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Christmas Traditions That Teach Our Children Pt. 2


Part 2 of 4:

In spite of the commercialization of Christmas, there are ways to put Christ back into the center of the Christmas celebration. It may take a great deal of effort to correct old, ingrained habits, but the rewards will be great as you find your energy and enthusiasm increasing instead of dissipating during the holiday season.

Here are some valuable tips to aid you as you re-invest the Christmas season with awe for our wonderful Savior; as you teach your children how to celebrate the incarnation — the coming of God to earth in human flesh.

Focus on Jesus:
1. Read the Christmas story together as a family at dinnertime or as a part of other family “together” time. Perhaps combine the reading with the lighting of advent candles and read the Scriptures that relate to each candle. This would space out the Christmas story over a 5 week period. Have a different family member read each time from an age appropriate Bible – i.e., a young child could read from a children’s Bible. Talk about why God sent His Son into the world in a human body and follow it through to the cross and the empty tomb.

2. When entertaining guests during the holiday season, both Christians and unbelievers, emphasize the real reason for celebrating Christmas:

a. sing carols together, with someone accompanying on guitar or keyboard;

b. share testimonies or personal stories from other Christmas seasons;

c. suggest special prayer for others who may not be having a happy Christmas, such as: our troops overseas, the homeless, nursing home residents, those who have experienced recent personal losses, or those who do not know Christ’s love;

d. read aloud stories with a Christmas theme;

e. watch videos or DVD’s with Christmas related themes that teach Christian values. Talk about the story themes.

More to come . . . Part 3

©2011, Marcy Alves

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Your Death on the Cross


Who was it that hung on the cross? It was a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, a thief, a fornicator, a greedy person, a hardened criminal, a selfish person, an abuser, an addict, and the list goes on and on. But how can I say this? Am I a blasphemer against our Lord Jesus?

Gal. 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” NRSV

Jesus hung on the cross for us, in our place. He died for all kinds of sin, for all kinds of sinners. Think you’re not a sinner? I once thought I wasn’t. Keep reading.

Gal. 5:19-22 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  NRSV

I was a young teenager when God spoke to me about my personal sins by leading a speaker at a youth meeting to use the Scripture quoted above. I had not done really bad things, but I saw myself in the list of sins in the verses above. We were very poor and I had jealousy and envy and sometimes anger about not being able to have things I wanted to have or live in the kind of house where I could comfortably invite friends over. I also had a lot of pride, which is probably why I was ashamed about our house and our poverty.

We were all in big trouble before the crucifixion of Jesus. But thank God:

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2: 24

I remember responding to an invitation the night of the youth meeting, to be cleansed from my sin. I told the Lord that I was wrong – I did have sin in my life – and that I was sorry. I asked for His forgiveness and He told me that because of Jesus death on the cross, I was already forgiven.  It felt like a warm blanket of love had been placed round my shoulders that night. I have never doubted from that night that God loves me and that I have access to the God of the universe now through Jesus. I was re-born that night.

According to the Scriptures, all who have been re-born by the Holy Spirit of God were “crucified with Christ” on that cross.

Gal. 2:19-20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

You and I spiritually hung on the cross with Jesus – He felt our sin, our shame, our guilt. He took our punishment, our pain, our wounds into himself.  We have been set free.

Rom. 6:5-6 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, resurrected, we who are born again by His Spirit also participate in that resurrection, both now and in the future when Jesus returns. The power that was unleashed in the resurrection of Christ is available to us to live the life we have been called to live – one of victory over sin in this earthly life and over death itself when the physical body “dies”. All this is through the gift of eternal life that was revealed in the resurrection of Christ and promised to all those who put their faith in Christ.  Halleluiah!

Forget the Easter bunnies and  colored eggs and chocolate candy. Praise the Lord that Jesus conquered death!

Happy Resurrection Day!!

 

©2012, Marcy Alves (edited 4/19/2014)

Looking for Love?


“Single man looking for a chance at love with a faithful woman.”

This post appeared with a picture of a handsome young man in a uniform on an ad that popped up on one of my free email sites. I don’t know if it was just a come-on for an eager, available and lonely woman, or if it was a sincere search. But it started me thinking.

No, I’m not shopping for a new man; I already have a really great husband – a faithful best friend.

But I couldn’t help but wonder how many people today, both men and women, could identify with that ad? How many wish they had a faithful woman or a faithful man, a faithful wife or husband, even a faithful friend to come alongside them – to stand with them in difficult times.

And how many will be drawn in by such an ad, and will set out on a journey that may leave them even more lonely and disappointed than they were before?

The themes of love and faithfulness shifted in my thoughts from the world of romance to the realm of the spiritual. I thought of an ad that God might place on one of these email sites:

“Awesome God looking for a chance at love with a faithful woman or a faithful man.”

or

“Faithful God looking for a chance to demonstrate His love to those who are searching for a loving, faithful relationship.”

While not worded like the two preceding posts, such ads have appeared in a very special book; it’s the Bible and it is full of ads from God. Here are some of those God-posts:

Jeremiah 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”  (ESV)

Deut. 7:9 “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations . . .” (ESV)

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  (NRSV)

Gal. 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ . . .  and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God,who loved me and gave himself for me. (NRSV)

1 John 3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (NIV)

Anyone who responds to these God-posts will discover the One who is faithful to show His love to all who open up to His offer of a loving relationship. He will be there with you in those difficult time when no one else seems to hear your unspoken cries for help or understanding.

The Lord has said:

Heb. 13:5 “ I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Joshua 1:5   “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”

How about you? Are you looking for someone who will be faithful to you and love you? It’s the cry of the human heart – and God is waiting to answer that call from your heart to His.

©2011, Marcy Alves

Photo by Mikhail Nekrasov/Dreamstime.com

Self-Concept: Who’s Your Daddy?


Pedro Martinez at some point in his pitching career made the statement that the NY Yankees were his “daddy”.  In the third game of the 2004 World Series the NY fans reminded him of that statement. Pedro was pitching for the Red Socks against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium.  As he was pitching, in the third or fourth inning, the New York crowd began to chant, “Who’s your daddy?” Pedro appeared to become flustered and walked three straight batters. The coach brought in another pitcher.

It’s an interesting question that the crowd asked: “Who’s your daddy?”

When I was a child growing up in what was then a small town, Franconia, Virginia, I could not go anywhere that there was not someone who would comment, “We know who your daddy is.”

I knew who my daddy was and so did everybody else; if ever a daughter looked like her father, I did.

And I wanted to please my daddy. I needed his approval and worked hard to get it . . . good grades, clean house, yard and garden work – those things won his approval. I’m sure he would have loved me even without my hard work to please him – but verbal approval was what I thrived on.

It’s been said that fathers, more than mothers, affect their child’s self-image, and to a large degree I believe that to be true. Even an absentee daddy affects his children by his very absence.

Someone once said: “No person can consistently behave in a way that’s inconsistent with the way he perceives himself.”

You can’t see yourself as “brave” and be living in fear.

You can’t see yourself as “unacceptable” or “factory reject” and be confident of yourself or your performance, friendships or relationships.

If you view yourself as a failure, you won’t become a success.

Our self-concept is not necessarily obvious to us. Our parental heritage and other influences can affect us in ways and on levels that our rational mind often does not comprehend. We live as much out of the subconscious as we do the conscious mind.

Not only is our personal self-concept affected by our “daddy”, but the way we view our earthly father greatly affects our concept of God.  We tend to see God somewhat in the image of our dad, until we get to know Him better.

When I became a Christian as a young teenager I initially saw God as someone I could please by hard work and self-sufficiency, like my daddy. Because we were financially “poor” by American standards, I also saw my heavenly Father as someone who would supply the basics – food, clothing and shelter -but not the extras. If I wanted extras, I had to earn money and buy them for myself.

I don’t think I saw God as stingy – because my biological dad was generous with what he had. But because my daddy had a limited income as a railroad worker, a phrase I often heard was, “You don’t really need that.” So, in my head I heard (and sometimes still hear) my heavenly Father say, “You don’t really need that” before I even asked Him.

As I said, I knew that God would provide the basics, but I thought that anything beyond that I would have to do for myself or do without.

As I have continued to walk in the Lord and develop spiritual maturity, my view of God has changed. And along with that, my view of myself and of others has also changed.

The more I am able to view myself as a child of God and the better I get to know what my heavenly Father is like – from pictures of Him in Scripture and in my spirit as the Holy Spirit reveals God to me – the more I learn of His love and how to trust that love, the better my self-concept has become; the more confidence I have in Him and in myself.  Wow! I am a loved child of an awesome Father.

John 1:10-13 says: . . . to all who received him [Jesus], to all who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God; who were born, not of blood [not from human bloodlines] nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

The spiritual genes I received from my re-birth experience have been slowly and steadily over-riding the imperfections and weaknesses of self-concept resulting from my birth family genes and experiences.

2 Cor.5:17 If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, all things are made new. (KJV)

God is the One who can change us from the inside out. I don’t have to be handicapped for the rest of my life from familial mental, emotional, and spiritual inheritance. I have a new inheritance through Christ, who made me one of God’s loved children.

I am now a child of God. He is my “Daddy”.

So, who’s your daddy? Knowing that can change your life.

©2011, Marcy Alves

Remembering My Mom


What’s the most special thing about your mom? Do you share a common faith in the Lord Jesus? I’d like to share with you about my mom.

My birth mother was an overwhelmed mom. She was an adopted only-child who married young (age 16) to my dad who was 21. She birthed 7 children – two girls and five boys, of which I am child number four and the youngest daughter. (That’s me and my mom in this photo – I was about 2 years old.)

When my mom and dad were first married, she knew nothing  about house-keeping, cooking, etc. Their beginning reminds me of Loretta Lynn’s story in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, except my mom did not learn to play the guitar and her father was a carpenter not a coal miner. She did have a good voice however, and was blessed with that exceptional gift of perfect pitch. I’m sure she was influenced musically by my Grandpa, who played the fiddle and accordion – but she didn’t pursue music after the kids came along.

Not enough time. Just keeping up with the laundry without automatic washer/dryer – washing by hand, later by wringer-washer, and hanging clothes on a clothesline to dry. Scrubbing out stains on a washboard, not having all the amazing stain removers we now have.

My mom’s beginnings are vague – she was born to a single woman whom I only knew by the name of Minnie. Her birth mom visited our home only once that I recall when I was age 12. My oldest brother attempted to trace my mom’s genealogy after her death, but he could find no birth certificate or adoption papers in our state or county birth records.

My mom was a nice person and never said a bad word about anyone, or repeated gossip. She was fair-minded: when I complained about something one of my brothers did to me, like punch me, or about mean treatment from a playmate, she would ask, “And what did you do first?” (Of course, it was never “my fault”.)

My mother did not go beyond 10th grade, but she was very intelligent and an avid reader. I remember her reading to me when I was little and helping me to follow the words on the page – I learned to read very early. She cut out paper dolls with me and had a small collection of porcelain dolls.

My mother was also a good listener. She would spend time listening to me recite passages of Scripture that I had to memorize for a Bible quiz team that I was on in high school, insisting that I get it word-for-word, by saying, “Now sunshine, (her nickname for me), that wasn’t quite accurate. Let’s try again.”

Other things I remember about my mom were her frequent headaches, a very messy house, her perfectionism (which I believe hindered her housekeeping), her nervousness over finances (there was always a struggle to make ends meet), and her sadness. I believe she suffered from periodic depression, though I didn’t comprehend that until I was grown and she was gone.

We were not a “huggy” family, but the day I left for college in Philadelphia, having seldom traveled farther than my home state of Virginia, I remember giving my mom a hug which she eagerly reciprocated. From then on it was hugs upon arriving home and hugs when leaving.

Though I often shared my faith in Christ with my mom, in my college freshman year I felt compelled to write a letter to her about her need for salvation. When she next forwarded my mail to me, she wrote a note saying, “I’m not sure how to respond to your letter.”

I prayed very hard, before going home for Thanksgiving break, for an opportunity to share with my mom regarding God’s call on her life. One day we were alone in the kitchen doing dishes together and I knew this was the moment God had prepared. I asked my mom if she had thought about my letter and she said, “A little. I don’t know what to think about it.”

I then asked her if she knew where she would go when she died. She answered, “I would hope heaven, but you can’t know that until you die.”

I then shared with her 1 John 5:11-13 which says,

“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

I asked Mom if she had ever prayed to ask Jesus to come into her life and forgive her sins. She responded, “No.” I asked if I could lead her in a prayer. You could have knocked me over with a feather when she said, “Yes.”

After we prayed, my mom (who was 5’ tall) looked up at me and said with tears streaming down her face, “I feel so clean inside.” It was a very special moment in my life to bring my mom to Jesus. My mother died 1 ½ years later at age 47.

I thank God for my mom’s influence in my life, but mostly I thank God that I will see her again one day.

How about you? Will you share eternity with your mom in the presence of our Savior? If she is still alive and doesn’t know Christ, ask God to give you the opportunity and courage to lead her to saving faith in Jesus.

©2012, Marcy Alves

Witness: for Defense or Prosecution?


Have you ever been a trial witness? Being put on the stand can be an unsettling thing.

I have only once been called upon to be a witness in a courtroom; this was an insurance hearing for a personal accident in which I was the innocent victim.

Being a witness can be a tricky thing; lawyers have a way of casting doubt concerning the validity of a testimony.  My case was judged in favor of the plaintiff, the driver who hit my car, because his lie (or bad recall) was judged more believable than my testimony of the truth.

We’ve been following the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s personal physician, on ABC news for the past month or so.  Dr. Murray is being charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Jackson on June 25, 2009.

The testimony of a key witness for the defense was turned on its ear by the prosecuting attorney this past week.  Dr. Paul White, the expert defense witness for Dr. Conrad Murray, was supposed to be one of the strongest keys to Dr. Murray’s vindication for actions taken the night Michael Jackson died.  What resulted was a series of answers that actually indicated possible negligence on Dr. Murray’s part.

Though I have never been called on to be a witness in a criminal or civil trial, as a Christian, a Spirit-born follower of Jesus, a disciple of Christ, I am a witness!  I don’t know where I may have to testify for my faith, as many witnesses who have gone before me.

The disciples were told that they would be led before kings and governors for a witness of Christ Jesus.

Luke 21:13-15   “ . . .  you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13This will result in your being witnesses to them. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

John the baptizer was sent by God as a witness to the authenticity of Jesus – identifying him as “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”.

John 1:6-9 “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

Christians are also to “bear witness to the light”.  The way we become genuine Christians is through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit of God. The empowerment for our witness is after we have receive the Holy Spirit.

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Notice that we are not asked to be witnesses, we are told that “you will be my witnesses . . . “.

If you are a Christian, the question you have to ask yourself is not “Will I be a witness?”, but “What kind of witness am I being?” to people around you in your daily life and spirit beings in the unseen world who are watching you.

Heb.12:1-3  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Once people know that you are a believer, a Christ follower, they will be watching you closely. It’s not enough to say, “Don’t look at me, I’m not perfect.” and to use that for an excuse for being a bad witness.

Our Savior, our Heavenly Father, and the faith we ascribe to, are being judged by our behavior. That’s why the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews says to:

“. . . throw off everything that hinders and the sin that gets us all tangled up”. Heb. 12:1

The way we live is more important than our words – it either validates or discredits what we say we believe. Sometimes people can’t hear us for what they see in our behavior; our words and our walk don’t line up.

My husband and I were watching a short documentary video called 180 recently. A sampling of people were asked if they would ever kill anyone. Most said “No.” Then the question was modified, “Would you kill if ordered to do so, as in the concentration camps in Nazi Germany and Austria.” They all said “No.” Then the questioner added, “What if they told you that if you did not comply, you would be shot, would you kill someone then?” Most of those interviewed, irrespective of age, said “Yes, I would.”

Our verbal witness has to be backed-up by our action witness – which can’t be based on a situational ethic. How far would you go for your witness?

Rev.2:13  ”These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.”

There are nations where “Satan has his throne.” We have been praying for months now for Asia Bibi, the Pakistani woman who has been imprisoned for 2 years because of her Christian faith, and Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who is facing a death penalty for his faith in Christ. Both are holding firm to their faith in their Savior Jesus, living witnesses to the love of God.

We are to be such witnesses to anyone and everyone regarding our relationship to Jesus:

Acts 22:15-16 “You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for?” (Ananias to Paul)

As I thought of this blog topic while sitting on my deck the other day, I asked God some questions: “Father, what kind of a witness am I?  Does my life point people toward You or give people a good reason not to have faith in You?”

I don’t want the “prosecuting attorney” – the “accuser of the brethren” – to be able to turn my testimony against my Savior in the eyes of the world; I want my beliefs, my words, and my lifestyle to form a consistent witness. It would be better not to talk about my Savior at all, than to give a mixed message.

As the lyrics of a Casting Crowns song entitled “Lifesong” say, “I want to sign your name to the end of this day, knowing that my heart was true. Let my lifesong sing to You.”*

Something to think about this week: are you a witness for the defense or the prosecution of Christ?

©2011, Marcy Alves

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