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Why Shop When You Can Read a Good Book?

photo 3_1I don’t know about you, but the torrent of “Black Friday” emails is stressing me out. I don’t want to start my Christmas shopping; I’d much prefer to savor the tryptophan hangover with a good book by a warm fire. I know I might miss my Big Chance to get 40% off a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System, but you know what? I can live with that.

Speaking of good books…have you read The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs? It came out last year, to great acclaim. The book revisits the birth of Christ through the eyes of Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna, and if you are looking for an uplifting Advent read (or simply a way to put off going to the mall), look no further.

Higgs mixes familiar Bible passages with a warm and sometimes humorous narrative, and we find ourselves captivated not just by this fresh look at historical events, but by also by depth of wonder and transformation these “women of Christmas” experienced—and that we can, too.

A few nuggets:

About Elizabeth, the barren woman for whom God’s kindness took away her “public disgrace” (Luke 1:25), Higgs writes, “Through all her years of feeling less-than, Elizabeth had worshipped a more-than God.”

About Mary, who received an unheralded and unexpected angelic visitor: “In the same way, while we go about our daily tasks, God’s divine plan is unfolding. At any given moment our lives could change dramatically. No surprise to God, yet a big surprise to us. That’s what we find happening [to Mary].”

And about Anna, the old widow prophet who worshiped night and day at the temple: “She was standing nearby when she saw Simeon holding a babe and praising God. Her heart must have leaped for joy. The Messiah! ‘God, who had cared for her so faithfully all these years, saw to it that she didn’t miss that sacred moment.’”

and she gave thanks to God. (Luke 2:38)

Verse by verse, vignette by vignette, Higgs gives us the chance to get to know this trio of women who lived in a world not all that far removed from our own, a world in which turkey dinners and online shopping deals can take our eyes off the off the real news of the day:

“All across Judea people went about their business, making their goods and tending their flocks, unaware, unprepared. But Mary, Joseph, and all of heaven knew.

“He is coming.”

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Friday Prayer Verse for Peace & Thankfulness

Colossians 3-15

Yesterday, I wrote about the condition of our hearts, and the need to be grateful–particularly now.  (I mean, if you can’t count your blessings come Turkey Day, when will you ever be in the mood?)

Today’s prayer verse follows up on that theme.  Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.”

So often in the Bible, peace is linked with words like rule, or the idea of authority, or of standing guard.  The peace that God gives does guard our hearts; it serves as an umpire of sorts, knowing when to call something a “hit,” or when it is a foul.  When we live under this banner–with God’s peace calling the shots in our lives–thankfulness has a place to flourish.

Needing a little of that peace today?  Put your name, or the name of someone you love, into the blanks in this prayer:

O Lord, may your peace rule in _____’s heart, and make him/her/me thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

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Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart

heart

How’s your heart?

That’s the question the minister asked on Sunday (we were visiting City Church in Charlottesville – loved it), and after talking about the “heart disease” that plagues us all (stuff like pride, envy, and lust), he said this: A healthy heart is a heart that is continually thankful.

As someone who is far more apt to find fault with what didn’t go “as planned” (like Tuesday’s blog, which appeared in your inbox without the accompanying photo—sorry about that) than she is likely to rejoice over any of the little things that go “right” each day, I found myself struck by his words. I am definitely not “continually thankful.” And with the Big Day just a week away, I realized I needed some help

Last Christmas, Annesley’s mother-in-law-to-be gave her an iPhone case that came with a built-in Taser. I know Ruth meant it for use against thugs and other ne’er-do-wells, but it wasn’t open for five minutes before my kids began trying it out on each other. And then on Hillary’s boyfriend, Charlie, who hadn’t been exposed to all that many of our family celebrations—and who, I might add, took it like a champ.

(Just another happy Christmas morning at the Berndt house.)

Thinking of that Taser, I found myself wishing that I could implant something in my brain that would go off like a shock whenever my mind started down a whiny, prideful, or otherwise negative path: I can’t believe Robbie left his undershirt on the bedroom floor again.

FZZZT!

(The idea, of course, is that after a few such gentle reminders, I’d start to be thankful for my husband—who actually did once tell me that I should be glad when I find his laundry on the floor, since it reminds me of him when he isn’t home. Love that guy.)

Anyhow, not having a mental Taser handy—and can we all just say, “Thanks be to God” for that—I decided to try the Bible, instead. A quick skim through the concordance reveals this about thankfulness:

It works like a VIP card to get you into God’s presence (Psalm 100:4).

It’s an attitude that encourages other people (Colossians 3:16).

It’s something that God wants us to be, regardless of our circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

You know what? I am good with all of those verses, and more. But knowing it in my head and feeling it in my heart are often two very different things. And, try as I might, I can’t always get there from here.

Fortunately, though, God can. In Ezekiel 36, God promises us a “new heart” and a “new spirit.”  He says he will “remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  Isn’t that a great picture? Our stony, critical, complaining hearts (well, mine anyway; yours might be in better shape) can be utterly transformed—and God can make us thankful.

I don’t know about you, but that fills me with a world of hope. Normally, I’d be bellying up to the table next week, staring at the centerpiece and wondering if maybe it could have used another gourd or two, and wondering why my turkey was so dry (again). But now, with my heart securely placed in God’s hands, I have a shot at counting my blessings instead.

(Which is definitely better than getting tased.)

(Especially by your own kids.)

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Would You Rather Play a Family Game?

“I would rather suck an old man’s toes.”

That’s what one of our daughters said, a few years back, when we suggested she attend a Christian summer camp. We’d done the research (James Dobson and other family gurus pointed to the value of the Christian camp experience—a theory that was backed up by reality when we polled our friends’ older kids about what had mattered most in terms of strengthening their own faith), and we were planning to send her, whether she wanted to go or not.

Better parents might have been appalled by our gal’s somewhat, um, graphic response, but we couldn’t help ourselves. Robbie and I burst out laughing.

And “Would You Rather…” became an instant classic in our family.

If you’ve never played this game, the idea is to come up with two choices and have the other player (or players) choose which one they would “rather” do, have, or be. You can buy the official board game at Target, but we liked making up our own scenarios. And last year, I put some of our favorites on a few sheets of cardstock and cut them up to make game cards to give as Christmas gifts. (I also sewed little envelopes for them out of burlap, using old buttons and twine as closures, but I am a little Amish that way, and if you’d “rather” put your cards into a plain envelope or a little bag from someplace like Michael’s, that works.)

Your questions can be important, silly, or—if you have teenaged boys or a husband like mine—even a little gross. And if you’re looking for a way to inject a little “God” into your family fun, you can throw in a random Bible question or two: “Would you rather be David going up against Goliath or Daniel heading into the lions’ den?”

Need some ideas? Here are a few favorites from our list, just to get you started:

Would you rather be considered slightly annoying or generally dull?

Would you rather be caught lip-synching on The Voice or taking steroids in the Olympics?

Would you rather have peace or joy?

Would you rather always spit when you talk or always be spat upon when people talk to you?

(See what a deep and intellectual family we are?)

And of course, the classic: Would you rather suck an old mans toes or have an old man suck your toes?

If you’re looking for a way to spice up (if not elevate) the conversation around the dinner table this Thanksgiving, why not try this game?

And while you’re at it, consider putting a gift certificate for summer camp under the tree for your kids, even if you think they’d rather suck an old man’s toes. Our family loves Young Life, Kanakuk, J.H. Ranch, and Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Fatherhood (which I hope Robbie will guest blog about one day soon!).

(And just in case you are wondering, I think I would rather have an old man suck my toes. But I would feel badly about it.)

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Friday Prayer Verse ~ Psalm 5:11-12

Lots of people post “Friday Favorites.”  I’ve picked up shopping tips from Melanie Shankle, followed Kate’s pregnancy the eyes of new mom Elizabeth Robertson Williams, and snagged more than a couple of good recipes from any number of Friday bloggers.  But, not being much of shopper (or a royal watcher; has Kate had that baby), you won’t find those types of good tips here.  And while I might share a recipe once in awhile, I currently conducting experiment to prove to Robbie that eating out–if you find the right “deal”–might actually be cheaper than cooking at home, now that it’s just the two of us.  (Wish me luck.)

When I use the word “favorite,” it is often in the context of a Bible verse.  Some people have their “life verse,” and they can tell you what it means to them, and why.  Not me.  I have any number of Bible “favorites,” and they change almost daily.

For me, then, Friday is going to be the day when I post whatever principle or promise has captivated my heart that week.  And, banking on promises like John 15:7 (“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you”) and Isaiah 55:11 (which tells us that God’s word does not return empty, but accomplishes the purposes for which it is sent), I will offer these verses in the format of prayers, with blanks where you can insert your own name, or that of someone you love.

I hope you enjoy praying this way, and that these words will serve to strengthen your faith and increase your joy.  I hope they will transform your perspective and breathe fresh hope into weary or challenging situations.  And I hope, actually, that some of these verses will become your new favorites.

Here goes:

Spread your protection over ____ and bless him/her.  Surround ____ with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12)

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