Serendipity

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Serendipity. It’s a word that sounds mystical, and I think most people could more easily tell you how it “feels” than describe exactly what it means. It is the title of the 2001 movie where two people meet, fall in love, and then lose track of each other, only to be brought back together by a series of serendipitous events.  The movie defines serendipity as “a fortunate accident.” We think of the accidental discovery of penicillin or Christopher Columbus’ unexpected finding of the “New World” when he was trying to reach India. Webster calls it: 

“The phenomenon of finding valuable things not sought for.”

I don’t believe in fate or luck, but Webster’s definition of serendipity reminds me of God’s amazing ability to give us something of great value when we’re not even looking for it.

Serendipity in History
While sitting in on a world history class today, I learned that Christopher Columbus gave the Holy Spirit credit for inspiring his voyage to the other side of the world. Divine intervention is in God’s wheelhouse, and when He supernaturally crosses paths and aligns moments, it’s never by mistake:

–An Egyptian princess opens a floating  basket made of reeds to reveal the face of a child who will one day lead his own people out of slavery.

–Another Hebrew boy is sold into slavery by cruel brothers and, through a series of anomalous events, is positioned to save these same brothers from starvation in a time of famine.

–A young orphan rises through the ranks of the most beautiful women in the land to become the Jewish queen of the Persian king–just in time to save her people from annihilation.

Moses. Joseph. Esther. Three times, God providentially orchestrates events to preserve a nation, and the stories go on.

Serendipity in Threes
It’s only Tuesday, but my week has already been caught up in a serendipitous storm.

1 …
On Sunday, I taught children’s church, which I have never done in the six months we’ve been here. I didn’t have much time to prepare, so I picked something I knew:  a lesson we’d used on a mission trip in Honduras this past summer.

I tailored the lesson for a smaller and younger group of kids, but basically, we ended up reading and acting out the story of Peter walking on water from Matthew 14. The lights were turned off to represent nighttime, and our elementary students were rowing along in an imaginary boat, when suddenly the boat was hit with great waves (a blue scarf waved up and down by preschoolers). “Peter” sees what the disciples first think is a ghost, then recognizes Jesus and asks to be called out onto the water. “Jesus” (played by an 8-year-old girl, since there were no boys) bids Peter to come.

We all know that the story ends with Peter sinking until Jesus saves him, wondering at how little faith has been shown. I had started the morning with a question and ended it with the same:

“Where is the best place to be if you are in the middle of a huge sea?”

Most people, child or adult, would give the expected answer:  “in a boat.” Out of the mouth of a third-grader, though, came the radical reply:  “with Jesus.”

2 …
The little girl in children’s church was right, and I thought of her wise words later the same day as I was reading Tedd Dekker’s fictional but biblically-based “A.D. 30”–a telling of Jesus’ ministry through the eyes of a Bedouin “desert queen.” When Dekker’s book began to recount the water-walking episode, I found myself in the middle of the storm once again–this time seeing it through the eyes of someone who might’ve been there with Peter and Jesus.

3 …
A couple of days later, I opened Facebook to find a close friend’s post about being “storm proof,” despite the crushing waves that life can bring. She linked her to post to a recording of “Oceans (Where Feet may Fail),” by Hillsong United.

Three encounters with the same “storm,” told in three different ways within the span of three days. Serendipitous, don’t you think? I might’ve overlooked the significance of it all had the phone not rung a few short minutes later to present my life with its own mini-storm.

My Mini Storm
I call it a mini storm, because the Holy Spirit made the thunder and lightning smaller in my eyes, directing my focus elsewhere, so that I could experience “the phenomenon of finding valuable things not sought for”: 

–I was looking for an easy children’s church message, and I found some of the truest words that can be spoken, uttered out of the mouth of a child.

–I was reading fiction just for fun and found myself experiencing truth vicariously through the characters in a story.

–I was perusing Facebook to pass the time and found comfort in the words of a friend and a familiar song–just before my own storm arrived.

The nature of my storm doesn’t matter. The things I “accidently” found in it do matter:

1) The best place to be when you are in the middle of a great sea, in the midst of a storm, is not in a boat of safety, conformity, the status quo, or trust in men. The best place to be is with Jesus.

2) The litmus test of faith is not in knowing about Jesus or even in believing in Him. “Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror (James 2:19).” Jesus spoke of Peter’s doubt, even though Peter knew and followed Him, even though the disciple got out of the boat.

But Faith doesn’t falter when it trusts in Jesus to the degree that the storm poses no threat.

Of trusting in “the boat,” Dekker writes:

 “Perhaps it is better to understand faith by your fears … We put our trust in wood and pitch and flesh and blood and wind and water, and so the storm has dominion over us. Don’t you see? We must let this world go and see no threat. This is what it means to believe in Yeshua! … In the eyes of children who trust their Father, there is no threat. No grievance against the storm (Dekker, A.D. 30 ).”

The storm is real, but the threat is not, because Jesus can be trusted. In fixing our eyes on Him, we find grace to let go of our fear of the storm. We also find the grace to surrender our grievence against anyone or anything.

This is why scripture says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (Isaiah 26:3)”

3) The only way to be “storm-proof” is to  turn our eyes to the Master of the wind and waves–listening as He cries out, “Peace! Be still!”

We must get to know Jesus’ sovereignty, becoming familiar with His faithfulness, until He holds His rightful place in our estimation.

Jesus is supreme over everything, the One in whose presence there can be no fear.

This is the God kind of serendipity. How much more of it would I “accidentally” find if Jesus were the focus of all of my searching? (Matthew 6:33)

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.
Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,
and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.

I will call upon Your name,
and keep my eyes above the waves.
When oceans rise,
My soul will rest in Your embrace,
for I am yours and You are mine.
–Oceans (Where Feet May Fail, Hillsong United)

 

4 More Christmas Activities that Point Kids to Jesus

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Last year at this time, I was knee-deep in holiday lesson plans, 2nd-grade Christmas party planning, and writing/directing a production about the birth and life of Jesus. I’m a world away from all of that now, but with five additions to our household this year, finding ways to make Christmas special is important in a whole new way!

The busyness that surrounds this season can leave you looking back from December 26th, wondering where all the time and opportunities to pour into your children went. But I wanted to highlight the joy of Christmas, not dampen it with more time-fillers that unnecessarily become a financial burden.

I wrote about some of the things we are doing this year a few days ago in:  5 Simple Christmas Activities that Point Kids to JesusHere are four more easy and low-cost ways to help kids focus on Jesus this Christmas:

6) Add the Christmas Story to your countdown calendar.
As a little girl, I always looked forward to taking my daily candy cane from the calendar my mom made to help our family count down to Christmas Day. This year, I decided to make the story of Jesus’ birth part of our countdown. I divided the Biblical account into easy-to-digest sections that can be read each night of the week before Christmas Day. Then, I printed the scriptures out and rolled each section into a “scroll” that fit nicely into the pockets of the countdown calendar. Now, one of the girls can unroll part of the Christmas story during evening devotionals each night. Get my Christmas Story Countdown here:

Christmas Story Countdown

7) Sing!
This may sound obvious, but I hadn’t realized the lack of music playing in our house until one of the girls mentioned not feeling the “Christmas spirit.” Now, we pick a Christmas station on the radio, create one on Pandora, or make our own music, singing “Joy to the World” while getting ready for school in the morning and “What Child is This?” at bedtime.

8) Play Christmas Charades or Pictionary.
For some Jesus-centered family fun, fill a bowl full of phrases like:

  • Star of Bethlehem
  • No room in the inn
  • Swaddling clothes (try acting THAT out!)
  • Frankincense, gold, and myrrh (or drawing THAT!)
  • Silent Night

Form teams to play charades or pictionary. Drawing and acting will make your kids active participants in honoring the Christmas Story, rather than just an audience to it. If you’re brave, you could get out some play dough and sculpt (instead of drawing) or play “name that tune” with favorite carols.

9) Look for a way to serve others.
Make homemade ornaments for a nursing home, blankets for the homeless, or cookies for your local law enforcement officers. The list of ways to be a blessing to others is endless, but the experience may more meaningful if you brainstorm your own ideas as a family. Whatever you choose, your kids are bound to discover how much joy can be found in giving to others.

You just read the 6th post in a series called 7 Days of Focus on Jesus. May all of our hearts be turned toward Him this Christmas. If you missed a post, you can find it below:

Why Jesus Went Christmas Shopping
‘Twas the First Christmas Evening: A Retelling
5 Simple Christmas Activities that Point Kids to Jesus
The Gifts I leave Wrapped
An Invitation to Christmas Dinner

To keep up with the last post, subscribe by scrolling down and entering your email address below. 

The Gifts I Leave Wrapped

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“So often, these presents are wrapped up and ready to be opened, if only I would seek out His presence.”

3 …
The number is hardly out of her mouth before I’m sprinting through the house

2 …
like the Purina Beggin’ Strips dog “getting that bacon,”

1 …
but she finishes before I can make it to the presents. Dejected, I am left watching wistfully as my little brother–who was hiding behind the tree–gets to open a Christmas gift early.

My mom enjoys playing mind games with her children. She would entice us with promises of early yuletide joy … IF we could beat her countdown to the wrapped treasures under the tree. Mom always waited until she was certain we were at the far end of the house before she started counting.

Until my brother’s crafty mind outsmarted her.

Actually, if I remember correctly, I used one of mom’s own tactics–“sweet eyes,”  she liked to call it–and convinced her that since Chris had gotten to open a gift, I should too.

How I wish that my heart would learn to go after God’s gifts with the childish zeal and abandon that drove me to drop everything and hurdle the sofa that day.

Just like my mom, my Father thrills in the excitement and joy of His kids. Like her, He goes out of His way to select gifts that will not only meet a need but also prompt squeals of delight. So often, these presents are wrapped up and ready to be opened, if only I would seek out His presence.

Stored somewhere in the filing cabinets of my mind is the knowledge of this truth, but my heart has a hard time finding it for all the Facebook feeds, monthly budgets, TV transcripts, to-do lists and other adult paperwork that clutters the path.

Why do I so often choose to temporarily appease my desire for what I know cannot last when God is freely offering a banqueting table full of that which can never be taken from me?

I think it is because my mind teaches my heart to forget. Or perhaps, in some instances, my heart never really learned in the first place.

In either case, my heart desperately  needs to become more versed in Daddy’s extravagant ways. I recognize and can even utilize mom’s “sweet eyes” but turn a deaf ear to the whispers of the One who would pursue me to the ends of the earth, by means of an endless stream of artful gestures.

It is the junk food addict’s dilemma. I can’t crave the things that would nourish and satisfy because of my infatuation with what is good for a moment.

The solution for the junk food lover is to rid the system of carbs and sweets so that the appetite can be trained to crave vegetables and fruit.

And for me? My course is easier, because every small step I take toward God will be met with a giant leap. Truthfully, I need not even lean to step out on my own; it is His wooing that stirs me to make the move.

However unfamiliar I may be with the heart of God, He is intimately aquainted with the far recesses of my mind and the depths of my soul.

The only one who knows every wall of my heart, My Father is both the giver of presents and my guide into His presence. He alone is willing to keep giving, guiding and chasing for as long as it takes.

“He brought me to the banqueting house, And his banner over me was love.”–Song of Solomon 2:4 (NKJV)

“We love Him because He first loved us.”–I John 4:19 (NKJV)

You just read the 4th post in a series called 7 Days of Focus on Jesus. May all of our hearts be turned toward Him this Christmas. If you missed a post, you can find it below:

Why Jesus Went Christmas Shopping
‘Twas the First Christmas Evening: A Retelling
5 Simple Christmas Activities that Point Kids to Jesus

To keep up with days 5-7, subscribe by scrolling down and entering your e-mail address in the form below. 

5 Simple Christmas Activities that Point Kids to Jesus

 

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“Mrs. Chapman, do you know how to cook?” asked one our five little charges. I’m guessing that her 9-year-old mind generated this question based on the fact that I don’t own an apron (except for the frilly, Laura Ingalls one my granny gave me) and that Mr. Chapman was the one who had volunteered to help the girls bake cookies the night before. It probably doesn’t help much that most of our meals are served in a dining hall–a fact I’m often very grateful for but may regret some day if I still haven’t learned how to cook a turkey.

Holiday cooking isn’t the only thing that makes this time of year chaotic; most of us have gift buying, wrapping, decorating, Christmas parties and a list of other things to add to already busy lives. It can be hard to escape the frenzy (definition:  a state or period of uncontrolled excitement or wild behavior) long enough to remember the real reason for all of the hoopla.

The first two posts in this series, 7 Days of Focus on Jesus, were aimed at the heart; this one is full of intentional, Jesus-centered activities, all free or almost free and needing little or no preparation:

1) Make a Christmas acrostic as a family.
This one comes from my elementary teacher tool belt. We would often start or end a unit by creating an acrostic to show what students knew or had learned. Sometimes, we used a word like “friend” to help remind us what it meant to be a good friend (i.e. Friendly, Respectful, etc.).

For Christmas this year, Robert and I made an acrostic for the word “Christmas” to show what our family values during this season.

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You can use an app like Pixlr to design a graphic to print and display or to use as desktop wallpaper. Another idea would be to make a wall hanging.

2) Play the ABC Christmas Songs game.
I don’t know about you, but our family travels ALOT during the holidays. Taking advantage of time spent in the car is a great way to slow down and focus on what matters.

I grew up in a musical family, and we were constantly singing in the car. Around Christmas time, we would play a game to see if we could make it through the alphabet singing Christmas songs …

A.  Angels we have Heard on High
B. Baby, it’s Cold Outside
C.  Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
D.  Do You Hear What I Hear?

… you get the idea.

You may have to get creative for Q and Z, but family fun will definitely ensue! I realize that not every song will be about Jesus, but many of them are–especially some that kids may not be familiar with yet. This creates an excellent opportunity to look up the lyrics together as a conversation starter. For example, many children may not know how much time passed between Isaiah’s messianic prophecies and the actual birth of Jesus (about 700 years). This fact brings new meaning to the words of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

3) Try a variation on the traditional Secret Santa game.
Many families or workplaces exchange gifts at Christmas time by secretly drawing a name and buying small gifts for that person leading up to Christmas Day. Why not do something similar but make it about small acts of kindness instead of monetary gifts?  Family members can do chores for one another or make a cup of hot chocolate, leaving an anonymous note behind. Everyone will experience the joy of serving others as Jesus did, and trying to figure out who drew your name can be quite amusing.

4) Pray for the people who send you Christmas cards.
It’s pretty hard to not to grow more selfless when you are praying for others, and Christmas cards are a practical way to expand your prayer list. The photos many people include with their cards will give kids something visual to attach their prayers to, and you’ll never be sorry you made time to listen to a child’s heartfelt request on behalf of another.

5) Act out the Christmas story.
What child wouldn’t want to drape on a sheet robe, don a headpiece made from a towel, and grab a stick from the backyard to play the role of Joseph? It’s one thing to hear about the Christmas story and another to step into Bethlehem’s stable (the cardboard box from your giant artificial tree) and declare the words spoken 2,000 years ago. They will be written on your child’s heart forever. I know–as a little girl, I stood on a piano in a white robe and tinsel halo shouting “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

For another way to get the Christmas Story into your child’s head and heart, here is my variation on “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”: 

Twas the First Christmas Evening

What does your family do to focus on Jesus during the Christmas season? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below or on Facebook, especially if it’s something my 2-year-old old would enjoy!

‘Twas the First Christmas Evening: A Retelling

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“‘Twas the first Christmas evening, when all through the town
every inn was filled up, and no room could be found.”

I’ve always enjoyed the Christmas classic, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” by Clement Clark Moore, and decided to tell the story of Jesus’ birth in the same style.

Why? Well, nerd that I am, I actually enjoyed the experience. Also, I wanted to continue 7 Days of Focus on Jesus with another piece of Christmas that we can all recognize and relate to. (See the post from Day 1 here:  Why Jesus Went Christmas Shopping.)

There is no substitute for the living and life-changing word of God. I love reading the Christmas Story from Isaiah 9, Luke 1-2, and  Matthew 2, and would hate to see anyone let the season pass without delving into those beautiful passages of scripture.

Having said all of that, here is the story of the first Christmas in the form of a poem:

‘Twas the First Christmas Evening

‘Twas the first Christmas evening, when all through the town
every inn was filled up, and no room could be found.
The people had gathered from distant and near,
instructed by Caesar to register here.

So Joseph and Mary, his young wife to be,
to Bethlehem journeyed from far Galilee.
To the City of David, the kin of the same,
a carpenter, girl, and unborn baby came.

No innkeeper offered the family a bed,
so the infant was born in a stable instead.
While Mary settled the child in a manger,
donkeys and cattle watched over the Stranger.

As the mother looked down at the tiny boy’s face,
her thoughts turned away to a past time and place.
She remembered the angel whose message foretold
that His name would be Jesus, forever extolled.

While shepherds were watching their flocks through the night,
an angel from heaven split darkness with light.
The shepherds were terrified, frozen in fear,
but the angel appeased them with news of great cheer:

“Don’t worry! Good tidings!
Good news for all nations!
The Savior! He’s made it!
The babe brings salvation!
To the City of David!
To the manger’s stall!”
“Go! Tell it! Yes, tell it!
Go tell it to all!”

The angel was joined by a great host, and then
They sang, “Glory to God, and goodwill toward men!”

Rushing to find Him, the men did not tarry.
A babe wrapped in cloth, they found Jesus with Mary.
She pondered these things–to her heart they were dear,
as the shepherds praised God, for all people to hear.

Then the magi came west, bearing gifts for a King.
They had traveled so far, costly presents to bring.
Herod heard news of their trip and its reason;
He pretended to be on their side, for a season.

But the star–how it twinkled! With wonder and light,
It guided the wise men, to Jesus aright.
They brought gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and of gold,
the cost of these treasures a story untold.
The kings from the east soon fell down at the feet
of the child they had followed the bright star to meet.
Then warned in a dream, wicked Herod found out,
the magi went home by an alternate route.

The first Christmas ends here, but the story does not,
for an angel warned Joseph of Herod’s ill plot.
The child would grow up to be Savior, you know.
It was told by the prophet so long, long ago.

Remember the words from Isaiah of old?
This blessed occasion of joy he foretold:
“The people in darkness have seen a great light.
Once under a shadow, now all things are bright.”

“His name is Wonderful, Counselor, Strong indeed!
Everlasting! Mighty Father! High Prince of Peace!
A Kingdom without end, and never to be torn!”

“Unto us a child given, the Father’s Son born!”

You just read the second of 7 daily posts meant to help focus our hearts on Jesus by looking at various facets of Christmas in a new way. If you want to keep up with all 7 posts, the simplest way is to scroll down, enter your email address, then click the follow button to subscribe. OR, you can follow on Facebook. However, Facebook has changed its settings to decrease the organic/unpaid reach of its page posts. If you don’t want to miss the next post, click the drop-down arrow next to the “liked” button on Free to Surrender’s Facebook page and choose “Get Notifications.”