Nov 19

Caring for One Another at Christmastime

Are you ready? The hustle and bustle. The parties and concerts. The cookies, the wreaths, the shopping. And all the fun connected with all of this is on its way! While most of us are looking forward to the opportunities for worship and the time we get to spend with family and friends, some of us . . . well, we are not so excited.

You can guess who some of the not-so-excited individuals and families in your church might be. And you may have no clue about others who may be feeling this way:

  • Consider those who have lost loved ones in the past year. This will be their first Christmas without Dad, without Grandma, without a sister or brother whose presence was a treasured part of the holidays—and, perhaps, of every day!
  •  Consider those families still trying to eke out a living on an unemployment check, those who declared bankruptcy in this past year, and those who are on the brink of losing their home in the year ahead.
  •  Consider those newly diagnosed with MS or Parkinson’s or ALS. And their family members who are just starting to understand what living with this challenge is going to involve.

As you plan ways to serve ALL the individuals and families in your church this Christmas, ask that the Lord Jesus keep your heart sensitive to individuals in crisis, families coping with tension—whether new or chronic. Listen! Pray!

And think about ways to use Praying with Hope to provide encouragement and comfort when you can’t be there. This 64-page, soft cover book includes reassuring Scriptures, heart-touching prayers, and words of wisdom for those journeying through life’s ups and downs. The four-color book comes with an envelope and makes it possible for you to provide ongoing encouragement for less that the cost of a greeting card!

CTA’s other care and comfort products may be of help as well. Check them out! 

 

© 2014 CTA, Inc.

Nov 18

Count Your Blessings

Getting Started

Before the children arrive, create a pair of “Blessings Binoculars.” Cut white paper to size and wrap it around a pair of binoculars, using colorful markers to add the words, “Blessings Binoculars.” Or tape together two cardboard tubes, labeling these, “Blessing Binoculars.”

Introduction

When I hike in the woods or go on vacation or visit the ballpark, I like to take binoculars along. Looking through them, I can spot even very small birds that hide high in the trees. I can watch squirrels chase and play. I can see all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I can see the expression on the pitcher’s face when the batter hits a home run.

Binoculars help me see everything much more clearly. Have you ever looked through binoculars? What did you see? (Let one or two volunteers respond.)

Getting to the Heart

The binoculars I brought with me today are special. They are “Blessings Binoculars,” and they help me see more clearly the blessings God has given me.

If I look through these Blessings Binoculars, I can find many ways God meets my needs. For instance, I might see (look through the binoculars, pretending to see the things you name) apples and oatmeal and fish sticks—because I need food. I might see glasses of clear, cold water and cups of warm, sweet cocoa—because I need to quench my thirst.

If you looked through the Blessing Binoculars to see the needs God meets for you, what blessings from God would you see? (Let children name other blessings that fall under the category of needs—a safe place to sleep, air to breathe, people to care for them, clothing and shoes, friends, and the like.)

If I look through the Blessings Binoculars, I can also find many blessings I don’t really need, but nevertheless, blessings that make me extra happy. For instance, I might see (look through the binoculars, pretending to see the things you name) my dog/cat—who is such a good friend! I might see my microwave oven and my vacuum cleaner—that make it so much easier to cook and clean up.

If you looked through the Blessing Binoculars to see some of the extra blessings God gives you, what blessings from God would you see? (Let children name other blessings that fall under the category of wants—eyes that see, ears that hear, minds that think clearly; a room of their own; a teacher who is fun and great at helping them learn; toys, games, and sports equipment; books and music; and the like.)

No matter how hard I look, these Blessings Binoculars miss some of God’s blessings. These blessings are invisible, but they are the most important blessings of all. God’s love is a blessing like that. I can’t see his love, but I know it surrounds me.

How do I know God loves me? Because he sent Jesus to die on the cross for me! Jesus died for you, too! That’s the biggest blessing of all: the blessing of forgiveness. I often disobey God. I often take his blessings for granted. I fail to thank him. I waste his blessings or refuse to share them. Do you do some of those things, too?

We deserve God’s punishment, not his blessings. But because of Jesus, God always forgives and goes on loving us. We can say, “Lord, I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” And he will!

It’s amazing, isn’t it? God gives us everything we need—especially his forgiveness and love in Jesus, our Savior. He also gives us many things we want, just because he loves us so much.

Taking It Home

As you leave today, I want each of you to have a (name the item you are sending with them). Each time you see it, you can think about God’s great big love for you and all the blessings he gives you—some blessings you can see, and some blessings that are invisible! Let’s thank him for those blessings now!

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for all our many blessings, especially the blessing of your love and forgiveness in Jesus, our Savior. Give us thankful hearts, hearts that care about others and share your blessings with them. Amen.

 

Are you looking for ways to help instill thankful attitudes in the hearts of the children you teach? CTA has several value-priced items to help you with this. Check them out!

© 2014 CTA, Inc. 

Nov 17

Will He/She Ever Shape Up? – a free devotion for this week’s meetings

This week’s free devotion is slightly adapted from CTA’s new devotion book for Christian Workers, Shaping Hearts; Changing Lives: 30 Days to Grow in Service. It is available now, and the product line includes many valuable, value-priced gifts for church staff and volunteers. 

Disappointment is among the strongest of all emotions. When others let us down, anger, frustration, and sometimes fear surge to the surface.

“How committed is she to this ministry anyhow?” we may think – or ask right out loud.

“How could someone who loves the Lord show up this late, this often?”

“Surely he knew better!”

“Why doesn’t she think?!”

Our judgmental attitudes can demolish team ministry just as surely as our teammates’ failures. And that’s just what Satan has in mind. Here’s what Paul wrote about that:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:4

Ouch! These words sting, but we must admit that the apostle is right. How good then to know that we can confess all our sins and receive Jesus’ full forgiveness. Just as our Savior forgives the sins of our colleagues in ministry, so too he forgives our own.

That’s Good News for sure!

Pray This

Lord, I need a do-over! My thoughts have been unkind. My words have undermined the reputation of other servants of yours. I’m sorry. Please forgive me for Jesus’ sake. Then work in me and those with whom I serve so that . . .

Imagine That!

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6

 

Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 © 2014 CTA, Inc.

Nov 12

Never Ending Thanks

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15

We are incredibly blessed by God! We thank him for many, many things, but most especially for sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to live, die, and rise again for us. This gift of Jesus’ saving love is greater than anything we can describe.

In response to this love, we live each day in thanksgiving for it and for the many additional ways he blesses us. Taking time to create a list of God’s gifts is a truly humbling experience. Here is my own ongoing blessings list.

Thank you, God, for …

Your creation

  • The trees, both the evergreens with their rich aromas and the deciduous trees with their beautiful seasonal cycle of change
  • Flowers of all shapes, sizes, and colors
  • Mountain grandeur
  • Bodies of water – small lakes nestled in mountain valleys, rushing rivers, powerful waterfalls, and oceans with bountiful colors
  • Rocks – from small pebbles that children love to collect to huge, immovable boulders
  • Wind
  • The sun, moon, and stars
  • Amazing colors in so many hues
  • Animals of all kinds – from insects cupped in the gentle hand of a child to gracefully moving giraffes

Taking care of my physical needs

  • Our house that provides us with a comfortable place to rest from our daily work
  • Food – so many choices with delightful tastes
  • Clothing – an overflowing blessing, having more than I really need

The people who enrich my daily life in so many ways

  • My husband
  • Our daughters
  • My mom
  • My three sisters and their families
  • Those in heaven who meant so much to me, especially my dad
  • My church family
  • Many friends – both those from long ago and new friends
  • Co-workers

Children of all ages – their energy, joy, honesty, and curiosity

The arts – music, dance, theater, drawing, painting, and other forms of expression

The gift of words to communicate with others through speaking, reading, and writing

Challenges in my life that have caused me to see your powerful work even in the midst of overwhelming grief and sadness

Your Word that guides, challenges, and inspires me every day

Opportunities to worship you

 

The list could continue, but I think you get the idea. When we give thanks to God each day, we learn to rely on the gifts he provides, instead relishing in our own selfish ways. Our focus shifts away from ourselves and we have a new perspective filled with Jesus’ grace and mercy.

Now it’s your turn! In response to God’s inexpressible gift, enjoy creating an ongoing list of blessings for yourself.

 

Editor’s note: As a daily reminder to give thanks for all of God’s blessings, consider using CTA’s Scripture-filled flip book or calendar in the year ahead.

Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2014 CTA, Inc.

Nov 11

Lead with Confidence: Keeping a Firm Foundation

Our garage has a crack in its foundation. A tree has grown too close to the house. Water has not been properly draining away from the house. Because the foundation is shifting, we have numerous cracks in our plaster walls. A couple of the door frames are not square, so some doors don’t close well. My husband and I like to say our house has character, but we also know it’s time to repair this problem.

This experience has given me a wonderful, tangible reminder of the importance of maintaining a firm foundation as we serve and lead in our churches and schools.

So as we serve, how do we keep a firm foundation?

  • By continually keeping Christ at the center of all we do. We accomplish this by reading and studying God’s Word, both individually and in groups, by praying, worshiping, and spending quality time with other Christians. These things are foundational for Christian leaders.
  • By growing more and more knowledgeable about the ministries to which God has called us. For example, if we are responsible for developing a small group ministry, we thoroughly research successful models. We tweak these models for use in our church. We keep on evaluating and making changes as needed. Preparing, planning, and adjusting are foundational for successful programs.
  • By guarding against anything that might weaken our foundation. These stressors will vary from person to person, but none of us are immune. None of us are so strong that we need not pay attention. Maybe you waste too much time on line. Maybe your to-do list overwhelms you, so instead of doing something, you do nothing. Maybe when your schedule gets crazy, you neglect your health. For each of us, it is something different. So consider what might be weakening your foundation. Pray often about these things, asking the Holy Spirit to help you change these habits.

Remembering that Christ is the foundation for our lives and our service, we serve boldly and live secure in his grace.

Editor’s note: Looking for ways to encourage those who serve and lead in your church? Looking for devotional materials for yourself? Check out the resources CTA makes available–written by those who serve and lead in the church for those who serve and lead in the church!

© 2014 CTA, Inc.

 

Nov 10

Jesus’ Changeless Love – a free devotion for this week’s meetings

This week’s free devotion is slightly adapted from CTA’s new devotion book for Christian Workers, Shaping Hearts; Changing Lives: 30 Days to Grow in Service. It is available now, and the product line includes many valuable, value-priced gifts for church staff and volunteers. 

Want a promotion? Put in the hours, pay your dues. Want a new car or a new house? Earn it! Remember, in this life you get what you pay for!

In the family of God, though, all that flies out the window. When we’ve had great success, God loves us in Christ. When our service falls flat, God loves us in Christ. When others come to faith and grow in faith, God loves us in Christ. When they walk away, God keeps on loving us in Christ.

God’s love for you does not ebb and flow. It flows and flows and keeps on flowing:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17

By God’s grace, we are his witnesses and servants – from now on and into eternity. Your Lord will never change his mind:

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen.” Isaiah 43:10

Remember This

So if God’s love in Christ never changes, they why work so hard and put in so many hours? Why bother? Why not just skate by? If you have to ask that question, you will never understand the answer:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord. Colossians 3:23

Pray This

Lord Jesus, I’m so used to earning what I have, even the respect, the affection, the friendship of others. Your love is totally unconditional. That makes it so very different from anything I’ve experienced. I’m tempted at times to think I can somehow make you love me more . . .

 

Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2014 CTA, Inc.

Nov 05

Two Questions to Ask Before Adding Activities to Your December Calendar

Christmas and Children.

These two words are downright cringe-worthy for some adults. Children get so excited this time of year they can hardly contain themselves; yet parents easily feel overwhelmed with so many additional activities added to their already full calendars. But others feel that it is the adults’ responsibility to make the season wonderful and special for the children, no matter how chaotic the activities make them feel.

If you’re set in either of these perspectives, you may unintentionally be creating stress and sucking the joy right out of the season. But by giving it a little thought, you can create special memories for children without feeling pulled in every direction. Here’s how.

Before adding events and memory-making opportunities to the December calendar, ask yourself two important questions:

Will this event/experience keep our family’s focus on Jesus?

It is all too easy to get caught up in secular activities and lose our “Jesus focus.” However, there are a multitude of ways to keep Christ in Christmas. For example, decide to help with a service project instead of going to the community’s secular light display. Instead of reading books about Santa, pick books about the birth of Jesus. Focus on the Christmas story by talking about the angel messengers, Mary and Joseph, Baby Jesus, and the shepherds. As you do this, more of the joy Jesus brings will fill your days.

By adding this activity to our calendar, are we keeping Christmas simple?

Sometimes keeping our lives simple is so challenging. One look on Pinterest for Christmas ideas and we want to try them all. Keeping Christmas simple means that your family carefully creates a few traditions that you repeat each year. Our family, for example, lights an Advent wreath, uses a special family devotion series, and sings “Happy Birthday” to Jesus on Christmas Day.

But remember that you don’t have to give your children every memory, every year. Plan and do some things only once. I remember the year our family delivered homemade cookies to some families from our church. We did that only one time, and it’s okay. The one-time memories can be as special as the every-year memories.

As you weigh opportunities, ask yourselves these two simple questions. If the answer to both is “yes,” go ahead and enjoy the experience. If the answer is “no,” relax, knowing you have made a positive choice to keep the focus of Christmas on the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

 

Editor’s note: Pastors, children’s ministers, and teachers—we encourage you to make copies of this helpful blog and send it home with your students before the holiday season begins. We suspect that many parents and grandparents will appreciate the wisdom Andrea shares here!

If you’re looking for ways to create special memories with your children this season, look to CTA’s Bible-based children’s books. These books  offer beautiful artwork and captivating words to tell the story of Jesus’ birth.

© 2014 CTA, Inc. 

Nov 04

Encouraging Thankful Hearts in Our Kids

Even those who don’t know and trust Jesus recognize the truth that “a thankful heart is a joyful heart.” Our Lord created us to receive his gifts and to return our thanks to him.

The culture around us, though, too often encourages an entitlement mentality. How to counter it? That’s a question most of us who work with children ask ourselves regularly. So do parents and grandparents.

The month of November, and specifically the Thanksgiving holiday, provide one opportunity you won’t want to miss and CTA has created a simple tool you can use yourself or share with families. It’s the Count Your Blessings Family Activity Book.

It includes 12 pages, chock full of thought-provoking activities, fun challenges, prayers, Scripture verses, and even a kid-friendly, historically accurate story of the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving. It’s usable by families with kids of all ages, and the activities can be continued all year-round. Plus, it comes with CTA’s usual panoply of FREE RESOURCES, including a Ministry Message you can use as you distribute the books.  Check it out!

 © 2014 CTA, Inc.

Nov 03

Change Agents? – a free devotion for this week’s meetings

This week’s free devotion is slightly adapted from CTA’s new devotion book for Christian Workers, Shaping Hearts; Changing Lives: 30 Days to Grow in Service. It is available now, and the product line includes many valuable, value-priced gifts for church staff and volunteers. 

If you have ever helped a child plant a garden or even a pot of sunflower seeds, you know all about the temptation to keep digging the seed back up, looking for evidence of growth. We all want to believe that we’re making a difference. We all want to see progress.

When the alcoholic mom goes back to the bottle . . . When the kid in our youth group is picked up by the police . . . When the missionary couple prays and prays and prays for a visa, but it’s denied . . . What then?

It’s tempting to think that what we see is all we get. But remember! Our Lord is always at work – in us, with us, and often even despite us! What’s more, God promises that his Word works. He tells us that Word has power, life-changing power. He does not promise, though, that we will always see it working.

We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Read This

When was the last time you read Isaiah 55:10-11 and thought about its powerful promises? Take some time to do that today. You may want to copy the words onto a notecard and carry it in your wallet or tape it to your bathroom mirror so you can review it often.

Imagine That!

We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

 

Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

© 2014 CTA, Inc

 

 

 

Oct 29

Taking Care of Yourself as a Leader

Recently, I started running. I am a beginner at this sport, but I am loving it (in a crazy sort of way). I have the support of a great organization, and the coaches provide me and the other beginning runners with great advice and encouragement. We can do this! But even as we train, they remind us that some days will be better than others. Many factors prevent us from making the progress we want, everything from hot, humid weather to leg cramps. We know this can happen to us, and it happens to the most experienced runners, too.

The same kind of thing happens to people serving in leadership roles. Some days are challenging, filled with many obstacles. Experienced leaders know that some days, nothing seems to run smoothly. We’ve been misunderstood. We realize we weren’t listening as well as we should have been to someone on the staff (and she could tell). The “to do” list grows longer, instead of shorter. We have a disagreement with an office volunteer. Instead of long term planning, we spend the day dealing with one crisis after another.

After a challenging race, well-trained runners do not quit. They go out to run again, but not until they have taken care of their sore, tight muscles and not until they hydrate themselves.

After a challenging day, experienced leaders do not quit, either. We know we need to get back into the fray. But before we do, we know the importance of taking time to re-group. Maybe we need to pull a few resources from our “Take Care Kit.” (If you don’t have one, create one for yourself! It can be an actual kit or simply a list of things that usually help on days you feel worn out.)

Here are a few ideas for things you might include in such a kit:

  • A list of your favorite Bible verses. Read them slowly and thoughtfully, allowing God’s love to nurture you.
  • A journal in which you can write down your prayers. Talk to your Father in heaven about your day. He understands. Ask for the forgiveness you need. He will grant it. Reflect on what happened to make the day/event so crazy. Think about how you can be better prepared in the future.
  • Cards from people who have affirmed you in your ministry. Sometimes when we are struggling, we need to read these notes of affirmation to be reminded that our Savior has indeed empowered us to serve.
  • A play list of your favorite songs. Music is definitely a tool the Holy Spirit uses to buoy our spirits and refocus our thoughts.
  • A reminder to go for a run or a brisk walk. This often helps give us a fresh perspective.
  • The phone number of your trusted friend or mentor. Sometimes we just need to talk things through. Review the experience with someone you trust.
  • A note that reminds you that you are loved and forgiven and that encourages you to seek the forgiveness of others when you need it.

These things help me. What will help you? Since we are all unique, you will probably add other essentials to your “Take Care Kit.”

Challenges will come as you lead, especially as you lead in church. On days when you feel overwhelmed, pull out your kit. Refuel and refill yourself so you can continue to serve with joy.

Editor’s note: Looking for ways to encourage those who serve and lead in your church? Looking for devotional materials for yourself? Check out the resources CTA makes available–written by those who serve and lead in the church for those who serve and lead in the church!

 

© 2014 CTA, Inc

 

 

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