All things new.

  1. Kick 2020 to the curb. Check.
  2. Ring in the new year. Check.
  3. Make new year’s resolutions. Check.
  4. Begin new endeavors: running, purging stuff, budgeting, clean eating, etc.. Check.

Fresh starts are great. We imagine a better version of ourselves, our families, our lives. We make lofty goals. We want to believe we will be different this year. Thankfully, as we mature in life and in Christ, we are different this year.

Would you mind sharing what’s on your mind this particular New Year’s Day?

  • What word would you use to describe 2020? It felt different to each of us. Was it painful, frightening? freeing? restful?
  • In what ways have you seen God mature you in 2020?
  • In what ways do you want to grow or improve in 2021?

I think the word I would use to describe 2020 is unpredictable. And not just in the events that occurred that we wouldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams or nightmares. Obviously no one predicted COVID-19, apocalyptic hail, or the Iowa derecho that devastated our community.

How different people responded so differently to those events was also extremely unpredictable. Including me. In addition to everything else, 2020 was also the year my twin daughters left home to go to college out of state, an event I had been dreading—for, well, 18 years. And I survived that loss and many others. God, in His mercy, allowed me to feel untethered from the people and things on which I used to rely for stability and significance. I’m pleased to say that by the grace of God this was a year for me of unpredictable peace and surprising resilience.

One way I want to improve in 2021 is in consistency. I want my spiritual rhythms and my growth in following Jesus to be consistent—not a series of starts and stops all year long. I want to consistently and creatively invest in the relationships that matter most to me, starting with my marriage and extending to my kids and the rest of my community. And although our family typically starts a new year doing Whole30, I want to be consistent throughout the year that in all things, even caring for our health we do it to the glory of God.

So how about you? How would you answer the above questions? I would love to hear your thoughts! And please take a few moments in your family to process these ideas. Even in a pandemic we are allowed to have hopes and dreams and aspirations. To ponder what the Lord has done and to prayerfully dedicate this next year to Him.

“And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 21:5).

May your family have a truly joyful New Year, whatever it may bring.

Wish lists.

I was surprised in my Bible reading this morning. I was reading in Psalm 20 where it says, 

“May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans!…May the Lord fulfill all your petitions” (Psalm  20:4-5)!

I realize that I have Christmas on the brain, but that verse made me think about Wish Lists. Specifically, what would be on my own personal grown-up wish list? The more I thought about it, the more I became genuinely tearful that my loving Heavenly Father would care about what might be on such a list.

To be honest, I tend to think my heart’s desires are too silly for God to care about. I also tend to not be much of a “dreamer” for fear that the LORD’s plans will supercede mine anyway. But this morning, I took out my journal and I wrote down my heart’s desires. Nothing too spiritual or impressive. Just the sincere wishes I have for myself and my family in the new year and beyond. 

I thought this exercise would make me feel like a spoiled child leafing through the Sunday ads and circling all the things that I wanted to get. But the result was actually quite different. As I found myself expressing wishes and concerns for the people closest to me, I became extremely thankful for the many, many blessings the Father has already lavished on me. A deep sense of peace and contentment and gratitude overwhelmed me. 

So as we eagerly wrap up this calendar year and look ahead to 2021, what are your plans? What are your petitions? What are your hearts’ desires? I encourage you to express them honestly to your Father. He knows what you need before you ask anyway, but oh how He delights in His children coming close to Him and asking.

And as you discuss Christmas wish lists with your children, how can you leverage that conversation to teach them truths about their generous Heavenly Father? He is the true Giver of every good gift we have.

And speaking of Christmas, I want to invite your family to join us in worship at New Covenant Bible Church as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. We will be having three Christmas services from which to choose: December 23 at 6:00 and December 24 at 4:00 and 6:00.  There are a variety of ways you can celebrate with us!

  • In Person: If you have been looking for an opportunity to return to church services, we would love to see you for Christmas.
  • Livestream: If you are planning on staying home this year, please connect with us through our Livestream service.
  • GNNNN: Hey families: the third episode of the GNNNN Christmas Finale is now available for your family to view online. What a fun honor it has been partnering with an amazing team to bring you these videos in 2020.

I pray your family has a happy Christmas. May the Lord truly grant your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans.

Cheers!

In the flesh.

I love all things Christmas——especially the music. I have been humming “I love those J-I-N-G-L-E Bells” all day. But if I’m not careful, I can let my human preference for the fun and frolic of the holidays keep me from doing the hard work of meditating and reflecting on, “The Word became flesh.”

Christian celebration of Christmas is not about magical elves or flying reindeer or talking narwhals (IYKYK). For worshippers of Jesus, the Christmas celebration centers on something, if we’re honest, that’s even more challenging to believe. 

“…The real difficulty, the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us does not lie [with atonement or the resurrection or biblical miracles], but in the Christmas message of Incarnation” (J.I. Packer. Knowing God. Intervarsity Press 1993. Page 53).

Christians actually believe that the second person of the Trinity (already a divine enigma), the eternal Word of God, by whom all things were created and in whom are held together, took on human flesh, in the form of a baby, grew in Mary’s womb, and was born with all the limitations of a tiny infant boy.

The Word became flesh. The Word who created the heavens and the earth. The Word who knows the stars by name. The Word who told the oceans, “This far you may come and no farther, here is where your proud waves halt” (Job 38:11). The Word whose breath gave life to the first human flesh, clothed Himself with the same.

Creation needed saving and so Jesus our Savior came. To rescue us from these bodies of death. A salvation that would never be corrupted by sickness, pain, or decay was won for us through His Incarnation. He was born to die for us so that we could live through Him.

“…the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works…” (On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius).

I have heard all this before. I’d get it right on a test. I’m guessing you would too. But I never want to let doctrinal familiarity keep me from pausing to think about it deeply or to rob me of the worship this season requires.

“O come now, hail His arrival, the God of creation. Royalty robed in the flesh He created. Jesus the maker has made Himself known. All hail the infinite infant God” (“Arrival”. Hillsong Worship).

“Fragile fingers sent to heal us, tender brow prepared for thorns. Tiny heart whose blood would save us, unto us is born” (Chris Rice, “Welcome to Our World”).

Let us adore Him,

2020, Thanks.

Oh, brother, how to celebrate Thanksgiving?

And I don’t mean the great “Invite-Grandma-Or-Not Debate of 2020.”

I mean, if I’m honest, I’m much more apt to list my grievances than to count my blessings this year.

But did you know that giving thanks, actively practicing gratitude, brings amazing scientifically-proven benefits?

They include:

  • Improved psychological and physical health
  • Better sleep
  • More confidence
  • Stronger relationships
  • Greater resilience

To quote one gratitude expert: “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” David Steindl-Rast

Centuries before we had any scientific studies, or helpful websites like gratefulness.org encouraging gratitude, the Bible has been teaching us to be thankful. Over 100 times “give thanks” is mentioned in scripture. We are told, not only to be generally grateful—but to give a Name to the source of our blessings. To thank the One from whom all good gifts come.

“Give thanks to the LORD for He is good. For His steadfast love endures forever” Psalm 107:1 and elsewhere).

Give thanks—to whom? To the LORD. Why? He is good. His love is strong and forever.

He is good. He is never bad. He is never irritable, or impatient or unkind. He is never easily angered. He is not arrogant. He doesn’t mock you or look down on you. He is good. And wise and noble and gentle and honest and trustworthy and faithful and kind.

And not only that but while He is busy being good to you, He is busy loving you—with a love that is stronger than your greatest love. No one has ever loved you like the LORD. His is a forever love that never dies. A forever love that doesn’t diminish over time. He doesn’t fall out of love. He doesn’t move on. No parent, child, lover, or friend’s love comes close.

Our Creator knew that life would smack us around with all sorts of drama. Circumstances can overwhelm us like the ocean’s wave after wave after wave. And when it feels like all hope is lost and there is not one blessing left to count: There, even there, we have a precious gift to hold onto. A precious reason to give thanks.

The Lord is good. His steadfast love endures forever.

As you meditate on the heart of God this Thanksgiving, I pray it will create in you a gratitude so great you need a journal to capture all the goodness 2020 has brought.

Happy Thanksgiving!

You can read more about the science of Gratitude here:
Seven Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude
The Neuroscience of Gratitude

You don’t have to be.

What are you going to be for Halloween? Something pretend like Princess Anna or Darth Vader? Or something really scary like 2020 or the American Political Climate? 

In case you are struggling with how to fashionably dress your fur baby this year, the most popular pet costumes according to the National Retail Federation will be pumpkin, hot dog, superhero, cat and bumblebee. Wait—do people dress their cat up as a cat or how does that work?

I’ve never personally been a big fan of Halloween. Our kids have always dressed up and gone trick-or-treating and we’ve always welcomed the neighborhood ghosts and goblins to our door. But I guess I find real life to be disturbing enough without filling my mind with additional horrors.   

And speaking of real-life horrors, this week at NCBC Kids we will be talking about Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Imagine how terrifying that was to the followers of Christ. Consider the fear of living in that political climate and seeing that injustice done to our Lord. Nothing we could conjure up for our front lawn “decor” or for Netflix could compare with the forces of evil at work on that day.

I encourage you to use Halloween as an opportunity to talk to your kids about the results of that truly wicked Jerusalem night. Because our Savior was willing to go to the cross, He defeated once and for all every fear, every enemy and all darkness. This week’s episode of GNNNN may help you to begin that conversation. 

Halloween does kick off the 8-week countdown to Christmas at my house. Now there’s a holiday I can get behind: Lights and carols and Jesus. All the candy with none of the creeps. 

As for this weekend, however you celebrate or don’t, be safe out there and remember one thing you don’t have to be for Halloween is afraid.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). 

Cheers,

Get along.

Well folks, I bought my first Christmas present this week. Can you believe there’s only 70 days until Christmas!

When my kids were little, they always asked me, “Mommy, what do you want for Christmas?” And my answer was always the same. “I want you kids to get along.” 

Hey, we honestly had a pretty loving, unified and peaceful home. But kids will be kids and newsflash–kids will be sinners too. And any time they intentionally hurt or irritated or angered one another, it also hurt me. So I’d tell them, every single December, the best way they could honor me, and truly make it “the most wonderful time of the year” was by loving each other well. 

There was once a holiday season where Jesus had a similar request. He was celebrating His last Passover with his disciples. In fact, it was Jesus’ last supper. His final meal on earth.  

You know what it’s like when you’ve worked so hard creating a wonderful environment for that special moment–inevitably that’s when all heck breaks loose. The family photos. The birthday party. In the car on the way to Christmas Eve services.  

And as if on cue, right in the middle of His very special occasion, Jesus’ disciples started bickering. “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” Luke 22:24. 

I am! 
Am not. 
Am too! 
Am not. 
Am too! 
Mom!!!!! 

Or in this case, 

Jesus!!! 

And can you guess what Jesus says? “You guys need to get along!” 

In John chapters 14-17, Jesus gives a heartfelt and beautiful plea to his followers to love each other. Serve each other. Be at peace with one another. Live with joy together. 

He prays for us–that we would be one just as Jesus and the Father are one. That’s some serious unity. 

Our world is becoming more polarized by the minute. But my brothers and sisters this should not be true of us! Unity in Christ is not optional. It’s imperative. It’s the proof that we are actually His disciples. We gotta get along. And not a false peace, but real, true, family unity–the way we want our kids to love each other. 

So the next time there’s some big sibling rivalry or conflict in your family, let it help serve as a reminder and encouragement that brothers and sisters in Christ also should not fight. Consider: Is there anyone I need to forgive from my heart today? May we all sincerely pray for hearts which shine the sweet light of unity into this darkened world. 

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). 

March 13, 2020

I’ve heard of Christmas in July–but I haven’t heard of Christmas in March! But the way our curriculum falls in the calendar this year, has us learning about the birth of Jesus this week in NCBC Kids.

I pray this is a good thing. It’s good to consider the gift of God’s Son at a time we aren’t shopping for Christmas presents. Good to consider the light of the world coming to a world of darkness at a time we aren’t stringing lights on our houses. Good to imagine the eternal Word made flesh and coming humble and low as a baby at a time we are not distracted by the tinsel and the trappings.

So let’s take some time this week and marvel in this miracle. Gaze at the tenderness of God. Be astonished at the Almighty Creator of everything becoming part of His creation. Pull out the Christmas hymns and listen afresh. The song Arrival by Hillsong Worship is one of my favorites in imagining all the ways Jesus condescended to come here and live with us. I hope it’s a special time of reflection in your home.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14).

Lead the Lessons

Leading the lessons is where all your hard work pays off. 

Now if you’ve never done this kind of thing in your family before it might be awkward at first.  Practice makes perfect.  Don’t give up.  Remember the goal:  A closer family, happy memories, spiritual growth–simply put, Nailing Christmas.  

Make it fun, not dull.  Include something special:  cookies & cocoa; or dad wears a Santa hat; or whoever is speaking in the meeting gets to hold a candy cane (for all you active listening advocates).  Whatever will work in your family to help everyone stay engaged.

SAMPLE LESSON AGENDA: 

  • Call the family meeting (announce everyone should bring a Bible) 

  • Begin with prayer.  Honestly ask God to accomplish what you hope to accomplish.  But keep it short so little ones don’t associate prayer with lectures or boredom. 

  • Explain you are doing something new.  Explain why.  Explain your Christmas theme for the year.   

  • Read the scripture.  Involve others. Allow them to read it.  Ask for input if anyone’s version says it differently.  Clarify anything people might have questions about.  Allow questions but don’t allow rabbit trails.  Pro Tip:  You don’t have to have all the answers.  If you don’t know or understand something yourself, just admit it.  Tell your kids you will ask one of your Bible teachers/pastors/mentors and get back to them. 

  • Optional: Lead the creative time.
  • Optional:  Set expectations.  
    • We had kids memorize the verses and recite them to us on Christmas Eve for a special present.  If you do this, then provide lots of opportunities to practice so that you set them up for success.
    • Another idea is set a kindness goal:  how many neighbors you want to give cookies; how many gifts you want to make for teachers/coaches; how many soldiers overseas you want to send a card; how many toys you want to donate to Toys for Tots, etc.  If you can think of a way to tie it to your theme—even better.
  • Optional:  Theme Ornaments.  I bought theme ornaments for each of our themes.  Each of the kids received one in turn and I usually got myself one too!  I imagine these will be lifelong reminders of the heritage of faith from their home.  I may be kidding myself but I imagine it!

Imagine Creative Ways To Teach

I understand that creativity is not everyone’s strength.  So when I say the next step is to imagine creative ways to teach the theme what I really mean is: Google. 

First, decide on a method that will work best for your family.  If the thought of a gallon of glitter spilled on your carpet makes your blood pressure soar, then your version of creativity shouldn’t include sparkly crafts.  

We were not always very imaginative.  Very often we simply talked together with no special activity at all. The important thing is that you get your family communicating about spiritual things.  But if you can plan ahead to do it in a way that they will be more likely to remember it later on–that is a definite plus.

There are so many resources for ideas online to creatively teach lessons to kids of all ages—even teenagers.   Use them!

  • Sunday School lesson plans
  • Homeschool Bible lesson plans
  • Crafts
  • Science Projects
  • Movie Clips
  • Family Ministry websites like Focus on the Family
  • Student Ministry websites like YouthMinistry.com
  • Make something up!

For our theme on LIGHT,  I wish we would have thought of something like this: 

Genesis 1:3  Have everyone sit around the table.  Ask everyone to close their eyes and/or rest their eyes on their arms so all the light is blocked out.  Talk about blindness and how for some people that is how everything appears. Darkness all the time.  Talk about things that would be missed if we couldn’t see them:  sunsets, flowers, snowflakes, Christmas lights.  For older kids: Obstacles that would cause danger.  Words on a page to read.  Musical notes on a score to play.  The television, our pets, our loved ones.   While they are still in the dark,  place a surprise of some sort in front of them:  a $1 coin,  a cupcake, a hot wheels car, or simply a phrase on a note like “Bowling tonight 🙂.” Talk about the Bible verse from Genesis.  Discuss how amazing it is that all God had to do was say the words and POOF! He gave us one of our greatest gifts—the gift of light by which we can see all the other good gifts.  One by one let everyone open their eyes and see the good gift in front of them. (Pro Tip for dads:  “Foot massage” or “I do dishes tonight” will definitely be considered a good gift if mom opens her eyes to something like that!) 

John 8:12  Sit in a dark room (make it as pitch dark as possible.)  Gather the kids around you and tell them there are _____ number of things hidden in the room (stuffed animals, cans of soda, candy bars, dollar bills etc.)  Tell them they are free to go looking for them (but make it too difficult even for older kids to find any—maybe they are up too high and wouldn’t be found with searching hands).  Little kids won’t even want to venture far from mom or dad.  Then call everyone back to the couch or table.  With the room still dark, give everyone a flashlight.  Allow them to search without even moving around and show how it is possible with the light but was impossible without it.  Discuss the ways that Jesus helps us see things more clearly (depending on the age and understanding of your kids you will talk about more concrete things (how to share with friends, how to obey) and move into more abstract concepts as your kids get older (how to put God first, how to serve).  Being able to follow Jesus is only possible because he brings the light to our path. 

The next and final step is also the most fun:  It’s when you get to actually lead your family through a Christmas Family Meeting.