Even Babies Receive Gifts

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 26, 2020

“Even babies receive gifts.”

Matthew 2:1-12

(A Preface to this devotion: This is my final Christmas Memories Advent Devotion. Whether you read all 30 of them, or just a few, I pray you learned something, about making memories with family, and the love of God, His Grace, and His Son Jesus Christ. Joe G)

It was December of 1988. Our daughter Heather had been born in April of that year, and now she was eight months old.

At eight months, children don’t have much of an idea of what is going on around them. But children do respond to stimuli, and they do know when there is affection being shown to them.

It was just a few days before Christmas, and our friends, Fred and Sue, who lived two doors down from us, came over to our house to drop off a Christmas gift for our daughter Heather.

I remember all of us sitting on the floor of our living room (that was back when I could still get down on the floor and get back us without assistance 😊). We helped Heather open her gift. As you can see in the picture above, it was a Big Bird doll.

This was no ordinary doll, though; it had a spot in the back where you inserted “cassette tapes.” If you don’t know what a cassette tape is, Google it😊!

When inserted, the tape played a story about Big Bird, and the doll’s beak opened and closed as if it were telling the story.

Heather was totally fascinated by the doll and the stories. She spent many hours over the next several months playing with and listening to the doll tell stories.

Almost all babies receive gifts of one sort or another, but 2000 years ago there was a very special baby who received some very special gifts.

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,

are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,

for a ruler will come from you

who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.'”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview, the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.”

You’ll notice the scripture above says that the wise men, “They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary.”

No, they did not stop at the stable the night Jesus was born. It is believed that the wise men (Or Magi) arrived several months after the birth of Jesus.

Wait, no cause to sound an alarm and pull the wise men figurines from your manger story! They are an intricate part of the birth of Jesus. These words from the Gospel of Matthew are chronologically one of the next things in Jesus’ life, as read in the scriptures.

These wise men traveled a great distance to worship the promised King (that they had read about in their writings) and bring Him gifts.

The wise men entered the house; they bowed down, worshipped the baby, and presented three gifts. Gifts fit for a King, Gold, Frankincense, an expensive herb burned in the temple during prayer, and Myrrh also an incense used as anointing oil. It was also used for embalming.  (It has long been thought that the Myrrh was a premonition of the sacrifice Jesus would face as an adult).

By now, Christmas day is over. Gifts have been exchanged, and perhaps some have already been returned. The present of Big Bird given to my daughter at Christmas eventually broke and was discarded. The gifts the wise men brought were used up. The gold was spent, the frankincense was burned, and the Myrrh was used as anointing oil.

But, the gift of Jesus remains. He doesn’t get old, He doesn’t wear out, and He is always with us. No more of a generous gift has ever been given than the Son of God’s sacrifice for mankind.

Dear Lord. Throughout our lives, we receive so many gifts. Unfortunately, almost all of them are disposable, get used up, or become unusable. Thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus, who died for our sins, and lives with us always. Amen.

“For Unto Us a Child is Born”

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 25, 2020

“For Unto Us, A Child Is Born”

Isaiah 9:6; Luke 2:1-7

Almost everyone is full of joy at the birth of a child. Above is a photo of my granddaughter, Taytum, taken on the day of her delivery last year. My daughter had a birthing suite in the hospital. There was plenty of room, and every medical device and medicine available to her and the baby. Doctors and nurses were coming and going, checking on my daughter before and mother and daughter after birth. After they went home, there were regularly scheduled appointments to check up on baby Taytum’s progress.

A little over 2000 years ago, a young girl named Mary was “great with child.” She and her husband didn’t have it relatively as comfortable as my daughter and granddaughter did.

The Birth of Jesus

“At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn Son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no lodging available for them.”

There was no birthing suite that night for Mary and her newborn child. There was no medical equipment or meds for pain. All Mary, Joseph, and the baby had was a stall in a barn, probably filled with animals, a feeding trough (manger) to lay the baby in, and cloths to wrap the newborn.

There was one other thing there on that special night. Actually, it wasn’t a thing; it was a who. God was there. He had prepared the world for this moment from the time of Adam and Eve. God’s love for His Son born of a virgin, in a manger, was there.

He (God) had fulfilled what Isaiah had prophesied 400 years earlier. Unto Mary and Joseph, a child was born. And as God had told Joseph in a dream, the baby’s name would be Jesus.

This baby was the Son of God, destined to save the world from its sinfulness by sacrificing Himself for you and me.

This baby born in Bethlehem was born, to die, for you and me.

Dear Lord, we praise your name and thank you for your undeserved Grace. You sent your Son Jesus as a living sacrifice because of Your love for us. May we always have a strong faith in what you did for us by sending your Son and what He did for us by dying on the cross.

We know we are saved B.G.T.F. (By Grace Through Faith)

Amen

Joseph did the right thing.

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 24, 2020

“Joseph did the right thing.”

Matthew 1:18-25

Have you ever done the right thing? Your initial answer might be, “I always try to do the right thing in everything I do.”

Perhaps that’s true. But what about that one time in your life, doing the right thing could affect you or your family adversely?

In the news, we’ve read about whistleblowers coming forward to let a government agency know that the company they are working for is committing illegal acts. We’ve heard of people testifying in court again a crime boss. Even though it might put their lives in danger, they did it because it was the right thing to do.

Years ago, my car slid on an icy patch, and I hit a parked car. I was near a school crossing corner when it happened, and I know the crossing guard saw what happened. There was a lot of traffic behind me at the time, and there were kids in the crosswalk. So, I proceeded through the green light and drove around the block.

By the time I did this, there was much less traffic and no children, and the car I had hit (it was a small dent in the bumper) had left. I pulled over and spoke to the crossing guard. I asked her if she knew who the car belonged to. She said no, but she saw the person almost every day.

I proceeded to write out my name and number on a piece of paper and asked the crossing guard to give it to the car’s owner the next time she saw her. A few days later, I received a call from the owner of the vehicle. I apologized, and I gave her my insurance company’s name (I had already called them.)

I could not have come back to the scene of the accident. I could have just driven away and said, “Oh well, not my problem.”

But I didn’t do that. I came back because it was the right thing to do.

When I think about doing the right thing, I think about Joseph, the husband of Mary. This is what happened:

“This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!

She will give birth to a son,

and they will call him Immanuel,

which means ‘God is with us.'”

When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.”

Joseph was about to divorce Mary after He found out she was pregnant. Joseph was already about to do the right thing. He was going to divorce Mary quietly. He didn’t want to make a big scene and disgrace her or himself. Joseph was willing to just quietly walk away from the relationship.

But God had a plan, and Joseph was a big part of it. God sent an angel to speak to Joseph in a dream, telling him not to divorce Mary, go through with the marriage, and the angel even told Joseph what to name the baby.

Somehow when Joseph woke up from his dream, he believed what he had seen and heard. Joseph believed and had faith that God had sent a messenger to him.

Joseph listened to the angel’s message from God. And although Joseph knew he and Mary very possibly would have to endure ridicule and gossip from the community, he did the right thing. He listened to God.

Doing the right thing seems to have become a distant memory in our society. We see and hear about people, corporations, and government leaders lying, cheating, and putting others’ lives at risk, just for the sake of riches and notoriety.

When faced with a choice between right and wrong, good and bad, or listening and not listening to God, what will you do?

I pray that you do the right thing.

Dear Lord, help us to always do the right thing. We ask that your Holy Spirit continuously guides us, counsels us, and leads us to make good choices in life. Amen.

A Christmas to Remember?

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 23, 2020

“A Christmas to Remember?”

John 13:12-17

Over the last several weeks, I have shared many of my and Kathy’s Christmas memories. There have been memories from my childhood, several from visits to Disney, and my 25 years as a youth minister.

Unfortunately, this year’s Christmas is one that will be embedded in our memories for the rest of our lives. It’s been a year full of death from an ongoing Pandemic. There has been high unemployment, food lines, folks suffering from deep depression, and medical experts’ outcry to stay put and not interact with others. It would be easy to look at this as the worst Christmas ever.

Yet, we have reasons for hope and celebration. We’ve seen people recover from the deadly Covid 19 virus. New and effective vaccines are being distributed as I write this devotion. We have seen many generous acts of kindness this year, including our nation’s health care workers willing to put their lives on the line to help others. We’ve also seen churches and community outreach centers supplying food and feeding thousands of people and families in need, day after day.

So many have come together to serve others.

It’s one of those times in our lives that people need to come together to help one another. I’ve talked about this often in my devotions. For many of you, all you can do is give physical and empathetic assistance to others, which is essential. But, for others, you can help others more than you know.

Since the pandemic began, my wife, Kathy, and I have nearly stopped going to restaurants to eat. We brave Starbucks and Chick Filet drive through once a week, but that’s all.

We have found we have more money at the end of the month than ever because we’re saving so much money by eating at home. Once again, let me preface my following remarks. I’m not looking for praise or saying, “Hey, look at me and what I’m doing.” That would be so wrong. I’m saying these things to motivate others to serve their neighbor. (Everyone is our neighbor)

Each month besides our weekly grocery money, we set aside about $40 per week to purchase groceries and take them to the sharing center in Cocoa, FL. Let me tell you something, I drive over to the sharing center every week to drop off a variety of groceries that they need. And what we bring is a drop in the bucket.

The need is real! People are hurting. They need food, money to pay bills, and most of all, people need our compassion and love.

 “After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.”

When Jesus washed the disciple’s feet at the last supper, it wasn’t just because their feet were dirty.  (they probably were, this was a tradition when a visitor came to someone’s home). Jesus did it to show and teach them that no one is too big or too small to help others. We need to serve others, as Jesus did.

Jesus served us by dying on a cross. While on earth, He also did so by feeding thousands, healing many, and even bringing several people back to life. We need to serve others by helping and giving to those in need, even if it hurts a little.

I realize that you won’t see this devotion until two days before Christmas. That does not preclude you and me from helping others in need during these desperate times after Christmas and in the coming months and year.

Take some time today, as we prepare to celebrate our Savior Jesus’ birth, to evaluate what kind of world you want to live in. I pray it’s a world where like Jesus, we serve and help others.

Dear Jesus. Even in these difficult times, we know that you are with us. Please help us to rise up and emulate You, by being a servant to our neighbors in need. Amen

“Her name shall be, Kelly?”

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 22, 2020

“Her name shall be, Kelly?”

Luke 1:5-22; 57-66

This Christmas Memories devotion takes us back to December of 1987. My wife had filed paperwork with a lawyer in Boca Raton, FL., to adopt a child. The whole process began in August of that year. The lawyer, I don’t recall her name, had handled the Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman adoption. She worked on finding someone who wanted to give up their newborn for adoption.

In December, we got a call from the lawyer that she had found a young girl (age 17) who planned to give up her child for adoption after birth in April. We were matched up with her and even exchanged several anonymous letters with her.

So, it began, as Kathy and I prepared as much as we could for the birth of our adopted child. The process went smoothly, but there was one crucial thing to consider. What would we name the child?

I had long hoped to have a child and name him or her Kelly. I liked the name, and for me, it is a reference for one of my favorite television characters from the 60’s show, I Spy. The lead character’s name was Kelly Robinson.

Besides, the name Kelly works for either a girl or a boy, right? Now, you need to understand how my wife, Kathy, reacts to things if she doesn’t like something. “Hey, Kath, let’s call the baby Kelly!”

My answer was dead silence. Finally, after a few agonizing moments, Kathy said, “Kelly’s a boy’s name, and if we have a girl, I don’t want her named Kelly.” I tried to talk her down, to no avail.

In late April of 1988, our daughter Heather was born 😊.

Hey, you win some, and you lose some.

As I reflect on the decision to name my daughter Heather rather than Kelly, it reminds me of Zechariah and Elisabeth, John the Baptist’s parents.

Zechariah was a temple priest. One day when he was on duty in the Temple, an angel appeared to him. The angel told Zechariah that God would answer the prayers of him and his wife, Elisabeth. She would become pregnant, and when the child was born, they would give the baby the name John.

Now Zechariah was taken aback, to say the least. He questioned the angel about how this could be as he and his wife were old, and she was well beyond childbearing age.

I guess the angel wasn’t pleased with the question because he took away Zechariah’s ability to speak until after the baby, John, was born.

Months later, the baby is born, and as was the custom, the parents take the baby to the Temple to be circumcised. When they got to the Temple, people were already calling the baby Zechariah. This was tradition back then that the male child was named after the father.

But when the circumcision was ready to begin, Elisabeth said:

The religious leaders questioned this break from tradition, and they turned the baby’s father. On a tablet, Zechariah wrote, “His name is John.”

Not only did God provide Zechariah and Elisabeth with a child, but He had chosen a name for him, John. God had a plan for John, and He was not about to let anyone get in the way of it.

John would pave the way for the coming Savior, Jesus.

What’s in a name? I listened to my wife, and our daughter’s name is Heather. Zechariah learned the hard way to listen and accept what God says.

His name was and is John.

Dear Lord, we understand the story of Zechariah and Elisabeth is significant. You had a plan for salvation, and they were a part of it. Your prophet John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus by telling people to repent and be baptized. Help us always to listen to the voice and whispers of your Holy Spirit as He leads and guides us throughout our lives. Amen

(W) Rapping until 3 a.m.

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 21, 2020

(W)Rapping till 3 a.m.

Psalm 127:3; Matthew 19:14-15; Deuteronomy 6:4-9

If you read yesterday’s Christmas Memories Advent Devotion, “Christmas Eve Dinner @ Checkers, you’re caught up, and this is a continuation of that evening. If not, I’ll just add here that my family and I had attended two worship services at our church, Our Savior Lutheran in Lake Worth, FL. In between services at about 8:30 p.m., we ended up at Checkers for Christmas Eve dinner on a chilly and rainy night.

By the time the second (10 p.m.) worship was over, combined with our 25-mile drive home, it was about 12:30 a.m. Christmas morning. My daughter Heather was asleep in the car when we arrived home, so I carried her into bed.

Now the real “fun” began. During the days prior to Christmas Eve, my wife Kathy and I had barely started wrapping gifts. Not for Heather, ourselves, or my family, with whom we would be having Christmas dinner later that day.

So, we changed our clothes into something comfortable and not wet, as we got soaked in the rain earlier that evening. Now, it was time to get to work. Kathy tackled all of the relative’s gifts as well as Heather’s, less one.

I still had to put Heather’s new bike together as the time neared one a.m. (I was hoping the ghost of Christmas past might whisk me away, but it never happened.)

Kathy and I were exhausted, but somehow, we fought through our exhaustion and completed the wrapping just after 3 a.m. It felt like my head had barely hit the pillow when the alarm went off to get up, dressed, and ready for the 10 a.m. Christmas day service.

Up till 3 a.m. wrapping gifts and building a bicycle for my daughter was difficult. There’s not much we won’t do for our children, is there?

Children indeed are a gift from God. Our daughter Heather was adopted. We had to jump through several hoops during the process, but we know that God’s hands were in it the entire time.

“A story is told of D.L. Moody, the great American evangelist. He returned home from preaching one night. His wife asked him how he got on, and he reported there had been two and a half converts. She assumed two adults and one child, but Mood corrected her. It was two children and one adult. One life was probably half over, two had almost their whole lives ahead of them.”                            (Focus on the Bible, Matthew, Charles Price; p227)

Children are innocent, and their minds are like sponges just waiting to absorb knowledge and truths. This is why Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” We must teach our children about God and His plan for our Salvation.

That’s why in Deuteronomy 6, Moses emphasizes teaching our children about God’s law.

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord, alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

It’s important because we love our children. We can show them our love by introducing them to God’s grace and His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Dear Jesus. You said, “Let the children come to me.” Help us to always keep that in mind. We know it is essential to carry on your love for us from one generation to another. We can do that by bringing up our children on a solid foundation of knowing you and your love. Amen.

Christmas Eve Dinner @ Checkers

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 20, 2020

Christmas Eve Dinner @ Checkers

Luke 4:2

This Christmas Memory occurred on Christmas Eve, 1997. I was now a full-time youth minister at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Lake Worth, FL. On Christmas Eve, the church had two worship services. One was at 7 p.m., and the other at 10. As a staff member, I was expected to attend both services. However, I had no participative role in the 10 p.m. worship service.

It was a chilly, raining night in south Florida. But that didn’t stop members and visitors from coming to church services. As usual, about 60% of the people who attended services that evening were C.E.O.’s. (People who usually attended church for Christmas and Easter Only).

My wife Kathy and my nine-year-old daughter were at church with me for the 7 p.m. service. They also stayed for the later service because we lived about 25 miles from the church, and there wasn’t enough time for me to take them home and get back to the church in time.

After worship, we were hungry, and as usual, almost every restaurant and store were already closed for the holiday. The only place we found open was a Checkers about 2 miles from the church.

As I mentioned earlier, it was chilly and raining out. Kathy, Heather, and I got soaking wet running from the church to the car after services. Checkers was not very busy when we pulled in. We were wet, uncomfortable, and this was not the Christmas Eve meal we had hoped for.

Nevertheless, we needed to eat. A nine-year-old is never disappointed when you give them a burger and fries (Or Chicken Tenders). We muddled through our meal, and I’m sure that I complained about being wet and the meal we ended up with.

Perhaps I was acting a little spoiled and ungrateful; at least I see that now as I reflect back.

When I was young, my mom (who is just shy of 95) used to say, “Don’t complain with a loaf of bread under your arm.”

Her point? I had food that Christmas Eve; I have food now, so don’t complain just because it’s not exactly what you wanted to eat. It’s true, isn’t it? We go into a restaurant, and if they don’t have exactly what we want, we complain.

The best comparison I can make is to imagine Jesus out in the desert for 40 days and nights. Do we read anything about Him complaining? No. Not only was He incredibly hungry, but the devil took advantage of the situation tempting Him three times when He was weak from hunger.

The Bible also says that after Satan had left, angels came and tended to Jesus’ needs.

None of us are angels, but we are called to be servants for Christ. I spoke in earlier devotions about delivering food to needy families, giving to sharing centers and food banks.

So many of us have enough. Enough to feed our families, purchase Christmas presents, and have parties. Perhaps this year, when there are so many in need due to Covid 19, we should dig down deep and help others and not complain when we have enough.

Dear Lord, we thank you for giving so many of us enough. Enough to eat, clothes to wear, and a place to live. Help us help others and serve our neighbors so they can have enough to satisfy their needs. Amen

Opening Act

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 19, 2020

“Opening Act”

1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:15

This Christmas memory took place in 1995. For many years, my first church, Our Savior Lutheran, held a Christmas Cantata. The Cantata had an excellent orchestra, choir and eventually included dramatic scenes from Christ’s birth, life, and death. It was directed by our music minister Mark Lohmeyer.

I don’t know whether Mark asked me, or I asked Mark if some of the students could perform an opening number before the Cantata began. He agreed after we discussed what I had in mind.

I asked three young ladies from my youth group to participate. And I performed with them. My wife sewed three beautiful long dresses for the girls and a vest for me.

After many practices, the night of the Cantata arrived, and the church was packed. The girls and I were at the back of the church when the song, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” began to play. We all had microphones and sang along to Andy Williams as we made our way to the front of the church, handing out candy canes along the way.

When the four of us arrived up front, four stools were waiting for us in front of the orchestra area. If my memory is correct, we sang on Christmas song together, and one of the young ladies sang a solo of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

It was a lot of fun, people applauded, and we four were the “Opening Act” for the Christmas Cantata.

One could argue that the creation of the world was God’s opening act. Perhaps it was. But how about God’s opening act for mankind, which was multifaceted. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The first people God created sinned against His wishes. How would or could his be undone? God wanted to do something that would make an impact on the world forever. He sent His Son to earth. Not as a man on a white horse to conquer, but as a baby born of a virgin in a stable.

Jesus was a baby who would grow and age like any other man, with one exception. Jesus was God and man. He taught about His Father’s kingdom, He healed more people than we’ll ever know, Jesus served others. Finally, He died on a cross as a living sacrifice for our sins.

Just as it says in the passage above. Jesus died for everyone’s sins, for all times. That means the sins you have committed, the ones you will commit, and the transgressions you have yet to commit.

He died for you, me, your neighbor, and even our enemies. The thing is, God’s opening act didn’t stop there. Three days after He died, Jesus rose from the dead.

That means He overcame death. And someday, when Jesus returns, God’s closing act, whether we are alive or have died, we too will overcome death and live with Him for eternity.

My opening act was a few songs with three young ladies at a Christmas Cantata. I guess that opening act pretty much pales in comparison to God’s. He saved the world through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord, we thank you for your “opening act” of sending Jesus as our Savior. Through Faith in Him, we know we have eternal life. We patiently prepare and wait for your “closing act.” Amen

Christmas @ ICE

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 18, 2020

“Christmas @ ICE”

Acts 2:42-47

Before my retirement at the end of 2016, my final youth group event was to take my students to ICE at the Gaylord Palms hotel in Orlando. It is a multiple rooms annual event (Not this year, unfortunately) of hand-sculpted figures and displays by 40 international artisans and kept at a chilling 9 degrees!

As I mentioned, it was my final event before retirement. So, I wanted to end with an event that was fun and promoted fellowship amongst the group. We went to ICE on a Sunday after worship services.

We began our afternoon/evening with lunch at Sonny’s BBQ. Then it was off to Orlando for a chilling experience. BTW, if you ever go to ICE in the future, prepare for very frigid temperatures. Even though Gaylord Palms supplies quilted coats for everyone, wear a coat, gloves, and a hat that covers your ears.

When we arrived at Gaylord Palms, hundreds of people were waiting to get into ICE (By reservation only). So, we took some time in the ICE Christmas store and got a group shot with Santa.

 At some point, our group was contacted by text to come to ICE’s entry, where we were given bulky quilted winter coats.

Within moments we were transported into a winter wonderland of A Charlie Brown Christmas ice figurines and scenes. It was so cold I could only take a few pictures at a time before I had to put my hands in my pockets to warm-up.

I felt sad for my wife Kathy, as she was in a wheelchair. So, she was unable to stay warm by moving around like the rest of the group.

The students had so much fun, as did the adults. There was even an ice slide you could climb up to and ride down. Gaylord Palms saved the best for last with ice sculptures of the manger scene.

After about 45 minutes or so in “ICE,” the group was “done.” We were all freezing. After dropping our coats off at the exit, I brought the students back to the Christmas shop where everyone had hot chocolate, baked goods and discussed their “Frozen” experience.

Ice was great, but the fellowship between and with my students at my final ministry event with them is something I’ll never forget.

After the Holy Spirit had come down to the believers at Pentecost, Luke talks about “The Fellowship of Believers.”

This passage from Acts denotes the perfect church, or perhaps the ideal youth group. Being in fellowship with others is so important. I have countless stories of my students helping each other, wanting to be with each other, because they had a connection with each other. It’s something we should strive for in the church and our community as well.

My ultimate goal as a youth leader was to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to my students. But, how I did it through fellowship events was not always accepted by the churches I served.

You see, through fellowship, we build relationships with each other and also with God. How? Because we become like-minded. We choose to be together in worship, Bible study, fun activities, and yes, even commune together.

Jesus came so we might be saved. When we fellowship with other Christians, we grow relationships and our faith in Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord, thank you for the many fellowship opportunities there are at our churches and in the body of Christ. These times of fellowship bring us closer to each other and ultimately closer to you. Amen

A Florida Snowball Fight

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 17, 2020

“A Florida Snowball Fight”

Matthew 19:13; Luke 9:28; Luke 5:16;

(A portion of this devotion is taken from my book, “Adventures in Youth Ministry.”)

In my December 7, Christmas Memories Devotion, I discussed the fun I had with my youth at Disney for Christmas every other year.

Here is one of the alternate year Christmas parties’ stories, which were held at my home. This particular event took place in 2010.

My youth group was together for a Christmas party, as I said, this year it was at my home. I have the perfect party home for a group of students, a large family room with a big-screen TV, a fireplace, a swimming pool, and always plenty of food.

Now the students had already eaten and were socializing on the couches and floor in the family room. It was actually a bit chilly to go swimming as it was December. Still, in Florida, some of them have braved it anyway. We had just finished our yearly Bible story quiz, a 25 question Christmas quiz, straight out of a “Youth Specialties” gamebook, and our prayer time.

After prayer time, the students thought that the next thing on the agenda was to watch a movie or spread out around the house and play board games. But no, I had something much messier in mind.

I brought the students out into the backyard, behind the screened area of our pool. The boys were at one end of the yard, girls at the other. They stood 20 feet from each other. There was a piece of rope on the ground in front of each group to denote the line they were not allowed to cross.

We began with throwing water balloons, a lot of wet kids, and a lot of hooting and hollering. Thinking back, I should have done this in reverse and finished up with the water balloons, but it was not to be. Next up were very large Campfire marshmallows, again from 20 feet. This got pretty messy, especially since the area where they were standing had now gotten muddy. So, during the snowball fight, there was a point when they were throwing muddy marshmallows at each other after they’d pick up a miss from the ground.

But wait, there’s more, we hadn’t finished yet. The day before the party, I had gone to a local bakery resale shop. I purchased boxes of individually wrapped Hostess Sno-Balls. I mean, really, how can you have a snowball fight in Florida unless you’re using snowballs. Oh, and one more thing, I had honey to pour on the Sno-Balls, just to make sure that when you got hit, it stuck.

At this point in time, it got entirely fall on the floor funny, girls with marshmallows and snowballs stuck in their hair and the guys just pushing each other down in the mud. So much fun, just for the sake of having fun. None of them or I look at a marshmallow or Hostess Sno-Balls the same anymore. (BTW, I had to hose most of them off before they went back into the house. Some of the youth didn’t care how cold the pool was; they jumped in anyway.)

Is it okay to have fun? I think so. No one was harmed, no ill will occurred towards others, and language was contained with, “Oops, sorry, slipped out.”

What you may have missed at the beginning of this devotion was the time we spent in prayer and the annual Christmas Quiz. In my devotion of December 7, I mentioned that it’s okay to have fun, just for the sake of having fun.

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t make time for prayers at our get-togethers. The group also always prayed before meals. Every year I had the Christmas party at my house, each time the students worked through a 25 question Christmas quiz in groups of two. (BTW, this was not a Santa Clause quiz. This quiz was entirely related to the Birth of Jesus story in Luke and Matthew.

And even though the same kids would be in the group for 4-6 years, the quiz’s highest score was never higher than 17. It was always highly competitive, as prizes were given to the top three scoring teams, and fun.

Jesus always made time for prayer.

Jesus prayed for others. In Matthew 19:13, we read, “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.” 

 Luke 9:28 reads, “[Jesus] took Peter, John, and James with Him and went up onto a mountain to pray.” 

Jesus prayed alone. Luke 5:16 reads, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” 

It’s essential to have fun. It’s even more important to take time to pray whenever possible. Pray a prayer of Thanksgiving before you eat. Pray when you awaken, thanking God for the rest and hope for a great day. Pray for health, others, peace, etc. Never stop praying. And along the way, have some fun too. Even God laughed.

Dear Lord, we know it’s okay to have good, clean fun. Yet, we also see the importance of prayer. Please help us to balance the two, so we don’t forget or neglect our prayer time with you. Amen