Preparing our Hearts
for Christmas

Celebrating Advent

Welcome to one of the most peaceful, beautiful times of the year. Most of my life I didn’t really know what advent was. Sure we had different calendars that we opened the little windows or a green felt hanging that had little candy canes tied to it. Each night we would take a candy cane off until we reached the bottom with the little bell and then rang out that it was now Christmas. It was a countdown thing.

Several years ago, the church I was attending, started using the advent wreath and candles. In my mind at the time, it was something liturgical styled churches did. I really had no idea what it was. I was intrigued though. So, I started researching and studying to really figure out just what it is and how to celebrate.

The dictionary defines Advent as “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. In Christian theology it is the coming or second coming of Christ. Preparation for the commemoration of the birth of Jesus.”

Here is how I define it now: It is a time of reflection and devotion focusing on the real meaning of Christmas. It is a taking time out of our busy schedules to slow down and spend some time preparing our hearts for what God has in store for us.

Would you like to take this journey of preparation with us? For the time leading up to Christmas as well as Christmas day, there will be devotionals to help lead us to the place our hearts need to be for this time of year. There will also be little activities you can do with your young children (if you have them) to help them prepare their hearts.

 

2017 Advent Ideas

Subscribe to Postcards (our blog) to receive our 2017 Advent Ideas. You will receive 4 emails (one per week) leading up to Christmas. These emails will include an Advent devotional as well as optional activities for children, all created by contributor, Cindy Snyder.

Subscribe in the sidebar or footer and join us this advent season!

Who Touched Me?

Picture in your mind shopping on Black Friday. You are in a very crowded mall. There are people everywhere, and you almost feel claustrophobic from all the bumping and jostling around. People are pressing in more and more. Then you hear someone say, “Who touched me?” What would your reaction be?

This is the story we read in Mark 5:25-34 and Luke 8:43-48. No, it’s not a crowded shopping mall on black Friday, but it is a crowded space with people pressing in on all sides. This dear lady had been bleeding (the Bible says hemorrhaging) for 12 years. Wow. She was in a desperate situation. She had tried everything she knew to try, and there was no one who could help.

She had heard that there was this man, Jesus, who could heal her. She quietly walked up behind Him through the crowd, not wanting to disturb the teacher at all. She may have been thinking, “Maybe, if I just touch His garment I can be healed. It’s worth a shot. What could it hurt? Nobody else can do anything.”

She did just that. She got behind Jesus and touched the hem of His garment. Scripture tells us that immediately Jesus felt the power go out of Him and said, “Who touched my garment?” (Mark 5:30) Did you catch that? Jesus felt the power leave with the touch of the garment. The disciples were rather shocked at Jesus. They started asking “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” (Mark 5:31)

As soon as she touched Jesus’ garment, the woman felt the hemorrhaging dry up. She was healed. When Jesus asked who had touched Him, she knew it was her, and she came in fear and trembling, falling before Him and confessed it was her and why she had done it. Jesus told her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:48).

The disciples were shocked that Jesus was asking this when there was such a crowd. Hadn’t they been with Jesus long enough to know that He would know? The woman was healed. She was humbled. She confessed. Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:48)

What about you? Have you ever been in such a desperate situation where you would do almost anything to positively change that situation? Where did you turn? Who did you go to with all of those burdens? Would you be willing to risk everything to touch the hem of the garment of the One who could help you? Turn to Jesus.

(As we explore how to Tell Your Story, each contributor will share a part of their God story with us. Cindy Snyder’s story is here.)

 

We’ve been talking about how our stories affect others, so in addition to the questions above, think about:

How does this woman’s story affect you?
Why did God choose to include her story in His word?

 

First post in series: Tell Your Story
Previous post in series: Get Up. Take Your Mat. Go Home.
Next post in series: Go Home. Tell Your Story.

 

Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB),
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.lockman.org

 

Get Up. Take Your Mat.
Go Home.

When Jesus enters your story, you can’t keep quiet. Something within refuses to be still. Telling your story is a necessary part of your journey.

There once was a paralytic who received healing and forgiveness at the hands of Jesus, and he just couldn’t keep the good news to himself. Read his story in Luke 5:17-26.

The Paralytic’s Story

The crowd listening to Jesus and hoping for healing that day was so thick that a paralyzed man’s friends had to make a hole in the roof and lower their friend through it just so he could reach Jesus. Swaying on his mat as it was lowered to the ground, the paralyzed man was most certainly hoping for healing. He wanted to walk again. As his mat had come to rest directly in front of Jesus, his hopes must have been high.

Instead of healing the man, Jesus told him his sins were forgiven. As soon as those words were out of Jesus’ mouth, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law began to grumble among themselves, accusing Jesus of blasphemy–of claiming to be God–because only God can forgive sins. Jesus knew their thoughts and addressed their whispered accusations by saying (in essence), “I want you to know that I have the authority to forgive sins, so I’ll heal this man.”

So Jesus told the man lying there waiting for physical healing to get up, take his mat, and return home. Immediately, the man did as he was told. And he praised God on his way! As he headed home he told the people he met what Jesus had done for him–how Jesus had healed him AND forgiven his sins.

Reaction to the Story

This man’s story was witnessed by a crowd so large that his friends had been unable to carry him through the doors to see Jesus. The witnesses to this miracle AND the people this man told his story to were amazed by what Jesus had done. “Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe…” (Luke 5:26)

Telling Our Story

Our stories of what God has done for us and of how He has forgiven us have the potential to amaze people.

Our stories of what God has done for us and of how He has forgiven us have the potential to amaze people. Our stories can result in awe and praise directed to God. How?

Get Up – When the man got up, he was accepting the healing and forgiveness Jesus offered. Have you?

Take Your Mat – The mat he carried was the story of where he was before he met Jesus. Like this formerly paralyzed man, you need to take up your mat–the story of where you were without Jesus.

Go Home – Home represents the place you reside–your daily routine and the people who know you. Take your story with you every day and be prepared to share it.

Praise God – Share the story of where you were without Jesus and what He did for you as you walk through your daily routine. Give God the credit and honor He deserves.

Unless you take up your story and give God credit for what He did for you and how He forgave you, the people you meet will never have the opportunity to be amazed by your story and give praise to God. Give people the opportunity to be filled with awe. Share your story!

(As we explore how to Tell Your Story, each contributor will share a part of their God story with us. Here is Trisha’s Story.)

Think about it:

  • Get up! Have you accepted what Jesus did for you?
  • What is your mat (the place you were without Jesus)?
  • Where should you take your story?
  • How can you praise God as you carry your story along life’s way?

 

First post in series: Tell Your Story
Previous post in series: Storytelling Rules
Next post in series: Who Touched Me?

 

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.  www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™]

Always Be Prepared

 

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Storytelling Rules

Have you written your story, yet?

Do you know how? Do you know where to begin? Do you ever wish that someone would just tell you what to say or give you a format to follow?

If you don’t even know how to start, let me introduce you to a few of Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. These rule were tweeted some time ago by Emma Coats, one of Pixar’s Story Artists.

One rule in particular is helpful as we explore ways to tell our story. Rule #4:

“Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.”

An example of using this to tell our God story would be:
Once I was living a destructive lifestyle. Every day I did the same sinful thing. One day someone told me the story of how they overcame the very same issue. Because of that I started to ask them questions about God. Because of that I began to go to church (or attend a Bible study). Until finally I accepted Jesus as my Savior (or God’s help to change). Praise God!

Getting started on writing out your God story is as easy as that. Can you see how your story could fit into the Pixar format? Of course this will be the bare bones version, an outline of sorts. Once you have that in place, you can add the details that make the story uniquely yours.

Some of Pixar’s other storytelling rules might also be helpful. Here are just a few:

Rule #5: “Simplify. Focus…Hop over detours.”

Rule #8: “Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect.”

Rule #14: “Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.”

There are many ways to tell your story. If you don’t know where to begin, this is a simple format to get started. Why don’t you spend some time this week thinking about your experiences with God and see if they fit into Pixar’s pattern of storytelling? You might be surprised by how many stories of God’s work in your life will fit into this format.

Anyone want to share their Pixar Rule #4 story lines? Don’t worry. You’ll be given the opportunity to share more details in a few weeks.

I’ll start:
There was a time when I was over-committed at church. Every time someone needed help, I was there. One day I burned out. Because of that, I began to struggle with questions about God. Because of that, I began to struggle with depression. Until finally, I shared with a friend who prayed for me. Then I gradually found healing, answers, and strength through the power of God. (To see the expanded version go to Trisha’s Story.)

Regardless of whether or not you are ready to share your story, I’d love to here your answer to Rule #14: “Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of?”

One caution: Remember to use “transparency with modesty” whenever you are deciding which details to share. While the person you are sharing with needs enough details to be able to understand your story, there is still the danger of “too much information.”

 

First post in series: Tell Your Story
Previous post in series: How to Tell Your Story
Next post in series: Get Up. Take Your Mat. Go Home.

 

To see Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling: https://www.aerogrammestudio.com/2013/03/07/pixars-22-rules-of-storytelling/

How to Tell Your Story

Try and sing in the night, Christian, for that is one of the best arguments in the entire world in favor of your religion … I tell you, we may preach fifty thousand sermons to prove the gospel, but we will not prove it half as well as you will by singing in the night.
— Charles Spurgeon

When you let God into your life–no matter if He has cured a sickness in your body, saved you from yourself, encouraged you in the depths of despair, uplifted your face to see His grace, taught you more than you already knew, or delivered you from a situation where there was no escape–He wants you to tell your stories.

Seeing the change in you might make someone ask about the cause. Hearing your story might cause someone to think about Jesus. Reading your story might help someone understand how God can help them. Perhaps they might even attend a worship service or turn to God in prayer when they are made aware of your story.

A simply told Christian testimony can change the world. We have many historical examples (the Apostle Paul, for one), so why not add yours?

Where do you begin? Just write what God helps you recall and let the thoughts flow. Here are some examples that might get you started:

  • I was hopeless, but then …
  • I didn’t care who I hurt or which bridges I burned, but then …
  • I was strung out on drugs, heading for the grave, but then …

We all want to know how and why someone changed. But often, testimonies skip over the “but then.” We go from “I was lost” immediately to “I am found. I have peace. I’m assured of heaven.” Share what you have felt, done, and reacted to on the journey; these are the details others find very interesting.

Still need some help?

  • Read a testimony in the Bible to give you courage, for example: Silas the Missionary in Acts 15-18, 2 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, and 1 Peter 5:12.
  • Pray for the Spirit’s help.
  • Remember words that describe your life before you met Christ.
  • Most importantly, remember it’s all about Christ.

You didn’t save yourself, heal yourself, or become more like Jesus on your own effort. You can do this as your love letter back to God.

(As we explore how to Tell Your Story, each contributor will share a part of their God story with us. Here is Cindy’s Story.)

 

Today’s question:
What are you finding the most difficult part of writing your story?

 

Previous (first) post in series: Tell Your Story
Next post in series: Storytelling Rules

Tell Your Story

The entire Bible is the story of what God has done for us. The story of our need and of His mercy. The story of our salvation and the promise of a future hope. The truly amazing story of God.

If God uses the Bible to show himself to us, maybe we should consider using our stories to show Him to others.

I’ve asked some dear friends to help me explore the idea that our stories are what cause people to see Jesus and to wonder about Him. My friends and I will take turns for the next several weeks sharing stories from the Bible of people who met Jesus and sharing portions of our own stories.

Before we complete our series, Tell Your Story, we will help you discover how to tell your own story and give you an opportunity to share at least a part of it with us.

As you join us on this journey, begin to think about your personal God Story. I’m not talking about the story of your personal salvation moment, although that is certainly part of your story and may be what God wants you to tell. I’m talking about the parts of your life story that will show others what God has done for you. Maybe God helped you walk through a difficult time or illness. Maybe God provided for a particular need in an amazing way. The possibilities are just as many as there are people.

If you have walked with God for any length of time, you probably have many stories of God’s presence and work in your life. Which one does He want you to focus on during the next 6 weeks? Which one is He asking you to share during this process?

Every person has a story to tell. Our stories help people understand truths about God. Let’s share some stories!

 

Storytelling is not something we do. Storytelling is who we are, and there’s a storyteller in each of us. Your story can change the world. Let it out.

The Storyteller’s Secret, Carmine Gallo*

 

Next post in series: How to Tell Your Story

*Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. St. Martin’s Press, New York. 2016,  229