Christmas Archives

When God’s Gifts Aren’t Wrapped How You Hoped

Written by Paul Chappell  December 23, 2016

Life has a way of handing us unexpected and unwanted packages.

A pink slip from your employer.

A bad report from the doctor.

An eviction notice from the bank.

A harsh email from a strained relationship.

Too often, the package delivered with your name on it isn’t a present you want.

The first Christmas was wrapped in an unusual set of circumstances: Joseph and Mary having to make a difficult journey in the last trimester of her pregnancy…and then to have to give birth in a stable.

But the way Jesus chose to come reveals that the “surprises” in our lives that look so foreboding to us truly are unusual packages of God’s grace.

So what do we learn from the first Christmas about what to do when life hands us unwanted packages?

Trust God’s Providence

Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem was no accident. It was the fulfillment of a prophecy concerning where Jesus would be born.

Seven hundred years before Mary and Joseph began the difficultly-timed journey to Bethlehem, God had instructed the prophet Micah to record, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).

Life is full of unavoidable circumstances. We can expend our energy in futile efforts to change them. We can spend our time stewing in bitter resentment over them. Or we can trust God’s providence in the midst of them.

Although we may not see God’s hand of providence for years to come, we can trust that anything out of our control is filtered by the hand of our loving Father. He will not allow into our lives anything through which He cannot fulfill his promise in Romans 8:28.

Showcase God’s Grace

The presentation of Christ to this world was not the way we would have planned it. And I think we can safely say it is not the way Mary would have planned it either. (What mother wants to lay her newborn in a used feeding trough?)

But, with the enabling grace of God, Mary’s response to the unusual package of the manger magnified God’s grace, rather than opening it up for question.

Mary could have complained. She could have become angry toward God. “God, first You make me travel ninety miles when I’m great with child, and now this?! Couldn’t I at least have a comfortable room and clean surroundings in which to give birth? Why would You do this to me?”

Because Mary and Joseph received the incredible gift of Jesus—with no expectations of how He should be delivered or presented to the world—they deflected the attention from themselves to the manger.

And the manger became a showcase of grace where shepherds knelt in worship of God.

Wholly Surrender to God’s Will

Why did God choose Mary? The complete answer to that question is known only by God. But it is significant that Mary was willing—truly submitted—to receive this unusual, and in some ways heavy, gift.

Sure, there was great cost involved for Mary. But she yielded to the Lord, bore the cost, and cherished the gift.

God isn’t looking for the strong or searching for the famous. He gives His most precious gifts to those who will simply yield their wills to Him.

Our problem is that we see what looks to us like distasteful wrapping, and in our selfishness, we plead with God to take back His gifts.

Not so with Mary. She simply said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).

What To Do with Your Gift

What about you? Are you staggering under the load of an unusual package—one that you never would have chosen, but have no way to release?

Are you struggling to understand the unavoidable circumstances that have come into your life?

Are you disappointed in the harsh realities of failed expectations?

Tiptoe to the Bethlehem stable. Gaze on a weary young mother, required to travel far in her last month of pregnancy—only to find a barn in which to give birth. See a crude manger. But don’t look solely at these wrappings. Peer beyond, into the manger, and see the face of God!

Yes, Christmas is a gift. And sometimes God sends His greatest gifts in the most unusual packages.

Trust His providence.

Showcase His grace.

And wholly surrender to His will.

In time, you will learn that God gives the best surprises.

(This post is adapted from chapter 3 of Christmas Is a Giftavailable also on kindle.)

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I remember when we were living in Rhode Island, I planned some pretty intense Christmas plays. The nice thing about it, we had a Christian school, and we could practice every afternoon for several months. It took much  planning, hard work, and commitment for me and the children. Most smaller churches don’t have the resources or time to this.

Don’t feel that you must have months to plan and rehearse a children’s program to be a blessing to your church. Here are a few suggestions to help you plan a simple children’s program.

  • Keep it simple.
  • Don’t be too intense with the children…have fun with them.
  • For very young children, use a few inexpensive musical instruments like bells, drums, etc.
  • Begin your program by letting the children enter the auditorium carrying battery operated candles and singing a Christmas Carol.
  • Have an adult or teen narrate the Christmas story by reading it from Matthew or Luke.
  • Use power point slides as the children sing.
  • Download some of the Christmas Carols from a Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. Use the picture on the sound tract as a slide and play the music as the people are entering the auditorium.

Ways to Strengthen Your Church This Christmas

Ten Ways to Strengthen Your Church This Christmas
Written by  Cary Schmidt  December 10, 2016

Do you love your church? Jesus does! Jesus loved the church enough to die. Do we love Him and His church enough to live? To give? To really make His bride a high priority in our lives?

Here are ten simple ways that you could greatly strengthen your church this season and in the new year.

  1. REALLY PRAY

Really pray for your pastor, your church, your own role in the body. Really pray for God’s provision and power. Really pray that God will take your church forward this Christmas and in the New Year!

  1. REALLY PARTICIPATE

Many people will casually “attend” church this season—but far fewer will truly participate with passion. In what ways are you engaged with your church to spread the gospel? With what energy will you really engage in worship, fellowship, and service? Be faithful to services, and bring an expectant heart and a ready spirit.

  1. BRING A GUEST

People all around you are looking for an opportunity to be in church this Christmas. Your kind invitation could be what brings them within the sound of a clear gospel message at your church. God could use you to bring them to Jesus—just because you invited them to Christmas services.

  1. BE EXTRAVAGANTLY GENEROUS

Remember who’s birthday we really celebrate—Jesus! In the midst of all of your giving, decide to put Jesus and His church at the top of the list. Will you “tip” God with a little extra change, or will you truly and deeply consider all that He’s done for you and bestowed upon you? Give Him your whole heart, and your generosity will follow!

  1. SERVE AND ENCOURAGE OTHERS

Begin with Jesus, then move to your family and friends, your church family, your neighbor—just look for opportunities to give yourself away and think of others before self. Write a kind note, bake something, tell someone how much you love them. Be a joyful voice of blessing!

  1. REMEMBER SOMEONE’S PAIN

Within your reach, there are broken hearts having a very difficult Christmas. For them, this season is merely magnifying loss, hardship, or sorrow. A kind note, a personal touch, a gift, or a thoughtful ministry gesture will go a long way towards encouraging people who are having a “painful Christmas.”

  1. RANDOMLY LOVE

Pick a stranger, pay for their coffee or give a small gift—do something randomly kind—and attach to it an invitation to your church. The unconditional and unexpected love of Jesus is delightful and life-changing!

  1. FORGIVE AND FORBEAR

Churches are made of people, and people have issues. People hurt people. Decide to strengthen your church by personally deciding not to hold a grudge or an offense. Let it go and decide to grow.

  1. WALK WITH JESUS

Your private walk with Jesus will overflow into your place in your local body. Your church is as strong as you! Be real. Be done with casual Christianity. Choose to more fully love, embrace, and engage in the call of Jesus Christ and His work.

  1. PURPOSE IN YOUR HEART

Christmas quickly turns into a New Year, which provides us with an opportunity to set direction, set goals, turn the page on last year’s successes and failures—and chart the course for spiritual health and depth. Decide to grow deeper and stronger in the new year! Decide to be a better church member and a more faithful Christian through 2017!

As we close 2016, somewhere in the vicinity of 4,000 churches closed their doors last year. More than ever, America and the world needs healthy local churches. Healthy churches only happen if Christians are healthy—growing stronger in grace and commitment to Christ and His body.

Consider Giving a Gift of Time This Year

Ann Landers wrote about a person she knew who said the greatest gift he ever received in his life was a note his dad gave him on Christmas. It read, “Son, this year I will give you 365 hours. An hour every day after dinner. We’ll talk about whatever you want to talk about. We’ll go wherever you want to go, play whatever you want to play. It will be your hour.” That dad kept his promise and renewed it every year. There is no greater gift we can give than ourselves.

Christmas Devotion (Surrender, Worship, and Joy)

December 9, 2015

Here is a copy of the devotion I gave for a Ladies’ Christmas Tea at Landmark Baptist Church in Red Oak, TX.

This year it seems as though we are living in more troubled times than previous years. With all that we see happening in our world, we might begin to think that times have never been this bad.

Let’s consider the world in which Mary lived. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Romans had established a two part system of government in which Roman overseers and Jewish leaders exercised control over the people. Most Jewish people hated this kind of rule because of its tyrannical rulers, and also many Jews saw their heritage falling apart.

Mary could have been stoned to death for being engaged to one man and then showing up pregnant with another man’s child. She could also have been charged with blasphemy for telling people that the child was conceived of the Holy Ghost. She definitely had reasons to feel fearful and unhappy…yet we see in Luke 1:47-55, her focus was not on her circumstances, but it was centered on praising the LORD.

Luke 1:46 Mary says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” Her heart must have been saturated with God’s word. She must have known many Old Testament verses such as Psalms 34:3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.

Her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior. Her words showed that her whole soul was filled with the LORD’S influence.

Think of the many people around us who are fearful because they don’t know our Savior…but praise the LORD…we don’t have to experience that same fear, because we, like Mary,  have Jesus as our Savior.

Notice Mary’s humility in vs 48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:

God still seeks the humble. He imparts his rich blessings to those who feel that they need Him.

Psalms 138:6 Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.

Look at the order in Mary’s attitude: Surrender, worship, and joy. Instead of saying, “How am I going to handle this pregnancy?” She had a God-centered focus.”

1. She surrendered: vs 38 Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. Mary said, “Lord, I am the Your servant..whatever Your will, I will accept. She said, “I’m not worthy of the honor You are bestowing on me… I don’t deserve it… But I’m thankful, and I rejoice in it. This should be our prayer today. Whatever Your will, Lord! I am Your servant. I give myself for Your purposes. Here’s my body…I want to be Your instrument. Use me in whatever way You want in order that Your will and purposes can be fulfilled on this earth.”

It is only after we experience repentance, surrender, and humility can we go into the presence of the LORD to worship Him.

2. She worshiped and praised the Lord : vs 46 My soul doth magnify the Lord,

How did she worship Him…by praising Him in verses 48 and 49 for things He had done for her.

verses 50–55, She not only praised God for what He had done for her, but also what He had done for others. She then praises Him for His saving work in her life and for all of mankind.

He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

Mary knew that God keeps His Word and fulfills His promises. She was now experiencing the fulfillment of His promises that He had made two thousand years earlier to Abraham. Notice how Mary praises God’s attributes:

His Mercy: And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

His Power: He hath shewed strength with his arm;

His Sovereignty: He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

Although it looks like evil is triumphing, remember God has the final word. He is sovereign over the wicked and the righteous.

His Compassion and Justice: He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

Mary was saying, “Since God provided for past generations, I know that He will be faithful and provide for me and my generation.”

3. After her worship…she experienced joy. It was surrender, praise, and then joy!

vs 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Her surrender led to her worship…then her worship led to her joy. Worship and joy were inseparable.

Ladies, we should be telling others what God has done for us? Sometimes we get so focused on our problems, our pressures, and our burdens that we fail to magnify the Lord and rejoice in our Savior for the great things He has done for us.

Praise the Lord…He is always faithful. We must constantly remind each other of His promises and His faithfulness. We should share with others what He has done for us and remind each other of His attributes:

• He is holy.
• He is merciful.
• He is unchanging.
• He is all-powerful.
• He is sovereign.
• He is compassionate.
• He is just.
• He is always, always, always faithful.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let’s also celebrate God’s faithfulness. There is coming a day when He will right all of the wrongs we see around us. He will bring down those who are proud against Him and His people.

As we focus our hearts and minds on who the LORD  really is, let’s be like Mary and say, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in the God who is my Savior.”

• Pay attention to the time you have to prepare. If you are planning a complicated play, don’t wait until November or December to begin practicing.
• With smaller children, keep your performance simple by narrating the program yourself. Parents and church members love to watch children perform no matter how elementary the program.
• For a fun touch, let your angels wear battery operated halos or carry battery operated candles.
• Use your teens as much as you can. (They are full of ideas, and sometimes younger children will listen to them better)
• Let small children use inexpensive musical instruments when singing carols. (2 years old can play
Toddler Glockenspeils or Rhythm Instruments such as blocks. If they are 3 years or older, they could play children’s Xylophones or use Kids’ Maracas. (If a child doesn’t have an instrument to play, let him hold a battery operated candle)

Ideas for a Christ-Centered Christmas

• Instead of putting up a tree, put a large manger scene in your family room. Place your gifts in front of the manger.

• Wrap presents alike by the givers. When Christmas morning comes, let each child place the presents he has near him. He can systematically give out his gifts. This takes the focus off of receiving and puts the emphasis on giving. (Gifts don’t have to be expensive; children could draw special pictures, color, and frame them)

• Focus the season on Jesus’ sacrificial love by taking your children shopping for a person who is unable to give anything in return.

• Send a Christmas box to a missionary family. Allow plenty of time for your children to earn money their own money to buy gifts for the missionary children.

• Involve your children in sending shoe boxes to Franklin Graham’s project Operation Christmas Child.

• Plan to give a gift to Jesus. (In my son’s church, he places a Chest of Joash at the front of his pulpit. This is a great way to give a Christmas gift to the Lord and to help with remodeling projects around the church.

• If you know someone who will be spending Christmas alone, invite him to your home.

• To show the love of Jesus, volunteer time to a particular ministry. (A homeless shelter, a children’s home, or hospital)

• Send a Christmas card or gift to a soldier.

• Gather a group of friends from your church to go Christmas caroling.

• During the month of December, do random acts of kindness in Jesus’ name. (Pay for person’s meal behind you, rake a neighbor’s lawn, pay for person’s coffee standing in line behind you)

• Take food to a family in need.

• Bake goodies for your neighbors, family, and friends.

• Place indoor and outdoor decorations that reflect Jesus really is The Reason for the Season.

• Hand out Christmas tracts wherever you go…and say Merry Christmas.

The Unspeakable Gift

Long ago, there ruled in Persia a wise and good king. He loved his people. He wanted to know how they lived. He wanted to know about their hardships. Often he dressed in the clothes of a working man or a beggar, and went to the homes of the poor.  No one whom he visited thought that he was their ruler. One time he visited a very poor man who lived in a cellar. He ate the coarse food the poor man ate. He spoke cheerful, kind words to him.  Then he left.

Later he visited the poor man again and disclosed his identity by saying, “I am your king!” The king thought the man would surely ask for some gift or favor, but he didn’t.  Instead he said, “You left your palace and your glory to visit me in this dark, dreary place. You ate the coarse food I ate. You brought gladness to my heart! To others you have given your rich gifts. To me you have given yourself!”

The King of glory, the Lord Jesus Christ, gave Himself to you and me. The Bible calls Him, “The Unspeakable Gift!”

The Story of the Candy Cane

“I am only a candy maker,” he thought sadly. “No one will listen to me when I tell the wondrous love of my Lord, about how and why God entered our world, born as a babe in Bethlehem.”

“How can I tell the children about the love of Jesus?” he wondered.

Then he smiled, “I will make them some candy. I will begin with pure white for the virgin birth of Jesus and His sinlessness. It will be hard and pure. I will make it into the letter “J” so that all may be reminded  that it is by the name of Jesus that we are saved from our sins. It will also look like a shepherd’s staff, so that we may know Jesus is our shepherd, our Savior and Lord.”

“To remember the awful price of Jesus’ love for me, I shall include red to tell of the blood He shed to save me from my sins. Three small stripes to show His scourging, and a large red stripe for His blood shed on the cross by nails and spear.”

And so the candy cane was made: Crafted in love, and made to help us remember the costly love of Jesus.

Taken from the tract The Candy Maker  www.tractleague.com

Five “P’s” of the Christmas Season

1. Put Christ First

Because the government is taking away our rights as Christians to celebrate the Christmas season, many people today are failing to even recognize the real reason for the celebration. As Christians, we might get busy during this season, but we must not allow our busyness to keep us from putting Christ first in everything we do.

2. Plan Family Traditions Ahead of Time

Every family needs to establish traditions. Traditions give families stability and make the Christmas season more meaningful to them. Traditions might include taking a sleigh ride, cutting down your own Christmas tree, baking cookies together, doing kind acts of service for those who are less fortunate, or going caroling with your church family at nursing homes.

3. Pay Cash for Gifts

What are Christmas gifts? They are expressions of  your love and appreciation to others. Consider giving gifts that are “homemade” or giving away some personal items that are very special to you.  If at all possible,  try to avoid using credit to purchase Christmas gifts.

4. Place Tracts in Christmas Cards

Everyone needs to know what it means to trust Christ as his Savior. This is a great way to share God’s Word with your family and friends. A great tract to give other Christians is 10 Guidelines for Keeping Christ in Christmas (www.tractleague.com)

5. Provide for Those in Need

There are many people who are lonely and in need of financial assistance during this season. Look for ways to be a blessing to those who suffering during this season. There are people who are sick and shut-in,  who have lost their jobs or are between jobs, and who have no family to celebrate the season.

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