Thursday, December 26, 2013

Deleting Worship?

No Worship this Sunday? 
Should worship be deleted the last Sunday of the year? Should worship be cancelled because of busy Christmas schedules? Many churches last year deleted worship on the last weekend of the year. There are arguments in support of this. 

Christmas is such a busy season. Shopping, planning, cooking, parties and special music events lead up to Christmas. The staff works hard and long through out the holidays. Church members, especially those who volunteer, are tired and need time off. Everyone needs a rest, so why not cancel church?

Christians in countries where the church is persecuted would wonder about this. Christians in China, India, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia risk their lives to worship. They would not understand our churches canceling worship. Why would a church able to worship in freedom delete worship? Why would they do this on one of the most significant Holy days? Does this keep Christ in Christmas? 

Yet in recent years churches in the USA have cancelled church in order to rest from busy holiday events and preparations and to enjoy lavish family gatherings. In its place they encourage family worship at home, a poor substitute.

Should the secular, economy boosting aspects of Christmas take precedence over the true and holy meaning of the day?  

Sunday is a day of rest set aside to gather as a church. The Sabbath is to be kept Holy. We must spend time in worship as a church every Sunday. To cancel this is unthinkable.

What about "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy?" (Ex. 20:8) What about "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing?" (Heb. 10:25a)

What about the New Year? From 2006 on some churches virtually did away with worship on the last Sunday of the year. The end of the year and the beginning of a new year is a special time to reflect on the past and make resolutions for the future. It's a time to worship our Holy God with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  

Let's find a church that is open and worship Christ the Lord this Sunday. 

Blessings, Dottie

This post originally appeared last year on Faithnotes.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Alone

Q.  I’m a widow with two grown children and several grandchildren. My daughter and her husband and children in California have always come home for Christmas. This year they can’t come. My son lives only a few hours away but they’re going to her family this year. At age seventy-two I’m faced with spending Christmas alone for the first time in my life. I’m quite upset about this. How can I get through the day alone?

Christmas alone. Many people are alone and lonely at Christmas. Often, the older generation is left out of Christmas plans as much attention focuses on making Christmas happy for children. Family mobility also contributes to this - as in your case. Most of us find it difficult to be separated from our loved ones on Christmas. There are a number of things you can do to make this Christmas bearable or perhaps, even enjoyable. Choose the ones that appeal to you. Some of these may feel risky but do them anyway.

1. Plan your day ahead of time. Face the fact that it will be difficult to spend Christmas alone, but plan ways to make the best of it. Don’t wait until Christmas morning to decide how you will spend your day.
2. Tell friends and neighbors that you will be alone at Christmas. Perhaps someone will invite you to join them. Or you may find someone else who is going to be spending Christmas alone and then the two of you can spend the day together.
3. Volunteer to help on Christmas Day. Hospitals, nursing or retirement homes and shelters for the homeless have only skeleton crews working. They welcome volunteers on Christmas Day. Your help might even allow someone else to be with their family. Helping others can help you forget your loneliness. 
4. Do some of the things you enjoy the most on Christmas day. Enjoy your leisure time alone with a bubble bath, a good book or a special movie. Plan a special Christmas dinner of your favorite foods even if you’re eating alone. 
5. Invite someone over for Christmas who would otherwise be alone. Perhaps there are foreign students on a local campus with no place to go or an elderly person who could leave a nursing home but has no relatives here.
6. Plan a trip so you won’t be alone on Christmas. Visit a resort you’ve always wanted to visit or look up an old friend, a cousin or a niece or a nephew.
7. Keep your thoughts positive. Imagine your grandchildren and children opening the presents you’ve sent them. Talk with them by phone to wish them a Merry Christmas and to share their happiness.
8. Celebrate Christmas at your church. If you don’t have a church, find one. Attend all the special Christmas events throughout the holiday season. Many churches have special Christmas Eve candlelight services. Let your church be your family this year.

9. Trust in God and think about the true meaning of Christmas. Jesus came as a babe, lived with us, died for us and now his Spirit is with us. He is with us in our loneliness.

Note to Readers: The elderly in our midst need to be noticed, appreciated and loved at Christmas. They may not have many more Christmases with us. Include them in your Christmas plans.

Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”  Isaiah 46:4

Christmas Blessings, Dottie

This post originally appeared on Taber's Truths

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Changes at Christmas
Eight or nine years ago our church worship morphed from blended traditional to out right contemporary music and worship. We adapted as best we could most of the time. We sang the choruses, listened to the praise team, focused on the repetitive words, praising God. And an occasional hymn or hymn phrase fed our souls. "Amazing Grace..."

This was different and more difficult at Christmas. Contemporary worship at Christmas left even more to be desired. We experienced two Christmas seasons with no traditional Christmas carols and no classical Christmas music. Instead we were "entertained" by contemporary music.  

Adapting to seekers is a common strategy in today's churches. This seems misguided at Christmas. Many seekers grew up in church. Most everyone holds these Christmas songs, music and Scripture secreted in the inner recesses of their heart, mind and soul. These songs, music and Scripture tell the amazing story of the birth of Christ. They tell the Reason for the season. God came to earth as a babe in a manger. He came down to us to show us who He is and to redeem us. God intersected history in person. Why are churches deleting Christmas carols that tell about this marvelous event?     
"O Come, All Ye Faithful . . ." O Little Town of Bethlehem. . ." "Silent Night, Holy Night. . ." Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. . ." "Joy to the World. . ." All missing!

We were unbelievers for years, but we enjoyed Christmas carols playing in stores as we shopped or on the radio as we traveled. We also watched Christmas TV programs, especially Charlie Brown's Christmas. In this well known story Charlie Brown is depressed. He visits Lucy's psychiatric booth and she recommends he get involved in a nativity play. Twists and turns in the plot include Snoopy's elaborate decoration of his dog house (commercialization of Christmas by a dog) and the other children attempting to modernize the play (messing with tradition). 

Charlie Brown searches for a Christmas tree determined to focus on the traditional side of the story. The children laugh at the scrawny tree he finds, throwing Charlie Brown back into despair about discovering the real meaning of Christmas. Linus then takes center stage and quotes the second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, verses 8 through 14 from the King James Version.

"'And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.'"

Pastors and Churches: Take a lesson from Charlie Brown. Keep the Christmas worship traditional. Sing the carols. Read the Christmas scripture. As Linus said,

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Christmas Blessings, Dottie


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Meaningful Christmas Gifts

Q.  My children are adults and have children of their own. With so many in our family - a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law plus grandchildren - the number of gifts we buy has multiplied. At the same time we have less need for things. I want Christmas to be about the birth of Christ and a time of family connection rather than about material things. How can we make gift giving more meaningful?
It’s difficult to keep Christmas giving meaningful when our society has commercialized it so. To do so will require thoughtful planning and determination. 

Talk over with the adults in your family your thoughts are about Christmas. If they’re receptive to your ideas then all of you can work out a plan to make your Christmas especially meaningful. If some are not receptive to this you can still make your own gifts meaningful. One significant way to make Christmas meaningful is to give of ourselves to those in need. If all the adults agree, you can adopt a needy family and give them Christmas. Enlist the children in purchasing for the children in the other family. This will help your grandchildren learn to care about others and learn that not everyone is well off.
Christmas gifts that are most meaningful are those that show our love. Here are some ideas for “love gifts.”

1.  Write a note expressing your love and caring for each family member. Be specific about what you like and love about this person; tell them what they mean to you.  This is a gift that costs no money yet it may mean more than a very expensive item.

2. Give your time and service. A gift certificate to baby sit your grandchild while the parents go out will mean a great deal and will give you a bonding time in the future with your grandchildren. Be creative and think of other gifts of service you might offer. These could include helping clean a garage, giving back rubs, reading to or tutoring a child. 
3. Give an outing. A gift certificate for an outing is a gift that is enjoyed on Christmas as well as later. Create your own certificates entitling your grandson or granddaughter to a meal out, an over night visit or a trip to a museum. The possibilities are endless. Don’t forget the adults. Give an evening out for all the adults with you picking up the tab for the dinner and a movie or play. 
4. Let an adult son or daughter know of a meaningful gift they can give you. Perhaps you would like a tour of their work place and lunch afterwards.
5. Give something you’ve made. Handmade gifts have special meaning. The time and effort they take convey caring. Pay attention to the person's favorite colors and their interests to make this especially meaningful.
6. Look for unique gifts that will match the person's interests. This conveys the fact that you really know and understand the person to whom you’re giving. It shows you have made a real effort to please him or her with your gift.

7. Enjoy the gifts, but focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Include a manger scene in your decorations. Worshiping each Advent Sunday and Christmas Eve will make your Christmas meaningful in an eternal way. When the family gathers on Christmas Day read the Christmas Scripture together. (Last week I posted a family script for this.)
Mother Teresa once said, “It’s not how much you do but how much love you put into what you are doing, that matters.” I hope these ideas will make your Christmas more meaningful for you and your family.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father.” James 1:17

Blessings, Dottie

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Christmas Story for Families

Q.  Our families will be with us on Christmas day including a number of children. My wife and I want to recognize the birth of Christ in addition to our usual gift exchange and feast. Any ideas?

A. The best idea I can think of is to read the Christmas Scripture. We have done this with our family, including the children in the reading. We assigned roles to a Narrator, Angels, the Prophet, Shepherds, the Magi, Priests and Teachers and Herod. Children enjoy this; learn from this and like being involved. Our NIV script is below.

The Birth of Christ as told in the Bible

Matthew 1:18-24
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,

ANGEL:  "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:

PROPHET: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us."

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Luke 2: 1-10                                                                                                                                
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them,

ANGEL: "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
ANGELS: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,

SHEPHERDS: "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen which were just as they had been told.

Matthew 2:1-12                                                                                                                              
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked,

MAGI: "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.

PRIESTS & TEACHERS: "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: " 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said,

HEROD: "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Christmas Blessings, Dottie