A Christmas Musical

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 16, 2020

“A Christmas Musical”

2 Samuel 6:14-15

It was December of 1994. At the time, I was on staff part-time at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Lake Worth, Florida. My youth group and parents were ramping up their fund-raising efforts for the 1995 National Youth Gathering in San Antonio, Texas.

At the time, I had about 26 students in my high school youth group. They were perhaps the most tightly knit group I ever had. The students had bonded so well that they kept in contact with each other, and they went out to the movies and other social gatherings on their own.

I had pitched the idea of a Christmas Musical led by my group’s talents to my Pastor, Dr. Mark Behring. He gave the okay, and we were off to the races. I recruited a couple of the students to sing solo’s, but the group performance was by far the best.

I got all of the kids to wear heavy coats, scarves, and hats. We sprinkled them with fake snow, and they entered the church from the back to the tune of Andy Williams singing, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

As the students approached the stage/altar area, they took off their winter wear and handed it to one of the student’s mom and dad. They proceeded to sit in a circle and started discussing what they wanted to for Christmas. One of the students yelling out they wanted “a car” once in a while. (Erin Napier)

Finally, one of my students was asked what she wanted for Christmas. She stood up and said she didn’t need or want anything like a car or clothes. When asked what she wanted instead, music started, and she sang, “My grown-up Christmas list,” by Amy Grant. As she sang, she slowly moved down the Altar area’s steps, sitting with two children (one was my daughter). Then she walked down the aisle between the rows of pews and finished the song. It was very moving.

The congregation and Pastor enthusiastically praised the group. I still tear up when I think about the performance that day. It was fun, in good taste, a message of love was communicated, and the youth connected with the congregation.

I look back at the student’s performance that Sunday in December as a celebration of family and Christmas. It’s so crucial for students of all ages to be an integral part of church and worship.

We can find celebrations of Christmas and of God and Jesus in many things. One instance is in music. Handel’s Messiah celebrates the birth, life, and resurrection of Christ.

King David celebrated his love for the Lord by dancing in 2 Samuel 6:14-15.

We all can and should celebrate the Lord. We should thank Him with every breath for sending His Son Jesus to us. This is why we worship, why we sing praises, and yes, it’s okay to dance before Him too.

Dear Lord, we praise your name in all things. Sometimes we praise with words of prayer, other times through singing, and occasionally we even dance in joy to you. All these things we do because we love you, who loved us first. Amen

Freezing @ Disney World

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 15, 2020

“Freezing at Disney World”

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

The year was 2010. It was a cold day at Disney World’s Epcot. How cold? At 5:00 p.m., the wind chill dipped to about 20 degrees. Looking at the photo above, you might ask yourself, “Why were Joe G, his wife, and friends at Disney on such a cold day?” Well, allow me to tell you the story.

Up until five years ago, Disney World held an annual event called Night of Joy. It was held at the Magic Kingdom for two nights the weekend after Labor Day. Disney would bring in Contemporary Christian Artists from around the country and world to entertain at the event. Christian youth groups from several states away would flock to the event. It was always a sellout.

You might ask, “Joe, what does that have to do with the shivering people in the photo?” Good question. Each year in late November, Disney’s special events group would send out invites to youth group leaders. The invite was for the leader and one guest to come to Epcot in December for a special event, the Candle Light Processional, and concert at Epcot.

The youth leaders who accepted the invitation were given two free passes to Epcot on a specific day (I believe the photo at the top of the page was taken on December 13 of 2010.) We’d pick our free tickets up in the morning at the gate, enjoy Epcot for the day, then we’d be admitted to a particular event building in Epcot about 2 p.m.

There was always coffee, snacks, desserts, and sometimes even hors d’oeuvres available. Everyone would be seated throughout the room. Eventually, a special guest (The “star” who was reading the Bible verses from Isaiah, Luke, and Matthew at the concert) would come out for a meet and greet. Generally, it was a Christian artist, like Michael W. Smith. On other occasions, it could be a Disney star like Jodie Benson, the voice of Belle, and The Little Mermaid.

After the Q & A, the entire group (usually about 200) were escorted to the American Pavilion. Reserved seating was awaiting the group for the processional and concert. I know that was a long set-up, but it helps you understand why we were there.

One thing you can say about living in Florida is, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes.” Storms come off the ocean and Gulf very quickly and leave just as fast. The same can be said for the temperature in December one day, it can be 75 degrees, and the next is down in the ’40s (like tonight as I’m writing this devotion.)

Well, 2010 was our lucky day. The day before, it was cool but got up to the low 70’s. In the morning, Kathy and I met two of our friends, Leslie and Tim (fellow pretty chilly at Disney Springs, and the weather just went downhill from there.

When we arrived at the open-air pavilion for the concert, the temperature was in the ’30s, and winds whipped at 20-25 miles an hour. When you live in Florida, no matter how many layers you have on when it’s that cold, you are freezing.

Somehow, we survived the weather, enjoyed the concert, and headed straight to the parking lot afterwards. Kathy and I hopped a bus back to Disney Springs, and turned the heat on in the car full blast all the way home.

Over my life, I’ve experienced extreme heat as well as cold. I’ve traveled the Arizona desert with temperatures over 105 degrees. The day Kathy and I moved from Chicago to Colorado, it was 40 below zero in North Platte, Nebraska, where we spent the night during our trip.

Generally speaking, extreme heat and cold are temporary setbacks. We, as a nation, are blessed. If it’s hot outside, we find air-conditioning, and if it’s cold, heat is generally available to us in our home or car.

The cold my friends and I experienced at Disney that day in December, ten years ago, was a minor affliction. But what about the ailments we all live with that never seem to go away.

My wife Kathy has M.S., and she copes with it the best she can. I have my own physical issue as well, and for both of us and many of you, these afflictions are thorns in our side.

In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul speaks about his affliction. Biblical scholars have many theories as to what Paul’s physical problem was. We can be sure of reading the passage since he called it a “thorn,” it was some type of sharp pain that was with him all the time.

Paul goes on to say that he pleaded with God to take his ailment away to no avail. Instead, God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

“Thank God for thorns, whatever form they may take, for they remind us that we are weak. And when we know we are weak, then we can be strong – in Christ. Those who find their strength, in Christ can then, with Paul, be strong for Christ.” (People’s Bible Commentary, Second Corinthians, David J. Valleskey.1992)

Dear Lord. We all suffer from afflictions. They may be physical, or they might be emotional. Even though we pray for relief, we know that your Grace is sufficient for us. Help us rejoice in our afflictions as we continue to serve you through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

Light, Action, Camera at Christmas

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 14, 2020

“Lights, Action, Camera at Christmas”

Isaiah 9:2

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, my Dad was the holiday cameraman. My first recollection of my Dad as the cameraman is his purchase of a Polaroid Land Camera. He took it to all of our Christmas gatherings. This camera was a big deal in its day because you took a photo, then pulled out the negative from the back, and waited 2 minutes. Then, you peeled the photo paper apart, and “Walla” there was your picture. There was also one more step to help preserve the photo. There was a tube with an applicator that you would coat the image with. Then, you would let the print dry.

I can remember that all of my cousins and I thought it was magic. My Dad would let us take turns coating the prints. (Not sure if you noticed the blue lights at the bottom of the photo above. Those are flashbulbs. We’ve come a long way, haven’t we.)

But my favorite camera was my Dad’s Bell and Howell, and the projector (I still have the projector and many reels of 16 mm films Dad took over the years). But wait, there’s more! Dad had a light bar attachment for the camera that could light up any room, as well as blind anyone who looked at the camera 😊

When my Dad would turn the light bar on and begin making movies, the switch on the light bar would turn four lights. The four lights would light up the room excessively. My aunts, uncles, and grandparents would cover their eyes and yell out, “John, John, it’s too bright!” Inevitably my Dad would turn two of the bulbs off, which made being filmed more tolerable.

Good and fun-filled memories.

Genesis 1:3 (NLT)

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

John 1:9 (NLT)

The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

Matthew 6:22 (NLT)

“Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light.

There are so many references to light throughout the Bible. Without light, there is only darkness. A great definition of darkness is, “Darkness is the absence of light.” That Was the problem in our world before Jesus came; there was an absence of light.

Did you notice the two important words that Jesus uses in the John 8:12 passage? “I am.” Jesus is utilizing the same words that God said to Moses at the burning bush, “I am who am.”

Jesus is telling all who were willing to listen that He was the fulfillment of what the prophet wrote in Isaiah 9:2. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”

We, you and I, are those people. Jesus came to earth to be a light in the darkness. He came to take the darkness of sin from our lives through His sacrifice on the cross. Now you and I, we walk in the light of Christ. We glow with His light. We are to be an example of Jesus’ light for all the world to see.

Light bulbs, light bars, and even Christmas lights can light up a room, a house, or a neighborhood. But Jesus, He brought light to the entire world. Shine!

Dear Jesus, thank you for being the light of the world. Without you, we would still be living in the darkness of our sins. But you took those sins away, and now we are your lights in the world. Amen

Food for Christmas

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 13, 2020

Food for Christmas

Luke 9:12-17

Throughout my entire ministry I worked with youth. I always tried to promote a giving spirit. My goal was to instill in the students, that we need to help others, and be servants to others, just like Jesus was and is still today.

One of the many ways we helped others was through food distribution to families. My youth group would deliver bags of groceries every 6-8 weeks to needy families throughout the year. But, we really went all out at Thanksgiving and Christmas, getting parents and the entire congregation involved.

A few weeks before Christmas we’d ask the congregation for financial and specific food donations. They would either designate funds for our “Christmas basket fund” or give their time to shop or donate food. Several weeks earlier I contacted the local middle schools, and they would give me a list of families from that school who could use help with food. Each year we’d also have people call the church for aid. We would help out those in our congregation who were in need too.

The day before we began delivering, the students and families would help sort all the food donations. If we were short on the items we needed, I’d make a list, load my student up in the church van and go to the supermarket to purchase what we needed. The youth enjoyed shopping for food items, with every 3 or 4 students having their own list. (I’m not sure if the store manager always liked us as we lined up 5-7 carts full of groceries, although the youth unloaded and bagged everything.)

 After our grocery shopping excursion, we’d return to church. Then, we’d fill between 75-80 bags of food. In the days preceding the packing, congregation members helped me purchase and store 75-80 hams.

On the Sunday before Christmas, youth and families would get together for a quick lunch after church services. Then I would distribute the names and addresses of those who would be getting deliveries of food and hams that day. It was with a heartfelt love for others that the distribution began.

Over the years, students and families would get words of thanks, hugs, and even notes of love and appreciation to the church. I really enjoyed the stories from my students over the next week or so. When they delivered the food bags, many didn’t realize there were so many who had so little. At the same time, they and their family never wanted for anything.

It was a learning experience for everyone every year.

A Christmas memory I’ll never forget.

The Gospel story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000, exemplifies the importance of taking care of our neighbors (everyone is our neighbor) basic needs.

“When the apostles returned, they told Jesus everything they had done. Then he slipped quietly away with them toward the town of Bethsaida. But the crowds found out where he was going, and they followed him. He welcomed them and taught them about the Kingdom of God, and he healed those who were sick.

Late in the afternoon the twelve disciples came to him and said, “Send the crowds away to the nearby villages and farms, so they can find food and lodging for the night. There is nothing to eat here in this remote place.”

But Jesus said, “You feed them.”

“But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Or are you expecting us to go and buy enough food for this whole crowd?” For there were about 5,000 men there.

Jesus replied, “Tell them to sit down in groups of about fifty each.” So, the people all sat down. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples, so they could distribute it to the people. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers!’

Think about it for a moment. On the surface the passage tells us that Jesus blessed five loaves of bread and two fish and miraculously it multiplied to the degree that there was enough food to feed 5000 men. (Some theologians there may have been as many as twice that many people there if you were to include women and children -Yes, I’m sure they got fed to 😊.)

There’s more to the passage than food and eating though. Jesus was trying to get away from it all to rest and pray alone. Did He tell the people to leave Him alone, because He was tired? No! The passage above says, that Jesus welcomed them, He taught them, and He healed all of those who were sick.

Jesus took care of both physical and spiritual needs that day. He healed and fed the people much needed food. But, even more important is the fact that Jesus also fed the crowd spiritually by teaching them and God’s Kingdom.

For over 25 years, my youth groups and I took care of the basic need of food for many families. Kathy and I still do that today by giving food to our local sharing center every week.

Jesus takes care of all of our needs, and many of our wants. He puts people in our lives to help us if and when we need help with food, finances, health issues, and housing.

This Christmas be more like Jesus. Give of yourself, your time, and your resources.

Dear Jesus, thank you for being such a great example of servanthood. Help us to be more like you this Christmas and every day of our lives. Amen

Sick for Christmas

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 12, 2020

Sick for Christmas

Luke 17:11-19

Being sick is never fun. Being sick during the Christmas holiday is the worst. Kathy and I had three occasions over the years when illness stuck one of us, and we were ill for Christmas.

The first time was in December of 1973. My wife, Kathy, and I had been engaged for about five months at the time. Unfortunately, on Christmas Eve, Kathy came down with the flu. She tried to be brave and come to the family Christmas party, but I had to take her home after less than an hour.

In 2012, Kathy came down with the flu again, and yes, it was Christmas Eve. She was supposed to sing in the choir that night, but I made her stay home, as she had a fever and cough.

Last but not least, it was my turn. The week before Christmas, I started not feeling well, a little “off,” as we say. Each day it got a little worst until I was very sick on Christmas Eve and Day. On the 26th, I began having horrible pain; my body would start to shake and hurt all over. The last thing I remember was taking a hot shower. I woke up in the ER, soaking wet from the rain, in a wheelchair. (Later, Kathy told me I had driven us to the hospital – to this day, I don’t remember doing that.) I was diagnosed with flu until the test came back negative. I had a lot of things going on that I won’t talk about here. Let’s just say I was “really” sick.

My fever got up to 105, the shakes and pain continued. The doctors put me on a morphine drip. It was 2 days later that a contagious disease doctor visited me in my room. She figured out what was wrong with me in less than five minutes.

My gastroenterologist had put me on a new medicine for my Crohn’s disease about ten days earlier. If there was a side effect, I had it. The doctor stopped administering that particular med, and within 24 hours, I was almost symptom-free. Unfortunately, the new medicine and side effects had wrecked my intestines, and I remained in the hospital for 9 days. It took over three months for me to fully recover.

Kathy and I were blessed. She had the flu twice, and both times she was healed. I was so sick that I thought I was on death’s doorstep. Yet, I was healed as well.

The New Testament is full of incidents of Jesus healing people.

In Mark 7, Jesus heals a deaf man.

In Luke 5, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law.

In Luke 8, Jesus healed the woman who had suffered from bleeding for twelve years.

Perhaps my favorite of Jesus’ healing is in the ten lepers’ story in the book of Luke chapter seventeen.

‘As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten men with leprosy stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

Jesus showed His compassion for these ten men who had a horrible skin disease. Yet, disappointingly only one returned to praise Jesus and say thank you. Remarkably that one healed man who returned was a Samaritan who were enemies of the Jewish community.

Jesus came for everyone, black. He doesn’t see race, creed, or color. Jesus only sees our hearts. Jesus healed those ten lepers, and I’m convinced that He healed and continues to heal Kathy and me after much prayer. Jesus is there for you too. Just call on Him, ask Him for your needs, and believe that He is your Lord and Savior because He Is!

Dear Jesus, you are the great physician. You healed so many in Biblical time, and you continue to heal us even today. Thank you for healing us of our sins through your death on the cross and resurrection for us. Amen.

The 25 Gifts of Christmas

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 11, 2020

The 25 gifts of Christmas

Matthew 2:11; Hebrews 10:19

The year was 1981. At the time, I was a manager for Albertson’s supermarket in Lake Worth, FL.

Christmas time was rolling around again, and it was our busiest time of the year. Not only was the story active because of Christmas parties, dinner preparations, and the many gift ideas we offered, but we also carried trees, decorations, and toys.

I don’t remember what made me think of doing this. Still, I decided to bring my wife Kathy home a small Christmas decoration gift from December 1 through Christmas day. (I worked very long hours when I was in retail, and this was my way of saying, “Thanks for putting up with all the hours I work.”)

Remember this was 1981, and things were much less expensive. So, if I came home with a small glass candle holder or figurine, I generally was only spending a dollar or two. But the most important thing was that it made Kathy happy and brought a smile to her face. Of course, twenty- five gifts were only a prelude to the Christmas gifts she received on Christmas Day.

Everyone enjoys receiving gifts, but do you get just as excited about giving gifts. Kathy enjoys the gifts I give her as well as the ones from our daughter and friends. But, the greatest joy she and I both have is giving gifts.

We love to see our grandson’s eyes light up when we give him a Christmas gift or any gift during the year, for that matter. Making others happy, showing love, giving of your time, talents, and treasures to others are the greatest gift we can give to others.

We all know that Jesus received three gifts from the Wisemen. Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. All gifts fit for a King. But the gift Jesus gave us while on earth is so much more far-reaching than physical gifts.

Jesus gave us eternity. He gave His life to free us from the captivity of sin, and through our faith, we now look forward to eternal life with Him in heaven.

I’m not sure if any of those 25 gifts I gave Kathy so many years ago even exist anymore. But I do know that the gift from God of His Son Jesus is eternal.

Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of eternal life you gave us by sending your Son to die on the cross and rise from the dead. We know that we don’t deserve this gift, so thank you, Lord, for Your undeserved Grace. Amen

Best Chrismas Gift Ever

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 10, 2020

“Best Christmas Gift Ever!”

Romans 6:23b

As some of you may know, my wife Kathy and I are avid Hallmark Movie watchers. We pretty much don’t stray from the Hallmark channel during November and December, except for football and news.

As I was thinking about this devotion, I tried to recall how often I’ve heard the line, “Best Christmas Ever,” in a Hallmark movie. I can’t give you an accurate number, but it’s a lot, including variations of the statement. Sometimes we’ll hear, “Best Christmas party ever,” or, “Best Christmas tree ever,” and occasionally, “Best Christmas gift ever.”

The words, best Christmas gift ever, got me thinking about what I remember as my best Christmas gift. I was nine or ten years old, and I was getting over the whole clothes and toys for Christmas. I don’t know where I saw it or why I thought it was so cool, but I asked for a woodburning kit for Christmas.

Well, guess what I got for Christmas? That’s right, the woodburning kit that I had asked for. I was so excited that I could hardly wait to start burning names and creating things with my gift. And I did. I used it so often within a few months, I burned the electric wood burner out.

I’m not sure why I never got a new one; perhaps I had moved on to something new that was occupying my time. I do know this. While it lasted, my woodburning kit was, “The best Christmas gift ever!”



Roman 6:23b

The greatest Christmas gift ever is Jesus. Our eternal life is a gift from God. This gift is only available through faith in Christ Jesus. The best part is that because of God’s Grace and our faith in Jesus, our forgiveness is guaranteed because God promised it.

At the time, my woodburning kit, and probably many other gifts I have received over the years were, “The best Christmas gift ever.” But, now I understand, those gifts were all temporary because they were of this world. The gift of Jesus from God and our salvation will last a lifetime.

Dear Lord. Thank you for sending us your Son Jesus, the greatest gift ever. Because of this gift and our Faith in Your Son, we know that we are redeemed and have eternal life. Indeed, Jesus was and is “The Greatest Christmas Gift Ever.”

Amen

Sette E Mezzo (7 1/2)

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 9, 2020

“Sette e mezzo.”

Psalms 22:18; John 19:23-24

In my Advent devotion from November 30, “A tale of two Christmases,” I talked about how my family used to have two Christmases each year. One celebration would be on Christmas eve at my grandparents’ home (my Mom’s parents). Christmas day would be at my other grandparents’ house (my Dad’s parents).

What I didn’t talk about was what we did after our midnight dinner on Christmas eve. After all the dishes were cleared from the table, the adults would have coffee. Then an assortment of nuts, hot out of the oven, were dumped on the table.

Then we would begin playing Sette e mezzo. Sette e mezzo is Italian for seven and a half (7 ½). Sette e mezzo is an Italian card game similar to blackjack. It is traditionally played in Italy during the Christmas holidays.

Although there are unique decks of cards for the game of Sette e mezzo, you can also use conventional playing cards. All you have to do to adjust to this game is to take out all the 8’s, 9’s, and 10’s; face cards are worth ½.

After that, just like blackjack, everyone is dealt two cards. If you have a 7 and a face card, you have a natural 7 1/2 and win. As we had children involved when we played, we used the nuts on the table as money to bet.

The family would play the game until 4 or 5 a.m. before everyone finally left for home. It was a lot of fun and something kids could play and interact with the adult family members.

The crucifixion of Jesus is very difficult to imagine. The pain, the blood, the difficulty to breathe, the suffering He endured for us is difficult to think about. I believe for many, it’s something we push to the back of our consciousness, so we don’t have to think about it.

To add insult to injury, the four soldiers who crucified Jesus took His clothing and divided it amongst themselves, except Christ’s undertunic, a seamless piece of clothing. So, they threw dice to see who would get His tunic.

Yet, all of this had to happen, too, to fulfill scripture. Psalm 22 is very graphic in its prophecy of what would happen to Jesus, and verse 18 was also exact as to what would become of His clothing.

“They divide my garments among themselves

and throw dice for my clothing.”

Without knowing those four soldiers were fulfilling scripture. Even they, who crucified our Lord, were part of the grand plan of redemption.

Dear Lord, when we look at your plan for redemption, it seems so complicated. There were so many working parts that had to come together to give us forgiveness. Yet, all we have to do is believe, have faith in Jesus, your Son, who died that horrible death on the cross, and rise again, so someday we to will ascend and be with you in heaven. Thank you.

Amen

1200 Points of Light (Christmas in Loxahatchee)

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 8, 2020

1200 Points of Light (Christmas in Loxahatchee)

By Kathy Guagliardo

Matthew 5:16

In 1991 Joe and I, along with our 3-year-old daughter, Heather, moved to Loxahatchee, FL. Loxahatchee is about 25 miles west of West Palm Beach, FL. At the time, much of it was dirt roads. Many of the homes were on one to three acres of land.

Our 2400 square foot home was on an acre and a quarter. We had a great room with 20-foot-high ceilings. On our first Christmas in our new home, we decided to get a 10-foot tree. Joe had to get someone from work to help him set it up. It was filled with over 1200 lights, ornaments, and garland.

Joe always said that the lights on the tree reminded him of President George W. Bush’s “thousand points of light speech.”

 (In his 1989 inaugural address, President George H.W. Bush shared his vision of “a thousand points of light” — individuals and organizations across the nation helping others through service.)

Outside of the house was another matter. Because of where we lived and being the only person on our street, we hardly ever had a car drive by our home. But, Joe decided that he wanted to decorate the front porch and line blinking lights along the path to our house. It was quite a sight.

“Jesus is the light of the world. He came to overcome the darkness of sin, wickedness, ignorance, and unbelief. Christians are the light of the world in the sense that they reflect the light of Christ, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun.” (Albrecht)

Jesus wants us to glorify Him with our works. When we do good works, number one, it’s the right thing to do. We should always help our fellow citizens of this planet. But, we should never do good works to glorify ourselves, saying, “Look at me, look at all the people I have helped.”

Instead, when we are “points of light” and serve others, then those who don’t believe in Jesus will see what it means to be a Christian and be a servant like and of Christ.

Dear Jesus. Help us all to be points of light in this world. Help us be like you and serve others, asking for no reward, but shining so non-believers will come to you. Amen

Albrecht Resource: Matthew G.J. Albrecht and M.J. Albrecht; Peoples Bible Commentary; CPH 1996.

Christmas @ Disney Springs (With my youth group)

Christmas Memories – Advent Devotion

December 7, 2020

Christmas @ Disney Springs with my Youth Group (2011)

Mark 10:23-25

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

During my 25 years in youth ministry, I was always a believer that it was okay to just have fun with my group. It helped build relationships and encouraged a relaxed atmosphere within the group.

Over the last 10 years of my time in full-time youth ministry, I held an annual Christmas Party for the students. I alternated where it was held each year. One year I would have it at my house. In the alternate years, I would take the group to Downtown Disney in Orlando, Florida (now Disney Springs), for our annual Christmas party.

A new Characters in Flight balloon is now soaring above Downtown Disney in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The tethered helium balloon features a fresh design, including a red, yellow and blue color scheme, adorned with a new set of flying characters: Tinker Bell, Peter Pan, Buzz Lightyear, Dumbo, Jasmine and Aladdin. From 400 ft. up in the air, guests get a breathtaking 360-degree view of Walt Disney World Resort for approximately 8 – 10 minutes. The daily hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to midnight, weather permitting. (Gene Duncan, photographer)

What occurred during most years, whether we would go away for our Christmas party or celebrate at my house, could only be classified as unforgettable fun. When we would go to Disney Springs for our Christmas party, we would begin with a late lunch (usually on a Sunday after church), followed by photos with Santa. Then, we would generally take a Disney Bus to one of the hotels and check out the decorations, usually at the Contemporary hotel. Next, we’d take two escalator rides upstairs to the game room, where I would give each student 5-10 dollars in-game coins or cards and let them loose for an hour or so. This was always a good time, but the fun stuff was unplanned and mostly spontaneous; the in-between things that happened were what made these events memorable.

It was the second week of December in 2011, and it was time for a Disney Christmas Party. There were about 25 students and 3 adults attending that year. Disney is only an hour’s drive from my old church. The students never really calmed down on the trip, talking, laughing, and singing the theme from “Hannah Montana” (Disney television show) over and over again. They had an appreciative audience because if you know me, I’m a Disney nut. (Kathy and I have visited Disney World over 600 times since we were married in 1974).

The group arrived at Disney Village and went to lunch at Rainforest Café (in recent years, we switched to T-Rex because Dinosaurs growling at you during dinner are much more fun than volcanoes exploding around you!). After lunch, we got in line and had a group picture taken with Santa. We then headed toward the bus depot to travel to The Contemporary Resort hotel.

We hadn’t walked very far from our photoshoot with Santa when one of the young ladies in the group (Angelique) along with several other students approached me. They said, “Joe, can we make a music video? I then asked them what they had in mind. And they said, “We want to have the whole group walk around and sing, “Don’t stop believin'” by Journey.

I told them that it was okay as long as everyone was open to participating. I also volunteered to film the whole process. For the next 15 minutes, Angelique and a couple of other girls got the group together and told everyone where to stand and what they wanted them to do on cue. Somehow, we did this in one take, and unbelievably most of the kids knew the whole song, so that helped. And so, it began, with one student starting and the group slowly forming up until they were a   group of 25 students walking through Disney Village singing, “Don’t stop believin'” in unison.

Now I have to tell you, it was fun, funny, and a moment to remember. Not only did the group sing the entire song while walking, with me back peddling trying to film every moment, but people actually stopped and watched them. At first, I figured people were stopping and thinking, “What a bunch of crazy kids!” Oh no, I was wrong, because when they were done singing, a couple of people actually asked me if they were a Disney act entertaining on the street. Fun for the sake of fun! And to this day, when I occasionally catch up with a few of the students that were there that day, “Don’t stop believin'” always comes up.

Let me ask you a question. Do you think Jesus had fun? Think about it. Jesus was God/Man while on earth. Understanding that helps us to appreciate that He also had human traits.

Let’s take a moment and look at a few verses from Mark’s Gospel, chapter ten. “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Now, remember Jesus was a contemporary public speaker in His time. He knew how to get His audience’s attention, using parables, stories, and, yes, humor. So, take a moment and don’t look at it as a Bible story, but rather as someone talking to you 2000 years ago. Jesus says, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” If you get that picture of a camel going through the eye of a needle in your mind’s eye, that’s pretty funny. I can almost see the smirk on Jesus’ face when he said it.

It’s okay to have some good old-fashioned fun. Nothing really structured. It can be making angels in the snow (or sand here in Florida), dancing with the one you love no matter where you are when you hear your favorite song or a game of unscheduled tag with your kids. After the year we’ve been through in 2020, we could all use some roll on the ground and laughing enjoyment.

Dear Jesus. Thank you for giving us the outlet of fun and joy in our lives. We know it’s okay to have some fun releasing our emotions with our family and friends. We have joy in our hearts and minds because you saved us from our sins by sacrificing yourself for us. Thanks for that. Amen