How to Have a Christmas Story Book Party

christmas story night smIf you have younger children, and friends with kids, this party idea might be an easy way for you to organize a memorable Christmas get together that requires very little in the way of planning or money. This idea could also be used as a way to reach out to your neighbors at Christmastime.

WHEN: Some night a couple of days before Christmas. I’d suggest a starting time of 6 or 7 p.m. so that it’s clear you aren’t providing dinner for everyone.

WHAT TO WEAR: Tell your adult guests to dress super-casual and even suggest bringing their kids already dressed in their pajamas. You might also suggest the children bring a favorite blanket and pillow to be extra comfy!

christmas story night BOOKS

WHAT TO BRING: Tell each family to bring a favorite Christmas children’s story, perhaps something their family likes to read together each year.  To clarify what you’re asking for, provide a short list of possible stories (e.g. The Polar Express, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Legend of the Three Trees) and include the name of the story you will be reading to help avoid duplicates.

FOOD/DRINKS: Provide hot chocolate, milk and cookies.

ATMOSPHERE: Have piles of cozy blankets and pillows available so that everyone is as comfortable as possible. If you have a fireplace, light it up, or light candles for a warm glow. Put a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, and water on the stove to help fill the house with a “Christmas-y” scent. Put instrumental Christmas music on very low in the background. (Not so loud that it interferes with the story telling!)

WHAT HAPPENS: As people arrive have them get hot chocolate and cookies and sit down in the living room. Start the evening by reading out-loud the Christmas story you’ve chose to share. Then invite the other families, one by one, to share their Christmas books. If there is a shyness issue, offer to read their book to the group for them. After the last story has been shared suggest that everyone pile into their cars and drive around to look at the lights! People can then just drive themselves home as they like.

EVANGELISM: If you have friends and families coming to your gathering that don’t know the Lord, consider sharing your testimony at the end of all the stories before going out to see the lights. Or, provide a little gift basket for each family that contains some Christmas cookies and a gospel message, and give them out just as everyone is getting into their cars.


What I wish I’d said to Ruthie…

ruthLast October I received a terrible call from my uncle.  He told me that my cousin, Ruth, had been murdered. I can’t even express the shock I felt.  Time is suspended in moments like that; one tick of the clock takes a year, and you feel like you’re almost watching a movie of yourself experiencing this. But the shock, in my case, was quickly followed by a nauseating wave of regret.

To give you some background, my parents got divorced when I was young, and my ties with my dad’s side of the family had been pretty much cut.  So I hadn’t had any relationship with Ruth, or my other cousins, for something like 30 years.  But about a year-and-a-half previous to the day I received that call, Ruth and I had gotten back in touch, mostly through Facebook.  We exchanged pictures of our kids, shared funny internet memes, and occasionally told each other about things going on in our lives.

However, to my deep regret, I do not believe I ever directly shared the gospel message with her.  It is not that I didn’t want to share with her, it’s just that I was waiting for the “right time.” I told myself that I didn’t want to scare her away or make her think I was a religious fanatic.  But as I held the phone to my ear that day, I realized I had used up all my chances.  The “right time” never came.  All the time had run out.

So, I now want to share with you, what I wish I had shared with Ruthie.  If I could go back in time–Oh!  How many times we wish that in our lives!  But, if I could go back in time, this is what I would have wanted to share with her.

There is a terrible, and deadly, misconception that nice people who believe in God go to Heaven.  However, if that were true, then why would Jesus have needed to come and die on a cross?  Weren’t there nice people who believed in God before Jesus died?  Of course there were.  That would mean there would be no need for Jesus to do such a thing… therefore this is obviously not true at all.

Another misconception is that God’s eternal justice works like a set of balancing scales.  Our bad deeds go on one side and our good deeds go on the other.  On the day we die, if our good outweighs our bad, we will go to Heaven.  This sounds reasonable until you think about it in a court of law.

Let’s say you ran a red light, and you’re standing before the judge.  Would you say to him, “Your Honor, since I started driving I’ve stopped at literally thousands of red lights!  I really don’t think I could have run more than 8 to 10 red lights in my entire life!  Doesn’t that tilt the scale in my favor?  I’ve obeyed the law much more often than I’ve broken it!”  Believe me, doing “good” more frequently than “bad” is just not going to work as a defense.  And the truth is that when you and I stand before God’s judgment seat, the Bible tells us, that just like in a court of law, He will judge us against the standard of His Holy Laws.

Have you ever measured yourself against God’s Ten Commandments?  It’s honestly not very pleasant. Ask yourself how many lies you think you’ve told in your life. Remember back to think of the times (even when you were young) when you might have taken something that didn’t belong to you.  Try to add up in your mind the number of times you’ve carelessly used the name “God” or “Jesus” as a curse? (Such as “G—d Damn!” or “Oh my G—d!” or “Je—s Ch—st!” All those are examples of blasphemy.)  And this is the one that gets every one of us… Jesus said that if you’ve ever even looked at someone with lust that you’ve committed adultery in your heart, (Matthew 5:27-28).  …And we’ve only looked at four of the TEN Commandments!

Measured against God’s perfect Law, we ALL come up short.  As lawbreakers we stand before God as liars, thieves, blasphemers, and adulterers-at-heart.  In fact, the Bible goes even farther to say that if you’ve ever felt hatred in your heart, God counts it on your record as murder! (“Whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” 1 John 3:15)  As hard as it is to grasp, God sees our hearts as they really are, “desperately wicked,” (Jeremiah 17:9).

This is why Jesus came and died on the cross.  Because people like us—breakers of God’s Holy Laws, deserving eternal Hell—had no way to save ourselves.  We could never do enough good works to make up for our sins.  We could never go to church enough, do acts of mercy enough, get baptized often enough, take communion enough… etc.  Never.  In fact, God says all the things we think of as our “righteous acts” amount to nothing but a pile of “filthy rags,” (Isaiah 64:6).

The only solution is that God Himself, the third person of the trinity, Jesus Christ, would suffer the punishment in our place. It is as if the Judge was about to bring the gavel down on our trial, but before doing so, He took off his robe and stepped around to our side, and paid our fine in His life’s blood.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — no one can be saved by doing good works, this is so that no one can boast,” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Anyone who will repent (feel sorrow for, and turn away from sin) and place their trust (faith) entirely in the finished work of Jesus on that cross, will have all their sins forgiven EXCLUSIVELY THOUGH THE MERIT OF CHRIST and will be re-born spiritually as one of God’s children.  This video on YouTube explains it so much more thoroughly than I can.  It’s only ten minutes, please watch it.

My cousin’s death renewed in me an awareness that I had first received as a teenager when I watched my little brother die… an awareness that all human beings are headed toward death.  This life is almost an illusion compared to the eternal state that stretches out before us beyond our death.  And there is nothing more important than where you will spend eternity.

The Bible tells us that, “It is appointed unto all men that they die once and then face God’s judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27).  In other words, the Bible teaches that there is no second chance after death.  The moment you close your eyes in death, you will stand before God’s judgment seat.

Every breath you breathe is a gift from God: a gift of time to change your mind, a gift of time to repent.  My prayer is that you will turn to Christ Jesus in repentance and faith so that you can take receive the free gift of everlasting life that He offers you.

The Churches that Couldn’t Be Bothered

One of the saddest things in the world to watch is a plant that springs up with life and joy, only to wither and die before your eyes.  One moment there is hope; the next — death.  My heart is heavy as I think about someone I dearly love.  She seemed to be taking steps toward a new life in Christ, and then abruptly turned back to the world.

You see, I don’t live near her, and I knew that she did not have any Christian friends or a church to support and help her grow.  So I called three different churches in her area in a somewhat desperate attempt to find someone who would care.

At the first church, I talked to the associate pastor.  I told him about the situation, and he actually asked me what I wanted him to do.  Say what???  What do I want you to do???  I want you to go visit my friend.  I want you to introduce some Christian people to her.  I want you to personally invite her to your church.  I want you to reach out and care about her salvation!

The second church I called seemed more promising.  I told the two people I talked to there about the first church.  They both said that was appalling.  I felt encouraged.  This was a very large church, with lots of programs… maybe they would reach out!  But when the rubber met the road, they could send no one to meet her… they could send no one to give her a ride to church… they were apparently much too busy taking care of all those believers already gathered there to do… well… anything.*

The third church I called was very small and located extremely close to her.  The best I could get out of them is that they would call and leave a message on her phone inviting her to come to a ladies Christmas party.

That’s it.

One night, this friend called me.  She was sobbing uncontrollably, “If I follow God I’m going to lose all my friends, and I’m already so lonely!”  The anguish in her voice stuck in my chest like a rusty knife and CUT MY HEART OUT!

This little plant sprang up with joy.  I did all I could, from hundreds of miles away, to give it good roots.  I mailed wonderful Biblical materials, sermons, books, a study Bible… I even Skyped with her, trying as hard as I could to give her a foundation by reading the Bible with her.  But in the end, I watched the plant begin to wilt.  It had no deep roots — and so it withered and died.

“The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” ~ Matthew 13:20-21

The churches in her area couldn’t be bothered to expend time, effort, and energy to reach out to someone who is lost, desperately lonely, and sad to the marrow of her bones.

Am I bitter** toward those churches?

Yes, honestly, I am.

Now for the harder question:  Would I have behaved any differently?  If someone contacted me about a loved one that they had been sharing the gospel with, would I sit on my hands and find reasons to never go visit that person?  I hope to God not.  I hope to God that I would be stirred in my spirit to be active in fulfilling the Greatest Commission:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” ~ Matthew 28:19-20

One final note… Do I know that salvation belongs to the Lord?  Am I aware that His will is never thwarted and that ALL whom He calls will come to Him?  Do I know that God will save this loved one if He chooses to save her — despite the acts of any number of human beings — including these churches.  Yes.  I am pointedly and powerfully aware of this fact.  Salvation–from start to finish–is a work of the Lord.

Knowing all that, do I still hold bitterness** toward those churches?

I can hardly help it… yes I do.

* After this post went live, I was contacted by one of the people from this church.  It seems that she did made attempts to make contact with my loved one through Facebook and has been keeping her in prayer.  That is something I am grateful for, and I wanted to make sure it was mentioned.

**As for my bitterness, it has been pointed out to me by one friend that these feelings might be better classified as “grief.”  But I’m not sure.  It certainly feels bitter.  If this is sin, then please pray that the Lord would reveal that to me and help me be rid of it.

Who is this?

Who from the Bible is this describing?

  • Flames leap out of his mouth, smoke pores from his nostrils, and glowing coals blaze forth from him.
  • Dark storm clouds are under his feet, and he is shrouded in darkness veiling his approach with dark rain clouds that rain hail and burning coals.
  • His voice crashes like terrifying thunder and he destroys his enemies by sending lightning wherever he desires.
  • The earth shakes from his great anger, and he executes vengeance.

Did you guess this was describing the devil, Satan the accuser?  If you did, you would be completely wrong.

This description, from Psalm 18, is of the Lord God Almighty.

There is a reason God calls us to fear Him, and it is not just a word game for “respect.”

Psalm 111:10
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…

Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…

Proverbs 9:10
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…

Our fear of God is a major motivator of us sharing the good news of salvation available in Jesus:

2 Corinthians 5:11
Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…

God provided the only escape from His coming wrath.  He did it because of His mercy and lovingkindess toward his enemies… us. He sent His Son, fully-God and fully-man to take the punishment for sin in the place of anyone who is willing to humble themselves before Him, repent and place their trust in Jesus.  THAT is amazing kindness from a Holy God whom we should fear.

Favorite necklace of ALL TIME!!!

Empty Tomb Witnessing Jewlery

I absolutely LOVE my Empty Tomb necklace.  I wear it every day.  Really.  Every day.  It has been the start of many great witnessing encounters.

These are hand made by a lady here in California.  I think I got mine from her booth at a festival some years ago, but you can get one through her online store.

So buy one!  Support small, local business, and get something that totally rocks for starting conversations about Jesus!

(And, for those curious, I did NOT receive any kind of compensation for posting this.  This really is just something I totally LOVE and wanted to share!)

(And, for the skeptic, yes… I am wearing it in the
picture of me in the Annoying Orange shirt.
I’m really not lying about wearing it every day.
It just so happens it was under my shirt at the
moment that picture was snapped, but if
you look closely, you can barely see the sliver
chain going around the side of my neck.)

Murder Most Foul

The image is shocking! My children, 5 and 7 years-old, came in while this was on my computer screen and shouted, “What is that, Mom!?” A barely clothed young woman is drenched in blood and wrapped in cellophane—is she a murder victim?  No.  She’s protesting the eating of meat in front of a barbecue restaurant.

The obviously the intention of the PETA demonstrators is to shock and perhaps even sicken those who see it.  They chose the most foul, disgusting, image they could muster to try to produce sympathy for animals.  But my question is this… Why should this image shock us? Take a moment to just think that through before reading on.

Now think carefully; why should we be shocked when the real thing is happening, right now, in every major city in the United States?  In your city today, in clean, white rooms, women pay smiling secretaries, to have human beings slaughtered—literally.  The bloody, lifeless bodies of once living people, are wrapped up, and tossed away into the garbage… and the attitude is “good riddance!”

Can you imagine the backlash if I were to take a baby doll, cover it with fake blood, wrap it up in cellophane—just like this PETA demonstration—and stand in front of an Abortion center? After all—unlike PETA’s idiocy—it would be an accurate depiction of what is going on inside.  You see, PETA is tolerated in our society for this kind of “free speech,” but showing blood on a baby near an Abortion business would result in the police being called out to remove you… you “religious fanatic!”  (Can you smell the hypocrisy?)

If you think about it, the reason this picture has such shock value is that when we see someone murdered, something jumps inside us.  Our conscience almost instinctively screams, “This is wrong!  This should never happen!  Someone should be punished!”  Why?  Because human beings are created in the image of God, and God has written his Commandments (including, “Thou shalt not murder,”) on our hearts.

So, I’m sorry to tell PETA, that their demonstration didn’t work on me… at least not in the way they intended.  It didn’t make me sympathetic towards animals—instead it made me focus even more on the value of human life.

Are you against the killing of animals, but for the slaughter of human beings? If so, let me quote PETA from the paper under the cellophane, “GET HELP!”

Sinkhole to Hell

2010 giant sinkhole in Guatemala City

You’ve got to see this giant sinkhole in Guatemala City caused by tropical storm Agatha! This 30 story deep hole swallowed nearly an entire city block in 2010. Can you imagine the horror??? One minute you’re drinking a cup of coffee, chatting with a friend… and the next split second the entire world drops out from under you! Nearly 120 people died in that tropical storm.

If death comes for you today will you enter the everlasting wrath of Almighty God for your many sins against Him? Or will you be miraculously transported to eternal paradise because you turned from your sins (repentance) and begged that the perfect blood of Jesus cover you (faith)? There is no in between place — neither the word nor the concept of purgatory can be found anywhere in the pages of the bible — you will be in Heaven or Hell.

I have several people that I love that I continually worry about. If death visits them tonight — sealing their choice forever — they will be in Hell. Each one thinks they have time… time to turn, time to change, time to turn over a new leaf. But the only time any of us have is this one moment–this one breath. Death looms ready to snatch you instantly, anywhere, at any age, and at any health level.

We’ve seen thousands of people go to work one morning, and be blown to bits by Muslims hijacking jets. A tsunami out of nowhere kills hundreds of thousands, a bridge collapses taking commuters to a watery grave, people go to see a movie and never come home again. Little children, and teachers, innocently going through another bland work day are instantly standing before God. Do you think that as they brushed their teeth that morning they had any idea that is where they would be standing that night?

Do you really think you have forever to turn to God in repentance? They didn’t.

Come to your senses! Forsake your sin! Throw it away! Destroy it! Hate it! Because your love of sin (particularly sexual sin) will drag you all the way to Hell –you must repent. Your sin, no matter how pleasurable, is not worth it. Listen to Jesus, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it far from you! For it would be better to go to Heaven missing a limb, than to have two good hands and be thrown into the fire of eternal torment where the worm doesn’t die and the flame is not quenched!” (Mark 9:43-44)

Wake up. Please. It is a horror to know where you are heading and not be able to make you understand! It’s like being forced to watch someone you love eat spoonful after spoonful of poison. You try desperately to warn them and they keep insisting “But it’s so good!” Or, “I know, I know… I’m planning on stopping.”

“Today” the bible says “is the day of salvation.” The reason it says that is that you don’t own tomorrow… you don’t even rent it. You only have this moment in time to turn from your love of your sin to the mercy and forgiveness offered in Jesus.

Salvation is a limited time offer.

Do you need to hear this?

A “New Year” thought from Charles Spurgeon:

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” –Jeremiah 8:20

Not saved! Dear reader, is this your mournful plight? Warned of the judgment to come, bidden to escape for your life, and yet at this moment not saved! You know the way of salvation, you read it in the Bible, you hear it from the pulpit, it is explained to you by friends, and yet you neglect it, and therefore you are not saved. You will be without excuse when the Lord shall judge the quick and dead. The Holy Spirit has given more or less of blessing upon the word which has been preached in your hearing, and times of refreshing have come from the divine presence, and yet you are without Christ. All these hopeful seasons have come and gone–your summer and your harvest have past–and yet you are not saved. Years have followed one another into eternity, and your last year will soon be here: youth has gone, manhood is going, and yet you are not saved. Let me ask you–will you ever be saved? Is there any likelihood of it? Already the most propitious seasons have left you unsaved; will other occasions alter your condition? Means have failed with you–the best of means, used perseveringly and with the utmost affection–what more can be done for you? Affliction and prosperity have alike failed to impress you; tears and prayers and sermons have been wasted on your barren heart. Are not the probabilities dead against your ever being saved? Is it not more than likely that you will abide as you are till death for ever bars the door of hope? Do you recoil from the supposition? Yet it is a most reasonable one: he who is not washed in so many waters will in all probability go filthy to his end. The convenient time never has come, why should it ever come? It is logical to fear that it never will arrive, and that Felix like, you will find no convenient season till you are in hell. O bethink you of what that hell is, and of the dread probability that you will soon be cast into it!

Reader, suppose you should die unsaved, your doom no words can picture. Write out your dread estate in tears and blood, talk of it with groans and gnashing of teeth: you will be punished with everlasting destruction from the glory of the Lord, and from the glory of His power. A brother’s voice would fain startle you into earnestness. O be wise, be wise in time, and ere another year begins, believe in Jesus, who is able to save to the uttermost. Consecrate these last hours to lonely thought, and if deep repentance be bred in you, it will be well; and if it lead to a humble faith in Jesus, it will be best of all. O see to it that this year pass not away, and you an unforgiven spirit. Let not the new year’s midnight peals sound upon a joyless spirit! Now, NOW, NOW believe, and live.