How We Prepare For Easter With Faith, Food, And Fun

How We Prepare For Easter With Faith, Food, And Fun

by Kimberly Amici

When most people think about Easter, they think of fancy dresses, bunnies, and chocolate eggs. As Christians, we know it’s a celebration of so much more - the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, one of the cornerstones of our faith. Holy Week is a time to prepare our hearts to rejoice in this epic story of triumph. Here are just a handful of ways we prepare for Easter in our family.

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Cover to Cover II

Cover to Cover II

by Maude Carolan Pych

  Among my most meaningful things to do

     while reading the Holy Scriptures through

     is write Messiah's Name in the margin

     of the Old Testament, where'er I find Him.

     Of course, I do not find Jesus' Name,

     but I certainly find Him, just the same.

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In Your Words - What is the best gift you have ever given?

In Your Words - What is the best gift you have ever given?

Our vision is to inspire, empower, educate one another through ongoing community exchange. One of the ways we’re doing this is through our Friday Community column, in a monthly series called In Your Words. We reach out to our contributors and guest writers to ask them a question once a month.

Read what our contributors have to say and share your answer in the comments below. What is the best gift you have ever given?

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Holiday Gift Guide 2014

Holiday Gift Guide 2014

Elise and I had a wonderful time this year at the bloggers conference Allume. Not only did we hear a handful several of amazing speakers that offered both practical and spiritual wisdom, but we were introduced to a ton of great products that cwould make delightful gifts this holiday season. 

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Change – The One Word for the New Year I’m Resisting

Change – The One Word for the New Year I’m Resisting

by Elise Daly Parker

I came across the One Word for the New Year concept last year. For me, this has been a powerful concept. I pray over the course of a couple of weeks, asking God to give me His one word for me for the New Year. I figure He knows me, He knows what’s coming, He’s my guide. 

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Crocs and Gators

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A Reflection on Racial Diversity in our Churches

With your blood you [Jesus] purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. Revelation 5:9

There’s only one place in the world where alligators and crocodiles co-exist, and that’s in the Everglades. The park’s fresh waters, in which gators dwell, mingle with Florida Bay’s salt water, which crocs need, providing the perfect environment for both of these reptiles.

My husband Joe and I saw plenty of alligators when we visited the Everglades—not surprising, since there are over a million of them in Florida alone—and we were fortunate to spot a crocodile in the Flamingo area (they’re an endangered species, with only an estimated 500 in existence in the U.S.). We were able to tell the difference between them, even from a safe distance (highly recommended), thanks to a tutorial in a park visitor center. We learned crocodiles are olive-colored, with pointier snouts, and their lower teeth are visible when their mouths are shut (the preferred way to observe them, in my opinion). 

You might say Joe and I live in a croc and gator world. We look quite different from the majority of residents around us—we’re Caucasian, and most of our neighbors are African-American. Our church is similarly mixed. Living and worshiping in integrated settings has been one of the richest experiences of our lives.  

I also realize it’s not the norm, especially when it comes to church. It was Episcopal Bishop James A. Pike who first said, “The 11 o’clock hour on Sunday is the most segregated hour in American life” (quoted in the May 16, 1960 issue of US News & World Report), a phrase echoed later that decade by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mark Chaves, professor of sociology, religion, and divinity at Duke University, mentions that same axiom in his conclusions from the National Congregations Study

Congregations have become more ethnically and racially diverse even since 1998, [when] 20 percent of attendees were in congregations that were completely white and non-Hispanic; in 2006-07, 14 percent were.

Let me be clear about what this means. We do not see significant increases since 1998 in the proportion of predominantly Latino or Asian or African American congregations in the United States. Nor do we see any significant increase in what we might call deeply diverse congregations…What we do see is a significant increase in the presence of some minorities in predominantly white congregations. Fewer congregations, in other words, are 100 percent white and non-Hispanic.

I do not want to overstate the significance of this trend. It definitely is too soon to discard the old saw that 11 a.m. Sunday is the most segregated hour of the week. The vast majority of American congregations remain overwhelmingly white or black or Hispanic or Asian or whatever...Somewhat like black-white intermarriage, which is increasing even though it remains rare, increasing minority presence in predominantly white congregations represents some progress, however small, in a society in which ethnicity and, especially, race, still divide us.

Race still divides us in America, even with our election of a black president? You bet. Joe and I have seen it first hand, and perhaps you have too. But is it really an important issue within the church?

I believe it is. If you want to know why, I recommend three books: Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith; United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation As an Answer to the Problem of Race, by Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim; and One Body, One Spirit: Principles of Successful Multiracial Churches by George Yancey. 

Here’s a thought: Wouldn’t it be a powerful testimony to the Gospel to be able to say that another place crocs and gators gather is in church at 11 o’clock Sunday morning? 

As we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., today, and our first African American President is sworn in for his second term, what are your thoughts? Are we making progress toward integration through our churches…throughout our nation?


Penny Musco is a freelance writer with a terrific family—husband, daughter, mom, two brothers, and an assortment of in-laws, nieces and nephews. Her first passion is living for God as His child, redeemed from my “empty way of life…with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19). A second is being with her family. Creating stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, is a third. And then there’s travel, especially to places where she can get up close and personal with the natural world. Trekking through the national parks is the best way she's found to combine all four. 

Penny blogs at Life Lessons From the National Parks. She can also be found at and

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

 photo credit: BjørnS via photopincc

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7 Ways to Celebrate Your New Year

by Elise Daly Parker

There seems to be as many ideas for celebrating as there are people who celebrate. Choosing how you’ll mark the New Year may be as hard as keeping resolutions. So here are a few ideas that work for me, along with some creative ideas from others I’ve come across recently.

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Is One Word In The New Year More Powerful Than a List of 10 Resolutions

Is One Word In The New Year More Powerful Than a List of 10 Resolutions

by Elise Daly Parker

One study reports 40 – 45 % of the about 100 million Americans who make resolutions fail to keep their resolutions within six months. But there’s a new trend that’s gaining momentum. I call it One Word for the New Year (OWNY). I came upon this idea last year and heartily embraced it. Instead of a lofty laundry list of what I hope to accomplish, change, improve within the next year, I prayed and thought about One Word that could guide me.


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Emmanuel, God With US

by Micalagh Moritz

Today was one of those days in which the sad moments seemed to overwhelm the happy ones. These days it can feel like a little too much to carry. I want to change the situations of the kids’ lives, but sometimes all I can do is be present and loving, use my skills and gifts to provide a healing space, and pray. 

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Blessed or Stressed?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or so the song says, the happiest season of all. Norman Rockwell images dance in our heads, or across the TV anyway. And a ball in the pit of our stomach starts to grow like a snowball careening down a mountain.

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The birth of our Savior occurred in the humblest surroundings, but you’d never know it by the way our society honors the event. Fantastical Christmas decorations adorn the stores for a few weeks already, and it’s not Thanksgiving yet. The pressure mounts to buy gifts, decorate homes, entertain, send cards, bake and cook, on and on it goes.

Stress comes both from “outside in” and well as “inside out.” Family issues, work demands, depression, distractions, and overall busy-ness create anxiety that leaves us feeling stressed rather than blessed. We can control some of the “outside in” stressors, but not all. There are things that are simply out of our control. But we can control ALL of the “inside out” stress. We alone can determine our RE-actions to the demands of our day.

There are countless articles, books, posts to help us “survive the holidays.” But why just  “survive” when we can thrive and enjoy the glory of the greatest gift ever given. It boils down to the choices we make. Big choices, and little moment-by-moment choices.

But how? Here’s my Top Ten list of stress-busting choices:

 1.      Get into the Word. Read the Christmas story as if you never heard it before. Look for character qualities in the people you read about. Seek promises that are nestled in the familiar words. Look for something new. I found Luke 1:45 that way, and it grew my faith. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished! said Elizabeth to Mary, a beautiful verse nestled between Elizabeth’s baby leaping and Mary’s song.

 2.      Replace anxious thoughts with thanksgiving. Worry is meditation about the wrong things. A friend once told me, “A grateful heart is rarely discontent.” Phil. 4:6-9 teaches us how to hold our thoughts captive. When we replace anxiety with thanksgiving, the peace of God (v.7) and the God of peace (v. 9) will be bookends surrounding our thought life.

 3.      Give yourself permission to change the definition of “perfect.” Your Christmas table will look just as lovely with pretty paper plates as with china. Gifts inside dollar store gift bags are just as appreciated as those that are hand-wrapped. When time doesn’t allow for home-made, store bought goodies are appreciated.

 4.      Seek alternatives. Our family has observed the Advent Conspiracy model of gift-giving. AC has 4 themes. Worship Fully. Spend Less. Give More. Love All. Our gift giving is more about relationship-building and helping others than about adding more items to our overstuffed closets. We “shop” for gifts in catalogs by World Vision (or IJM).

 5.      Stop – Look – Listen. Take a breather. Pretend for a moment you’re in the peaceful eye of a hurricane. The activity swirls around you, but you can sense the calming presence of God enveloping you. Catch the words of those God-honoring Christmas carols wafting through the store’s Muzak, and offer up a “popcorn prayer” of thanksgiving. “God and sinner reconciled.” “Come and behold Him.” “All is calm, all is bright.”

 6.      Resist the attraction to distraction. I confess to having the attention span of a gnat. I’m like a tumbleweed, drifting from room to room, activity to activity. To focus, I need to create a plan and carry a to-do list on a pad or in my phone. Accomplishing the major tasks provides me freedom to enjoy some unexpected delights.

 7.      Lighten up. Some of you are more task-oriented, it comes so naturally that you need to loosen up sometimes or you become like a gear wound too tight. Being so focused on tasks, it’s easy to miss the sweet joys that are all around. Like Martha who Jesus said was “distracted” by her many tasks, you need to release the need to “do” and embrace the opportunity to just “be,” to sit in His presence.

 8.      Set priorities. In addition to God’s Word, I live by 2 quotes. “There are enough hours in the day to do what God wants you to do. And no more.” ~AW Tozer  AND  “Good is the enemy of best.” ~Oswald Chambers

If I’m too busy, the question that begs to be answered is, “What am I doing that God doesn’t want me to do?” Many of these things are good things, but they aren’t the best things for me, at least for right now. Applying these two quotes enable me to prioritize and just say “no” without guilt. Michael Hyatt, shared a principle of how to schedule time to put First Things First.

 9.      Make the choice to forgive. If you’re alive and breathing, chances are at some point in your life, you’ve been hurt. Holding onto resentment and bitterness is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die. Making the choice to forgive frees you from that poison. The offender may not deserve to be forgiven, but doing it anyway is not for them. It’s for you. At this time of year, there’s a greater chance of encountering the offenders, whether in family gatherings or office parties or other activities. Forgiving cuts the tether that holds you to that person who hurt you. And most importantly, forgiving is an opportunity to develop Christ-likeness as one of His final statements was asking the Father to forgive those who hurt Him.

10.  Memorize the Word. This list begins and ends with the Word of God. It’s our sustenance, our food, our lifeline. And when we aren’t in arm’s length of our Bible, God can bring relevant Scriptures to mind like withdrawing a deposit we made at the bank. When tempted to get angry, upset, depressed, frustrated, go to the Word.  Write appropriate verses out on index cards and keep them by your kitchen sink, in the car, in your purse, etc.  Try to commit them to memory. 

1 Cor. 10:13 “You will not be tempted beyond what you are able to bear, but with the temptation, God will provide a way of escape.”

 James 1:2-4  “Consider it joy when you suffer trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” Phillips: “Welcome your trials as friends”

 Philippians 4:13     “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

 And, though not Scripture, a worthy saying:

 Serenity Prayer:      God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

                              To change the things I can,

                              And the wisdom to know the difference. 

All in all, throughout the season, make the choice to follow my dear friend’s advice:

“Keep the main thing, the main thing.”

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Susan Panzica is a Jewish Jersey girl who loves Jesus, her family, the ocean, and mangos. Her passion is to bring an eternal perspective to earthly matters through writing, speaking, teaching, and coffee dates. A quasi-emptynester who works with her chiropractor husband, she thoroughly enjoys when her college age children are home, with or without all their friends. Susan is a speaker, women and children’s Bible teacher, and writer of the devotional blog Eternity Café. You can also check out Susan at

photo credit: murilocardoso via photopincc

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Finding Calm in the Christmas Chaos and a Giveaway

Finding Calm in the Christmas Chaos and a Giveaway

by Karen Ehman

It happens this time of year. You are in the department store on a mid-November day picking up a few items. In front of you is a very put-together gal with a long list. She is checking off items as the cashier rings up her purchase.

She then assumes a proud stance and announces to all within earshot, “There! That’s it! My Christmas shopping is officially all done!” Meanwhile, you haven’t bought a single stocking stuffer yet. [Continue Reading...]

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Strangers and Aliens

Strangers and Aliens

by Penny Musco

Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt. Exodus 23:9

My husband recently sent me a press release from his college, announcing that New Jersey City University (NJCU) is now the official educational partner of the National Park Service at the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island

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