Thank you and Merry Christmas!

Through worship, prayer, civil conversation and service, ECWA members work hard to transform the community they live in to a God loving community.

First and foremost, we express our heartfelt appreciation to all readers of ECWA USA Communicator and ECWA USA Blog. It was with the mere co-operation, enthusiasm, and spirit of people like you we could make ECWA USA Communicator and ECWA USA Blog a grand success. It’s been a wonderful year for us here at ECWA USA. We have so many things to be Thankful to the Lord for. We personally thank you our readers for your support. Your great work for the Lord will be rewarded in Heaven.

ECWA USA is committed to publishing outstanding scholarly and religious manuscripts in all areas of Christian Life. This is just a quick reminder that as the year end, we can always use a little contribution from you to support our mission……proclaiming the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. No amount is too small or too big. Please navigate to our website and click on the Donate button on the upper right of your device. Mobile users may need to touch their Menu (three lines on the upper right of their device) to see the Donate button.

We at ECWA USA thank you from the bottom of our heart for your support. Have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!



Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

by Joshua and Joanna Bogunjoko | What a privilege it is to serve together with you in God’s mission through SIM. Thank you for your sacrificial gifts and support for us as a family and for SIM ministries around the world.

This year, untold numbers of new believers will spend their first Christmas worshiping Jesus. Not one of them had a star or an angel to summon them to Christ. They had a missionary, a local Christian worker, a friend, a family member or a neighbor. You all have been part of the team that has supported us to make Christ known where He is least known. As a result of your participation in the gospel through your partnership with SIM, there are many who this year have come to faith in Jesus and will join in celebrating the greatest gift on earth for the first time.

What a privilege it is to serve together with you in God’s mission through SIM. Thank you for your sacrificial gifts and support for us as a family and for SIM ministries around the world.  We praise God for you and your role in making disciples for Christ in communities where he is least known.
May your hearts be lifted in praise this Christmas for the wonderful gift of Jesus and the joy He brings to our lives, for He is Emmanuel, God with us.

Thank God with us that Joel’s semester ended well and he did amazingly well academically. Praise God for answered prayers for him and give thanks that Jochebed could be home for Christmas. We are glad that we could all be together for Christmas. Thank you for your love and prayers.

 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

May you experience the fullness of all the joy that Christ brought to our world this season. And, wishing you a Happy New Year!

Joshua and Joanna Bogunjoko

Joshua & Joanna Bogunjoko

Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko has been the SIM’s International Director since June 1, 2013. Joshua and his wife, Joanna, began their mission careers as members of the Evangelical Missionary Society (EMS), the mission arm of the ECWA church, which today sends more than 2400 Nigerians cross-culturally. They were commissioned by the national ECWA church in 1993 and their home church in Lagos in 1995, where they were sent out as seconded associates of SIM. They have served at three mission hospitals in West Africa and became full members of SIM in 2001. Joshua served on the SIM International Leadership Team since 2006, dealing with global issues related to mission.



The 30 Best Family Christmas Movies of All Time

by Keith Phipps | The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s time to put away our differences in the interest of peace on earth, goodwill toward others, etc., etc., and kick back with a great Christmas movie, a filmmaking tradition that dates back to the 1898 film Santa Claus. In that one, Santa slides down a chimney, stuffs some stockings, and promptly disappears into the ether; the whole film runs just over one minute long.

No one would argue that that early effort was anything but a Christmas movie, but these days, the question comes up frequently: What exactly is a Christmas movie? Is merely being set at Christmas enough? Or is there some elusive other element that makes a Christmas movie a Christmas movie?

Also, the movies on this list have to be good. There’s a cynical reason to make a Christmas movie: The demand is high, even for the bad ones, every holiday season, when cable plays them ad nauseam to satisfy Christmas-crazed subscribers. So, sorry, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — just because you’re unavoidable doesn’t earn you a spot on the list.

Another qualifier: We stuck with films that received a theatrical release, mostly features but with a few shorts thrown in as well. That means Hallmark Channel Christmas movies about young people who don’t like each other but then end up liking each other a lot weren’t considered; nor was Netflix’s movie featuring Kurt Russell as a hot Santa. (Apologies, hot Santa.) Not every title will be for everyone, but there should be something for each family here. In the spirit of the season, we erred on the side of generosity.

30. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a remarkable retelling of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s short story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and Marius Petipa’s The Nutcracker, about a young girl who is gifted a locked egg from her deceased mother and sets out in a magical land to retrieve the key. After restoring peace and tranquility in the Realms, Clara promises to visit the Realms in the future and returns back to London, where time has hardly passed since she left. After she arrived, Clara took her father’s hand and opens her music box and the two of them danced the night away. Clara’s father becomes emotional and reveals that the music box’s song was the first song that he and Clara’s mother had ever danced to.

Disney’s take on the holiday classic is the story we all know; Alice in Wonderland mixed with some pieces of Tchaikovsky’s music and some ballet, courtesy of Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin. The film has grossed over $150 million worldwide as of today against a production budget of around $120 million, and received generally unfavorable reviews from critics, who called the film “soulless” and “incoherent“, criticizing the slow pace and lack of dance numbers, although the visual effects is appealing.

29. Home Alone (1990)

Nostalgia and holidays both have a way of warping emotions. Combined, they’re hard to resist, especially when it comes to movies that won us over when we were younger. That’s why it’s impossible not to include Home Alone — the John Hughes–scripted, Chris Columbus–directed hit in which Macaulay Culkin finds himself unexpectedly left behind when his family mistakenly flies to Paris without him. But it would be unfair to rank it any higher. Have you watched it? Lately? As a grown-up? Like, watched it all the way through from the shrill opening filled with obnoxious kids to the leadenly staged slapstick climax? It’s a much rougher ride than you might remember. Still, Culkin’s charming, and the sentimental ending works every time. Just ask George Costanza.

28. The Great Rupert (1950)

A true Christmas oddity, this is the only holiday movie featuring Jimmy Durante as a down-on-his-luck vaudevillian forced to part ways with his trained squirrel as Christmas approaches. That’s the heartbreaking premise of The Great Rupert, but it’s all a set-up to a happy ending in which Durante is reunited with his four-legged friend, the poor get rich, and the rich learn a lesson (a story element that pops up a lot in the flood of Christmas movies released in the years immediately following World War II). The plot lags at times, but Durante’s always fun, and so is Rupert, the delightful creation of producer George Pal, the stop-motion wizard behind Puppetoons.

27. The Insects’ Christmas (1913)

Before The Nightmare Before Christmas, before Rankin-Bass specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, before even The Great Rupert there was The Insects’ Christmas, from Russian animator Ladislas Starevich. Starevich made a series of films using dead insects as his stars. His Christmas movie expands the cast to include Father Christmas and an animated doll. But insects remain, as the title suggests, front and center in an inventive, enchanting, if a little unsettling, look at how a bunch of bugs (and one frog) celebrate Christmas that climaxes with Santa, a grasshopper, and assorted other bugs skating on a frozen lake. счастливого Рождества to all!

26. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

As Christmas approaches, all is not well for Henry Brougham (David Niven), a Protestant bishop trying to raise funds for the glorious new cathedral of his dreams — a project that’s led him to neglect his wife, Julia (Loretta Young), and daughter and cause him to lose sight of his roots as a minister to the needy. Enter Dudley (Cary Grant), an angel determined to set Henry on the right path. The only trouble: He finds himself increasingly wanting to spend time with Julia instead. The film’s a bit pokily directed at times, but Young and Grant’s chemistry smooths over some rough patches — particularly when Grant gets a wistful look in his eyes suggesting that he might call heaven his home but he knows he could find even greater happiness on earth with Young’s character by his side. (The Preacher’s Wife, the 1996 remake starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston, is also worth a look.)

25. Scrooged (1988)

What is Scrooged trying to say, anyway? You can watch the film over and over — easy to do if you have a cable subscription in December, when it plays all the time — and never quite figure it out. Is it a pitch-black comedy about the commercialization of Christmas? Is it a cynical send-up of our once-a-year celebration of kindness and selflessness? Is it a sincere depiction of a man being transformed by the holidays? It’s a tough film to pin down, probably because the darkly comic sensibilities of star Bill Murray and writers Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue often seem at odds with that of blockbuster director Richard Donner. But what makes this Reagan-era update on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol — in which Murray plays a cold-hearted TV network president visited by Christmas spirits — flawed also makes it fascinating, and Carol Kane is especially fun as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Worth noting: Dickens’s classic looms large over the Christmas-movie genre, making this just one of many A Christmas Carol adaptations to make the list. Others include …

24. Scrooge (1970)

For a more tuneful version of the Dickens tale, there’s this 1970 musical starring Albert Finney as the eponymous miser. Finney holds nothing back as Scrooge, truly living up to the moniker “the Meanest Man in the Whole Wide World” given to him in “Father Christmas,” one of many earworm-y songs written by Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory songwriter Leslie Bricusse. Highlights include Alec Guinness as a spooky Jacob Marley and a truly scary Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. It’s a big, occasionally tacky, but quite fun take on the familiar story.

23.. The Holiday (2006)

With her follow-up to Something’s Gotta Give, Nancy Myers seemingly set out to ask the question, If I cast four actors who really have no business appearing in a soft-edged romantic comedy in my next movie, could I make it work anyway? The answer: kind of? Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet play, respectively, a tightly wound editor of movie trailers and a British newspaper reporter who decide to swap houses shortly before Christmas. This leads Winslet’s character, now in L.A., to befriend an aging screenwriter played by Eli Wallach and (eventually) fall for a kindhearted composer played by Jack Black. Meanwhile, Diaz’s character, installed in Surrey, unwittingly hooks up with the brother of Winslet’s character, played by Jude Law. It’s a somewhat shapeless movie that goes on too long, but it also has an undeniable, nap-friendly, tryptophan-like charm as four beautiful people overcome the ridiculously small hurdles keeping them from getting together in two photogenic environments. (Also, Wallach’s a lot of fun.)

22. The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

Bob Hope didn’t so much play characters as variations on the Bob Hope persona, a wisecracking coward with a tendency to get in way over his head then make matters worse for himself. Hope’s not the most obvious fit for a Damon Runyon adaptation, much less a Christmas-themed Runyon adaptation with a deep sentimental streak, but their sensibilities end up meshing pretty well anyway in this 1951 comedy. Hope plays the eponymous character, a con artist who has to flee Florida for New York in order to pay off a debt to a gangster. The ensuing scam involves criminals dressed as Santa and a fake retirement home for “Old Dolls.” The inspired slapstick bits reportedly come from the brilliant animator-turned-director Frank Tashlin, but it’s Hope and co-star Marilyn Maxwell’s performance of the then-new “Silver Bells” that’s ensured the film its spot in the Christmas-movie canon.

21. Holiday Affair (1949)

Janet Leigh plays Connie, a war widow who unexpectedly becomes the center of a love triangle when her longtime suitor Carl (Wendell Corey) meets an unexpected rival in the form of Steve (Robert Mitchum), a veteran trying to figure out his place in the postwar world. Steve finds himself infatuated with Connie after they meet-cute in a department store — he’s a clerk, she’s a Christmastime undercover shopper — then starts a hard sell, asking him to dump Carl and take a chance on him. Mitchum’s tough-guy demeanor serves him well here, giving an odd energy to the love story. His character is sometimes written as too pushy, but the scene in which he declares his intentions over Christmas dinner, a moment where there’s no room for lies, is downright electric — and the final scene is a stunner.

20. Elf (2003)

Sometimes the right actor in the right role is pretty much all you need. This pleasant, goofy film stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human who’s grown up at the North Pole living under the mistaken impression that he’s an elf, despite developing into a lumbering adult with little skill for elfish endeavors such as toy-making. Eventually, he has to find his way in the human world when he travels to New York in search of his birth father (James Caan). As a cynical department-store employee, Zooey Deschanel provides a fun contrast to Ferrell’s wild-eyed enthusiasm. The film’s more winning the less it relies on wild antics, but Ferrell and others make sure it stays heartfelt throughout.

19. A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The first big-screen Muppet project after the 1990 death of Jim Henson, A Muppet Christmas Carol features some terrific Paul Williams songs, and smartly slots the always charming Muppets in the familiar Dickens roles. (Kermit and Piggy play the Cratchits, naturally, yet it’s details like the Swedish Chef as a party cook that make it a particular delight for longtime fans.) In the end, though, what makes the movies is Michael Caine’s performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. Caine plays it straight, as if he doesn’t even realize he’s surrounded by puppets, ensuring that the movie works as a moving Dickens adaptation first, and a Muppet movie second.

18. Arthur Christmas (2011)

Aardman Animations, the studio behind the Wallace and Gromit shorts and Chicken Run, brings its own particular whimsical sensibility to a holiday tale with this playful look inside the inner workings of the North Pole, where the latest in a long line of Santas (Jim Broadbent) seems reluctant to give up his post to one of his sons. Steven Claus (Hugh Laurie), who’s been running the operation for his dad with military precision, seems the obvious successor, but it’s the bumbling Arthur (James McAvoy) who best embodies the Christmas spirit, as evidenced by his mad rush to make sure the one kid who mistakenly got the wrong present doesn’t wake up disappointed on Christmas morning. The film mixes clever ideas — dig that high-tech North Pole! — with real warmth, making it feel like nothing less than the future of Christmas itself rests on Arthur’s shoulders.

17. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Neither Disney animation nor its biggest star, Mickey Mouse, were riding high in the early ’80s. Disney had suffered a string of disappointments and setbacks, and though he remained an inescapable icon, Mickey hadn’t been seen in movie theaters since the ’50s. But this adaptation of the Dickens story suggested there might be life in both yet. Running just 26 minutes — and originally serving as the opener for a rerelease of The RescuersMickey’s Christmas Carol offers a brisk, moving take on the familiar story. Scrooge McDuck (who else?) assumes the Scrooge role, but it’s Mickey and Minnie’s turns as the Cratchits that give the lovingly animated film its heart. After years of cutting corners and coasting on past triumphs, it provided an early sign that Disney was trying again — almost as if the studio has been visited by spirits reminding it what really mattered or something.

16. Remember the Night (1940)

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck famously co-starred in Billy Wilder’s 1944 noir Double Indemnity, but that’s just one of four films to pair them together. They first teamed up for this 1940 Christmas romance in which Fred MacMurray plays John Sargent, a hard-charging DA who, through a misunderstanding, comes to spend the days before Christmas with Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck), a small-time jewel thief he’s prosecuting. They start to fall in love during a road trip to Indiana, a sojourn that almost allows them to forget that John still has to try to send Lee to jail when they get back. Directed by Mitchell Leisen from a Preston Sturges script, Remember the Night begins as a broad, brisk comedy but shifts moods as John learns about Lee’s difficult past. In a classic holiday-spirit turn, he comes to realize the advantages his loving family have bestowed upon him once he sees how appreciative Lee is after sharing the first warm Christmas morning of her life with his family.

15. Reve De Noel (The Christmas Dream) (1900)

French cinematic pioneer Georges Méliès’s contribution to the Christmas-film canon offers little in the way of narrative, just an abundance of turn-of-the-century Christmas imagery as a pair of sleeping children imagine a winter wonderland filled with frolicking musicians, holiday revelers, and, of course, Père Noël himself. It’s a lovely, whimsical short film that captures the inventive director in a festive mood, and immortalizes on film ways of celebrating Christmas that otherwise might have faded from memory.

14. White Christmas (1954)

After leaving the Army after W.W.II, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) team up to become a top song-and-dance act. Davis plays matchmaker and introduces Wallace to a pair of beautiful sisters, Betty and Judy (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen), who also have a song-and-dance act. When Betty and Judy travel to a Vermont lodge to perform a Christmas show, Wallace and Davis follow, only to find their former commander, General Waverly, is the lodge owner. A series of romantic mix-ups ensue as the performers try to help the General.

A song of yearning for holiday togetherness the singer suspects he’ll never find again, Bing Crosby’s recording of the Irving Berlin song “White Christmas” became a runaway hit in 1942 as America adjusted to the loss and separation of World War II.

13. Holiday Inn (1942)

When singer Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) finds out that his fiancée is in love with smooth-talking dancer Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire), he skulks off to milk cows and lick his wounds on the farm he now owns. While his pride heals, a swell idea occurs to him: Why not turn the farm into an inn that’s only open on holidays, with live entertainment and a homemade breakfast in the morning? A girl (Marjorie Reynolds) looking for her big show business break helps Hardy bring his daydream to fruition. Not only is his Holiday Inn a success thanks to her singing and dancing, he’s falling in love to boot. But trouble’s right around the corner. Hanover’s girl has dropped him, it seems, and his search for a new dance partner has him once again courting Hardy’s girl.

Holiday Inn is the better film by a good measure, but watching it means grappling with an ugly blackface number mid-film. (To make matters worse, skipping the scene altogether would result in missing an important plot point.) White Christmas, on the other hand, features fewer songs and a sleepy, low-stakes plot as Crosby and Kaye romance (sort of) a sister act played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. Still, its aggressive, Technicolor pleasantness has its own charms.

12. 3 Godfathers (1948)

Not unlike Scissorhands, John Ford’s 3 Godfathers similarly uses echoes of the story of Christ to tremendous effect. A rare Christmas Western, the film stars John Wayne as one of a trio of bank robbers who agree to care for a newborn child while fleeing the law in Death Valley. Ford’s biblical echoes aren’t subtle, nor are they intended to be, but Wayne keeps the film, and its themes of redemption and rebirth, grounded with one of his most sensitive performances.

11. It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

A great Christmas movie that not enough people talk about, It Happened on Fifth Avenue opens with the homeless sage Aloysius T. McKeever (Victor More) moving, as he does every Christmas season, into the luxurious Manhattan home of vacationing tycoon Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles). From there the film keeps piling on the complications as it breaks down the divide between the haves and the have-nots. McKeever is soon joined by a displaced World War II vet (Don DeFore) and O’Connor’s daughter Mary (Ann Harding), who doesn’t let on that she’s loaded and knows the house even better than those squatting there. The house grows more crowded, new loves get kindled, old loves get renewed, and O’Connor is forced to do a Scrooge-like about-face when he gets reacquainted with those less fortunate than him. Directed by Roy Del Ruth, who took on the project after Frank Capra decided to make It’s a Wonderful Life instead, It Happened on Fifth Avenue earns its warmth honestly, tethering a tale of fresh starts and changed hearts to the real difficulties faced by those reaching for the American dream in a postwar era that was supposed to bring prosperity for all.

10. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

In a film as sexy as it is funny, Barbara Stanwyck plays Elizabeth Lane, a magazine columnist who risks being exposed as a phony if she can’t create the perfect Christmas at the Connecticut home she’s writing about as part of a PR stunt to reward recuperating GI Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan), who’s been dreaming of tasting her recipes while serving in World War II. The only problem: There is no Connecticut home, and she can’t cook. The farcical complications pile up from there, and Stanwyck deftly balances Elizabeth’s mounting sense of panic with wry humor as she reckons with her unexpected desire for Jones — a desire that has popped up just after she’s decided to give up on love in return for a marriage of convenience. Director Peter Godfrey keeps the action fast and light while trusting Stanwyck to excellently bring her character’s dilemma to life, even if it involves changing a diaper as if she’s never seen a baby before in her life.

9. Comfort and Joy (1984)

The end of the year can be a confusing time of reflection for those who feel they don’t have anything to celebrate. That feeling is captured beautifully in Scottish director Bill Forsyth’s tale of a Glasgow DJ (Bill Paterson), who finds himself unexpectedly alone when he’s dumped by his girlfriend shortly before Christmas. Adrift, he finds himself drawn into a turf war between two rival ice-cream vendors, a conflict that might offer him a chance to start over, or might drive him to the brink of madness. Paterson beautifully depicts a man who’s quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, experiencing a nervous breakdown as the world around him grows stranger and more absurd. That it all somehow builds toward a hilarious moment of reconciliation involving an unexpected new ice-cream product is just one of many little miracles in a Christmas movie that takes a roundabout way to celebrating the season’s possibilities of renewal and rebirth, but still gets there all the same.

8. Carol (2015)

Like Comfort and Joy, Todd Haynes’s Carol depicts the holidays as a time of possibility and peril as an intense, forbidden romance plays out against the backdrop of the 1952 Christmas season. The film stars Cate Blanchett as the eponymous unhappy housewife, a woman who unexpectedly falls for Therese (Rooney Mara), a store clerk. But their relationship seems doomed before it really begins once it threatens Carol’s ability to see her child, leaving her with an impossible choice. Inspired by Brief Encounter and adapted from a 1952 novel by Patricia Highsmith, otherwise best known for pitiless crime fiction like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Carol uses its holiday setting as more than a backdrop: Haynes bathes the films in Christmas lights, sure, but he also captures the spirit of a season through Carol and Therese’s relationship. The passing of one year gives way to a potential new beginning of the next — for those who can make it to the other side.

7. Bad Santa (2003)

A proudly mean-spirited black comedy seemingly at war with the Christmas spirit, Bad Santa somehow loops all the way back around to being a heartwarming Christmas movie about one man’s redemption. It’s a weird trick, pulled off in large part thanks to star Billy Bob Thornton’s performance as a hard-drinking con artist who uses his work as a mall Santa as a setup for grand larceny. Actually, “hard-drinking” doesn’t begin to describe Thornton’s Willie Soke, who spends much of the film in a near-stuporous state yet still manages to form an unlikely makeshift family with a misfit kid (Brett Kelly) and a bartender (Lauren Graham) with a thing for Santas. With able support from Bernie Mac and John Ritter, director Terry Zwigoff keeps the humor dark without losing sight of his characters’ humanity — however deep they might sink into a drunken haze.

6. A Christmas Story (1983)

Making his second appearance on this list with a much different Christmas movie, director Bob Clark’s venerable 1983 film adapts storyteller and radio personality Jean Shepherd’s tales of growing up in Hammond, Indiana, while cutting nostalgia and sentiment with just the right amounts of broad, occasionally dark, comedy. The episodic film follows Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) in the days before Christmas, when he wants nothing more than a Red Ryder air rifle — and seems destined not to get one. Narrated by Shepherd himself, it mixes big comic moments, like a kid getting his tongue stuck to a stop sign, with affection for family life and days gone by. Clark renders the memories of growing up in a particular time and place so well that Shepherd’s Hammond — its name changed to “Hohman” — becomes an idealized stand-in for any time and every place.

5. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

There are many great romantic movies set at Christmas, but somehow The Shop Around the Corner still stands above them all. Maybe it’s the irresistible premise: A pair of feuding co-workers don’t realize they’re falling in love with one another via anonymous letters. (If that sounds familiar, it’s because Nora Ephron drew on the same source material — the Miklós László play Parfumerie — for You’ve Got Mail.) Maybe it’s a cast headed by Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan and filled out with colorful character actors. Maybe it’s because few directors have balanced lightness and romance like Ernst Lubitsch. Whatever the case, it’s both a peerless romantic comedy and one of the great Christmas movies, weaving themes of forgiveness and second chances into a love story that reflects the season in which it takes place.

4. A Christmas Carol (a.k.a. Scrooge) (1951)

What makes an adaptation of A Christmas Carol great? Above all, it’s the actor playing Ebenezer Scrooge. There have been many memorable movie Scrooges (take a look at the multiple entries above), but few as memorable as Alastair Sim. He’s not just terrifyingly convincing as a pitiless miser in the film’s early scenes but also heartbreakingly affecting as a changed man in its closing moments. Not that Sim doesn’t get help from director Brian Desmond Hurst, who whisks the action along while surrounding his lead with lushly realized Victorian trappings and an able supporting cast. But the film rests on Sim’s shoulders, and it’s not hard to see why he’s yet to be supplanted as the definitive Scrooge.

3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Here’s a question: What was going on that led to so many great Christmas movies being released in 1947? That year saw the release of The Bishop’s Wife, It Happened on Fifth Avenue (see above), and offered most viewers their first chance to see the greatest Christmas movie of all time (see below). It also produced this lovely story of a girl (Natalie Wood) whose mother (Maureen O’Hara) unwittingly hires someone who may be the actual Kris Kringle as a department-store Santa at Macy’s. What follows is part fantasy, part romance (as O’Hara’s character starts to fall for a charming neighbor), part indictment of commercialism, part defense of letting children be children as long as they can, and part legal thriller (well, sort of). Mostly, the film, written and directed by George Seaton, is an irresistible bit of Christmas whimsy made unforgettable by Edmund Gwenn’s turn as the man who might be Santa.

2. Tangerine (2015)

It takes time for a film to emerge as a Christmas classic, and while this one may not end up being shown in constant rotation alongside A Christmas Story and Home Alone, let’s stake an early claim for Sean Baker’s Tangerine, a film that follows the Christmas spirit into some unexpected corners. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor co-star as, respectively, Sin-Dee and Alexandra, a pair of transgender sex workers living on the fringes of Los Angeles. Released from jail on Christmas Eve, Sin-Dee is driven to frustration when she learns that her pimp/lover Chester (James Ransone) is cheating on her as Alexandra prepares for a musical performance. Chaos mounts as day turns into night in the hours before Christmas.

Baker’s film, co-written by Chris Bergoch, alternates laughs and shocks, but it keeps circling back to how this particular Christmas has become a crossroads for its central characters, and how much they need each other if they’re going to make it through another year. It all ends with an image that, in its own way, is as warm and generous as Charlie Brown’s friends reviving a seemingly hopeless tree.

You might have noticed that this list — some notable exceptions aside — is dominated by stories of prosperous white families. Among its other virtues, Tangerine serves as a corrective to that tradition, serving as a reminder that Christmas isn’t limited to the land of picket fences and neatly trimmed trees. It’s a film as vital, alive, and in touch with the holiday as more traditional entries — an invitation to other filmmakers to redefine what a Christmas movie can be, and as much a story about the importance of human kindness as the one that tops the list.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

What else? Really, what other film could top a list of the greatest Christmas movies of all time? Frank Capra’s enduring classic stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, the unwitting savior of Bedford Falls, a man whose goodness and generosity has touched more people than he realizes. In fact, as one bleak Christmas looms, he doesn’t realize it at all and is ready to commit suicide — until an angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) arrives to show him the error of his ways.

Though it’s become synonymous with holiday cheer, Capra’s film works because of its willingness to go to some dark places, and because of Stewart’s ability to play a gregarious goof one moment and a man whose world comes crashing down the next. Curiously, the film didn’t go into wide release until after Christmas in January of 1947, which might have contributed to its underwhelming box-office performance. But it received a second life thanks to relentless airings on local television in the ’70s and ’80s, where its depiction of one man’s dark night of the soul (and a nightmarish vision of what unrestrained greed looks like without those interested in fairness and justice to stand in the way of the Mr. Potters of the world) connected with a new generation.

It’s not hard to see why. It’s grounded in details of the times that inspired it — the Depression, World War II — but its vision of holiday kindness, and of the sort of country most of us would want to live in and the values of kindness and generosity most of us share, remains timeless.



Strength for the New Year (Zachariah 4:6)

by Daniel Ade. Iselaiye, Chairman, Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA USA DCC)| Keeping in touch: (937) 562-1696 | May the Spirit of the LORD guide you.

May God in His mercy continue to bless you and keep you. You are of much value to the Almighty God and for this reason He gave us Jesus Christ. May what you make of your life be a precious gift to God. His Church will thrive through you. May the unique Gift of God be your strength, your power, comfort, and peace. May the Almighty God give you greater successes this coming year. Let’s remember this:

“This is the word of the LORD: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zachariah 4:6).

May the Spirit of the LORD guide you.
No mountain will be able to stand in your way, as it will be flattened.
You will give out your best to the LORD.
Your family will shout for joy because of the goodness of the LORD!
Our God will complete any good work that you have begun.
Do not despite small beginnings because our LORD, EL-SHADDAI will turn ordinary things in your life into extraordinary blessings!
The Seven lamps that represent the eyes of God will look back and forth across the earth for you to be blessed. In Jesus’ name!

 



Looking to Wrong Places for Peace and Happiness: Jesus is The Answer

by Rev. Dr. Daniel ade’ Iselaiye | Chairman, ECWA USA DCC | Jesus Christ assures the world of what he has for all human beings. He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (St. John 10:10). (image, YouTube).

From time immemorial, human beings have sought for ways to find happiness. Philosophers and religious leaders have talked much and written a lot about it.  Jesus came into the world with a mission, that is, to save life and he did it by presenting himself as the one and the only one who could give life in abundance to humanity.  It was critical for him to complete this mission because the more people turned away from God to look for happiness or satisfaction in wrong places the more they perish.  God wanted the world to know the realty of the need to save humanity.  The Scripture says in John in John 3:16, “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.  God gave His Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.” Some today try to go around this simple truth by looking into wrong places for a life of prosperity or happiness. It is sad to know that many church leaders have misled their congregations to believe that money or riches can give happiness or satisfaction.

Wise men and women know that the material things of this world cannot give happiness.  These things cannot guarantee our happiness or satisfaction.  We need a better approach that will show that we understand how real happiness relates to one’s life.  Whether you are a Christian or not, you will indeed believe that life is ontological, that is, it moves towards a particular end which Aristotle (384-322B.C) called “eudamonia, which simply means “happiness,” “satisfaction,” or prosperity.  That will possibly explain why so many modern church leaders erroneously lay undue emphasis on amassing fleeting wealth and riches as if these temporary materials can satisfy restless souls.  There will be no satisfaction until one’s soul finds God who makes man in His own image.  Aristotle believed that happiness is an activity of the soul and to have this life of happiness or satisfaction, one must live one’s life according to reason.  It is this reason that leads us to a life of virtue. What we have become will then determine what we do.  The argument here is not about whether a wise man like Aristotle was a Christian or not.  He certainly lived before Christ appeared in the world. However, he discovered reason as a means of living a life of happiness and Jesus came to show the world that he is the reason, the one and only one that can satisfy our restless souls. When one’s sinful nature is changed he or she begins to live according to the life of Christ.  If that spiritual transformation is real, one will not be looking for happiness or joy that does not come from Christ. The life of virtue does not take place in a vacuum.  The full realization of the good life is guided by reason that is rooted in Christ who is the embodiment of God’s wisdom. No wonder then the prophet calls Jesus the “Wonderful Counselor,” and “Prince of Peace!”

The understanding of what has been written so far is very important to our spirituality. It confirms our belief in the fact that Jesus is the reason for Christmas.  Why then will people look in wrong places for happiness or satisfaction? Look at the world of commerce that celebrates Christmas without Christ.  God is both a spiritual as well as an intellectual Being.  Thus, He wants human beings to reason with Him.  This is stated directly in Isaiah 1:18 where God says, “Come now, let us reason together, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  Everybody reasons but it is important to know that it is not everybody that reasons aright.  We are therefore invited to reason with God.  When that is done, we will see the futility of looking for happiness or satisfaction in wrong places. When we live fully according to reason, our spiritual life will be nourished.  Looking for happiness in wrong places will be unnecessary, because it is Jesus alone that can satisfy the needs of our souls.  He is the bread of life and the water of life. Know that Jesus wants Christians to rejoice not because of money or the materials of this world but because of their names that are written in the Book of Life (St. Luke 2:20).

The Testimony of King Solomon:  There are valuable things that money cannot buy, such as love, wisdom, and integrity.  Solomon chose wisdom which helped him later in his life to write his last book, Ecclesiastes.  He got all the money, including all the women, and the houses he desired.  He became the richest and wealthiest in the history of the world and it may seem to us that all his desires were fulfilled.  We may judge that he reached the peak but let’s look at his own assessment. Solomon knew that the search for heaven on earth based upon money and other material things is definitely an illusion.  He warns people of the insidious deception of riches.  Solomon reached the top by the grace of God but that top is indeed empty as it has failed to satisfy the continuous thirst and hunger of man’s restless soul. It has been the plan of Satan to make human beings run after vapor and things that do not last.  Humanity is hurt by this satanic deception. What can give peace to the soul has eluded many people in the world. There is a dial need to be led to a higher ground based on the truth behind the following assessment made by King Solomon:

I said to myself, “Let’s go for it-experiment with pleasure, have a good time!” But there was nothing to it, nothing but smoke.  What Do I think of fun-filled life?  Insane!  Insane!  My verdict on the pursuit of happiness?  Who needs it?  With help of a bottle of wine and all the wisdom I could muster, I tried my level best to penetrate the absurdity of life.  I wanted to get a handle on anything useful we mortals might do during the years we spend on this earth (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 MSG).

If nothing in the world cannot heal our sin-sick souls, then the world needs to look at the right person, Jesus the mighty healer. The angel who appeared at his birth knew what the gift of God means to the world.  So, he said, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (St. Luke 2:10-11).

There are many events in our lives that point to the evils of focusing on material things to give us peace and happiness. The love of money, as the Bible puts it, is the root of all evils.  Is very rare today in some churches for leaders to give this warning.  How we wish they could preach more about the beauty of the kingdom of God.  If people know about its power and beauty, it will not be difficult for them to find their ways to it and they will not need much of preaching, neither will they look to wrong places.  False preachers attempt to make their congregations happy through the use of gimmickry. Even though the gospel is not preached, people feel entertained momentarily.  Churches have been invaded by fake ministers through the use of spiritual and psychic sophistry.  They teach in such a way as to offer people false alternatives to the peace that Christ gives.  Beware of the use of modern pseudoscience and the so-called miracle workers who are now using electronic wizardry to deceive innocent people who still have some respect for ordained ministries.  Jesus calls all fake pastors and teachers thieves and robbers. They are used by Satan to steal and destroy souls.

It is a grievous mistake for young people to believe that such things as wine, dangerous drugs, alcohol and the likes can give them happiness.  This is a lie. The danger here is in the fact that when these things are taken in excess, it results into drunkenness which is a powerful spirit by itself.  The Bible makes an interesting comparison between the Holy Spirit and drunkenness. Just as God uses the Holy Spirit in human beings to do His will and conform to the life of a disciple, in the same way, drunkenness controls anyone who is drunk.   A drunkard loses his  or her power or will to control himself or herself because he/she has given his/her own reasoning faculties and all other abilities to alcoholism which does not give anything good to the body except to take away from it before destroying the body.  In order to keep ourselves under the right spirit, the Bible says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).  This is a very powerful analogy.  Don’t be deceived, there is no joy in drunkenness.  Jesus is willing to give us joy and peace.

Jesus Christ assures the world of what he has for all human beings. He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (St. John 10:10).  Let’s beware of the thieves among us.  This includes anyone who teaches and encourages others to look for alternatives to the abundant life that Jesus Christ offers the world.  Let us look only to Jesus and live.  Jesus explained the realty of his claim to Nicodemus.  When God’s people were dying in the wilderness as a result of their disobedience, God asked Moses to raise up a brazen serpent.  Anyone who simply looked up to see the serpent became whole or healed. Jesus came and was lifted up on the cross.  Anyone who looks to him will live (St. John 3:14-15).  Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” {St. John 14:27).

The following song written by William A. Ogden in 1887 is used as the conclusion for this discussion:

I’ve a message from the Lord, hallelujah!
This message unto you I’ll give,
‘Tis is recorded in His Word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

 

Refrain:
“Look and live,” my brother, live;
Look to Jesus now, and live;
‘Tis recorded in His Word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

 

I have a message full of love, hallelujah!
A message, O my friend, for you,
‘Tis a message from above, hallelujah!
Jesus said it, and I know ‘tis true.

 

Life is offered unto you, hallelujah!
Eternal life thy soul shall have,
If you’ll only look to him, hallelujah
Look to Jesus who alone can save.

 

I will tell you how I came, hallelujah!
To Jesus when he made me whole –
‘Twas believing on His name, hallelujah!
I trusted and he saved my soul

May the joy of the Lord be our strength. Amen!

 



Consider Your Ways in the New Year

by Don Whitney | Prayerfully ask yourself these 31 questions.

Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with Him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai. "Consider your ways!" (Haggai 1:5) he declared, urging them to reflect on some of the things happening to them and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them.

Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It's so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we're going and where we should be going.

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up and get our bearings. For starters, here are 31 questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God as you "Consider your ways." Think on the entire list at one sitting, or answer one question each day for a month.

  1. What's one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
  2. What's the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
  3. What's the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
  4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
  5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
  6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
  7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
  8. What's the most important way you will, by God's grace, try to make this year different from last year?
  9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
  10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in 10 years? In eternity?
  11. What's the most important decision you need to make this year?
  12. What area of your life most needs simplifying, and what's one way you could simplify in that area?
  13. What's the most important need you feel burdened to meet this year?
  14. What habit would you most like to establish this year?
  15. Who do you most want to encourage this year?
  16. What is your most important financial goal this year, and what is the most important step you can take toward achieving it?
  17. What's the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your work life this year?
  18. What's one new way you could be a blessing to your pastor (or to another who ministers to you) this year?
  19. What's one thing you could do this year to enrich the spiritual legacy you will leave to your children and grandchildren?
  20. What book, in addition to the Bible, do you most want to read this year?
  21. What one thing do you most regret about last year, and what will you do about it this year?
  22. What single blessing from God do you want to seek most earnestly this year?
  23. In what area of your life do you most need growth, and what will you do about it this year?
  24. What's the most important trip you want to take this year?
  25. What skill do you most want to learn or improve this year?
  26. To what need or ministry will you try to give an unprecedented amount this year?
  27. What's the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your commute this year?
  28. What one biblical doctrine do you most want to understand better this year, and what will you do about it?
  29. If those who know you best gave you one piece of advice, what would they say? Would they be right? What will you do about it?
  30. What's the most important new item you want to buy this year?
  31. In what area of your life do you most need change, and what will you do about it this year?

The value of many of these questions is not in their profundity, but in the simple fact that they bring an issue or commitment into focus. For example, just by articulating which person you most want to encourage this year, you will be more likely to remember to encourage that person than if you hadn't considered the question.

If you've found these questions helpful, you might want to put them someplace – in a day planner, PDA, calendar, bulletin board, etc. – where you can review them more frequently than once a year.

So let's evaluate our lives, make plans and goals, and live this new year with biblical diligence, remembering that, "The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage" (Proverbs 21:5). But in all things let's also remember our dependence on our King who said, "Apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Donald S. Whitney is associate professor of biblical spirituality and senior associate dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

 



A Decree for the New Year

As a single mom, "I've come to realize that it's not a sign of weakness for me to be lonely" (photo ECWA Archive)

Today is the 31st. The last day of the year, although it marks more than that for me. Today also closes out seven years of loneliness for me. On Jan. 1, I will begin my 8th year, and that's a long time. A very long time when you were made to love. When you were made for companionship.

A very long time when you're running yourself into the ground and losing your entire identity while you push yourself past every limit in effort to be both mom and dad, raising kids to feel as little as possible of the pains that come along with a single parent household. I'm tired. And I never get used to an empty bed. Never.

This year, year seven, has been monumental for me. To make a long story short(er), for the first time in this journey, I've come to realize that it's not a sign of weakness for me to be lonely. It's not a part of me that I have to allow to scar over, making me tough. I don't have to pretend … to the world or even myself, that I'm happy living life on a solo run. I've come to the end of a season in my life, and thankfully, the end of one season, means the beginning of another one.

As I'm looking with new eyes, I'm seeing that we are surrounded with people who are walking alone. I dare venture to say that 98% of said people don't prefer to be alone. I will only speak of myself here, but if the shoe fits, I'd encourage you to wear it as well. I've been inundated through the years with "let God be your husband" mentality. I've become ashamed for my own desires and somehow felt that to push for wholeness in this area was a direct reflection on my relationship with God not being where it should be.

Now I know that's not correct. Is God to be the center? Absolutely, but that's the case if you're married OR single. Spoiler alert: Our Father did not create us to walk alone. It was never His plan, He never intended it, even His disciples were sent out two by two. You're no holier by acting like you can win life all by yourself. He looked down at Adam and quickly admitted that it wasn't good for man to be alone. If God Himself admitted that, they why do we feel weak and powerless to do the same thing? It's time to get past that and I don't mean with Facebook rants about how sad we are. I mean in our prayers.

With this new revelation, I have personally decreed 2016 to be a year of new beginnings in our relationships, and not just for myself. I've decided to carry this for everyone in similar life situations who walk alone. It's time. I'm declaring this to be a year of prayer like never before. I'm going to move things in the heavens this year and I'm doing it for far more than myself. I'm doing it for you.

As I've come to this position, it's safe to say that I went through cycles of wanting to spit venom. I've hoped before and landed in a face plant every time. Many years ago I decided that it was better just to not try than to constantly be in heartbreak, so I simply isolated myself to keep the cycle from repeating. I convinced myself that I didn't need a mate. I was just fine. I was strong and I was bull headed. I could do just as much alone as I could together. Guess what? I was wrong.

As I keep feeling God pushing me in this direction, of course the thoughts come of all the times I've hoped in vain. How many times my heart got a fresh dose of sickness from hopes deferred. I keep pushing away the thoughts that try to convince me to NOT try again. Too many times I've thought the light was showing from the end of the tunnel, only for it to be a train that plowed over me.

Yet still … I hear the whispers … hope again. Just like Peter, he'd worked all night, was exhausted, every effort yielding nothing. Not even the smallest reward for his perseverance. Maybe there were even fishermen all around him, pulling in a good haul, but not him. He gets nothing. The sun comes up and he's done. He prepares to go home empty handed, again.

He pulls his boat up to shore and starts washing his nets when a man named Jesus asked Him to take Him out into the water so he could speak to the crowds better. Peter is tired, but he does. We don't know how long Jesus talked. Jesus MAY have been very long winded, we don't know … we just know Peter was tired, and empty handed. Peter had given up.

Just when it looked like Jesus was done and Peter could go back to shore, Jesus tells him to go out into the deep and let down his net. It's at this point that Amy (err, I mean Peter) says, "but Lord! I've done it all night. I'm tired. I've dropped these heavy nets and worked so hard to pull in what I needed to live and got NOTHING, even when everyone around me was successful. I've done this before, same exact spot … but .. sigh, just because you said so … I'm going to do it again." Simply at your word.

And we know the rest of the story. Peter pulled in more than he could even manage from likely the same spot where he'd come up hopeless just hours before. He put the needs of Jesus before his own by taking Jesus out on the boat when he was tired, discouraged and hopeless. Because of that, Jesus turned things and gave him the desire of his heart.

So many of us have invested years into serving God with broken hearts. We've "carried" the presence of God to a broken world, even when our own heart was empty. No more. This is the year of new beginnings and I'm encouraging you to go ahead and take a look around. Look around at all the times you've stepped through the same scenario and ended up with a dirty nose. Then, because He's saying so … try again. Same thing, same place. Try again.

(I just read a book that flipped my emotional tables on every level. As you decide if you will take the chances and drop your nets yet again, I'd strongly persuade you to read what I just finished. Keep Your Love On, by Danny Silk. And just buy the thing … you'll want to highlight every page)

You. Have permission to hope.

Amy Howard Davis has been a single mom for the last seven years and lives in Kansas City with her two sons, ages 8 and 9. Follow Amy on Facebook.

 



A Year Without Resolutions

The shift from “achieving” to simply “being.” Nicole T. Walters, guest writer (Haven Sweet / Monastery of the Holy Spirit)

This year I am not making New Year’s resolutions. I am not jotting down goals and dreams, in hopes of becoming a different version of myself. Instead, I am exploring something new this year—or rather, something very old.

It all began when I visited a local monastery for some quiet reflection. Being a busy working mom, I was feeling out of touch with time for my own spiritual development. Driven by to-do lists, I felt the need to set some spiritual goals instead of just practical ones. The Monastery of the Holy Spirit, sitting on 7,000 acres of untouched Georgia woodlands, became the perfect retreat for New Year’s Day reflections a few years ago.

I was taken by the beauty of the place and intrigued by the life of the forty monks in community there. I attended a retreat at the monastery later in the year, praying and learning alongside the monks. The common prayer and meditative readings were unknown to me as an evangelical, but still sparked a deeper contemplation around God and his gospel truths.

The following year, I returned to the abbey church, listening to monks singing midday prayers while asking God to guide my year ahead. I have always loved how New Year’s puts us in a mindset of reflection and reordering. It’s especially needed as another year comes to an end, and we’re left feeling more defeated than inspired.

As I saw at the monk’s quiet, simple lives in comparison to my hectic, rushed one, I began reading about the teachings that guided their community. I discovered not only a new way of praying, but a new way of living. And I wasn’t alone—plenty in evangelical circles have searched the wisdom of the ancient monasticism.

In her book Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey guides readers to the practice of praying the hours with her own journey of evolving faith. Blogger Micha Boyett deemed herself “The Mama Monk” as she explored Benedictine spirituality. Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro offer inspiration in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

Ancient texts set forth basic guidelines for the monastic movement, beginning in third-century Egypt. The Rule of Life prescribes times for common prayer, meditative reading, manual work, and details such as clothing, food and drink for monks living in community. The best known Rule of Life comes from St. Benedict of Nursia, with the simple motto, Ora et Labora (Pray and Work).

With the rise of the movement of New Monasticism, evangelical Christians have drawn from and expanded upon traditional monastic values to apply to daily life outside of the monastery. St. Benedict himself summarized the rule as “simply a handbook to make the very radical demands of the gospel a practical reality in daily life.”

Inspired by these teachings, spiritual director Jenn Giles Kemper created Sacred Ordinary Days, with resources like a liturgical planner and a podcast to guide people through the liturgical year, which begins a bit before the calendar year with the start of Advent. This practice of prayer, reading, and contemplation isn’t the same as a Christianized, or monasticized, version of New Year’s resolutions.

“Goals and intentions are task-based and work best within a quantifiable measure of success and an easily marked ending point,” Giles Kemper explained to me. “Something more process-oriented is helpful when you’d like to reorient toward ‘being’ over ‘achieving.’”

Giles Kemper uses the language of “play” as she talks about trying certain spiritual practices (“playing with silence”), which makes it seem more inviting—and less like there is a right and a wrong way to approach spiritual disciplines. She finds flexibility in her experience with the Rule of Life, a grace and freedom to shift, grow, and practice, in a constant posture of a learner.

This language marks the shift for me from a goal-based approach to a becoming-mindset. When we approach New Year’s Resolutions and goals, we usually set forth to do something or accomplish something. I might want to lose 10 pounds, but feel defeated when I don’t. If I, instead, focus on adopting healthier habits, I’m able celebrate my progress without condemning myself should I come up short.

The Rule of Life aims to create a framework for being and becoming, rather than checking something off a list. Practical and spiritual goals fit into this framework as prayer and Bible reading can get sidelined into another item on the to-do list.

Henri Nouwen said:

A rule offers creative boundaries within which God’s loving presence can be recognized and celebrated. It does not prescribe but invite, it does not force but guide, it does not threaten but warn, it does not instill fear but points to love. In this it is a call to freedom, freedom to love.

As I head into another busy year, it is this freedom I long for, a way to fit time for my spirit into all of the practical demands on my life. So this year, as the New Year approaches, I will sit beneath the expansive arches of the abbey church and reflect on the year ahead. I won’t walk away with a set of goals that are measurable, and so often unattained. Instead, I will envision what I want to create space for in my spiritual journey in 2016. I hope that in another year I will find I have become more of the person God created me to be.

Nicole T. Walters is a writer from metro Atlanta who has written for Relevant.com, SheLoves Magazine and is a member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild. Nicole blogs about faith and being on mission wherever God has placed you at nicoletwalters.com.