Gingerbread Nativity

Community United Methodist Church in DeBary Florida offers a midweek arts program for children entitled Creative Kids Cafe. There children explore worship and faith through music, drama and visual arts.

A few weeks ago, the wonderful visual arts team taught the children to make nativity scenes in the style of a classic gingerbread house. They were so cute and clever, I had to share the idea here. I hope this project brings a smile to your face and inspires some crafting time this blessed season. – Lisa <><

Supplies:

1 small white paper plate

1 large Christmas paper plate

1 empty paper butter box

Scissors

Clear tape

Plastic knife

White prepared frosting

Shredded wheat

Graham crackers

Animal crackers

2 small pretzels

1 pretzel nugget

1 peppermint candy

1 toothpick sign with “Jesus is the greatest gift”

Presents

Process:

  1. Cut the butter box to the length of half a graham cracker.
  2. Tape the butter box half to the white paper plate.
  3. Put the white paper plate on the larger Christmas plate.
  4. Use the knife and frosting to attach pieces of graham cracker to the top and outside walls of the butter box.
  5. Attach the animal crackers to the graham cracker walls in the same manner.
  6. Attach the peppermint candy star to the graham cracker roof in the same manner.
  7. Place a small mound of frosting inside the bottom of the box. Carefully place the two small pretzels in the frosting at an angle forming a v shape. Hold and let dry. The pretzels form the manger for the baby, represented by the pretzel nugget.
  8. Place the shredded wheat around the structure to represent the hay.
  9. Add the presents and sign.

There’s usually lots of snacking, laughing and finger licking during this project so enjoy looking at it rather than eating it.

Advent Door 13: To Know and be Known

Transparent Heart by LoveFusion Photography by Kelsey

The Advent Door Reading Plan
Day 13 Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Scripture Summary: Paul gives thanks for God’s grace and faithfulness in strengthening and enriching the believers in Corinth.

As we have seen in other readings this season, Paul’s words speak to the community’s longing for God to come and be present in their lives. In concert with Jesus, who told of how the Son of Man will come with power and glory; and with the writer of Isaiah, who challenged God to tear open the heavens and come down; and with the psalmist, who prayed for God’s face to shine upon him and his community, Paul reveals his desire to fully know and be known by God. – Jan Richardson, Through the Advent Door

The “work” of Christ has been stressed until it has eclipsed the person of Christ. Substitution has been allowed to supersede identification. What he did for me seems to be more important than what He is to me. Redemption is seen as an across-the-counter transaction which we “accept”, and the whole thing lacks emotional content. We must love someone very much to stay awake and long for his coming, and that may explain the absence of power in the advent hope even among those who still believe in it.
– A.W. Tozer

I’ve always associated the word apocalypse with destruction: the destruction of all life as we know it by an alien force, a giant meteor, a massive super-storm, a mega-bomb in the hands of a villain, or the ever popular destruction of the living by the living dead (Zombie Apocalypse! Must have brains!) Apocalypse is bad. It’s scary. It’s to be avoided at all costs; including scriptures which speak about the granddaddy of them all, Jesus coming again at the End of the Age.

What I’ve realized lately is my understanding is based far more on movie depictions than Biblical truth. The word apocalypse comes from the Greek word apocalupsis which means revealing, disclosure, to take off the cover.

Are there times when a revealing is bad? Sure. Who hasn’t had the “naked in public” nightmare. But for the most part, revealings are good. It’s good to expose corruption. It’s good to disclose our addiction. It’s good to draw back the curtain, take off the mask, uncover the truth. Revelation is the first step of healing.

Apocalypse is a beginning and an end. It’s the sacred journey of God’s revealing, of God revealing God and God revealing us, of knowing and being known by God.

If you trust that God is good, then the End of the Age is a blessed event. No more misunderstanding. No more relationship chasm. No more longing for peace and justice and unity and wholeness. It’s present. The hidden Kingdom is plain for all to see and live.

What if we also used the idea of apocalypse for the smaller revealings along the way? What if God draws us through little apocalypse after little apocalypse as a means of growing us in grace? Little by little, God is revealed and so are we. Layer after layer of disclosure brings healing and new life, like debriding a burn victim, like soot being removed to reveal the masterpieces of the Sistine Chapel. Over time trust deepens and the covers come off more and more hiding places, not for punishment, but for redemption.

God is Love. The Holy Spirit’s relentless, revealing work is Love in action, God’s persevering desire to “strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

May your every false understanding
and supposition
fade in the light of God’s truth

May your every hidden burden
and secret shame
blossom with new life
in the light of God’s healing

May God’s every revealing
Turn your morning into dancing

I want to walk as a child of the light;
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world;
The star of my life is Jesus.

Refrain: In him there is no darkness at all;
The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God;
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

I want to see the brightness of God;
I want to look at Jesus.
Clear Sun of righteousness, shine on my path,
And show me the way to the Father. (Refrain)
– Kathleen Thomerson

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This year’s Advent reflections are inspired by the e-book Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas [Kindle Edition] by author and artist Jan Richardson. In the style of a classic Advent calendar, Jan offers twenty five reflections, each with an original piece of art. Consider this your invitation to join me and Jan on this journey to Christmas. – Lisa <><

For more information on the Christian season of Advent, click here

For more outstanding work by today’s featured artist, LoveFusion Photography by Kelsey, click here

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Church as People of Hope

Hope in the Prison of Despair by Evelyn Pickering De Morgan

It is no accident that we’ve been born in these times, that we find our lives unfolding now, with our particular histories and gifts, our brokenness, our experience, and our wisdom. It is not an accident. In talking about the fate of the earth, we know that its fate is really up for grabs. There are no guarantees as to its future. It is a question of our own critical choices. Perhaps what we need most is a transforming vision, a vision that’s deep enough, one that can take us from where we are to a new place; one that opens the future up to hope. More than anything, we must become people of hope.
-Miriam Therese MacGillis

Psalm 33:18-22 NRSV
Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield. Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.

Hope is patiently waiting expectantly for the intangible to become reality.
– Avery D. Miller

Hope lifts our eyes above the present human condition and circumstance. … Without hope, there is little motivation for patience. But where hope is present— and hope is a gift of God (1 Cor. 13:13)— there is a will to continue and a path forward.
– Kenneth H. Carter Jr., Pray for Me

What is hope? It is the pre-sentiment that imagination is more real, and reality less real than it looks. It is the suspicion that the overwhelming brutality of facts that oppress us and repress us is not the last word. It is the hunch that reality is more complex than the realists want us to believe. That the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual. And that in a miraculous and unexpected way, life is preparing the creative events which will open the way to freedom and to resurrection. – Ruben Alves, Tomorrow’s Child

Psalm 62:5 NRSV
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

When most people talk about tomorrow and wanting something in their lives to be different or to get better, they use the word hope. Dictionary definitions of hope contain two elements. The first is a “desire or expectation” for something in the future to occur. “I hope this thing turns around.” The second is usually “grounds for believing” that something in the future will occur. “She sees some hope because of next year’s product line.” The real problem is when we have one without the other: a desire without any grounds. That is hope based not on reality but on our desires, our wishes.
– Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings

Romans 5:1-5 NRSV
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Hope opens something in the human heart. Like shutters slowly parting to admit a winter dawn, hope permits strands of light to make their way to us, even when we still stand in cold darkness; but hope also reveals a landscape beyond us into which we can live and move and have our being. With hope, closely held interior thoughts are gently turned outward; deep desires, perhaps long hidden in secret corners of our heart, might be lifted up to the light. At times, hope peels back the edges of our imagination to free what waits underneath — a changed life, a new resolve, a yes pregnant with possibility. In other moments hope dares us to unfold a layer of desire — for relationship, for clarity, for courage. – Pamela C. Hawkins, Simply Wait: Cultivating Stillness in the Season of Advent

Maybe the way suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope is that suffering, endurance and character actually free us from the burden of having to be naively optimistic. Maybe if hope isn’t a very reliable starting point, then hope is not something we strive to muster up for ourselves. Maybe real hope is always something we are surprised by. This week I started to think of Hope as that which is left after all else has failed us. And that is an Easter hope…. The Christian faith is one that does not pretend things aren’t bad. This is a faith that does not offer platitudes to those who lost children this week to suicide or a tornado. This is not a faith that produces optimism it is a faith that produces a defiant hope that God is still writing the story and that despite darkness a light shines and that God can redeem our crap and that beauty matters and that despite every disappointing thing we have ever done or that we have ever endured, that there is no hell from which resurrection is impossible. – Nadia Bolz Weber, Sermon on Why Hope and Vapid Optimism Are Not  The Same Thing

Lord, I need a big dose of hope today.
None of the pie-in-the-sky kind.
Not even a pretty-sure guess.
I need the real kind of hope that brings lightness to a heavy day.
I am tired of gritting my teeth,
trying to swallow the pain that is my reality.
When I look back on my life,
I see how you proved faithful time after time.
There were moments I thought you had forgotten me
only to discover you were holding me so close I couldn’t see.
So if the stubborn pain refuses to subside for a while,
I will still whisper your name in praise.
Refocus my mind on you, Lord. Only on you.
It is there I find hope.
– Missy Buchanan, Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body

Romans 15:13 NRSV
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Church as Champion of the Poor

migrant mother great depression

Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother depicts destitute pea pickers in California, centering on Florence Owens Thompson, age 32, a mother of seven children, in Nipomo, California, March 1936.

Why does the Bible, and why does Jesus, tell us to care for the poor and the outsider? It is because we all need to stand in that position for our own conversion. We each need to stand under the mercy of God, the forgiveness of God, and the grace of God— to understand the very nature of reality. When we are too smug and content, then grace and mercy have no meaning— and God has no meaning. Forgiveness is not even desired. When we have pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps, religion is always corrupted because it doesn’t understand the mystery of how divine life is transferred, how people change, and how life flows. It has been said by others that religion is largely filled with people who are afraid of hell, and spirituality is for people who have gone through hell. – Richard Rohr

The word philanthropy has its roots in the Greek language meaning “love for mankind.” It was never meant to apply only to donors of thousands or millions of dollars.
– Arthur C. Frantzreb

Chains always break at the weakest link. That’s why Kingdom living concentrates there. That’s why Love (agape) flows there. That’s why Church (and its many related institutions) always exist to care for “the least of these.”
– Steve Harper, Church of “The Weakest Link”

The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference toward one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease. As each one of this Society is to become a Co-Worker of Christ in the slums, each ought to understand what God and the Society expect from her. Let Christ live and radiate his life in her, and through her in the slums. Let the poor seeing her be drawn to Christ, and invite him to enter their lives and their homes. Let the sick and the suffering find in her a real angel of comfort and consolation. Let the little ones of the streets cling to her because she reminds them of him, the friend of the little ones. -Mother Teresa

Paul says, “It is the parts of the body which we consider least dignified, that we surround with the greatest dignity” (1 Corinthians 12:23). The Church as the people of God can truly embody the living Christ among us only when the poor remain its most treasured part. Care for the poor, therefore, is much more than Christian charity. It is the essence of being the body of Christ. – Henri Nouwen

Click here for a reflection entitled Samaritan, by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. It’s an incredibly beautiful and challenging reminder of how the rich and poor need one another and heal one another.

Click here for a powerful lament and reflection by Steve Garnaas Holmes
entitled No Justice

Acts 4:32-35 NIV
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 NIV
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

Matthew 25:37-40 NIV
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

For the Hurting, by Steve Garnaas Holmes
God, I confess how much of my faith is for me alone,
and does not care for the poor and the lonely.

Burn a place in my heart for the hurting.
Take my prayer and give it to them.

Divide my faith between me and those who doubt.
Split my assurance with those who despair.

Share my joy with the oppressed,
and my hope with the abused.

May all I believe, all I do, all I pray
be for the sake of your beloved who hurt the most.

May my prayer disturb me until it leads to action,
to work and witness for justice, to change the world.

God of love and justice, give me courage rather than peace,
compassion rather than comfort, earth rather than heaven.

With Christ, I ask you, God:
save me last.

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For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page

Strengthening our Inner Being

Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Meditation is the devotional practice of pondering the words of a verse, or verses of Scripture, with a receptive heart, allowing the Holy Spirit to take the written Word and apply it as the living word to the inner being. – Campbell McAlpine

The Christian’s life in all its aspects – intellectual and ethical, devotional and relational, upsurging in worship and outgoing in witness – is supernatural; only the Spirit can initiate and sustain it. So apart from him, not only will there be no lively believers and no lively congregations, there will be no believers and no congregations at all. – J. I. Packer

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability — and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser. – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Surrendering the idea of investment and outcome is uncomfortable.
Doing is easy. Being is much harder.
– Cathleen Falsani, The Pastor’s Message

Is it useful?  That’s the question asked by a utilitarianism that ascribes value only to those things that “produce results.”  And because we cannot ever actually “prove” that prayer “works,” many dismiss it as a waste of time. Prayer, by its very nature, calls us into communion with God—communion for its own sake, not for any other reason.  We do not pray to “feel” anything, to gain a new insight, or to be given power to accomplish something.  We pray to be with God—or more accurately, to enter into fellowship with the God who is already with us (Emmanuel).
– Steve Harper, Prayer is Wasting Time With God

Now and then, for a little while, we enter into a sort of personal rolling blackout called prayer: we unhook from all the things that make us feel like we get power from outside us, and let our power come from God alone. We deepen our connection with all of life and its Source, and deepen our awareness of God’s power within us. We notice the things that obstruct our connection with the Holy One and we let go of them. We let go of the illusion that we are isolated beings. We become powerless so that we might claim the true and pure divine power within. – Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Power Outage

Where there is love and wisdom,
there is neither fear nor ignorance.
Where there is patience and humility,
there is neither anger nor vexation.
Where there is poverty with joy,
there is neither greed nor avarice.
Where there is peace and meditation,
there is neither anxiety nor doubt.
Where the fear of the Lord stands guard,
there the enemy finds no entry.
Where there is mercy and moderation,
there is neither indulgence nor harshness.
Francis of Assisi, as quoted in
The Riches of Simplicity: Selected Writings of Francis and Clare

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Click here for a short, excellent article on the spiritual practice of breath prayer. This is an excellent remedy to busyness.

For more information on use of the scripture, art and this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page