Do You KNOW?

Pastors will often ask the question “Do you know that you know that you are saved and that you will go to heaven when you die?”  I struggled with that question for many years.  “Am I really sure?” “Did I say all the right things when I prayed the sinner’s prayer?” “Did I leave anything out?”  I would sit in church services at invitation time and literally have a battle going on inside of me.

unashamedRecently, when our church had “Unashamed Sunday,” where people are invited to ask Jesus to be their savior and to be baptized that morning, I was reminded of those years of wondering and worrying and I rejoiced in the fact that I no longer toil over those questions. I DO know. YES! I have assurance of my salvation and I will go to heaven when I die. I no longer deal with those doubts.

I walked the church aisle when I was 13 years and I gave my heart to Jesus. I was baptized. I loved God’s word. I loved Bible study. I prayed. I wanted my life to reflect Christ. I lived my life as a Christ follower. But there was still that doubt that I couldn’t shake.

There came a point in life when I just needed to settle it. I didn’t want to say the sinner’s prayer again just to make sure. I wanted to KNOW. I began to look at what the Bible said about faith and salvation. I wrote scripture on cards and reminded myself what God’s word said. I kept the cards close and anytime doubt showed up I used the WORD of God to confirm my faith.

Romans 10:9-10 – Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Yes! I did that many years ago.

I familiarized myself with verses about faith and learned the definition of faith. Faith- complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

I John 1:9- If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Ephesians 2:8- For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

Hebrews 11:1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

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Salvation comes from Jesus Christ alone through accepting the free gift of his blood sacrifice for our sins. Confess, repent and believe.  We don’t have do the right things, or say the right prayer.  We don’t earn it because it’s not of works.  “We must personally and fully rely on the death of Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sins… The faith God requires of us for salvation is belief in what the Bible says about who Jesus is and what He accomplished and fully trusting in Jesus for that salvation[1].” Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. The word of God, when I took hold of it every time a doubt entered my mind, cleared up any question of my salvation. It CONFIRMED my salvation.

The enemy would have us to walk in fear and doubt regarding Jesus and salvation. He can rob us of peace and assurance if we allow him to. But Jesus comes that we may have LIFE. And have it abundantlyWhen we accept Jesus as our savior through faith, we are HIS!  We are sealed as His until that day that we get to see Him face to face. HE paid the price and we can’t add a thing to it.

For I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” 2 Tim. 1:12

[1] https://gotquestions.org/definition-of-faith.html

Superficial

As I studied and spent time with the Lord about what to write on – the word “superficial” kept speaking to my spirit. Let’s first see what this term means.

Superficial is “something occurring only at the surface; it appears to be true or real ONLY until examined more closely.” This very thing constantly happens through conversations, and friendships… relationships in general!

Why Is This???

Social media app icons on a smart phoneAs I reached out on social media to inquire about this question, these are some of the common answers I received:

“It’s ‘easier’ to pretend and not let people in…”
“Lack of accountability–Quantity versus Quality…”
“People can’t handle a ‘real’ one…”
“Too busy to invest…”
“Selfishness— doesn’t want to put that much time and work in…”
“Fear—Fear of getting hurt or being betrayed–past experiences…”
“In a comfortable circle–don’t feel that they need others…”

I can relate to every one of these answers as I look back on my journey of being a friend or needing a friend. I think we have allowed such busyness into our lives, we don’t stop for ourselves and others to truly allow genuine conversations to take place any longer. Due to past experiences and failed friendships, we would rather isolate ourselves completely or just keep it “easy” so we don’t have to get too deep either to or for someone else.

Let’s look at a few scriptures…

Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at ALL time, and a brother is born for adversity.” This takes friendships to a whole new level – good times and rough times!

Proverbs 16:28 “A dishonest man (woman) spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.”

friend-photThe good news is that His Word tells us in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” God has given us that same love so we can extend it to one another. We hold that very power! The power to walk amongst this world with all the things of this life swirling around us, including the struggles, and make time to SHOW love and BE love. You see, Jesus was intentional with his relationships during his time on this earth. Sure, he couldn’t share a deep devotion with many he came in contact with, but he shared his heart, his hurt, and his experiences among several friends. In reading the Word, it is very evident that John was a special friend as well as Lazarus. God appointed disciples around Jesus to walk with him, share with him, and learn from him. Who has God placed in your life? To share with, to live and learn with? Step out! Take a risk! Employ your faith! If we all dwelt on past hurt, how could God’s plan and purpose be accomplished in and through us?

Hebrews 10:22-25 reveals a challenge, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Time is running OUT!!!

Over this holiday season,open your eyes and hearts to who God has currently placed in your life and be intentional with your conversations. Engage in the relationship with more than just a “superficial” approach. Be deliberate in how you pierce beyond the layers of small talk to really being there for that person and allowIng them and you to be REAL about some things that are going on. Examine one another. Encourage one another through verbalizing struggles. Praise them for who they are. Motivate them in their purpose.

In your life, this may pertain to friends – it may even pertain to your close family. Don’t get caught up in the hustle and bustle of busyness. Be the friend God called you to be-Trust Him!

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24

Merry Christmas!

 Luke 2:1-20 (The Message)

“About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.’

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

‘Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.’

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. ‘Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.’ They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!”

From all of us to each of you… Wishing you a truly blessed holiday season as you worship the Savior!

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The Gift of the Magi

Sometime during junior high I read O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of the Magi” and I fell in love with it. I vividly remember the day in that high-ceilinged, chalk-dusty room when we first started reading it. I assumed it would be about baby Jesus and the wise men. When it wasn’t, I was intrigued. Why that name for the story, I ponderedTo this day that tale of the great love of Jim and Della and the sacrifices they made to buy presents for each other is one of my favorite short stories and is foundational in my character. I think of it often and use it as an example or lesson here and there. In fact, it was one of those behavior-changing stories for me. In college, when my newly wed husband and I were totally broke, the memory of that story challenged me so much, that I sold my highschool class ring to buy my husband a present for our first anniversary. If you haven’t already read the tale, now would be a good time. It takes about 5 minutes. Here’s the link. My Christmas gift to you! Knowing the story will give you some background for this blog article. Plus, you’ll love it!

christmas-xmas-christmas-tree-decorationSo tonight as I sit alone under the glow of my Christmas tree lights in a silent house, I’m pondering this heart-warming story. The Biblical Magi gave gifts to the baby Jesus and this secular tale is a story about gift-giving; that is the basic reason behind the title (which I did figure out by the end of the story that first day as I read). But so much more is bubbling through my thoughts. Where is my heart this Christmas? What are my motives in gift-giving? Do I love well? Other than with my family, am I really generous at heart? Am I a Magi?  I would like to be.

The scriptural Magi, the wise men, set out to follow a star to find and worship the newborn King of the Jews. They went through lengthy, difficult travels – no SUV with AC and a DVD to occupy the kids, stopping at fast food restaurants and well-manicured rest areas any time they needed a break. NO. Their trek involved days of preparations (if not weeks), taking with them all the food and animals, and animal fodder, and water, and clothing and whatever else they might need for a long journey to an unknown destination. Whoa! What a task. And all that work just to worship!

 

In your life, are you even on the journey? Or would you have been one of the thousands of “un-wise” men who didn’t bother to go search for Him? 

 

Those Magi of old found the Babe, the Christ. The first thing they did was to worship Him. Is this our first reaction to Christ? To bow and worship? And what did they do after they worshipped? That’s the part we hear of the most. Springing out of their worship, they gave Him gifts. That’s why we give gifts today to celebrate Christ’s birth, because gifts were brought to Him at His birth and because the heavenly Father gave us this greatest gift of all – a Savior born in a manger.

 

If you’re on the journey, are you a diligent, whatever-it-takes wise man preparing to worship Him? Or would you have been an “un-wise” man milling around Bethlehem with a complacent “hmm-a star-meh” attitude?

 

national-treasure-the-treasure-roomI recently noticed something in scripture that I’d never really thought about. They opened their treasures and gave Him gifts out of their treasures. Do we bring gifts to Him out of our treasures? Or do we give him something cheap to us? Do we offer the thrift store present? Or re-gift him with the free one from last year’s Christmas party that we didn’t want? Or wrap up a happy meal toy that’s still in the plastic?

 

 Would you have been a wise man who stood up to King Herod and proceeded undeterred to worship the true King? Or are you more of an “un-wise” man whose faith gets strangled out by the cares of the world or side-tracked by any opposition or fiery trial you face?

 

What do I treasure? My husband. My children. My home. My possessions. My job. My time. My plan for my life…. Have I given Him those things I value the most? Just a reminder in the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

 

Facing all sorts of difficulties, would you have been one of the few who actually made it to the manger to see the Son of God? Or are you today one of the “un-wise” ones always wishing you could experience Jesus the way “she” does and just a bit jealous that you don’t, yet unwilling to put out the effort to get you past the obstacles and to the Christ? It doesn’t just happen. It takes effort on your part. How many times have you bumped into the President as you rolled your trash can to the street while wearing your robe on a random Thursday morning? Doesn’t happen. Ladies, if we wish to experience the Christ with other wise men, we must gather our goods, load our camels, and travel long journeys. We must diligently prepare to worship Him. Set our hearts on Him. Be willing to pay a high price. Spend time and effort on our own in the Word.

 

In The Gift of the Magi, Jim and Della gave the things they valued most – the treasured brunette_combing_her_hairwatch and her glorious hair. They sacrificed these things because they loved so deeply. Out of their scarcity they found a way to give. Just like the widow at the temple who gave only two mites (1/5 of a cent each) but was praised by Jesus for giving more than all the others because she had given all that she had, her treasure.

Where do we stand ladies? Do we give to the Father out of our abundance (because we should) or out of our treasure (because we love deeply)? It is never foolish to love lavishly and give prodigally. Scripture tells us that we love because He first loved us. The more we live in the Father’s love, the more our love will grow. The more we love the Father, the clock-pocket-watch-gold-valuable-39817more we will love people around us. Even the ones that are hard to love. And the more we give to our Heavenly Father, the more we will show generosity to the world around us. Wise “men,” let’s hold our treasure sack loosely and draw out our costly gifts generously. Let us be like the wise men of old. Let’s be like Jim & Della. Let’s be modern-day Magi.

Grief at the Holidays

I feel like the worst daughter ever! I cry when I remember.

I was not present for my mother’s last Christmas day here on earth. There. I said it. Judge me harshly. Go ahead. I have judged myself over and over in despair and nothing can change it or bring it back.

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It’s been 2 years now.

After a very hard year and a half of walking through increasingly horrible Parkinson’s dementia with Mom, my husband and kids encouraged me to take a trip to Texas to visit his sister’s family that would have us away from home on Christmas day. With work schedules what they were, that was the only time we could visit them.

At first I resisted vehemently. No! How could I leave my mother?! She needs me. I kept thinking, What if this is her last Christmas?

But after a trip to the neurologist and a change in meds Mom started getting back to her normal self. Hope returned. She seemed to be getting better for a few weeks. During this lucid phase, I mentioned talk of a trip to her and she said, “Yes. Go. We can celebrate before you leave.” And when I talked to my brother and family about it, they readily agreed to have her with them that day. So I made the choice. Somewhat reluctantly I began to prepare for the big trip to Dallas.img_2524

The Saturday before Christmas we got together with Mom for our Christmas celebration. Dinner, presents, laughs. It was nice. She was doing well. She was pretty much herself that night. Spirits were good. The trip was on. The next day my dear husband, the kids and I pulled out early for the 10 hour trip. It was great weather and I felt relieved to be free from the constraints of the past several months. A change of scenery would do me good.

It had been a grueling time of almost weekly medical appointments, and sometimes several times a week. Mom’s decline had been coming more rapidly. I had been making from one to several trips a day to be with her, to coax her to eat and try to make her take her medicine. Many times I ended up spending the night or several nights in her apartment at her assisted living to try to console her. My year had been consumed by little things like forgetfulness, incontinence, and struggles for her to maintain balance and feed herself; big things like the falling which resulted in several late night calls, and trips to the emergency room; and really huge, tragic things like a stay in the geriatric psychiatric ward of the hospital, her fearful hallucinations of fire and flood and murder and abduction, her paranoia that the people who cared for her were out to get her, and the constant delusions that nothing I said, no rational argument, could convince her not to fret over. Tears and the Lord were my two constant companions.

But now I was leaving all that behind for a bit. As each mile rolled by on our trip, my spirit lightened. I called Mom several times and she sounded normal, not confused at all. Thank you, Lord! We had a restful, joyful, family centered few days of Christmas celebrations with my husband’s sister’s family. My brother called on Christmas day and I got to talk to Mom who was still doing great. We made it home with no catastrophes and all my worries were put to rest! I felt rejuvenated.

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Sadly, Mom’s short Christmas turn around didn’t last much past the new year and the old symptoms grew worse again. Medicine changes seemed to help for shorter and shorter periods as her condition progressed. Her decline was on a downhill slope picking up speed, and a week after we enjoyed her last Mother’s Day together, she passed away.

I never thought grief would so consume me. I had a strong relationship with the Lord. I believed that life and death were in His hands. I was very practical. But all that was before my mother died. The one person who had always known me was no longer there. Suddenly I was an orphan. My own mortality was staring me in the face. It was a very hard year. Summer and fall came and went. Then the holidays hit! I felt blind-sided. All I could do was cry. Every conversation with my girls ended in tears. I couldn’t make myself get out of the house or do anything. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t think straight, and I hurt all over. Was this grief?! I never realized!

That was only last year.

What a difference a year makes! This year hope has returned to the sad heart. So may I encourage your grieving heart? Looking back here are some things that helped, although at the time I didn’t want to do them and didn’t think they would help.

Read a book on the stages of grief or you may think you’re going crazy! Somewhere in the aftermath of Mom’s death I acquired a little book called Good Grief. I refused to read it for the longest. When I finally broke down and read it months later I was shocked how accurate it was. I was thinking I was going crazy and dying. Seriously. When I read in that little book that physical pain is one of the things a person experienced in grief, I was shocked and relieved. There were many other things that helped me realize what I was going through was normal.

eea0a691-e91d-41e5-a630-44814fad0bfdKeep practicing the spiritual habits you have established in your life as much as possible. Go to church. Read your Bible. Pray, even when you feel you can’t put coherent thoughts into words. God seemed far away some days, but I’ve since realized that He wasn’t. He was just hidden from my view by a thick gray veil of grief. I did miss church more during that first year after Mom’s death, but loving family members pushed me to go if I missed more than 1 week at a time and I relented and went, because I knew it was just because they cared.

Carry on holiday traditions that you did with that family member in the past. You’ll cry and it will hurt, but it will be bittersweet. It will be healing to your heart. I made Mom’s specialties for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners that year. I could hardly eat them, but they were there. And with them it seemed like a little part of her was in our celebrations. Cooking was her thing.VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Talk about your lost loved one. That hurts too, but it helps. We sat around and told “remember when” stories. We drug out the Memory Jar I had given Mom 15 years earlier that was full of little cards with old memories written on them, and we read and cried and laughed and felt comfort in reliving the joys of Mom’s life.

img_1335Look for joy (even in the little things). I was so grateful for a dear old highschool friend who sent me a Christmas card specially written to acknowledge this first Christmas without Mom! What a huge thing that was. What joy (through tears of course) it brought. But there were many tiny things that brought joy that I chose not to let slip past. Listening to Christmas carols and watching the twinkling lights of my tree. Playing a board game with the family. Allowing myself to laugh at things that would have amused my mom. Seeing my grandson’s eyes lighting up at the sight of the Christmas tree.

Put up a tree for Christmas! It was a burden. I just wanted to skip it that year. It only got half the ornaments it normally does. But it brought light and joy and peace to dark nights. I was glad I did.

img_2608Hug the people dearest to you, snuggle and share tender moments just because you still have them. The gift that the death of a loved one brings with it is a heightened awareness of making the most of the time you have with others who are still living. Don’t squander those times even if some relationships are difficult or awkward. You will never regret reaching out and expressing yourself. Trying to, even in a tough relationship, keeps the regrets of “if only” and “why didn’t I” away.

I hope you have a blessed Christmas and experience the hope of Christ in the midst of your grief. Here’s a sweet song that an old friend posted on social media recently. It is comforting for those of us who are spending Christmas without someone dear to us.

Enjoy the music! Different Kind of Christmas 

Keeping the Plates Spinning at Christmas

As I rounded the corner into the church parking lot on two wheels, I was feeling anything but full of the Christmas spirit. It was December 4th, and already I could sense the holiday season driving me. It had been a wild week. Husband out-of-town for 5 days on a project. Taking care of the grandkids each afternoon – one running a fever and feeling especially grumpy from the medication. Doing the Christmas parade alone with the 2 grandsons when that one was sick – what was I thinking?! Keeping a blog running during an intensely busy time. Carrying on consistently with my book writing project. Christmas shopping barely started. Last 2 months of preparations for a women’s conference – ordering, finalizing, securing the right people and equipment. Plus the daily necessary stuff to keep the house running.

And this particular Sunday… Up and getting ready. Oversleeping grandkids. The unexpected message of the passing of a dear friend’s mother. Scheduled to teach LifeGroup that day so we had to go in 2 cars. Only time for two sips of coffee. Downpour of rain as I drive up to church. Books to get to a friend. Teach class. Worship – the one calm focused hour and a half of the day. Dash home to leftovers for lunch –  and whining because “I didn’t want that.” Last load of laundry to send the grands home with a bag full of clean clothes. Last minute edit on a document for a planning meeting. Out the door. Christmas open house at one of my dearest friend’s home. Trying to get the grandbabes to their parents. Planning meeting for the women’s conference at the same time Papa had deacon’s meeting. A message from our leader who needed something printed out for the meeting. Back home. Open the email – no file attached. Texts. New e-mail. Print 4 copies and staple. Back in the car to head to church and the “Low Fuel” light is on. When I finally wheeled into my parking space I was exhausted. My Fitbit said I already had 6,000 steps and it was only mid-afternoon.

Ok – enough of my whining…

This is just My story of the holidays this year. What’s yours? Are you feeling like the man at the circus with 14 plates spinning on various parts of his body? Feeling like you just can’t keep it all spinning and remain sane?

Well sweet friends, this is just the corner our enemy loves to back us into. We are in a season of great joy, yet we feel dry and tired. We are in a season of great giving, but it begins to feel like a chore instead of a joy to give. We are in the best season to share the perfect love of the Father with a desperate world, however, that enemy of our souls has a battle plan to keep us so busy that we have no time, energy, or even thought to spread the good news while hearts are open to hear it.

I’m ready to put on my warrior’s clothes and fight that nasty enemy! How about you? As I sit here in the calm after the storm at 11:47 p.m. – the rush over, the house quiet, the kitty purring at my feet, perspective comes. So as I type I am formulating my own battle plan.

  1. I choose not to do anything during the holidays just because some social structure says I ought too. I don’t have to bake Christmas cookies. I don’t have to spend a penny. I don’t have to send Christmas cards. I don’t have to have a perfect house, 71uz2b99eqsl-_sl1500_ready for a visitor at the drop of a hat at the expense of my family. I don’t have to do Elf on th Shelf just because I did it last year. I don’t have to go to every party I’m invited to. I don’t have to get a Hatchimal just because media is proclaiming it as THE hot toy of the year. And neither do you! What are you feeling you HAVE to do due to outside pressure? Let me free you – you don’t have to do anything. You really don’t. Those external pressures bring stress and frustration. Choose wisely and be intentional in what you want to do. Do whatever you choose because it fulfills your goals for your life and your aspirations to be a Godly woman – NOT because you’ve bought into a message that you should do it. Who gives someone else the power to tell you that you should do anything? And what are their credentials? The “wise” media? The competitive young mother you know? The well-meaning family member? “They”? Who are these “they” anyway that are always the ones telling us what to do? “You know, they say you should….”
  2. I choose Christ to be in my Christmas. I choose not to just tip my hat to Him and have token “Happy Birthday Jesus” cakes and ceramic manger scenes and rush on by those tokens ignoring the real Christ. Instead I choose to see the people rushing by
    me and to verbally testify of Him in little and big ways every moment He presents me with an opportunity. I choose to soak in His Word and to absorb the Biblical accounts of all things surrounding the birth of Christ, to study and learn, and seek to find new truths through them that I’ve never seen before. To become re-enamored with the Lover of My Soul. I choose to count my personal, intimate, passionate relationship with Christ as more important than any substitute the enemy dangles before me. What about you?
  3. I choose to start my mornings with worship of the Savior we are celebrating. Every morning. At least 10 minutes just singing praise, praying, and thanking Him. I choose to get my focus on Him first thing in the morning above all else because He is my love. AND I choose to end my day worshipping Him too. Meditating on His word in the precious quiet of twinkling lights and evergreen scent and praying, singing, celebrating, allowing my soul time to feel, time to long for Him above all the glittery things around me. How about you?
  4. I choose to carry on traditions that foster these things: joy in Him, growth in my relationship with Him, sharing Christ’s good news with those around me, strengthening bonds with family and friends, or magnifying and glorifying the Christ. Things like reading the Christmas story by candlelight with my kids on Christmas Eve and donating coats at my church for the homeless and Christmas caroling with songs that sing the story of the Christ-child and packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. What traditions do you choose and why?
  5. I choose to live out the Golden Rule during these holidays: Do to others what you would have them do to you. I choose to be genuinely aware of needs around me, to slow down and take time to notice strangers and offer the love, help, and prayer our hungry world is starving for. I choose to treat my family well and not like they are a bother because I am busy. In short, I choose to give to those around me what I wish I was receiving (and I may), but even if I receive nothing.

So this Christmas are you ready to drop the plates? To give up? When we quit spinning the things that don’t matter we usher in peace, real joy, authentic love, time to relate to those we love, time to share Jesus, and time to meet needs we see. What better gifts can we give ourselves and those in our homes? What better gifts can we bring Christ than our full attention, wholehearted devotion, and empty schedules that He gets to fill in as He sees fit? So girls, grab a fresh calendar. Start off with what really matters and see what Christ does to reshape your Christmas chaos!

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Tell the Story

People can deny Christ, dispute Scripture and ignore prophecy, but they cannot deny, dispute or ignore God’s transformational power in someone’s life. –Tracie Miles, Proverbs 31 Ministries

It’s that time of year again. The time when we gather together with family and friends to give thanks and celebrate the arrival of the baby who would save the world. For many, it’s a joyful time, full of anticipation and excitement. For others, it’s a time of dread, full of anxiety and angst. I’ve found myself on both sides of the holiday conundrum. But I recently read a story about a wise father-in-law and a humble son-in-law and got some insight into how to make even the toughest holiday get-togethers a bit more hopeful.

I come from a mixed bag of nominal Christians, agnostics, and atheists. I never knew what it was to talk about Jesus or the Bible at family gatherings. I grew up with the understanding that you didn’t talk about faith to others. Faith was something private, like your political views. So when my family got together with extended family, there was this strange camaraderie of silence on the important stuff of life. Conversation was lively and fun, but without much substance. Don’t get me wrong, my family was loving and kind. But without acknowledging the greatest Love, there was always something missing, and as a follower of Christ I always felt compelled and constrained. Compelled to speak the truth; yet constrained by opening a Pandora’s box of controversy and anger and offense–good-bye happy holiday memories.

As the years have gone by, and extended family gatherings have become a rare event, I’ve searched for a place of grace. A place where I could use these moments to love my family without neglecting to speak of the greatest Love in my life. Then I read the story of Moses and Jethro and I found some key principles to making the holiday gathering purposeful.

The story of Moses and Jethro is at an odd place in the Bible. It’s directly after the Israelite’s victory over the Amalekites thanks to Moses’s outstretched arms to God (with some help from Aaron and Hur), and God’s declaration that He was the banner over His people. And directly before the declaration of the Mosaic Covenant in Exodus 19. It’s almost as if the Holy Spirit set the pause button to give us a glimpse into the daily life of these wandering peoples.

mosesandjethroatmidian-chosenpeople-creationofalessergod-foundationIn the story, Jethro reunites Moses with this wife, Jethro’s daughter, and their two sons. We know a few things about Jethro. Besides being Moses’s father-in-law, he is introduced in Exodus 2 and the first verses of Exodus 18 as a priest of Midian. He has seven daughters, and he welcomed a “stranger from a strange land” into his family. We can infer from our interaction with Jethro that he was generous and kind and that he loved Moses. And we can tell from Exodus 18:7 that Moses respected and loved his father-in-law.

As we begin the story, Jethro says he had “heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.” (18:1) As Jethro entered the camp, he was warmly welcomed by Moses and they spent the evening catching up on the events of the people of God. Can you imagine that conversation? Moses himself telling the story of the exodus and the parting of the Red Sea. What we do know is after Moses “told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them.” Jethro did a few things:

He REJOICED in all the good that the Lord had done to Israel. (v. 9)

He BLESSED the Lord. (v. 10)

He CLAIMED allegiance to the one true God. (v. 11)

He SACRIFICED burnt offerings to God. (v. 12)

When Jethro came to visit Moses, he’d heard of God’s goodness. But after talking to Moses and hearing his story of God’s deliverance, HE KNEW GOD.

So how do we take this phenomenal interaction of Jethro and Moses and translate it to the contemporary holiday table?

christmas-clipart-images-christmas2   Listen closely. James tells us to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry. Before Moses spoke of the deliverance of Israel, he asked Jethro about his welfare. He genuinely wanted to hear how his father-in-law was doing. Listening is one of the most tender, compassionate ways we can intentionally love our family.

christmas-clipart-images-christmas2  Speak honestly. Moses spoke freely of God’s deliverance and His goodness. And He didn’t leave out the difficult stuff. When we share our lives as followers of Christ, we often believe we need to sugarcoat our struggles. As if we’re trying to protect God, or make following Him more palatable or pleasing. Truth is, being a follower of Christ isn’t easy. We suffer hardship. We walk through stinky circumstances. Basically, we live a real life. But we also serve a real God who gives us hope in the hard places and replaces despair with peace and sadness with unexplainable joy. When we speak truthfully about our lives and about our God, when we tell our own story of deliverance, then HE gets the glory and HE becomes the focus, not us or our circumstances. And a suffering world needs to hear that there is hope.

christmas-clipart-images-christmas2  Speak gently. 1 Peter 3:15 tells believers to always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have, but to share that hope with gentleness and respect. We are not called to badger or argue anyone into the kingdom of God. We are called to honor others above ourselves and consider others better than ourselves. Remembering that a gentle answer turns away wrath is vital for weathering a potentially tempestuous holiday conversation.

christmas-clipart-images-christmas2  Speak boldly. Moses was not afraid to speak of all God had done. One of my biggest obstacles is timidity. I worry that I’m going to offend someone. I’m worried I won’t be able to answer a question or a retaliation. But Paul speaks to this fear and his words have become my constant prayer, “To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” Ephesians 6:19

My prayer for you and your family, whether you celebrate with a family of Christ followers, or whether you celebrate with a mixed bag of wonderful creations who simply don’t know their Creator yet, is a joy-filled, Christ-focused holiday season. Listen closely, speak honestly, gently, and boldly of all that Jesus has done and is doing for you. The reality of His goodness and His salvation is definitely worth a celebration!!

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The Greed Monster & Kids

by Debbie Stovall

Raising kids is sometimes a guessing game. You do something one day and it works, but the next day you do the same thing and it doesn’t. As grandparents now, Randy and I are able to look back and evaluate our parenting. Here are a few of the things we did that turned out to have more value than we realized at the time. All three deal with managing our money or possessions, and all have paid off in my children’s attitude toward possessions. So just in time for the holidays, here is my gift to you! Hope it helps in your mommy-journey or spurs you to think of new ideas of your own!

#1 – The “Less is More” Trick

wood-light-brown-dessertNo one in my family is a picker eater. We love food! So from the time they could toddle around, my children all wanted more snack than I thought was best. I found a little trick with my first child one day when I was impatient. I offered him a cookie, only one, because it was almost supper time. He immediately said, “No. Two.” In my impatience, I respond testily, “Ok, you can have zero then.” He promptly decided one was better than none, took his cookie, and was fine.

The light bulb went on for me! From that day on in negotiating with my kids I used that same trick; if they started asking for more, I began to retreat on what I was willing to give. If I offered two marshmallows, they would want three, so I would drop back to 1 which made the original offer of two very satisfying to them. If I told them I would buy them a toy at Wal-Mart, they would see two and want both. When I let them know that if they couldn’t decide on one they wouldn’t get any, they would find a way to choose one. When I told my 16-year-old to be home by 10:00 and he responded that everyone else was staying out until 11:00, I would pull my offer back to 9:00. Then 10:00 suddenly looked pretty good.

The trick is saying it kindly with a tender expression on your face. If you get mad and shout “No you only get one now!” or “Well Bud, just for that you have to be home at 9:00!” you bring yourself down to the child’s level and he keeps arguing. But if you stay calm and unruffled, he realizes he has a choice to make. If he wants anything, he has to play by your rules. He may not always be happy about it, but battles will de-escalate.

#2 – Keep-Give

pexels-photo-105855From the time that sweet baby is born every parent longs to give that child every good gift we can, just like our Father in Heaven does for us. But somewhere between 9 months and 3-years-old the toys begin to take over. As a parent it’s a struggle to know how to get rid of some of this abundance, because after all Grandma gave them this, and that is recommended by Parents magazine, and all the cool moms say every child needs those. So what is a mom to do to get the mess under control and be a good steward of the family’s possessions?

We came up with a solution. We called it “Keep-Give.” I would plan a day to do nothing else. I would take into the children’s room a large garbage can with several extra garbage bags and some boxes labeled “Give.” Then I would sit in the middle of the room and dump out a toy box or bin, one at a time, in front of me. I would hold up one toy at a time and ask, “Keep? Give? Or throw away?” If someone said keep it went back into the toy basket. If they all said, “Give” it went into the cardboard box to be given away. If it was broken or had missing parts or was beyond being used it went into the trash. Each of the children could have his or her say, and if even one of them said, “Keep,” I would honor that. (However, many times the lone person saying “Keep” would later change his mind and pass the treasure on.)

It was a very fun and revealing experience. (And it still has a hearty affirmation from everyone in the family, parent and child alike.) It usually took most of the day, but it was worth it. I was always shocked at what they gave to others that I thought they would be unwilling to part with. I actually heard wisdom coming from them like, “We don’t play with that much anymore, but some other kid might like it.” It gave them a chance to make wise choices about their possessions without me controlling it. And it gave them a chance to be generous. The revelation for me was that some of the things they were willing to get rid of, I was not! I would remember the high cost of the toy or think that a certain toy “should have” sentimental value to them because of who gave it, and therefore would not want them to give it away. So this exercise helped me with my own greed issues. I did make a few exceptions. The one-of-a-kind toy Aunt Joyce had sent them from Bahrain, the American Girls doll they’d outgrown that I wanted to save for my grandchild, those sorts of things I put aside and stored in the attic at the end of the day.

It was a character forming procedure, too. I always explained first what we were doing and how the procedure worked because the little ones had to learn how. We would talk about how blessed we were with all these great toys and how some kids didn’t have as much as we did. We would discuss how it’s good to give things and not to hoard everything. As they got older we incorporated Bible verses on giving and generosity, always including my favorite from the time I was 6 years old, “God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7 “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”)

This task is well worth the time spent. We did it twice a year, usually before Christmas and sometime in late spring. Sometimes we still ended up with too many toys, so I would divide them up into laundry baskets. I would leave one basket down for the kids to play with and put one basket in the top of the closet and swap the baskets out every month or so. This was refreshing to the kids when they got bored with the toys they were used to.

#3 – Three Bowls

business-money-pink-coinsAs the kids got old enough to do chores we decided we needed to teach them about money. So we gave each child assigned chores and a set allowance each week. It’s never too early to start this. Even 2-year-olds can start to fold wash cloths! And DO make a game of it! By 5 years of age they had to put away their own toys and could wipe down sinks & counters with a cloth and spray bottle containing only water. At 6 they were setting the table, putting their laundry away, and dusting. By 8 they could load the dishwasher, help cook dinner, and make their bed (messily). At 10 they learned to do their own laundry, iron, vacuum, and mow grass. So they earned money every week doing their chores.

Of course we did not want them wasting it all on candy or cheap toys each week. So here’s what we did. We saved 3 of the small-sized empty margarine spread bowls for each child. (If you can find plain colored ones or ones without the brand name written on it, they are cuter.) We wrote with a permanent marker on each bowl either “Spend,” “Save,” or “Give.” Dad cut a neat little coin slit in each lid. We chose to have them put 10% into the “Give” bowl (their tithe), 20% into the “Save” bowl (to teach them to save up for bigger things they wanted to buy/do later) and the other 70% into “Spend.” We always made sure we gave the allowance money to them in a way that was easy to divide. ($1.00 would be given in 10 dimes, or $10.00 given in 10 ones.) Every Saturday evening as we were laying out clothes for church, we’d help the ones who were school age fill out their offering envelopes and put their “Give” money in to take to church the next day.

I highly recommend this “trick.” It teaches kids the value of money as they take their spend money to the store and see what they can afford to purchase. It teaches them delayed gratification as they build up money in the “Save” bowl for something special down the road. And it builds the habit of tithing in them from the time they are little children. You may want to change the ratios, 33-33-33% is the easiest. Or some people add a 4th bowl labeled “Taxes” and the money from all the children is then pooled together down the road and used for a family vacation or outing (promoting the concept of paying taxes to the Government which should use it for our corporate good).

A few other things to consider:

  • Do I overdo presents on birthdays and Christmas or do I celebrate within my means?
  • Do I give in at the grocery store or Wal-Mart and buy something for the child because they have put up such a fit to get it?
  • Am I personally satisfied with what I have, or do my children see and hear me lamenting over what I don’t have or what I wish we could do?
  • Is our family tithing (10% to God) and living joyfully within our means?
  • Do I view everything we own as belonging to God? Leaving God’s broken down vehicle on the side of the road is much easier than leaving Mine. Live with an open hand toward possessions.
  • A favorite children’s book of ours on the subject of greed is an old one, Gimme by Stephen Cosgrove and Charles Reasoner.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the tips. I’m sure other moms would love to hear your special tips and tricks if you’d like to share them in the comments below!

 

 

Courage

by Joy Hutzler

Judges chapter 6 tells us an amazing story about a “nobody” named Gideon.  Gideon was the youngest son of a poor man in Israel. In those days, the Midianite army would sweep through Israel each harvest season and utterly destroy all the crops and livestock of the Israelites.  God’s people had resorted to hiding in caves in the mountains during this time of the year for fear of the Midianites.  After some time, the people of the Lord, who had begun worshipping other gods, grew tired of the oppression of the Midianites and cried out to God for help. One day, Gideon was hiding in a winepress, beating out some wheat to hide it from the Midianites, and an angel appeared to him with a message from the Lord.  gideon_and_angel_of_godAs a way of greeting, the angel said, “The Lord is with you, man of courage.”  Here was Gideon hiding from the Midianites, and the Lord called him a man of courage. I imagine Gideon looked around to see who the angel must have been referring to. The angel went on to give Gideon instructions about what was to come and how the Lord was going to use him to deliver the Israelites from the Midianite army. But first, God wanted Gideon to tear down the idol of the false god Baal, which was standing in the way of victory for the Israelites.  Every time he was given instructions, Gideon asked for confirmation that it was truly a message from the Lord. Gideon was afraid. He was afraid of the Midianites.  He was afraid of the men of his village.  He doesn’t sound much like a “man of courage.” But each time after he confirmed the Lord’s message, Gideon was obedient and did what the Lord had told him to do.

My husband and I are raising a son amidst his three sisters.  Trying to teach him to be strong and fearless is a task that I don’t always feel equipped for.  I often tell him when he is afraid to have courage.  I remind him that, “It isn’t courage if you aren’t afraid.”

God asked Gideon to trust him and to obey some outlandish and seemingly impossible commands.  He was afraid. I would have been, too! Gideon was given an army of 300 men to stand up against the great Midianite (and Amalekite) armies. There were more of them than could be counted. But God didn’t really need Gideon’s help. He wanted his trust and obedience. God didn’t let him down.

it-is-the-lord-your-god-you-must-follow-and-him-you-must-revere-keep-his-commands-and-obey-him-serve-him-and-hold-fast-to-him-deut-13_4Sometimes in our own lives God asks us to trust him and obey him in situations that seem far above our capabilities. We cannot even fathom at times how God could possibly work a plan to handle an overwhelming situation. We are confused why he even wants to involve us in his plan in the first place. We are afraid of the circumstances or cower at all of the “what ifs.”

God called Gideon a man of courage before he even gave him the first instruction, because God already knew who Gideon was. God already knew Gideon was afraid, but he wanted to give him a title that would help Gideon understand that God saw something about him that he couldn’t see for himself.

Maybe you don’t feel very courageous. Maybe you feel very unworthy or ill-equipped to handle a task the Lord has given you.  But this is where God loves to work!  God loves to work in all of our inadequacies because that is where HE gets the glory. That is where HE gets to shine and show his power.  If you have been given instructions from the Lord, go ahead and get confirmation, then in all of your fears, inadequacies, and uncertainties, OBEY! The Lord is with you, Woman of Courage.

it-isnt-courage-if-you-arent-afraid

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

 

Am I Enough?

by Morgan Ramsey

“Morgan, he doesn’t like me. I guess I wasn’t good enough for him. He just wanted to be friends. I am not worthy of someone like that.” As a girls’ minister, I hear this plenty from the middle school and high school girls at my church. And as hard as it is to hear that, I know it’s even harder to say out loud. Why? Because it gets at a fear that we as girls, and even more so as women have: a fear of rejection. Rejection is hard. It’s a low blow, and demolishes any ounce of self-esteem that we may have had. Why? Because we let it.

But we let it because we believe a lie that could not be further from the truth: You aren’t enough. As young girls we hear it and see it everywhere we go. This lie can be found in magazines, or songs, or in a movie, or in the school hallways where the other girls make fun of how we look. We can find it in people’s comments about what we are wearing, or when every single girl is in a relationship BUT US. And we don’t grow out of this when we graduate high school. As women we can see it every single day if we look in our own lives and in the lives of other women around us.

Yeah, I know. I get it. I struggle with it every day of my life. My surroundings have changed, but the lie remains. Instead of seeing it in high school hallways, I see it in my work place, in my personal life, in my family, and in the way I think about myself. And I’ve realized unless we get to the root of the issue, it will metastasize from middle school to adult life. It’s a silent killer It’s hard to rid yourself of this lie, because well…  it’s so stinkin’ believable!

9780802472946-demoss-gresh-lies-young-women-believeI’m reading through a book called Lies Young Women Believe, and it goes through all of the different lies that Satan throws at us every single day. There is also an adult version for women as well, and it is equally as powerful. The amount of lies that Satan throws at us daily is scary. But what is even scarier is the thought that women BELIEVE these lies every day. The one that keeps coming back to me is this lie of “you are not enough.” And to a certain extent, that is true. We AREN’T enough. But in Him, we are more than enough.

The Lord calls us something different. He calls us into a different type of living. He calls us worthy. He calls us beloved. He calls us His masterpiece. He calls us His prize and possession. He calls us chosen. And most importantly, He calls us to live in freedom, not in bondage to a lie that has no place in our lives.

Because of Him, we become faultless, holy, blameless, righteous, pure, and enough. Because He has made us these things and even more, we don’t have to be burdened by rejection. When people say we aren’t enough, we can look up and look at the Father and say, “He makes me enough, because He is more than enough”. We don’t have to live burdened by what people think of us. We can live abundantly in the truth of what He calls us.

The lie of rejection always hits you hardest in the place where you feel least satisfied. So for middle school girls and high school girls they face this lie head on in relationships. The desire to be wanted and loved by a guy is strong in this age group. I’m starting to realize you can find this lie anywhere. I told you how I see it in my life, but I’ve seen it in the woman who has worked for years with her company and didn’t get that promotion. I’ve seen it in the woman who watched a lifelong friend walk out of her life. I’ve seen it in the woman whose child wants nothing to do with her. I’ve seen it in the woman who struggles with miscarriage and the woman who can’t get pregnant after years of trying. I’ve seen it in the woman who has prayed for marriage for years and is still single at 33. I’ve seen it in the woman who has a perfect marriage on the outside, but on the inside feels an immovable separation from her husband and is plagued by loneliness.

The lie of rejection always hits you hardest in the place where you feel least satisfied. 

Fill in your blank. WE ALL deal with this. Sometimes we can’t control what comes our way. But we can control how we respond. So. How are you going to fight the lie of rejection this week? I tell my girls that one of the best ways to fight this is to remember who you are. Not who you are as a person, but who you are in Him. Remember sweet girl or woman of God, the God who made you so intimately, cares a ton about you.

Honesty hour. I struggle with this lie. I’ve struggled with this lie this week. But let me share something with you. When it gets the hardest, when I hit my lowest on the self-esteem scale, Jesus reminds me who I am in Him. Here’s what He breathed into me this week. I pray that this helps you remember who you are and who made you so intimately every time the enemy throws the lie of rejection your way. I’m praying for you this week

“Oh Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I’m going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand. I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride on the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night – but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you. You made all the delicate inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!”- Psalm 139:1-18

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“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it! You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.”