called a Belen in Spanish.  Click on this link to see a page which has lots of links to the associations that showcase large nativities in Spain.  Each association has photos of their nativities.  

Another website, Belenario, has a world map that takes you to photos of nativities from many countries just by clicking.

Adoration of the Magi Courtesy Joel Parham
One Mexican artist that makes these amazing dioramas has a digital gallery of his work.  It is called Nacimiento de Navidad.

Internationally, artists have depicted the birth of Jesus Christ visually.  I really like this website TheJesusQuestion which has Nativity artwork from around the world.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Preparing for Christmas

Christmas is a time to give not receive.  It is about the greatest gift ever given to the world, the birth, life and death of the Savior Jesus Christ.

Because we give gifts at Christmas to each other, my children quickly forget about giving and thing only of what they will receive.  To combat this selfish mentality, I help my children prepare for Christmas by making gifts and thinking of others.

How We Combat Excessive Selfishness:

  1. Make Gifts - The children who get deeply involved in a project that requires their time and efforts invest of themselves at Christmas.  They get excited about giving.  This year we have some who are beading, others who are making things out of paper mache or popsicle sticks.  One of my kids is making a rocket ship for his brother.  Another made a tunnel for the trains to drive through.  See pictures below.
  2. Spread the Spirit of Christ - The children were encouraged to attend rehearsals and perform in a community choir singing Handel’s Messiah.  One of my kids accompanied the singers with her flute.  A few weeks later, the youth went out caroling and sang hymns of the season to all the town.
  3. Dramatize the Nativity - We love to gather our children together to read the story of Jesus’ birth and dramatize the major events.  This year we participated in a live nativity with others from our church and our baby was chosen to be the Baby Jesus.  It was an amazing experience.
  4. Service Projects - My daughter and I joined a bunch of women in sewing baby blankets for the local hospital maternity ward.  These soft blankets will be given to the mothers of new babies to keep them warm.  There are always ways to help those in the community who are struggling financially.  We try to help where we can.
  5. Gratitude - We make an effort to thank teachers, neighbors and friends who make our lives rich as they go about their tasks.  It is easy to take others for granted until you have a bad experience and then you realize how good it is to be surrounded by loving people.
  6. Giving the Gift of Time - I have so many things I need to do as a mother of a large family at this time of year.  I sometimes get crabby when all of my kids need my attention at once.  By giving of my time to help them, I remember that my focus is others, not myself.
  7. Read Together - The Christmas children’s literature abounds with beautiful messages that can add honey to our hearts.  I like to take time to read to the children my favorite stories, like Why the Chimes Rang by Raymond MacDonald Alden.
  8. Offer Christ our Hearts - There is only one thing we can give Him that he doesn’t already have, our broken and contrite hearts.
Do you feel the Christmas spirit? What strategies to you use to create intentional Christmas traditions?
Unfinished Paper Mache Cave for Concealing Toy Dragons

DIY Insert to Convert a Diaper Bag into a Camera Bag

Pretend Play Rocket

Thomas Train Tunnel

Popsicle Stick Ornament

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Divinity of Jesus Christ

In this post:  teaching teens about Jesus, my testimony, my teens' testimonies
Window at St John's Ashfield, image from Wikimedia
I teach a Sunday School class of young teens ages 12-14.  This week’s lesson was based on the question, “What scriptures would you use to testify of the divinity of Jesus Christ?”  At the beginning of class I made sure my students had a copy of the scriptures, a paper and a pencil.  We spent our time together looking for scriptures about Jesus Christ.  We started with Jesus’ birth.  My young students have heard the Nativity story and knew that it was somewhere in Luke.  They thought there was a Nativity story in all four gospels but after looking found that the birth of Jesus Christ is only recorded in Matthew and Luke.  During the last five minutes of class I asked my students to write a testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ on paper and hand it in before they left.  They all made an attempt and a few of them gave me permission to post their words on this blog.  I will start with my own testimony and then let you read their testimonies.

Painting by J Kirk Richards, used with permission
I know that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.  He was born miraculously to a virgin mother just as it says in the Bible that when God the Father overshadowed Mary, she conceived.  I believe He is the Only Begotten Son of the Father and an entirely separate deity from God the Father, separate but equal.  I believe Jesus Christ and the Father are one in power, might, dominion, glory and holiness.  In reading about His life, I have figuratively sat in the crowds and been fed by a few fishes and loaves of bread.  I have seen the lame walk and the blind receive sight.  I have watched as He confronts authority and condemns sin.  And after reading about His life, I have seen Him put on trial and crucified.  His brilliance is snuffed out by those who oppose Him, the very beings He created.  I am crushed.  I look at this as the greatest tragedy and yet there is a happy ending in His resurrection and ascension to heaven.  My journey through scripture has not been just dramatic because in the end I find that I have a bit of His light in my heart.  In believing his story, I have encapsulated a love for Him and a testimony of His divinity in my heart.  I join many others who also believe.  He is the light and life of the world.  He is the source of all truth.  He is not only a great deity but my intimate friend.  Let me tell you about my personal relationship with Him.  I have experienced both happiness and great sorrow.  I have relied on His mercy when everything around me made no sense.  I have come to Him with my broken heart and He has been my strength.  He has gently led me as a mother with small children when I could do nothing more than follow.  His words have fed my soul, his teachings have guided my decisions.  These things have protected me.  He has never been far away even when I felt utterly alone.  Jesus Christ is a living part of my daily life.  I believe that He looks down from realms of holiness to shepherd me in loving kindness.  I believe in Him as the Redeemer of my soul.

Jesus cleansing the temple by overturning tables set up for commercial purposes, image used with permission
From my students:

“I have a testimony about Christ and His power.  He was born in humble conditions and died in one of the most painful ways.  I believe that he will come again.”  - Logan, age 13

“I have a testimony that Jesus Christ is our Savior, that he was our Heavenly Father’s Only Begotten Son.  I know that He performed the Atonement which allows us the opportunity to return to our Father in Heaven.  He performed miracles that proved He was the Son of God.  Miracles like healing blind people and allowing the deaf to hear.”  - Peter, age 14

Crucifixion, image used with permission
“I know that the Lord lives and loves me, that Christ is the Son of God, that He came to Earth and performed miracles, and that through the Atonement I can be healed.  Christ paid for my sins.  He is the only one who can.  He knows every pain or sorrow I have ever felt, and knows how to help.  Through Christ I can be healed.”  - Sydney, age 14

“Jesus shows his love by healing the sick and teaches many lessons of the bread and water.  Jesus is our Savior and the Son of God.  Jesus heals a man blind.”  - Brenden, age 12

“I have a testimony of Jesus divinity that he has the power to do many miracles and he did when he lived here on the Earth.  He performed miracles.  He healed the sick and cured the blind, but yea lso has the power of love and He uses that power by blessing us.”  - Megan age 13

Jesus surrounded by children, image used with permission

These words are reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Faith is More than Belief

I have lots of wishes.  I wish it were warm and sunny.  I wish I were rich.  I wish I had a fast car to drive instead of a big fifteen passenger van…sigh.  Faith is more than wishing.  

The first way to harness the power of faith is to imagine the possibilities.  The possibilities are endless.  Without imagination, it is hard, but not impossible to have faith.  But don’t stay in imaginary-land.

Next set actionable goals.  Faith is a principle of forward movement.  One-week-goals can be just as powerful as ten-year-goals.  In fact you need both.  In order to be rich, I can’t sit on my butt and wait for money to grow on trees.  There are a lot of intermediate steps to take.  One time I was tasked to set some goals and I came up with a long and beautiful list.  However, when I looked it over after it was submitted, I realized that they were all things that I had right now or could achieve tomorrow.  That is an example of what not to do.  Don’t be afraid to want good things.  I reworked my goals to include things I had never tried to do before.  Write out your goals in the present tense as if you are doing them right now.

Third, I have to keep track of myself.  If my goal is to develop spirituality, I might set a goal to read the scriptures daily.  In order to know if I am reaching my goal, and not being too lenient with myself, I need to make a chart for checking off my progress or I need to journal what I’m learning.  Journals help us to record and remember positive steps we are taking on the journey.

Last, I must return to the original vision and report on my progress.  How close to my original intent has my journey taken me?  Have I arrived, or do I still have a ways to go?  What obstacles did I encounter and what can I do to avoid them the next time?  Faith will get me where I need to go if I don’t try to run faster than I have strength.

If you liked this post you might also like:  Faith is the Conviction that Moves Us