I work at a home for troubled boys, and it’s operated only by donations from individuals and an occasional grant. When we apply for a grant for Youth-Reach, it’s usually accompanied by representatives of the organization that creates the opportunity coming to our facility to see what we do in person. Since a site visit can make or break the chance for us to receive the grant, we are very intentional to have our facility looking top-notch. The grass must be manicured to perfection, the driveways clear of leaves, branches, and debris, and all signs must be straight and clean. Even more important than the grounds, are the insides of the homes. Together with the boys, we ensure that the common areas, kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms are not only presentable but impeccable. We do this because we understand that the impression that we make on the grantor will influence how they view our program. We want them to see that we care about the resources that we are given. However, our grantor could come by our facility and find that have a great upkeep on the property, but it’s the relationship that we build with them through the application period is paramount in receiving the grant.
We should celebrate Advent in the same way – we should prepare our hearts to receive the King of Kings. In the same way that we are careful to divest our homes of unnecessary clutter when a VIP comes over, we should divest our minds and hearts of superfluous things. We are meticulous not to simply sweep dirt under the rugs of the home, but dispose of it. Likewise, we should not seek to hide our toxic sin, but throw it away and rid our lives of it.
We clean our hearts for the coming of Christ, not as though we earn God’s love for putting sin to death, but knowing that we will receive a blessing for our faithfulness and we honor Him by doing so. God is all about the relationship. Building our relationship with God and causing him to be there center of our purposes will shape so many aspects of our lives. Take the time to redirect your thoughts to be focused on Christ. We are created to be worshipers and when our activates are centered on Jesus, we allow our lives to worship him in all things. Choose to prepare yourself for the coming of Jesus, Advent.
What is Advent?
Advent is a tradition that many churches have forgotten but has been an integral part of how the church has celebrated for thousands of years. The word “advent” means arrival or appearance and is intended to generate anticipation of the Messiah coming into our world.
How is Advent different from the “Holiday Season”?
Advent is the intentionality of making everything centered on Christ. It is common for us to practice centering this time on commercialism, magic, presents, Santa Claus, and then only say, “but the true meaning of Christmas is Jesus”. Rather than just say this, let’s live it. We should ask ourselves, how can I make this activity, gathering, or tradition focused on Jesus? We are called to be worshipers. For the time that we have specifically set apart to celebrate God’s gift to the world, Jesus, we ought to want to worship him in all things – thought, word and deed. So what makes advent different, is reforming our traditions to be completely Christ-Centered.
When is Advent?
This year Advent start on November 25th and over the weeks that lead up to Christmas Day, families participate in activities that direct their attention to the arrival of Jesus, and what that means for humanity.
Make memories with your family, start new traditions, or embrace old ones. What’s most important is finding a way worship with a Christ-Centered heart this season. Chose to celebrate Advent with your family and others in a way that is fun, meaningful and honors God!
Ways to Celebrate Advent
1. Make a Jesse Tree. This is a small little tree that you can create or purchase, any style that has several branches. Make some ornaments to hang, each ornament can be a picture or symbol of a story from the bible that leads up to Jesus. The idea is each day you hang a new ornament and read through scripture that tells the story of God’s love for man from Creation all the way to Jesus. In Isaiah, God says “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him”.
2. Get an Advent Wreath. This is similar to a wreath you might hang on a door, but these lay flat on a table top and have four candles and one larger in the middle. Each week your family will light a candle until finally you light the large one in the middle on Christmas Day. You might accompany this by evening prayer and a short devotional and may be done before or after dinner, once or multiple time a week.
3. Go Christmas Caroling! A neat way to reach your neighbors. People enjoy singing the tunes of Christmas and it’s a great way to share joy of Jesus. After your song set at each home, you can offer prayer and converse with them about Jesus, your Missional Community Group or the Church.
4. Choose a way for your family to serve. This is an awesome means to help alleviate the self-centeredness that comes from an abundance of gifts and secular ideals instilled into us. Be intentional, don’t simply donate your leftovers or things you have to spare, but do something out of love and sacrifice to others around you.
5. Set up a Nativity Scene in your home. One thing you can do differently is to put all of the pieces in different parts of you home. The Magi in one corner or room, the shepherds in another and Mary and Joseph in another, and hide the baby Jesus. Each day you can move each piece a little closer to the manger. As you do this you can excite your kids about what the journey would have been like for each of the sojourners and read the stories from scripture that accompany each character. On Christmas day you can have all the characters arrive and place baby Jesus.
6. Find an Advent Calendar. This is a neat tool to teach your kids patience! It can be made of cardboard, hardwood or a number of materials. This has 24 little doors that conceal a candy. On Christmas Day there is a special treat, maybe a larger candy or a toy of some kind. Each day you can discuss a different principle of depending on Jesus and what a joy he is when he comes into our world.
7. Host Birthday Party for Jesus! As the days count down you can get your kids involved in helping to prepare for the party. Will you have cake, presents, songs, decorations? This can be something that you invite others to if you so wish and make it a community event – Go as big as you want.
8. Create a Paper Chain Garland. Each day you can write a short bible verse or someone you want to pray for. Make it as festive as you can! Coordinate colors, markers, glitter etc. You can hang this around the tree or over a window ledge or on the fireplace mantle.
9. Hold a Talent Show. Allow each of your family members to use their talents and creativity to make a contribution that displays their love for Jesus. Tell a story, write a poem, sing a song, paint a picture, perform a skit. You can have each person do something once a week or all in one day however it fits for you. Remind each person that they are offering their talent or gift to God with family enjoying as well, rather than just a performance for family.
For many years, fasting to me was like something that only people in the days of biblical times did. In my family it was definitely unheard of. Isn’t this what “Super Christians” do, if there were such people? On the contrary, scripture teaches fasting not as something only for leaders or elders, but for every believer. In fact, in Matthew 6:16, Jesus doesn’t give instruction about “if you fast”, he says “when you fast”.
Let’s define fasting: Voluntarily abstaining from enjoying a gift from God, usually food, for Spiritual purpose.
This concept is so strange to us since it is completely counter-cultural. We are accustomed to eating all the time – when we’re hungry, when it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner time, for a snack, to share fellowship, when we are stressed or bored, or for comfort, and even just because there is food in front of us – It’s America’s greatest pastime…Sadly, we often over look eating for simply the sustainability of our bodies.
Sustainably is a key importance of fasting. We are looking to test our ability to solely be sustained on God’s strength. We are looking for the mindset of entitlement to be purged from our consumeristic selves and for God to speak to us. Believers should fast to become more aware of God’s presence, confirm his will or anointing, and to hear a message from the Lord by giving him our attention.
Make no mistake, of you’re fasting to lose weight – don’t, that’s a diet. Don’t be a hypocrite and choose to diet, pretending it is fasting for the sake of piety. If you are doing it to try and move God’s mind on an issue you’re dealing with – don’t, that’s not how God works. Fasting is about God moving in you and changing your mind.
Fast the right way.
One: Don’t fast from water, you’ll only find yourself in the ER because of dehydration.
Two: Don’t try to go all in, right away. Going from never having fasted before to attempting to abstain from food for 7 days will most likely leave you weak, angry, and you'll give-up, wondering why you’re even doing this. Start off small, start of slowly. It’s not a race or competition.
Three: Don’t be a Jerk. Fasting should grow your love for God and others. If you go around making things complicated because of your restrictions or being constantly irritable and hostile to others, you have defeated the purpose.
Four: Plan to replace the time you normally eat with prayer, meditation on God’s word, and serving others. This is the core of fasting. If you miss this, you will waste your time and starve yourself for nothing.
What the Lord has taught me is that Fasting is an act of worship, and a way of submitting and surrendering to the Holy Spirit in my life. As you worship Him and resist temptation, you place your desire for intimacy with God above the physical cravings of hunger. Consider Deuteronomy 8:3 – “He humbled you… to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Start each day with a prayer in your heart that your fasting may not be in vain or become a routine.
Some reflection questions:
1. What will you choose to fast from? Why this? What significance does this have?
2. What have you begin to learn about yourself during your fast? Be honest with the Lord on your desires, learn to repent and seek the Lord’s aid to change your heart. How can you open your ears to the Lord?
3. Read Isaiah 58:1-14 and reflect on this passage. What is God trying to teach you during this season?
4. How have to grown from this? What work has God done through this time of fasting?
By Jarod Dyess
The year has gone by so quickly and we yet again arrive to the “Holiday Season”. Here we are getting ready to celebrate Christmas – a time when things seem to be quite different than the rest of the year. Hallmark movies flood Netflix and cable channels, extra lights go up around the house, and department stores’ sales soar off the charts. When it’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of year, if can easily become the most stressful time of the year. However, the frenzy of Christmas doesn’t have to drive you mad, if you are willing to follow these steps:
This Advent and Christmas choose a different way to celebrate. What’s most important is finding a way to love God and love people this season – So whatever you do this year, consider celebrating Christmas with your family and others in a way that is fun, meaningful, and honors God!