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The Reason for the Season

by C.S. Elston

By now, most of us have heard that Jesus was more likely born in early fall than on December 25th and that many of the popular customs associated with Christmas actually pre-date the holiday and were probably adopted from winter solstice celebrations by pagan populations that later converted to Christianity. We also know that we’re supposed to be full of “Christmas cheer” for three or four weeks as winter settles in but, instead, find ourselves yelling at each other in parking lots, spending money on things we can’t afford and tackling strangers in the toy aisle at Walmart. Perhaps, this is another argument in favor of social distancing. 2020 aside, what exactly are we celebrating and why are we celebrating it?

When in doubt, take it back to the basics and refuse to get caught up in the minutia. Regardless of when Jesus was born, the miraculous thing is that the Word became flesh. What does that mean and why does it matter? One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, put it this way:

“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”

~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Let’s look closely at the specifics behind Lewis’ statement. And, to do so, let’s go straight to a modern translation of the original source material. The book of John begins by telling us this:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

~ John 1:1-5, English Standard Version

These five verses are packed with life-transforming information. First, they tell us that the Word was both with God and was God from the very beginning of everything. Second, they tell us that the Word is responsible for all of creation. Third, they tell us that the Word contains the life that is the light of humanity which is not overcome by darkness.

From the Garden of Eden to the moment of Jesus’ birth, humanity had proven over and over again that we could not overcome sin on our own. Left to our own devices, we were headed for death. We were headed for eternal darkness. We needed the life that is the light that would not be overcome. The light that is only in the Word. Later in that first chapter of John, God showed us mercy and gave us that light:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

~ John 1:14, English Standard Version

Lewis stated the importance of this event for us with precision:

“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this.”

~ C.S. Lewis, Miracles

The birth of Jesus Christ is the single most important event in all of human history. God became man. Feel the weight of that statement. The Creator became the Creation. The highest being in existence descended into a world he created perfect because it had since been infected by sin and he knew that the sacrifice he was making was the one and only way to redeem it, to redeem us. We needed . . . and still . . . We need Jesus!

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

~ John 3:16-17, English Standard Version

 

Our good friend, Lewis, put it this way:

“In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity . . . But He goes down to come up again and bring the ruined world up with Him . . . “

~ C.S. Lewis, Miracles

Praise his name! Fake tree, real tree, no tree . . . Who cares? All that really matters is that the miracle of Christmas is absolutely worth celebrating. The God of all creation loves us so much that he came down in order to take us back up with him, where he always intended us to be! And, even in a crowded shopping mall parking lot, the toy aisle at Walmart or, since it is 2020, surfing Amazon from your couch, the miracle and the meaning of Christmas should absolutely fill your heart with joy. It sure does mine.

And, it is with that joyous heart that I wish you all a very merry Christmas!

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Teamwork, Drive, and Winning: What’s Music Education Got to Do With It?

by Erin Shelby

In the Netflix documentary The Road I’m On, country super star Garth Brooks recounts his childhood and his rise to fame. He recalls a particular instance when his father insisted that Garth join something, anything. You have to be part of a team, any team, was his father’s directive. As a result, young Garth played high school football. Do music and sports seem like polar opposites to you? If so, consider these three things that sports and music have in common.

Teamwork

Anyone who’s played sports knows that it takes more than one person to win the game. Teamwork is critical, and this also applies to music. Soloists with attention-getting personalities often get the spotlight, but they don’t earn this praise alone. Back-up singers, dancers, drummers, instrumentalists, lighting designers, and vocal coaches all create the magic for the chart-topping celebrities we know and love. Students who have music as part of their education learn that teamwork is a must. Choir singers learn the art of the “blend” when each singer isn’t too loud or too soft, but just right. Band players practice alone and then come together as a whole to work on their sound as a group. Whether in choir, band, or orchestra, each music student is part of a larger team. 

Drive

Goals and desires are easy to have, but it takes drive to accomplish what you want. Wishful thinking won’t make things happen; action is required. In sports, if you don’t show up for practice, you’re destined to fail. If you show up with a bad attitude or a half-hearted attitude, your practice won’t do much good. The same goes for music. Each person in a group brings their abilities and desire to succeed. Talent alone isn’t good enough; you have to work for what you want. Choirs learn this together by practicing parts of the same songs over and over again to achieve the desired sound. A three-minute song takes hours upon hours to learn. Band members will refine the same section of music because a note is played too soon, or a rest lasts too long, or instruments sound out of balance with each another. Each person’s drive pushes them to create a work of excellence.

Success

The joy of winning is easy for bystanders to see. In sports, winning can come in the form of trophies or the number on the scoreboard. Those who stand on the sidelines may not know the frustration, fatigue, and effort that it took to make it happen. For musicians, wins are just as valuable, although they come in different forms. The applause and cheers from our audiences show that we created something good. The reward of knowing that we gave our best and created something worthwhile to is a reward in itself. Personal growth happens when we persevere through obstacles, and we often learn about ourselves along the way.

Young people will always need to learn about teamwork, drive, and success. These are enduring concepts that need to be passed on to each new generation. The importance of music education is three-fold: it teaches teamwork, it emphasizes the importance of drive, and it celebrates success. How can you celebrate these ideals in a young person’s life?

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Give Thanks

by C. S. Elston

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

2020 has been a crazy, difficult year. Is there anyone on the planet who disagrees with that statement? I doubt it.

Still, I have so much to be thankful for: a roof over my head, food to eat, a car to drive, an educated background, friends and family that I love and who love me back (including the most amazing wife a guy could ever dream of,) and, most importantly (yes, even more so than that beautiful, gracious wife,) the hope of eternity with my Creator. A lot of that probably sounds like obvious stuff but, it’s good for the soul to express it anyway. The Bible instructs us to give thanks for many reasons, but I will briefly focus on two.

First, it honors and glorifies God.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Revelation 4:11 (ESV)

Second, it puts our focus on the blessings in life and gives us a more positive outlook.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Quite simply, giving thanks is a healthier way to live than the alternative.

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Proverbs 17:22 (ESV)

It’s important to remember these things as we head into what might be the most difficult Thanksgiving holiday we’ve ever experienced. With that in mind, please allow me to end this on a lighter note and one of my favorite subjects: food.

We all look forward to the turkey. Well, most of us do anyway. A lot of people look forward to the desert, too. Of course, you don’t have to pick just one item to look forward to about the greatest American meal of the year (yes, even 2020.) But, if I was forced to, mine would have to be a side dish. No, it’s not the cranberry sauce or even the mashed-potatoes and gravy. The latter is high on the list, however. My favorite would have to be my mom’s Sweet Potato Casserole. So, I got special permission to share the recipe. It’s so good, it just wouldn’t be fair to keep it to ourselves.

Ingredients

2 cups of mashed Princella canned Sweet Potatoes — drain the syrup before mashing

4 tablespoons of softened butter or margarine

2 eggs

1 cup of milk

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Dash of salt

2/3 cup of sugar

Directions (part one)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine above ingredients. Mix well. Place in greased casserole dish and bake for approximately half of an hour. Remove from oven.

Topping Ingredients

6 tablespoons of melted butter or margarine

1/2 cup of chopped nuts

1/2 cup of brown sugar

1 cup of flour

Directions (part two)

Combine topping ingredients. Mix well. Cover casserole with the topping mixture and place back in the oven for an additional 10-15 minutes. Remove and serve. This dish should take care of about 8 people. But, if you love it as much as my family does, you may have to drop that number to 6 . . . maybe even lower . . . I actually prefer this to most of the pies. Enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving!

 

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Should Christians Have a Gang Sign?

by M.N. Kollar

At first glance, this probably seems like a silly question. Are we drag racing against the Confucians at the closed ramp at the edge of town? Are we meeting with the atheists for a rumble behind the bleachers? I hope not, as I do not race, I certainly do not rumble, and I respect everyone’s belief system. That said, if you chose to challenge a friendly Wiccan to an arm-wrestling match then that’s on you.

So, let’s take another look at the gang sign question.

I wear my faith in my jewelry selection, prayerfully in my actions, and on display in my car. Sometimes the interaction is as blatant as someone asking me to roll down my car window so they could share a faith moment with me but other times it’s just a lingering look or a finger point to let me know that person acknowledged me on some deeper level. The question is, how do we address the times when other Christians cross our paths and want to engage?

Choosing to display my faith is a constant reminder to rise above the constraints of this world and also to not flip people off in traffic. Whether you wear or display your faith, there is a question that needs contemplating: are you a covert Christian? This is not meant for judgement from the outside but for conviction from the inside. One pastor put it this way to his congregation on a Sunday morning, if he followed them out to the parking lot would he know they were Christians? Would he know they were Christians on Monday morning if he stopped by their place of work?

In the real world it is not always appropriate to declare the Word of God in a board meeting. But the Word should manifest in our demeanor both in that same meeting and throughout the day. If you are in such a close walk with Jesus that someone may ask you how you keep your cool, then maybe it is the right time to let them know that it is the 24/7 influence of Jesus in your life that has you anchored.

As an aside, if you still have some work to do before people start wondering what that special something is about you, rest assured you’re in the same boat as most of us. But what a glorious summit to climb toward? Yes, your goal could be to become the person in your circle with the best hair, the biggest bank account, the whitest smile, the fanciest car or the fittest body. Those are fine goals but, then what? Beauty fades, cars rust, money can’t buy the most important things and bodies age. If we keep striving for that close walk with Jesus then we get to be a beacon to others while making our inner and outer lives amazingly radiant. That is something that will last. That is a goal truly worth striving for.

So, we are to walk like Jesus and to talk like Jesus. But then what? Well, then we need to connect, either with other people on the same journey or maybe with someone who is curious about the journey. Jesus was not a solo act. As we know full well, discipleship was central. There has been a great effort to build small intimate groups in the churches, and that is wonderful, but here we are talking about connecting in the every day.

How do Christians connect in the day to day routine of life? How do we lift each other up and let each other know that we are not just seen but acknowledged for our faith?

When you are wearing or displaying your faith and others have a moment to share their experience or just say how they like your cross, then that is clear and meaningful and wonderful. There have been times, just a gesture as someone drove past me, that left me wondering if that person was thanking me for letting them merge or if there was something more significant taking place.

The question now is, how do we use the few seconds at a traffic light, passing people in the mall, or standing in line at the cash register, to acknowledge the shared love of Jesus Christ? This brings us back around to our original question: Should Christians have a gang sign?

I like the idea of a variation of the ‘Three finger salute’. After a minimal amount of research, I have come to know that there are a number of like salutes already in circulation. So, we need a way to differentiate our salute from the Boy Scouts, the keyboard warriors (Ctrl+Alt+Del which is an old friend of mine) and various others. I like the three fingers and that is because it represents the Holy Trinity, but I’m not married to it in any way. I believe that the main thing is that we Christians have a way to acknowledge and lift each other up in the day to day.

I would love to hear back from anyone who has a thought or suggestion about getting Christians to see, really see, each other in the every day.

Leave a comment here or hit me up on twitter: @MnKollarW

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The Food of Fall

by C.S. Elston

Two of my favorite “F words” are “food” and “fall” – I truly love this season. The cool, crisp air of a sunny autumn day and the warm, comforting foods we start to crave feel like a glimpse of Heaven to me. So, I thought I’d share a few of the recipes I tend to turn to around this time of year. For me, one of the most cozy and comforting foods on a cold day is a hot bowl of soup. So, it’s no coincidence that three of the five recipes fall into that category. I say five but, stay tuned for a bonus 6th recipe – a delicious, post-pumpkin-carving snack.

Fall also tends to be when I’m trying to shed a few pounds from the summer BBQ season. So, I’m going to include a healthier version and a “cheat meal” version of the same recipes. Typically, the difference between the two is a minor tweak but, the lower calories help when you’re trying to slip back into the jeans that fit you in spring and suddenly feel just a bit more snug. This is particularly appropriate for some of us after the COVID-19 quarantine.

Without further adieux . . .

Spicy Chili

Healthier Version –

2, 20-ounce packages of 99% fat free ground turkey breast

2, 26-ounce jars of Ragu Tomato & Basil Sauce – light

1, 15-ounce can of black beans, drained

1, 15-ounce can of red beans, drained

1, 15-ounce can of pinto beans, drained

1 chopped onion

2 chopped tomatoes

3 cups of chopped mixed bell peppers

12 minced cloves of garlic

4 tablespoons of fajita seasoning mix

1/2 tablespoon of black pepper

1/2 tablespoon of white pepper

1/2 tablespoon of red pepper

1/2 tablespoon of dark chili powder

1 tablespoon of smoked paprika

*** Makes 12, 1 ½ cup servings

 

Cheat Meal –

3, 16-ounce packages of 80% fat free ground beef

4, 12-ounce bottles of chili sauce

1, 15-ounce can of black beans, drained

1, 15-ounce can of red beans, drained

1, 15-ounce can of pinto beans, drained

1 chopped onion

1 chopped green pepper

1 chopped red pepper

1 minced clove of garlic

1 tablespoon of black pepper

1 tablespoon of white pepper

1 tablespoon of red pepper

4 tablespoons of fajita seasoning mix

2 chopped tomatoes

Brown the meat in a skillet, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks. Drain any excess liquid.

Add meat and all other ingredients to a slow cooker or a large pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the dish reaches preferred temperature and the vegetables are cooked to desired tenderness.

Serve in a bowl. If it’s a cheat meal, a little sprinkle of some freshly grated cheddar cheese won’t hurt most people’s feelings.

 

Shepherd’s Pie

 Healthy –

Canola oil spray

1 pound of 96% fat free ground beef

1 cup of chopped onion

2 2/3 cups of frozen mixed vegetables

2 cups of diced Roma tomatoes

4 russet potatoes, quartered and boiled until soft

½ cup of skim milk

2/3 cup of WW Mexican Style shredded cheese

¼ teaspoon of white pepper

½ teaspoon of black pepper

1 ½ teaspoon of salt

*** Makes 4 servings

 

Cheat Meal –

4 teaspoons of canola oil

1 pound of 80% fat free ground beef

1 cup of chopped onion

2 2/3 cups of frozen mixed vegetables

2 cups of diced Roma tomatoes

4 russet potatoes, quartered and boiled until soft

¼ cup of 2% milk

1/8 cup of melted butter

1 cup of freshly grated cheddar cheese

¼ teaspoon of white pepper

½ teaspoon of black pepper

1 ½ teaspoon of salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat a skillet to on medium and add oil. Brown the ground beef, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks. Add onions, tomatoes, frozen mixed vegetables, ¼ teaspoon of white pepper, ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook for 5 minutes.

Mash potatoes with milk (and butter for cheat meals,) ½ teaspoon of salt, and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper.

Move meat and vegetable mixture to an oven-safe casserole dish. Cover with potatoes. Top with cheese. Bake 10-15 minutes until cheese is browned and bubbling.

Cut into four equal parts and serve.

 

Chicken Noodle Soup

Healthy –        Spray oil

2 Chicken Breasts – approximately 1 ¼ lbs.

1 large red onion, chopped

2 cups of shredded carrots

4 cups of celery, chopped

¼ of a cup of green onions, chopped

12 ounces of high fiber spaghetti noodles

3 quarts of chicken broth

½ of a teaspoon of dried nutmeg

½ of a teaspoon of dried sage

1 teaspoon of dried thyme

1 teaspoon of dried basil

1 teaspoon of dried rosemary

1 teaspoon of dried marjoram

1 teaspoon of ground black pepper

1 teaspoon of ground white pepper

1 teaspoon of ground salt

1 tablespoon of Adobo seasoning with pepper

1 tablespoon of Adobo seasoning with cumin

*** Makes 8 servings

 

Cheat Meal –  1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 tablespoon of butter

2 lbs. of chicken

1 large red onion, chopped

2 cups of shredded carrots

1 cup of red onion, chopped

4 cups of celery, chopped

¼ of a cup of green onions, chopped

12 ounces of wide egg noodles

3 quarts of chicken broth

½ of a teaspoon of dried nutmeg

½ of a teaspoon of dried sage

1 teaspoon of dried thyme

1 teaspoon of dried basil

1 teaspoon of dried rosemary

1 teaspoon of dried marjoram

1 teaspoon of ground black pepper

1 teaspoon of ground white pepper

1 teaspoon of ground salt

1 tablespoon of Adobo seasoning with pepper

1 tablespoon of Adobo seasoning with cumin

Flatten chicken and cut into ½ inch pieces. Brown in a soup pot with oil (and butter if this is a cheat meal) and add onion, celery, carrots and seasonings when done. Continue cooking and simmering for at least 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and stir until it boils. Add noodles. Turn heat to low and let simmer until noodles are nice and soft.

Divide equally into 8 bowls and serve immediately. Put salt and pepper out so people can add to individual taste.

 

Open-Faced, Stuffed Bell Peppers

Healthy –

Canola oil spray

1 cup of uncooked brown rice

20 ounces of ground turkey breast

1 cup of chopped yellow onion

1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes

6 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup of Weight Watcher’s Mexican Style Cheese

1/8 of a cup of Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon of dried sweet basil

1 teaspoon of crushed oregano

1/8 of a teaspoon of black pepper

1/8 of a teaspoon of white pepper

1/8 of a teaspoon of red pepper flakes

½ tablespoon of salt

1 tablespoon of Adobo seasoning with cumin

1 cup of water

4 bell peppers (any color)

*** Makes 4 servings of 2 pepper-halves per person

 

Cheat Meal –

2 tablespoons of canola oil

1 cup of uncooked brown rice

20 ounces of 80% fat free ground beef

1 cup of chopped yellow onion

1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes

6 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup of Shredded American Cheese

2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon of dried sweet basil

1 teaspoon of crushed oregano

1/8 of a teaspoon of black pepper

1/8 of a teaspoon of white pepper

1/8 of a teaspoon of red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon of salt

1 tablespoon of Adobo seasoning with cumin

1 cup of water

4 bell peppers (any color)

Slice peppers in half lengthwise, removing stem ends, seeds, and membranes. Immerse pepper halves into boiling water for 3 minutes each. Sprinkle insides with Adobo seasoning and invert on paper towels to drain.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat oil in a large skillet to medium. Add meat, garlic and onion. Cook until meat is brown and onions are tender. Stir in tomatoes, rice, Worcestershire, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is tender (15-20 minutes.) Stir in half of the cheese. Fill peppers with mixture from skillet and place in a large baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes, until heated through and cheese is brown and bubbly. Let stand for 1-2 minutes. Serve.

* You can use cooked rice (in which case water is not needed when rice is stirred in) to save time.

 

Turkey & Pumpkin Chili

Healthy –

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 package (12 ounces) of frozen, chopped onions

1 package (12 ounces) of frozen onion and bell pepper blend

1 tablespoon of minced garlic

2 pounds of 99% fat-free ground turkey breast

3 cans (14.5 ounces) of diced tomatoes

4 cups of pumpkin puree

1 can (15 ounces) of tri-color beans

1 can (15 ounces) of kidney beans

1 can (15 ounces) of black beans

2 heaping tablespoons of chili powder

4 tablespoons of brown sugar

2 tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon of ground white pepper

1 teaspoon of salt

 

Cheat Meal –

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 package (12 ounces) of frozen, chopped onions

1 package (12 ounces) of frozen onion and bell pepper blend

1 tablespoon of minced garlic

2 pounds of ground turkey

3 cans (14.5 ounces) of diced tomatoes

4 cups of pumpkin puree

1 can (15 ounces) of tri-color beans

1 can (15 ounces) of kidney beans

1 can (15 ounces) of black beans

2 heaping tablespoons of chili powder

4 tablespoons of brown sugar

2 tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon of ground white pepper

1 teaspoon of salt

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the onions, bell peppers and garlic until tender. Stir in the turkey and cook until evenly brown. Mix in tomatoes, beans and pumpkin. Add in all the seasonings and the brown sugar. Stir it up while raising the heat until it begins to boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for at least 20 minutes.

One of the Shine-A-Light authors is bringing her husband over for lunch in a couple of days and will experience the above chili for herself – with a twist. Instead of turkey we’re going to try it with pork for the first time. Actually, three kinds of pork. Shredded pork loin, diced ham and crumbled bacon. It will be new to all of us but, with bacon involved, it can’t be bad.

A week or so after the Three Pork & Pumpkin Chili has settled, it will be “Pumpkin-Carving Weekend” at my house. However, I secretly call it “Pumpkin Seeds Weekend” because eating the seeds we roast after the pumpkin carving is over is easily my favorite part of the event. So, I thought, as a bonus, I’d also share the recipe (modified from one passed on to my mom by her best friend from childhood, the late, great Sheila Williams.) Sheila was a delight, these seeds are an annual treat, and hopefully, sharing this recipe, in some small way, honors a wonderful human being who is at home with our Lord and experiencing so much joy that, if she read my earlier “Heaven” comment, I’m sure she’d tell me, “You have no idea!”

 

Best Pumpkin Seeds Ever!

Ingredients for every Cup of Unwashed Seeds

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon of melted butter

1 teaspoon of your favorite seasoning salt (Johnny’s, Lowry’s, etc.)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Mix the seeds (I cannot stress enough how vital it is to leave them unwashed) and the other ingredients (again, portioned according to the number of cups of seeds – I usually have at least four cups, which means four tablespoons of butter, four teaspoons of seasoning salt and two teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce) in a bowl.

Grease a baking sheet (I just use a little spray oil – doesn’t take much because of the butter) and dump the seed mixture into it. Spread the seeds out into a single layer (or, at least, relatively close.) Depending on how many cups of seeds you started with, you may need to use more than one baking sheet.

Bake to desired crispness (stirring occasionally and sprinkling a bit of extra seasoning salt if you like them super salty.) I like mine rather crispy so, two hours, is a bare minimum. Again, depending on how many seeds there are, it can be three or four.

Try not to eat them all in one sitting. I find it to be extremely difficult.

 

Happy Fall, everyone! Enjoy the crisp sunny weather and, especially, the food!

 

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A Cross In Your Car

by M. N. Kollar

 

Does having a cross in our car make you drive more Christian?

For me, it does and I’m about to tell you why.

First, let’s examine it from the vehicular perspective. When my husband drives my car, he always takes down the cross I have hanging from the rear-view mirror because it interferes his view of the road. He is a good bit taller than I am and it apparently hangs at just the right level to be a distraction for him. If you are going to have a cross in your car then it definitely needs to be somewhere that is not a distraction. Instead, it should be more of an interaction. I’ll explain…

There are times when I go over an extra bumpy patch in the road and the cross swings furiously. It can be a little much and it is at those times that I grab the cross to steady it. It took me a while to see the irony but, when I’m going over a very bumpy patch in life, I hang on to the cross of Christ and it steadies me. Now, the cross hanging from my rear-view has become a constant reminder that when I drive over those patches, it is extra important that I stay grounded and rooted in the Word so I can find calm and peace.

Let’s next take a look at the internal perspective. When you see the cross in your car it should be a reminder, but of what? Other than perhaps the aforementioned stabilization example, I think the answer to this question will be as varied and personal as everyone who ponders it. For some, it might just be a general reminder to drive like you would have others drive; let that person merge, leave that extra room… For some, it will be a constant prayer for intervention in a circumstance of pain in our lives. The silent sound that comes from us may be a song of praise for the favor we enjoy or a wail to Heaven for intercession. Either way, it takes that sound, that song, that wail away from the altar and into the world. That cross in your car can take your prayer show on the road.

Now, on to examining the external perspective. Do people have specific expectations about a person based around certain accouterments? Of course they do. Just think policeman, fireman, etc. You expect these people to be ready to assist when they are on duty and if you know someone is a public servant, even if they are off duty, then should a crisis arise, you would still look to them. This is the same thing with a Christian, except there is no off duty for us. It may not be a rushing river rescue but that kind word or that friendly smile may just be a life saver for someone.

Ever felt taken advantage of because of that cross hanging from the rear-view mirror? Yes. I have had that woman wave as she pulled out in front of me and I regrettably intoned “I wasn’t gonna let you in, lady.” For me, that kind of thinking usually just lasts a few seconds until I remember that she saw that cross and made certain assumptions about me. Those assumptions did not make me feel taken advantage of in the long run but instead, as my attitude transformed, made it clear to me that I was spreading the love and the Word. After all, despite my annoyance, I did wave back…with ALL of my fingers.

Give it a try. Put a cross in your car and see if you drive more Christian!

Please obey all traffic and safety rules but, on the off chance you are pulled over by one of the boys or girls in blue, then let me offer this scenario for your consideration:

“But officer, I keep my eye on Jesus and He keeps His eyes on the road. If I was going too fast then I guess you need to give the ticket to…yes…yes…I will take a breathalyzer…”

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Here We Go Again!

by Andrea Elston

 

Well, ready or not, the time has come for school…in some fashion…to begin. Whether you are setting your child up with a laptop at your kitchen table, or checking their temperature and making sure they have their lunch and their mask before sending them off to their socially-distanced classroom, school has started. I thought I’d share some of my favorite tricks of the trade and products that helped make my year a little smoother. These work in any learning situation…not just the traditional classroom.

Set a schedule and stick to it (as much as possible). Students of all ages depend of consistency. There is comfort in knowing what to expect…even if it’s just the fact that math comes first, or that the day will end with reading a chapter from Indian in the Cupboard . Of course, life happens, and kids learn they have to adjust…but in a world with so much uncertainty, a little stability goes a long way.

Set expectations at the beginning! Please do not take this to mean, go over the rules and then move on to the first lesson in your daunting curriculum syllabus! Take the time to teach the students (or your own child) what a successful year will look like in your “classroom.” I usually spent 2-3 days going over procedures before I ever even cracked a book with my students. This sounds like a ridiculous amount of time, but I found it was much easier to teach the kiddos how to avoid striking the match rather than try to put out the blazing fire 3 weeks into the year. I taught everything from when to sharpen a pencil to how a respectful conversation sounds with a fellow classmate or even an adult! (I am astounded at how some students speak to each other let alone adults!)

Finally, don’t get stuck on any one curriculum or program. If your school or learning environment allows for it, explore and supplement! There are SO many great resources out there! Also remember, teachers and parents ARE the curriculum. It is not the books.  My advice is don’t let the curriculum drive your teaching…let the curriculum support YOU in teaching. Students of all ages need to be nurtured and validated. Students are at school to grow not only academically, but socially and (depending on your institution) spiritually as well. It’s easy to skip over this in effort to “get through the book”. Your students will most likely not remember what grade they learned cursive, multiplication, or where to put a comma, but they will remember YOU. I never bought into the “Don’t smile until November” philosophy. I wanted my students to feel comfortable with me, trust me, and hopefully learn something from me! I was on their side from day one, and if I didn’t smile at them, how would they know that? Plus when you teach first grade, it is impossible to avoid smiling, or if I’m being honest…laughing out loud! Six year old students are just plain hilarious!

Having said that…here are a few of my favorite resources. Because the majority of my career was with the littles, the resources here are mainly for primary grades, but the sentiments above apply to any level.

Books:
National Geographic: You Read/I Read books
You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: MaryAnn Hoberman (also the author of A House is a House for Me…super fun creative writing activity)
Choral Reading-Dr. Seuss (or any rhyming book), Frog and Toad, Amelia Bedelia, George and Martha.

*I cannot stress enough the importance of reading WITH your child, not just to your child. And not even listening to your child read to you. Find books to read with them so they can match your pacing and inflection.

Teaching numbers/counting patterns:

Students learn those mundane counting patterns the best if they are set to a rhythm or a song.

And as far as those pesky addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts, sorry to say…flashcards are the best way to learn! I know it’s boring, but I found that repetition and memorization was the most sure-fire way to assure a strong foundation. Please don’t skip this step!!

Phonics/Reading Curriculum
The method I found to be the most effective was the Slingerland/Spalding program. If you don’t already use it, I would strongly suggest researching how you can implement it into your phonics program. I also really found value in the Reading A to Z-online-program (Or RAZ-Kids) as a supplemental resource!

Writing:  The Institute for Excellence in Writing is the best writing curriculum I worked with. This is a full-service curriculum…teaching kids to write starting at the Kindergarten level all the way through high school.

Websites I’ve used:
gonoodle.com (physical movement/coordination)
starfall.com (language arts)
ABCya.com (language arts)
IXL.com (math)
khan Academy for Kids (math)
junglememory.com (short-term, long-term, working memory support)

I sincerely hope these tips and resources are helpful, and many blessings as you educate the next generation in whatever capacity/role you find yourself in!

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The Three-Week Shine-A-Light Giveaway Extravaganza!

Who doesn’t love free stuff?

This couldn’t be any easier. Just go to our contact page and enter your e-mail address to sign up for our newsletter anytime between now and Labor Day and we will e-mail you after the promotional period ends to give you a unique, one-time code that will give you $10 off of any order on our site!

Even better, the first 125 people to sign up will also receive an author-signed and numbered, limited first edition hardcover copy of either The Four Corners, The Gift of Tyler, or The Gift of Rio, all of which are currently on their second edition and the first two of which currently have corresponding curriculum (and the latter will soon.) We will email the winners and ask them to put the three books in order of preference and then we will give them out on a first-come, first-serve basis while the supplies for each book last. And, the best part is, we’ll even cover the shipping on those 125 books!

Just visit our contact page, enter your e-mail address to join our newsletter subscribers list, click the submit button and you’re done. Easy peasy, lemon squeesy!

But wait…you guessed it, there’s even more!

We will also be giving away a GRAND PRIZE!

Everyone who enters will be put into a drawing for a Premium Single-Family Annual Membership (current price: $245) which gives the winner one free download of all digital content on our website along with a 15% discount on every other product in the store – all of which lasts for the duration of the one-year membership!

The giveaway ends September 7th so don’t delay…enter today!

 

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It Was Just a Little Thing

by M. N. Kollar

There are those little things that end up being big things. Your car gave you trouble starting and you missed the doomed flight. That’s big. That was God’s hand at work in your life and you know it. That was no whisper, that was a shout that shook you to your knees.

But then there are the little things that just end up being… little things. Maybe you are running late and getting flustered because you can’t find your phone and then it rings. It’s not even your boss, it’s a wrong number. Some people call these events ‘coincidences.’ We, as Christ followers, are admonished to not believe in ‘luck’ or in ‘coincidences,’ not while we are sitting in God’s hand.

Do we really need to search every little thing for traces of Jesus? How do we keep our eyes on Jesus and keep from losing our minds by overthinking everything? There is a balance to be struck, certainly. Maybe our brothers and sisters in cloistered communities are able to keep Jesus always in focus and see his influence in every area of their lives but it’s not so easy for the rest of us. Children, jobs, chores all take our time and our attention away, making it too hard to maintain our proper focus and too easy to speed past those little things without a thought.

If you are working to reframe your day, your life and your lens in order to achieve a consistently biblical worldview…but not quite there yet…the club welcomes you. Until we reach that level, it is in the quiet, contemplative moments that we can look back over our day and see His divine hand at work. Quiet moments.

With everything we know about self-care, most no longer see it as a luxury or as being selfish. Instead, we’ve come to know it as a vital component to physical and mental health. Christians also know this is soul-care time; spiritual health is vital. We use quiet times for powerful prayer, a casual talk with our Creator or just listening for that still, small voice.

‘Reflective time’ might be a more accurate descriptor of what we need to actively carve out so we can look back at our day. This is not something you can put off until tomorrow as you have to reflect on today, today. The little things are already small in our big today, but tomorrow they will be like grasping after gossamer dreams. It may take some practice and discipline, but it goes a long way toward cultivating a grateful heart.

What do you find when you reflect on the little things of your day? If you are having a hard time finding Jesus and His handiwork in your day then what does that mean for you as a Christian? It may mean just a focus shift for some of us. There are many pieces of art that show a dejected person walking while his unseen angels battle demons just behind him. If we see the demons as anything from depression to traffic, then we can understand how powerful that imagery is. We whisper ‘Thank you, Jesus’ when we make it into the grocery line right before the person with the full cartload but forget what kind of hurry we would have been in if we were caught behind them. We forget the panicked drive to after school pick-up that never happened.

Seeking His hand at work throughout our day can reveal things about ourselves and about God that can really empower us and help us learn to trust Him. That searching eye needs training and looking for Him in those little things can help bring Him into focus in our every day.

 

Maxine Kollar is an author whose new book series “The Channel 24 Chronicles” is being published by Shine-A-Light Press. The first book, “Perched for Progress” is expected to be released in the Fall of 2020.

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The Inspiration Behind “The Four Corners” Trilogy

by C.S. Elston

Admittedly, I’ve told this story before. But it answers a question I get asked a lot and, with the recent release of “The Four Corners of Darkness,” I thought it would be appropriate to, once again, share the inspiration behind the series.

I was driving down the 101 freeway just north of Los Angeles, California, somewhere between Studio City and Sherman Oaks about fifteen or sixteen years ago. Looking out the side window of my Jeep Wrangler as I passed by a sea of houses and apartment complexes, I don’t know why I was thinking about this but, all of the unhappy home environments that exist all around us entered my mind. I thought about the fact that a lot of people who feel unloved, really are in fact loved. They are just in an environment where the people who love them either don’t know how to say it or show it, or they’re too wrapped up in their own problems to recognize the ones they’re causing in the lives of the people they love by simply not expressing the love they really do have deep down. Sometimes, we just overcrowd that love with so much self-created, negative clutter, that no one can see it because it’s like a wonderful gift hidden in the back of the closet where no one will ever have the opportunity to enjoy it.

That got me thinking about how quickly someone’s attitude could change if they were faced with losing the person or people they love. Somehow, that translated into this fantasy world called Kadosh, which is a Hebrew word that means “set apart for a Holy purpose.” In the books, people are being yanked out of the real world and separated onto islands, presumably, for eternity. So, while God intends for these people to love one another, the fact that they are not doing that in the real world gives the demon ruler of this fantasy world the ability to pull them into his realm where he can keep them apart from one another.

Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. And, in an extreme situation like that, the aforementioned gift is going to find itself through the clutter in a hurry. Then what do you do? When love and regret overwhelm you like that, you can’t keep it inside. You must let the people you have those feelings for know about it. In the case of the Snyder family in “The Four Corners,” that means an incredible journey lies ahead. Ultimately, the risk is worth the potential reward.

The sequel, “The Four Corners of Darkness” is inspired, at least in part, by a one-act play I acted in while attending college at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. I think it was called “Doors” but, I can’t remember for sure and, I have no idea who wrote it. But the play was about a bunch of people who seemed permanently trapped in a house. The doors were locked and couldn’t be opened, and the windows had bars on them. It was an allegory about sin and salvation. Ultimately, someone from the outside, who had been there before and been shown the way out, had to go back inside and pay it forward. In the same way, while the Snyders and a bunch of others find their way back home at the end of the first book, their youngest child, Kinsey, recognized the responsibility that came with that accomplishment. He knew they would have to go back and show those who didn’t take the journey with them the first time, that there is, indeed, a way to get out and go back home. Now that the second book is out, I guess I’d better get to work wrapping this story up with the final installment of “The Four Corners” trilogy. . .