Deck the Soul with Boughs of Forgiveness

by Dr. MaryAnn Diorio @DrMaryAnnDiorio

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will…give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins…”   Luke 1:76-77 NASB       

CHRISTMAS!  The word evokes many feelings, depending on our experiences. For some, Christmas is a happy time, filled with beautiful memories and joyful expectations. For others, Christmas is a depressing time, a season one wants “to get over with” as quickly as possible because of bad memories associated with this time of year.

Having ministered to people for many years, I have come to the conclusion that depressing memories at Christmas time are most often related to problems of refusing to forgive. Hurts from the past become more pronounced during the Christmas season, but the reason those hurts still affect us is that we have not let go of the bitterness associated with them. In short, we have not forgiven the people who have hurt us.

Why do most people have such a difficult time forgiving? I believe the main reason is that they do not understand what forgiveness really means. So, what is true forgiveness?

LET’S LOOK FIRST AT WHAT FORGIVENESS IS NOT:

  • Forgiveness is NOT letting someone off the hook.
  • Forgiveness is NOT condoning evil.
  • Forgiven is NOT being a doormat.
  • Forgiveness is NOT having to trust again the person who hurt us.
  • Forgiveness is NOT a feeling.
  • Forgiveness is NOT an option.

NOW LET’S LOOK AT WHAT FORGIVENESS IS:

  • Forgiveness IS taking the person who hurt us off of our hook and placing him on God’s hook, then praying that God will have mercy on him.
  • Forgiveness IS acknowledging that evil was done but choosing to bear the consequences of that evil without retaliation.
  • Forgiveness IS taking charge of our emotions.
  • Forgiveness IS setting boundaries with the person who hurt us, even refusing temporary or permanent interaction with that person, if necessary.  An example would be a wife who is being beaten by her husband.
  • Forgiveness IS a decision.
  • Forgiveness IS obedience to God’s commandment to forgive.

No matter how badly we have been hurt, we must choose to forgive. It’s the best thing we can do for our own well-being. Refusing to forgive is unhealthy for us. It chains us emotionally to the person who hurt us. Forgiveness breaks that chain and sets us free.

What better time is there than the Christmas season to forgive those who have hurt us? Paul wrote the Ephesians: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32 NASB). The very essence of Christmas is the truth that God forgave humanity through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Who are we not to forgive when God has forgiven us?

So this Christmas, let’s forgive! But not just forgive. Let’s ask those whom you have wronged to forgive you. As the Word of God tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NIV). As long as we are on this earth, it is never too late for the healing forgiveness brings.

May we all forge happy memories this Christmas as the power of forgiveness sets us free!

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Marianne DiorioAbout the author: Dr. MaryAnn Diorio loves God, people, children, and dogs, in that order. She is passionate about story and its power to transform the human heart. Dr. MaryAnn, as she is affectionately called, writes compelling fiction that deals with the deepest issues of the human heart. She and her husband Dominic are the blessed parents of two wonderful daughters, a fantastic son-in-law, and five precious, rambunctious A Christmas Homecoming (Christmas Holiday Extravaganza) by [Diorio, MaryAnn]grandchildren. Find out more about MaryAnn at http://maryanndiorio.com/.

For a heartwarming, compelling story on the power of forgiveness, you may wish to read MaryAnn’s popular novella titled A Christmas Homecoming,  available in electronic format for your Kindle, Nook, or iPad.  To view the beautiful book trailer, click here.

Join the conversation: When has forgiveness set you free?

 

Joining in the Esteem of Heaven

by Patti Richter

I fancied myself an actress after starring in my eighth-grade play. My high school drama team proved more competitive. A girl named Mary received the lead role in our spring production while I accepted the part of collecting admission tickets for the event.

When Mary graduated and left Arkansas to pursue an acting career in New York City, I was skeptical. After all, her accent was even stronger than mine. And was as she really that good?  The answer repeated itself over the years as Mary Steenburgen starred in one big-screen movie after another. I realized she was truly talented—especially when she won an Academy Award.

Another girl named Mary hailed from the humble town of Nazareth, in Galilee. If not highly esteemed by her peers, she had heavenly admirers. An angel informed her: “You have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son. . . Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. . . His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:26-33, NIV).

The book of Isaiah had supplied God’s people with a description of what to look for in the coming Messiah. The prophet said he would grow up “like a root out of dry ground. . . no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2, 3 NIV).

In Bethlehem, while angels and shepherds worshiped the child born in a stable, descendants of David, oblivious to the arrival of the Savior, slept in warm beds at nearby inns. A Roman decree had brought them to register for a census (Luke 2:1-20). They fulfilled their duty but missed their opportunity to witness the advent of the One who would divide the old world from the new—Before Christ and After.

The people of Nazareth, forgetting Isaiah’s words, also missed out. After Jesus began his ministry and returned to teach in his hometown, they were amazed, but not for the right reason. “Isn’t his mother’s name Mary?” “Where then did this man get all these things?” Perhaps resenting Jesus’s favor with God, “they took offense” and missed whatever blessings might have come to them. Jesus “did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matthew 13:53-58 NIV).

The Pharisees missed out too, by esteeming the letter of the law above the Lawgiver. Instead of criticizing Jesus for healing the sick on the Sabbath day (Matthew 12:1-14) they could have fetched a sick friend or family member in need of the Lord’s touch.

While those people looked to find fault with the Redeemer, our modern society does no better, accepting him only on its own terms. Baby Jesus in the manger still appeals to many, at least during the holiday season. And Jesus’s teachings continue to provide popular maxims for those who adapt and paraphrase his words without giving credit to the Source.

However, Jesus requires more than selective admiration: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And he commends those who do not reject his claims: “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble  on account of me” (Matthew 11:6 NIV).

As Christ’s followers, we may lose favor in some circles. We’ll be tolerated by those who nod but do not bow to God. We’ll be dismissed as narrow-minded by those who reject the Savior. Yet we will be blessed—favored—by God.

Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for my glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made.  Isaiah 43:7 NASB

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Joining in the Esteem of Heaven – encouragement from Patti Richter on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Patti Richter headshot 2017-1nAbout the author: Patti Richter lives in north Georgia with her husband, Jim. She writes and edits global mission stories for The Gospel Coalition and her faith essays appears at BlueRibbonNews.com.

Patti is the co-author of Signs of His Presence—Experiencing God’s Comfort in Times of Suffering. It is the story of Luann Mire, whose godly husband was blindsided by an indictment due to a former employer’s tax fraud. The resulting prison sentence and restitution took the once joyful couple into a long season of suffering as they fought judicial tyranny. Helpless to change her situation, Luann endured a painful examination of her life and found God faithful to His promises.

Join the conversation: What does the Christmas story mean to you?

Holding On or Letting Go

by Candy Arrington @CandyArrington

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding. In all your ways obey him. Then he will make your paths smooth and straight. Proverbs 3:5-6 NIRV.

I sat in the church parking lot with a tithe envelope in one hand and my check book in the other. The finance office was about to close. Tomorrow heralded a new year. My head and heart were at war—should I write a check for the amount necessary to complete our tithe for the year, wiping out checking account in the process?

I closed my eyes. Father, I’m sorry we’ve been unfaithful. We’ve let other things take priority.

My mind drifted to unexpected out-of-pocket medical expenses, car repairs, college tuition, an expensive vacation, and purchased items we didn’t really need. Invariably, the tithe check was written last. Overwhelmed by an honest evaluation, my tears flowed.

Trust me, whispered God.

I took a pen from my purse and wrote a check for the full balance of our checking account, sealed the envelope, opened the car door against the whipping wind, and made my way across the parking lot and into the church. Although I knew I was doing the right thing, nagging doubts plagued me. How would we function until our next check arrived?

Pulling in the driveway at home, I got out and opened the mailbox. As I sifted through the mail, a return address caught my attention—my publisher. I jumped back into the warm car and ripped the envelope open. Inside was a royalty check that was almost enough to cover our expenses until the next pay check. Thank you, God!

Further down in the stack was a package. Enclosed were two books in which I contributed stories almost three years before. I’d given up on ever receiving copies.

Once inside, I threw away the remnants of the package along with junk mail. But every time I walked by the trashcan, I felt uneasy. The feeling persisted. Finally, I fished the package out and looked inside. A folded piece of paper was wedged in a bottom corner. I took it out and gasped. It was a check for $200. Laughter spilled out of my mouth. Father, not only do you provide, but with such creativity. How could I ever have doubted you?

 Sometimes, it isn’t easy to let go and follow God’s directives, especially if they seem impractical or don’t make sense to us. When God told Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus and stay there until it was safe to return, Joseph immediately obeyed. He didn’t wait until morning. Matthew 2:14 says that Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and left for Egypt that night. Joseph’s unquestioning obedience saved Jesus’ life.

 Human nature inclines us to hold on, tightfisted, to things within our grasp, delaying our immediate steps of obedience, fearing what lies ahead. Faith whispers, trust God and let go.

He knows what He is doing. We can trust Him to be faithful. As Paul wrote in gratitude to the Philippians’ sacrificial gift to him, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 NASB).

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Candy ArringtonAbout the author: Candy Arrington has written hundreds of articles and devotionals, often on tough topics. Her books include AFTERSHOCK: Help, Hope, and Healing in the Wake of Suicide (B & H) and When Your Aging Parent Needs Care: Practical Help for This Season of Life (Harvest House). Candy is a native South Carolinian, who gains writing inspiration from historic architecture, vintage photographs, nature, and the application of Biblical principles to everyday life. Learn more about Candy at www.CandyArrington.com, where you can also read her blog, Forward Motion: Moving Beyond What Holds You Back.

Candy’s book, When Your Aging Parent Needs Care, is a help to those who face the special effort of caring for a parent. It provides support and direction to enable the caregiver to be spiritually, physically, and emotionally prepared for the day to day challenges they face.

Join the conversation: How has God provided for you in a time when you were out of resources?

 

God’s Family Plan

by Christina Rose

 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”  When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!  Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.” Luke 2:13-16 NLT

The story of Jesus’ life begins with his birth into a family chosen by God who would help him fulfill his destiny of salvation for the world. The foundation of the family unit is an important concept in the Bible. Almost every major person in the Bible is introduced in relation to their families and genealogy before telling their story. Throughout Jesus’ life we see how his family and disciples, who he considered his family, were essential in helping him fulfill his destiny. God loves families and carefully knits them together to accomplish his perfect plan. “We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:19 NLT).

The Bible is filled with stories and miracles that are centered around families. When God saved Noah from the flood, he also saved his wife, his sons and his sons’ wives. When God asked Abraham to leave his native land, his family went with him. Even though Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers, he forgave them and the family was restored. Even though Ruth was widowed, she refused to leave her mother-in-law who she considered to be her family. Queen Esther and her Uncle Mordecai worked together to help save their people. These are just a few of the many stories where family bonds of love empowered people to do God’s bidding.

Our first baby was born just a few weeks before Christmas. We decorated our cozy little home with a tree and all the trimmings, but they were soon forgotten with the arrival of our beautiful new daughter. We were in awe of her perfection, from her 10 tiny fingers and toes to her big blue eyes, soft baby skin, and gentle coos.

As I held her that first Christmas morning, wondering who she would become, I thought of Mary in the Manger holding and admiring her precious new baby, Jesus. As the angel Gabriel had told her that her holy Child would be called the Son of God, I can only imagine the wonder she must have felt at what lay ahead of them.

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.” (Luke 2:16-20 NLT)

Just two years later our second baby was born, just a few days after Christmas. After tucking my toddler into bed on Christmas Eve, I settled into wrapping the remaining gifts. I was weary and worn out after months of carrying a big baby in my tiny body. Once again, I thought of Mary, who was very pregnant, riding a donkey at night as they searched for a  place to give birth.  That had to have been an extremely uncomfortable journey—in light of how advanced her pregnancy was. How did she do it?  And what would she have done without Joseph?

God has a heart for creating families, and through sharing His son Jesus with us, He calls us to become a part of His family. This season, take time to appreciate how your family is just a foreshadow of what lies ahead for the family of God.

He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will…we have obtained an inheritance…you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance…  Ephesians 1:5, 11, 13-14 NASB

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God’s Family Plan – encouragement from Christina Rose on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

christina roseAbout the author: Christina Rose is an author, trainer and speaker certified by the John Maxwell Team of Leadership.  She is a DAR (Daughter of the American Revolution) whose ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. A devoted mom of two daughters and great aunt to over 40 nieces and nephews, Christina loves spending time in nature and hosting gatherings for family and friends.

Christina’s book, My Appeal to Heaven, is her story. Her marriage in shambles, Christina finds herself in a desperate situation with no resources other than herself. After appealing to heaven, the Lord takes her on a journey of awakening and miraculous empowerment. That power that is available to us all, especially those who are in need of hope and freedom.

Join the conversation: What impact has your family had on you? How has God used them in your life?

Beaver Ponds and Golden Bowls

by Sheri Schofield

Lady’s slippers, wild iris, and delicate violets decorate our artesian spring’s pathway in the summer months, providing beauty and delight along the watercourse. The spring chuckles as it bubbles down to join a creek in the valley below.

Along that creek lives a family of beavers who have built a series of dams to hold back the water. Animals drink from them. Tiny trout have hatched in the pools. In the latter days of summer, in the fields below the small dams, the grass is green and lush, with fallen trees soaking in the water to provide food for the beaver babies and their parents. If it had not been stored, the water would have dried up during those hot summer days.

Our prayers are like the beaver ponds. They hold reserves of refreshment and nourishment for dry times in the future. The Bible tells us that our prayers are like incense. Aaron was told to offer up the incense for the generations to come. (Exodus 30:7) John tells us that God stores our prayers in golden bowls that are lifted up to Him. The angles mix our prayers with incense that lifts a fragrant perfume before the Lord, and this will become a powerful force on earth one day. (Revelation 5:8; 8:3-5)

Our prayers are not simply for ourselves, though we may think they are. They also store up blessings for our future descendants, like beaver ponds store up water for future needs. Our prayers are gifts to our children, our grandchildren, and beyond.

I remember my grandmother rocking me to sleep when I was a toddler, singing hymns to the Lord over me. Grandma has been with Jesus since I was a child. Yet, the songs and prayers she sang over me still bless my life. I sang those same songs and prayed over my own babies. These songs and prayers are my gift to them, a gift that has shaped their hearts and lives. It is their richest inheritance.

The beaver ponds in the meadow are frozen in places now. Soon they will be solid ice. The beavers yawn and move around more slowly while winter descends on the meadow. The beavers are prepared for winter, too. The water they have stored has produced more trees on which they can nibble. Their dens along the creek are cozy when the beaver family cuddles up together for long, winter naps, secure in their food supply.

In the same way, God stores up our prayers and prepares to pour out answers . . . in His time . . . and nourishes us through difficult days with His answers. He gives these precious gifts when we least expect them.

With Christmas just around the corner, I will write some of my prayers out and store them in my own golden bowl, reminding me of those which hold my prayers in heaven. Someday, when another generation finds the bowl, they will see the gifts I have stored away just for them, and will know that I loved them before they were even born. They will see with new eyes the blessings God has showered on their lives, and they will be filled with wonder and delight!

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Matthew 6:19-20, NIV

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Beaver Ponds and Golden Bowls – Sheri Schofield on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

sheri schofieldAbout the author: Sheri Schofield is an award-winning children’s author-illustrator and children’s ministry veteran of 40 years. Sheri was named Writer of the Year in 2018 at the Colorado Christian Writers’ Conference for her work in effectively sharing the gospel of Jesus. Her ministry, Faithwind 4 Kids, can be followed on her blog at her website, http://www.sherischofield.com. Questions welcomed!

Sheri’s new book, The Prince And The Plan, is a beautifully illustrated, interactive picture book, written for children ages 4-8, that helps parents lead their children into a lasting, saving relationship with Jesus. It explains abstract concepts through words and interactive, multi-sensory activities. Useful for children’s ministry as well.

Join the Conversation: What treasures are you storing up with your prayers? What gifts will you put away in God’s golden bowls, saved to bless future generations?

Christmas List-less-ness

by Rhonda Rhea  @RhondaRhea          

I was readying for a marathon Christmas shopping session when I suddenly felt noticeably…list-less. Not tired or disinterested or anything like that.

Not listless. List-less.

As in, we were into December and I hadn’t made the Christmas list. Hadn’t checked it once, much less twice. What was I thinking?

That list is usually taking over my life by early November, sassing me and hounding me and pitilessly bossing me around. A pushy little monster, that list. Every time I’d sit down to create it, I would start feeling a little Frankensteinian. Why would I purposefully create that beast? If I didn’t make it, it couldn’t bully me, right?

While I’m not necessarily listless around this season, now that my five kids are grown, I do sometimes get a little sentimental. I still grin at some of the outrageous want-lists I got from my kids. Sentimental now. More like “Santa-mental” then. What even were moon shoes? Just saying. Frankenstein’s monster would wear those.

Why is it so easy to get overwhelmed with the to-do lists and the Christmas lists and the monster lists of more monster lists in the season of giving? Shouldn’t I be feeling less Frankensteinian, more frankincense-ian?

I like thinking about the gifts given to Jesus, the gold reminding us of His kingship, frankincense of His role as Priest, and myrrh foreshadowing His death. If we listed other elements of the spirit of Christmas giving, I think we would top it with not only the three gifts to the Son, but:

  • The Father who gave the Son.
  • The Son who gave His life.
  • The Spirit who gives His constant presence.

Focusing on this triune “list” helps bring our other lists into perspective.

More people are depressed around the holidays than any other time of year. Many cite the stresses of the to-do-list-busyness. For others, it might be financial challenges or missing a loved one. Some have unmet expectations of that perfect holiday.

If you’re battling some lingering listlessness, try adding a couple of things to your to-do list:

  • Check the expectations. When we expect all our plans to come off just so and then they don’t, disappointment can become a monstrous joy-zapper. Not a single one of us can control every aspect of an event, and we can’t control even one aspect of a person.
  • When we’re joy-depleted, focusing on our King, our Priest, our Sacrificial Savior can miraculously bring joy back to life. Jesus said in John 15:11, “I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (CSB).

Guess what. No more listing needed. That last one? That’s it! Complete!

David said, “I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord and seeking him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4, CSB). David asks the Lord for one thing. One. David, what kind of list is that?

Lord, let my lists all boil down to this one thing: worship in Your presence. Oh the joy there!

I want to pray that prayer all season. All year. All always.

I should report, too, that I did finally make those lists. Then I tamed them by sewing them into one list and shooting electricity into it. Still not sure why I gave it neck-bolts.

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.  Psalm 16:11 NASB

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Christmas List-less-ness – encouragement from @RhondaRhea on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

rhonda rheaAbout the author: Rhonda Rhea is a TV personality for Christian Television Network and an award-winning humor columnist for great magazines such as HomeLifeLeading HeartsThe Pathway and many more. She is the author of 17 books, including the Fix-Her-Upper books, co-authored with Beth Duewel, and the hilarious novels, Turtles in the Road and Off-Script & Over-Caffeinated, both co-authored with her daughter, Kaley Rhea.

Rhonda and Kaley are also excited to be teaming up with Bridges TV host, Monica Schmelter, for the Messy to Meaningful series, with My Purse Runneth Over coming soon. Edie Melson and Rhonda have a new book as well, Unruffled—Thriving in Chaos.

Rhonda lives near St. Louis with her pastor/hubs and has five grown children. You can read more from Rhonda on her website or Facebook page.

Join the conversation: What is your greatest joy-stealer?

Let There Be Light

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

...God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.  1 John 1:5b

A wonderful part of the Christmas season is the plethora of lights on houses, trees, and shining from windows. The Christmas tree in our home glitters with white lights, reflecting off the ornaments and giving the room a festive glow. Light is a very appropriate symbol to be used at Christmas, since the holiday is all about the birth of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

God’s glory has been revealed in light since the beginning of time. In His first recorded words, God said, “Let there be light.” With a blinding flash, creation was revealed.   Genesis tells us that the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the fourth day. What was the source of light that lit up the formless, watery creation that existed at that command? Revelation 21 gives us a possible answer when it describes the future New Jerusalem: “And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it.” Creation was made to reveal God’s glory. Maybe God’s glory revealed creation as well.

We read of many examples where God’s glory is revealed as light. When Moses spoke with God on Mt. Sinai, his face had to be veiled when he came down the mountain because it shone. God’s presence filled the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, revealed with a pillar of fire that glowed throughout 40 years’ worth of nights. At the Transfiguration, Matthew tells us Jesus’ garments became as white as light. The light of God’s glory stunned anyone in Scripture who was privileged enough to experience it.

When the world was new, God’ glory continued to be revealed at the creation of Adam and Eve. Were they reflectors of a literal light? We do know that God made them in his “likeness.” As originally created, they certainly reflected God’s glory. Then came the moment when they submitted to the temptation placed before them by the Prince of Darkness. At the first bite of that forbidden fruit, the light went out. The curse of sin had descended on creation. Adam and Eve looked at each other, saw their nakedness, and for the first time, knew the sting of shame.

The world plunged into darkness. The sun, moon, and stars continued to provide physical light, but the darkness this time was much more crushing. Man was now spiritually blind. It would take a miracle for him to be able to “see” once more.

The people lived in darkness for many years until God once again gave the command: “Let there be light.” This time, instead of a blinding flash of brilliance, the command was fulfilled in the quiet, unseen miracle of the Holy Spirit planting a baby within a young girl. In a dirty animal stall one night in Bethlehem, the light snapped on for the lost. The Light of the World had come to a people who were blind and hopeless.

As he lived here on earth, he lit up the darkness around him. With his glory he exposed the sin of the proud, hard-hearted religious leaders. From place to place he traveled, healing all kinds of sicknesses and even reversing death, freeing fortunate ones of the consequences of living under the curse of darkness. His teachings exposed the darkness of the burden of sin and revealed the glory of God that had come to save.

Those living in darkness hated the Light and finally managed to orchestrate his death sentence. Even the skies went dark that day as the Light of the World hung on a cross, suffering under the unimaginable burden of the sin of the world. At his death, for a short while it seemed the light had been snuffed out and darkness had finally won.

But in a sunburst of glory that first Easter morning, the Light of the World banished the darkness, dealing Satan a fatal blow. No longer would darkness have the victory. Death had lost its sting.

The command continues today: “Let there be light.” Those who seek him are rewarded with the light of spiritual vision when they are given the priceless gift of salvation. Then they, in turn, are charged to be light reflectors to those within their sphere of influence. They bear witness to the truth, endeavoring to live lives of love while guiding others who remain in the darkness to come into the light.

As we string the lights around the tree and place candles in our windows, let us give thanks to the Light of the World whom these lights represent. The glory that is God’s continues to shine in the hearts of those who love him, made possible by his coming to Israel over two thousand years ago, when God said, “Let there be light.”

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Let There Be Light – encouragement from @JulieZColeman on @AriseDailydevo (Click to Tweet)

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: Is there another symbol present at Christmastime that reminds you of spiritual truth?

Humbugs to Hallelujahs

by Tina Yeager @tyeagerwrites

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world … and everyone went to their own town to register.  So Joseph also went … to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.                                                                                                                               Luke 2:1, 3-5 NIV

A shopping cart brushed past me in the holiday décor aisle. I stepped aside to avoid a collision, flattening myself against the shelves. As overhead speakers crackled into a whiny version of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” I couldn’t have agreed less.

Rather than humming along with the music, my heart’s refrain leaned more toward “humbug.” I couldn’t stop thinking the phrase which had repeated in my head since moving to this rural town.

I don’t belong here.

I still had no church family. This Christmas season promised no neighborhood gatherings. No familiar shop clerks or community sights. Instead of heading off to volunteer, I would stay home to work. All alone in my little humbug hole.

As I faced working the hours formerly spent on celebrations in years past, I felt bustled. Displaced. Distracted and pushed. And not so much merry this season.

I struggled to focus on writing. Fatigue was crashing into me like the oblivious shopper’s cart. Yet an overwhelming pile of work loomed unfinished.

Retail therapy had failed to serve as respite, so I switched on the television. News channels raged with political drama. A cyclone of negativity whirled around me. I grumbled about how the holiday season ought to begin on a cheerier note. Yet a closer look at the first Christmas revealed eerie similarities between my modern distractions and those swirling around the ancient children of God.

Political, emotional, and work stressors riddled first century Israel, too. The government compelled all citizens to register for a census, regardless of the strain the requirement imposed on its subjects. It had sent the nation into a frenzy of stress.

The original Christmas saw Joseph and Mary on a journey beleaguered with isolation, tension, and discomfort. The scandal of Mary’s pregnancy had frayed extended relationships at home, and no warm welcome awaited them in Bethlehem, either. Much like our family having to leave our home place and face isolation on this Christmas.

They arrived in a town stirred to overflowing with stressors. Bethlehem had no room for a new arrival. I wonder if Mary or Joseph considered my not-so-merry refrain of I don’t belong here.

In truth, with Mary about to give birth, their journey was far more difficult than any other young couple seeking the earthly comforts of a community. Rejection and displacement plagued their steps. God chose an isolated stable as the humble venue for this first Christmas.

Even if humbugs tempted Mary and Joseph, they remained faithful to their calling. They served the Son of God, who belonged to a heavenly Kingdom. Amid national tension and community bustle, Mary focused on the birth of hope. The first to carry the gospel surrendered the distress over troubled circumstances and embraced the most glorious gift exchange of all.

I had forgotten my true home place and allowed the world’s stressors to sell me misery at the expense of joy.

I want to exchange my humbugs for hallelujahs for the rest of my days, no matter where the journey takes me. I might remain set apart at times while carrying his message. But this Christmas, I want to enter a quiet and humble place with Jesus and lay my burdens before him. May praise for the gift of my Savior remain the song of my heart for the rest of my days.

TWEETABLE
Humbugs to Hallelujahs – thoughts on the season from Tina Yeager @TYeagerWrites on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Tina YeagerAbout the author: Award-winning author, speaker, licensed counselor, and life coach, Tina Yeager encourages audiences to fulfill their potential. She offers writing workshops through Serious Writer Academy, hosts the Flourish-Meant podcast, and is a mentor with Word Weavers International.

Tina’s book, Beautiful Warrior, empowers you to break free from the insecurity that has you trapped. Pick up your shield―the Word of God, your identity in Christ, and healthy thought patterns―and become the divine heroine you were destined to be.

Join the conversation: What do you do when the humbugs try to steal your joy?

 

Manger Meditations

By Brenda Poinsett

The season meant to honor Jesus can have the ironic effect of crowding Him out. There is too much to do—shopping, baking, decorating, cleaning. There are too many gifts to buy. There are too many expectations to fulfill. There are too many events to attend. There is too much food. Too much money is spent.

To help me deal with it all, I sometimes place a crude wooden manger (what I’d call “authentic Bethlehem”!) filled with straw by the Christmas tree. It will serve as a tangent reminder of what the season is all about, keeping me centered on Jesus rather than the hustle and bustle.

When the pressures of gift selection (Will she like what I bought?) and gift buying (How will I ever find the money?) close in on me, I sit for a while beside the manger. I reach out and touch the rough wood, and I remember the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth, how He came to establish not a material but a spiritual kingdom. That prompts me to think about how I can spiritually give to others. Money doesn’t necessarily buy the best gifts, and I can give of myself in friendship and ministry long after Christmas is over.

When I feel rushed and agitated by Christmas expectations, I think about what everyone expected of Jesus. He was consistently Himself, maintaining that His kingdom was not the political one people wanted. I remember what He said in a vexing conversation with the religious authorities: “I am Who I Am” (John 8:24, 28). Recalling His words remind me that I am a Christ-follower, as well as a woman who can make choices. I can exercise some control over the kind of Christmas I have.

Sometimes when I move the manger to vacuum, I get a splinter in my hand, reminding me that the first Christmas was not perfect either. Mary and Joseph did not have a perfect place to lay their son. Jesus came into an imperfect world and accomplished His mission through imperfect people. This reminds me to not be surprised when my Christmas does not go perfectly.

I’m sometimes reluctant to entertain during the holidays because my furniture is shabby, the carpet is frayed, and the upholstery on the wingback chair has a big hole in it. (I’ve tried covering it with an afghan in hopes it won’t slip off, but invariably it does, giving me a real appreciation for Jesus’ words, “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed.”) I cringe at the thought of the detail-noticing gazes of the women who will come. When they step through the door, my house will be under their scrutiny.

I reason: I just can’t invite people here…and then I look at the manger. I rub my hand over the coarse wood, and I remember another invited guest. Jesus will be present!

So I breathe, “I am who I am,” pick up my pen, and start addressing invitations. A sense of expectancy begins to rise within me. I look forward to His presence and for a chance to share Him with my guests. I can’t predict what that will look like, but He will be there because I am who I am and He is who He is.

[Jesus] said to them, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, you will know that ‘I Am Who I Am…’ Many who heard Jesus say these things believed in him.  John 8:28a, 30 TEV

TWEETABLE
Manger Meditations – insight from Brenda Poinsett on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

brenda poinsett (2)About the author: Brenda Poinsett works with women who want a new lease on life and with adults who want to know Jesus. She does this through writing, speaking and teaching. She’s the author of more than 20 books including Can Martha Have a Mary Christmas. She and some of her family will celebrate Jesus this Christmas at their home near Saint Louis.

The Christmas season can often be a time of great stress and pressure for women, who feel the weight of expectation for a “perfect” holiday. Can Martha have a Mary Christmas is a practical book of meditations that will help the “Martha” in each of us realize that she is entitled to the “Mary” time with Jesus that He desires.

Join the conversation: What stresses you out during this holiday season?

A Season of Waiting…

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell @LucindaSMcDowel

“But me! I will keep watch for the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”  Micah 7:7 CEB  

Imagine waiting more than 400 years for an answer to prayer!

That’s what God’s chosen people had to do – they waited in the dark, hoping for deliverance. Perhaps while singing their own version of “Come, Thou long expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free…”[1]

In between the Old and New Testaments, the heavens seemed closed to the nation of Israel. God was silent. They thought nothing was happening. And likely felt their prayers for a Messiah were falling on deaf ears. Yet, in reality, God was still at work bringing about the perfect political and religious settings for the appearance of His Son.

God’s timing is always best. Even if it means we have to wait. We can always be assured that He hears us.

During those waiting years, the Jews had become unwilling subjects of the Roman Empire. They wanted more than just limited freedom to worship and hope. As they read the prophecies of the Old Testament, they dreamed of a Messiah who would finally arrive and restore them to the powerful nation they were in the time of King David. Surely this person would be a mighty warrior, a strong and larger-than-life hero!

No one was looking for a helpless, newborn baby. In a barn.

What are you waiting for these days?

Maybe for that feeling to go away? You know, the one that keeps reminding you that you’re not enough and never will be, the one where you are searching for something that will make everything else fall into place…but it’s just beyond reach? Sometimes I think I’m waiting to experience that Perfect Family Gathering with diverse loved ones all in agreement and full of praise for me as the matriarch (you know, when “her children rise up and call her blessed…”).

God knows.

He desires good things for us but often His timing is not in sync with ours. “We orient our lives to speed. We want faster computers, fast food, instant coffee. We want what we want now, so waiting becomes hard. Waiting in our prayer life and waiting for Christmas become disciplines we return to every December. For what do we wait? Do we wait for a baby to be born? Do we wait for peace to dwell in the whole world and in our fractured, busy lives? Do we wait for the rebirth of joy, a rekindling of hope?”[2]

Here are some steps I find helpful during those excruciating waiting times:

  • Write down your prayers and concerns for this situation.
  • Assure God you truly desire His will in His way.
  • Intercede in prayer for others you know who are also waiting.
  • Take the next step that has been made clear to you.

Why not choose to try one of these in these days of Advent? Keep watch. God will show up.

[1] “Come, Thou long expected Jesus” a hymn by Charles Wesley, 1745

[2] “Openings,”

TWEETABLE
A Season of Waiting… – insight from @LucindaSMcDowel on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

LucindaSMcDowell.19 (2)About the author: Lucinda Secrest McDowell, M.T.S., is a storyteller and seasoned mentor who engages both heart and mind while helping people to choose a life of serenity and strength. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, McDowell is the award-winning author of 15 books. Whether co-directing the ReNew Retreat, pouring into young mamas, or leading a restorative day of prayer, she is energized by investing in people of all ages.

Lucinda’s latest book, Life-Giving Choices: 60 Days to What Matters Most, is a devotional book designed to help you discover what brings life, joy, and meaning. While there are myriad ways in which we can choose to spend our lives, only a few essentials truly matter. “Don’t settle for the good when you can choose the best.”

Join the Conversation: What are you waiting for?