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Celebrations & traditions

The Love Gift

Celebrations & traditionsMarci AnthonyComment
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Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift. 2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV

A friend of mine recently shared something special that they do on Christmas Eve every year and it touched my heart. Every year her family draws names for different family members. The name on the card is designated as your “Love Gift” recipient. Every year on Christmas Eve the family looks for their name with the special “Love Gift” tag. What’s unique about these gifts is that they are not really gifts at all; instead, each specially wrapped package contains a unique sentiment or message for each individual in the family.  

When the kids in the family were young, the message may have said, “You are special!” or “Mommy and Daddy love you.” As the family grew older, so did the messages, “You’ve worked so hard in school. Way to go, we’re proud of you!” “Sis, I really appreciate the way you always look out for me.”  

When this idea began, my friend made each person in her family a “Love Gift” box that they would keep their messages in year after year. Every year before they open their new “Love Gift,” they will read all of the other messages in the box. Some make them giggle like, “Brother, you are really good at the Mario Bros video game but please let me win once in a while.” Or, “I’m really glad Daddy took off his beard; it was really scratchy.” As the kids matured, so did the subject matter. “Son, you have had a tough year." "I’m sorry you didn’t make the team." "You showed a lot of courage and maturity when you congratulated your friends." "God has a plan for your life and sometimes it’s hard to trust someone else with that plan.” Or, “Mom, you seem really tired lately. I know I don’t say it enough, but I love you and appreciate all that you do for us.” 

Every year the family still draws the names of a family member and writes a special message of love or encouragement. What started as a simple idea has become the highlight of Christmas. There is a buzz around the house in the days preceding Christmas Eve with everyone trying to figure out who drew their name for the “Love Gift.” The actual presents wrapped up under the tree are nice, but those 

things the kids have received in the past fade in their minds and they forget what they received year after year. But the “Love Gift” is a meaningful expression of what the true meaning of Christmas is all about.  

God sent his Son because we needed encouragement. We needed His message of hope and most importantly we needed His “Love Gift.”   

Dig Deeper |

1 John 4:10John 3:16

Action Item |

If you’re struggling as a couple or as a family, maybe you all have lost sight of the importance of encouraging one another and really showing that love. Start by writing a note of encouragement for a specific family member and hide it somewhere for them to find. You might be surprised at how it changes their outlook on the day and might even help them see you in a different light. 

Prayer |

God help me to focus this season on what is eternal and not what is temporary. Allow me to slow down and enjoy this special time with my family instead of feeling rushed and pulled in different directions. Thank You for sending your Son as my special “Love Gift!” 

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Just Do It…

Celebrations & traditionsMarci AnthonyComment
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When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. Matthew 1:24 NIV 

As you listen to the story of the birth of Jesus, is there one person who fascinates you the most? Obviously, it is Jesus! It is His birthday and He is the Son of God and Man! But what about the heavenly host of angels, the plain shepherds with their cuddly sheep, the royal wise men from afar, loving Mary or Joseph? 

Joseph, who is this man? When we view him in a nativity, he is the man standing in back of the stable looking at Jesus. So uneventful! However, Joseph is so much more. 

Joseph is described as a righteous man who was the fiance of Mary. When she became pregnant, he decided to divorce her quietly so she would not be disgraced. But an angel of the Lord appeared and he told Joseph that Mary was pregnant from the Holy Spirit, or God, and she was carrying God’s son. Now I would have freaked out, but Joseph believes the Lord and takes Mary home as his wife. 

Wow!! This man has such faith and is so obedient. And Joseph didn’t stop at this one event. He was visited by an angel of the Lord three more times and each time Joseph did exactly what the Lord told him to do. He didn’t grumble, ask why or even hesitate. He just did it! 

Now if you are like me, you have trouble obeying. My insides actually scream no and want to rebel at every command. But when I really look at Joseph, I know I need to be like him. I know I need to say “no” to myself and “yes” to God every time, without complaining or hesitating.  

So, when God asks me to love my unlovable coworker, listen to someone without interrupting, prepare food for a funeral or a new baby, work at the homeless shelter or lead a Bible study, I should just do it. There should be no balking or questioning. I should be obedient just like Joseph. Like the man standing in back of the stable waiting for his next task from God.  

Dig Deeper |

Matthew 1:18-252:13-14; 2:19-21; 2:22-23 

Action Item |

Just do it! Wait for your next task from God and be obedient 

Prayer |

Dear Father, I am your child but I confess at times I am disobedient. Please forgive me. Help me to listen for Your commands and follow them every time.  Amen. 

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A Christmas Tree? A Picture of the True Meaning of Christmas?

Celebrations & traditionsMarci AnthonyComment
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"Let the heavens rejoice and be glad. let the fields be jubilant and everything in them.  Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy." Psalms 96:11-12 NIV

Trees: green, gold, silver, tall, short, fruit, pine cones, all a special gift from God, the Creator.  One of God's trees is a reminder of everlasting life, yes, the green Christmas tree. (Green is the color for life.) 

For many years of my life, beginning as a child, I lived without a Christmas tree in our family home.  One of my parents did not believe in a decorated tree. They thought it a form of idolatry.  As a child, I did not understand how this could be possible. A dead, green tree Idolatry?  We know idolatry is when we love something great or small, living or dead more than God. 

Unfortunately, Christmas tends to draw us away from God with all the lights, hustle and bustle of activities, gifts, and yes, even family and friends. So, how can a Christmas Tree draw our attention back to the true meaning of Christmas?  

On the tree hangs a manger, a symbol of the first Christmas. Our God, who loved us so much, placed His Son, Jesus in that manger. The green tree illuminates the room with light, a reminder that Jesus is the light of the world.  Our eyes rest on the top of the tree. We may see a star!  In Philippians 2:15 we are told to shine like the stars in the world.  As the star led the wise men to Christ, so our light will lead the lost in the dark world to Christ.   Nearby we may see a crown of thorns. Yes, Jesus died on a tree, but greater still is His crown.  Resurrection!   Jesus our Savior is alive today. Imagine, a green Christmas tree with all the Lord's trimmings. 

As you look at the Christmas Tree this Christmas season, may it bring about a new message, as it did for me.  Joy to the World, the Lord has Come.  Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!  

Digging Deeper | 

Matthew 12:33; Exodus 20:4; I Peter 2:24; I Corinthians 10:14; Isaiah 44:9; Matthew 2:2; 2 Peter 1:19; II Samuel 22:29; Psalms 18:28; Matthew 5:16; John 1:7 

Action | 

Be purposeful this Christmas. May the light in you shine bright as you share the love of Christ in all your activities. 

Prayer | 

Lord, help me to focus on the true joy and meaning of Christmas so I will be ready for Your coming. Amen  

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Over the River....and Across the Desert to Bethlehem We Go!

Celebrations & traditionsMarci AnthonyComment
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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. Luke 2:1-4 NIV

For holiday travel you pack suitcases, load up the car, the alarm goes off, you roll out of bed half asleep to a dark quiet morning, backing your car out of the driveway quietly you head towards the highway or the airport. If you have ever had to drive across the country or tried catching an early flight during the holidays, you can relate to the schedule above. Growing up, my family did not live close to my extended family.  In fact, they lived about as far away as they could get while still staying in the same hemisphere. Even now as an adult, my parents do not live close by, so we must travel long distances to visit them. Many times we complain about having to travel long distances using our modern conveniences, but have you ever given a thought to what it was like to travel back in biblical times?  

I cannot imagine the preparation and uncertain travel experience that Mary and Joseph had to endure to travel 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. In today’s culture it’s easy to pack a bag when we want to travel, but imagine not having a suitcase and having to pack for a journey not knowing when and if you would return. Cell phone apps allow us to determine what the weather will be like at our destination, but this was not the case for Mary and Joseph. Growing up, all of the biblical photos I saw of Mary and Joseph depicted Mary wearing a light blue tunic dress with a white head covering. Joseph appeared to be taking a leisurely stroll alongside Mary through the non-threatening desert with sandals and a tunic that barely covered his knees. Biblical photos always portray the two of them traveling in the desert which, I’m sure, was partially true, but in reality there were several other terrains like mountains and forests that they had to endure as well as the harsh climate conditions.  

Thinking back, I remember my car ride conversation containing the cliché four words, “Are we there yet?” I think back to Mary who was pregnant riding on a donkey traveling only 10 miles in a day through hot and cold climates and rocky terrain and I wonder if she ever complained? I think how lucky I am that I can flip a switch changing the climate in my car from hot to cold. I think of how lucky we are that we have paved roads and GPS systems to travel by, but for Mary and Joseph roads were a luxury. Individuals in the Bible had to make their own path through forest and wooded areas. These areas may have been inhabited by wild and dangerous animals or perhaps robbers who waited out of sight to rob the first unlucky soul that happened to cross their path. The stress and strain that this 90 mile journey must have put on this young couple must have been almost overwhelming, but Mary and Joseph knew that God had a purpose. 

Now, when I ponder the convenience of modern day travel, I have to chuckle at the sighs of people having to wait in the security check point line to make sure the flight is secure before boarding or the frustration of getting a center vs an aisle seat. I shake my head thinking about traveling in my climate controlled car driving several hours to get to my final destination without having to really lift much more than my hand to change the radio station. The depth and dedication of Mary and Joseph’s journey far outweigh the minor inconveniences we face while traveling in modern society.  I appreciate the unbelievable and heroic journey that Mary and Joseph took thousands of years ago to bring a baby named “Jesus” into our sinful world so we could be saved.  Merry Christmas! 

Dig Deeper |

Psalms 119:105Proverbs 3:23

Action Item |

If you are traveling this holiday season, take time to thank God for all the modern conveniences we take for granted. Thank God for selecting Mary and Joseph as the earthly parents of Jesus. 

Prayer |

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for this time that I live in. Help me to appreciate those things I take for granted and help me to acknowledge that you are in control of those areas of my life that are out of my control.

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Gather with us by sharing your "Action Item" or "Prayer" by clicking on the Comment link at the top of the post.